Archive for July, 2009

Seven hours to get cash from the ATM

Monday, July 27th, 2009

I am feeling more and more as a part of the staff here at Sunlight, and that feeling was especially strong yesterday. I ran out of cash a while ago, and while I can write everything on my tab at Moonlight, where I’m staying, I don’t have a tab anywhere else yet. Eventually I had to go get some cash, and the island I’m living on is remote enough to not have a single ATM. There’s one place where you can get some cash, but they charge 10 percent for the service, just because they can. ๐Ÿ˜‰ In order to get my Divemaster license, I also needed to have a physician’s signature on a paper that says I’m fit for diving, so I really needed to take a trip to the mainland.

Yesterday I organized to not assist any dives, and off I went at eight a.m. First I have to take a taxiboat out to the speedboat, and then the speedboat to Kuala Besut on the mainland. At the jetty in Kuala Besut I found a taxi that could take me the last fifteen kilometers to Jerteh, which is the closest place with an ATM… I had my own cards to withdraw money from, and a handful of other cards from other people working here, so that when I was done, I had about 15 000 NOK in my bag. With the shopping I had to do, my visit to the doctor, and mailing the camera I’ve been using, and which has stopped working, back to Norway, I wasn’t back on Long Beach till three pm.

But, returning to the reason I started writing about this, feeling part of the community here; when I was going to get the boat back out to the island, I didn’t buy a ticket, and when I was stopped and asked for my National Park pass, I just said that I was working at Sunlight, and they waved me past. ๐Ÿ˜€ On the boat I paid the “local price” directly to the captain, instead of the more expensive tourist ticket at the ticket office. On the boat I also sat with the crew, and helped out a bit with loading and stuff. It was a bit weird, but a good feeling of belonging anyway ๐Ÿ™‚

A more average day on the island starts at a little before eight, because the shop opens at eight. Just about then the first boat from the mainland comes in as well, so people start arriving. It’s quite laidback around here, so the things that need to be done in the morning are just done as people kinda feel like it. There’s sweeping sand off the floors, putting out buckets for people to wash the sand off their feet when they come in off the beach, and emptying, cleaning and refilling the pools that are used for washing the salt off masks, snorkels, fins, regulators, BCDs and computers after every dive. Then during the day, I study dive theory whenever I’m not out assisting on a dive. The shop closes at seven, and in the evenings, I spend time with students and staff, or after a day with too many dives, just lay vegetating in front of the TV in the “lounge.”

As you might see, the time for writing blog updates is limited, and even if I did have time they would probably be more of a dive log than a travel log. ๐Ÿ˜‰

19 July – My first dive as assistant

Monday, July 20th, 2009

Time flies. It’s been a week since I last wrote already, and I haven’t done any diving before today. I’ve spent most of my time reading, coughing and making gurgling sounds from my lungs, except one day when I spent most of the day in bed, with short trips out to the little boys’ room. There’s a bit of a flu going around, or at the very least something that gives a bad cough and stomach trouble. I was first, and since then at least four of the others have had the same thing. The good thing is that I got a bit of a head start studying for my exams, the bad thing was that I didn’t get to do any diving with Helena before she headed out on the last leg of her adventure.

I’ve been getting to know the other people here as well. It’s a bit of a Nordic outpost here. The Sunlight divemasters, dm trainees and instructors are two Finns, two Swedes and a Dane, plus a couple that I think are Australian, a Brit and two Malays. I might have forgotten someone, but you get the picture…

I had my first full day on “duty” yesterday, and passed my three first exams. Most of it is pretty basic diving stuff, then there’s some physics and chemistry that was mostly just repetition from IB Chem and Phys, but the chapter on physiology in diving is a bit tougher on the old noodle. It’s been a couple of years since I last did any studying, but I still have the advantage of an academic’s skill in reading for exams.

Today I assisted on a dive for the first time. Shamse, one of the Malay instructors, took out three Chinese on a Discover Scuba Diving course, which means a very short introduction to safety and equipment, followed by a confined water dive. Two of the participants had never even snorkeled before, and one of them didn’t speak a word of English… Needless to say, I was pretty busy trying to keep them together while Sham was trying to get them to do some basic skills, but I had fun nontheless. I ended my dive with three meters as the max depth, as I had to swim back to shore with one diver who was unable to equalize her ears.

