Arriving in Koh Tao, I was a broken man. Koh Phangan almost killed me. I managed to get a sweat box room with Ben and I crashed out hard. I slept day and night. It was a quiet room, no music, no disturbances. The only sound was the fan, turning left and right, gracefully but unsuccessfully attempting to make me cooler. I rested, ate, drank, slept, ate and slept some more for a full two days.
Ben left to go and complete his Open Water Scuba Diving Certificate, something I had no intention of completing. Snorkelling was on the mind but no way would I slip into the rubbers and go 18m under water. However, this is a poor attitude to take, especially after I declared myself a ‘yes man’. During my detox time, I was swamped with positive scuba stories from friends after I posted my destination on Facebook. I also bumped into a slightly cool but not too cool American chick who I met in Koh Phangan, who so happens to be starting her SSI Open Water Scuba Diving Certificate at Phoenix Diving, who so happen to be charging a lot less than the other scuba companies. Sometimes the pack backing gods send these omens slash signs and it takes a wise and experienced back packer to spot them and use them to his advantage (Alchemist influenced, maybe it’s had an effect). Without much thought I was in the Pheonix office, sipping on a Chang, signing up for my scuba certificate course with a very camp Thai guy called Matey. My course would start the next day. Beautifully spontaneous. Back in the game. I’m actually being productive.
I spent the day touring the beautiful beaches of Koh Tao on a scooter with the gang and as I was due to start scuba diving the next day, I thought I’d try a bit of snorkeling at the gorgeous Shark Bay. There were little fishes, big fishes, coral and loads of underwater stuff that I’ve only ever seen on TV. Please note I was the only snorkeler in our group of six not to see the shark that was circling the bay. Please also note that these sharks are completely harmless, non of that human attacking or biting malarkey going on in any Thai waters I’ll have you know. Even though I’ve been to the Mediterranean, this is my first time snorkeling. Bloody good fun it was too. The fish were amazing colours. I found a group of beautiful yellow and blue fish and followed them. A newly adopted member of the yellow and blue fish family, I attempted to dive deep down to the coral to be with with the little fellas. What a buzz. Rob even sank a boulder (private joke). Top lad. Maybe I was going to enjoy scuba diving after all.
I’m moving with a good group of people, all of us on the same frequency, times were good. Before I knew it, I’d moved into a bungalow with Laura in the AC Resort, which ironically doesn’t have AC and I’m sitting in a classroom with my scuba diving instructor Al, an obvious session head who spent most of his days recovering from the night before. Recovered from my party binge, I was pumped and ready to go. Al was a relaxed instructor who made us feel comfortable and at ease. A top teacher. Some of his jokes however, needed a little fine tuning in the delivery department. I was finally in Thailand doing something more productive than just drinking and this my lovelies, felt pretty nice.
Whilst the team continued to drink and cause havoc in the bars of Koh Tao, Laura and I swotted and learned the ins and outs of life in Oceania. OK I’ll level with you, we did cause a little bit of havoc at night but we had curfews in place. Being hungover and diving is not advisable so I was quite strict with this. No more than five beers a night with the odd tactical bottle of water kept me social but hydrated adequately enough not to be hungover in the morning. King of sensible drinking me. Watch and learn children, watch and learn.
Lesson of the day: A Red Bull and Chang cocktail should only be drunk once per 24 hour period and no more. Drinking more than the recommended amount can lead to severe insomnia and if drunk in large quantities, can cause extreme personality changes. I won’t go into details lads, what happened in Koh Tao stays in Koh Tao.
The first day of the course was theory and the second day, after more theory, saw us get the gear on and jump in a swimming pool for the first time. We practiced safety and breathing techniques. The gear felt heavy to start but when under water you feel weightless and can manoeuvre freely. This was fun. I was buzzing. My confidence was on a high. Suddenly I realised that I was really excited to be going into Oceania the following day. A week before, scuba diving was an expensive, over-rated activity that I’d not had any interest in. I’m glad I threw myself into it and Laura was my ideal partner in crime. Highly sarcastic, bubbly, almost intelligent and occasionally nice, we worked well together. Usually women drive me crazy if I spend day and night with them, however Laura rarely pissed me off. And she’s American.
FYI, Oceania is what the cheesy American SSI video man had called planet Earth. Apparently the Earth is 78% water so instead of calling it Earth…. I get their point. From this moment on, Laura, the two English girls in our scuba group and I called the sea, Oceania. You had to be there. Oh how we laughed.
The next two days saw me and my ‘scuba babes’ complete four dives. We boarded a large bright pink boat everyday, which took several groups out to our dive destinations. It was the gayest boat on the island. I loved it. The boat even had a toilet, pot noodle making facilities and free biscuits. We were treated well.
Scuba diving rocks. I loved it instantly. Diving into Oceania was a real buzz. I grew in confidence and skill with every dive, my buoyancy control was a little shady to start. To the amusement of my team, I was spotted on several occasions shooting up towards the surface or sinking down towards the coral. Hilarious. But after some practice and a little guidance from Geordie, my new scuba pro Spanish amigo, I achieved perfect buoyancy on my last dive. In my mind, I was getting quite good. Improving my scuba skills meant I could take more of my surroundings in. I was buzzing with adrenaline whenever I spotted a new fish or coral. I started enjoying slipping into my wetsuit, no nerves just a desire to get down there and start darting in between the corals. Admittedly the first dive was a bit nerve racking, but once you’re down there and you’ve got the breathing right and the pressure isn’t giving your ears any problems, you start to look up and see the beauty of Oceania. And she looked pretty cool. Like, really cool.
