I love being underwater. I'm not really such a huge fan of being on top of water. I like a gentle boat ride or a kayak around the bay well enough but I get nervous in big weather on the ocean. But underneath the waves I'm as happy as can be. There is no other feeling quite like it, floating along as though my body weighed nothing, with clouds of tiny fish gathering around me and skoals of barracuda flashing past in the murky distance.
I feel entirely at rest and at peace and, more than anything else, in awe of the amazing marine world. The life is bursting out all around down there, the brightly coloured coral in all shapes and sizes - this one shaped and coloured like a large exposed brain (and named, originally, 'brain coral') that one blue and frilled like old-fashion lace collars. I love the pink anenome with finger-like tendrils swaying in the gentle current, the tip of each dipped in the palest pink. It has it's own perfectly matching fish to live amongst its waving tendrils named, you guessed it, the 'pink anenome fish'.
Here, hiding under a rock, is a blue spotted stingray eyeing me warily as I turn myself upside down and hang in the water to peer into his hiding place. There, peeping out of her hole, is a moray eel with motled blues and yellows down her belly and a suspicious look on her face as she creeps out to see whether Kung's finger is really something worth eating.
I love the comraderie between divers underwater. On one dive this week another diver spotted a sea turtle lying in the coral, taking a rest and having a look around. He saw Kung and I passing by and caught our attention in order to be sure we didn't miss the sight. I sat floating in the water a few metres away from the turtle for several minutes, just admiring his lovely beaky face.
Once we get out of the water, too, we maintain that special connection that comes from having entered together into the world beneath, from having shared those 50 or 60 minutes of silent reverie, pointing out different delights to one another but never speaking.
This week I shared these experiences with three very cool and very capable young Thai men - from left to right they are Team (dive master), Kung (dive instructor) and Buy (trainee dive master). They are all from Bangkok and have escaped the city to make a living as dive masters on Koh Tao. They were funny, and gentle and reassuringly professional - despite looking extraordinarily young.
Finally - although I still can't put the links in properly, I wanted to give you all the information about this amazing holiday.
The retreat was a Radiance Retreat (http://www.radianceretreats.com/Thailand_2007.html) by Jessie Chapman (http://www.intoyoga.com/) held at Kamalaya Resort (http://www.kamalaya.com/) in Koh Samui, Thailand. I can't recommend them all highly enough. Jessie is a fabulous teacher and a lovely woman, her retreat was demanding, in terms of yoga practice, for someone like me whose home practice has become a bit lazy of late. The resort was perfect, all week long I was in bliss, the rooms, the facilities, the Wellness Centre, the pool and the food were all amazing. The retreat was Jessie's first in Thailand but she has been doing similar retreats in Bali and Byron Bay, Australia for some years. Again, all very highly recommended.
The dive company was Black Tip Divers (http://www.blacktipdiving.com/) in Ao Tanote, Koh Tao, Thailand. They are a great little company, smaller than many on the other side of the island, so you are diving in much smaller groups (one day we were only two divers, and the other diver was doing a dive for her advanced course so I dived alone with the dive master). They are Thai owned and run and the staff are good sorts. I can't recommend the accommodation only because they don't have sea view rooms. I stayed in the neighbouring Family Resort, where the rooms were very, very basic but I had a seafront room with a hammock on my deck and room to do my morning yoga looking out over the bay.
Today I'm back in Bangkok, and while I'm making travel recommendations I might as well give a shout out to the Shanghai Inn (http://www.shanghai-inn.com/) which was originally discovered by my boyfriend when we came to Bangkok last year. He arrived a half day earlier than me and managed to uncover what must be the hippest and best value for money budget hotel in Bangkok. This is now my third stay and it is consitently good, great service, great location, great beds, free wifi in room and best of all - fabulous decor!