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Visit Doha

grey Visit Doha

No trust me, visit Doha, it is amazing…

The plane hurtles over increasingly barren land, I look down as tiny private jets zoom by nearer the horizon and think about Drew. Drew and I were inseparable throughout our college years. We filled our days by stealing reagents from the chemistry lab and trying to blow ourselves up in many varied and outlandish experiments. Once in 1994 we ruined Drew’s Dad’s lawnmower when we asked ourselves what would happen if we filled the petrol tank with methanol, tainted methanol no less, smuggled out of a distilling class. We drained the tank of normal fuel and filled it with the bad methanol. As if knowing its fate the mower started hesitantly before increasing in volume until it screamed like a jet engine. The sad old mower-turned race engine then became deathly silent, giving a small pop as life left its rusted frame for ever. With our question answered we wheeled the carcass back to the shed and nothing more was said about our experimentation.

The last time Drew and I spent any time together was the summer of 1995 before we separated to attend University in different corners of the state. We spent two weeks surfing the cool waters of the Tasmanian east coast, nighttimes lounging around beachey campfires drinking cheap wine and chasing girls. I start to wonder if we have changed in our fourteen years effectively apart.  More to the point I am wondering if we are unchanged enough to be able to dust off our mate ship and pick up where we left.

The plane lands at the Doha international airport with a thump and shakes my thoughts back to the present. Once off the plane all passengers are shuffled into a queue to pass immigration. In front of me are a group of Nepalese workers nervously dressed in long shirts despite the heat. They repeatedly check their papers with the air of excited teens on holiday. In reality they are about to be put to work building the infrastructure which houses this booming oil economy. Their days will be spent hauling bricks up bamboo ladders and pouring concrete slabs in forty degree heat. The exploitation of Nepalese workers was explained to me that night by an unimpressed Drew over a beer, one aspect of Qatari life which does not sit easily with my friend.

Doha is the capital of Qatar. The city is about forty minutes drive from Saudi Arabia and home to about 1.6 million people, everything here is new and fresh, the population is very, very wealthy. The government is a dictatorship which means that the king decides where all the wealth is distributed. The government is that incredibly wealthy due to its oil reserves that money is distributed back amongst the people. To be Qatari means receiving money from the government for nothing. The locals get free electricity, money for socialising and a wage amongst other benefits. Qataris are rather a fat lazy people as a whole. It is not uncommon to see locals sitting in air conditioned Hummer trucks outside shops tooting the horn and waiting for someone to come out and serve. They love takeaway and junk food, long white thobes hiding swollen belly’s (Thobes are long white gowns worn by some islamic males). The city is a smorgasbord of flashy architecture, new buildings are constantly built and older ones ripped down, seemingly independent of budget considerations. Office blocks are built and left empty for years before they are filled. Why this is done I do not know but it certainly keeps the imported Nepalese workers busy. Maybe it is tradition, in Australia it is common for youngsters to receive a special beer mug for their eighteenth birthday, in Qatar an office block.

I flag down a taxi outside the airport and pass neatly copied directions over to the Arabic driver. I am heading to the hospital where Andrew and Cathy both work. The Hospital is a modern sports rehabilitation centre, the founders have spared no expense, filling the centre with the best equipment and staff. Andrew and Cathy agree that they would be back in Australia instantly if they could match the great working conditions and training opportunities here.

During the ten minute ride to the hospital my senses are massacred, especially my sense of smell. Shielding my eyes from the blinding sun I watch very expensive sports cars slide by while listening to burka clad drivers berate each other through the heat shimmer. The smell of stale tobacco and sweat inside my airless taxi is engulfing. I wind down the window but a wall of heat brings with it the hot smell of melting tarmac and desert dust which rises visible from the road. I wind the window back up and settle with taking shallow breathes through my mouth, tasting the driver’s body odour as we drive. Stuck to the cheap vinyl seat cover I can’t wait for this ride to be over. Due to a wink of fate I step out of the taxi at the hospital and am immediately greeted by Cathy. She has stepped outside for a breather. Following Cathy inside the building, cool air flows onto my head and washes away disturbing memories of the taxi ride. Once in Andrews office I drop my pack and study my friend. He sounds the same, looks the same, he is talking about a massive thirst for beer developing, so I figure he must not have changed all that much. Being lunchtime in Doha Andrew drives me to his apartment, tells me to help myself to anything I may want and goes back to work, leaving me alone to catch up with no loner being in Thailand. Dropping my pack I immediately fall sound asleep on the couch under the air conditioning.