The coral had been heavily used by the 112 scuba diving schools on the island but for a first time diver the coral still had plenty of life and the fish were amazing. So close to nature. So beautiful. The feeling cannot be described by words. Freedom, gracefully floating, quiet, peaceful. I was opening the door to a world I knew nothing about. Every minute particle of visual stimulation fascinated me. Oceania had got me. She pulled me in. I was in love with her. I didn’t want to leave. I was sad to leave her every time we parted ways. I clambered back onto the bright pink and waiting Phoenix Queen after every dive, wishing I could be back in Oceania.
There had been sightings of the famous whale shark lurking around the island but unfortunately for us, she didn’t like pink and kept well away. However, I almost managed to swim through a group of vicious trigger fish. They bite if you step into their territory. My stupid yet adventurous personality was shining bright under Oceania’s waves. I spotted zebra fish, neon fish, multi-coloured fish, ugly fish and tiny weenie fish. I also spotted some full moon party worms. They were neon in colour and furry. Every time I swam close to the coral they would disappear. I found this very fun indeed and enjoyed my new found game. Those of you who know me well will realise I have no technical knowledge of fishes names, therefore I have invented names for them which I found relevant and easy to remember. It’s logical to me.
Laura and I tried out different hand signals to keep us amused whilst others practised their safety manoeuvres at the bottom of Oceania. Some, of course, were highly immature and slightly rude but the classic rock paper scissors was the clear winner. It’s strange being under water for up to 45 minutes at a time, with no means to talk or even express laughter.
I felt like I was flying. Every part of my day was enjoyable but we were far from perfect. Learning means mistakes have to be made. I kicked people and fish, Laura clumsily pushed me into the coral and the odd flipper would catch me in the head too, but this added to the entertainment. Whilst giving instructions, Al swam backwards into the coral. Brilliant. Even the instructor cocked it up. I kept forgetting instructions and when surfacing I would always forget to inflate my vest, causing me to sink under water again. How they laughed. However, it was all done with a smile and the laughter on top of the water after a dive relieves any of our worries about the cock ups below it. On the last day we had a man filming our antics. I’ll admit it, I love playing up for the camera, jumping off the top deck and pulling stupid faces still satisfies my inner child. I’m 30 going on 18. And what.
My scuba babes and I completed the final test with a 98% pass mark. Then we received our log books and certificates. That’s right folks, Mr Michael ‘Scuba King’ Craig and Laura ‘Queen of Oceania’ Sebo are now qualified scuba divers. I can go anywhere in Oceania down to 18m. Whoop.
The fishbowl was our favourite meeting place after a hard days diving and after dark, the drunken antics were set to full volume. The swinging rope of fire saw many a drunken man crash and burn. Even me. Inspired by the forever exposing party leader Rob, the team were naked and jumping the fire rope, the ring of fire and the squeezing under the limbo stick of fire. Twas fun. We had formed a tight crew, but this never lasts for long in the world of the back packer, people have plans and budgets. The conveyor belt of backpackers continually revolves. The next chapter is about to start.
I had a boat and bus ticket booked to go to Bangkok the following day. The gang was starting to split to go our separate ways. After Bangkok, I planned to go to Myanmar alone but Guy and Nordes were up for the mission too. We were going to be a sub team heading north west of Bangkok to Yangon, head first into the unknown. Tim was heading east to Cambodia and Laura and Rob were stranded in Koh Tao. Rob was waiting for his debit card to be delivered and Laura had come down with dengue fever. The mosquito chose her, not me. My scuba diving partner looked awful and I felt tinged with guilt for leaving her. I was pumped and she was lying in bed impersonating a dead person. Harsh, but my ticket was booked. I’d initiated a trip to Myanmar, I couldn’t back out now. I didn’t know it but the new sub team was about to start an epic journey into the wilderness of Myanmar, forging a formidable bond.
I fuelled Laura with coconut shakes and salad to ease my guilt and plodded down the way to meet Nordes and to say my fair well to Ben, my back packing buddy of almost three weeks. The taxi never arrived. Ten minutes before we are due on the ferry at Mae Haad Pier we ask the lady we bought the ticket from where the taxi was. Her facial expression of surprise told us she had forgotten. She panicked. We panicked. She called a taxi, we ran to the main road, the taxi didn’t arrive, we panicked some more. Some randoms tried to help us with a free lift on the back of some scooters. I drove up the road but the pick up truck taxi man finally arrived. We chucked our bags in the back and jumped in. He drove fast, the wind blowing the sweat out of our hair. We were late, but so was the ferry. Result. Destination Bangkok was still on. We met up with my lovely mate Siobhan and the girlies and enjoyed the three hour ferry ride to Camphon, the sun beating down on us, feet hanging off the edge, dreaming of the next chapter in Burma with our anticipation growing. The need to break free from the tourism and drinking culture of Thailand was something us individuals shared as a common goal. The future looks totally awesome. I love my life. I love the world. OUT.