E-mail Update - 2005-10-10

Visa Runs and Diving

Konnichiwa! (Good Afternoon in Japanese)

Right now I am in Nara, Japan at Sayoko's parents house. Her whole family has been very welcoming even though Sayoko is the only one that speaks English & I have seen so much of Japan & its culture :)

As the last update came out I was 1/2 the way through a Visa run to the Burma border, so that is where I will start from. After getting caught up on most of my e-mails in Ranong I went to my terrible 100 baht room (worst room of the trip but it only cost $2.50 USD). However, I was only using it for a shower & sleeping. The bed was no problem & there was water coming out of the pipe that was only slightly mud colored so it was all good :) Anyway got up the next morning and of course "Dang", my motorcycle driver, was waiting for me with a smile. Thai's never miss a shot at money, so I had no worry about him being there. Anyway he took me to the Visa office in Thailand which had just opened, which went well.
Then I went to the shipyard to get a long tail boat to Burma. I was able to negotiate a decent deal on it, but nothing great. I had to wait while they bought gas for the boat. I got 2 people on my crew, which was a kid that looked about 7 & possibly his older brother at 15. It was nice having the kid because he spoke better English & could do the running into the places. Plus the older one made him do most of the driving, but at least it was the easier parts. Even for those the kid had to put his whole body into it just to get the motor to turn a little. Anyway we did really well making time at all the checkpoints, but the ride across the ocean was very very slow. Once to Burma I was getting off when I heard a familiar voice call my name. His name was Jason & I had done a dive with him when he freelanced at Visa while I was a DMT. So we talked a little in Burma then said our quick good-byes. After that I took the slow boat ride back, found my motorcycle driver & got back to the Ranong (Thailand) immigration office. There I saw Jason again, but we had different drivers so we said goodbye again. However, we would meet one more time at the bus terminal. I had been there before one time on a visa run so I knew that I should buy the nice bus, which has a toilet, back to Phuket. The previous Visa run return trip was on a normal bus & was the worst bus trip of my life. When I saw Jason he had just about been talked into taking a "cheap" bus to Phuket, which would have actually cost him more & required him switching buses. I grabbed him just before he paid & showed him where to get the better ticket. Then we waited for the bus that was an hour or so late (normal for Thailand). We talked on the bus ride home & decided to share a hotel for the night in Phuket so that we could save some money. I did quite a bit of Internet that night & even watched a little TV (which is something I never see on Phi Phi). The next morning I slept in a little before doing some random errands & some more e-mailing (finally caught up). Then I tried to go to Dive Supply to buy some diving equipment, but the idiot tuk-tuk driver said he knew where he was going, & ended up wasting 45 minutes of my time. At that point we had to go to the afternoon ferry so I had to go back to the hotel with nothing. We caught the ferry & landed safely back in Phi Phi, ending my last Visa run!

