Myanmar

So it’s the eve of the big Myanmar adventure. No one can say it better that Lonely Planet, so I just want to throw a few of my favorite extracts out there, all from the Myanmar chapter of ‘the bible’ (South East Asia On A Shoestring 2010) 

  • “In 2008  the all powerful military censorship bureau told Burmese media that ‘the publication of any photo, article, novel or poem without being sent (in advance of the censor) will be punished.’ And they often are, with many journalists, BLOGGERS, and writers currently being bars.” (You’ll understand therefore if the next week is post-dated from the safely of Thailand!)
  • “Internet access in Myanmar depends on how the government is feeling. If there’s nothing bugging them you’ll find plenty of well equipped internet cafes, although the government tries to restrict hotmail and yahoo mail. Lots of places advertise Skype but don’t get your hopes up. All local email ending in mm is subject to government censorship in both directions, which can result in delays or when a backlog develops, being summarily deleted!”
  • “Forget ATM’s, Visa, Mastercard. All foreign banks decamped in 2003. Come with crisp, clean, uncreased USD bills. Even the most microscopic tear won’t be accepted. The currency (Kyat) has been, and is frequently demonized, with people’s savings wiped out at the whims of rulers.”

Fortune favours the brave however. Here’s one last famous one from Rudyward Kipling:

‘This is Burma and it is quite unlike any place you know about.”

 

Advertisements

Grand Prix, Singapore

Or should that be Singapore; Revisited. According to my passport stamps and a facebook album I was here in 2008. Although all I remember is a) An ingenious MRT underground with funny plastic tokens that give you a $1 back every time you use it. I think it’s a green thing. B) A great night out with the fab Ms Thorpe Willet at Cafe Del Mar on Sentosa Island, and Ministry of Sound, sadly closed down now.

This time I’ve spent a whole 10 days here (give or take the KL debacle).

People hate on Singa for being Asia’s cleanest/safest city. Indeed as my friend/fellow blogger Josh nicely put it “you could drop your wallet here, come back in a year, and it would still be there.” People seem to get angsty with the chewing gum thing too. It might be illegal, but I brought some back from KL accidently, and I’m still at large.

In fact, if I had to choose with my head, Singapore would be one of my favourite cities. A bit geeky I know, but I do like an organised MTR (unlike Bangkok, its trains actually run to places you want to go.) Its city skyline views at Marina Bay are prettier than Hong Kong’s. Singaporeans are an interesting mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and a fair helping of ex pats too. It’s a mash up that works.

I spend the best part of my week living in Boat Quay, in the Financial District. Fancy. I think I’m so happy there as it reminds me a little of Calls Landing, if Leeds had 1000ft tall skyscrapers like One Raffles Place, but you get the gist. Altitude Bar at the very top is the ultimate beer garden, and prime spot to sip the obligatory Singapore Sling. Next door to Boat Quay is the technicoloured  Clarke Quay, with its Delux paint pallet of bars/clubs/trendy apartments.

The main reason everyone’s here this weekend is of course that the Formula 1 circus is in town. And doesn’t Singapore just know it. The city is buzzing. It’s bigger than Christmas and is a slick, shiny, sexy, well oiled machine full of fat cats & super models. It’s a different world. You can hear the roar of the engines for miles around. Unfortunately not enough to drown out the sound of Linkin Park, who were headlining the main stage. It’s like a mini music festival too, in baking 35 degree heat, even at night. Shakira apparently brought the house down on the Saturday. Never has the word extravaganza more aptly applied.

A downside of the F1 parade taking over the city is the three -fold hike in prices for race weekend. Most of us were forced to check out of the lovely Boat Quay Prince of Wales hostel, and slum it out of town where the prices matched our tatty clothes and growling stomachs. Still for around $20(£10) oh how the mighty did fall.

Boon Keng, to be exact, on the outskirts of Little India (yes that’s right, I couldn’t even afford to stay in the hole that is Little India. Poor times indeed.) Normally I like a bit of chaos, filth, chintz but this place was definitely not doing it for me. I got in, I saw, I got out. I did however spend an amusing half hour snacking on pineapple at the hawker stall market, only to be hit on by the charming, well travelled, and delightful Tan (China). He was 80 years old! And offered me a whisky with him and his friends.  I politely declined but enjoyed our conversation immensely. You can tell he used to be a fox.

