Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Aquatic astronaut

I barely have a chance to dry off from the last dive of the open water course when Ollie jumps right into his sugar coated pitch trying to sell us on the ADVANCED diving course. One of the major angles he works is that advanced diving gives us the chance to get "narced" (as in nitrogen narcosis). As I mentioned previously, this silliness occurs when a diver submerges past 30m (100ft), and the concentrated nitrogen mix they inhale results in a variety of euphoric effects. I'm sold.

All sorts of wonderful swimming around inside that salty turquoise delight

Before taking on the advanced dive training I spend a whole day getting a little more friendly with this alluring island of Koh Tao. I meet up with my English dive buddy Marcus and we set out in search of a swath of serene beach. Rather then take the easy way there by taxi (lame) we decide to rough it and climb along the boulder strewn coast towards our destination.

A far-off glimpse of the rocky coast

Rock climbing in sandals is not ideal! Marcus and I silently dare each other to take on increasingly dangerous maneuvers. Sandals and dangerous rock climbing maneuvers do not mix well! At one point while standing on a steeply tilted rock face, my mind overrides the adrenaline veil pumping me full of overconfidence in order to inform me "Parker, if you fall from this height it will not result in a very pleasant sensation for Parker." Thanks common sense! I take a different route on that occasion.

We take a moment to split boulders with a swift karate chop.

We shuffle along steep palm shaded hillsides past dozens of half-constructed ghost bungalows. Remnants of a failed investment, or precursors of a resort to come? Either way, it's clear that Koh Tao is growing. Fast. Overpriced tourist-trap outlets and trendy beach resorts are popping up all over the island like boners in a middle school sex-ed class - whether you want em there or not.

Marcus (aka Screech) living it up

Finally we stop to take a breather at a hidden beach that's been overtakenn  by a small resort. Mostly European families lay around the palm shaded sand, taking advantage of the private bay that Marcus and I have dropped in on. After grabbing some pricey resort water and checking a map we find we've made little progress...In fact we've backtracked a fair amount, making a huge loop. Looks like a taxi will have to do after all. Can't say we didn't try!

Fancy beach bay resort. I prefer deserted beach bays myself, but if I had a wife and kids I wouldn't mind staying there.

Finally we arrive at Freedom Beach where we find Marcus' friend Julia as well as their travel friends Jacob and Hayley. Local dogs sprint back and forth nipping at each other playfully and paddling around the shallow ocean bay that surrounds the beach. Us humans spend a while loafing around the warm waters as well, lazily whacking a little pink rubber ball around to each other with wooden paddles. 

Beach bow-wower

The sun beams down steadily upon the bay; every once in a while one of us dives into the near-still waters to cool off. Not a care in the world, aside from one minor thing. The sand under the water is riddled with bits of coral and many small holes. Every once in a while one of us steps on a hole with something occupying it, and an angry claw pops out to pinch the unlucky foot in protest. Keeps me on my toes!

Notice the ghostly pale figure of the bunch slowly turning pink. Broken chameleon skills.

Time slips past without notice, and when I finally remember to slather on some sunscreen it's far too late. My skin slowly turns to the shade of a steamed lobster. I've never been much good at staying unsunburnt - it's just not my forte. I hitch a ride back to Big Blue on the back of Julia's rental scooter. This marks the second occasion I've found myself whisked around town behind a kind gal (the first experience being in Lopburi, when that kind old Thai woman found me lost and gave me a lift to the train station). I got it made!

Tough guys driving with the girl on the back of the bike just don't know what they're missing out on. Rollin e-z.

The next morning the dive group meets up to start learning some fancy new tricks. The group remains nearly the same, aside from one change in the female role. Alina had to make her way back home (her knight in shining armor boyfriend was anxiously awaiting her return) so Marcus' German friend Julia fills the underwater void with a bright smile, youthful air, and fair looks to rival any siren of the sea.

The advanced dive crew getting learned some sea knowledge.

The dive sights around the Koh Tao are speckled with colorful sea life swimming around patches of reefs in various states of health (you can tell the heavy tourism has affected the underwater ecosystem). I can't forget to mention the droves of divers kicking around down there everywhere I look earning their own certifications. It gets a bit crowded down there from time to time! Comes with the territory I suppose. Koh Tao is the cheapest place to go for dive certification - the island is home to countless dive schools, two of which crank out more certified open water divers then anywhere else in the world (Big Blue is number two).

