…cages

So, how ’bout this ‘freedom’ thing that all the cool kids are talking about lately – WTF is that about?

<warning – this is a bit random and ranty as I’m having a day – continue at own risk>

Freedom to travel, do, see, taste what you please when you want to without any real consequence or interference from anyone (well a minimum of interference anyway – gotta keep it legal, kids).

Immersing yourself in this freedom is so totally addictive that once you get a taste, you’re basically fucked for normal life (whatever that is).

While only dipping my toes in it for the past few years; gaining some confidence in the safe, yellow-streaked, floating Disney-bandaid end of the kiddies pool –  the recent experience in Antarctica has really thrown me howling off the highboard into the freezing alien blue-black depths of the grown-up area.

So electrifying to move outside of what is considered normal.

When you consciously remove yourself from the polite but suffocating grip of ‘society’, an awareness develops of the boundaries of the cage society itself has become.

It’s just a control mechanism after all.

Making a choice to chew through the cage bars and squeeze out into a really real world: experience this in all of its fleshy, sweaty, squelchy and uncomfortable forms is what revitalises the flagging spirit, jolts the compromised soul back to life.

So terrifying to move outside of what is considered safe.

Is this really being free?

Having virtually endless choice and relative freedom of action can be daunting.

It’s not all rainbows and unicorns.

So the cage door opens, the once wild animal inside fears to come out at first; unaccustomed to this new experience of choice it keeps diving back into the safe dark corners of the cage.

It could be happy there forever if it doesn’t know of any other existence.

This happens time and time again.

Until it doesn’t, or the animal remembers.

Free.

Of the first cage, at least, and once you are out you will never willingly go back in.

Leading a life limited by an external agent isn’t really freedom anyway.

These cows aren’t free, just in a larger cage than most.

Their cage of choice is survival driven : food, water and a safe place.

Are they happy?

Probably, at least as as happy as cows can be, but free? No I don’t think so, they probably don’t care as long as their basic physical needs are met.

Humans want all this and so much more more. Food, water, a home, safety, a loving partner, a family – a purpose. We also dare demand to be happy.

So what about an internal cage, or an emotional cage?

How do we escape from something of our own creation? (Created either consciously or unconsciously).

No idea!

I’m not a cow, obviously, so I can only speak for me : my cage of choice is an emotional mind.

It has many warm, safe and secure hiding places but it’s really a trap: like a black hole exerting enormous emotional gravity it drags you inside and keeps you there – it takes enormous efforts to escape.

Exhausting.

So much easier to go with the flow – dive back in, cut yourself off, internalise everything. So warm and safe and familiar.

Mmm cosy…

It’s hard to escape from yourself sometimes and stay outside in the world.

Blah blah blah blah blah …

OK that sounds a little (totally) wanky/crazy (I really shouldn’t reread this stuff) but things like this have been on my mind lately and I’ve talked about this before for sure.

Choice is hard. Adulting is hard. Freedom is hard.

Meh. Again I know I’m fortunate blah blah blah and it’s the current price I’m paying for my life choices.

Choice! Talk about spoilt!

Too many paths I can take, too many roads to travel. How to know which one is right long term or even right for now?

This current paralysis that comes with next level freedom halted my forward motion recently and has caused a massive stumble and a lot of self doubt.

It’s kinda still happening at the moment: presented by many forks in the road I’m lost, the maps in Chinese and my damn iPhone battery is dead.

I’m quite confused.

How do you make a decision on where to aim your life’s arrow when it’s a target rich environment and your aim is bouncing all over the freaking place.

Book that flight? This month or next month? Move to a new country? Move to a new state? Take that job? Don’t take that job? Buy a car? Buy a motorcycle? Where will I live? Stay or go? Call her or not?

Bounce.

Reality check: Watching the finite resource of my bank balance dwindle steadily is sobering and drags me back to the present.

Then safe Jamie returns – ‘hmmm better nail down that spending some more. No more travel. No diving. Cheapest options. Take any job they offer you. Eat cheap. Don’t rock the boat. Go back to Dubbo. Suck it up. Get back to work’

Shut up, safe Jamie.

Bounce.

Two new job opportunities – once back in the familiar cage, one just outside but not far.

One on the horizon but months away.

Bounce.

Can’t someone just tell me what the ‘right’ thing to do is please?

Maybe it’s just the sleepless nights lately or the excessive caffeine intake stressing me out a bit. A couple of challenging days just gone for sure.

Maybe its being challenged on my lifestyle choices by my daughters mother last night – she only ever contacts me when she wants money or just to remind me how useless a father I am or just to unload a hateful text rant about <insert anything about my life>.

I’ve blocked her so many times before but she manages to find open channels to make me feel like a piece of shit. It gets her off I think.

She’s a bit of a cunty person like that.

Anyway.

Hi Renee… 😉

<wow breaking new ground here blog wise – the ‘c’ word and slagging the ex – feel free to unfollow me>

Lately though it’s doubts and thoughts and questions like “Holy WTF !!!!  What am I doing? Who have I become? Where’s the middle management career public servant/overplanner who had a plan A, B and C. and a solid course plotted for the future.

Sorry – he can’t come to the phone right now.  Please leave a message.

I kinda miss that guy sometimes, even though it was just an illusion of control (which was ultimately holding me back) it was still a warm comforting illusion.

Another cage to escape from.

The core of the frustration that I just realised I’m venting today is that I don’t like having to rely on other people and right now, I kinda have to.

Independence is all great and that,  but it can become a barrier to growth as well – learning to open up and let people in is a necessity both in a practical and an emotional sense- this very thing has just cost me another relationship I think.

