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Hello and welcome to my blog formerly called Gypsy-K. Please note that I am only updating this blog while I am walking from Rome to Jerusalem from September 2015. My online home and permanent blog is at www.kymwilson.com.au. You can also sign up for pilgrim postcards and newsletters here. Thank you for being here and supporting my journey. With love and courage, Kym xx

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Love for sale

Short skirts revealing dark, slender legs.
Long black hair, flowing freely or tied back in pony tails, high or low.
Wafts of cheap perfume, intermingled.
Greetings of “Sawasdee Ka” or “Hullooooo” accompanied by friendly smiles on cherry red lips.
Some sit, some stand, some dance, hips swaying side to side
Tables decorated with bottles of Sangsom and beer, half empty, half full.
Neon lights highlight different names but the bars are all the same
As is the music that plays night after night….
"You can stand under my um-b-rella, ella, ella, eh, eh”
“Zo-om-bie, Zo-om-bie, Zo-om-bie-ie-ie-ie-ie-ie-ie”
“I wanna make up right now, na, na. Wish we never broke up right now, na, na”
Bar stools occupied by mainly greying, beer-bellied western men
Not a female farang in sight.
Drunken games of charades, help to bridge communication gaps
Others use a hand on the thigh or small of the back to say what needs to be said.
Passing tuk-tuks carrying more than one male elicit banshee-like screeches.
I’m stuck on the same scene.
In my neighbourhood, every night is a party and love is always for sale.

Friday, 22 May 2009

The Adventure of Being Alive

How often do you things on the spur of the moment? Do you live your life acting on what feels right in the moment or do you act only after thinking outcomes and consequences through thoroughly? Have you ever said no to something and then wondered what magic you may have experienced if only you had said yes?

I am a planner, extremely analytical, rational and logical. If I have to make a decision about a course of action, my brain will slice and dice it a zillion times, considering and ranking all the potential outcomes before I make the decision. Sometimes this can be instantaneous but if there is a lot of greyness and uncertainty in the outcomes then I may spend a lot of time mulling over my decision. Making the right decision is critical, it can lead to success or failure, happiness or dissatisfaction. Or at least that’s what I used to think.

This way of thinking and processing has its advantages, not the least being fully committed to a course of action. But it also has its disadvantages, particularly where a decision is needed immediately or where there is too much grey that the only way forward is to take the safest route. It can also suck the spontaneity out of life.

So along with all the friends and family I left behind to come on this journey, I very lovingly embraced the planner within me, thanked her for helping me in my journey to date, and left her at the departure gates at Melbourne Airport. It wasn’t a clear-cut farewell. Her shadow followed me and there is a hole where she used to reside within me. But thanks to the encouragement of a friend, the first seed of spontaneity has been planted, somewhat slowly, and now a new aspect of my personality has been allowed to grow in her place.

I had no intention of going to back Koh Phi Phi Don. It is a small but stunning island, a unique shape with massive limestone cliffs surrounded by clear blue seas. If you’ve seen the move The Beach, you will know exactly what I’m talking about. It mainly attracts the back packing crowd with not much to do but lie on the beach during the day (or snorkelling and diving for the more active) and drink buckets of Sangsom (Thai whiskey) at night. I have been there twice before and whilst I appreciate it’s beauty, I didn’t feel the need to visit for a third time.

So unexpectedly, last Sunday, I found myself sitting on the 8.30am ferry from Rassada Pier in Phuket making the 90 minute journey over to Phi Phi, once again. I had made the decision to go less than 18 hours previously after speaking to a friend who had been working as a dive instructor there and was fortunate to dive with whale sharks and manta rays. These amazing creatures had been sighted consistently for 2 weeks at a site called Hin Daeng which is 90 minutes by speed boat from Phi Phi.

As I know from my turtle-drought, there’s never any guarantees about what you will see when you go diving. And I wasn’t sure about forking out money on transport, additional accommodation and diving costs when there was no guarantee of the outcome. But we knew these creatures were in the area and I was reminded that it might be a once in a lifetime opportunity. So with that, the decision was made. I arranged my ferry transfer, packed a bag for a couple of days and off I went.

As I sat waiting for my ferry to depart, staring out the window at a grey, cloudy sky patched with mottled blue, I knew, regardless of the outcome, I had made the right decision to go. My stomach bubbled with excitement and surprisingly not with the anticipation of seeing whale sharks or manta rays but excitement about not knowing what would happen once I got there. I felt excitement at my excitement and with this, an aliveness because I didn’t know what would happen past this moment.