Once you get back into the routine things don't usually stick out as much that you do in the course of a day from a work standpoint. Overall I can say that being a divemaster had it highs & lows. The highs are the diving, cool people you meet & having fun with friends after work. The lows are the lack of sleep, 7-day work weeks & long hours (usually from 8am in the morning until 9pm), with a few breaks in between to catch showers & food. You can work a little less if you want but then it makes it tough to get any sales, which keeps you from diving. The sales are actually where you make more money so it is really a necessary evil of the trade. One nice thing is that I am a pretty good salesman (inherited that from my dad). That helps because I made lots of course sales which are where you get the most money (10%). For the fun divers you only get 100 baht, but I do get to take them which is the best part of the job so that helps. @Typically if I spent the day diving my day would go like this. I would get up around 7am to catch a shower & get ready before getting an egg sandwich on the walk to work. I would get there by 8am & find out whom I was taking diving if I didn't already know. Then I would get my weight belt & the customer's weight belts ready. After that when all the customers whom I was taking were there we would walk down to the boat at the pier. Then I would show them around the boat & tell them where the things were to setup their equipment. After equipment setup I would give them a dive briefing which went over all the hand signals & site information that they needed to know, plus what to do in certain emergencies & other things. After that we would get to the dive site & would get all of our gear on before jumping into the water. After the dive we would get back on the boat & they would have time for lunch while we took about a 1-2 hour break before our second dive. After the second dive I would disassemble all of my equipment eat my lunch. Usually right after that we had to prepare the boat for getting back which meant to hand all the tanks & equipment to the exit point of the boat. Once docked we would then hand all the equipment & tanks off the boat while the customers walked back to the shop. Then I would meet them back at the shop where we would go over all the dive information to enter into their books & a book that shows the fish which we saw (I know fish names really well now!). By this time it is usually 2:30 or 3pm. I usually went back home to catch a shower & would do some Internet. I was always back in the shop by 5pm & usually earlier to make sure I was there for the night time which is when people stop by for information & make their decision as to which dive shop they are going to. I would usually be there until 9pm when all the shops in town close, sometimes leaving a little earlier. After that I would go get some supper with friends from the Visa or Aquanauts shop, volunteers from the island, or other friends. I never really went out with people from Barakuda. They had all worked together in Koh Toh & were pretty good friends, so I never really became part of that group outside of work.

I ended up with 102 dives while working at Barakuda which is good because I needed 100 to be able to do the instructor program when I came back from Japan. My first 10 dives as a divemaster were tougher because it seemed like there were lots of issues that would always come up which I had to deal with. I usually didn't know how to handle them so I had to ask a lot of questions. When I started there it was nice because one of the instructors, Isabelle (Zab), really helped me out. The first day she gave me a boat briefing & told me what was going to happen while everyone else seemed to ignore me being there. Plus she answered all those early questions I had of how to handle things & even added other helpful information. It was very cool of her because she really didn't gain anything from it & could have just as easily ignored me. I really liked her, but she quit to go do some traveling so she was not there for very long after I started. At the very end Kate who had also worked in Koh Toh came to Barakuda & she answered a lot of questions I had about the instructor course which was helpful. I feel like once I got past those first 10, maybe even 16 dives I started becoming a really good divemaster. I learned the sites really well (never even use a compass all natural
navigation) & got very good at spotting sharks & other animals that the customers loved to see. My dive briefing even improved a little to handle things that happened on the first few dives, which I had not thought about. However, that had been pretty good because I had been practicing that even while I was with Visa. Once you have better control & experience the dives become more fun because you are relaxed even though you have a lot of responsibility. Another point that Zab said a couple of times until it finally sunk in for me, was that I am leading divers who are certified, which means that they know what to do. At first I think maybe I was a little too worried & overprotective. By the end I basically knew how everything was going to happen during the day with a few occasional exceptions.

The diving on Phi Phi is phenomenal, the visibility & things you see even on the worst days are incredible. The good days are spectacular. I never went to anything but the local dive sites, so I missed the 2 best dive sites (Hin Duang & Hin Muang) and the wreck. But even so I saw a plethora of wildlife. The top 10 animals in my book are as follows:
(1) Hawksbill Turtle
(2) Leopard Shark & Black-tip Reef Shark
(3) Kuhl's Sting Rays
(4) Lionfish
(5) Juvenile Emperor Angelfish (other Angelfish as well)
(6) Moray Eels
(7) White & Black Banded Sea Snake
(8) Yellow Box Fish
(9) Pufferfish & Porcupine Fish
(10) Squid & Cuttlefish

On an average day when I come back from a dive I could tell people over 50 different types of fish that we saw. We also see clams, oysters, crustaceans & numerous types of hard & soft coral. Basically the diving was the reason I stayed in Phi Phi so long, it is just amazing. I wanted to see a whale shark & manta rays, but never got to see them in Phi Phi so that will have to wait until another day I guess :)

Ok that is the first part of the update, more to come later! Also to all the people to whom I am behind on e-mails know that I plan to catch up with that today or as soon as possible. Lastly, for anyone who would prefer to be removed from the group update list just let me know ;)

Love & Peace,