The captain of this sea vessel

One particular highlight is our wreck dive along an eerie, algae coated US battleship, the HTMS Sattarut. A triggerfish hovers silently over the long frozen turret at the bow of the boat. Very surreal. My only question is this: How ya 'spose to battle if you're underwater covered in muck, ship? Hmm?

My last few Koh Tao dives leave me with many vivid memories. Hefty titan triggerfish guarding their territory aggressively; if a diver ventures too close to their nesting territory their chameleon-like eyes lock onto the trespasser and the fish attempts to take a chunk out of anything they can fit between their jutting buck teeth bone plates. I keep my distance, but secretly hope to watch some poor, unsuspecting diver get chased off by one of these big testy fish.

Titan triggerfish in attack mode. Can't take credit for this one, props to Christian Loader, whoever you may be - I hope you dodged those gnarly fish teeth in time

Beneath a low coral arch rests a solitary, mysterious looking blue-spotted stingray. Her skin is alive as wave after wave glides along her thin grey edges of hypnotically, like a skirt patterned with neon blue polka dots blowing lightly in a breeze.

The stealthy looking blue-spotted stingray. Thanks to Klaus Jost for the image. What a swell shot.

Now for a Pokémon reference. Spotting a new aquatic life-form for the first time in person is much like the thrill of catching a new Pokémon and having it's info filled into the Pokédex. I keep a dive-log which acts much like a Pokédex. It allows me to keep track of everything I've sighted along my various sea-faris along with location, dive time, water temperature, and any other info I might care to jot down. Some creatures are far more rare or difficult to spot than others. When I happen to spy one of these gems it's as if I've just caught a wild lvl. 61 Gyrados. Gyrados, use Hydro Pump! Critical hit!! Thrills and chills.

Just imagine if there were such thing as an underwater Dive-é-dex...Working on it.

One of the simplest yet enticing sights lies throughout the reefs in cluster after cluster of these dainty feather worms that sprout out from corals in a variety of intense reddish oranges, goldenrods, deep blues, and bright whites. With a quick sweep of the hand near their vibrant fanned tips they all vanish into their tiny holes to hide away from the commotion.

Can't say I snapped this photo, but it has to be seen. Now imagine all of those feathery disappearing at once! It's like magic.

If one wished to create the equivalent of this phenomena but is currently in Colorado, first find a field of prairie dogs. Next, attach a brightly colored feather to the top of every prairie dog head. Finally, run through the prairie dog field while screaming like ravenous bird of prey and observe all the little feathered rodent heads plunge down into their dirt mound tunnel-holes. It's kinda like that.

Closest thing image I could find to match step two of my concept. If the party hats were flipped upside down it would also work. Props to whoever made this!

We learn to hover weightlessly, upside down, and tap our noses lightly upon a metal weight upon the sand. Undersea circus seals! Thirty meters under Ollie pulls out a regular old can of Coke, only instead of it appearing in its signature red glean, it's blackish-brown. The dense blue ocean water filters red light out from the light spectrum more and more as one descends underwater. Some divers wear masks with a red tint over the lens to give the reef and it's colorful residents back some of their magenta and crimson hues.

Then there's the night dive - my fondest memory in my time spent gliding around the calm waters surrounding Koh Tao. The sun sinks into the horizon and darkness seeps into the sea, disguising nocturnal shapes in shadows. The only light to reveal my aquatic surroundings spills from the long, narrow beam of my underwater flashlight. 

Along this dimly lit dive I can't help but provide my very own undersea soundtrack. Singing into the respirator doesn't result in the most pleasant sound but it will have to do. My DIY sea radio-station plays all aquatic themed tunes (what else would you expect?). I'm talkin' Unknown Mortal Orchestra's "Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)", I'm talkin' Grizzly Bear's "Deep Sea Diver", I'm talkin' "Deep Blue Sea" (cover also by Grizzly Bear).

Ahoy there night cruisin boatster buds!

It takes some adjusting to, but being wrapped in complete darkness many meters beneath the water's surface creates this fantastically surreal and relaxing sensation. The lack of light puts the senses at ease, with only my small spotlight of illumination to process at any given time (and maybe one or two others from the other divers in the group. 

Nocturnal Koh Tao

Pairs of raccoon butterflyfish flash briefly into view, dressed in vivid yellow with stark black and brown streaks, a narrow white forehead band, and their signature raccoon-like masks over their eyes. Watching these silent ocean lifeforms under the veil of night makes the whole experience seem a bit more alien then it already feels.

