30 December 2005

Thailand Photos are up

Photos have finally been uploaded to the photostream. I'll organise them all into sets when I get back to a high-speed connection.
Christmas at the neighbors was actually very pleasant as was, surprise surprise, getting my CA driver's lisence. Apparently I was still in the system from last time.
Now I just need to find a place to live in Philadelphia.

25 December 2005

Back in the USA

Ah well, after two days of traveling I eventually landed in the US - extremely jet-lagged and truthfully wishing I was still in Thailand. The trip itself was uneventful except for the sheer number of crappy movies I was forced to watch on the bus and the boat. Props to Singapore airlines though - good food and movies/tv on demand for every passenger, even in economy class ;)
Not much has happened since I got home - I saw my brother for a few hours and I've been invited to the neighbor's house for Christmas dinner. Otherwise, I'm spending two weeks alone in my parent's house. I'm loving the warm showers and access to technology (and my whole wardrobe) but otherwise it's essentially two weeks of solitary. I did get the super-bleached hair fixed though, it looks almost natural now ;)
I also got a call from my nephew in Kuwait. I'm so glad he's become part of the family now, it's too bad I won't be here when he visits in February. He's only 20 but he's getting married in August before beginning a tour in Germany. He's got quite the plan for himself - it's very impressive.
My plan, or the plan I had when I graduated, is pretty much scrapped, but I'm happier for it. I'm just as ambitious as before, but all the hard work has given me options many others don't have. I'm pretty lucky that I can basically keep trying until I find something that makes me truely happy, something I'm passionate about.
Next big trip abroad: June 2007. Who wants to come?

15 December 2005

Backpack is back!

Fantastic news! Apparently the person who took my backpack thought I had left the bar for the night and had left my things by mistake. He turned it in at another dive shop and because everyone knows everyone's business around here the instructors there knew there was a girl at BANS looking for a black backpack. He brought it around today so I have all my stuff back! YAY! Bloody brilliant.
Yesterday's afternoon boat was cancelled so none of us got to dive. Instead, we all hopped on motorbikes, bought some cases of beer (when you buy a case a 40oz bottle works out to be 23 baht or .52 USD) and headed up to James' bungalow where we sat on the porch and drank from 3pm to around 8. Then we went to Sao's for the best burgers on the island and popped by BANS for the first round of hard liquor. BANS was pretty quiet to we took off to Lotus, which is a bar on the beach with little mats on the sand and candles lit in little sand pits. There are guys there that twirl fire on ropes (they do this in Hawaii too) and let you try if you want a go. Luke and James gave it a shot and both of them ended up burning their arms (not badly). Well, one of the girls in our little gang knew the bartender (always good)so we got three rounds of free Kamamazee shots (god they are good). Sufficed to say it was not a sober night. I think tonight will be a little lower key though because tomorrow we head to the full moon party on Koh Phanngan.
The full moon parties happen (surprise surprise) every full moon and it consists of all the beach bars flinging open their doors and blasting their music all night long. We'll take the 7pm boat over, drink all night, and take the 7am boat back after which we will all doubtlessly fall fast asleep for the rest of the day. Everyone but me, that is, because I'll have to take a 1pm boat to Chumpon to get to Bangkok in time for the flight home on the 19th. I am honestly really sad to be leaving. I've hit that point now where I'm completely integrated into the life here - I'm one of the BANS DMs and even other dive shops recognise me (it's not a big island, 5km by 2km). Moving to NYC it took almost a year to hit a stride like this and here - a month. The only thing that pulls me back is the knowledge that after a year or so this life wouldn't be enough anymore. In some ways it's all fun with no substance and I know that eventually that would get boring for me - but damn, it's really fun for a while. And a while could certainly be longer than 6 weeks.
I also want to say thank you to everyone who has emailed me comments and things - it's great to hear from you and you make my day :) People are starting to send me links to photos so when I get home I'll post them and put up a link. There are some funny ones (like me with a card stuck to my head)!

