Same Same, But Different

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Alright, alright. Yeesh, who knew you guys were actually reading after all this time. I’m bashfully apologetic at the lack of recent content. To be honest, it’s been so much “same same but different,” to borrow the Thai epithet, that I didn’t think there’d be much to say. I have actually been working, glacially, on a post about nudibranchs, so with the fire lit under my ass maybe I’ll turn around and get a double post up soon. We’re staying in our friend Ben’s room for the week while he’s in Laos because we have a rather unfortunate case of bedbugs in ours. Camille looks like a gross, flesh-colored Dalmatian. (She’s not reading this. I can say what I want.). But, the upside is we have true-blue unfettered Internet here. I’m in bed typing! Oh joy! Small pleasures.

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So, I guess we’ll begin with my birthday, which was March 22nd.  Being that I’m not one for unfettered attention-seeking, I purposefully downplayed it. This included removing it from Facebook and also refraining from any discussion of the date while in the shop. It’s a bit ironic, because I’m the first to declare any old reason as reason enough to celebrate. Yes, I am *that* girl who insists on marking month anniversaries in relationships. Mostly so I can eat cake or go get ice cream. But whatever. The only downside to this was that I was a little too good at it. The evening before my birthday, we went to the shop at 9 as we always do to get our assignments. Right now, we are 2 of 3 dive master trainees (DMT’s) working through the program, the third being Dani G., our accomplice in mediocrity. Generally, this means that whatever our mentor is doing, we are shadowing. There happened to be a King Cruiser trip on my birthday, a ferry that was sunk in 1997 in a failed insurance scheme. It’s far out there, so we only run a few trips a month. What I learned was that both Camille and Dani G. were being sent when I was not. This was not only a blow in that it’s a cool dive that I still have yet to do, but it also deprived me of one of my best friends for most of the day.

Nevertheless, I decided to continually evade recognition if for no other reason than to see my mentor’s face when he realized that he had forgotten. So I went out on the boat with Peter and three Danish customers who were doing their open water certification. They were really nice, as all my clients thus far have been. I did have the standard, “oh my god these kids are just out of high school and I’m 25” moment, but there’s aging gracefully for you. I tried unsuccessfully to hide out on the front of the boat during lunch, but what I did not count on was Liz, one of our DM’s. She remembered, and she was ruthless. Speaking with her swoon-worthy British accent, she threatened to bring the entire boat of people to me unless I willfully submitted to a round of “Happy Birthday.” Which I did, and I will admit to savoring Peter’s widened pupils and the straight line of his mouth as realization dawned. It sounds vindictive, but really I just thought it was humorous.

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A nice little snapshot of boat life.

The rest of the day was fairly banal, but this is not to suggest that I did not enjoy it. I took a nap, which is a  lofty pleasure on any occasion. Camille surprised me with a cake from the ever-impressive Phi Phi Bakery, which I subsisted on for the next 2 days. We played cards in the room. I did get another sing-song at dinner. We went to Unni’s, a restaurant I had avoided up until now because of the price, but I had my first taste of avocado since arriving in Thailand and I’m still dreaming about that bruschetta weeks later. Yet another thing to add to the list of dishes I need to recreate. I was plied with alcohol as is customary, and we ended the night with Peter and Colin in a beachfront bar before stumbling home. All in all a perfectly respectable birthday. And I only threw up once on the boat the next morning, so I count it as a victory.

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A few days later we had a rare day off, so Camille and I decided to follow in the literal footsteps of Will and Rafa and hike around the back of the island to get up to the viewpoint. It’s a big draw on Phi Phi, but the standard route follows a near-vertical concrete staircase. I’d much rather get lost in a jungle. We rented a long-tail boat to take us around the island, landing us on a pristinely empty white sand beach. Phi Phi, while visually stunning, is not so big on infrastructure. Once we were dropped off we had to make our own way down sandy paths, through quiet and isolated villages and up into the dense jungle of the high hill that separates the stink of Tonsai Village from the more remote spaces. While it was (as usual) oppressively hot, it was nice to get out and just be silly. There has been some drama on the island that came back on us unexpectedly, so disappearing for an afternoon allowed for some needed distance. The viewpoint was lovely, certainly worth the trip, although I couldn’t for the life of me think of a novel pose for the requesite photo. Camille, despite what she would say if she were not napping next to me (seriously Camille, it’s almost 5), is clearly the more photogenic of this duo.