Finally, there was the situation that was Bugis Street Market. I went a bit Trinny and Suzanna on Red Bull. Like completely totally shopaholic mad, and that was all before even discovering that there was a second and third floor. Luscious clothes for nought pence. God bless SE Asia. I held a little something back for the re-visits. The words: ‘oversized baggage free’ are right here, ready to copy and paste into what I know will be a February future post.

Singapore (well more like Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

At 2000-ish words, this warrants its own post. I’ll even bust out the taglines:

Visa-Gate & the ‘Embassy Says No Detour 2011’

You’re probably sick of months of my cooing over everywhere anyway. I know this is what you really want, my disastrous/hilarious border faux par tales. Fill your boots. This is on par with the whole Bolivia/Peru debacle.

This is my quest to obtain a Myanmar visa. (WTF is Myanmar I hear you asking?) It’s the country next to India/Thailand/Laos, previously known as Burma. It’s the road less travelled, and much as I hate it when people say this, but it’s a cliché for a reason, namely as it’s often useful – “It’s like Thailand was 50 years ago.”

The first thing that comes to mind after WTF is Myanmar, is obvously the oppressive infamous political regime, and the plight of politician & Nobel Peace Prize winner; Aung San Suu Kyi. Yes I had to look lots of this up, but I can at least spell her name from memory. Debatably, to visit Myanmar is the route of all evil according to some boycotters who believe it is ‘tantamount to condoning the regeme.’ Others believe outside tourism helps and it’s one of the world’s most intriguing places. Discuss. My reasons are as simple as 1) Pure old fashioned Curiosity 2) I read Tony Wheeler’s Bad Lands and want to go hot air ballooning in Bagan, so it went on The List.

Ultimate Rooky Mistake warning coming up: I book flights before I get my visa. They are cheap(ish) £150 with AirAsia. What can I say, I got the fear. They might sell out? Plus I was a little carried away having one of those ‘organise your life’ mornings in Airlie Beach.

It’s fine though, I have a whole week in Singapore to sort out the teeny tiny technicality of a visa. To cite my own Facebook quote 14/9/11 “how hard can it be….?”

Day one in Singapore and I’m up at the crack of dawn. I shimmy on down to the Embassy near Orchard Road. I’ve filled all the forms, I’ve photocopied my ID, got my passport pics. I know the drill after Sydney. (Ironically even China was easier than this turned out to be.) I wait in line for an hour, it’s a bit confusing. Everything is in Burmese. I can’t read Burmese. It’s ok though; I’m distracted thinking about what I’m going to buy at Forever 21. I stumbled upon it near the MRT and yelped with pure joy, right before texting fellow addict Elaine. I’m going straight back there soon as this little task is over.

It’s my turn; I bend down to the little window and present all my docs smiling nicely until I’m brutally rebuffed with the following words:

“No visa. No. Visa only for Singapore residents.”

Say what now?  (There is NO mention of this ANYWHERE on the website/embassy/online by the way. I looked it up repeatedly. )

For a few mins I wonder if it’s personal.  I did have a short- ish skirt on, but oh come on it was about 35 degrees out. I think perhaps ‘Embassy says no’ man thought I might corrupt his great Nation/terrorise the monks or something. I argue the toss for 5, I try the ‘really, are you sure?’ approach. If we were in any other country in the world I would of course bust out the dollars, but it’s Singapore , their dollar is probably higher than the UK’s right now! They are all about the rules. Bribery is not how they roll here. So I leave it. It starts to thunderstorm as I walk across the city home. You have to be kidding me.

I mull it over. It was bound to happen eventually. Everyone who travels for a year misses a few flights. Silly billy, but no biggy. Plus part of me is secretly pleased; it means I can hang out with Mark and Matt (Surfers Paradise) 6 days early as we’re all meeting in Bangkok. Yep, raise your eyebrows all you want. I’m excited.

Except, I do kind of want to go to Myanmar!

Right before he told me to stop holding his line up and get the hell out of his embassy. ESN man told me to ‘pop’ to Bangkok – they hand out visas like they’re going out of fashion there. I like it how he said ‘Pop there?’ Like it’s next door?! (Its 1233 miles away.) Much as I like BK, I’m there in a month anyway, it’s a 4 day round trip away, I can’t really be bothered. Forget it.