A cage of indépendance but locking people OUT rather than me in.

Man, too much of a stretch – I’m digging my way out of this rabbit hole now!!

Anyway, shaking off some of this paralysis, today Ive booked a flight home’ (wherever the fuck that is now), booked my Cabling Endosements (look Ma, I’m a Licensed Data Cabler now) 4 days course in Melbourne for early June, let the AAD know when I’m available for Medical And Psych testing (yep still shortlisted), got my dental work done (clean bill of health and no real work to be done), and just had a nice breakfast at The Larder – waaay too much coffee.

I’ll come back to this later after a calming walk and a think….maybe edit this mess and make this less freaking weird.

Too many random thoughts at the moment.

too many coffees :/

* as it turns out, a 2 hour motorcycle ride up into the mountains was all I needed to clear the head.

** I think I will buy another motorbike when I get back to Australia.

Here’s the thing…

…creatively, I can only seem to function in crisis mode.

When things are going along nicely, my little dark wordy well of hopelessness and despair runs dry, along with any desire to write or create or share.

‘Thank Fuck! – keep your whiny bullshit to yourself’, you cry.

Fear not and rest assured, Dear Reader, that as soon as I attempt to engage anyone socially, some amusing shit will happen and the well shall fill again. And you’re gonna read about it.

*I also swear a lot when I’m annoyed – personality flaw #34

You are welcome.

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No.

Lately my brain is bursting with ‘whys’, ‘wheres’, and ‘wtf’s’ and I gotta get this shit outta my head and be done with it.

Writing does exactly that for me and by casting out these thoughts into the ether I can hopefully let them go.

No surprises for guessing why the restless mind though (if you really think about it for a second and have been following my path)

Yes, of course its woman related. It always seems to circle back to that.

This time it goes a little something like this…

I’ve been back from Antarctica for about 8 weeks now – the first few weeks were spent readjusting to a very real and soberingly regional Dubbo world, and then quickly and solidly reinserting a social filter before I got murdered by some irate ‘norm’ (whilst simultaneously removing my head from my ass).

Somehow, in this brief 8 week period of WTF I found, jumped into and subsequently blew an unexpectedly brilliant opportunity with an extremely good woman.

It started with an almost accidental date to see a film ( say ‘almost accidental’ as I didn’t expect her to say yes – but I still asked)

… cmon!!!! it’s a perfect first-date flick and you know it.

She loved it, I loved it, I walked her to her car, we small talked while she fished out her keys, we kissed, then kissed again, said good night, she turned and tried to get into the wrong car (that looked the same as her own that was actually parked a few spaces back)… totally perfect first date 👌🏻.

Such a beautiful place to start and it just evolved organically from there.

It was going so well until it wasn’t.

I’m not quite sure why (and even if) it’s tanked just yet and that’s really the crux of it.

A ‘fail’ on this one is just doing my head in as on paper, we’re an almost perfect match.

It’s not so much that I tanked it (**yet to be proven**), but I really don’t know what I did. This is a common theme apparently.

I was just being myself and I guess that not enough or too much for some.

I also talk a lot of shit when I’m nervous or invested.

Yeah that was probably it.

In any case she’s just stopped communicating now, after a 5 day long weekend together in Melbourne that we were both super excited about (and which was admittedly quite a lot to bite off for both of us – shes just out of a 2 year relationship and I’m just 2 years past the whole Jen episode).

But we wanted to get to know each other so went for it.

*Feel free to chime in – wtf women? what is the deal here. 3 days of normal, then 2 days of hiding in a freezing impenetrable bubble of indifference. I’m totally confused.

We don’t live in the same city which makes things a little tricky also.

Look I’m not even sure if its over – (although i guess if she reads this then its ‘job done’)  – there’s just no momentum now or communication at all from her compared to the previously daily chats and hour long phone calls.

Now there are brief responses, one word answers, and a callus cordiality.

Hey I get it, you know, shes not into me now and I can dig it but it’s her radical change of pace and policy without so much as a “Hey I’m outta here’ that is puzzling.

Nothing I can do about it now anyway. Dont want to be ‘that guy’ – the one that can’t take a hint.

News flash – just tell me, don’t hint.

Aaaaaaaargh. So annoying.

Anyway…fuck it, I guess.

I’m in Thailand again now and it doesn’t matter as much. I’ve physically removed myself from the situation. Her loss. I’m awesome.

Just landed at Chiang Mai today, checked into my fave hostel (Bed Addict) and having breakfast at my fave cafe (The Larder).

…at least the Larder girls were happy to see me back and even remembered my coffee 🙂

The words are flowing nicely so standby as life unfolds and moves forward again at least for the next month or so, and loose plans are forming as to my travels from here…

I’ll keep you posted.

**if u do read this, HA ! Just kidding. 🙂

nothing is something…2

Yesterdays post was a blomit, (apologies) but today’s will be a little more considered, interesting and hopefully not so meandering.

After Chiang Dao, we decided to head up towards the Golden Triangle – that opium soaked corner of Thailand where Laos, Burma and Thailand meet. It seemed suitable remote and mountainous enough to satisfy our call of the wild.

We’d need to head up though Fang via Thaton, but I also wanted to go via Mae Sai and Tachilek  – to cross into Burma via the land crossing there – and then head across to The Golden triangle and back down to Chiang Rai before heading down again to Chiang Mai.

Its basically a big Northern loop and we only had a few days to get back before heading down to the Gulf of Thailand for Meg’s birthday scuba experience.