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Other than this quick backwoods jaunt, we’ve really just been busy. Hence the lack of posts. It’s been almost 2 weeks since I’ve had a bit of time to sit in the bakery and write anything. Or even just read a chapter of something before bed without passing out halfway through. Camille’s mentor was offered a better job and ran with it, so she’s come back on with Peter and I. We’ve really ramped up the pace of the program. In the last week or so we’ve lead customer dives, given briefings, crafted emergency plans, rigged spare tanks for deep dives (try tying knots underwater sometime), conducted search patterns, mapped dive sites, and run through skills until we could do them with our eyes closed. Some of them I actually do close my eyes. Our friend Ben, another instructor who also owns a climbing shop on the island, has become a sort of secondary mentor and I’m sure I can speak for us both when I say that we are better divers for his efforts. I’m learning a lot, and my diving has improved markedly. I’ve been wracking up dives quicker than in any other period of my life, and a few days ago I hit 100. Not a big number among seasoned instructors, but respectable nonetheless. Tradition dictates that it should be a naked dive, but given that I had a customer with a massive camera rig for my 100, I opted to postpone. But it’s tucked away for a rainy day, which I’ve heard we can expect a lot more of with the slow season coming on.

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All we have left are a few small projects: underwater mapping of one of our sites, and a search and recovery exercise were we work out search patterns on the bottom. Mapping actually makes me a bit nervous, I’m not a fantastic navigator, but I’ve yet to let my anxiety completely best me. I did, however, succumb to yet another illness, and this one damn near put me in the hospital for a fluid IV. I can think of one time I’ve been more ill, and that time I lost ten pounds in a week. This one, mercifully, hit and and was gone within 48 hours. I slept for perhaps 30 of them. Heres hoping that at long last I’ve run through all the novel ailments. A body can only withstand so much! I did make a friend in the pharmacist, since I was in to see her almost every day for awhile there.

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Let’s see…any other loose odds and ends? We held a Passover dinner in the shop a few nights ago, and I was gang-pressed into making a cake. Truthfully, I was happy to do so. My fingers have been itchy to make something, and I’ve already sent some messages to people back home declaring that there *will* be a lot of food in the future. But cakes are…a labor. The last one I made took me 6 hours. This one took 5, with a laughable assemblage of equipment to work with. I baked my rounds in a pizza oven…at probably 150 degrees hotter than it should have been. I whisked soft peaks by hand, and I melted and browned 3 1/2 sticks of butter on a hot plate. But, for all that, I was pretty happy about it. A brown butter-banana cake with chocolate ganache and crumbled Oreos on top. I’ve doomed myself, as I’m now expected to continue making cakes. Peter especially is unceremonious in his demands; I’ve come to the conclusion that he *really* likes cake. Apparently flattery gets you everywhere, because he told me it was the best cake he’d had in years and suddenly I’m desperate to get my hands on an actual oven I could really do something with.

Oh! And big news, for me anyways. Right around my birthday is the time of year when grad school decisions come out, and at long last I’ve made the cut! So it’s back to the land of academia for me come fall. I’ve only heard back from half the schools I applied to, despite the deadlines having passed, but that’s college for you. As of now I’ve landed under the guidance of Dr. Jonathan Geller of Moss Landing Marine Lab working on invasive species arriving on the west coast on debris from the Japanese tsunami. My boss at the aquarium is culturing parasitic hydroids for us as we speak. I’ve got some lab work lined up already for when I get back. I have some mixed feelings about this sudden straightening of direction, I had so enjoyed meandering aimlessly for a bit, but the more I learn the more excited I get as well. I just hope I can continue adventuring a little within the confines of a masters thesis. Time will tell.

The classy faces of Barakuda
The classy faces of Barakuda

As to the near future, I can garuntee you there will be no shortage of content. Thai new year is coming up, and from what I hear it involves a near total shut-down of business and a lot of water guns. We’re also less than a week out from finishing, which means the snorkel test is imminent. I may have mentioned it before in passing, I cannot recall. But I promise that it’s impending nature is casting a rather large pall over my waking hours. Essentially, a snorkel test is the final step to becoming a divemaster. What it entails has nothing to do with diving, except that most DM’s and instructors seem to be functioning alcoholics. You are placed in a chair, often in a wetsuit and fins, and given a mask and snorkel. Outside of your line of site a cocktail of dubeous and heinous content is mixed up by your mentor. I watched Will’s bucket being mixed, and I’m pretty sure I saw gin, vodka, whiskey, rum, beer, orange and pineeapple juice, and a can of coke go in. Then, and I’m sure you see where this is going, down the snorkel it goes. I watched Rafa chug a half a handle of rum in less than a minute. Cumulatively, I think this is more alcohol than I have perhaps consumed in my entire life. He got so plastered I had to prop him up and shunt him down the street to the bar afterwards. In a giddy, ill-advised delirium, he sprayed Axe in my mouth. Will puked almost immediately after his. Neither remembers much.

