Saturday, March 12, 2011

Scuba Diving on Koh Tao!!!!!!!!!

Last month we spent 9 days on the islands of Southern Thailand and checked another item off of our bucket list, namely, we are now certified scuba divers! Scuba diving is something I have been interested in since high school, when I volunteered at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory and did some pool training there. I was so excited to get certified (Thailand is one of the best places in the world to do it) and Graham jumped right on board, and ended up loving it! We both dove into (pun intended) a new life-long passion, and cannot wait to live more life under the sea. So, I guess I should start at the beginning...

The overnight bus to Koh Tao was surprisingly manageable, except for the crying baby all night. The boat ride to the island was so beautiful, we saw the sunrise over the ocean and huge puffy clouds turned pink with the dawn as a bunch of islands were slowly illuminated, and we arrived to the most crystal clear waters I have ever seen! No wonder this place is one of the best places in the world to go diving! We walked to our dive school (which Graham had graciously researched so we got a great school at an amazing price, at Phoenix Divers) and were checked into our huge room at the resort, and having free breakfast on the beach by 10 am Saturday morning! Not bad. And they had banana chocolate pancakes. I guess we were on the banana pancake trail (which the tourist trail in Southeast Asia is called) but I loved it! Everyone always tries to get off the tourist trail, but in this case, it was nice to get on, as Dan Chang doesn't offer us the same "comforts of home" that a touristy spot does. We definitely ate well while we were there:)

It is difficult to describe just how beautiful and peaceful this place was, but it was by far our favorite place in Thailand. All of the pieces came together in the most harmonious way, the "vibe" of the place was so laid back, and the people were all divers who were stoked on sea life and exploring the underwater universe. We were instantly so happy to be there. The beach, jungle, town, and diving spots were all gorgeous, we felt like we had really found a special spot on this planet.

After laying on the beach all day and exploring the town, we started our scuba training. We went with SSI, as it was cheaper, and more environmentally friendly, since you do not need to purchase your own materials but can borrow the school's while you are taking the course. We were very happy with what we learned during the course, and it was very to the point, which was nice. The next day school continued for us in the morning, and for the long lunch break we swam in the pool at our resort and explored different parts of the beach. There were tons of big rocks on the beaches, which gave them a unique feeling that I especially loved. The water was so clear and the coral right off the beach was beautiful.

By that afternoon we were in the ocean, learning how to work all of our scuba gear, and practicing different emergency situations. Luckily, everyone in our group was super cool and brave, so we went for our first dive that day, right off the beach. Graham and I took to it like a fish in water, the feeling you have when you are underwater is indescribably calm and comfortable. You are weightless, warm, and thoughts drift out of your mind like the bubbles from your regulator. We were hooked.

The next day, Valentine's Day, we left early in the morning on the big dive boat for our first open water dive, in a crystal clear cove that should have been out of a movie it was too perfect. There were lots of diving boats, but we got away from everyone quickly once we were in the water, descending to my new favorite place, the coral reef. We sat on the ocean floor and practiced more of our skills and got comfortable at our 12 meter depth, I was so in awe and soaked it up as best I could. Just looking above you and seeing all this water, it is just so different from anything I had ever experienced. It is so amazing! Last year for Valentine's Day Graham and I went sky diving, which was really cool, but not as crazy as we had imagined. This year, we were diving for Valentine's Day, which by far exceeded anything we could have imagined.

We then headed to the Japanese Gardens dive site, where we hung out on the sun roof of the dive boat and warmed up and snacked while our nitrogen levels decreased. On this dive we went down to 18 meters, which is the maximum depth we are supposed to swim at with our certification. The rock and coral formations at this site were huge and so beautiful, it was like exploring an underwater canyon or something. And the creatures! All the anemones and fish and corals!!!!!!!! I was in heaven. I could have spent hours just looking at a single square foot of space there was so much life and diversity.

My decision to not each sea creatures was reaffirmed, it is so sad that our oceans and coral reefs are suffering at our irresponsible use and selfish habits, and I want to do everything I can to not harm the oceans. Please remember to use as little plastic as possible (it doesn't chemically break down, but rather physically breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces of the same plastic, and much of this ends up in the ocean, possibly filter-fed or otherwise eaten by its magestic creatures) and limit your seafood consumption. Also, the Monterey Bay Aquarium puts out a helpful seafood guide called Seafood Watch. Here is the link to download it so you can check it out. In general, it is better to eat fish further down on the food chain, ie catfish, sardines, tilapia etc. There are a lot of other little changes that each individual can do, that add up to big changes when billions of people all rise up and make the same commitments. I will not go too much more into all of that, but please feel free to ask me in person if you ever have any questions or need some encouragement to make decisions that straight off the bat might be difficult to make. Anyways, the future of our world's coral, and the future of sea creatures and the oceans in general, were swirling around my water-soaked brain. I want to help protect them and be part of the solution. I hope that I am and will only get better.

That night for Valentine's day Graham got me a bottle of wine and we watched the sunset while we exchanged gifts. As always, we spoiled each other and had a very romantic night, although it ended a bit early since we had to wake up to dive at 6:30 am! The next morning we headed to the dive site called "The Pinnacle," which is basically a submerged island. We swam around one section of it, which was very different from any of the other dive sites because it was in the middle of no where, no land was in sight, and no ocean floor was in site either. It was a very different feeling, diving in an area where there was even more water around you, in every direction, as far as you could see. We were crossing our fingers to see a whale shark, but were not so lucky. We did  see a huge grouper, a school of baracuda, and a plethora of other fish as we swam around the huge formation. It was so cool to see all the plankton and algae floating in the water, at this location it was just thick at a specific depth. No wonder creatures as big as whales can survive just on plankton and other tiny organisms, the water was full of them, and you could see them all get stirred up when you swam. So cool!

The last site was Graham and my's favorite. After the long ride toward home on the boat, we relaxed more on the sun deck to get ready for our last dive. We swam through a cave, which was super cool, and saw a sea turtle! He was so relaxed, but I stayed back to be sure I did not disturb him. Again, the formations and life were all so unreal, I never wanted to go back to where the people are! I wanted to stay part of the under water world. So relaxing, beautiful, seemingly unspoiled, quiet, peaceful....ah. Sometimes now if I am having trouble sleeping, I imagine scuba diving, and that amazing feeling, and it helps me relax into sleep.

That afternoon we took and passed our test, and picked up our official cards later that day. We are both so excited to be scuba certified and had the most amazing experience! I didn't talk much about the people in our dive group, but they were all super cool and we enjoyed hanging out with them and hearing about their lives and travels. The day after we finished our course, we left for our next destination, the island of Koh Phangan. We did not want to leave the idyllic Koh Tao, but will never forget all of the sunsets, all of the dives, all of the delicious meals on the beach, all the swimming, playing and relaxing, and all of the beauty. Sometimes I am just so in awe of our beautiful earth, I don't know what to do with myself.

Love to you all-and go scuba diving if you ever get the chance, it is amazing!

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