Before we’d left Fang for Thaton though, we wanted to do a day trip and get out of the city . Again the guidebooks weren’t a lot of help, but we’d zeroed in on some interesting things nonetheless.

We decided on a day trip to the Royal Agricultural Project at Ankhang. It sounded interesting as it wasn’t a Westerner tourist spot but extremely popular with Thais.

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Set up by Royal decree by the King, and used as a training facility for local Thai and Burmese farmers to develop modern agricultural techniques and practices. The primary aim being to move away from slash and burn land clearing, and to reduce their reliance on growing opium poppies (and hence reduce the drug trade that has historically ran rampant in the area).

I thought it sounded a little bit shit.

It wasn’t.

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Taking a “special tour” arranged through our hotel (which turned out to be a red taxi truck and a driver that cost a stupid amount for the day) this was easily one of the most interesting things I’ve seen in Thailand. A social experiment and research station set right up alongside the Burmese border, we wandered virtually alone through the massive site, through orchards and lush farmlands, greenhouses and gardens, all immaculately set up and maintained.

Burmese workers picking chrysanthemums or poppies.

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We wandered around for hours, taking in the silence of the hills and the beautiful countryside. Then our driver gave us the hurry up as the rains were coming and we quickly moved on up to the nearby border crossing at Ban Nor Lae to look over the battlements, as it were, into Burma.

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Borders make me nervous. Bad shit happens at borders. Border guards with dirty great machine guns also make me nervous.

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It appeared to be closed at this point, and standing at the border gazing across I couldn’t help but wonder if some bored Burmese border guard was sighting in on my face as I gazed absently across no mans land.

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The best thing about this visit was the small Hilltribe market there – a group of wonderful little ladies in traditional Akha dress that were expert weavers, ruthless marketers and consummate professionals. We ran the gauntlet  – a row of stalls piled high with clothes and trinkets and whatnots, both of us slowly being passed of to each successive lady as we were moved along the market rows (make no mistake, we we being expertly handled) politely looking but refusing each offer (strangely enough EVERYTHING seemed to be 100 baht here).

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(not my photo – i wasn’t game to take a photo as it would have cost me a fortune)

Then as we neared the last stall, they delivered their coup de grâce. The last stall was owned by a teeny tiny grey haired old lady, dressed to the nines in traditional Akha dress with an enormous toothless smile and a personality larger than Tony Robbins.

I never had a chance.

Quickly convinced to buy a 100 baht handwoven scarf each (it was 34 degrees and 90 percent humidity), she turned the charm up to 11 and like a grandmotherly black hole, began to hoover the money our of our wallets.

I managed a brief hug and got the Hell out, but not before almost buying several bags of fruit. Pulling out a massive pair of rusty dressmaking scissors, she insisted on hand peeling the raw fruit and then practically forced it into our hands. We had to eat it or appear rude. Mmmm dirty potentially fatal raw fruit.

Time was against us though and the sun was getting low, so we jumped back into the back of the truck and headed back down the mountain (narrowly missing herds of mules that seemed to roam free along these steep curvy mountain roads). We headed back into town as the road became treacherous at night and our driver was getting anxious.

Settling in for dinner and an early night, after fixing yet another flaky shower heater, it was welcome to hear the rain on the roof, the barking geckoes on the ceiling, and to sleep in a comfortable bed.

And so another day ended, but from the next day onwards, the mood changed slightly.

After week or so schlumping along together in cramped overheated buses, tuktuks and taxis, sharing shitty hotels and run down resorts, shonky meals and bad coffee,  despite the beauty and wonder of this amazing country, there were small hairline cracks starting to appear in our merry traveling twosome. It was only a matter of time really and to be completely honest I’m not the easiest person to travel with (I can almost hear the nodding of heads).

We developed a case of the niggles.

Long silences. Many “Hmmm” moments. Lots of staring off into the distance. There may have been some frowns at times and possibly more than a little frustration. Mostly from me as I tend to project my own issues onto others, then provoke a discussion but hey – its that restless mind of mine creating its own faulty reality again.

It was easily fixed though – after a few days of an odd growing discomfort, she basically called me on it – several times. Kudos actually as its the perfect way to snap me out of this – a quick slap and I’m back in the room. So after an open and honest chat (or two) and some alone time, we established some groundrules, fell back into the rhythm of travel and got on with having fun.

So early the next morning we headed for the bus station, with a relatively short but interesting journey ahead of us up into the mountains again, this time staying at a traditional Akha village in a adobe mud house high in the mountains.

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To be continued…

 

 

 

 

 

nothing is something…

Sometimes I have nothing to say.

Its extraordinary…shocking even and for the people that know me well, quite disturbing.

It’s the “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” Star Wars moment.


I welcome it when it happens, it just doesn’t happen a lot.

The restlessness of my mind usually generates a constant background hum and a need for continual motion.  As a good friend recently noticed, it even supplies an audible soundtrack to my daily activities. I hum and ‘doo de doo’ a lot,  sing sentences at times even though I don’t realise it. Talk incessantly. And that’s my resting state.

Now…imagine that after 2 or 3 Americanos. Crazy and annoying to more enlightened, grounded types I’m sure.

Honestly, in my life moments of actual stillness are few, but when they come, oh boy…

So in lieu of a regular conversation I’m blomiting (‘blog vomiting’ – there you go I’ve created a new term) these thoughts out of my limited headspace for your enjoyment.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this so just come along for the ride. Let’s digress…

Stillness. I struggle with it daily.

