After my nausea subsided from heat sickness, we started our dive certification with our French instructor, Yann. As Nic and I were in a classroom trying to understand the basics of diving in a French accent, our inboxes were filling up with emails from home about the news of Thailand’s military coup.
There’s a military coup?
The news of yet another military coup was not a concern on the island. There were no changes to daily life. Everyone went about their business as usual, diving by morning and drinking by night. In fact, if we had not received emails from home, we probably wouldn’t have known about the whole event.
I asked our French dive instructor about it since he had been living in Thailand for over two years and he just shrugged his shoulders, smiled and lit another cigarette. This is not that surprising since, according to the Washington Post, this marked the 12th coup since 1932.
While the coup d’etat saturated the media at home, we learned how to breath under water in the Gulf of Thailand.
Learning to SCUBA dive in Thailand
First rule of diving: don’t hold your breath!
Second rule of diving: smoke a lot of cigarettes!
No, I’m kidding but based on the habits of the other dive instructors, you might get the impression that this is rule #2. The instructors made the case that smoking actually helped them under water because their lungs were used to receiving limited oxygen. Hmmm.
For the next three days, we arrived at the dive shop and loaded ourselves into the back of an overflowing pick-up truck to head to the dive boat. While traveling in the back of this pick-up truck, and in Southeast Asia in general, I had a few moments where I thought, “Well, this looks dangerous.” This thought popped in my head as I watched foreigners ride scooters without helmets while balancing a plate of pad thai on their knee and a grocery bag full of Thai beer in hand. Am I getting older, or what?!?!
At the port, we had to shimmy, hop, duck and shuffle across a few different boats to finally arrive on the one scheduled to take us out to the ocean.
A friend of mine described diving as what she imagines walking on Mars would be like and I agree with her. We put on a lot of gear. We venture into a very different environment. All our movements are in slow motion. And we discover lifeforms we never knew existed.
This idea of walking on Mars was on my mind every time I jumped into the water and instantly felt much lighter despite the very heavy air tank and weight belts strapped to my body. On the boat, I almost fell over backwards from the weight!
After entering the water, I pressed a button and air started to fill the empty pockets of the vest. It feels a little like when you have your blood pressure taken but instead of the slight pressure around your upper arm, it is around your chest. Our air-filled vests allowed our group to bob with the waves above the surface without making any effort at all. The quiet sounds of the ocean was a welcomed break from the incessant noise of scooters on the island.
After a few hand signals from our instructor, we all inserted our mouth regulators, placed masks over our eyes and pushed a different button to release air out of our vests. As we slowly descended into a completely different world, we held our noses and blew out to release pressure building in our ears.
As we navigated around beautiful coral structures and through schools of fish, the only sounds we could hear were our inhales and exhales echoing back, which I found to be very soothing. It is meditative and reminded me of the yoga room. However, I didn’t find the moments when our teacher pointed out a triggerfish nearby and advised us to swim away from it while keeping it in eyesight very calming. Triggerfish are really harmless until you pose a threat but I certainly didn’t want to be misunderstood as a threat. I don’t look threatening, right?
Despite a brief moment where I thought this could be the end of me and struggling with the ‘remove mask underwater and put it back on‘ task since I still hold my nose with my hand, the experience was a great lesson in taking risks and stepping beyond my comfort zone. For Nic, this was his comfort zone because I’m fairly certain he was a fish in another life. In fact, another instructor saw our underwater video at the dive shop and commented to our instructor that Nic basically looked like an instructor. So, I married a fish, folks!