In the afternoon I wake and try a few times to go outside for a stroll but the heat blows me back inside under the air conditioner. From the balcony I can see a gang of long shirted Nepalese construction men working under the shimmering heat. Unable to navigate the television controls I rummage through the kitchen and find a frying pan and an egg. In memory of our boyhood experimentation I crack the egg into the pan and leave it outside, wondering if it will cook. My experiment fails so I clean the pan, put it back in the kitchen and, after arranging my clothes in the spare room, return to the couch to contentedly stare at the wall.

When Andrew and Cathy arrive home from work the mercury is still showing a temperature in the mid forties.  The evening is spent washing away the years with cold beer and reminiscing about our boyhood adventures. A few of Andrew and Cathy’s neighbours drop by to greet the visitor, it seems that in a country like Qatar with such a small ex-pat population any alien visitor provides a welcome diversion.

Being motivated explorers Andrew and Cathy are keen to hear my thoughts on Thailand. I find it difficult to formulate my thoughts. It is easy to paint an accurate picture of Patong, a sleazy tourist area where every person you meet will try to prise money out of you. Bangkok is different though, I think that if I was more brave I would have had a different experience of Bangkok. All I did in Bangkok were group tours, I felt almost like I had let myself down by being wimpy and not striking out more, that I could have found more of the real Bangkok by scratching below the tourist facade. I am getting the feeling that this whole searching for the true adventure business will be much harder than simply looking at a brochure and picking a tour.

The following morning I wake on a mattress on the floor in the very cool spare room. I am somewhat disoriented as to time but get dressed and head downstairs in search of caffeine. Cathy is rummaging around the kitchen and fixes me a coffee, Andrew soon wanders down the stairs and caffeinates himself while checking sports results on the television. It is Friday morning and the first day of the weekend for Andrew and Cathy, theirs is a Friday/Saturday weekend.

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We skip breakfast as we have a monumental gastronomic appointment at eleven am. Being a strict Muslim city it is very hard for ex-pats living here to acquire alcohol. Before being able to buy alcohol it is necessary to present a drinking licence that shows you are not a local and not Muslim. The sole liquor shop opens weekly for a few hours, ex-pats line their cars up outside for many blocks to wait their turn. Alcohol is not available for sale in clubs or cafes with one exception. A few large high class hotels and casinos have received special permission to serve alcohol to guests alongside food. This is how the infamous Doha brunch was born. For a set price, luxury hotels welcome visitors as guests for brunch. Food and alcohol is served between eleven in the morning and five in the afternoon.grey Visit Doha

On Andrews advice I approach the day as more of a marathon than a sprint. We catch a taxi to the hotel, walk in and my jaw drops. A room the size of a tennis court is piled to the roof with incredible food, chefs dot the room readying to cook and serve for guests. We walk through this gastronomic Disneyland, I spot fois gras, tender roast meat piled high, oceanic quantities of seafood, over twenty different types of salad and another room full of cheese wheels amongst food that looks incredible but unrecognisable. Andrew, Cathy and I find a table, sit down and warm up with a champagne, stretching our gorging muscles. I am a race horse pushing on the barrier, it is just past eleven-o-clock.

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Five hours later our table is littered with empty wine and champagne glasses, I am alternating between hiccups and contented burps while trying to force tiny pancakes covered with beluga caviar down my throat. Cathy is leaning back in her chair rubbing her belly, Andrew is wandering around the cheese section wearing an amused look and chuckling to himself. I can picture red cholesterol lights flashing deep inside my torso warning of meltdown. Thoroughly drunk, Andrew returns and we enjoy a few more quick wines before deciding it would be prudent to leave.

On our journey down gluttony road Cathy has mentioned a few times that she likes the glass olive oil bottle on our table. When we leave I decide to repay their kind hospitality and have a university kleptomaniac flashback shoving the bottle down my pants as we stand to leave. The neck sticks out at an awkward angle and makes me look like I have a permanent, if slender, erection, this in a country where the penalty for raising your middle finger at a local is a night in prison.

