Sunday, February 27, 2011

"Does India have an ocean?": some 'full moon party' and other tales from the turtle island

Post Open Water course, all I wanted to do, really, was the Advanced course. However, I'm really glad I managed to get in a couple of fun dives instead, as it was a completely different experience to diving with an Instructor. The Divemasters just do the fun bit: pointing out all the cool fish. We did Red Rock Drop off and this was my favourite dive of all. We had a small group, just Saul, Dave, myself and (unfortunately) a Dutch girl who ended up being my buddy but couldn't dive for shit.  Fresh from our courses, we kind of knew what we were doing, but her buoyancy was all over the shop, she couldn't equalise and, worst of all, she kept banging into the coral. We were swimming through little holes and caves, up and down and upside down, you had to be pretty careful, and I'd constantly be looking over my shoulder (to the point where I actually had a sore neck the next day) to check she hadn't shot off to the surface (again).

I went the wrong way once or twice but it was such a cool dive it didn't matter too much. Our DM was Steven, who was a lot of fun and really knew his stuff.  At the second dive the visibility was poorer, and my attempt at a dramatic direct ascent was an epic fail as it was too painful on the old ears.

Apparently the visibility gets poorer around full moon as this causes the coral reef to reproduce or something(?!) For the Big Blue crew, however, full moon meant something else. I was so happy to see Sarah, Julie, and their friend from home Sinead arrive and do their Open Water courses. There was, by this point, 10  freshly qualified divers, deprived of beer and ready to party.  The night before full moon we had a chilled evening at Chopper's, listening to acoustic music (a blessing since my ipod was stolen) and then headed to the beach to catch up with Team Bermuda's 'graduation' party - which, when I left at about 1am, looked as if it was going to end as messily as ours had. Lots of buckets and diving banter (OK? GOING DOWN! and so on) was had and they had the funniest, nerdiest guy who was hilarious and lovely at the same time. Oh Paul. When he lost the 'mine' game (as Karen had done earlier in Choppers) and had to do 10 push ups, it was too much, I think i had to look away. And then the dancing.....

I left them, buckets in hand, and went to rest up for the inevitable night of no sleep which awaited the following day. 4 messy, noisy Japanese guys had moved into my room (yes it was my room by now!) and they woke me up in the mornings with their noisiness, which meant I was fully allowed to prance in after full moon and screech goooooood morrrrniiing! As they slept.

We went down to the pier, where we made friends with 'the twins' - Keisha and Tanhi, the most identical of identical twins, beautiful girls with the most incredible afros - it was like walking around with celebrities all night the amount of times they were stopped, and boarded the 'party boat' to Ko Phanhgan, where some Korean guys, fascinated by the twins, bough our entire group of 10 a beer and shared their pringles. Good times! We arrived onto Koh Phanghan and had a shit pad thai in a rubbish restauarant and starting painting each other with fluorescent stuff and  guzzling buckets.

I blame Karen, mostly for what happened next. I wish I could remember it all...It was so hard to keep together. 12,000 people on Haad Rin; I hadn't thought it possible. You couldn't move for people in paint, fluoro, buckets, blaring music, people filming, screaming - pure madness. We found by chance, Amy and Eleanor, who'd been on Koh Tao a few days before, and I saw Liv too. I even got everyone to 'number off', Raleigh style, so we could check we all were there. Old habits die hard! Moo Bang (Black Moon, 2009) painted down one arm, I can't remember what down the other, I just remember the sensation of fun. The bucket throwing incident - Karen - was one of the highlights of my night. There was wild dancing, fun times and a blurry, hazy messy sense of fun. That is what I remember. I didn't go near the sea, or walk down the beach, I think we pretty much stayed in a similar spot all night. I was down buying my 3rd (fatal) bucket when I heard Shakira's finest (waka-waka) and in my drunken state went a little crazy as memories from being in a similar, drunken state last summer in South Africa came flooding back. Lots of random people know now the dance, anyway.