13 December 2005


After managing to finish my skill circuit and pass my equipment exchange I had a pleasant evening with Keith, James, Rich, and Andy ordering pizza and watching movies. At about midnight we hit up the bar and I was there for about an hour (2 drinks). When getting up to leave I discover... my backpack has been snagged. Yes. Crap. It had my IPOD, bank card, credit card, house keys, and driver's lisence in it (but not my passport or much cash). Double crap. $%^#!
A skill circuit is basically all the things open water students have to learn, except we have to be able to do them demonstration quality. These are skills like taking your mask off underwater, taking your regulator out underwater, taking your scuba gear off underwater and surfacing with no air (there are 20 skills in all).
The equipment exchange is just plain scary. The idea is to trade all your gear with another person underwater - BCD, weight belt, fins, and mask. BUT, you have to do this while the two people share one regulator (the thing in your mouth that the air comes through) AND the instructor is purposely making your life hell by ripping your mask off and filling it with sand or undoing your weight belt and blowing air from his Octopus (the bright yellow back-up thingy for your mouth) in your face. It took three tries, but we managed it. Thank you lord. I will never have to do that again, not even to become an instructor.
Ah yes, and the tv at James/Rich's house... we watched Layer Cake.. good movie.. before switching over to the tv and channel surfing. Well, on Fashion tv we found "hot hour" which basically consisted of swimsuit models getting their picture taken on a beach for an hour. The boys were in heaven.
The bar was good fun (except for the whole all-my-stuff-was-stolen bit. We were dancing and downing Jack and Coke and the Greenpeace boat had left (good riddance. One of the Greenpeace guys came on land and offended a whole bunch of Thai guys. The Thai are actually quite violent and he received the beating of his life. He's laid up on his boat with two broken ribs, a broken nose and a concussion now) so we're all glad to have our bar back.
I was supposed to do the Nitrox course today but I had to withdraw. I *may* barely have enough cash to make it back to the US so I can't afford the 5000 baht course fee with all my stuff gone ;( I'm really bummed about that. Maybe I can do it in Cali over the holidays. Another thing to look into: surf camp. Apparently there's a really good one near my folks in SoCal - how cool would it be to learn to surf?!

Back in the water :)

Well, after two nights of great partying, the first sober and the second stoned, I am getting back in the water. My kidneys haven't been achy for two days and today is my last day of antibiotics. SO, today: skill circuit and equipment exchange, tomorrow: Nitrox specialty.
Nitrox, for the non-divers reading this, is a gas blend with a higher oxygen content than compressed air. Normally we dive with Aluminium tanks with regular air (21% O2 79% N2) compressed to 200 times sea level. This means a single standard size tank holds about 2400 L of air. Nitrox blends are either 32% or 36% O2 so you can remain underwater longer because your body is absorbing less nitrogen. However, the trade off is that you cannot go as deep because O2 is toxic at concentrations higher than 1.4. For example, on a normal air blend, .21, you would have to be just shy of 60m before the .21 x 7 (the density factor at that depth) = 1.47 which is toxic. Since 60m is well below recreational dive limits, we don't generally worry about O2 toxicity on compressed air. However, at .36 (a nitrox blend), you would hit O2 toxicity at about 30m (.36 x 4 = 1.44), which is well within recreational dive limits.
In other news, we've had the Greenpeace boat here the last two days as well as a Thai movie star. It's funny watching all the Thai's here crowd around asking for pictures, especially since the movie star himself looks exceptionally bored.
We found a new place to eat as well, fantastic little hut down past Sai Ree village that does the best burgers you've had since leaving the US. They taste homemade and for all the Europeans out there, everyone eats their fries with mayonaise here. And it's SO incredibly good.
Ok, I'm off for an ice cream before my skill circuit. It's sunny today and stupidly hot - the water will feel refreshing. Ah, and when I say stupidly hot, I mean it. 35.5 - 38 C. For the Americans, that's between 96 and 104 with a humidity around 70%. And the worst bit is, at night, when the sun is down it only hits about 25 C, I'm cold and I walk around in a jumper and long trousers.

09 December 2005

I almost forgot...

Just in case you were wondering, it's a "chilly" 35.5 degrees Celcius here at the moment (that's 96 degrees Fahrenheit) and it's cloudy at the moment. Just imagine when the sun comes out again ;)