Moving from my day to day routine to hanging with calm minded yoga people is like running full tilt into a wall of custard and trying to slowly push through it. It drains me of momentum…doesn’t quite stop me dead in my tracks but thickens the space around  me…I feel this as an almost physical sensation … a “slowing”. It’s disconcerting and such a different energy…also quite frustrating as I generally function at full speed (vibrating at a different frequency maybe, I don’t know) and it takes a real mental effort to throttle back.  As a lot of my friends are yoga teachers it is challenging to say the least.

(I recently had a yin yoga session at a friends studio, accompanied by Tibetan singing bowls – during this I experienced this ‘slowing’ again as well as an unexpected but defined energy flow up and down my spinal column – a friend remarked that after this I seemed the most grounded that I’d ever been since we’d met- interesting eh? Imagine if that could be a resting state. More on this another time … Remind me ok?)

Yes I know it takes work and yes meditation will help. Thanks. I’m a work in progress.

…Stillness.

How do you know when it happens?

One notable moment for me was on the Bremerton ferry from Seattle a few months back after a late night out with Jen (yes that again). Sitting across from one another, gazing into her eyes… I just didn’t have anything to say. I felt at peace. It struck me as so odd I felt the need to comment “I have absolutely nothing to say to you” – yep, tactful as always…needless to say she was not impressed.  FYI that is NEVER a good thing to say to your significant other.  Looking back I can see that I was simply happy and had a moment of stillness – also how tactless that may have been and it possibly foreshadowed the events that followed. Anyway … lets get back on track.

So why am I blogging about stillness if I have nothing to say?

Well on occasion even nothing is something and it is notable by nature of its rarity.

I’ve been quietly watching my mind a lot over the past few years. We’ve become…intimate. It loves to run wild with crazy ideas and imagined conversations. It can tell the future, change the past,  read people’s minds and create alternate existences. It loves a plan and is a master of the sneaky ‘what ifs…’.

Traveling alone gives my chattery mindstream unparalleled access and power – gazing absently out the bus or ferry window, these random thoughts sneak and slither, unchecked and unchallenged they conspire,  gather momentum, unexpectedly slap you in the metaphysical face and then dominates the inner conversation. Creates a mental pressure, drives a low mood.  When you don’t speak to anyone for days, this internal monologue cycles and builds, and then when you actually have a conversation with a human being, the experience isn’t fun (for them, anyway). Its a face full of scattered babblevomit – a burst of random thoughts and ideas that have to escape the mind but so full on and unrelenting  it can overwhelm others.

There is no mental release,  just a brief joy from connecting and then the thoughts start to sneak and slither again, waiting for the next chance to escape.

This stillness thing is tricky.

But watching the mind is a fascinating practice. And it is a practice – the more you do it the better you get and the more you see.

Maybe that’s the way to find this elusive stillness that everyone’s talking about .

Which brings me to … Hmmm ..Oh yes – TRAVEL and the visiting yoga buddy!

Meg has been and gone. Seeing her at the airport was like picking up an interesting breakfast conversation at dinner with a close friend – easy, comfortable…normal. We fell into friendship easily a few years ago – just sorta happened that way.  A fascinating person but hard to define. If it helps, imagine a superintelligent doctor-scientist-yoga teacher -spiritualist-model-Disney princess (the one from Brave) so far out of your league it isn’t even worth fantasising about.

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Plus we know way way way to much about each other to be anything else 😉 (hopefully she hates reading self indulgent travel Blogs also)

Anyway…

We’d last said a hurried goodbye in Bali almost 2 years ago at teacher training and then I was late finishing class, missed her taxi, and she was gone.

The visit came out of the blue and as we’d both come out of some recent unpleasantness it was a welcome escape. We’d planned to not have a plan  – nonspecifically reconnecting and traveling around Northern Thailand for 2 weeks, spending a few days first in Chiang Mai getting oriented, then heading off on her first trip to Thailand, then scuba diving for her birthday in Koh Phagnan.

Ok it was a plan. I like plans.

After a few city days, Meg craved green space, forests and mountains so we grabbed an early red truck from the guest house, went the long way to the wrong bus station, grabbed and merrily confused the closest tuk tuk driver , got to the RIGHT bus station, bought our 40 baht ticket, hopped on a green bus and headed North.

First stop Chiang Dao:  An hour and a bit on the air-cooled (ie open windowed) bus. I’d been there before but a perfect introduction to regional Thailand (without too much shock) where we spent several days scoopying around the countryside along the Beautiful Road.

**this is a Scoopy  – a motorcycle named for fun. Just try saying it and not smiling.

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and blissing out at a wonderful place called Nest 2 – little bungalows nestled up against the foot of the sacred mountain Doi Chiang Dao, near the Chiang Dao caves.

Spoilt with amazing local food by a lovely chef named Oh who was happy to chat to us at length about her life and family and her passion for food. She used us as guinea pigs for some of her recipes (the sweet bamboo shoot dessert was simply amazing), and completely destroying me with some fiery Thai curries and soups. *Meg is a chili savant : her capacity to put away extremely spicy dishes both impressed and frightened the HELL out of me. Respect.

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Exploring the bat-filled catacombs of Chiang Dao cave with our Burmese guide giggling “watch out for the bat sheets” as we climbed and weaved and ducked through the inky blackness of the massive cave system lit only with the dim glow of a kerosene lamp,

then wondering at the stunningly beautiful Cave temple on Doi Chiang Dao

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and finally relaxing at the Makhampom art space when the rains finally came through in earnest was heavenly.

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Even though the weather turned on the rain for us we still got out into the last teeth of the Himalaya range and immersed ourselves in nature, wandering through the jungle trails and villages alike, talking and exploring, enjoying the silence of the stars at night and looking for elusive fireflies in the gardens over dinner.