This leads me to my lightbulb moment. Ahh but ‘What about Kuala Lumpur….’

Now, never before have I googled something to death as much as 1000 variations on the following question:

‘Is it possible for non – Malaysian residents to apply for an express Myanmar Visa in KL? Will it be a waste of time/money to trek all the way there and find it’s the same rule as Singapore?  How much do I really want to go to Myanmar?’ (Google didn’t really help with the last one.)

The results of Trip Advisor/Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum came back with the following:

‘Misc people try to ring/email the KL Embassy, but to date we haven’t heard of anyone having success getting through’….(I can also vouch for this.) You can definitely get 1 day visa at various Thai border points but these are subject to the whims of an ever troubled country who can whip them away at any moment.

As a quick aside – If you hit upon this blog after googling such a question, (I’ve tried to include SEO key words as possible so you know the answer) Yes!!! (Correct as of Sept 2011) UK citizens can apply for Myanmar visa in Kuala Lumpur! I’ve spoilt the suspense in my post now, but for happy travels for those in need are more important. Pass it on.

Back to the story. So after a day of agonizing I decided what the hell, I have 6 free days, nothing ventured and all that, what’s a little 380 mile round trip detour for £30. I won’t be defeated by some silly two-named playing hard to get Nation.

I catch the MRT, and then a bus to the Woodlands check-point near the Singapore/Malaysia border at Johor Bahru. I remember Danielle and I doing this trip 3 years ago and it being such a scary adventure. I don’t even bat an eyelid now; the 7 hour sleeper train is the best night’s sleep I’ve had in ages! The station man looks doubtful when I ask for a ($40) £20 second class sleeper. He actually used the line ‘hang on I’ll show you a picture’…you can tell he wants to add the word ‘princess’ on there. I laugh and tell him its fine, I know what I’m in for, but he upgrades me to a luxury class cabin. Things are looking up.

KL is not as hard work as I remember it either. In fact at 6am it’s rather lovely. I feel like an early morning commuter as I switch to my dollars to Ringgits and marvel at how extraordinarily cheaper it is here. An LTR train to Ampang Park plus a 30 min walk along a dual carriageway like road, and I’m outside the Embassy at 7am like an eager beaver. It opens at 9am. I settle in with my book on some little plastic chair that an old man digs out for me. We’re outside in an open courtyard, there are families all sat around reading the Burmese newspapers, writing notes for the community notice boards, generally gossiping like washer women. How delightful. In a stark contrast I pass the UK embassy on the way. Ours is a high walled, armed guards, ivory tower fortress.  No one sat around tipping PJ Tips, reading the Guardian there.

I rehearse my options for a back story whilst I wait. Disappointingly I’ve also spotted a sign on the wall saying ‘express visas’ are two working days. Dam, I need to get back to Singapore tonight so save paying for a hostel here/I have no change of clothes etc. My tactics are:

1)      I’ve come all the way from Singapore….woe is me.

2)      Flattery/a bit of National pride – oh you’re Malaysian Embassy is so much better than the nasty man at the Singapore one….

3)      Cold hard cash. This is Malaysia. Surely there’s an ‘extra processing fee’ I can pay. Al la Cambodia….

The other issue is that being the sketchy country that it is, Myanmar is none too keen on Journalists, Filmmakers, Bloggers etc. They have apparently been known to Google background checks on visa applicants and decline ‘Meeja’ types on the spot. Great. Pretty much game over again for me then.

Then an extra unexpected spanner in the works. The cashier desk opens. It’s a girl! Call me sexist but I was expecting a guy to make the important administration decisions for a land with such strict immigration policy. Intuition tells be bribery/fluttering eye lashes is not as likely to work on her. I re-strategise and run with:

Me: “Can I have an express visa for today please by any chance?”… Secretly I’m grateful she’s even taken all my paperwork through to her side of the glass window, and not thrown it in back in my face. She even gives me some glue to do the sticking my passport photos down jobby and some tip-ex to pimp up my Singapore form and make it Malaysian. Very kind of her and it’s all very Blue Peter. She could have sent me to the back of the queue and made me fill out another. We’re on a level, I like her already. Until…

Her: “Two day express visa. Ready tomorrow. You don’t fly until 28th. No rush.” (I had to give her a copy of my AirAsia flight confirmation)

Me – In my head: “Yes love, but I’ve got a Singapore Grand Prix to get to!” Had it been a guy, I was totally going to play this card, but I didn’t think she’d appreciate.