We walk out to the foyer where Andrew spots a grand piano and insists that I join him in a rendition of ‘chopsticks’. Being way too drunk to manage even the simplest piano song I walk over to Andrew and lean over the keys trying to focus, my olive oil jar keeps hitting the keys from inside my pants. Andrew and I give our best shot but our timing is completely wrong, also the black and white keys keep switching place. Giving up, we walk outside into the scorching sun where the heat steps my drunkenness up a notch. Andrew and I drool and lean over luxury cars in the car park as we await our taxi.

The taxi ride home is something of a blur. Rumours abound that a person resembling me, except with crossed eyes, stuck his head out of a sunroof and serenaded the Qatari population until his lungs burst, they are unconfirmed. Once safely back at Drew and Cathy’s home we all skip dinner and crawl into bed leaving the house deathly silent except for the sound of air conditioners thrumming in time with drunken snoring. grey Visit Doha

The following day due to our very early night we all wake feeling relatively healthy and go to try out the pool in a neighboring compound. Compounds are walled communities where ex-pats can shelter together safe from Arabic culture, most compounds have shared exercise facilities and common rooms. The water is a much welcome break from the heat, which is approaching a foot melting forty degrees. The compound owners have to run heat pumps to cool the water, this is a hard idea for me to wrap around my head after spending so much time and money heating my little pool in Tasmania. Running quickly over scorchingly hot tiles we plunge into the cool water and rinse stale wine sweat off our bodies. Andrew and I jokily pretend it is an accident whenever we ‘drop’ my waterproof camera into the pool, no one is fooled but we are having a lovely time having reverted to our natural state of ‘silly bugger’.

Lounging around the side of the pool amongst friends I realise just how lonely solo travel can become. Before meeting up with Drew and Cathy the last person who did not try to sell me something was Noel, he just annoyed me. I think about my vague plans to continue travelling and wonder how lonely that could get. I may have to learn Spanish properly or disguise my grey hairs with a trendy haircut and stay in youth hostels. grey Visit Doha

Soon Cathy has finished baking in the sun lounge and Drew and I are out of silly pranks so we gather our gear and run over white hot tiles to the car. We drive past a shop to buy cool drinks, laughing at the fat Qatari honking his car horn right outside the door, we go inside, buy a drink each and get back into the car. As we drive off enjoying our drinks he is still there in his car honking his horn and working up a sweat. We then return to the apartment for an afternoon nap, naps are a pleasant necessity in this heat. We finish our hibernations, shaking off the sleep we jump into Andrew and Cathy’s car, braving the traffic we drive to visit a local Souk.

Souks are local markets laden with Arabic wares, food and exotic animals. Dodging sheet clad locals I look around at the buildings, very impressed with their traditional style. I very much appreciate the stall owners’ standoffish attitude, a welcome change to being harassed incessantly in Thailand. We eat a traditional Arabic lunch then share a grape flavoured tobacco pipe. The evening slides by to the sound of various lung parts being coughed up and talk of failed experiments from Andrew’s and mine heyday.

In the morning I thank my friends for being such affable hosts and see them off to work, I have a plane to catch.

 

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How does bungy jumping really feel? Bungy jump Thailand

grey How does bungy jumping really feel? Bungy jump Thailand

The heavily tattooed man looks at me over his chipped counter, “You want the photo combo mate?”

“No thanks, just a jump” I say shakily thinking about this bungy jump Thailand style.

Already I can feel the metallic taste of fear. Behind and above Tattoos is another man. Pale and overweight he quivers high on a ledge not daring to look down. I watch the man shake on his ledge for a few long minutes before he jumps…when I say ‘he jumps’, more to the point he leans out too far one time and before he can catch himself gravity takes control of the situation. Like a surprised fish on a hook he silently falls until the cord catches and bounces him around. Red faced and visibly distressed he is lowered to a pontoon on the dirty lake where he is released from his bindings. Free again he jumps to his feet before scuttling to a waiting taxi which whisks him away. A trip which no doubt will end at the nearest bar.

Besides Tattoos and a few others I am now alone at the bungee centre.