When I arrived at Phi Phi, the first thing I did was try to book on to a speedboat. I already understood that there was a chance the boats may not go if the weather conditions were bad. They wait for the fishermen to report back in the early evening before making the decision to send the dive boats the next day. But what I didn’t realise at that point, was being low season, there may not be enough customers to justify sending the boat. I had to wait until 9.30pm Sunday night to find out if I would be going to Hin Daeng. They only needed 6 customers to send the boat and they already had 4. As all the dive shops on the island will combine customers if there are only small groups, I was optimistic that I would be going. However, I went back that night and was given the bad news. Not enough customers to go! I was mildly disappointed but not earth-shatteringly devastated. Feeling the excitement of the adventure of the unknown had been enough.

As it turned out, I went diving anyway to King Cruiser Wreck, Shark Point and Palong Bay. It wasn’t the greatest diving experience I have ever had, thanks to a Divemaster who didn’t follow safe diving practices, didn’t plan dives and didn’t know the sites. It generally isn’t a good idea to leave your customers behind at 22 metres approaching a No Decompression Limit when your navigation is off and you can’t find the second part of a dive site. It also isn’t a good idea for a Divemaster to forget to check their own air and then tell customers that they almost ran out. This doesn’t inspire a lot of trust, confidence or portray professionalism. I was grateful that I had my dive computer with me, a level head and good training.

Despite these concerns, I was so grateful that my request to dive Palong Bay as our alternative third dive site paid off, and not long after descending we saw a turtle. I finally broke my turtle drought off 67 dives with no turtle sightings. There is nothing I can say in words to adequately describe the majesty and grace of a turtle in the sea. It truly is something you have to see and feel for yourself.

I hadn’t given up hope of getting to Hin Daeng. So at 9.30pm Monday night, I found myself trudging back to the dive shop with my Italian Dive buddy who was also hoping to dive Hin Daeng. If the boat was going, I was prepared to arrange an extra night’s accommodation and be at the dive shop at 7.20am in the morning to go and dive. Alas, it wasn’t to be. Again, there were not enough customers wanting to go.

Although I didn’t achieve the main objective, to dive with Manta Rays and Whale Sharks, it was worth the trip. I undertook the hike to the lookout for a stunning view of Phi Phi, I narrowly escaped being attacked by vicious monkeys, I drank buckets of Sangsom and Mojito with my diving buddy and his friends whilst watching "Muay Thai" boxing matches between bucket-inspired young girls, and I broke my turtle drought. I don’t think an adventure could be much better than that even if I planned it myself!

View from the ferry - heavy rain on the horizon

The steps I climbed up to the Lookout

Look cute don't they? They're not! They are vicious! Just after taking this photo, I was chased by 3 of them..fangs flared. I didn't realise there was a pack of them on the ground and I also didn't see the sign that warned to "Beware Vicious Monkeys". I ran for my life!

Ah, the view...stunning.

View from my hotel balcony

The bucket-inspired "Muay Thai" fight

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Cause and Effect

This morning’s dive was beautiful. The sun was shining, the water was clear and the ocean calm and flat with the odd small wave instead of the larger surf-like waves we sometimes encounter. The reef at Karon Noi beach is small, but has some beautiful creatures. On a dive you might be able to see moray eel, barracuda, puffer fish, nudibranchs, box fish, parrot fish, juvenile harlequin sweetlips, lizard fish, lobster, shrimp, octopus and there are various types of different coral. The visibility, particularly at this time of year, is variable. The first time I dived this site, visibility was very poor at around no more than 3 metres, particularly in the shallower sections. However, this morning, the visibility was great at around 10 metres.

This dive was the last training dive for Luke to finish his Divemaster Traineeship. He had to plan, brief and lead the dive. Naturally we gave him a hard time to test him by setting our gear up incorrectly, swimming off ahead of him, faking masks flooding and generally not following directions. However, he handled it all well and we eventually stopped giving him a hard time and just enjoyed the dive.

Towards the end of the dive, we came across a dead pufferfish. It was caught in a fishing net which had snagged against the coral. Arndt cut the net free and it floated to the surface. This was the first time I had seen the outcome of irresponsible fishing practices, the result of a net allowed to drift loose. At some sites, you can also see the damage to the coral caused by dynamite and cyanide fishing. This type of fishing causes devastating damage to corals that may have taken more than 100 years to grow.