Tomorrow I am getting up early, as I’m assisting on the first dive at eight thirty. Before that it’s my responsibility to set up the equipment, and make sure everything’s ready. We’re going to a dive site called “Temple of the sea,” which is a rather large pinnacle we’ll swim around. From what I’ve heard, the divers out there almost always see Hector The Threelegged Turtle. Turtles are supposed to be migratory, but since this one has lost a leg, probably in some fisherman’s net, it stays put. Since he’s so easy to recognize, the divers have named him, and he’s one of the attractions of the “Temple.” Don’t ask me why he ended up being called Hector…

Divemaster Trainee Gone Native

Monday, July 13th, 2009

On Wednesday I went for my first two dives here at the Perhentians. The first dive was a wreck dive, an old freighter they call the Sugar Wreck. It lies on it’s side at around 19 meters, so that the shallowest side of it is on about seven meters. When we arrived at the divesite, I looked over the side of the boat, and I could see all the way to the bottom! The divemaster and instructor that was with us said that it was the best visibility they’d ever seen on that divesite, 20-25 meters. We went down at the stern, made our way up to the prow, and entered one of the cargo bays. We swam through to the aft cargo bay, and returned along the deck. The dive finished off along the upper hull, before we surfaced again at the stern. The whole wreck was covered in soft corals, and we saw bamboo sharks, great barracudas, squids, giant blowfish, scorpion fish, and lots of other cool critters. The second divesite they call by the codename of T3, and it consists of a jumble of massive boulders with lots of swim-throughs. I saw nudibranches there for the first time in my life, and they are perhaps the fanciest things I’ve seen so far, little brightly coloured slugs with a knobbly surface. Google it!

Thursday I decided to go exploring the island, and I headed out after a late breakfast. I went north, up to a couple of windmills, and found out there was also a solar power plant. Where the electricity goes is beyond me, though, because everyone is running diesel generators for power… I continued down the other side, to a small beach that would’ve been nice if it weren’t for the fact that it was obviously used as a docking point when the powerplant was built, and has not been properly restored. At the northernmost beach on the island I found no other people, however, and lay there relaxing with my book for a while. I continued exploring, but by then my feet were sore from wearing shoes, so I carried my shoes in my hands the rest of the day. I haven’t worn shoes for so longย  that it hurts really fast…

On Friday, Helena arrived from Koh Phi Phi when I had finished my late breakfast. That day we celebrated Richard’s birthday, he’s one of the guys who works here. I tasted the local rum, Orang-Utan, which goes by the fitting nick name Monkey Piss.

Yesterday Helena and I went over to Coral Bay, and continued north along the shore to go snorkeling. The sea was rather choppy, and there was so much sand suspended in the water that visibility was less than two meters. We gave up after a couple of minutes, and spent the day on land instead.

This morning Helena went diving, and I went to tell Sonny, the owner, that I’ve decided to stay. I checked the balance on my account first, to verify that the money the tax collector’s office owed me for last year had arrived and I could afford the course. I am now officially a Divemaster Trainee! I calculated that If I don’t get a job I probably have to go back to Norway in about three months, close enough to be called exactly one year from the time I left. I hope to be able to stretch the money, though, so I can get to Australia and get work before I run too low on funds. If I manage to get a job here in the Perhentians after I finish my divemaster, I can pretty much stay until my student loan downpayments have eaten up my budget, before I head out, but I won’t make enough to cover the downpayments as well, for that I need a proper job in a richer country.

My beach towel disappeared from the balcony the other day, so yesterday I bought a Sarung to replace it. The Sarung is the local traditional outfit for men, basically a big piece of cloth with the short ends sewn together so it forms a big tube, which is wrapped tightly around the body under the arms and rolled down to the waist so it fits kind of like a skirt. I wore it today, and got appreciative nods and comments from Malaysian men wearing the same garment. When I got over to Coral Bay to speak to Sonny, she exclaimed before I had time to say anything, “Jerry’s staying! He’s gone native on us already!”

Perhentian Islands in Malaysia

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

July 6
When I woke up yesterday morning, it felt as if I was in the middle of an earthquake… When the next flash and boom came a few seconds later, I realized it had been a clap of thunder, but it had been so loud it rattled the doors and windows in my room! The rain came shortly after, and lasted until late afternoon, so I spent the day doing some reading, and when I’d finished Anna Karenina I went to a bookshop and sold it, and bought The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Eon. I don’t often read sci-fi, but Eon is pretty cool. It’s written in ’86, and set in 2010, so the setting is a bit odd. ๐Ÿ™‚ The Soviet Union is still going strong, and so is East Germany, and the much dreaded nuclear war that we were all afraid of in the late eighties had happened in 93!

In the afternoon Helena came over from Tim’s, and told me he was finally starting his tattoo. We had dinner, and then headed over to watch Tim having pain inflicted on his shoulder blades with a foot long stick of bamboo. ๐Ÿ˜‰ On our way there we met a couple of Swedes from Piteรฅ, that we’d been talking to a few days ago, and agreed to meet up with them at the Reggae Bar after we’d been to offer Tim some moral support. We spent the night partly at the Reggae, and partly at the tattoo parlour, until I had to head to bed. I was getting up at seven thirty, so I needed my beauty sleep. ๐Ÿ˜›

This morning Helena woke me up at seven twenty, I packed, and we had breakfast at Garlic, where I’ve had the greater part of my breakfasts on the Island. She followed me to the boat, and we said bye and see you later. I’m going to write her an email once I get onto the Perhentians, and tell her where I’m at, so she can come meet me in a few days.