Random bird noises from a nearby wetlands punctuate a heavy silence over the grounds.Now it is my turn to test gravity. A dark skinned man in a faded T-shirt wraps a towel then some straps around my ankles before calling over a colleague to check. A rusting crane creaks nearby under the weight of the platform. The second man lowers my confidence in this Thai operation by retying my legs before I am allowed to shuffle over to the crane.

The rickety crane laboriously raises me and my dark skinned companion about fifty metres up over the water. The man is trying to make friendly conversation in pidgin English as we rise, ‘Do you like here?’…’Where from you?’ He asks with a wide Thai grin.

grey How does bungy jumping really feel? Bungy jump ThailandI reply distractedly with, ‘Yes. Tasmania…in Australia’ As I speak the view around me opens up to reveal lush green jungle. As the ground slowly drops away so to does my ability to hold a casual conversation. It is fine for the other guy, he only has a commercial interest in the fraying cord. My interest is far more personal. At least the centre is empty so there is no one to hear me screaming like a little girl. My mind throws up a random image of a lone spacecraft orbiting earth; ‘In space, no one can hear you scream.’ The crane shudders to an unconvinced halt but my shuddering continues unabated. Near the car park I see a group of drunk tourists materialise from the kiosk…apparently in Thailand there is always someone to hear you scream.

I must look quite a sight. Last night I checked out my skinny frame in the mirror. Twenty-eight days of hard climbing in Nepal has left my face dark above a snow white torso, I am now long bearded with very unkempt hair. I would certainly be able to scare small children without breaking a sweat. At least I am starting to look like a footloose traveler, if not always acting the part.grey How does bungy jumping really feel? Bungy jump Thailand

I force all thoughts of breaking bungy cord out of my mind and instead focus on the job at hand, overcome all natural survival instincts and jump off this bloody platform. It feels much higher from up here on the swaying platform. A mere fifty metres above the water I am shaking like a poorly maintained VW and cannot see the cord. This is one of the biggest mind fucks with bungy jumping, the cord loops away below and out of sight. It truly feels like a suicidal act.

I look down, trust that my angels have not left me, gulp, then jump and plummet towards the dirty green lagoon.

My mind slows as my body accelerates.

With every cell in my body I feel that amazing acceleration. The whooshing of air past my ears gets louder and louder. The lagoon rushes up at me and my jaw is clenched tight.

Just as I start to panic about the cord my fall slows, all this happens in three weightless seconds.

Despite trying to keep all my openings clenched I think I let out a little squeak of fear mid-flight.  The deceleration is surprisingly smooth because as soon as the cord is fully stretched out it starts slowing the fall, by the time you start to bob upwards again you have gently slowed to nothing. A few upside down bounces stills and leaves me hanging by my feet over the filthy water. My head fills with blood and I can feel my pounding heart as I wait for the crane to lower me onto the small pontoon.

Back on solid ground I decide that maybe, just maybe, doing a bungy jump in Thailand after 28 days climbing in Nepal was not the best way to ‘wind down’.

Oh well, at least I have just ticked off another thing on my bucket list!

(All photos not the author’s, linkbacks and credit provided where possible)

 

I got drugged in Thailand

Most people will not believe that I got drugged in Thailand…this is what happened

‘Massage sir, massage, good for you?’

‘No. thanks.’

Following a busy day underwater I need food, not a massage or other distraction. The locals are obsessed with my burgeoning beard and seem desperate to offer all kinds of grooming services, some much more personal than others. I find a quiet corner in a busy restaurant, order Pad Thai and settle in to let the atmosphere envelop me. As foreign conversation washes over my head tangy odours escape the kitchen I still feel somewhat dreamy after my day underwater. Pad Thai is a very spicy Thai dish this time being presented by a raving homosexual waiter along with a Sambuca chaser, ‘I give you freee drink because you seee naarce.’

With my tongue tingling and belly full I make my way to the Irish Pub which has fast become a local, I order a pint of Guinness then strike up a conversation with a friendly, young English couple here on honeymoon. When we drain our glasses they invite me to find a club for a dance. I agree to join them, after all I cannot spend every night cowering in my hotel room folding T-shirts and dreaming up worse case scenarios. We find a seemingly friendly place and take seats in a corner, I leave to buy a round of beers. Halfway through our second round the couple is clearly feeling more salubrious than I and start talking about having a dance. I tell them I am not in a dancing mood and am content to hold the seat, watch the drinks and people watch.