Me – Out Loud: “Oh, tomorrow, really? (Knowing full well…) “I came all the way from Singapore on the night train” – accompanied by tired puppy look.” Followed quickly with: “It was really scary (Yeah right, in my luxury sleeper upgrade) I’m a girl, I’m on my own, and I’m scared of the big bad city.”

She’s also about my age. I had a whole emergency ‘boyfriend/friend left me’ yarn I was more than prepared to launch into if I needed to go for broke, but you have to save busting these out till the very end don’t you. Thankfully I can save this for another day.

Her: (Whispering) “Come back at 4pm today.”

It’s one of my proudest moments.

I spend the rest of the afternoon trying not to get too giddy in the sunny KLCC Park settled on a bench at the foot of the Twin Towers. I stuff my face with all the cheap Dairy Milk’s/Wrigleys I can get my hands on (back in Singapore is expensive/illegal.) I get chatting to Nurel. She’s 18 and from Sarawak Borneo. We spend till 3pm learning Malaysian and talking about boys. Hilariously she teaches me ‘Saya nama Kim’ (self explanatory) and the incredibly useful ‘Saya Contakan Awak’ (I love you.) How popular am I going to be! We hug it out/exchange facebooks, and I head back to Embassy land an hour early at 3pm just to show willing. Might as well make a day of it.

You know how it ends. I am the proud owner of Myanmar visa. I stared at it all the way back to Singapore in disbelief. Myanmar – you better be the best country I’ve ever been to. You’ve been warned.

Australia

Can I just say,  that despite being half determined not to, I seriously like Australia. I can say with 99% certainty I will at some point in my life come back here. It’s not that ridiculous kind of ‘love/lust’ for a place like Fiji – where deep down it’s an amazing fling but you know it’s not forever. It’s a slow burner, where you’re happy and content in a place, and you know you guys have a future together.  Insert love heart here.

Let this be lesson to my much naive self. Only 6 weeks ago Andreas, Thea and I sat on Mana Beach Fiji, BITCHING away about Australia. She’d lived here, and Andi and I just presumed it would be like NZ. Yuk. I vividly remember Thea flinging a $50p piece into the ocean in a joking rage, just to get it out of her purse. We all laughed. We all changed our flights to get out of here sooner. Oh ye of little faith. Some of my all time best memories have been here, travel and otherwise.

Maybe it’s moving at supersonic speed through the big wild world, or hitting the 6 month mark (15th Sept, woop/sob) but my short term memory is starting to blur. I feel like Drew Barrymore in 50 First Dates (watched it on the 12h Rainbow to Cairns bus this week). Where you have so many amazing memories you can’t cling onto them all. (I know this wasn’t the premise of the film, but it’s kind of the same.)

I’m being strict with myself and sticking with the formula. Having just clicked back to South America I see I narrowed it down to five ‘loves/hates’ so painful as it is:

Loved:

1)      The kindness of strangers –  From chicks in bars being super chatty, to randoms on trams helping you the second you get a map out, to Ebony/Tim/Brett’s hospitality and opening up their beautiful homes. (And Joe/Dan & Dana but technically you two aren’t Ozzy.) So many people here are genuinely super friendly, and in such a chilled way it’s not too keen or loaded, it’s just, you know, nice?! Ozzy’s love to show off their country.

2)      Tattoos & general eye candy  – My theory on tattoos it really suits some people, and Ozzies are those people. It helps when you parade round in singlets and wetsuits pulled down to the waist I guess, or surf, sail, generally strut around looking fit. I challenge you to find any single oz (girl or guy) anywhere in the world that doesn’t have a tattoo. There’s no prize. It’s merely for fun.

3)      Clothes – Oh my god the clothes. Never have there been so many gorgeous shops filled with exactly my taste. It’s like a fantasy world in which I would look this good, if only I had money to burn, and not living out of a backpack.  I can’t even talk about Sydney’s Glebe vintage markets again. I can’t, it’s just too painful.

