Is it really Christmas tomorrow? The temperature here on Koh Tao remains in the high 20s, the sun continues to warm our bones, and as I type this the sea is lapping gently against the steps of Alvaro diving school. Aside from the modestly bedecked tree in the corner of the school there’s not a piece of tinsel in sight. It’s a far cry from three winters ago when I cycled the wintry streets of Croydon trying to avert my eyes from the garishly over-illuminated house that intruded tackily on my otherwise enjoyable ride to work. We’re not total Grinches though and will be marking the day by feasting with friends at Fishy Burgers’ all-you-can-eat dinner. The menu is a transatlantic smorgasbord of Christmas fare ranging from turkey to pumpkin pie. We’ve already begun to starve ourselves in preparation.
It’s been a time of change here at the dive school. Over the past few week our numbers have been swelled by the arrival of a batch of new Divemaster Trainees (DMTs), eager to expand their underwater horizons, and us ‘old lags’ have enjoyed showing them the ropes, proudly showing off our new skills. But in the last week the merry band of pirates that started DMT life together back in October has been decimated, first by the infamous ‘snorkel test’ (an alcoholic rite of passage which all newly qualified Divemasters must endure…or so we were told) and secondly by the sad departure of half of our number as they return to their former lives.
Whilst the snorkel test was merely a temporary cull (the Sea Cutter was a ghost ship the next day), the return of our friends to their former lives has intruded much more harshly on our happy little world. Goodbye Banana Brothers, Hollywood, the BGs and ‘Lil Miss Sunshine. We’ve shared the most amazing journey with you, from nervous newbies, to fully fledged, confident Divemasters, able to brief and lead qualified divers on underwater adventures, navigate with reasonable accuracy even in the most turbid murk, produce maps of underwater sites, safely manoeuvre a lift bag and its load, and, most importantly, drink an entire litre bucket of whisky, rum and coke through a snorkel. At times it’s been hard – both physically and mentally. Each one of us has faced personal challenges, screwed up, doubted our ability, been bolstered by the support of the other DMTs (and the instructors) and finally overcome our demons to achieve the level of competence required for sign off. There have been tears, but mostly good times and laughter. The Banana Brothers demonstrated how to eat their favourite fruit underwater; Melissa and Pink Bunny danced and capered and took off their fins to wriggle their toes in the soft sand of the seabed; Hollywood kept us guessing about whether Leonardo Di Caprio really is his cousin; Slacky Andy proved his slackline prowess; Braveheart (half of the BGs) impressed with back-to-back equipment exchanges; Bobbity Bob Bob’s good cheer and joy in being underwater never fails to make me glow with shared pleasure; Little Timmy has shown us oldsters how to party; Endika has patiently helped me with my execrable Spanish pronunciation (Vamos a bucear!); Heather (the other half of the BGs) showed as much grit as the granite city she hails from to beat her heavy weight belt into submission and also to beat all the other DMTs in the snorkel test; and ‘Lil Miss Sunshine demonstrated true Divemaster warmth and friendliness by effortlessly charming her numerous ‘husbands’ (on shore, on the boat, and below the water), not to mention her several ‘bits on the side’ and not forgetting that every side has a corner so she could have a ‘bit on the corner’ too! Keith, after his first amusing/infuriating (delete according to your point of view) and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to locate the wreck of the Sattakut, can now navigate to it blindfolded from pretty much any buoy line in the vicinity. Banana Ben and I finally overcame our mutual horror of opening our eyes underwater to complete the ‘no mask swim’, and I have also somehow tricked my cowardly inner self into being quiescent for long enough to allow me to conduct a passable dive briefing without even feeling a little bit like bursting into tears (which was a rather inconvenient hazard at the start of the course). We’ve logged around 100 dives in the last 2 months, completed a Nitrox speciality course and almost finished our Wreck Penetration speciality. It’s been an incredible journey. Whilst we haven’t travelled as far physically as on our pedal-powered odyssey, the distance we’ve travelled in ourselves has been just as profound.
Thanks of course also go to the instructors (Scuba Steve, Judith, Sascha, Luce, Lio, Daniela, Bruno and Cariss), to Pla (who went on numerous dive-shop shopping expeditions on our behalf) and to the boat crew (Cola, Cota, Mo, Mosa, Shop and The Captain).
We only have a couple of weeks left on Koh Tao, which will pass all too quickly. We’re excited about getting back on the bike again, but also dreading our final dive. So much so in fact that we’re putting some serious thought into how we can combine diving and cycling as we continue our travels, most notably how on earth we might fit a further 30kgs of bulky equipment onto our already heavily laden rig – any inspired ideas gratefully received.
Right, that’s enough from us for now. Allons Plonger! Vamos A Bucear! Pai Dam Nam! Let’s Go Diving!