Monday, June 29, 2009

Enchanting Holland

After chasing the sun across Eurasia and experiencing glorious views of hundreds of spectacular miles of cloud-intimidating sunlit peaks of the Himalayans, Maggie and I eventually arrived in Holland from Thailand...still in broad daylight. It'd seemed so long since I'd seen the sun setting, and in tandem with the required acclimatising from long-term hot tropical temperatures, I caught myself thinking I just might've ended up in the frigid Arctic where the summer sun simply rebels to lie down.

We had a great time with Savannah and visiting Kees whose truck I feel priviledged to have driven through much of Africa with family and friends. With Hein, a newly met friend and outstanding host with whom we stayed, the five of us visited Vollendam which is a quaint, tourist-oriented fishing village where Kees treated us to an apparently very popular and traditional dish that was frequently seen being sold from roadside vendors...six inch salted but raw herring. We three Watkins had no problem eating the bite-size-sliced fish that was served with diced raw onions, but somehow minus the salt. As we were chewing away, however, I wondered why neither Kees nor Hein participated. Hmmmm.... I think I'd rather back-track to the town of Edam and taste-test the delicious cheese made there. Now that's what I'd consider a very enjoyable and salubrious food product!

Nearby, a small museum had on display traditional Dutch attire including, of course, the famous wooden shoes, but in addition there was a most unusual and truly unique room. Here one could find scores of fascinating floor to ceiling and wall to wall art comprised solely of innumerable cigar bands with each of several brands having their own identifying band design!

It was fun to meet up again with Wes, who also traveled with us in southern Africa for several weeks, when our group of five attended a Percussion Festival where Maggie and I met the zany and friendly members of a percussion band to which Kees belongs. Hein, Maggie and I had such a good time that we stayed until the wee morning hours and I found myself chuckling at how ironic life can be. Along with many local and a few international groups, here we were in Amsterdam of all places, once again listening to the amazingly talented and fully native-dressed drummers from West Africa's Senegal, a country we'd visited and which is world renown for this type of truly energetic music.

I thoroughly enjoyed Amsterdam, well-known for its many flood control canals placed in concentric "rings" throughout the city. As is ubiquitous throughout the country, there are drawbridges weighted at one end and also arched stone bridges built so low over the water that one must occasionally duck the head or lose it! We attempted to complete a city-wide tour but somehow opted to convert it to a self-guided tour of the walking variety. After taking in some impressive Cathedrals, various historic government buildings, Dam Square, the Amsterdam Dungeon, and dodging the perceived millions of bicycle riders, our feet screamed "enough", and we took the 30 minute train back "home" north to Alkmaar. Just for the record, we simply "skirted" the Red Light District.

Still, another day found us traveling northwards effortlessly gliding along what I'd rate easily as perfect highways considering circumstances of prior biways encountered. We whizzed past rows of modern energy-producing windmills with their mega-gigantic arms rotating high in the heavens and drove the entire 30 kilometer long Afsluitdijk (Closure) Dike, the vital earth, sand and stone element keeping the vicious unyielding North Sea at bay. If this monster dike goes under, the ensuing
catastrophic mayhem will make Katrina seem like a baby!

It's true, just as Ammon has alluded to in previous blogs, living perpetually in tank-tops, shorts, and flip-flops in warm tropical weather can be extremely addictive. And yet, as attractive as that may sound, when I later felt the invigorating sun on my face and the crisp, cold wind in my hair as I cycled alongside Holland's canals and flat verdant fields so evocatively dotted with those same iconic windmills Don Quixote once challenged, I'd joyfully found another worthy entry on my grand list of things one should experience.

Smiles to all,


Saturday, June 27, 2009


It's official now. Today I did the last of the requirements and I am now signed off as a new Divemaster!! What a great experience. I've had a lot of fun with this and the last few days have been perfect. I've been leading fun divers as my final tasks and the visibility was perfect and we just had a great time. I'm now an underwater tour guide, haha.
At the same time I can't not just sit here and wonder about the weirdness of life. Did I actually just do this? I still have trouble believing it. I am not supposed to like this kind of thing..... I finished in less than a month which is faster than most around here and I really haven't thought much about what exactly is next so don't ask.
I guess I will try to stick around here for a while and beg for work but I have to leave Thailand in a couple days because my visa will run out. I need to go back to Malaysia to apply for a new one so I will probably go back to Penang for a day or two. I'll let you know how that goes when I get through with it. It'll be the first time I'll actually go anywhere on my own so it'll probably be really strange and really emphasize how much the trip has changed. Honestly I've been so busy diving and with new friends here and trying to stay healthy that I haven't given a lot of thought to anything off this island. At the same time I guess they haven't given me much thought either because I have no idea what anyone else is up to although I have noticed that there are new photos up for you guys to look at.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Another day in Paradise