4)      This is an odd one, as in it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to like, but it’s not the most obviously place for an epiphany, (I’ve had a few here). Sydney Fish Markets. What can I say, I visited Leeds markets almost every week for a year, yet it didn’t do much for me. However strolling through this place with my one Oyster in the mid-day sunshine, made me completely visualise coming shopping for dinner on a weekend and living here. In that moment I fell a little bit in love.

5)      (Ok, I’m going to cheat.) I fell a little in love in all of these places; Brunswick Street Melbourne, Walking over Ebony’s bridge in the twinkly 4am Melbourne lights, star gazing on The Great Ocean Road Yanapay road trip, sharing seafood & red wine on a warm Bondi evening, Sydney’s Hyde Park fountain, Sydney Botanical Gardens, Sydney Opera house (so basically every last inch of Sydney. I’ll move on, you get it.)That day kite surfing and chilling on the beach in Surfers, cruising Frasers wild coasts, diving on the Reef.

6)      (Ok, I’m breaking my own rules completely, there are 6 ‘likes’) But as most of the above are all place related, I just want to add a few that are people related too; Sky’s touching soliloquy on love in the crazy Melbourne play, Jen& Emma’s friendship waiting 90 mins in the dark/cold with me for a bus they weren’t even catching . Matt/Mark/Emily’s continuing love, and what’s bound to be a highlight of my life; the fact if we can’t all stay in Surfers Paradise forever we can sure as hell can take Surfers to Thailand. Full Moon Party Oct 12thpeople!

I could take or leave (Ok just leave):

1)      Yes it’s expensive if you aren’t earning Ozzy wages. Although, TBF it’s nowhere near as bad as everyone makes out. People try and put the fear of god into you, banging on about how bananas cost $17 a kilo. This is true, but only because of the droughts/bush fires that shortened stock supplies this summer. Just live without bananas then, you silly whingeing backpackers. Go crazy, eat an apple or something. Here’s the deal. Lots of stuff is exactly England’s prices. Pub grub is £8-10, trains/buses the same, sushi is actually probably cheaper. Win. The thing is that unless you hunt out bargains at superhuman effort (which for me lasted about a day) then it’s kind of easy to spend a fortune. You can’t/shouldn’t put a price on fun though can you.

2)      Working holiday visas and such talk. This goes for New Zealand too. (Poor NZ, I’m still hating on it 2 months later.) God the hostel kids are all over this here. No I am not planning to work. (They look at you like you are the Sultan of Brunei when you reveal this and then presume you are super-loaded.) I have no desire to stand in a field and pick fruit for 10p a week, so please stop trying to brainwash me into the idea. Misc Essex 18-30 holiday types keep bragging how they earned a few grand picking peas (not sure how many years it took um.) Then they blew the lot partying up the East Coast? It’s exactly like people that live in Ibiza handing out club flyers in exchange for a free shot every fortnight. You are being had mate. They all do it of course as it’s a requirement of your second year visa. I get it. And I should have pre-empted this rant by saying I haven’t turned into an elitist job-snob. I’m lucky enough to have saved enough to not have to work, I know. But GOD do they like talking about it. A girl actually spent an hour explaining the crisis of bruised grapes and their journey to our supermarket shelves. Step away from the production line lady. Someone give this chick a day off.

3)      Boganism – So the TV is completely dumbed down and catered for the lowest common denominator. But it’s no wonder. Pretty much anyone over the age of 30 here is a bit like one of  the characters from ‘The Castle.’ (NZ film that rips into chavy backwards Australians) Most bus drivers or anyone in customer services have an attitude that make you eternally grateful for being English and from a (slightly) more liberal/culturally evolved society. You do have to actually question whether it’s really 2011 most days with some Ozzy’s moronic attitudes towards race/sexuality/women/immigration/politics, I could do on. And this was in the cities, I didn’t even venture into the outback. A huge downside, but perhaps in 50 years or so they might have caught up to the political correctness bandwagon. Here’s hoping.

4)      Box jellyfish, dingoes, blue bottle jellyfish, sharks, snakes, spiders and generally anything/everything else out to kill you (red goon?) in this bad land. God, what’s your problem Australia. Why so hostile.

5)      The fact that I had to rush up the coast so fast that I had to bump off Magnetic Island (Wildlife Mecca) from my plans. I really wanted to go there and cuddle a Koala. Where else am I going to be able to go that? China – I thought to myself before realising I’m stupid and that they were in fact Panda’s. Upps. Although I wonder which hugs better? Either way, both are going straight on my new ever evolving to do list.