It would have been easy to stay there for weeks, but it was time to move on so we hopped onto the green bus again and off we went, overnighting in Fang (not much to see – shitty business hotel, very industrial but great noodles at the food truck). We got out of there are soon as possible early the next day.

The next stop was the surprising Tha Ton.

The guide books wrote it off as a small town with not much to see but it was really a quietly bustling regional centre with some amazing sights and stunning views over the valley  – AND a great little coffee shop near the bridge barely mentioned in the Guidebooks but actually wonderful and welcoming.


For example Wat Thaton on Doi Thaton was simply stunning – looking like a porcelain teapot but containing the most wonderfully peaceful museum with artworks, texts, and sculptures with a heavy Chinese influence donated from around the world.

And the views! overlooking the Thaton valley with views over into neighboring Myanmar.

So we hiked around the mountains and explored the town in the brief time that we had. Ate at a shitty farang style eatery and instantly regretted it. Especially the deep fried frog.

Oh God…the horror of the deep fried frog. *Tastes like chicken.

Staying in a ‘resort’ (I wont name it – it truly had seen better days) but right on the river close to the bridge, perfect location but really rundown. It was managed by a thai version of Basil Fawlty and his non english speaking (but extremely good mime) wife. They tried really hard though so it almost made up for the places shortcomings.

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It was an adventure all by itself, but as we’d been traveling together for well over a week now the heat, lack of privacy and the constant travel had frayed us both a little around the edges.

For two people used to roaming alone, a week in another’s company was a long time.

There were loose threads hanging, waiting to be tugged.

To be continued…

 

 

Travel buddy!

Having a travel buddy again is great and hence I’m totally distracted from blogging. 

A very good friend of mine flew in from Zurich (sounds so fancy!) a week ago to catch up. We’ve spent the last week reconnecting and playing tourist around northern Thailand – tuktuks, scoopys, tourist traps, yellow cars, green cars, dust and pollution , orange buses and dodgy hotels coupled with amazingly beautiful wats, cosy guest houses, idyllic remote mountain wanderings, peaceful resorts and incredible food. 

This week it’s been adventure time though and we are discovering just how outdated Lonely Planet guides actually are by finally escaping the clutches of Chiang Mai province and getting off the tourist track and out into the more regional and remoter parts of the country. 

Meg has never been to Thailand before, and Bali had been her first real experience with south east Asia.  Welcome to Thailand ! 

Having also never scuba dived and, sharing an adventurous soul, she’s going to take her first scuba dive ever for her birthday next week. Being used to roughing it trekking through the wilds of Europe and central/South America , the tourist path here in Thailand is quite a different and at times frustrating pace…

More on this later  – it’s mountain and coffee time – too much to do to blog in depth  ! 🙂 

Stay tuned for further updates  – so much fun!

Black Moon in Baan Tai – Part 2

After a night spent dreaming of sharks, worst case scenarios and general underwater nastiness, chiding myself for being impulsive and reckless, and asking every friend I know that dives their opinion (thanks Kate), I dragged myself out of bed early on Saturday morning for the 7.00am start and the boat ride out to Sail Rock.

It was hard to tell if I was excited about the prospect, or just nervous, or the aformentioned shitscared. I wasn’t sure at first, but the closer to Chaloklum I scootered the surer I became – this was a good idea. Its is exactly why I chose to head West from Australia, into Asia – to find challenges and push myself outside of my comfort zone.

I’d been sheltering in the familiarity of Chiang Mai and even Bangkok to an extent – coming here to Koh Phagnan was unfamiliar, and deciding to do even this simple thing – scuba dive – was really out of left field for me…at least for the Adult-me.

The Child-me though was excited, bubbling  with enthusiasm and couldn’t wait to get my feet wet and my head underwater. It was something that I’d dreamed about and I was going to enjoy the fuck out of it.

So I got to The DiveInn early – early enough for my dutch instructor: a professional, serious man named Raf to see how enthusiastic I was and sit me down for an early briefing. I wanted to know everything, at once, now. As he explained the form and function of all the scuba gear (which I’d only even previously seen on TV), I wanted to know more and more and more. How did this work? What happens if this fails? How do I use this? Emergency procedures? Awesome tell me more…I was hooked even before I got wet (get your minds out of the gutter – seriously people). The Child-me was in control.

So the rest of the daytrippers started to dribble in – Discover Scuba Diving (or DSD) first timers like me, old hands all tanned and lugging their own gear, mangy backpackers and happy honeymooners (or ‘fuckers’, as I like to call em). The DiveInns boat was busted so they had to share a boat with 3 other dive companies that day and the boat was packed to the brim. We set out for the small wharf that jutted out perpendicular to the Worlds End Coffee Shop  – personally I thought that was very fitting just in case anything went wrong today but I did say that to anyone – no point in being a jinx.

We boarded the jaunty offwhite and green dive boat and settled in on the top deck, covered by a rough bright green sailcloth to protect us from the powerful tropical sun. The Divemaster started handing out seasickness tablets to anyone that needed them “The seas a bit rough today”. I’d spent enough time on ships in rough seas in my Navy contract days to know I don’t get seasick at all so I nixed the tablets. Others weren’t so fortunate.

A lovely Thai dive instructor gave us the boat briefing in English so broken it could have been hit by a car, but with a combination of hand signals and  enthusiasm she managed to get across the basics – what to do if we sink, and where the toilets are. The important things. Then we were on our way – just 50 minutes and counting.

