Baaaalllii

I can’t bear to think that the reason I’m back in Bali is that I’m slowly making my way back up to Bangkok and then home.

Also, the internet connection on Gili T was so unbearable I haven’t even checked my mail in like 5 days.

In any event, I’m in Sanur (nicknamed “snore” ), Bali, diving with Crystal Divers. I left Gili Trawangan because I had done all the interesting dives at least twice. Time for something new! But the lovely people I met there were sure to send me off with a hangover and no sleep for my two last days. The first hangover started with a “snorkel test” – a Blue Marlin tradition. A newly certified divemaster is dressed in some absurd costume (in this case, a guy in pink panties and a green cloth mask and cape) and made to drink half a liter of whatever booze, etc., the instructors feel like mixing together through a (you guessed it) snorkel. Then everyone goes to a bar and gets drunk. I joined in, got to sleep around 5, then was up at 8 to go on the 9 am dive.

The second hangover started with a lovely dinner with Ginny (my buddy during my rescue diver course), Luis (my instructor), Lauren (a divemaster tranee that I bonded with during some ridiculous dives we did together), Lauren’s boyfriend and fellow diver Simon (who is in charge of diving & sailing safety at the University of Tasmania – how cool). After two bottles of wine with dinner we moved to Sama Sama, a great bar with love reggae music every night. We met up with Nico, a delightfully French dive instructor who I also got to know very well (he’s good friends with Luis). Nico is hilarious when he’s had a few Bintang: He and Luis were talking about how instructors aren’t allowed to hook up with their students…at least until *after* the course is over. “No penetration without certification!” cried Nico. Heh heh. Which turned into the diving version of the casting couch: “It should be, ‘No certification without penetration!'” I tried to get him to dance on the bar, but he wasn’t drunk enough.

The following morning (after 8 hours of sleep in 2 days of diving and drinking) at 8 am I began the epic 12-hour journey (boat, mini-van, ferry, mini-van) to make the 100 or so km from Gili T to Sanur. Thank goodness I managed a nap on the ferry, or I would have been wrecked. Today my alarm went off at 6:15 am, and I was on the bus to the dive spot by 7. We did two lovely dives near the village of Candidasa. Tomorrow we go to Manta Point (where I’m 85% assured to see at least one manta) and then a dive off the nearby island of Nusa Pendia. And then that’s it! Sniff. Tuesday it’s off to Bangkok via Kuala Lumpur, one night in BKK, and the <gasp> back to NYC. Christ amighty.

And then…who knows? I know many of you don’t want to hear this, but after this trip I think it’s pretty unlikely that I’m staying in New York. There’s this whole other world and life beyond the myopic, ego-driven worlds of New York and the “internet industry.” I find this other world a lot more interesting, and I think *it* likes *me* better, too.

But let’s not think too hard about that until at least Friday, shall we?

A strange sight indeed…

Yesterday evening I witnessed the strangest sight of my trip so far: Pat Guiney drinking beer and eating steak at Scallywag’s restaurant here on Gili T.

OK, so maybe it wasn’t him. But all the signs were there: blinding white skin, heavily thinning, buzz-cut red hair, greenish khaki t-shirt, dark shorts, and (this was the kicker) dark socks and dark leather shoes. On an 85-degree evening in a place where the few people who *are* wearing shoes don aged flip-flops. The guy stuck out like…well, like Pat Guiney at the beach. I was very tempted to say hello and ask him if he was a long lost Guiney, but I decided not to disturb him. I’ll just wait a few weeks and say hello to the real PG.

(You probably have to know PG to think any of this is at all amusing. And even then…)

Anyway, I’m sitting in the internet cafe trying to catch up on my photo-uploading. I’m barely through the first few days of Myanmar – two countries and about a month ago! I’m hoping to get caught up in the next few days….

The Rescue Diver course is a lot of work but tons of fun. There’s a lot of silly role-playing for my classmate and me. For instance, I play “distressed diver” and she saves me, and then she plays “unresponsive/nonbreathing diver” and I save her. I drowned her a few times in the pool yesterday (oops), and all our shouting (“help! help!” or “diver diver! inflate your BCD! grab on to the buoy!” etc.) provided entertainment for the divemaster trainees and other Blue Marlin customers nearby. I can now assure you that it is extremely hard to give rescue breaths (think CPR) in deep water with all your gear on, while towing the diver to safety *and* trying to remove her and your gear so you can exit the water when you get to the boat/shore. All while making sure you give a rescue breath every 5 seconds. We’ll see how I do tomorrow, when we do it “live” in the open water for my final exam.

Yipes gotta run meet Ginni (my classmate) for dinner. L8r.

A foot massage and three beers later…

OK, so I was kinda cranky when I posted before. This place had really gotten to me, and I suppose it didn’t help that I was tired and hot and sore and that a tuk-tuk *hit* me (and ran over my foot!), leaving a nasty bruise on my leg. So today, instead of spending my last day at the temples, I opted to wander in town a bit, have an hour-long foot massage (ahhhhhh) and then have a few beers with a late lunch. I’m much more cheerful now.

I’m back into the mode of traveling alone, and I have to say that in many ways I prefer it. I’ve met and chatted with dozens of other travelers and locals since Marjan and I parted ways just 5 days ago. I suspect that part of my current relief is that Marjan wasn’t my perfect match in terms of travel companion, though we got on just fine. I’m just happy to be doing my own thing again.