The Piteรฅ guys were also on the same boat, but they were headed to Koh Samui, and then Koh Pha Ngan for the full moon party. I got in a minibus in Krabi, and was taken to Had Yai, where I changed into an older minibus with less leg room and without aircon, but I was happy, because they weren’t playing insanely loud concert videos with Thai music… ๐Ÿ˜ฎย  I got to Sungai Golok on the border around seven thirty, left Thailand and entered Malaysia very easily. As I came out of the immigration office, I spotted three people just entering, and fingers crossed, I was hoping they were going to Kuala Besut as well. It turned out they, Dean, Rachel and Nathan, had in fact also come from Phi Phi today, and were also headed to Pulau Perhentian, so we’re now sharing a taxi. It’s a 110km taxi ride, but with four people in the taxi, it’s cheaper than the bus, at 25 Ringit per person, or about 40 NOK. I am now at GMT +8 instead of GMT +7, so it’s getting kinda late. I’m guessing we’ll be in Kuala Besut around 11pm, so I hope there are open guesthouses! The first boat to Perhentians leaves at 8am tomorrow morning, and I don’t want to spend the night on the pier… ๐Ÿ˜› It’s also been rainingย  all afternoon and evening, so it’s very wet, but it’s also a bit cooler and refreshing. I definately won’t need any aircon. The last few nights I’ve actually woken up early in the morning and I’ve had to turn off the fan! I suspect I will have to get heated blankets and hot water bottles for my bed when I eventually return to Norway…

July 7
We arrived at 11pm like I thought, and when we’d checked into a guest house, had dinner and gone to bed, it was half past midnight. I got up before 7 to take the first boat out to the Perhentians, and had a gorgeous trip out on a little speedboat, with the sun just up over the islands. Dean turned out to have taken his DM licence on the Perhentians a year ago, and I think I want to use the same outfit. ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s on Long Beach on the smaller Perhentian, and it’s called Sunlight. I’m staying at the Moonlight Chalets, which cooperates with the Sunlight Divers. I spoke to the owner of Sunlight today, at the Coral Bay, opposite side of the island from Long Beach, and she said I just had to tell her when I was ready to start. I’m spending some time with the instructors and divemasters here, and I’m going to do a couple of fun dives tomorrow, and if nothing extreme happens to put me off the course or the people, I’ll be spending at least the next six weeks here on the Perhentians! ๐Ÿ˜€ I also might work here after.

PS: My foot is healing nicely.

Boat trip to The Beach

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

For those who were wondering;I still don’t have a tattoo. I came to the conclusion that I want to try it in Henna or something before I do the real thing, to find out whether it looks the way I want on me. ๐Ÿ™‚

On Sunday night we went to watch Farang kicking the shit out of each other Muay Thai style at the Reggae bar, and while I was sitting there, craning my neck to see the fights, my neck and shoulders started hurting. It just got worse, so I took a relatively early night, and headed out to get a massage first thing Monday morning. I was looking for a place where I could get a cheap head-neck-shoulder massage in a calm environment, so when I found a nice, quiet place with relaxing music, I asked what I’d have to pay for that kind of massage. The woman kept saying “Full Body Massage 600 Baht,” so I thought she didn’t understand me, but when the masseur came out, they quickly conferred with each other, and told me I could get it for 300. The guy started massaging my back and neck, and then reached under my belly and massaged my stomach. He said “mhm, aha” and declared that he knew why my shoulders hurt; I had gas… It might have been a trick to make me pay more, but it was true that I was a little upset in the stomach, so I decided to trust him. I had a long, painful and uncomfortable massage where he mostly was standing on me massaging with his feet, and at the end he gave me lukewarm water and a herbal laxative. It worked after a couple of hours, and the pain has not returned. ๐Ÿ™‚ Money well spent!
I headed out to a beach bar called Sunflower, where they were supposed to have WiFi, but they didn’t, so I instead spent a few hours editing my underwater photos from my first two dives. Resetting the white balance made them look a lot more like what it actually looks like under water! That night I danced on the beach until the wee hours of the morning, and slept like a baby for a long time.

On Tuesday Helena and I rented a kayak, and headed toward Monkey Beach. We saw it, but saw no monkeys, so we crossed the bay to the south, and stopped for snorkling on a small beach where we met some other kayakers. Then we headed further south, and found a big, deserted beach where we went looking for coconuts to have for lunch. It seemed to be regularly searched, though, cause we found no ripe nuts on the ground. We headed back, and got in a half hour too late, right as the sun set. After dinner, we stopped in at a bar where they were showing Iron Man. It was nice to just sit and watch a movie, it’s been a long time…

Wednesday we rented a kayak again, and this time brought the camera. We went out to the same small beach for snorkling, and stayed there until the sun went behind a pinnacle, and headed back to the bay. We stopped for sunset on a rocky outcrop in the bay, and got some nice pictures. As we were taking the kayak back in the water, I slipped and cut my right foot right under the ankle on a rock, and it was bleeding a lot. By the time we got back, the bottom of the kayak was full of blood and water, and I was making bloody tracks all the way to our room. When I was cleaning out the wound, I saw that it was about six centimetres long, pretty deep, and I could see my pulse in there… it had gone straight through all the skin, about half a centimeter, and then started skinning me up the foot a little less than a centimeter. I didn’t want to go get it stitched up, although I probably should have. Instead I bought some strips specially made for closing deep cuts, pulled the edges together, and Helena put the strips on. I closed it in with a lot of gauze and medical tape, and headed out to dinner, and then bought tickets for a sigtseeing boat trip the next day. When I came back it had bled through all the gauze and run down my foot, so I was again making blood tracks along the island… I figured there should be no more walking for me that evening, so I changed the bandage and applied more iodine gel, and we watched American Dad and Mythbusters on my laptop.

On Thursday the longtail-boat-trip started at eleven, and we went out to Monkey Beach. I’d brought the camera, so we were filming along the way. There were loads of monkeys, drinking water out of bottles, coke out of glasses and beer out of cans, and eating the bananas and bread people brought them. I must say I don’t feel quite comfortable with feeding wild animals like that, and giving them beer and coca cola is just plain wrong!

On the way to our next stop, Phi Leh Bay, we went past the so-called Viking Cave, which is off limits because they collect birds’ nests there for bird’s nest soup… We swam in Phi Leh Bay, and my bandage fell off my foot… the strips stayed on though, so the woundย  didn’t open up. I took the chance of snorkling in the next bay as well, and then we stopped for an hour on The Beach, officially named Ma Ya Beach, but famous for the twenty seconds it featured in the movie “The Beach”…
Lunch was taken on The Beach, and then we stopped for snorkling on Shark Point, before we headed north to Bamboo Island. Both that Island and Phi Phi Leh, where Ma Ya Beach is, are part of the Phi Phi Marine National Park, but the park entry fee was covered by our boat ticket, so we could walk around. On the way back to Phi Phi Don, we stopped for more snorkling, and then on the tip of the island for sunset. The waves were large-ish, so it was difficult to take pictures and film, but I managed to get some good sunset shots. I now have WAY too many sunset pictures… ๐Ÿ˜‰

Yesterday we spent chilling out, and I was planning to not get my foot wet, but I had to give in and head to the beach, so I put a sock on my foot, and we waded out to a raft tied a little off the beach. We stayed there sleeping, reading and writing for a long time, and after dinner we took the camera around to get some good pictures of things we want to remember from the island, like Song who makes the best Pad Thai I’ve ever had, and Muzh who makes killer fruit shakes. ๐Ÿ™‚ We were planning to take pictures of us fighting with a cute little three-year-old who lives next to Adventure Club diving… He is always around, always trying to fight Muay Thai with us, but not that night, so we’ll have to try again. He has the best hair cut ever, shaved head except from a circle in the back, where he has a whip! Aksel, a German diving instructer who Helena took her courses with, has taught him something that the thai ladies around don’t much like; if the kid is playing with a girl or woman, Aksel says “Num!” to the kid, and the cute little boy grabs a handful of boob! -I suspect num means breast in Thai- ๐Ÿ˜€
We had a lot of fun telling the kid NUM! when Helena was fighting with him. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Helena is almost as tall as I am, so the kid was standing on the tips of his toes trying to reach, but I suspect with the thai women he’s even more of a nuisance, since many of them are almost a head shorter than her…

We also booked a dive trip last night, and this morning we got up early and went for two dives. The diving is still fantastic, and it was Helena’s first fun dives, so she was really eager. ๐Ÿ™‚ On the second dive we again saw two Leopard sharks lounging on the bottom. They are magnificent creatures!

Tomorrow I am planning to book a ticket to Malaysia, and head off to Pulau Perhentian someday soon. Helena is staying a few days longer, because she’s really hit it off with Tim the German, and then she’s planning to come join me in Perhentian for some more diving. Fingers crossed that I can find a place where they need a divemaster, so I can get a job once I’m done with my course.