Koh Tao, Thailand
I woke up today at 02:30 and despite my best efforts, I could not go back to sleep; I turned to one side, then another, I’d try to clear my mind of all thoughts, but it was useless; eventually, at 05:20, I gave up completely. I then showered, got ready, bought a red bull at the convenience store for much needed energy, and walked to the dive shop, reaching it at 07:00. We then waited for all the other students to arrive before grabbing our gear and loading up on to the truck. We drove down to the pier, loaded up on to the boat, waited for many other divers to arrive (it was a full boat this morning), and were soon on our way to Southwest Pinnacle (located toward the southwest of Koh Tao). Immediately, the Hong Kong woman and I prepared our SCUBA equipment and then moved to the sun deck to get of everyone else’s way. Our dive instructor soon found us and while we journeyed for about forty-five minutes to our destination, she briefed us on what we would be doing during our first dive (i.e. identifying different species underwater) and the different types of marine life we may see. We then reached Southwest Pinnacle, put our equipment on, and jumped in to the water. One diver said they saw a Whale Shark underneath, but by the time we began our descent it was gone (our instructor did brief us that Whale Sharks are frequently sighted at this location and that they are quite harmless to divers – i.e. not aggressive at all). During the descent (at 08:50) I had trouble equalizing my left ear and had to stop for a short while; the dive instructor swam up to where I was to see what was wrong and I pointed to my ear, but then, with a couple breathes, I took in some water (I was using a different regulator for this dive which I wasn’t accustomed to and I soon realized I had to concentrate on keeping a tight seal with my mouth); at this point childhood fears of drowning began to reemerge and I had to concentrate on inhaling and exhaling until they subsided; also the instructor helped calm me as well and I tried not to think about the absurdity of the situation – human beings in an unnatural environment, under meters of water, having to rely on air supplied from a canister and delivered through a regulator which may or may not fail (amusingly, I also thought how absurd life above the water is as well, in our species’ natural environment, especially for spiritual or ascetic individuals). Soon the fear did subside, my left ear equalized, and I was okay to continue with the dive – though I kept my mind on the regulator seated in my mouth, having to adjust it every now and then to ensure no seepage occurred. We reached a maximum depth of 22.9 meters and the Hong Kong woman and I used the marine identification cards attached to my buoyancy compensator to try and identify the different fish we saw; during this dive we did see many types, though mostly I remember the different types of Angelfish swimming around. Also, during the dive, I practiced inhaling for four seconds and exhaling for eight seconds, as well as remaining neutrally buoyant as we moved around. Then, it became time to begin our ascent, we conducted our safety stop, and then reemerged in to the fresh air above (at 09:29) after thirty-nine minutes of being underwater. We then climbed aboard the boat and prepared for our next dive (I discarded the regulator I had used on that last dive and switched back to the regulator type (Aqua Lung) I had used for all my previous dives so that I could breath more comfortably).
The boat then headed east to Shark Island (it received its name because of its resemblance to a shark – sharks do not frequent this area). During the ride to the island, we were briefed on our next exercise – underwater navigation. When the boat finally stopped, we put on our gear and jumped back in to the water. We began our descent (at 10:31) and reached a maximum depth of 17.1 meters. We swam alongside the coral for a short period before coming to a stop; our instructor gave us directions (heading and a pace count) and the Hong Kong woman and I swam off; she used her compass to keep us at the correct heading and I kept the pace count by counting the strokes I made with my legs and fins); when we reached our destination point, we then turned around and came back to our instructor who then gave us new directions; this time roles were reversed and I kept the heading with my compass and the Hong Kong woman kept pace count; we reached our end point and then turned around soon coming back to the instructor. After that exercise, we swam around the coral reef some more, observing Longfin Batfish, Fusilier Fish, and a Masked Porcupinefish (a puffer fish). We then began our ascent, did our safety stop, and then resurfaced above. We swam back to the boat, took our gear off, and packed our bags. Then the Hong Kong woman and I went up to the sun deck as we waited for the other divers to come aboard and as the ship made its way back to port. Overall, I was disappointed in my performance today; I wasn’t sure if it was due to a horrible night’s rest or maybe just wanting the course to be over with so I could get on with my travels, but for the two dives today I felt nervous and less certain of myself then I did yesterday (I was enthusiastic, confident, and loved the three dives we did yesterday – even the night dive); perhaps I need to just take a rest from diving before getting back in to it; although I am looking forward to the possibility of diving in the Mediterranean Sea to explore ancient cities buried underwater.