My friends get up to dance but soon return with another round of drinks, not happy with the music playing. To my right is a table of older American men, they all sport hairstyles that missed them by a generation, their age betrayed by growing crows feet around their eyes. They are clearly enjoying the attentions of many heavily made up Thai women and lady-boys who circle like smiling vultures. To my right a clutch of young Thai friends keep to themselves, clearly they don’t appreciate the crush of drunk foreigners. I ask the couple to look after my drink while I go to the bathroom and soon return to find our table deserted apart from our drinks sitting alone and abandoned. I glance around and spot my two friends dancing frantically nearby, sitting I chuckle to myself, ‘How is this song better?’ and sit down.

My half finished beer is undisturbed on the table so I pick it up and set about people watching, wearily I start to think about retiring soon to rest up for a day of sightseeing tomorrow.

 

It doesn’t hit me straight away but as I sit there watching people dance my reality gives a little shift, like a subtle aftershock. Things seem different somehow, my internal dialogue is becoming confused, lazy, relaxed. I put it down to maybe a bit of sunstroke, I certainly have not drunk enough alcohol to be drunk,

‘…let me think…a Sambuca with dinner, a pint of Guinness, two or three beers total…’ I am staring intently at the table wondering if it is real. ‘Maybe tipsy’

 

‘Wow…reality just gave a huge jump.’

 

I feel as if a large sheet of glass has been lowered between my reality and other people’s.

 

Trying to focus on the Americans next to me I see they have progressed to groping anything within reach with a female shape. I can see but cannot hear them,

 

‘Have my ears broken during the dive?’

 

It feels as though I am still underwater so I focus on breathing properly,

 

‘Breathe, dammit, This could be bad…what is happening?’

 

I manage to get to my feet and bounce around the room aimlessly like a metal ball escaped from a pinball machines. I am trying to find my friends. The floor seems to be moving under my legs and I am desperately tired, just staying upright is a huge effort.

 

At some point my synapses make the connection between my drink being left unattended and suddenly feeling discombobulated,

 

‘My drink has been tampered with, really, no? really, maybe?’

 

Realising that I am completely alone, somewhat lost and not thinking straight I start to panic. I lean against the wall and try to figure out a solution. My brain is not working properly. I keep getting distracted by the music fading in and out like a heartbeat, the walls lean in towards me, like I am inside a living creature. My vision closes up, and, like a blinkered horse I make my way outside for some fresh air. I am tripping over feet, knocking over chairs and annoying people in my desperation to be outside.

 

Outside in the fresh air the street now looks so desperately foreign that I simply cannot get bearings. The flow of party goers passes by me both more quickly yet slower than before, ‘Now, which way to the hotel?’ I really cannot get my bearings.

 

The street resembles a Tarantino movie, cartoonish and disjointed, I can almost make out text bubbles containing people’s thoughts as they pass. I don’t find an escape as much as an escape finds me. A tall, thin lady-boy in a short dress suddenly materialises,

 

‘Boom, Boom?’

 

Needing to get home I give a tired nod, hand over my hotel card with a small map on the back and carefully clamber onto the back of his/her scooter. We race off into the busy streets. I clutch at my gossamer thin reality like a child holding a balloon string. Scooters, faces and tuk tuks flash by, my night has turned into an anime cartoon strip.

 

We pull up outside my hotel, with me somewhat revived by the fresh air and recognising the entrance murmuring ‘Thank you’ to my unwitting saviour. Passing the door guard I remember saying one word to him, ‘ALONE’ and without breaking stride, leave him to placate my heavily made up pursuer turned saviour. Realising that he/she has just been unwittingly used for a free ride my swaying back is treated to a barrage of abuse.

 

I open the door of my room and memory fails me.

 

Waking sprawled on the floor next to my bed at four in the afternoon still dressed with all exposed skin a minefield of mosquito bites I realise I have left a window open. Trying to gather my thoughts under a cold shower I am relieved to find a distinct lack of surgical cuts around the kidney region. It is over thirty degrees but I am badly shivering. Why people would pay money to take drugs and to feel like this is currently beyond me but I am glad to have escaped with only mosquito bites. Maybe it was sunstroke. I walk past the security guard who throws over a pitying look, one perfected no doubt from years of seeing tourists chase or flee the seedier side of Thailand.