Suspended, weightless, cruising through the void of cool darkness, a calm yet electrified sensation pours into me. An aquatic astronaut am I!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Ollie's tale

Rub-a-dub-docean, five divers in the ocean. Big Blue Dive School keeps me submerged for several days amongst fellow divers and plentiful marine life. I learn how not to drown, to be comfortable even, while 54 feet below the surface. My evenings find me drinking Chang and devouring delicious and unforgivingly spicy Thai food (the papaya salad gets me sweating and crying through every tangy, masochistic bite).

Papaya salad - do not underestimate the burn

Three days and four dives later I finish the Open Water Dive course. I even got me the bonified cer-ti-fi-cation card to prove it. Yippee kai yo! There is celebration to be had for the occasion, so a few of us fellas from the dive team, Angus, George and I, get together along with our dive instructor Ollie for dinner and some excessive alcoholic beverage consumption.

We begin with an all-too-eager 5pm start, coupled with a non-stop flow of cold Chang and clinking Godfather shots (a Jameson and amaretto combo that goes down far too easily). By 9pm I find myself surprisingly obliterated by the combination. Glug glug glug, got me drinkin' like a fish. I haven't drank like this since a was in high-school. I am drunk as a skunk. With my liver unconditioned and ill-prepared to face the flood of alcohol, I am left little choice but to throw in the towel.

Fire fire fire fire fire fire

The following morning I slowly stir awake with a dull throbbing in the temples, but my pain is quickly forgotten when I sit down with the others to hear Ollie recount the previous night's tale. Now this is all hearsay, but as the story goes, after I had hit the hay (hard), Ollie, Angus, and George continued on with a fierce determination. They hopped next door to the ever-raging bar Cancun and continued to down copious amounts of beer and shots. By then Ollie was hopelessly blacked out and rearing to make some questionable decisions. Allegedly he was approached by a friendly female who, in his skewed drunken judgement, he considered a potential mate. According to the blackmail-worthy photographs Angus managed to snap at the bar, Ollie was holding her buns like they were a life raft in a heaving sea. With eyes distant and mouth agape, he looked to be having a fine time. 

By nightfall all are drunken, I am incapacitated

As the story goes, next thing Ollie knows it's four in the morning, and through a thick drunken haze he slowly comes to the realization that he has no idea whose apartment bed he is laying in. He looks around the dark room and meets the eyes of a small dog, sitting beside him on the bed, staring deeply into his soul. He then peers downward to find a strange, homely looking gal (who had appeared to him a beauty-queen only hours before), performing determined fellatio on him in his semi-unconscious state.

According to Ollie he hopped up and bolted right out of there, but I think he stuck around for a bit longer...Ollie refuses to so much as glance at the embarrassing photos that Angus presents to him (and all of us) the next day. He will try his very best to wipe the whole ordeal from his memory, pretend like it never happened, but I have a feeling that the soulful stare of that little dog on the bed will flash into his mind every time he receives a blowjob for the rest of his days. Lil Bow Wow.

This is not the actual dog from the strange apartment, but simply here to create a visual for the sake of the story

Monday, April 21, 2014

Big Blue Diving: The Movie

Ever dream of starring in a comedy-action-romance-nature-documentary-reality-show, underwater? I know I haven't. Regardless, for one day the divers in my Open Water course and myself are all undersea-stars (not to be confused with starfish, ya wise-guy). Yes, we are followed by a spritely young underwater cameraman who films our every move in and out of the watery depths with his waterproof rig. Fancy that!

My dive group is full of characters who are already pretty obscene and outrageous by default. Adding the spotlight of the camera further dissolves any fragments of inhibition that might remain. How does one top something already over-the-top? Topple the untoppable? 

"Twins" one of the salty dive sights around Koh Tao.

At 7am we rub the sand from our weary eyes (the sleepy time sandman variety of sand, that is) and the six of us line up on the beach with the camera man a dozen meters before us. We bound gallantly across the sand towards the camera in cheesy-suave Baywatch fashion as we flaunt our very best intro moves. Ollie keeps his cool (as always), George and Marcus follow suit, Alina does some rock'n'roll move, and when the camera pans over to Angus he leans over to give my leg a few dry-humps that don't quite surprise me. I give my nips a tweak and let the tongue droop out. Gotta show the camera some love, ya know?

