Scarce had Shane and I made port on Koh Tao, grabbed our shuttle to Ban’s Diving Resort and made our hike up to our room with its breathtaking view and spacious quarters before we were thrown into the first day of SCUBA diving class: orientation at 5:00.
Our instructor: Anthony Griffiths launched into an inspirational speech: he was very bald, very English and very passionate. He promised the next 4 days would be life changing as he would impart the ability to explore a realm more unknown to man than the surface of the moon covering sixty-percent of the world and comprising the same percent of our bodies.
I hung on every word heart racing with the new adventure that I would be embarking on. Next on the agenda was sitting through 2 hours’ worth of videos on the technicalities of diving from the 90’s bringing back repressed memories of choker necklaces, scrunchies and ill patterned, too short tank tops complete with “humorous sketches” that more reminded me of a Gak commercial than an informational video. Cringe temporarily dulled the wonder and inspiration I had felt, but I nonetheless returned to my room eager for the day ahead.
The next day we met bright and early: 10 tired travelers shaken into the waking world by cheeky British jokes that wouldn’t quit, information that wouldn’t halt and energy that had me wondering where I could get double shot espressocaine. I wipe the sleepiness from my eyes, strap on a mask, pull on the equipment that weighs as much as I do and sink to the bottom of 5 feet of water to practice skills.
Diving is a bit of sign language, a bit of math and physics, a bit of swimming and a lot of being a fish. Anthony tells us to breathe our way through the depths using our lungs as leverage for positive or negative buoyancy. A few laps around the pool and I am a mermaid concentrating on filling my lungs to rise and emptying them to descend.
The next day on the boat I nervously prepare my equipment, ask the boys to do the hard unscrewing of knobs that I just can’t seem to pull off with my biceps that are only toned from scrawling English grammar on a whiteboard 5 hours a day. All set and lugging the equivalent dead weight of a fully grown siamese twin on my back I am eager to get into the water where the weight will magically disappear. But a 6 foot drop from the side of a rocking motorboat separates me from this goal.
Jacket pumped up with air to full marshmallow, mask on, regulator in my mouth, holding them in place with my right hand while my left secures my weight belt that is adding another 8 pounds or 4 kilos for extra sinkage I feel encased in a strait jacket and that doesn’t exactly evoke an urge to jump even with the promise of floatation. I hesitate, but the ever smiling Anthony head glistening in the tropical sun is warmly motioning me in he has so much wonder to show us below. He’s the kind of person who could assure you that jumping from a cliff would not only be safe, but be one of the most interesting and rewarding experiences of a lifetime.
The group follows a mooring line down and eventually all of us are resting at the bottom of the ocean surrounded by coral reef life mastering the skills of yesterday, blowing water out of our masks without surfacing, using another’s emergency oxygen. Then we are on an adventure following like a small school of fish our instructor weaving in and out of the reef bed, dusting algae and sand of the particularly beautiful structures. Diving becomes breathing my way up and down through the water. It’s amazing how little notice the fish take of such a strange looking alien in their world we swim alongside them.
During the second dive I feel something brushing against my face while I’m swimming enjoying the scenery. Confused and worried some piece of equipment has come loose I check my bearings and my ponytail and then brush whatever it is off, it returns. I shake my head and brush more forcefully creating a forward current with my hand that is followed by a slender electric blue fish with black stripes lining its tube of a body like a race car. It happily swims over to Shane following along with him like his new dive buddy, keeping perfect pace before taking a few nips from his shoulder and swimming off. I giggle at being eaten alive and saltwater trickles into my smile. I clear it out with a blast of air.
Over the next 3 days I venture into the blue gulf of Thailand, sunlight filtering downward in white rays through lazy ripples of open ocean waves. I marvel at cliffs of coral growing below what is at the surface an unremarkable, smallish looking rock jutting from the sea, explore brightly colored canyons with dark purple sea urchins spikes extending and probing slowly from every crevice, and swim across fields of twiggy coral tangled like pale thorned bushes from a fairy tale. I pass little colored feathery umbrellas the size of my thumb that quickly fold into their tubes at sensing the current of my swimming, I watch fish of so many colors and sizes swim in groups, chase each other in pairs, and swiftly swim alone to catch up to others. So much natural beauty to behold exists here that you forget about anything else and for a little while you belong here, going back in evolutionary history to the sea.
The course was indeed life changing in that it opened up a deep sea of new horizons to be explored and added so many new places to my ever expanding list of places to visit. Our instructor warmly congratulates us, gives us a shake and our new temporary licenses. I am sorry to not spend more time with this crazy British man obsessed with the sea, making jokes and educating us divers in the ways of scuba as well as the problems facing this beautiful realm that he has opened up to us; imparting not only a new hobby, but the realization of newfound passion is written our newly certified faces.
All in all it was a uniquely perfect experience that is rather rare in life where you feel that by blind chance you were in the right place at the right time and with exactly the right people to have an experience that would have unknowingly had such a slighter impact on your life if even a small factor were altered. And for the rest of my life I will ever be A Diver, and all the thirst for adventure and passion for life that entails.