The boat turned from the wharf, the powerful engines throttled up to counter the swell, and then gently nosed out to sea. Once we left the shelter of the heads the Captain opened her up and we surged along, crashing though the 1 metre waves, the hull shivering with each strike and the spray soaking the lower decks. Standing there on the top deck in the bright sunshine, swaying along, eyes closed and enjoying the rolling sensation of the boat in the water,  I suddenly remembered something.

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I love the ocean.

Although I’m prone to hyperbole at times that is the simple unadulterated fact.

Standing on the upper deck of the boat, powering through the pale green Gulf waters, salty spray “booshing” up into my face and the wind whipping though my hair, I can honestly say I’ve never been happier (at least in the past few years and definitely as far back as I can remember).  The grin on my face must have made me look like a tanned version of The Joker and I had to fight hard not to start laughing out loud at the sheer joy of it all.

I didn’t care about the fear..in fact I think at that moment the fear and heartache left me completely and I embraced whatever was going to come. I felt happy and peaceful and quietly optimistic. This is a life to be lived to the fullest with no fear and no regrets.

After my little epiphany, and at the risk of end stage skin cancer from the tropical sun, I retreated to the shade of the sunsail to get my pre-dive briefing. All the other divers had their respective instructors there, giving them serious instructions about what to do and where they were going. But I was alone.

So I waited, eavesdropping on the other groups, getting the gist of the dive site and other information as best I could. Where was Raf? I could see Sail Rock coming up on the horizon, a single rock pinnacle about 2 stories high, 30 metres or so around, surrounded by other diveboats and flocks of seabirds.

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About 5 minutes before we arrived at the rock, Raf arrived. He wasnt worried about being late. He’d planned to be last off the boat as it was super crowded and everyone was currently stuggling for space to gear up and get in the water. “we have plenty of time – dont worry” he said. And started the final briefing, which basically consisted of “this is where we are going, how deep we are going, and our communication signals and emergency plans”.

“Is that it?” I asked?

That was it. Simple.

We sauntered downstairs as the last of the new divers were struggling into their wetsuits and scuba tanks, waddling over to the ladder and launching themselves into the sea. We geared up, did our buddy checks, and waited.

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A cute dark haired Spanish girl jumped in, forgetting to hold her mask or put her regulator in her mouth. The mask promptly flipped off her face and she came up spluttering water and coughing. Good lesson there – always hold your mask.

Then it was our turn – Raf went in first, keeping a careful eye on me as he had seen new divers freak out under water and was hoping I wouldn’t. So was I, just quietly. “Don’t fuck up, don’t fuck up, don’t fuck up…”

I waddled over to the side, flippers odd but strangely familiar, lurched up onto the siderail, flippertoes over the edge. Hand on mask, hand on weightbelt, regulator in. Look at the horizon. Big step in.

I stepped.

And my world shifted to green.

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Looking beyond my feet, there was nothing but the deep green…going deeper than I’d ever seen before. Looking up was just a hint of sun and the surface above. And so many fish!

The next 30 minutes went by like seconds.

You know that expression ‘like a fish to water”. It was like that.  Everything was instinctual, completely natural, and I felt instantly at ease.

We went deeper and deeper, equalising (popping your ears) every metre or so, being cautious. Raf constantly checking if I was ok, me constantly beaming so much my mask kept filling with water (no biggie – easily cleared). Levelling off at 18 metres according to my dive computer, we skirted around the rock, dodging the other newbies (some of which were dog paddling underwater – not a good look for a diver apparently) and just enjoyed the 30 minute dive. Breathing underwater…pffttt piece of cake.

So much life,  so energising: I’d never expected it could be like this. It was an underwater forest of coral and plant life, fish and plankton, all mixed up in a warm green soup through which I was slowly moving, completely alien to this world but yet a part of it just the same. Part of the biomass, sharing the energy.

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And then it was over, and after a loooong swim back to the boat, and a brief struggle in the swell to get my flippers off and up the ladder it was lunchtime.

I was so invigorated by the experience, chattering like a giddy kid to the other newbie divers most of whom were sprawled out on the top deck, exhausted by their experience, seasick, or trying to sleep. I ate a simple lunch, went back for seconds, then thirds,  and thought – “I have to do more of this”

45 minutes later – Dive 2.

‘Whaaaat!” It thought I only got 1 dive?” SO glad I had a huge lunch.

So rinse, repeat, apply lessons learnt from Dive 1 – and back into the water. Another 45 minutes at 18 metres, touring other sections of this vast coral wonderland, relaxed enough this time to see the detail in the anenomes and the tiny fish living and hiding in the corals and seaweeds.

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At the end of the day, I was still on a high, trying to find a conscious buddy to talk to and enthuse with about the day. Luckily Mia, a german girl, was still awake, so I chattered to her for the 50 minutes back to the Dive shop. She was doing her Open Water Advanced certification and had been coming here for a few years, getting certified every time. She was addicted. And so was I.

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On the way back I decided that I was going to do my PADI Open water certification so I spoke to Raf about it. He was free for the next few weeks and would be happy to do it with me as my instructor – it is a rare opportunity to get a 1 on 1 instructor of his level, so I jumped in and signed up not only for the PADI Open Water, but the PADI Open Water Advanced back to back. This would allow me to dive down to 40 metres and dive anywhere in the world, plus give me some special certs and adventure dives as well. 10 open water dives over 8 days and skills development in the ocean – none of this swimming pool bullshit.