I didn't take any photos during the day of filming, but this chick snapped a selfie with my camera when I requested a group photo. Never again!

The film-fed antics continue as we hop into a smallish boat piled high with dive tanks and gear, which delivers us to the larger dive boat that we'll spend most of our day on as it takes us over to the dive sights. Finally, we tumble into the sea, showing off our newly learned front-flip entry method: The James Bond Roll. Slick.

Sinking down into the blue, the cameraman submerges as well and tails us closely. For one fleeting, passionate moment beneath the waves George and Alina become entangled in a fit of furious aquatic dry humping (wet-dry-humping?). Angus looks on and plays it off like he doesn't feel a spike of jealousy at the sight. It shoulda been you man, it shoulda been you. 

Cruisin' - wish I had one of them underwater cameras! Disposable camera. I miss Raz.

yank out my regulator to flash a toothy smile to the camera and quickly pop it back in as I am reminded it's the only thing keeping me from drowning down there. My undersea umbilical cord! It can be kinda tough to give the camera a good show when you're trying to keep your cool and maintain buoyancy under the waves in these new and foreign conditions. We add and remove air from our buoyancy compensators (BC's) until we float along weightlessly, much like a dolphin swimming in a pool of jello. Or like a fish in water. Once that perfect aquatic suspension is obtained, the sensation is that of pure bliss. I imagine the feeling must be much like floating in space.

Mastering the art of buoyancy can be a tricky affair at first. Too little buoyancy and you sink towards the bottom, possibly landing on and damaging the delicate reef. Iif it's the fire coral variety or a perfectly disguised stonefish you rub up on, you're in for a nasty, potentially deadly surprise. If there is no bottom in sight, an extended plummet could result in a variety of mind altering effects (and possibly death, of course!).

No photos to capture the dangers of diving, but here's one capturing the dangers of sunburn. Sorry for showing my crack...not!!!

The further one descends, the more the air released from their tank compresses under the water pressure. A breath 30m underwater contains much more oxygen and nitrogen than a breath at the surface. The oxygen can be toxic at some depths, but is harmless at the level reached for recreational diving. Nitrogen works a little differently, however. As it enters the bloodstream at depths below 30m or so, it creates an ever-increasing euphoric effect similar to laughing gas (doesn't sound half bad, actually). Below 50m one may begin to hallucinate...At 90m+ it's lights out for Mr. Diver! 

Deeper dives also require more time to return to the surface. As more nitrogen is absorbed into the bloodstream it takes more and more time for it to leave the body. If one ascends too quickly, the pressure decreases and those tiny little nitrogen bubbles in the bloodstream expand and combine, creating exceedingly larger nitrogen bubbles. These bubbles rush up into the brain where they can block bloodflow and result in some deadly complications (the bends). Remember this: "Ya get the bends, you're gonna have a bad time!"

Too much buoyancy, on the other hand, and one might shoot up towards the surface too quickly. If it's a panic-stricken ordeal someone could try and hold a breath taken they took deep down (it's only natural to want to hold your breath, being underwater and all). Holding in a breath taken deep below the water and rising to the surface without exhaling causes that breath to expand. It will continue to grow larger and larger as pressure lessens, until it reaches potentially lung-popping proportions (lung overexpansion injury). Remember this: "Ya get a lung overexpansion injury, you're gonna have a bad time!"

One of the Big Blue crew happily not experiencing a lung overexpansion injury

Alright - enough with all this talk of danger and gasses and pressure changes. This diving business is really a breeze once you understand the boundaries. We're filming a scuba film here, and what undersea-special would be complete without an aquatic kung-fu/Matrix scene? In semi-cheesefest fashion we pop our fins off of our feet and stick 'em on our hands, then proceed to mock-karatechop and kick each other silly, all in slo-mo over the sandy ocean floor. Ollie keeps his cool (as always). It's like he was born in the limelight. He's almost...too cool. Has this guy got something to hide?! No one is that cool.

Running low on dive pics...I drink these fresh fruit shakes religiously. Thanks fresh-fruit-shake-man! A true superhero in my eyes, fighting thirst and hunger simultaneously, one fresh fruit shake at a time.