9 out of 10 of us managed to make it back onto the boat at 7am the next day. By this point I was hanging badly and seriously angry. You do not need techno, Goa trance-esque music on a boat at 7am in the morning after a night of no sleep. I crashed out and no one emerged until 3pm that afternoon.

That evening, the night after full moon, was really sad, we all sat on the beach at the Fish Bowl, with a beer, and started the goodbyes. Sarah and Sinead (Julie had remained on Koh Phangan....) would be leaving the following day, as would Becky. The day after, I would follow. Saul and Dave would be doing their ridiculous visa run to Burma and the twins would also go to Phangan.

We had such a fantastic group, it was a melancholoy and bittersweet evening. Walking down the beach at midnight, ankle deep in sea, was one of the moments where you think you never want to go home ever again and want life to just crystallize at this moment, seemingly perfect.

Our final goodbye night, just Saul, Dave, Karen, the twins and myself, ended up being buckets again. Hi bar, Office Bar, Lotus Bar....same same, but always just a little bit different. Karen and I had a full scale drunken argument with some stupid Scandinavian boys who were throwing their cigarettes into the sea (I was still remembering the documentaries...) about the damage they were causing. Eco warriors, even when drunk. It's just RUDE!

The next day, I caught my boat back to Chumphon, and then a bus to Bangkok which arrived at 2am. Liv had bought me a room at Sidthi Guest House again and I crashed out. Unfortunately, the next day I felt really rough. Sore throat, fever, all the signs of having had too much fun in the previous 2 weeks. Also there was the bad news that Seb, from my dive group, had caught Dengue Fever and was in hospital on Ko Phangan.

I took a day trip to Hua Hin on Thursday, to meet one of my Mum's friends who was on holiday there and had brought my new debit card out with them. How lucky is that. They bought me lunch, I relaxed by the pool at their luxury hotel, and checked my card worked, and then headed back to Bangkok.

Still feeling rough, I did nothing on my last day and a half in Bangkok. I had no money to do anything anyway, and my one treat was a Thai massage, which was amazing.

My tiny room had space for my single bed and little else, there was no furniture, a window which faced onto a breezeblock wall and fan which chased hot air around the room. I was kind of glad to be leaving the tourist circus of Khao San (which, when i had arrived, I couldn't have wanted more) and be heading back to some 'proper' travel in India. That's not a very fair comment, but India is definitely in a class, world, (hole?) of its own. How moods change, as this is exactly what I'd been looking forward to escaping - the ease of Thailand, the lack of hassle, the efficiency of everything, the ease of booking stuff. I guess after being in both countries, comparing them side by side, I appreciate their strengths and weaknesses far more. They are almost opposite in style and outlook. Thais will do anything to avoid 'losing face'; they are calm, quiet people. You would not et anywhere by shouting at a tuk-tuk driver to try and get a lower price. Not so in India. Survival of the fittest. Survival of the one who can shout the loudest, be the brashest and boldest.

I had to laugh as my plane landed into Delhi and everyone scrambled for the exit (and then we were told to sit back down as Delhi airport wasn't ready for us to disembark.....oh INDIA).

My worries about arriving in Delhi, alone, late at night, have come to nothing. I got a taxi and room with a lovely Austrian girl called Romy, and am escaping to Rishikesh tonight. After a few weeks away, what was started to grind on me is now amusing again. For example, this morning someone tried to give me change in bananas. the constant stream of beggars, spitters, sweepers, hawkers, rickshaw-wallahs, street-sleepers and all the other crap that comes with India has been a delightful presence today. Not that I am going t say I enjoy Delhi - I don't, really.  I have realised that travelling in India is like being in a turbulent relationship. If it were on facebook, it'd be listed as 'complicated'. Like having a boyfriend who cheats on you, lies to you, shouts at you - but you can't help but carry on loving him anyway, after the anger and rage and hate has subsided. You leave and say you'll never come back, but it's never the end. India has a strange, sado-masochistic quality quite unlike anywhere else in the world.

I love it. I hate it. I will be back for more!

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