Charging through a glistening deep blue body of water that is the gulf of Thailand, I had no idea where I’d be sleeping, or really any knowledge of the tiny island of Koh Tao (aka Turtle Island). Unlike the previous two landmasses I’d set foot on, Koh Tao had the allure of the unknown, as I had not seen any photos, or really read anything about it. Surprising. I had set sail (figuratively. This was not a sailboat.) on the promising words of new friends, and the beautiful images my mind had conjured from their stories. Before I knew it, I was riding along a smoothly paved road away from the port. I clutched my 65 litre pack tightly, preventing it from launching out the back of the songthaew (a pickup with benches and a canopy). Myself, a close friend, and 5 others who were soon to be, were on our way to a popular dive resort on the island. Located on the buzzing Sairee Beach, Big Blue Diving was where I would take my first (successful) breaths below the surface.
Even with parents in the trade, and my obsession for all things aquatic, the idea of voyaging beneath the blue never really occurred to me. It was almost as if the universe had planned it. That night we started with and informative intro on the course’s itinerary and some necessary bookwork, preparing us mentally for what we’d later do in the water. The following day we hit the stinging clean waters of the shop’s pool, where we breathed through regulators for the first time, and acquired the basic skills we needed for our very first open water plunge.
Departing at around 6:30 am the next morning, we set off into the glassy abyss. The excitement of the boatful of new divers, as well as the staff, created a feeling of encouraging community. After some briefing and with buddy checks completed, we took our first giant strides into the beautiful blue gulf.
After getting past a little initial ear squeeze, we descended to a comfortable 12 metres. Submerged in the warm clear waters, it was truly another world down there. We glided over the lively reef, spotting Christmas tree worms, who timidly retreated into their holes, yellow tail barracuda, bannerfish, and my favorite the butterfly fish; the lovebirds of the water, who always swim in pairs.
Experiencing the underwater world through scuba was magical. Enough so that I had to go on to complete my advanced course, where we were blessed to swim with TWO WHALE SHARKS! On our 8th dive ever. I should have bought a lottery ticket. To share the water with such a large beautiful creature is something else. Seeing it move along peacefully with such grace was humbling, reminding me once more that all things are connected, and we are all part of this amazing world together. My fondest memory of this encounter was swimming about 15 feet under the big fish and blowing bubbles up at it’s underbelly, the light shining down from the surface creating a dreamlike silhouette.
I didn’t take this photo, but it’s a pretty accurate representation of what it looked like from below!
We reluctantly returned to the boat for a surface interval accompanied by tea and tropical fruits. I could see bubbles breaking the surface from fellow divers, and with whoops of excitement heard, I ditched my tea and jumped in the water with just a mask. A whaleshark had ascended to shallower depths, where we were lucky enough to trace it’s path overhead, getting a bird’s eye view this time of the shark and it’s friendly followers.
On dive 2, we got down to business and descended to 30 metres. We were given a test to determine if we were affected by nitrogen narcosis (which everyone passed), although one might think, with these giants whimsically gliding above, that they are in fact being fooled by the depths! After that meeting, I can say that I now share the same enthusiasm about these animals with fellow divers and humans not only on Koh Tao, but around the world. We motored back to the shop after a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience (hopefully more!), not bursting with the news, but calmly cleaing our dive gear with smiles on our faces. It was like we shared a little earthly secret. As the sun set, we sipped Singha and filled in our dive logs; a quaint celebration of our new certification, new friends and vivid new memories.
“A mind that has been stretched by new experiences can never go back to it’s old dimensions.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes
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