Later, dried off and back up on the roof of the boat, we each take turns being filmed flying off the side to crash into the water below. Before Angus jumps, he yanks out a travel-size jar of Vaseline he just happens to be carrying. He thrusts the jar toward the camera in order to make a public service announcement on the necessities of proper lubrication. Better safe than sorry, I suppose. When it comes time for me to take the leap, some strange, irrepressible urge finds me soaring off the starboard side whilst vigorously pinching my nipples and spinning round and round until I plunge into the salty water below. The camera...does things to a man.

I have the film on a USB stick, but no computer to view it with until I get back to the states! So here's a photo of a sunset instead. 

This fall: Big Blue Diving: The Movie - coming to a computer screen in California in a few months. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Big Blue debauchery

I wish that I could swim and sleep like a shark does. 
I'd fall to the bottom and hide 'til the end of time. 
In that sweet cool darkness; asleep and constantly floating away.
- Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark), Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Breathing underwater initially feels strange and unnatural, like a dream I once had where I was drifting around under the sea and forgot how to drown, so I grew gills and had a fine time instead. Each burst of life sustaining air from the tank is cold and dry. My lungs compensate by squeezing out all kinds of moisture to hydrate the air, make it like normal air in order for it to be properly absorbed into my picky bloodstream. Over the next five days of dive training I gulp down what seems like gallons of mineral water to compensate for this hydration exchange.

Some local Thai dudes playing kick the cau in front of the dorm rooms

My dive instructor at Big Blue, Ollie Brown, studied biochemistry in England before he reached the conclusion that he "didn't want to be surrounded by ugly people all the time." He came to Koh Tao in search of beauty, and found it in the shallow waters encircling the island. Ollie carries this philosophy into his teaching methods at Big Blue, where he is in charge of separating the twenty or so students into four dive groups. I don't know whether to feel flattered or put off by the fact that I'm one of the five chosen for Ollie's own dive group, but man did choose an incredibly entertaining crew to spend my next five days with.

What if these tanks came filled with flavored air of the diver's choosing? Keylime, Brown Sugar, Mermaid, you name it! Copywrite pending.

Marcus is a goofy yet collected ex-train engineer from England who bears an uncanny resemblance to Screech from Saved by the Bell. Another English chap, George, is a pleasant young fellow trying his very best to suave and debonaire his way to the top of the world. Of course Ollie picks Alina, the flirtation, sassy and dangerously sharp Ukrainian bombshell with a body that has guys doing triple-takes wherever she goes. To round out the bunch there's Angus, a truly wild and unpredictable Scotsman; a real live-wire about to be dipped into the same water as the rest of us.

Angus insisted I sit on his lap for this photo op. To the right sits Marcus, George and Alina

After a long day of learning dive basics and skills between the classroom and pool I wind down (or up) with an evening on the town with George and Angus. I'm usually not one to spend a night out raging and prowling the bars, but in the company of these guys, Angus in particular, I would be missing out if I turned down the offer to join in on the debauchery.

Night falls as the serene beach turns into one long, sandy club

George, with his light brown hair always slicked back like he came out of the womb looking that way, eyes a brunette Canadian girl from across the Big Blue bar. "Ya boys, she's as good as mine." He huffs overconfidently in his English accent. She approaches our table and Angus jumps at the opportunity to shock and entertain his audience. Through a thick Scottish accent that sounds like another language he asks "Givus a swatch a yer fanny?" Us boys fail miserably at suppressing the laughter (I'm no exception) as she smiles dryly and walks away unimpressed.

During George's courting trials I found this peculiar bug that looks like a piece of torn up paper

Regardless, George is so sure of his smooth ways that he stays back and plays it cool. In the meantime this Canadian girl loses interest and jumps into the first lap of the fella that gives her the eye and a drink. George isn't deterred, he simply scans the beach and aims his sights on a new girl, and the night rolls on. We move on towards the electro-pop Top 40 hits thumping out of Cancun, the loudest and most happenin' beachside nightclub on the beach strip (that also happens to be next door to Big Blue).

Some say you can hear the bass from 5km out to sea, 30m below the water

The cheap beer of choice on Koh Tao is Chang, which features an aesthetically pleasing logo of two Thai elephants facing one another beneath a tree, all sitting atop italicized letters. This logo is so aesthetically pleasing to one of George's friends that he has the Chang logo tattooed onto his ankle later that night. It's not uncommon for young adventurers to sail over to Koh Tao with these kinds of wise ambitions in the subconscious (or completely conscious) mind.

