Friday

The Alarms sounded early, waking us up in plenty of time to have breakfast and meet our ride form the dive shop in the lobby.

Our divemaster from OK Dive Club picked us up in a pickup truck with the company logo splashed across the window and apologized for being late, even though he was only late by a couple of minutes. We explained to him that we had been living oh Koh Tao for the past nine months and understood the routine, that 9:30 at work usually meant leaving the house at 9:30. Gotta love island time.

We drove to the pier which as it turned out was only a block away and boarded onto a large dive boat, similar to the ones we had become accustomed to. On the lower level were all the tanks and space to set up gear and on the upper level, tables and benches lined either side of the boat with an uncovered sundeck area at the stern. We were sharing the boat with a bigger dive school, the three of us and our divemaster being the only four from OK Dive Club.

We began the two hour journey to Koh Ha, or Five Islands (which apparently was actually six islands.) We visited with our divemaster along the way, until it was time to head downstairs and set up gear. Just as I was doing a final air check, we rounded a large rock, one of the five [six] islands into a gorgeous turquoise lagoon. Our divemaster did a dive briefing with us and couldn't believe all the sea creatures we had never seen. Different bodies of water have different species though and this was our first time in the Andaman Sea.

We did our giant stride entries into relatively shallow water and I was immediately in awe of my surroundings. I was in an aquarium. Gone was the murky water of Koh Tao. The visibility here was crystal clear, I could see everything, all around me. When comparing the Caribbean to the Gulf of Thailand I had always told my students that the Caribbean had the good visibility and stunning coral while the Gulf had all the fish. The Andaman Sea was the best of both worlds. Why had I just spent the past nine months in the Gulf of Thailand? This held no comparison.

We started making a counterclockwise circle around one of the islands and our divemaster motioned to me that there was a mantis shrimp. Now I had never seen a mantis shrimp before but had read extensively about them. If you want to learn about one of the most fascinating creatures I have ever come across, read this incredibly entertaining yet factually accurate comic strip by The Oatmeal. As you can imagine, I was breathing through my tank of air at an embarrassingly quick rate I was so excited. I hovered down an inch above the sandy bottom and stuck a finger in the sand for balance and looked where the divemaster was pointing with his reef stick. There it was, about two inches in length, eyes rotating intelligently in every direction like an insect's. I hovered there and watched the little critter in awe for quite some time. It was bright, it was dark, and it was beautiful.

The dive only got better. Every direction I turned there was something new and exciting to look at. Some sort of sea cucumber that looked like an incredibly long velvet pull chord with a feather duster at the end. I found a pair of scorpion fish, something I have never spotted on my own before. Families of fish that were familiar yet species I was unfamiliar with. Giant green moray eels everywhere. A little blue fish that looked like he had been perfectly cut out by a cookie cutter which turned out to be a juvenile red tooth trigger fish. And sea moths! Have you ever even heard of a sea moth? I hadn't. They're little critters that crawl around on the sand. Here is a picture I pulled up from Google. (Sadly my own camera was dead).


Sea moths. Who would've thought?

Much too soon it was time to surface and we made our way back onto the boat. I was all smiles, like a kid who just spent the day at Disney World. There were Mama Noodle cups set out for a surface interval snack, which we enjoyed, and then made our way over to another of the five [six] islands, to a site called Koh Maa Yai. We repeated the process of gearing up, and once again made our way into the crystal blue water.

Our second dive once again left me in pure awe. It was a fairly deep dive though and so toward the end I realized I was nearing the end of my bottom time. My dive computer is pretty awesome for the most part but it has the most conservative algorithm out there, and so I always run out of bottom time before anyone else. At three minutes remaining I got distracted by another juvenile trigger fish species I was unfamiliar with. At two minutes remaining I started ascending a bit but then watched as our divemaster swam through a small gap in the coral several meters down. I wasn't about to miss out on that. At one minute remaining I started ascending, all the way up to ten meters where my computer finally stopped yelling at me. I hovered above everyone until we reached the opening of a large cavern. Let's just end this part of the story with no, I did not enter the cavern, and no, I did not go into deco.

The cavern was breathtaking (what I could see from the outside obviously). Light shone through just enough of it to cast cool shadows through the water. This was a proper cavern, like the ones we used to dive in Honduras, not like the puny little swim-throughs they call caves in Koh Tao. Part of the cavern ceiling had a gap of air trapped underneath, and a group of divers was visible at the surface. It was a magnificent hole in the rock.

On the way back from our two-dive trip we were served a nice lunch of curry, after which the remainder of the trip home was spent napping in the sunlight. The boat dropped us off and the pickup truck kindly brought us back to our hotel around mid afternoon.

We headed over to the place we had rented bikes from to book ferry tickets for the following day, and to let them know we would be keeping the bikes an extra day. Since they had been so friendly we asked them about bars to check out, and they pointed us towards a place called the Irish Embassy.

We made our way to the Irish Embassy and stopped for drinks and dinner. Imported ciders are always expensive in Thailand but a welcome treat on the rare occasion. The menu turned out to be pretty good as well, with a fusion of Irish and Thai foods. I ended up ordering chips and curry (the kind of chips we know as french fries).

After dinner we drove around the corner to the strip of beach where most of the bars were supposedly located. One in particular lured us in with its upbeat reggae music and black lights illuminating neon paint splattered across every wooden beam holding the thatched roof up. We found an empty table with cushions scattered around it and ordered a round of signature milkshakes. We then proceeded to lose an amazingly entertaining six hours. A guy with a heavy Spanish accent approached us. He was wrapped in a poncho and held a box of neon paints and paintbrushes in his hands. He asked us if we would like some paint, apologized for his broken English, and then hurried away, leaving the paint on our table. Macala and I decided to paint a row of stick figures holding hands on an empty log and proceeded to create a mural over the next six hours. I am a far cry from an artist, hence our initial idea to paint stick figures, but somehow the paint grew into something that at the moment was quite fantastic.

As we painted, we accumulated a group of new friends around us. A fellow American sat down next to us and told us about his travels so far. He was obviously new to the backpacking game as his stories, though charming and endearing, were incredibly stereotypical of someone's first experiences out of the US. We were then joined by a girl from London with the most incredible sense of humor. She and Fletch bounced outrageous and colorful stories off of each other until we were all on the floor laughing.

The music in the bar was right on point, presented to us by one DJ Mushroom. Every song that came on was better than the last. We turned over to DJ Mushroom's DJ booth at one point to give him a round of applause, only to realize that the little booth was unmanned; we were just listening to someone's iPod playlist. When the bar started emptying out and the early hours of the morning began to approach, the playlist slowed down by playing Say Something by A Great Big World. As a forlorn mood descended over the now empty bar, we peered over behind the bar to watch the bartender shaving in front of a mirror. Something about it was just so perfect for the music and we were all, once again, lost in fits of laughter.

For six hours that corner of the bar and our group of friends and our log full of neon paint was our entire world. Eventually though we had to acknowledge the rest of the world, and so left the bar to close and made our way back to our hotel for the night.