The boat then made its way back to the pier, we loaded up on to the truck, and then drove back to the dive shop. Once there, we cleaned our gear, discussed today’s dives, and filled in our Dive Log books; I also received my SSI Advanced Adventurer card (not bad considering just three days ago I had those serious doubts about even getting an Open Water Dive certification card). I then said my goodbyes and walked to a nearby travel agent (suggested by my diving instructor) to book a ferry ticket back to the mainland; however, after waiting inside the shop for over five minutes with no one inside, I then left and walked back to my bungalow. Along the way I bought a celebratory large bottle of Chang beer, thus ending my detoxification period. I showered and relaxed for a while with beer in hand, before leaving my bungalow to hike to the other side of the island. I headed east, passing the dive shop again, and walked through the jungles on poor roads and highly eroded pathways. I was also careful not exert myself too much since I know its a poor idea to do intense exercise after deep underwater diving, so I frequently stopped to catch my breath as I hiked over the mountain ridge. I then came down on the other side and made my way to a deserted resort. It was a three-story structure near the beach and it had a number of bungalows, all dilapidated through years of neglect – a real shame since it is located at a beautiful spot on the island, albeit far from the pubs and restaurants (no doubt the reason for its downfall). First, I walked out to the beach to see the view and by two other tourists who had kayaked there but were now relaxing under a tree, then I walked through the derelict structure, passing smashed windows and graffiti, before climbing over many large boulders in flip-flops (not the smartest thing to do, but I can be rather stubborn at times) to reach a small bay where a tour boat was parked; the tourists from the boat were climbing up the boulders to one point to then jump into the clear water below (I would’ve loved to join them in that activity, but I had too many valuables with me that I did not want to leave behind anywhere). After checking out that bay, I then turned around and started walking back to the west side of the island, to Sairee.
As I neared the town, I began to feel bloated; I didn’t think much of it since I felt the same way a couple of nights ago after a large Italian meal. I stopped by the travel agent again, but – once again – no one was inside (this would turn out to be a blessing in disguise). I then made it back to my bungalow where I showered and rested on my bed for a short duration. Then it came. I began to have painful stomach cramps and eventually I had to use the toilet; then I had to use it again, and again. As if the stomach cramps and watery diarrhea wasn’t enough, I soon started vomiting (this may have had more to do with the fecal stench than the upset stomach). Most of the evening was spent between lying on my bed in pain and temporary relieving myself on the toilet. Finally, when I had enough strength to venture outside, I walked to a restaurant nearby that had free wifi (I already had the passcode from having eaten there before, so I just sat outside – I was in no condition to eat a meal there) to look up what could possibly be ailing me; I found out that stomach cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting could be symptoms of over eighty different diseases, but since it was watery diahrrea, this made “traveler’s diarrhea” the most likely culprit. So I walked to the nearest pharmaceutical store (luckily Thailand seems to have these stores on every other block, they are about as plentiful as 7-11 stores) and bought some bismuth subsalicylate tablets and a packet of oral rehydration salts (ORS – supplied to most developing countries by the World Health Organization); I then bought some water and gatorade before going back to the bungalow. I took one of the bismuth subalicylate tablets and mixed the ORS with some water and drank it down. I then went to sleep knowing I would be stuck on this island for at least one more day to recover and glad now that I was not able to buy a ferry ticket for the next day.