Oops, we’ve been a bit negligent.
It’s been one amazing thing after another for us and it feels like we’re just now settling enough to catch you all up. To begin with, we got engaged! A week before leaving for Asia, we took a quick trip down to St. Petersburg, Florida to visit with Ian’s dad and Joanne. Ian took me by surprise while walking on the beach at sunset and asked me to marry him. It turns out he had been sneaking around for months, working with a local jeweler to have a custom engagement ring made, and it couldn’t be more meaningful and fitting for the both of us. It was such a special day(s) filled with lots of smiling, tears, love and of course champagne. Thank you all for your well wishes and excitement; it’s been amazing to feel the outpouring of love and support!
Amidst all this excitement, we hopped on a plane to Thailand! After last year’s trip we recognized that we wanted to focus this trip on diving. Coupled with the fact that Ian felt ready to do the next level of his diving certification (becoming a Dive Master), and my wish to share with him the place that has meant so much to me over the last four years, we decided to come to Koh Tao.
It’s always so perfectly bizarre coming back to Tao. Everything is the same—coming into the pier, the main roads, restaurants, street carts, motor bikes, dive shops, taxi trucks, beaches, backpackers, resorts, etc. etc.—but things also feel very different. There’s more new development, a noticeable amount of older travelers and families vacationing here, and most of all, new faces and the absence of some of the familiar ones. However, that is where the beauty of Koh Tao, and Phoenix in particular come in to play. Phoenix is always one big family, and those who stick around feel it. Sure, it’s a business and people come, learn to dive and leave. But many also come and dive and later on come back down to share a beer at the end of the day. And then there are those, like myself, who loved diving and felt so welcomed and comfortable at the shop that they stay for another course, and then another and another. Not everyone feels that way about Phoenix though, so in that sense, those have made the decision to stay have gone through a certain vetting process and put Phoenix through their own vetting process. All of this to say, it is always easy to come back into the Phoenix family. There are new faces and names to learn, but there is never the feeling of “maybe I won’t fit in anymore.”
So life begins again on the island. We had a little hiccup a couple weeks in due to a nasty stomach bug that was circling around, and our already sensitive, new-to-travel stomachs, but thankfully it’s been cleared up. Since then Ian has been busy assisting instructors on their courses (a main part of the Dive Master Training-DMT), completing various swimming and stress tests, and gaining experience being part of a large, (mostly) well-oiled dive shop.
As for me, I’ve picked up work here and there. It’s a refreshing change knowing that this is a stop in our trip and not an attempt to live here full time, because it eliminates the pressure to work every day. Last time when I had no plan for leaving, I felt like I had to take whatever work there was to make money and establish myself. This time, knowing we have an end date and other travel plans, I can enjoy a little more freedom and decide if and when I want to work, or when I want to go fun diving for myself. That said, this island is all about diving and not much else, so being able to have some work means I don’t go crazy sitting around twiddling my thumbs. This may seem like an unfair statement coming from someone on a tropical island to those of you back home battling snow and cold; but just sitting on the beach gets old after a while and I need more activity.
Check out our first attempt at an underwater video! It might be a little shaky, it’s a learning curve!
We also had the chance to do our Deep, Wreck, and (for Ian, since I already have mine) Nitrox specialties. Where we were already certified to dive to 30 meters, we are now able to go to 40 meters (130 feet). When divers are at these depths there is the possibility of nitrogen narcosis, which feels kind of like being drunk, but you’re under water which obviously poses different safety issues. The course is designed to test you at 40 meters to demonstrate how narcosis affects you and how to safely deal with it; especially as dive professional who might take customers to such depths and need to maintain their wits about them. We did this by going down to depth and playing a coordination game with numbers (kind of like a sobriety test) so everyone could see how their logic and reaction time were dulled. Ian and I both agreed we didn’t feel very “narc’d,” but maybe a little more relaxed in the sense that while we were supposed to be carefully monitoring our depth, the time we could stay there, our air, and our sense of direction, we suddenly didn’t feel overly concerned about any of it.
(Finally some decent photos of me underwater! Photo cred: Aaron Bull)
When it came to the wreck dives, we learned how to navigate through the inside of a wreck using reels to guide our way. Technical divers, or people going to much greater depths than we go, often use reels to help them find their way in the dark. The principal is the same in wreck diving. It’s easy for the silt to be kicked up and visibility lost when going through a wreck, which can cause disorientation that leads to accidents, so a line that has been reeled out acts as a guide to the outside. And Nitrox is a different blend of gasses from the air tanks we usually breathe. It has a higher percentage of oxygen which chiefly allows divers to stay at a depth for a longer amount of time. However, due to the extra percentage of oxygen in Nitrox, you also learn about oxygen toxicity, which is a greater factor than with normal air. All in all, it felt really good to continue to learn and explore new aspects of diving, especially as it’s been quite a while since I’ve done any kind of course.
Finally, we had a Portsmouth meets Koh Tao. This is where, despite all its pitfalls, I think Facebook is amazing when you’re traveling. Via Facebook we learned that someone Ian and I went to school with—actually, whose mother also taught Ian in the 4th and 5th grade–was traveling with her boyfriend in Australia and New Zealand, and making the jump over to Asia with the intention of coming to Koh Tao and learning to dive. We knew each other in school, but we all moved in different circles, and would never have guessed that in 10 years we would be spending a week together on an island in Thailand. But coming across Americans is a bit rarer in these parts, never mind one from your area, and definitely not one you know. For having just left home a month ago, it was surprisingly nice to see a face from Portsmouth at the pier.
Ian got to assist on their Open Water course and after they got certified we were all able to go out for some fun dives. During the course you’re trying to process all the information while remembering to do everything you’re supposed to be doing, all while totally out of your element. So the first fun dives afterwards are always pure enjoyment, because you’re no longer worrying about doing everything right, you’re just diving. It always feels that much more exciting every time I get to introduce someone in my life to diving. Diving, and the act of breathing underwater and swimming around with the fish is amazing in itself, but the fact that I’m able to be there to watch their faces go from “am I doing this right…” to “this is unbelievable!” makes the experience that much more special.
Both Ian and I have commented that the older we get the harder it is to make good friends. Friends you grow up with who have a similar history come easily when we’re younger; likewise with college friends who share new and pivotal experience that often create lasting bonds. But when we leave school and begin our own lives, and try to make friends who have been living their own life, it seems just a bit harder to get to the next level, that for so many years came easily. We feel so lucky to have met Hillary and Rylan as adults. They are moving parallel to our life of working and traveling, but very much living their own. However, our shared history with Hillary makes the friendship feel instantly older and well seeded. Traveling has a way of cutting through the clutter of small-talk and getting right to people’s true personality. Shared experiences feel so much more vivid and strong, and even if they only last a day you can leave feeling truly connected to a person. Spending a full week with Hillary and Rylan in such a beautiful place, both on land and under water, created an amazing friendship that we’ll be lucky enough to share either on this side of the world or on the other.
Like I said, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind, but we’re having a blast!
Here’s a video of us exploring southern part of Koh Tao. Again, it’s a bit shaky, so be warned and apologize in advance!