 

Rock climbing in Thailand – Patong

One type of adventure I do want to find however is Rock climbing in Thailand. Most of the numerous brochures on Thailand I had previously amassed show pictures of muscle striped guys topless in tight shorts and ballet shoes fearlessly powdering overhanging cliffs with chalk as the sapphire ocean laps at the rocks below. I want to be that guy.

Early the next morning Om my climbing guide picks me up at the hotel and leads me to his beaten up old Land Cruiser. Om is short and dark without one ounce of his weight wasted, despite being friendly and patient he is the kind of guy who makes you feel like a fat, uncoordinated goof. On the way to our climbing site Om stops to show me a Buddhist temple cut into a mountainside. During my time in Nepal I had seen many Buddhist temples perched on windy mountain passes and had developed something of a fascination with this set of beliefs. The whole religion is based on ‘Do unto others‘ and is littered with reminders that material belongings and power are both temporary and unimportant.

Having just offloaded most of my material belongings I am currently finding these beliefs most agreeable. Buddhists believe in reincarnation and Karma; if you are a prick to people you will come back as a disabled ant and have a rotten time, if you are a decent guy you will return with a leg opening smile and have a lovely old time. Previously I simply did not have the time to think about such obscure subjects as religion and what might happen when I check out. I always had a suspicion that Ricky Gervais was right when he said that Christianity is simply one woman’s lie to hide an affair which got out of control. No point worrying too much though, we will all find out one day as my friend Kathy says, ‘Don’t stress too much about life, nobody gets out alive.’

The temple which Om shows me is vastly different to those I had seen in Nepal. There are similarities such as the reclining Buddha and familiar artwork but it is set in a cave and less well tended. The temple is open to the air and as such nearby monkeys have made a home inside and incessantly harass visitors for bags of peanuts sold just outside the gate. The combined smell of bird and monkey faeces melting in the tropical heat is oppressive, maybe my nostrils are paying off some karmic debt for what I said to Mrs Bonney on my last day. I stay inside for as long as the stench will allow then vacate this holy area turned simian toilet to find Om drinking coffee in the sun with one of his friends.

A long-tail boat takes us and our climbing gear through mangrove swamps to the floating village where Om spent his childhood. Wooden huts perch on bamboo platforms over the water and are linked by rickety walkways, the whole village is moored to sheer cliffs behind. Looking around at locals peacefully fishing, cooking and selling handmade crafts I think that this is more like the type of adventure I am hunting, however I am yet to see a penis sheathed tribe member to speak with earnestly.

With Om leading we make our way towards the increasingly oppressive cliffs and onto the island proper. Om immediately scampers off into dense shrub leaving me to wallow in his wake, my ears strain for his movements to follow. The ground becomes increasingly steep and soon I burst out next to Om on a small ledge overlooking the village. Perched halfway up a fifty metre high cliff the view is expansive, a cool wind playing through the shrub make the leaves hiss. I can see the entire village and beyond to a swampy forest where long-tail boats patrol unofficial waterways.

Om has spent a large chunk of his earnings bolting new routes nearby his village, the man’s deep connection with this area is firmly entrenched in his warm smile. We tighten our harnesses which are like a heavy G-string minus the ‘Gee’, and Om asks if I have belayed a climber before I tell him ‘Yes.’ Without any preamble he checks my knots and scampers up the cliff to leave me on the ledge with a pile of rope.

I struggle to feed him rope such is his upward speed. Once efficiently at the top of the route he down climbs and tells me to have a try. I switch my boots for the grippy ballet shoes provided and hesitantly shuffle onto the cliff. I can see the rope securely attached at the top and have easy handholds but the sucking void behind keeps playing on my mind. I furiously try to push plummeting thoughts out of my head as sweat fills my brow but become increasingly shaky and nervous as my height, and exposure grows. At one point I look down and freeze. The sight of Om leaning casually on a tired little tree over the edge combined with the yawning drop below my feet make me freeze. I clutch at the rocks desperately, my arms burn and my calves shake. Om senses my nerves and yells up to me,

‘You OK Ben? Stay calm my friend, I have you.’

