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Top of the world to the bottom of the ocean (in 5 days or less)

October 4, 2012

On Monday morning I flew past Mount Everest. Today I sat on the ocean floor. Its been quite a vacation.

Koh Samui is an island off the coast of Thailand on the Gulf side (Phuket, the best known island is on the Indian Ocean side). It is, to an international collection of divers and surf hippies, what Pokhara is to trekkers – a bit of a mecca where some percentage will never leave.

I arrived yesterday and immediately signed up for a massage. It was in a little hut on the beach where they’d lined up 7 mattresses for eager tourists to have their knots worked out. My masseuse was strong. Really, really strong and she had little time for my excuses about why I was so stiff. “I was just trekking in the Himalayas.” “It’s very bad!” was her stern reply.

After a little torture and a lot of relief, she turned her attention to my feet, which are not great on a good day, but after the trek, they were very dry, scaly, and generally gross. “How can you live with this?” she asked as she pumiced the life out of them.

When I was finally shiny and new I found a lounge chair on the beach, ordered a pina colada and set about relaxing. I lasted nearly an hour before getting bored. I swam and ordered another drink before throwing in the towel and going to a walk.

The “main” street of Samui is like any island town – lots of little stores selling pucca shell necklaces and pares. There was of course the collection of Thai tat as well – cheap jewelry (yes, I bought some) and electronics (didn’t buy any. There was a van going up and down the road blasting the theme to Rocky and inviting everyone to the kickboxing  “Fight of the Year” but never actually saying where it was.These was a little shop that gave fish pedicures. You put your feet in a tub of water filled with little fish and they eat away all the dead skin. I toyed with trying it, but I’m not sure there was anything but baby skin left on my feet after the massage.

On my way home I passed a dive shop and casually stopped to look at the fliers outside. Alex, a Brit who’s made the island his home, was on my quickly convincing me that diving would be the perfect end to my vacation, no worries that I’d never done it before.

After a little Facebook support, I signed up. Then headed for bed – it was a 7am pick up.

This morning, at 7am, I joined about 15 others headed to the boat. In what’s been a theme this holiday, I was the only America among many Germans, some Russians, an Israeli, and 4 Irish women celebrating their college graduation.

We met our instructors. German Andy had an elephant face tattoo on one bicep and its ass on the other. Australian Jo chain smoked, had a bleached streak in her hair and made me laugh. I got Andy.

After about three hours of cruising, during which I learned that I was the only beginner and would have to wait until everyone else;s dives were complete and they were eating lunch before I could go in, we reached the first dive site. Then Andy quickly ran through the safety rules. While the initial divers were underway, I donned some snorkeling gear and got a look at the life below. I swam among schools of fish of all shapes and sizes – zebra, bright yellow, soft blue, you name it. And the coral reefs, full of life, were stunning.

Then it was my turn. I’m sure everyone looks silly getting into a wetsuit, but I did, even if everyone else doesn’t. Andy quickly complimented my scissor kicks, though any Waukeela Camp girl who had Stevie Ma’am as a swimming instructor would equally impress him with their “purdy” strokes.

That was the last time he said anything nice to me. My first dip in I got air in my mask. “You have too much hair!” was his only reply. When I told him I was swallowing water, he said, rather unhelpfully,  “I don’t.”  Eventually, I was ready to submerge. I know what’s involved in scuba gear and I’m very comfortable in the water, but when he let the air out of my vest and the weights around my waist took hold, it was disconcerting to say the least.  A couple go’s later, he said “Ok – next time you must do better.” and we rebounded the boat.

As we reached dive site two and as I jumped in to snorkelwhiles the others dove, one of my fins fell off and sunk. Andy’s reply when I told him was “that’s not good.” Yes, I know that part. What do I do? Jo rescued it from the bottom of the sea and off we went. When It was my turn to dive again, I considered skipping it. But I figured I got through the damn trek, this wouldn’t stop me! Andy was gruff and, dare I say, German, about it all, but two tries later, we were sitting on the bottom of the ocean as he tested me in dive skills. Each time I glanced away to check out the fish, he’d wave his hand in my face, point to my eyes and then his, so it was good that I got my sea-life peeping in on the snorkel.

Back on the boat, we headed back to Samui in silence. At one point the boat stalled for a seemingly ling time. We sat and looked at the water not talking and I began to think of one of our more annoying trail games.  “Would you rather be stuck in the beautiful ocean on a clear day, but with humorless strangers or be in a terrifying storm in a fragile tent on the side of a mountain, with a bunch of jolly souls who make you laugh?” I miss my trail friends!

I’ve never really thought of myself as the “go big or go home” type, but my first time back mountain hiking since I was a teenager, I did in the Himalayas. My first scuba dive was in the Gulf of Thailand. And many of you know that my first experience with mediation was at a 10 day silent retreat. I was terrible at all of them in varying degrees, but I’d do each o them again. I’m thinking my problem with running isn’t that I don’t want to train for the next 5k, it’s that I’m not thinking about the marathon!

Tomorrow I begin an epic journey back to NY. I’ll be home on Saturday, which leaves just enough time to shower, launder, and get ready to go to San Francisco. I can’t wait!

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One Comment
  1. Mike Miller permalink

    So the is the title for the trip “Went Big AND Came Home!”?

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