Sent: Monday, April 1, 2002 1:57 PM
Hello from Adelaide.
It has been a real surprise to us to discover that while internet access is both cheap and readily available in South East Asia it is expensive and as rare as hen's teeth in Australia. That's the main reason for the prolonged radio silence. We've been in Oz for coming up 5 weeks now and we're having a marvelous time. But there are many stories to tell before we get to the Australian leg of the journey. While we have access I've uploaded 5 episodes and because access has been so infrequent I'm going to send them all, now. So I'll have to leave it to you to read them at your own pace. I can't recommend trying to read them all in one go, I did it while proof reading them and got thoroughly bored! Remember, when faced with eating an elephant (or a tofu replica elephant for those with morals) the best way is one bite at a time....
By the way, lots of new photos have been uploaded as well. So if you have a quick connection and time on your hands have a look at:
Meanwhile it is early January on Ko Lipe in Thailand...
Barry the proprietor of the Sabye Sports Dive School on Ko Lipe is a Canadian so trenchant, so laid back that it almost disguises the clicking and whirring of his business brain, but faint clunks and clicks are audible, though some of his ideas are a little leftfield. But Barry definitely had his head screwed on when he hired Jen. Small, Scottish, short-haired, quietly spoken and with freckles threatening to join up into a suntan any minute Jen turns out to be the best teacher we could have hoped for.
Sausage and I are the only two on the course and we breeze through the first morning of academic work, our progress hindered only by the appalling PADI videos which are big on 'lifestyle' and star people who Jen assures us are senior PADI trainers but who look like they took to diving only when the Grab-a-Granny porn film roles finally dried up.
The PADI Open Water course consists of 5 modules, 5 Confined Water Exercises and 4 Open Water dives. If you learn in the UK then the Confined Water exercises will probably take place in your local swimming pool, but here we don the gear, amble down the beach and into the crystal blue turquoise shallows.
The equipment weighs a lot, a lumbering, rolling drunken gait is all that is possible on land but in the water the laws of physics confound expectations and leave you weightless, a strange and intriguing feeling.
If you are planning to swim around at depths of 18metres you have to know what you are doing and alot of the training is geared towards how to deal with potential risks most of which you are unlikely ever to encounter. So it is that on the first afternoon that we spend a lot of time learning and practising things like how to clear water from your mask while underwater, removing your mask underwater, swimming underwater without a mask and lots of other improbabilities. We are both shocked by the experience. Diving may be the next logical step in the sequence swimming, snorkeling.... but the actual act of diving feels like a completely new discipline. The most important rule 'NEVER hold your breath' is a reversal of snorkeling logic and everything else feels new and different. I am surprised, Sausage is shaken. Underwater in the shallows Jen is working through various mask exercises with us and Sausage's fear reflex continually snaps into action sending her up to the surface in a panic. We had been delighted when we found out that we would have Jen to ourselves, but now the hidden pitfall becomes clear, I'm sailing through each exercise which only serves to make things more difficult for Sausage. I mostly sit on the bottom and leave Jen to talk to Sausage. I have never seen Sausage so focussed, so determined to overcome the fear that kicks in reflexively and the panic that follows.
At the end of the first day we have achieved a lot, we've both swum, breathed and cleared our masks underwater, though Sausage has yet to complete some of the underwater mask exercises. Sausage is shattered and emotionally battered. We have both been taken by surprise by how profoundly different to our expectations the experience has been and the exercises have really knocked her confidence for six.
Overnight Sausage decides not to carry on. The next morning Jen tries to persuade her to change her mind, confident, having seen how determined Sausage is, that she can get Sausage through the rest of the course. It is painful to watch Sausage's face crumple as she considers going back in the water at Jen's suggestion, and Sausage is crying as she stands by her decision not to go on.
So now the class is down to one and Jen and I climb onto the boat together with the days's paying divers to head out for my first open water dive. The longtail contains Alex, Italian violin maker, adonis and our Divemaster, four german divers, Jen and me. I get chatting to Chris, who is one of those German's who, when they look at you do so with eyes of such piercing intensity that it is hard to know whether to feel special, unsettled or scared. I settle on a cocktail of all three. Chris compounds his intensity with a confidently flaunted intellect. He is a high-powered Neuro-Linguistic Programmer, just back from 3 weeks work in London with Paul McKenna (who he confirms is every bit the complete tosser his public persona would suggest). From what I can gather and the little I already know NLP is based around a presumption that there are predictable patterns of brain behaviour and consequential physical and emotional response. NLP uses a range of techniques to change responses and future behaviour, such as responses to phobias. Chris tells me how he has been doing little bits of 'work' while on holiday and and offers to talk to Sausage about her fears if she would like to. At which point the longtail coasts to a halt on a deserted beach and Jen and I disembark while the others chug off to dive around the headland.
We have lots of exercises to get through, and we plough through Confined Water Exercises 2-5 in one go is about 25 minutes, a series of necessary obstacles before the fun can start. And the fun REALLY starts now. Jen and I head off for my first Open Water dive. The visibility is fantastic, the water so clear that it is exactly like I am in the middle of a wildlife documentary on a very large screen, very expensive TV. It is hard to explain the feelings of being weightless in a medium so much more viscous than air. Diving is based around neutral buoyancy, an amount of buoyancy which holds you hanging vertically in the water with your eyes poking above the surface. You use a combination of your equipment and weights to establish neutral buoyancy. Then the strange stuff starts. Having established neutral buoyancy you control your position in the water entirely through the amount of air you hold in your lungs. Breathe in and you rise, breathe out and you fall. You also wear a buoyancy device, but all the fine control lies in your lungs.
So we set off, Jen and I, into this fantastic tropical fish tank surrounded by hundreds of fish ranging hugely in size, colour and shape with Jen hanging perfectly in the water and me rising and falling with each breath as I start to realise the time delays that operate and the relative effects of different depths and types of in- and exhalation. After 40 minutes my first dive is over and we pull ourselves up onto the beach as the longtail returns with the others. Lunch is served on the beach as I struggle to contain my excitement and mainly restrict myself to stuffing fried rice in a mouth that is stuck in a massive grin. The only downside to the morning is the theft of my Oakley sunglasses from the 'deserted' beach. My fault for leaving them their when just around the headland out of sight were half a dozen fisherman's longtails, but a blackhead on the face of paradise nonetheless.
In the afternoon Jen and I join everyone else for another dive where the visibility is slightly worse and my depth control slightly better. I can't believe how much I enjoy it and the ease with which I've taken to it, but most of the credit for that must go to Jen whose quiet, measured confidence is frequently augmented by a twinkle in her eye. She tells me I have one of the most expressive faces she has ever seen under water. I think she just means that my laughter lines are deeper then most, but it's a lovely thing to say.
Back on dry land, as the sun starts to follow the line of the headland down and into the sea I find Sausage looking like a woman with a stress hangover and tell her about Chris' offer. Sausage gave up smoking using a Paul McKenna tape so she knows a little of what NPL might involve and within a couple of minutes she sits down next to me, opposite Chris who is in the middle of one of Porn Resort's delicious green curries. 2 minutes later I make my excuses and leave them alone. Another twenty minutes pass before Sausage finds me over by the dive shop. Her manner is distracted. She says that after the 'treatment' Chris has suggested that she goes straight out for a snorkel on her own.
Up to now Sausage has snorkeled WITH her fear, lifting her head often, feeling like she is swimming on top of her fears, but with enough control to make the experience enjoyable. As she walks into the water Chris appears at my shoulder and tells me that she will feel completely different in the water now. 30 minutes later a slightly stunned and bemused Sausage walks up the beach having had a completely different, new, snorkeling experience. Chris suggests that Sausage puts on the SCUBA equipment and goes for a dive with Jen. Jen is very keen for this to happen and drops everything to get ready. I can only remember what Sausage was like in the morning, eyes red-rimmed, dreading telling Jen, dreading even thinking about going back in the water to dive again and yet here she is 8 hours later pulling on a wetsuit.
Jen and Sausage are in the water for over an hour. Sausage completes a dive. She can't believe it, I can't believe it, Chris wears a look that betrays a not altogether wholesome smugness. All of which leaves Sausage with much to digest in the course of the evening. Whatever you make of Chris, and what we see of him over the next couple of days is a mixed bag of the good, the bad and the German, he has succesfully broken down some of the links between events and emotions that stressed Sausage in the water. Sausage doesn't want to restart the course preferring to let her new feelings settle in before decding what to do with them, but a huge change has occured and in an entirely unexpected way.
So the next day I go off with Jen to complete my last two open water dives and Sausage goes snorkeling on her own, something she would never have done previously. The diving is wonderful, though the visibility is not as good. Mani, who is in the water with me today is a really good diver and I watch the ease and economy with which he moves in the water with keen interest, not least because with greater control you empty your tank of air more slowly and get longer under water.
When we get back in mid-afternoon Sausage and I go out snorkelling and her state of mind remains completely different. We swim out to depths of maybe 15 metres and Sausage floats around on the top feeling completely at ease.
In the evening we take Jen out for a meal to say thank you and then we pass two more days lying on the beach in the shade, snorkeling and swimming. On our last day we have a real stroke of luck. Wherever we go we make sure that we have a clear idea how much the bill for our accommodation should be. At many places our accomodation costs are written in a book and then any food we eat at the accommodation is also written in the book. Phattaya Song is such a place. So on our last evening we pop in and ask them to add up the bill. We know that it should be around 4400 baht (£71). Most proprietors take great care over adding up the bill going through it at least twice to check their addition. At Phattaya Song one quick run through on the calculator produces a figure of 1850 baht. We try to keep straight faces and to walk rather than run to get the money. The next morning we scurry past the restaurant with all our bags, have breakfast a little further on the beach and start to count our chickens only when the longtail is pulling away from the beach to take us out to the waiting ferry. They have undercharged us by £41.
It is time to leave Thailand. It has been the most Westernized country we have been to so far, and the country with the highest density of tourists and travellers (oh! smell him, distinguishing between the two now!). Lovely people, lovely food, but you need to work hard to find peace and quiet.
We spend our last night in Crewe, or at least its' guileless Thai cousin Hat Yai, a major travel hub which has had all its' charm surgically removed, assuming it ever had any.
Early the next morning we climb onto Malaysian rolling stock in a Thai station and head South toward Penang in Malaysia.
Lots of Love
The Travelling Sausages