6)      So finally, if there’s one thing I hate about Australia, it’s myself for changing my flights to leave earlier L However I can’t take it back. I have myself a Singapore Grand Prix to get to!

Where I stayed:

Ches Motley, Melbourne (aka Joe’s house)
Ches Thomas summer house (aka MTV cribs) Great Ocean Road
Noah Hostel, Bondi Beach (Accidently, mid-key gate)
Ches Dan and Dana, Bondi Beach
Aquarius Backpackers, Byron Bay
Couple O’Days, Surfers Paradise (Heart it)
Brisbane City Backpackers
Mooloolaba Beach Backpackers
Pippies Backpackers, Rainbow Beach
Magnum Backpackers, Airlie Beach
Globetrotter Backpackers, Cairns

Cairns & The Great Barrier Reef, QLD, Australia

Cairns and GBR 045Dam you Australia and yet another totally lovable city. I feel like I’m cheating on Sydney/Melbourne et al, but Cairns is pretty dam fine.  Big backpacker scene, nice lagoon (if you don’t mind the crocodiles,) tropical weather, Rusty’s Asian market. What’s not to like.

Let’s cut to the chase though however.

The Great Barrier Reef.

Wow. No, like seriously, wow.

Not the reef itself per say. One reef is much like the other – bits of underwater fossils/rock really aint it. (Sorry Geology Rocks (Nikk) don’t shout at me.) The wow is reserved the most awesome tick box of a pretty jam packed week; scuba diving. (It’s been a good one for things to do before you die: Fraser, Whitsunday’s, now this.)

I’m not sure how it happened, maybe seeing Callum and Andreas do their PADI Open Water course(diving qualification) in Fiji. Or possibly my new found love for snorkelling.  Either way a seed was planted.

Brochure talk alert: “Sail to Michaelmas Cay; a picturesque reef sand island home to over 20,000 seabirds (mores’ the pity the little sods). It’s one of the most important beautiful spots in the Southern Hemisphere….” Yes please.

The morning was dreamy. I led up on deck in the blazing sun with my new yacht friends, Joanna (Poland) and Eleanor (UK). Elaine – is was so like the Girlicious video! Then we anchored and the nerves kicked in.

Here’s what we learnt in our 10 min ‘how to deep sea dive’ briefing. I’m happy to pass on this vast knowledge. You’re welcome.

1)      Don’t forget to ‘equalise’ as you go down. AKA pop your ears.

2)      A round A-OK sign means S’all good. Thumbs up means ahh I want a cuddle, get me up and out of here! Important not to confuse the two, despite them defying all logic and your natural instincts.

3)      Try to keep calm & remember to breath. Possibly the most ridiculous advice since ‘Don’t run at the Dingo’s’ earlier this week.

Apparently that’s all there is to it?!

Flippers – check, wet suit – check, tank that’s heavier than me on my back on – check. Ready to hit the open ocean then. Here goes.  The plan is you hold onto a metal bar just off the boat and practice your ‘skills’ i.e. clearing your mask underwater (snort through your nose like a walrus in case you were wondering). The other is what to do if you lose your air breathy thing (yep, I really should have been paying more attention, I’m sure this isn’t the technical term.)

It’s hard to accurately remember my real stream of consciousness, but it was something along the lines of:

“WTF, like WT actual F! To hell with diving – I want to pop my head above water, I to breathe through my nose! I don’t even like fish! I’m not sure I want hundreds of massive Nemos touching me! I hate being cooooold.” I could go on.

 Actually it was cold, but my adrenalin was kicking in to such an extent that this was the least of my problems. Kelly (the instructor) then comes along, presses some red button (never good is it) that deflates your life jacket and (literally) prises your hands off the bar to drags you to stage two. Downwards. The next bar you hold is 5 meters under. Sounds like nothing, but it’s the make or break bit.

It was by far the most bizarre sensation of my entire life. Breathing underwater; it’s not right is it. And breath you do, 100 times the rate of normal, thinking to yourself, ‘I know they’ve accounted for this and given us all extra oxygen, but how much extra, how much breathing is too much breathing???’

Physically it wasn’t that that demanding. It’s more mind of matter.  All you have to do is not bottle it.

