Friday, March 10, 2017

Letting go, yet again

 In the earlier post I mentioned about letting go off the land beneath my foot and armed with that confidence, and overwhelmed with what I had just accomplished, we were herded to the next stop into yet another motor boat by our guide Lilly.
It took another 30 minutes to reach the next boat close to a small patch of reef that fringes Coral Island called the Koh-Lam in Thai. We all had signed up for the underwater sea walk, purely intrigued by the idea and Lilly handed us over to our new guide, an Indian who was multilingual. A well-built Indian who could speak in broken English, Hindi and Thai language (for the benefit of few south Asians who were with us).
He assumed all of us can understand Hindi, and though not very versatile with the language (shame on me), I managed to figure out the instructions he gave. Jay, having been brought in the north chipped in and helped. With all seriousness he gave us the instructions and with all our might we listened to him. I listened out of sheer fear. I was not comfortable with water and the awesome looking blue blue aquamarinish water didn’t look all that great, the moment he was saying you will all go under water and remember you cannot speak under water, so you need to know how to communicate.

We were given black gloves and he explained the whole process of communicating with our hands. He also assured that we need not necessarily know swimming for this activity. Quite a breather that one was. He further assured, all the better if you didn’t know swimming. You only have to sink in the water. Made a note to myself, Learn Swimming.
Communication.. Sounds pretty simple for someone who does that for a living. (Me) But under water communication?? the few butterflies that I had when I went for parasailing, multiplied manifold suddenly that they didn’t have space in my tummy to fly. I was desperately trying to hide my fear. The breeze that was blowing was making us feel cold and I found myself trembling. Difficult to say if it was the chillness or if it was the fear. But company the of four helped. We laughed and joked and took pictures (yeah we never missed that one).
Here we had to climb down from a platform on the boat, to metal stairs that went into seawater, like the ones that you see in swimming pools. When water is at your chest level, they instruct you to walk on one strip of metal to the guy who holds a heavy white coloured astronaut like bubble helmet. The bubble helmet is connected to a tube that in turn is connected to the oxygen tank, so that we get a constant supply of oxygen and also stops the seawater ingressing into the helmet.
I was second in the line, and as per instructions given, after the first person goes down, the divers on board would place the bubble on my head. And that moment I have to let go of my hands from the steel bars that I was holding onto. My biggest doubt was, if I will let go. I told myself, its too late now to back off, all others are doing it, none of them know swimming and there are scuba divers down there to help.
Then it happened. The bubble was placed on my head and I just let go. Yeah I did. First time ever I went underwater, followed the instruction of the Indian guide who told us to swallow saliva to maintain the air pressure and I was kind of fine. I kept going down until my feet touched the fine coral of the sea bed. I could see the first guy who was the only guy with our four member team, down there and I frantically held on to his hand. Tightly. I was floating and my feet would not stay firm on the sea bed. 

Have I made a wrong choice of opting into this adventure sport?
Did I pay for my own funeral in Thai bhats?
Will I die under water? Will I make it back home?
What if the water gets above the chin, after all, the distance between the chin and the nose is just a couple of inches.
If I am struggling for breath and what if none of scuba divers see?

Questions to myself and my initial thoughts under water.

By then a scuba diver held my legs and steadied it on the sea bed. The water pressure makes it unable to stand still and gives a feeling of floating. Like air pressure, realised the prowess of water pressure too. I repeatedly try and steady myself. In a few minutes all seems well.
I saw Jay coming down and holding my left hand. Relief writ large on my eyes, we could see eye to eye. A diver came in front of me and checked if all was okay. I communicated correctly, remembered my sign language and showed him the correct sign.
I could see Jay had some trouble with the air pressure and the body guard helping her. She is being steadied too. I didn’t let go of the grip of my right hand. Jay was holding my left hand. Things were falling in place. I could see a reef in the sea bed, fishes swimming a little far away. I could see the sea bed, and the divers clearly and a lot of organisms which I could not identify. We have seen these so many times in Discovery channel and didn’t give two hoots about what grit it involves.

Then the show begins. One of the divers comes close to me and pulls my hand and saves the first guy from my vice-like grip. He must have felt so relieved. He handed all of us a piece of bread and almost magically, a huge school of fish comes to feed from our hands. The fishes are just inches away from the helmets. Some are small, some big and all are colourful.
The fishes are cautious, hesitant but like us they are driven by the strength of a group. They are also smart and sometimes peck my fingers and it all feels so good. Some fishes are touching my legs too. I dare not look down as we were instructed not to bend down or look up. We can only look sideways through the bubble helmet. For the time being I enjoy the tingling feeling when the fishes brush past you. We are allowed to touch pieces of live coral and the whole thing is a fine display.
I cannot believe myself. I am amazed at what I am doing underwater walking on the south Asian sea bed. Fear takes a back seat (not completely vanished though) and I take in all that I can see through my helmet. The divers are hovering around.
We should have been there for 20 minutes. And we hear a long tap on metal from up above. The divers come for us and help us go up to the stairway that seems to hang in water. As I come out, the bubble is removed from my head and not a drop of water above my chin.
Four of us laugh, dance, chatter and rejoice – this was the best experience of our trip. The waters looked Cobalt blue now, fear replaced with ecstasy and the magic returns.

Letting go helped.

Post Script:
We had paid up for under water photographs, but particular day, there was some technical snag with the camera and they couldn’t give us our photographs under water.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Letting go

Ramesh, this one goes out to you again.  Thank you for that gentle nudge to write more.
For all the other readers ( I am being flamboyant here again, in assuming that I have too many of you, but the ones who read, trust me, you are precious to me) the earlier two posts are about our all girls trip to Thailand.
Letting go on Day 2 -  Part 1
Our plan for the second day was simple, unlike the earlier day. First half of the day at Coral Island and then back to Bangkok.  But what did not anticipate was all the adventure that was awaiting us at Coral Island.

First things First, we met our guide for the day, this time a petite woman who had the name tag on her which read LINRY, but this is how she introduced herself to us ( please read with a sing song tune)  Iiiiiiiii Lilllyyyy.. your guideee… A friendly woman who repeatedly assured us No Wollies… ( for the uninitiated, what she meant was no Worries). Figured out most of the Thai population cannot pronounce “r” and the “r” is invariably replaced with a “l” so tomorrow is always tomollow. Safari world is Safali wolld… you get the drift right?. That however is not the point in discussion, isn’t it?
We are not the only ones who are to be guided by Linry, she has a group of Indians. Ok we were a little surprised to see a whole bunch of Indians along with us. Most of them as families, grim faced and quiet. And while the men tried to look cool, the women looked jealous. How can these women ( us ) have so much fun?
But that realisation was only momentary and we were ushered into the thin silver sands on the beach, by the time we could take a few pictures, we had to wade into the crystal clear sea water which was a never ending aqua marine colour in front of us. That blue blue colour is something that I have seen only in movie song sequences. We clamoured up the speed boat in which there were people taking our pictures, we did pose for them too… Later we realised at the end of the ride, we will have to pay and take the prints or else they will just tear it up and throw it away.
Sudha & Me posing before we clamoured up the speed boat


We were instructed to wear life jackets in the speed boat and were eager and animated as the boat leapt above the water only to come down on the water with a stomach-churning thud. Laughter and chatter of four women filled the speed boat. I guess the laughter was more about hiding our fear for water. None of us knew swimming.

Our Speed boat leaving the bay
 The speed boats’ first stop was for parasailing. We moved from the speed boat to the large floating platform that provides a clear view of the bay and the city’s skyline. But who had the time to watch all that. Linry handed us over, to the care of some young men and she assured “no Wollies” once again, when we looked at our bags promising to look after our belongings. Sudha had already done the parasailing earlier in Andaman and hence she chose to be our photographer. Her DSLR was put to good use. our special thanks to Sudha, if not for her, our memories would not have been captured so beautifully.
We were watching people floating a hundred feet over the water held by a parachute and driven by a speed boat. Since I could see the harness being tightened on each person and is safely secured on to the parachute, logic was in place and except for a couple of butterflies in my stomach, I wasn’t worried.
My turn came and two of the gentlemen fastened the life jacket with the harness that can clasp the parachute. And then I was given the instruction to run on the floating platform as they strap the Parachute’s metal clasps onto me. In my mind, I was instructing myself to be ready to let go of the solid surface beneath me.
Waiting in the queue for our turn to be parachuted :-) & finding safety in a group :-)

Instructing myself to let go  just before giving my control to the parachute & speed boat
My heart was beating fast when they were strapping my parachute and before I could finish a couple of huge steps I realised I was airborne. It is an amazing feeling to let go of the land beneath your legs and float in the sky. While the speed boat seems to be moving pretty fast, I was floating in the air with almost no movement at all. The air up above was noisy, not very happy about my intrusion into its space and was hitting me hard. My heart started fluttering.


Letting go

waving to Sudha while landing
A minute of being airborne, I found myself at peace, looked around and loved the skyline of Pattaya, the sea front looked far away and the unending aquamarine looked fabulous. I could also see few small islands’ and wondered if anyone lives there. And then overcome by some strange emotion, I let out a loud noise, my voice only to be drowned by the sound of air and the speeding motorboat in front of me. I let my hands off the parachute straps, freely flying in the air enjoying every bit of the experience.

By now, I was landing back onto the platform and I could see Sudha focussing her DSLR on me and I waved to her. I didn’t want to land, but I could see the speedboat manoeuvring itself to the spot for me to land. Two gentlemen helped me land smoothly. 
Harness removed, parachute off, the speed boat gone, I realised in my head I was still flying.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

4 Friends, 3 nights, 2 destinations and one goal : Day one

This is a sequel to the earlier blog post. And thanks to Ramesh’s insistence on a live travel blog, I felt obliged to jot this down as a live travel blog may take sometime. I had the pleasure of following his live travel blog the year before last and I do feel I owe him one. So this one and the ones that are to follow this, is for you Ramesh. Gilsu I am about to induce more stomach fire in you.
The first day of our trip was hectic to say the least. We reached Pattaya early morning and went for a good walk on the main beach road, when Pattaya was slowing waking up from its slumber. Since Pattaya is a night town, I guess they wake up only by mid-morning or later. We opted for an English breakfast that morning, not just because the two others with me were pure vegetarians, but because the smells of the native food weren’t very appealing to us.
We had 3 activities to cover the first day – The first in the list was Art in Paradise, an enchanting place fully blown with 3D illusion art work which gave so much photo opportunity to us girls, we were behaving like a bunch of kids in a candy store. Did we care? Of course NO.

This museum allowed visitors to interact with the artwork. To make the photos look real and to become part of the art work itself, we had to find a cool angle so that the 3D paintings come alive.

Blending into 3D artwork

Doesn't this look real?

on a flying carpet at Art in Paradise

Didn’t realise that two and half hours can just fly past us in a jiffy. We literally ran through the last parts of the artwork as our pick up vehicle was already waiting for us. Quick lunch. No prizes for guessing – It was decent Indian food. The guide dropped us back at hotel. Quick change of dress. Purely for photographs and off to Nong Nooch village.

We had to travel around 40 minutes and the next 3 hours’ time flew again. They say time flies when you are having fun. Fun we did have. We all were sporting nose pins.. Yeah just for fun. At Nang Nooch village we went for the Thai Cultural show, Elephant show, butterfly garden, Dinosaur valley, did we see orchid garden? There is so much to see, we probably can spend an entire day there.. but by then the tiny girl, our guide in our Honda Civic was ushering us back. I am sure in Thailand time is shorter than in India.
with our nosepins :-)

one of the gardens at Nong nooch village

Thai culture show
Back to hotel, yep change of dress and off to Alcazar show.

An amazing cabaret show by the transvestite community of Thailand. We had read up so much about it, watched videos, but still could not believe these awesome people were actually transvestites. They would give the beauty queens of the world, a good run for their money. This was one show where we girls sat stunned in silence, a lot of emotions running through us – totally jaw dropping experience. The show was almost an hour in a state-of the–art theatre and was a feast to the eyes. We went up close to the performers, after the show was over and we still could not believe our eyes. They look attractive with the right curves and the right body language and most of the performers were ravishing.

And if you thought after all this we were done for the day… you are mistaken, we had heard about walking street in Pattaya and we wanted to have a look at that place. We walked up to that street – a street that busies itself in the night and filled with all types of bars and nightclubs where you can spot a whole lot of Lady-boys. We could not bear to walk 100 feet into that street, the pole dancers and all that exposure, we walked back quietly and quickly to the beach road. Realised this was not our kind of place.

And you thought we went straight to sleep, nooooooo….Inspite of getting  into a flight at  10.30 pm the previous night,  sleeping quite intermittently in the flight and in the cab to Pattaya,we were as energetic as we can be even after visiting so many places.

Our chatting and planning for the next day and we must have dozed off much beyond, 2 am, only to make sure we got up early to start a fresh new day.