After bottom time of 76 minutes, my longest ever dive, we were all low on air so we surfaced and started to swim back to shore. However, instead of the usual leisurely swim, our journey back became one of rubbish collecting as there were plastic bags floating everywhere at the surface. Plastic bags are devastating to many forms of marine life. Turtles, my favourite marine animal, mistake them for jelly fish and the consumption results in a slow and painful death.

Our second dive today was a conservation dive. A long plastic and steel rope had sunk to the ocean floor and was lodged over some of the coral so we devised a plan to raise it to the surface and take it back to shore. The visibility on this dive was dreadful, the worst visibility I have ever experienced. The water was like soup, the sand had been churned up so much I could only see about one metre in front of me. I tried to assist as best I could by collecting the loose circular plastic floatation devices from the sand but the visibility was so bad I could barely see the bottom yet alone find the loose ones to collect. Nevertheless, we succeeded with our mission, raised the rope and took it back to shore.

After stowng it away safely we walked back to the dive shop to dismantle our gear. I had almost finished and was just rinsing the sand off my feet when I noticed some big black goop on the top of my foot and someone pointed out there was an even bigger goop on the bottom of my foot. I started rubbing at it and then it got stuck all over my hands and caught under my finger nails. It wouldn’t wash off with water. I wasn’t the only one with big black goop attached to them. Turns out it was oil. A ship must have passed and dumped oil which had now turned up on the beach.

We trudged down to the sand and tried to rub it off with sand but I was unsuccessful. So I returned to the dive shop and scrubbed at my hands and feet with the dish washing liquid I usually use to defog my mask. After 30 minutes of scrubbing, I managed to get most of the oil off although some was still stuck under my now thin, jagged and sore fingernails. I couldn’t care less about ruining my nails, they are nails and will grow back. What concerned me was that it took me 30 minutes of scrubbing to remove a couple of smallish globs of oil from me. Imagine the effect on wildlife and the effort required to scrub them clean when they are covered in the stuff.

What also concerned me was that in one day, I witnessed four environmentally damaging phenomena; plastic bag pollution, drifting fishing nets, oil spill and potential man-made coral damage. I have not personally experienced this before and I felt shocked, concerned, disheartened that all of this was man-made and that I saw this in just one little dive site in one little corner of the world. How much damage are we doing, and who is taking responsibility for preventing the causes and fixing the effects? It prompted me to write this poem:

Is there any hope? Can we make haste before it’s too late?
Or will we continue to pollute and suffocate?
When you see it before you what do you do?
Do something about it or turn a blind eye too?
Whose problem is it? Is it mine? Is it yours?
Is it our government's or is industry the cause?
Do you over-consume or throw out without thinking?
Ever wonder how this affects the water you’re drinking?
And what about our rivers, oceans and seas?
Did you ever stop to think about how your actions affects any of these?
We all know it’s an issue of which we talk and complain.
But we leave it to others to fix and campaign.
We are all the consumers, the polluters, the cause.
But who does the fixing? Just Government and laws?
It’s up to every single one of us, and there’s much we can do.
We just have to realise and accept, it’s each of our responsibility too.
And most importantly we must take action today.
Tomorrow, which never comes, is a deadly delay.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Just Call Me Master

This week, I found myself rolling with the waves more than the punches. I have spent three days at the dive centre, two days on the dive boat and only one day at Muay Thai. Today has been a day of rest. It’s been a busy week but well worth it. I’m pleased to announce that you may now call me Master…Master Scuba Diver that is. I took a slight detour on the journey to becoming a Divemaster to become a Master Scuba Diver first (the highest non-professional certification with PADI).

My lovely instructor, Emma, needed to certify a few more courses before Tuesday so she could undertake her Staff Instructor course and I only needed to complete three more specialty courses to qualify for Master Scuba Diver. The timing was perfect and outcome symbiotic so I jumped at the opportunity.

For my final three specialties, I chose to complete Peak Performance Buoyancy, Underwater Naturalist and Underwater Digital Photographer. All three courses are complementary as you need to have great control of your buoyancy to take photos underwater and it helps to be able to recognise what you are taking photos of.

This was my first foray into underwater photography. I really like taking photos on land, although I don’t practice as much as I could. I discovered it’s just as much fun underwater but so much more challenging. There are so many factors to manage such as trying to stay in position when there is current, getting close to subjects at the right angle to maximise natural light without touching coral, being able to hold the camera steady in mid-water with nothing to hold onto, uncooperative subjects that just keep moving and I was only using a point and shoot camera. However, the challenge can be addictive and I loved it so much I am considering getting my own underwater camera kit. I may have found a new hobby within a hobby.

I am also in the midst of completing my Divemaster course. This is the first level of professional diving that will enable me to gain employment in the diving industry. It qualifies me to conduct recreational diving activities as well as assist instructors From here, many people undertake further courses to become Open Water or Master Scuba Diver Instructors.
This is the most demanding and challenging dive course I have undertaken so far. When I read about it, I thought it sounded interesting but I had no real comprehension of what it involved until I started. Let me summarise for you:

• Time-trialled, points based swimming tests including a 400 metre swim, 800 metre snorkel, 15 minute float/treading water with hands above water last two minutes, 100 metre tired diver tow in full scuba gear
• Points based demonstration of 20 skills including mask removal and replacement underwater, hovering mid water, out of air demonstration. These skills must be demonstrated slowly, exaggerated and in a way that a new scuba diver would be able to copy and perform the skill back to you. Sound easy? It’s not, unless you practice, practice, practice.
• Mapping a dive site including lay out, description of key features, depths, so that you can provide a briefing to other divers.
• Exchange full scuba gear including mask and fins underwater with another diver whilst sharing only one regulator (air source)
• Exams on Physics, Physiology, Dive Equipment, Decompression Theory and Dive Skills & Environment all requiring greater than 75% to pass.
• Assisting Instructors with various courses in confined and open water. Your performance is assessed and you need at least 3 out of 5 on each criteria to pass.

In the last week I have completed 3 of the 4 swimming tests, practiced the skills, started learning all the theory and started assisting courses. I have also completed my Oxygen provider course so I can administer oxygen back in Australia and my Enriched Air certification so I can dive with a gas blend known as Nitrox. Nitrox has a higher concentration of oxygen than normal air allowing greater bottom time without requiring decompression stops.

On Wednesday, I assisted my first open water course. I went out on the dive boat to Phi Phi Island to assist a Discover Scuba Diver course. This is a “try” dive for someone who hasn’t dived in open water before or completed an open water scuba diver course. This was the first time I have really been responsible for another diver in the water. It was a great experience but this was not “fun” diving for myself. My attention was constantly on my diver making sure that she was safe and enjoying her dive. Fortunately, my diver was very good for a first timer and had good control over her buoyancy. I was able to let her swim along by herself and only had to grab her a couple of times to adjust her buoyancy to prevent her from drifting too far up at risk of shooting to the surface or sinking too deep.

The other diver my instructor, Ina, was looking after was not such a natural. If we didn’t hang onto her, she had a tendency to swim off into the blue or start floating up to the surface quite rapidly. At one stage she just started floating up so quickly that I had to dash up to her, grab onto her tank and dump the air in my BCD to bring both of us back to our other divers. Later during the same dive, Ina, was showing us one at a time, a yellow sea dragon hiding under some coral. The diver had a look and was sent over near me to allow the next diver to have a look. I assumed she would stop near me, but no, she kept swimming into the deep blue and didn’t look like she was going to stop anytime soon. I had to swim after her, grab her tank, turn her around and bring her back to the rest of the group.

This is all part and parcel of being a Divemaster. It’s a great feeling to see the joy in the eyes of a first time diver and know that you have helped them to enjoy the experience. At this stage I’m not so sure that I would want to work as a Divemaster. Maybe I’m just selfish, but I still prefer diving for fun for me and now I’ve had a taste of underwater photography, I want to do more. If only fun diving wasn’t so expensive. I’m still committed to completing my Divemaster course for the knowledge and skills but only time will tell if I will ever use it for employment purposes.

Sea Fun Dive Boat - Choksomporn (Lucky) 7



Massive School of Barracuda


File Fish

Self-Portrait

Post Dive Happiness

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Broccoli and Respect

Somewhat reluctantly, I called Mr Saveak, my taxi driver, to come and pick me up and drive me to Tiger Muay Thai training camp this afternoon. My energy levels are low as a result of sleeping poorly, the demands of my Divemaster course and not enough broccoli . Yes you read correctly. I used to eat broccoli every single day. It was my staple vegetable and I just can’t find any here. Stir fry vegetables have very little green content comprising mainly baby corn, cucumber, mushrooms and tomatoes. Even the salad I have had so far comprises largely onion and tomatoes. I used to eat mainly green vegetables and now I’m getting very little of anything green and it is green I am craving.

So I’m feeling physically drained and training was the last thing I wanted to do. However, as Sunday is a day of rest for Muay Thai trainers, the next opportunity to train would be Monday. This would be five days since my last training session which is ‘too long between drinks’ especially given I want to learn and practice technique whilst I am here. Despite my inner resister begging me to stay at home, read a book and relax, I dialled Mr Saveak and booked him to pick me up at three o’clock.