For example, in Phnom Penh I met a Dutch man who’s teaching English for a year in the Cambodian countryside as part of a volunteer program with an NGO. He said he doesn’t know that he or NGOs in general are doing much good here. There’s terrible poverty in rural areas, and families can’t afford to send their children to school – let alone feed them well enough to pay attention to their studies. But when an NGO comes in to help (he says) Cabmodians view it as an opportunity to get a swankier school rather than to increase the number of children who go to school. People live for appearances *right now* rather than investing in the future of the country via education. “It’s an interesting problem,” he said. “In Honduras, for example, there was no NGO help [because of a general boycott] and they did a great job of helping themselves.” He also said that it’s different in Vietnam, where people have national pride “because they defeated the Americans.”

Today I met a man from New York – he lives right down the street from me, in Stuy-town – who’s here fro three weeks. He and his travel buddy were sitting next to me at lunch. He was drinking a diet Coke out of a can, and there was a small homeless boy hanging around, gesticulating at him and his drink and making a drinking motion. He boy wanted the guy to hurry up and drink the Coke so that he could have the can. He absolutely refused to leave until the guy finally finished.

The whole situation was annoying for us, as you might imagine, because we couldn’t have an uninterrupted conversation (and I had to pay half my attention to the boy’s proximity to my backpack). But forget us – what about the boy (and the dozens of others around town)? On the one hand, collecting cans is definitely more productive than simply panhandling or out-and-out stealing. (An education would be even better, of course.) On the other hand, he’s learning a lesson early that all Siem Reap area citizens seem to know: If you whine and pester and annoy tourists long enough, eventually they’ll give you the can (or buy your postcard or bottle of water or guide book) just to make you go away. Speaking of going away: I can’t wait to get out of here, and I’m completely disinclined to buy any souvenirs at all because I’m sick of being harassed about them.

This whole question about tourism and developing economies is an interesting one. It comes up a lot when scuba diving. If there is a beautiful, untouched reef somewhere, scuba shops open up to bring tourists there. The tourists come in greater and greater numbers, requiring more hotels (and resulting in more deforestation and then runoff when it rains, which kills the reef). At least one person (and often many more) in every dive group touches the coral either accidentally or because they’re a poor or stupid diver. When you touch coral it dies, and it takes weeks for that little bit to grow back. The regrowth can’t keep up with the tourist volume, the reef suffers, it can’t support aquatic life, the diving starts to suck…and we divers move on to the next “untouched” spot. Replace “touch the reef” with “brush against ancient carvings on Angkor Wat” or “trod on Mayan ruins” or “trek through virgin rain forest” and the whole thing gets depressing quite quickly. Makes you think you should just stay home and watch the Discovery Channel – let the professionals do it!

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Oy vey – what’s with the doom and gloom today? I better shut the eff up.

One night in Bangkok

I know, I know. You’re thinking: “You just *had* to pull out the ‘One Night in Bangkok‘ thing, right?” Well sorry. I just got back up north, having spent the last 5 nights either sleeping in a coffin-like bunk on a dive boat or on a bus during a 12-hour overnight trip back north from Khao Lak. And when I finally checked into the dingy but cheap Rainbow Guesthouse and went to a nearby cafe for the first proper coffee in a WEEK, a leaky ceiling dripped into my mug. So PARDON ME for being sleepy and under-caffeinated.

I’d be cranky as hell except for the fact that I just went on 15 dives in 4 days. Everything is at it should be. The diving in the Andaman Sea was exactly as advertised: varied dive sites, varied aquatic life, and great people. I really wish I had an underwater housing for my camera so I could have taken some pics. A bunch of others did take photos, though, so I’m hoping to get a few. Stay tuned. But in the meantime: wow. Three different Manta rays (all at the same site on Koh Bon – two in one dive!), a couple of leopard sharks, a sea horse, a sea snake, and tons of moray eels, lionfish, angel fish, parrot fish, etc etc etc. (YOU Google ’em!) The variety was crazy. And in the middle of all this nutty diving I managed to finish my advanced open water course, too. Next PADI certification on my list: Rescue Diver.

The fantastic folks at Similan Diving Safari ran a perfect trip: it was tight and serious when it needed to be (safety, protecting the reef, etc.) but laid back and fun all other times. And only a little Bob Marley.

The food, cooked by these tiny Thai women in the tiny onboard kitchen, was amazing. The Thai “boat boys” did everything: from filling our air tanks to helping us on with our fins to mincing meat for the kitchen staff to attaching us to moorning lines. Everyone was always smiling and goofing around and having a good time. One noteworthy feature that I imagine keeps the Thai staff happy: The owner of the shop lets the Thais provide soda and beer for purchase, and they get 100% of the profits. You can imagine that most other shops would keep beer – a surefire profit center where divers are concerned – to themselves. Just one reason I felt good diving with them, and would absolutely do so again.

There were 21 customers, but enough dive guides so that the maximum # in a group was 4 customers/guide. Customers and staff were from the US, Canada, France, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Argentina, South Africa, Scotland, England, and one Australia/Singapore/various mix. I met an English woman who lives in Siem Reap, which is one of my destinations. So I’ll have a local connection when I get there. Yeah.

Another great tip I got from a few of the expat dive crew is to NOT go diving in Koh Tao. they say it’s tailored more for newbie divers, and that it’s crowded. So they’ve convinced me to go to Bali or the Gili Islands in Indonesia instead. Heh heh. Thank goodness for Air Asia, the low-cost airline. It won’t cost me any more money to go to Bali as it would to get to Koh Tao. Amazing! Plus, one more stamp in the old passport. (Thank god for the new pages I got put in.)

So anyway, during my one day in Bangkok before I head off for Burma tomorrow, I have to
1. finalize my flight home (gah)
2. buy a rain-cover for my bag (I forgot about rainy season in Burma)
3. upload all my pics and then back them up
4. buy more dollars (don’t ask – it’s too depressing)
5. investigate flghts to/from Bali

Lots to do.