Always entertaining - the endless fire spinning shows in front of all the major clubs

After downing a couple green-glassed bottles of Chang we all take part in consuming the one drink Ollie had instructed ya to stay far, far away from while in dive school. But wait - we are hairy man-men! We do as we please! We undertake the ever-popular potent cocktail found in nightlife scenes across SE Asia. The always a bad decision (leading to further bad decisions), the bucket of booze. In this case it's a concoction of knockoff red bull, plenty of cheap Sangsom rum, and ice that comes in a personal plastic bucket.

The brewing of the buckets

Before ya know it, the buckets are empty and sloshing around our stomachs and brains. To the amusement of all Angus is down in the sand hopping up and down over a jump rope of fire, narrowly missing the flaming line with each swing of the rope, until it envevitably catches up with his leg and sends him away grinning with some singed leg hair to remember it by. 

The flaming jumprope...jump at your own risk

Angus spent a few years in the British army. He admits that his time spent in the rough-and-tumble environment amongst a crew of sex-starved brutes turned him into a bit of an animal. Angus is a rare breed. An animated, outrageous and defiant character with a sex-drive that could rival Ganges Khan's. Yet somehow, he also maintains a sensitive, thoughtful and inquisitive side with moments of introspection and humility.  Angus also has a strange obsession - taking photographs with complete strangers while he chokes them. A peculiar and perplexing fellow, he leaves people with an endearing and highly memorable aftertaste wherever he goes.

By the night's end Angus finds himself on his first dive. It's a dark and challenging plunge, in this case of Chinese origin. A dive that they don't teach you how to do in dive school. To phrase it bluntly, a muff dive.

Angus, George, and myself after a dive

Over the course of the next two days I learn the ins and outs of scuba diving and bear witness to some of the most entertaining social situations I've ever encountered. By the end of the Open Water Course Alina has every one of us guys fooled into believing she wants us for herself (even though she makes it well known that she has a knight-in-shining-armor boyfriend waiting for her back in Belgium where she's living). 

The entire time Alina is around Angus exhausts his inexhaustible libido attempting to convince her he's the Casanova of her dreams. One highlight features all of our dive group eighteen meters underwater. Amongst the colorful corals and plentiful tropical fish Angus turns to Alina. Like a horny magician, he pulls a condom out from somewhere inside his wetsuit, dangles it like a lure before her eyes inquisitively, and receives an underwater eye roll. After a while you get used to laughing into an air regulator.

I would have thought the story of Angus a tall tale had I not met the man myself

Monday, March 24, 2014

Koh Tao bound: Creepiest crawliest

Dogs guard a golden temple in Chiang Mai

went a'travelin' for many reasons, but for one in particular - 'dventure! And what better frontier to set out exploring then the depths of these deep dark ol' water puddles some folks call ocean. From Chiang Mai I make my way southward to the small yet thrumming island of Koh Tao off the east coast of Thailand. 

Night market in Chiang Mai the eve before I left for Koh Tao. Clogged like a stickyrice-filled nostril!

To get to this little island is a quest in itself. I stir up some clouds along a short flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, then hop on a sleeper-train from Bangkok to the southeastern coastal city of Chumphon, where I finally take a boat from Chumphon to Koh Tao. This, my friends, is the fabled thirty hour travel extravaganza!

Endless travel day preperation: Daddy's sleepytime-go-night-night juice

I awake at about 4am after a two hour snooze in my narrow squeeze of a bed inside the sleeper-train. Being my second sleeper-train experience, this time I came readily equipped with a bottle of cheap-as-can-be SangSom rum to help sleep take me a little easier. Maybe too easy. It's nearly time to get off at my stop when I peel back the sheets to the unsettling sight of tiny rows of red marks speckling my feet and ankles like little active volcanic islands growing larger by the minute. I have known these angry spots before, only last time they were seen on my arm a couple thousand miles away in Europe, in a hostel dorm within the gothic city of Prague. They travel the world in their endless search for blood...Bedbugs.

The crime scene. It seriously looks like a morgue. A morgue full of bloodthirsty bedbugs!

The little bastard parasites are stealthy thieves of the night! They creep out to sap your blood and leave behind only their signature trail of itchy-as-hell red bite mark bumps. Like mosquito bites, only far itchier, and they stick with you for more than a week instead of just a couple days. Needless to say, I jump out of that bedbug infested terror chamber in a semi-inebriated fluster. 