Koh Samui

I ended up making an overnight trip to the nearby island of Koh Samui to visit the hospital there. Now, before you all get worried, I'm fine. I promise. I woke up in the night with a searing pain in my lower left side through to my back. I tried to ignore it but it got steadily worse so I went down to the bar (it was 2:30am, it's still open then) and asked Kelley and Nando what time the nurse opened. Nando insisted I get on his bike with him and we go right now and Kelley came as well. The nurse was useless, both in English and at medicene so she gave me some painkillers and said if it didn't go away to go to the hospital. Well, it's not everyday you get pain bad enough you can't walk or stand up so I decided to go to the hospital the next afternoon regardless of how I felt. Nando gave me his raincoat and biked me back to my room in some absolutely pouring rain. He and Kelley really were champs that night. Well, those painkillers (I looked them up on the internet later) were morphine derivatives (opiates) and they knocked me sideways. Man, I don't think I would have felt it if you chopped my arm of with a butter knife. The doctor in the hospital said it was either 1) kidney stones or 2) a kidney infection. He gave me some antibiotics and told me to drink lots of water. I'm still a bit sore now, but I've stopped taking the painkillers and managed to do a confined session in the water today, so I think I'll be alright. Apparently the tests showed nothing worse than a high white blood cell count in my kidneys and urine (indicative of an infection, though I have no fever). While I was gone I missed one hell of a party at BANS too since all the IDC kids graduated (they are instructors now).
Samui as an island is not nearly as nice as Koh Tao. It's much more developed, more expensive, and lacks the island atmosphere. If you ever travel to this part of the world Samui is nice for shopping, but I think Koh Tao is a much nicer place to stay.
Hmm... what else, not much really. I have 5 things left to do to finish my DM: 3 exams, a skill circuit, an underwater equipment exchange, 2 swim tests, and a rescue assessment.
I've decided to come back to the US as previously planned because I just have too much to come back to at the moment, BUT... I'll have some free time again in 2007 so you may be hearing plans for another romp around the world. After all, there is so much I haven't seen yet!

06 December 2005

Whale sharks

Whale sharks have been cruising around Chumpon lately and they are quite the sight to see. About 4-10m in length with little fish swimming around them and they will come right up to you and hang out even when there are 20 divers around. The waves have calmed enough that we're out at Chumpon every afternoon (easily my favourite dive site) but there's a wicked current for the first 18 metres.
I've been assiting on a rescue course and gotten my First Aid certification. Assiting a rescue course is great fun as it involves getting towed around, pretending to panic, and jumping in the water and yelling "pizza! pizza!" a lot (we can't yell help because other boats would think there is a real emergency). The instructor, Val, is really cool too - very bubbly and fun.
I got my hair bleached today to get the red out and it, well, it's not exactly what I thought it would turn out to be. It's a combination of platinum and orange... but John and Laura seem to think it will calm down and fade a little in the next few days. Whatever, I can get it fixed in the US and it doesn't look half as dreadful and Tom's new mowhawk. I guess that's what happens here when it rains and there's nothing else to do - you drink and shave/bleach people's heads.
The night dive tonight was nothing to write home about, so I'll spare you that one. I'm over 60 dives now though so I have enough to meet my divemaster requirements. I need to get to 100 for instructor... and you're 100th dive is supposed to be done naked.
It's 10pm so I'm off to the bar to chill out with the others. Tomorrow some of my friends will officially become instructors! 10 days and I'll be a Divemaster! Whoo hoo!

03 December 2005

Leading Fun Divers

The visa run was, thankfully, uneventful. We slept on the night boat (11pm to 4:30am) before hopping into a minivan and driving from Chumpon to Ranang. From there it was a longtail boat to the pier across the way, which was part of Myanmar. A guy took all our passports and stamped them and we took the boat back to Ranang, the minibus back to Chumpon (where I had my first KFC ever) and the high-speed Lomprayah to Koh Tao; arrival 2:45pm.
Since I finished assisting Edwin I've just been signing up for dives, not helping another course. Since all fun divers here are sent out with a guide the DMT's frequently become the guides (once you've got at least 40 dives, I'm at 57). Today I led some people through Chumpon and White Rock and it was pretty cool. There was a wicked current at Chumpon but we did get down to 30m and at White Rock we saw two giant Titan Trigger Fish (they are aggressive and will bite).
Last night I led a night dive and it was honestly one of the best dives I've done here. It was with two friends (the Royal Navy pilots, Andy and Keith, that I spend 80% of my time with) and we watched barracuda eat small fish practically the whole 40 mins. When the torches were switvhed off the bioluminecense was phenomenal - it was like being in the matrix.
There's a new director of the DM program now, James, and I think it's going to be much better. There are more requirements now and it will be a bit harder, but we will all be far better divers for it.
Tomorrow is first aid, then hopefully I'll be assisting with a Rescue course for the two days following. The days when I'm not in the water are long, but the days when I'm in the sea (every day but two since Nov 8) are fantastic. I love being on boats and under the ocean - it just doesn't get old.
Got to take the night off tonight... had a bit too much rum last night, too bad too because the IDC guys are partying. Eh, the sleep will do me good ;)

01 December 2005

Visa Run

I am about to board the night boat for a visa run to Burma. I will be in Burma for a total of..oh.. 10 minutes, before turning around and coming back. The whole trip will last from 11pm tonight to 3pm tomorrow and cost about 30 USD. Let us hope for calm seas.