I arrived early and lay myself down on a shaded section of the blue mats, waiting for the trainers and others to arrive so we could start skipping. My favourite trainer, Dang, sat himself down near me and we had another disjointed conversation. “Why you no train yesterday?” he demanded. “I was going to but I had to go into the dive shop yesterday for training”. He nodded, in understanding, I think.

It was almost half past three o'clock and I was still the only one there. “Just one today” he said, with a mischievous glint in his brown eyes. I had already noticed that people will turn up just before 4 o'clock to avoid skipping with the heavy ropes for thirty minutes, which is both boring and hard work. Their only punishment for doing this is thirty push ups, not really punishment compared to the skipping. I was still hopeful that I wouldn’t be the only one training. However, it was Saturday, and according to Dang, Saturday afternoons are generally quiet. Regardless, I looked around hoping to see other people walking up. If I was the only one training, I would be slaughtered for sure! Fortunately a few moments later, Jerfish, a young Indonesian guy walked up. I felt relieved there would at least be one other to share my pain. Gradually some more guys turned up so there was five of us training in total.

After skipping and stretching, we started to shadow box. The last two sessions we followed a trainer showing us various combinations that we copied. Today we made up our own combinations. Whilst we shadow-boxed, some of the trainers helped some of the guys with technique whilst the others joked amongst themselves. The mood was quite jovial. It was Saturday, the last session of the week and a small class.

Roes, my second favourite trainer, interrupted my shadow boxing, pointed to a metal mug and motioned for me to draw out a piece of paper. I had no idea what the purpose of this exercise was but went along with it anyway. I opened the piece of paper which had Thai writing on it and handed it to Roes. He started laughing, slapped me on the back and then hugged me. It turned out that I drew out the name of the trainer who would instruct us at the end of the class while all the others scrubbed and disinfected the padded mats. I still have no idea why Roes thought it was so funny because he had to scrub the mats as well.

I continued shadow-boxing and Dang came over me and motioned for me to jab and cross whilst he padded for me with his hands. “Right kick” he said so I executed a right kick. “More power” he said. So I repeated the kick managing to get him in the side. He clutched at his side, pretending that it hurt before he started laughing.

He came back over and stood in front of me again. “Right block” he said, then kicked at me with his left leg. I stood in my stance, fists guarding my head, raised my right knee to just inside my arm, to block his kick and his shin connected with mine. I winced a little. His shins are as hard as rock and mine are like putty in comparison. Although he didn’t kick hard, the impact still hurt. “Left block” he said and kicked at me with his right leg. I repeated the drill with my left leg. “Good” he said and walked off.

I recommenced shadow boxing but my shin started to become quite painful. I bent down and looked at it, and there was a big, painful lump forming where his shin had connected with mine. I rubbed it lightly. It was really tender and the lump was getting bigger. Roes was standing near me and came over to see if I was OK. I stood up to continue shadow-boxing and saw that Dang was standing in front of me, his back to me, talking to another trainer. I indicated to Roes, it was Dang’s fault and playfully executed a front kick with my right leg and tapped him on his butt. Big mistake! The other trainer, saw this, threw his hands onto his hips, loudly and indignantly shouted at me, “You, you respect teacher. 20 push ups!” whilst glaring at me.

My mouth actually dropped open in shock. The mood had been so jovial and we had been joking earlier. I didn’t intend any disrespect by my action, surely they knew that. The trainer continued to glare at me. I didn’t want to be shouted at again in front of everyone so I dropped and did my 20 push ups without further delay. I got back up and kept shadow boxing, keeping my eyes down in fear of further reprimand.

Shadow boxing finished and it was time to wrap our hands before putting on the gloves for pad work. I grabbed my bright yellow hand wraps and sat down to start wrapping. Dang came and sat in front of me and took my wraps from me so he could wrap my hands for me. He looked at my shins and prodded at where the bumps were. “I fix” he said. He wrapped my hands for me and then fetched a bottle half filled with a light yellow oil. The label was covered in Thai but had “Boxing oil” written on it in English. He rubbed it generously into both my shins and gave my calves a somewhat painful massage before cracking all my fingers and toes. I think this was his way of apologising for injuring me.

Fortunately I finished the rest of the session without further incident. Needless to say, from now on I will always avoid sparring with Dang and will always, always respect the teacher!

The camp is overlooked by the Great Buddha in the distance



The Beginners Training Area