My bedbug bitten feets

I look down to the floor of the lavatory train car next door only to see droves of fat little insects crawling along the floor. I don't think they are bedbugs, as bedbugs are usually so small they go undetected, but there were a whole lot of em, and they sure as hell aren't cuddly! Usually I'm totally cool with bugs, but when they go crawling up your skin to suck your blood out of ya while you're fast asleep - well that's where I draw the line!

Off the sleeper-train, onto the ferry

Now there is a light to the end of this insect ridden tunnel. I get the hell off that train and soon thereafter make my way onto a backpacker-filled ferry bound for my island destination. I pray the bedbugs haven't hitched a ride inside my backpack, which they are more than capable of doing. After a four hour journey along the sea an island pops up into view along the horizon and begins to grow before my eyes as the ferry approaches. Crystal clear, light blue waters ring around fine sandy beach and lazy leaning palms. The small body of land that rises from the water appears in series of low green peaks and rocky outcroppings. This place looks like the kind paradise you see when you close your eyes and think "island oasis".

Land, ho!

From the port I walk along a backpacker-swollen main road towards my final destination: Big Blue Dive School. This place has a summer camp feel to it and will act as the base of operations during my stay. With dorm-room accommodation, a classroom, restaurant, and bar, this all encompassing place is where I will be spending most of my time as I learn how to be a fish. 

Back to school, not so bad!

The sun is blazing down without mercy and I'm ready to finally kick back and enjoy the beach. I bring out my little guitar and sit beside some sunbathing beauties to serenade them. All is well and the tanning babes are just beginning to take notice of my playing when out of nowhere a rooster dressed in an orange, black and green sheen pops out of the nearby beach-bushes and begins strutting around the sand, distracting the ladies from my glorious, melodious mating calls. That cocky bastard! No matter. The ocean water is warm like a summer swimming-pool, and the sand is fine like tanned flour. I am relaxation.

Just look at em, stealing all my thunder. Seems that some cocks are on a never ending quest for attention

Later that afternoon I attend the first short dive intro class led by Ollie, my British dive-master for the Open Water Course. He's tall, well spoken, and has an angular face with a pointed chin like some protagonist in an action cartoon. Tomorrow we will break into our scuba duba dive trainee teams and start learning some moves in the hazy saltwater pool.

They make some fine points.

Later that evening I find myself at a cozy street side restaurant pouring SangSom rum into my mixed-fruit smoothie under the table (no shame in saving a buck on a drink!). Here I also slurp down a fantastically tasty bowl of Tom Yum. This Thai soup has flavor out the yin-yang! Lemongrass, the Thai ginger-esk root called galangal that has powerful menthol and spicy qualities to it, plus onions, mushrooms and shrimp tossed in to provide some heartiness. I first tried Tom Yum in Chiang Mai and was completely unaware that the herbs and ginger were meant to flavor the soup, not to be consumed with a grimaced face and the thought of "Man, Thai people really eat this stuff? Ya, it's not so bad...I can do this." running through my mind. In this case, no, they don't really eat that stuff. You learn pretty quick out here! I still eat the lemongrass sometimes, don't tell anyone I told you though.

No photos of the Tom Yum, but there's that pompous cock again

It's late at night now, and I rest soundly in my lower bunk bed of the tidy six-person dorm room. Earlier in the day I had borrowed some anti-bedbug spray from a friendly British PE teacher on the boat to the island. My bag is surely bedbug free! In the depths of my carefree slumber I slowly stir awake. At the foot of my bed my leg is a bit itchy. Just the bedbug bites asking for attention. But wait - under the thin white sheet my leg is being tickled by...something. In the stifling darkness I tear off the sheet with a great whoosh. Simultaneously something big, fat and dark scurries  off my leg and up along the side of my bed - towards my face (which is contorted in horror). I can hear it scurry.

What is this foul creature that stirs me in the dead of night?

I leap out of bed like the mattress is about to burst into flames but keep my cool and don't make so much as a peep. I don't want to awaken the three other guys still sleeping nearby, safe inside their respective dreamlands.  I proceed to scan the scene with my phone light for who the hell knows what. Something plump and many-legged and so very eager to cuddle up with me. After searching for a while without finding a thing I reluctantly return to the scene of the unknown terror, climb back into bed, and attempt to fall back asleep.

This is what I found under the bed in the morning: