Scuba diving in Phuket

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With our BCDs (buoyancy control devices) inflated, we’re floating in Racha Island’s Bungalow bay, some 12 km south of Phuket. Alexia, our dive instructor explains our next practical test on the final day of our 4-day open water scuba diving course.

“Ok, once we descend to about 12 meters , you’ll completely remove your mask, swim 15 meters along the sea floor, put your mask back on and clear it.”

As we hear these instructions, Marina and I exchange nervous glances.

“Are you ready?” asks Alexia.

“Ready!” Marina and I respond in unison, hoping the volume of our response masks our trepidation.

Only 3 days ago, while doing the theory part of our course, the mere idea of breathing underwater made my palms sweaty. And yet, that is the least of our worries now.

Before we have time to contemplate any further, as if by instinct, we place our regulators in our mouths, raise the exhaust valve of our BCD’s above our heads, push the deflator button, and begin to sink under the water.

Once we’re all kneeling on the sandy sea floor, Alexia signals that I’ll be the first to go.

As instructed, I slowly remove my mask and instinctively close my eyes as the water rushes in. Although the regulator is still in my mouth, breathing through it while not sucking up water through my exposed nostrils is a challenge. I grasp the mask in my hand, and begin swimming.

Before I know it, Alexia is right beside me, tapping on my shoulder; I’ve covered the necessary distance. With both hands, I place the mask over my face, and secure the strap behind my head. Next I tilt the bottom part of the mask away from my face as I begin to blow air through my nose; an action that replaces the water in my mask with air. After a couple breaths, I can once again open my eyes and avoid the sting of the salty water.

Making an “o” using her thumb and index finger, Alexia signals successful completion. She shakes my hand, and swims over to Marina, who’s about to perform the same test.

After Marina and I do a few more tests, the fun finally begins as we go for an exploratory swim around the bay.

Marina and I swim along as John keeps a close eye on us in the background

 

Moving around through this foreign world, spotting honeycomb eels, porcupine fish, yellow box fish, sergeant majors, among others, I note how relaxed my breathing is, and how calm I have become.

So this is what scuba diving is all about.

When I was younger, I’d watch shows about sea life and often wonder whether the underwater world actually looked as brilliant as it did on television. Being naturally sceptical, I certainly had my doubts. However, this scepticism was quickly shattered during my first snorkelling experience in Cuba in 2001. As soon as my mask touched the water for the first time, I was stunned by how colourful and lively the underwater world really was. Since then, I have been absolutely mesmerized by underwater life and have taken every opportunity to snorkel on our travels.

Not surprisingly, I’ve wanted to learn to scuba dive for nearly a decade. A good friend of mine who also happened to be a scuba instructor even lent me a copy of the study guide so I could prepare to take the course. Sadly, that book sat and accumulated dust on our book shelf for years as we ploughed through our PhDs. And to be honest, I wasn’t particularly keen on learning to dive in the frigid and murky waters of Lake Ontario.

When we initially departed for Southeast Asia, getting our scuba diving certification was a top priority. As soon as we took our first steps on Phuket’s beautiful beaches and swam in the warm and crystal clear waters of the Andaman Sea, it was only a matter of time.

And now, resting on our boat ride back to Phuket, we revel in the satisfaction of having finally accomplished one of our long-term dreams. Also, we’re ecstatic to now be able to pursue another one of our dreams: diving the Great Barrier Reef!

Thanks to Phuket Scuba Club, and specifically to Alexia, John, and Nic for making one of our dreams come true. You guys were phenomenal instructors, and great friends. We hope to dive with all of you again!

Us with Nic and Alexia on our celebratory dinner:)

Peter

Note: Thanks to Alexia for taking the wonderful underwater photos

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Monkeying around in Southeast Asia

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“I think I prefer seeing monkeys in the zoo”, I tell Marina while walking among the hundreds of curious and mischievous monkeys in Ubud’s Monkey Forrest in Bali, Indonesia.

We have been in Southeast Asia for about 2.5 months now and have managed to encounter monkeys on the road, on mountains, in parks, caves, cafes, temples, and beaches.

While I am all for monkeys living in their natural habitat rather than behind bars in a zoo, given the nature of these frisky primates I would personally prefer some degree of separation.

Nevertheless, due to the frequency with which we find ourselves surrounded by a group of monkeys, Marina and I have picked up a few safety tips from various locals.

Feeding monkeys near Hua Hin, Thailand.

For those of you planning on seeing monkeys in the wild here are a few quick pointers.

1) No Smiling:

Seriously. Even though their actions may be hilarious, it is better not to laugh, or even smile for that matter in a monkey’s presence. Since bearing teeth is a sign of aggression, you showing your teeth while smiling may send the wrong message.

2) No food or shiny objects on your person:

Monkeys are a curious and perceptive bunch and they may become particularly interested in you if you are wearing anything shiny (jewellery, sunglasses, etc.), have any food on you, or are holding something in your hand. The rule of thumb is this: if a monkey tries to take something from you, it’s best to let them have it rather than fighting them for it. Better yet, do not wear anything that might attract attention, and do not carry any food with you. Additionally, if you notice you are being stalked by a curious macaque, show them your open and empty palms and often they will immediately lose interest.

3) Keep clear of injured or dead monkeys:

On one particular occasion in Ubud, we came across a monkey that had just fallen out of a tree and was badly hurt, writhing in pain on the ground. Our natural instinct was to get close and see if we could help. Thankfully, one of the experienced park staff quickly stopped us from getting mulled by the onlooking monkeys. As was explained to us, approaching a hurt monkey is likely to incite an attack by the other members of that group. Thus, if you come across a hurt or dead monkey, best to give it space.

4) Back away slowly:

Finally, if you encounter an aggressive monkey, simply back away slowly while continuing to face them. Since turning your back is a sign of fear, such action may increase their confidence, potentially leading them to attack.

A showdown in progress.

Now that I’ve gotten you completely paranoid, please note that 99.9% of the time you’ll be absolutely fine. Despite our countless encounters (even when I fed a bucket of peanuts to a bunch of monkeys in Hua Hin’s Monkey Mountain) nothing even remotely dangerous ever occurred. And while we certainly witnessed a number of tourists freaking out when one or 3 monkeys jumped on them, no one ever got hurt. For the most part, the monkeys we came across were most often participating in any one of these 3 activities: eating, sex, or resting.

Just look at this face…

Awwww...

Peter

Note: As our few loyal readers may have noticed, this blog has been collecting cobwebs over the past few months. Let me assure you this silence was not due to a lack of adventures. For the past number of months we’ve been exploring Southeast Asia, and just recently settled into our next temporary home in New Zealand. As opposed to our travels through South America where I constantly updated the blog in nearly real-time, this time around I chose to experience everything as it happened without worrying how I could turn said experience into a blog post. But fear not! Thanks to my notes and Marina’s 10 000+ photos, we will be updating the blog with our most recent adventures over the next little while. Stay tuned!

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