‘Getting a bit nervous up here Om, I want to come down now mate.’

Back on the ledge the rocks lose their ominous glow and the climb no longer looks so difficult. A second abortive climb sees us moving lower on the same cliff to climb. The second route which Om has bolted is much more technical but far less exposed and less of a mind game. I thoroughly enjoy working out where to place my hands and feet and trying to reach resting spots before my arms tire. Once I can no longer climb, Om takes me to his friend’s restaurant where we gorge on extremely local fish caught from right beneath our feet. I feel somewhat embarrassed with my inability to trust the rope properly but am glad to have had the opportunity to try out this exhilarating sport in a splendid location.

On the drive back to my hotel we are chatting aimlessly and I rub my stiffening arms when we spot a number of police cars further along the road. Om turns to me and says earnestly,

‘Passport check, have you got passport?’

‘No, did I need it? I had no idea…’

He pulls over and stops the truck, wearing a very concerned look he asks me why I left it behind. Om silently sits there with the same concerned look on his face for a few minutes before starting the car, laughing and saying,

‘It is only a vehicle inspection my friend, I love playing that trick on tourists.’

Scuba diving in Thailand

grey Scuba diving in Thailand
Fumbling and trying to screw the air regulators onto the tank, I am very excited to be Scuba diving in Thailand but have not dived for over a year so feel suitably nervous. Trying to remember what my friend Marek and I leant on our course I simply copy what the others around me are doing. No one has checked my PADI dive licence and I doubt anyone will. The tank to which I am about to trust my breathing is scratched and dented, the buoyancy vest is faded with ripped storage pockets.

Notwithstanding, the scenery surrounding the boat is spectacular, a steady stream of tourist laden boats pass us on sheet metal smooth water to view karst islands. Small green islands rise sharply and dot the bay with patches of green. The whole area provides ideal sightseeing and an opportunity for people to reproduce brochure photographs.

Loaded with scuba gear my delightfully busty Norwegian dive buddy and check each other’s oxygen flow and jump into the water to descend twenty-two metres to a cave. I am wearing only shorts and she a bikini as the water is bath warm even at depth. Our plan is to descend and explore a cave near the ocean floor then to corkscrew our way up around the island to the surface. The steep cliffs as seen from above continue right down to the ocean floor and make for truly spectacular diving.


grey Scuba diving in ThailandA small shrimp nervously pokes his head out from some coral, spots me then darts back into his hiding place. Eels that peek their bald heads out hold a striking resemblance to my grade ten maths teacher, I am relaxed enough to forget where I am while watching and grin losing my mouthpiece. Holding back panic I recover it by following an air hose from the tank, I replace the lifeline, clear the water out and start breathing slightly embarrassed but glad that none of the other divers notice.


We swim a little way into a large cave, far enough in for the light to dim significantly. Normally I am not claustrophobic but sitting twenty-two metres underwater in a dimly lit cave make the walls feel like they are closing in. When I add another dent to my tank by bashing against the cave’s roof I decide to swim for open water and gladly continue exploring open water.Back on the boat my experienced dive buddy, whose wet bikini is losing
‘You have hardly used any air Ben, how do you use so little oxygen?’the struggle for decency leans down to check my gauges. My eyes reluctantly follow to where she is pointing,‘I’m making up for it now.’grey Scuba diving in Thailand‘What?’‘I really don’t know how.’

Maybe my body is still full of red blood cells from the altitude of Nepal, maybe I am just fitter than last time I went scuba diving, on previous dives I gulped

grey Scuba diving in Thailand through my air at a furious rate. We went on to dive around a nearby wreck called the King Cruiser and at a reef called Shark Point which had no sharks.

With my air tanks all on empty and sinuses full of salty water I munch on tropical fruit as the boat slowly chugs its way past myriad other tourist boats exploring this amazing area. My dive buddy is luxuriating in the sun, I am desperately trying to avoid staring as her chest rises and falls in time with the ocean.

 

Thoroughly relaxed I listen to the world and simply revel in the tired floppy-limbed feel that follows a long dive in the water.

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This business partnership has expired.” Ben has no idea what adventures are in store when he sets out to discover what lies over that next mountain.

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