The following got me through:

1)      What would I have to blog about, the fact that I nearly went diving on the GBR? I don’t think so. Anyway, Traveller Kim is made of tougher stuff.

2)      Don’t for one second allow yourself to think too hard about all spooky stuff that’s down there. Don’t think it, I said don’t think it! Or similarly how inconceivably insignificant you are in the vastness of it all. (Get me, I’m talking like it’s the first NASA space mission, aren’t I.)

Internal angst completed, eventually all of the panic subsides. You calm the hell down. You remember to breath (not as silly advice as I first thought) and you open your eyes.

It was totally like opening bit of Titanic; the creepy/shaky underwater bit, where they’re looking for that Heart of the Ocean bling. Apart from instead of the little robot-cam, you realise it’s actually you down there!

We’re under about 30 minutes in total. And just to clarify there’s no third bar, you let go completely and off you go (following Kelly) into the big wide fish tank that is the Coral Sea.

 At first you see the same stuff you do when you snorkel; giant clams, huge psychedelic schools of fish, hundreds of crabs fellas that poke their heads out of tiny rock and sand crevices. My favourite was Mr giant turtle who sauntered past minding his own business. I swear he looked magical.

Obviously it’s a hugely visual experience, but surprisingly your lesser used senses do all kick in. You can feel the presence of things around you before you see them, and you become develop a special awareness for how deep you are based on the popping in your ear cavities and the changes in temperature. And now i’m talking like I was morphing into Echo the Dolphin. But honestly as the pressure engulfs you and it it’s just utter stillness/silence it’s, perversely, utterly calming.

Let’s keep it real though, it wouldn’t be a funny story unless there was some kind of drama. Plus I already trailed it on facebook; The shark. Yes, I’ll repeat it; The Shark. A baby white tip hiding in his little coral cave he was. I looked at him, he at I. We had an understanding….

Like hell we did! I squealed of course and tried to run (although swimming might have been more productive) then remembered I was underwater. Then laughed at my own silliness. Which believe me is not a good idea with a regulator (ooh yeay I remember what it was called!) in your mouth. I had to put to use my extensive training – desperately blowing out air to clear it. Keep calm carry on and all that.   

So, yeah. I’m now a diver (well, introductory diver at a baby 10 – 15 meters) but hey I have a certificate and everything.

Us girls were pretty much hysterical with giddiness for the rest of the afternoon, and reiterated the words ‘amazing’ & ‘out of this world’ to anyone that would listen.  Incidentally, another cool interlude of the day was riding in a submarine. Worth a mention I thought, any normal day that would be big news, but today it’s a bit of an anti-climax. Worth adding to my James Bond repertoire mind you.

Funny how something you swore you would never do becomes one of the best things you could ever do. I seriously hope I’m not linking back to this post in 6 months raving about sky diving/bungee jumping. Although travel does funny things to you. *Note Appendix A:  My ‘Never say never’ disclaimer.

Oh, and the ‘funniest’ bit (I use the word, err wrongly? – is it is no laughing matter) was the following conversation that I had with a French travel agent girl when I booked it all:

Me: (Reading the health and safety waver that they make you sign) “Oh, I see you’re not really meant to fly 24h after diving?” (The drastic messing with pressure can give you the bends & you end being airlifted away to a decompression tank, forever bankrupt as it’s not covered on travel insurance.)

Her: “Yes, It’s dangerous, but it’s only an Intro dive so you should be ok as long as it’s not within 12 hours.”

Me: “Sure that’s fine. It’s my flights tomorrow evening” (I lied, it was at midday). “Out of interest, what might happen….”

Her:  “Well it’s your head really. It might…..(Searching for the word/translation)….It might……explode!?

All time best sentence that you never want to hear!

(I’m drafting this mid-air Cairns to Singapore. So if you’re reading it, was alive enough to post it during my 3 hour transfer at Darwin International, brain intact and not splattered all over a JetStar 747. Fingers crossed! )

Previous Older Entries

An.an.tas.in : The Anantasin is the name of a shipwreck just of the coast of the Sensi Parasise, Mae Haad Bay, Koh Tao, Thailand. It’s one of my many favorite places.

Lit.tle: Just because it’s cute.

Blasts From The Past…

September 2011
M T W T F S S
« Aug   Oct »
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
2627282930  

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 185 other followers