So my trip to Koh Phagnan took on a new focus, and over the next week or so I went out daily for diving, studied theory in the classroom (hating dive tables), and skills development. The more time in the water I spent the more confident I became, and I became friends with Raf and the other senior instructors at the dive centre. They were a close knit family that had been working together for years and it was so cool how they embraced me into their fold. The senior divers wouldn’t believe that I’d never been diving before and for a while I was the rockstar of the new divers.

I met all the dive instructors from the other boats, we hung out and went to dinner, one and got chatting to Marcia one day, a cute energetic dive master/instructor from Slovenia (I think) – she’d been on the island for 2 years and didn’t want to go back to Europe.  “Its shit – falling apart…I never want to go back” she said. Marcia also made some interesting observations about what the island does to people: they come when they are in their 20’s and they never grow up. Addicted to the adrenalin rush from diving, they move into extreme sports, or freediving, or rebreathers. They live in a state of perpetual holiday and act like immature children right up into their 50s and 60s. European women cant deal with them long term. They marry Thai women who look after them slavishly. Have unsustainable relationships, alcoholism, drug abuse and a detachment from reality. Sounds familiar. Really interesting to hear that perspective. Thank God I don’t live here.

Anyway long story short, I blitzed the theory and skills testing, got certified in 6 days, looked at the next level Rescue Diver course, and the Master Scuba Diver after that. Id like to be really good at something, so maybe scuba diving will be it.

Adult-me can suck it for a while.

Child-me is rockin’ it!

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To be continued…

 

**photos were taken on Dive 9…I’m not a total idiot. Interesting that as soon as the GoPro came into play all my skills and caution went out the window as my focus went to the camera and not the dive. Good lesson to learn.

 

 

Black Moon in Baan Tai – Part 1

So…its been a little while since I wrote. Has it really been 14 days already?

How have you been?

This will be a bit of a ramble as I catch you up, buuut I have my laptop back finally so I can actually type (that drama is worth a blog entry alone and I’ll revisit that experience in the near future once my Apple service rage subsides). Luckily the coffee here at The Larder Cafe and Bar is conducive to a long stint at the keyboard. So here we go.

After bailing out of Bangkok, I found myself heading for the island of Koh Phangan, down in the Gulf of Thailand and a place notorious for scooter injuries, broken ankles and bandaged limbs, beautiful beaches and full moon parties.

I’d gotten mixed reviews from fellow travelers about this spot, ranging from “don’t go there, its full of drunken tattooed Eurotrash and full moon freaks”, to  “oh wow, there a laid back cool yoga and hippy scene” and “the beaches are beautiful/crowded/trashy/ruined”.

It was sorta hard to make a call based on popular opinion, but as I was visiting a yoga buddy from teacher training last year, it didn’t really matter. I wanted to see for myself. It was beachy, oceany and above all it was new – good enough for me.

Getting there was easier than I’d thought. A quick flight direct from Bangkok (about $50 AUD)  to Surat Thani airport (2 domestic gates, no waiting), an hour and a bit on the air-conditioned bus, followed by a 2 hour ferry trip (both included in the 500 baht ticket price) and I was there! All I had left to do was walk the 3.5 kms to the hostel. Easy!

Not so.

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Unfortunately I arrived in a howling gale;  a dark brooding tropical storm that was thrashing the coastline with a pounding surf and a screaming wind that blew the palm fronds horizontal from the trees, the dogs into the bushes,  and sent the garbage scattered around me dancing madly into the sky. And OMFG the rain!

Quickly soaked to the skin after disembarking the rust bucket ferry from Surat Thani, I squelched over towards the township, stumbling to and fro against the gale looking like a drunken green hunchback (I’d wisely wore my rain jacket over my backpack to keep my camera dry). Strangely enough many people on the ferry hadn’t thought of rain and sought to cover themselves in anything vaguely waterproof they could find. Garbage bags, newpapers, babies, some even dared try umbrellas for a few seconds before the wind twisted them inside out and sent them spinning off into the storm.

It was a little bit hilarious watching a group of delicate alabaster skinned Chinese ladies wobbling randomly along in their high heels and full moon party frocks, eyes wide in shock, umbrellas shredded, soaked to the core, doggedly negotiating the torrents of rain, muddy puddles and random piles of dog shit like a huddled mobile mass of slightly confused ducks.

And such was my inglorious arrival on Koh Phangan.

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Anyway, by the time I got to Nera’s Bakery (great coffee, open 7am), the storm had blown past. In about 7 minutes flat –  Damn these things move fast here! The sky turned a streaky deep blue, the sun came out and blasted me dry with reflected heat from the concrete pavement that passes for a road in these parts. And that become the pattern for the next few days – cloudy morning, sunless day, massively humid and an afternoon storm to sweep the island clean.

I had booked a super cheap hostel in Baan Tai (NOOOO DONT STAY IN BAAN TAI everyone told me – so of course I had to). It was for good reason as it turns out. Its a Thailand tourist trap at its worst, with girly bars, clubs everywhere, tacky hostels and guest houses and markets with streets full of younger party people looking for a good time/trouble/anti diarrhea tablets in that order. Some might think that is heaven on a stick and if I was 20 I undoubtedly would have loved it. It is not for the faint hearted however.

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My guest house looked great on Hostelworld, and got good reviews, but the non stop electro techno music from the bar (even when it was empty) seemed a little desperate and although the hosts were a nice Belgian couple who just sorta hung around in swimmers all day and drank, the french girl on reception was expressionless, borderline rude, and I think incapable of smiling. But it was cheap. You get what you pay for here.

