We arrived in Thailand ready for rest. India and Nepal had inspired us and tired us. At this point, we had been traveling intensively for five months, every couple of days in a new city, we had spent weeks trekking, 30+ hours on the train. We were ready to slow down. We spent two days in Bangkok: clean and calm compared to where we had been. Then we were southward bound, leaving on a night bus for Koh Tao with a new project in mind: taking on the big blue. This little paradisiac island in the Gulf of Thailand is renowned for diving and the place is a PADI certifying machine, with it's own fleet of dive boats and at least fifty some dive schools. On Koh Tao diving is not so much a pastime as it is a way of life. We signed up to take the course in French to Remi's benefit, strapping on our BCDs and tanks for a practice session in the pool. Six hours later, we were saturated from the pool and the french diving vocabulary alike; we had mastered all of our obligatory exercises and the next day we would be heading out to sea to discover the underwater world.
BCD inflated, properly weighted, regulator in mouth, mask in position. The boat rocking in the waves, heart pumping, ready to put hours of theory to exhilarating practice- the big splash and instant relief: fresh, cool water as we struggled to master our gear, still a bit awkward with the unfamiliarity of our regulators, masks and tuba. Somehow everything was sorted out, much simpler than it looked from a distance. Down we went, trusty instructor Guillaume by our side, as I equalized my ears every few feet. Then, the sudden calm, the weight of the water or of the sudden silence, only broken by my own darth vader breathing- breathing! An act so quotidian, yet suddenly so magnificent, miraculous a superhero's power, a means to access a totally new and foreign world.
Forty five minutes later, bursting out of the water, into laughter, awed by this entrance and introduction to a new, intriguing, perfect world. The rest of that week, we ate, slept and breathed diving. It was a PADI marathon; we didn't stop with our open water certification, continuing on to do the Advanced level as well. Sweet addiction. Affirmed and confirmed, indicted to the PADI cult. We finished our courses that week and caught a boat to the neighboring island Koh Phan Gahn for real rest. We explored the island inside and out by scooter, living on the northern coast of the island in a little bungalow that was home base. We spent about two weeks in our little paradise before we got that familiar feeling between a tingle and an itch, and it was time to move on.
In our underwater exploring in Koh Tao we had seen some rambunctious baby harlequin fish, spotted a turtle lazing on the sea bottom almost invisible in the murky water, we had had our first encounter with Nemo, star of the sea. We thirsted for more. Leaving Thailand, we headed south towards the Malaysian border toward new waters. Driving down the highway, things looked strangely familiar: big, wide roads, the lines painted in a sharp yellow, big green signs friendly indicating each exit ramp. Finally,it dawned on me- it looked like the states! It wasn't until we arrived in Georgetown that my heart rate really elevated: buildings on every side, sky scrapers lit up from afar welcome us as we crossed the bridge that connects Penang to mainland Malaysia. Where am i?! I saw the skyscrapers of New York that awaited me as I felt claustrophobic under the weight of my return to this modern world, inching closer day by day.
My anxieties were forgotten easily enough, a few days later we were back on the road again, heading for the Peretian islands: a veritable nemo nirvana. Diving in the clear blue waters just off the coast this paradisiac island, I was in awe. The water was *full* of fish, weaving in and out of their coral cities, managing traffic around the neighborhood, gossiping with the neighbors, bustling and humming with life. Black tip sharks passed over the sandy bottom before disappearing into the blue distance. Puffer fish, box fish, nudi branks!! An entire system governed by rules so different from our own on land. I was fascinated by a world so full of activity, so vividly colorful, beautiful and yet so inaccessible, so apart. We are only visitors to this crazy, beautiful place.