By Geertrui Tavernier
Photos: Diving shots by New Way Diving School, shot of Gerry and Steph by Isabell n Wedin.
Event: Diving course (PADI open water course + Advanced course) + meeting new best friends
Venue: Koh Tao, Thailand
Date: December ’13 – January ‘14
“You hang out with best friends you hadn’t met yet,” says Raj when I ask him what he likes most about traveling. He is right.
After 11 days of silence during the meditation retreat, a bunch of us girls ended up on the same boat heading to Koh Tao. Having watched one another’s moves in quietude had left us with some labelling impressions of one another.
Our talks proved us wrong many times, showing yet again how judgmental the human mind can be. Steph and Bianca, two jolly girls from different ends of Australia, decided to join me for the PADI open water diving course.
Koh Tao turned out to be the ideal place for that. This magical island of Thailand’s southern Gulf coast has it all: pristine beaches and eternal sunshine, a laid-back and slow lifestyle, healthy foods and shakes, amiable local Thais and expats, and a range of parties satisfying most people’s inner party animal.
After a, I have to admit, quite boring, theoretical introduction to scuba diving, we geared up on the boat and jumped into the water. Not before a safety check of our diving buddy of course. Bring Rizzla, Weed And Fire or BCD, Releases, Weights, Air and Final check.
Wow! The underwater world is amazing! Oh so peaceful too. As a diver, you are supposed to move slowly and gracefully, take deep and slow breathes. It is like a meditation practice, if you’d like.
The colours, the many fishes and other sea creatures, the delayed sounds reaching you in between the loud bubbling of your own breathing, the communication with hand gestures and eye contact, it all adds up to an incredibly overwhelming experience.
The fear I might have had before with the thought of being so deep below the surface, was subdued completely, when every cell of my body got enticed by being amidst the deep blue.
The cherry on the cake, however, is that you get to share all of it with like-minded people. I had just met these two beautiful souls but it felt as if we went back several lifetimes. The homey atmosphere at our small diving school completed the whole picture.
Several beers after a hard day of diving with the whole crew and all divers became a much-desired must and ended quite a few times in a memorable (beach) party. Sharing many travel and life stories, contemplating and debating about how a life journey can be meaningful and enjoyable, sending our wishes into the dark sky on a lampion, getting absolutely thrilled on a laughing gas balloon.
How to part ways again when you feel connected like that? I decided to postpone it.
After two weeks exploring parts of Malaysia and Singapore, I visited Bianca on Koh Lanta, where she was proving her love for animals yet again by volunteering at an animal care centre. Even though dengue fever had caught her, her big heart didn’t fail to move me profoundly.
After, I returned to Koh Tao where Steph and I got reunited. We did our advanced diving course and bonded even more. The night dive made me feel ecstatic. Silently descending into the dark, only noticing what your torch sheds with light: a big sleeping turtle in its cave or a huge crab dragging along its enormous shell. But most magical of all is the twinkling shine of the phosphorescent plankton when you move in the water once you turn of your light source. It is like swimming between the stars.
The moment of goodbye is inevitable and suddenly there. That’s the hard part about being on the road and I dread it immensely. I shed a tear when Steph went one way and I, the other.
Still, I am so grateful for these and several other encounters. I cherish the memories of great fun and meaningful connections with many other people I have met. Steph and Bianca stick out, but there were many others. I would not have wanted to miss those just to avoid the pain of parting ways.
I am convinced it is not goodbye but see you later, wherever on this planet this may be.