Wow oh wow. I TOTALLY understand why most of the instructors and senior divemasters all thought they were coming here for a week or two and ended up staying years! I am having an awesome time. Contrary to popular suspicion this has nothing to do with Thai women (or any women for that matter). It has just been my goal to live in nothing but shorts if I so choose and this is the place to do it. I've worn my sandals once in over a week (and only because I had to walk all the way into town, 15 minutes away!).
I don't really know where to start trying to describe what it's like here but I am very tempted to stay here forever too. I won't. As you should realize by now, I have a very strong restless wandering syndrome so will eventually move on again. How long from now? I don't know.
The divemaster is a long program as there is a lot to do. I have swim tests, knowledge tests (yes, there are actually a few classes), I have to have a minimum of 60 dives, lead divers on tours (I actually did a mock tour for training the other day and they said I was great, very aware of my "group". Hmmm, I wonder why?), have to learn all the basic skills to the level of demonstrable quality for beginners (included in this is the "stress test" where you and your buddy have to exchange all of your gear underwater while sharing one regulator doing buddy breathing while the instructors harass you), do a mapping project of a site underwater, do scuba reviews with people that used to dive but haven't in a long time, and assist instructors in all the courses. The minimum time for all this is about a month with the way all the dives work out.
I'm now officially starting my second week and have already finished all theory and exams, started the mapping, done the first of 2 skills sets, did the mock fun dive leading (I need 40 dives to do it for real and am currently at 35), and have already started assisting my first open water course. I've been busy and they know I mean business around here now. My social life has been a little neglected though I have started playing nightly volleyball recently. I am having trouble typing this because my fingers and arms are so sore, haha. Any free time I have during the day is used for "fun dives", just getting more comfortable with the waters and dive sites around here. I've done quite a few more night dives this week but the first one we did here was by far the best.
I don't dive every day but usually take off a day after 4 days of diving to give me ears and head a break. It's very tiring and dehydrating to be out on the boat and diving actually. Right now a typical day for me looks something like this. I have 2 options, morning or afternoon dive. The boat goes out at 7:45am or 12:45pm with every other day having a night dive at 6pm. The morning and afternoon dives are double dives while the night is a single. If I'm on the afternoon boat I still seem to get up just after 7am to start studying, eat and watch the beach, dive and come back around 5pm to have my first of 2 dinners (believe it or not but I eat 4 times a day but still think i'm burning way too much energy to gain any weight). They play one or two movies at the restaurant so if it is any good I stay and watch and have my second dinner at 8pm. By 9-10pm I am totally exhausted and start wandering my way up to bed. Maybe a little boring but I'm out of shape or something.... A morning dive like today I got up at 6:30am, dove until noon, had lunch, hung out in the open water class lecture, and then played volleyball for almost 3 hours, I'm eating dinner as I write this and then I'll probably fall asleep as I have more morning dives tomorrow morning.
The weather here isn't always great. When it rains it rains hard but usually not for too long. It's the wind and the heavy waves that are terrible because they send the boat out for dives every day because it is that busy here. There are enough dive sites around the island there is usually somewhere sheltered to dive in, but getting there is terrible. Remember, I don't like boats much. But the water is always warm and so is the weather. No dressing up required, day or night, rain or shine, it is comfortable enough to get away with just wearing shorts.
About 2 weeks ago, the wind and waves were strong enough that they sunk one of the small dive boats from another company as it was parked just off the beach. They towed it out to one of the shallow dive sites where it is not the only "wreck" dive out here. It's pretty funny how excited everyone was. I've dived it day and night now but it is so new looking that there really isn't a lot of point to it. Even the fish haven't found it yet to hang out in....
I have also been suckered into buying my own gear. Money money where are you? I seem to be spending what I don't have..... I now have new fins and dry bag and will soon get a mask I guess. The fins cost more than my month's rent, ouch! Anyway, it's probably a good thing I really can't afford the instructor's course because right now I'd be tempted....
Mom was right, I am not going to be online much and things will be relatively repetitive for me for quite a while but I will try to get on and continue to update the blog from time to time. It has not ended yet. In the meantime, it would be nice for the others to also write and keep it going. We may be separated but that doesn't mean that I'm the only one doing exciting things.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Splitting up and Leaving Thailand.

It was a sad farewell for me after spending the last 4 years travelling in such a tightly knit cabal with Ammon. He has been an amazing leader and we are for the first time on our own again. Leaving Ammon in paradise was certainly not easy either hahaha, as we drove off in the back of a pickup truck heading to the ferry. Our journey to Duessldorf was long long long but by no means one of our longest. We left around 5pm on a 4 hour ferry ride in very choppy whitecap water. Brandon was having a thrilling time on the bow of the little boat getting drenched with every giant wave, and with the water being 30C this was no hardship. I just watched all the other passengers getting sick over the side of the boat. I did also find the ride quite exciting with only a little worry of sinking, even though to get off the dock in the first place was a huge fiasco. I was sure the drivers had never done it before with all the crashing into the dock and severly marring our boat. The wind was too strong and we finally had to get a tow out into the sea in the direction we wanted to go. Thank goodness we were not very full of passengers (or stomach). Upon arrival in Chumporn we got onto a beautiful big coach bus and headed to Bangkok, (after the worst meal we had eaten in all of SEA) arriving there early at 4am. It was a comfy ride but I still am not able to sleep in any kind of moving vehicle gggrrrr (so annoying). After little hassle we got an honest taxi driver using a meter and off to the airport we zoomed (the only way taxis know how to drive). This time we were early and had some time to kill before checking into our flight. Next we boarded the airbus at 10:30am and off to Duesseldorf we flew in an extremely smooth plane. I really enjoyed this flight because we flew over everywhere that I had driven 3 years before, incredable to see it all from the air knowing exactly what it feels and looks like on the ground. We had a spectacular view of the Himilayas and so many of the Stans (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan...) that I had traveled though. The flight was 12 hours and we had a 5 hour time change, so it was somewhere around 11pm Thailand time and 6pm German time when we arrived. Kees and Savannah picked us up, I never thought that this is where we would meet again but it was fun to see Savannah and Kees after 6 months. They both look great and they say we do too with our dark Thailand tans. Jumping into Kees' car we drove the 3 hours to Alkmaar, Holland where we are thoroughly enjoying the gorgeous countryside and small towns. I could live here and I can't say that about many places that I have been. BUT we are FREEZING...... take me back to the tropics!!!
Oh... Ammon will be having a great time Scuba diving everyday for the next few months. But since internet is totally unresonably priced he probably won't write very often. I will tell you about Holland soon and put up photos of Thailand and The Netherlands in a week or so once I get back home to Vancouver so don't give up on us and our journeys yet, there really will be more to come.