The next day I hired a scooter through the hostel (twice the street cost at 200 baht a day) but easy as I didn’t have to deal with unscrupulous cycle hire owners (of which this place is renowned). I also had to sacrifice my passport to Mr Dodgy scooter guy which I wasn’t happy about but hey that’s what happens here with scooter rentals. But then I was mobile!

Time to explore. I scootered and hiked over the next few days – did the island top to bottom; from Haad Rin to Chaluklum, from Haad Yeo to Haad Yang (almost). This island is simply beautiful, with a central mountain rage that pierces the afternoon storm clouds and shelters the North from the wind, hidden waterfalls, wats and temples, secluded beaches, and tropical forests. And dogs, dogs and more dogs everywhere. Apparently monkeys as well but the only monkey I saw was riding on the back of a motorcycle and was damn near as big as the person riding it. No way I’m feeding that!

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Koh Phangan is smallish, easily navigable (if you get lost on this island, please just pack up and go home) and the roads range from almost decent concrete slab affairs through to muddy tracks and 1 lane pathways. A third of the island is only accessible by hiking, 4WD or longtail boat and some of the best resorts and secluded beaches are on this part of the island. Bottle beach is one of these special spots, is secluded and beautiful and has some cheap accommodation to be had depending on the season.

To give you an idea of scale, if there was a highway that ran around the outside (and there isn’t)  it would take you about 50 minutes to ride all the way around (doing the legal 40km/h on a scooter that is) – less if you are a European or Australian tourist who seem to delight in doing 3 times the speed limit, helmetless, in flip flops and wifebeaters, with their under 5 year old child riding on their lap, on the wrong side of the road. As do taxis, trucks and tractors. Its a free for all. Most people crammed on a scooter wins.

Which by the way explains the phenomenon of the Koh Phagnan tattoo. When I first arrived I was curious about the sheer number of people that had scars on their hips and legs, or bandaged ankles, feet and big toes. Finger stalls on several fingers, or even in plaster casts and on crutches. It was then that I became aware of the tattoo. Its actually a thing and the numbers of people that have scooter accidents on this island is staggering.

The rental companies will rent you a scooter or motorcycle if you have a passport, a pulse and enough cash. They don’t care if you can ride or not, they don’t care if you are drunk or high or both. The probably don’t even care if you kill yourself, but GOD FORBID you get a scratch on their scooter. In fact they probably hope you crash. The contract you sign details the replacement cost for parts down to the nuts and bolts – and its 4 times the usual replacement cost. If you trash a scooter be prepared to pay about 4 times the replacement cost of the bike itself. And they hold onto your passport just in case.

Take many photos of the scooter before you sign the agreement as they will try to nitpick about the tiniest details when you return it.

In fact, its such as great money spinner for the island I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the many hospitals and medical centers are in on the game as well. I can see the doctors and nurses taking out the ambulances in the dead of night, loading them up with sand, and strategically shovelling said sand out onto seemingly innocuous sections of roads, blind curves and steep grades, all to catch out the drunken or inexperienced rider and send them skidding into a ditch. And then into hospital where they’ll charge you a fortune for medical care. THE Perfect scam.

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So anyhoo after a few days of this chaos and markets and bars, I craved some peace. Tired of the techno and tourists, I wandered onto a nearby resort’s private beach. Finding a secluded spot to read, I noticed on one of the deck chairs there was a brochure advertising Discover Scuba Diving – no experience required. Sweet! I have no experience! Perfect.

I’d always wanted to dive, but was too freaked out by sharks to ever try. Too chickenshit. Jaws had really done a number on me and I’d just watched The Shallows a few weeks back and it still haunted me. But as a kid I’d loved going on holidays to the coast back home and was fearless in the ocean – snorkelling like a demon, chasing fish, feeding groupers, spending hours alone exploring the ocean and Barrier Reef when I was little.

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As an adult I’d become a overly cautious pussy.

A little devilish voice inside my head whispered “Hey do it man…why the Hell not?” Exactly! Why the Hell not, indeed. That’s why I’m here isn’t it? To push my boundaries a bit. Live a little.

So I put the brochure in my pocket.

The next day I scooted the 10kms up to Chaloklum, a sleepy little fishing village up north and far away from the crassness and trash of Baan Tai. I wandered into The DiveInn and chatted to the lovely co-owner Fern. I paid my money and before I knew it I was filling out medical forms and waivers and then…shit. It was happening.

The DiveInn <- check these guys out. Such a good dive shop.

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Usually they do the PADI Discover Scuba diving thing in a swimming pool for skills development, then maybe in the ocean for a simple dive with an instructor holding your hand. But they were busy. So I was given the choice – I could do it in a weeks time in the pool or start tomorrow in the open ocean, quite literally throwing myself in the deep end.

So being the adventurous/careless/stupid soul that I am, I opted for the open ocean dive. 50 minutes by boat in the Gulf Of Thailand. My briefing and skills training would happen on the boat on the way to the dive site. My first breath in Scuba gear would be in the open ocean. OK …nothing like a challenge to get you out of bed in the morning.

Fern took me through all the photos up on the wall of the sea life that I would see tomorrow – barracuda, moray eel, sunfish, batfish, bull sharks, anenomes, artifical reefs teeming with life, maybe even whale sharks…wow!

I left The DiveInn excited and buzzing (probably from all the awesome coffee I had at The Worlds End cafe next door). I was going to Scuba dive!!! Finally!

But later that night, as I lay in bed, the coffee wore off and I thought about it a bit more.

Uh oh…hang on did she say Bull sharks? Noo that cant be right…they’re super aggressive…Open Ocean. Diving 18 metres under it. Swimming not my strong suit. Mortality. Death. Shit.

What have I done…?

…to be continued.