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And let me remind you that I have an Irish mentor! And also remind you (or elicidate, if you’ve not heard that story from me) that I threw up *in* the Guinness factory in Dublin. Christ…So, stay tuned, because that’s happening, and there will be ample video and photo evidence. And, along that same vein, it has been established that Camille and will spend our working portion functioning in the dual capacity of both divemaster and as media representatives for Barakuda. Meaning, we get to do a lot of underwater photography and help maintain an online presence for the shop. There are a few novelty tricks we’ve been contemplating. For example, rumor has it that because it is so dense, if you go deep enough you can use a straw to drink from a can of Coke. Or, if you crack an egg, it will float spherically in front of you. Essentially, we have license to screw around underwater.

For now it’s off to my first shop-shift to try to bring some money in. We get commissions if we sell dives or equipment, so…best learn how to turn that charm on. What’s the verdict guys? You know me, have I ever charmed any of you?

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Adeu to Malaysia

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This part of the post is coming to you raw and unadulterated from Kuala Lumpur International, at 1am, because two girls of dubious mental status decided it would be best to hightail it back to Phi Phi early. Due to the amount of time we are personally are spending on the island, it’s easy to forget that the rest of the crew is running on different time frames, progressing through different parts of their programs, many with more pressing time demands. This includes our Dear William, our Rafa, and our Henri, three gentlemen (and scholars) who are all leaving within the next few days. We are bereft, heartbroken even, and in our grief we’ve decided it best to return home so as to eek out a bit more time with our friends. This is, as of yet, a surprise to them, which means I won’t be able to post this until we’re well and truly back.

(*Note: I just re-read that opening paragraph days later, and I know I was really just sleep-deprived, but I’m starting to think there’s little difference between drunk me and sleepy me. Good god, it’s so saccharine and contrived it’s giving me a cavity…)

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But I must say, Malaysia has done more than enough to impress in the 3-ish days we’ve had to sample its charms. And hear you me, we have been sucked in by this city and spit back out. We have not showered or slept all too much since leaving Thailand, but such is the lot of the helter-skelter traveler. Our room in Kuala Lumpur amounted to little more than a windowless dungeon, but it was cheap and quiet and served as a base of operations from which to launch our adventures.

I had been told to expect a pretty excellent melting pot of cultures with regard to the food, and I swear it was completely coincidental (it was not) that our hostel ended up being a few blocks from the cities most famous food street. One of the benefits of doing a lot of the planning for any group travel is you get the final say regarding location and timing. The street is called Jalan Alor, an innocuous, traffic-packed operation by day. But after sunrise the street shuts to vehicles and the entire length becomes one big open-air ode to gluttony. We had the additional good fortune to arrive on the eve of a festival celebrating Chinese New Year, so we got the bonus of a huge party complete with dragon dancers, acrobatics, and no small amount of surprise fireworks.  It’s possible to sample any number of Malaysian, Thai, Indian, Korean, Chinese, or Japanese specialties here. And that’s essentially what we did.

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The first night we started with Dim Sum, and it rivaled anything I ever had in San Francisco’s China Town. Chui Mai, Shau Mai, and the sweetest pork buns you ever did taste. And all of it for pennies on the dollar. I forced Camille into trying frog leg porridge with me. Take some advice on my behalf: if you ever force a herpetologist to eat an amphibian, expect to get a lesson in anatomy that you might not necessary want when it’s sticking out of your mouth. In any case, I liked frog. It has the same mouthfeel as chicken, and somehow tastes more bland, but they mix it into a rice porridge flavored with sesame oil and fresh lemongrass that is really just perfect. After Thailand, a primarily Muslim enterprise, I was happy to be back in the land of pork and all manner of pork products. If you think you’ve enjoyed jerky in the states, I’m sorry, you can’t be blamed for your ignorance. But my eyes have been opened. I suggest you do the same.

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Frog, anyone?

 

We went a bit nuts over the fruit. There was the famous Durian-Day incident, which I have already chronicled on Facebook. It was just as awful as you’d imagine. Sweet, sweaty, garlicky gym socks all packaged in the pale yellow sloppish innard of a fruit that is so thorny I don’t know why anyone would want to open it anyway. Anyone who tells you it’s possible to develop a taste for it is lying. They gave me gloves just to handle it. But, we also bought jackfruit, mangosteens, passion fruit, and a cousin to the apple whose name I’ve forgotten but that I quite enjoyed. I had a plum, which is my favorite fruit in the world and not one I expected to find in this far corner of the world.

There’s more food to be discussed later, but I suppose it’s important to mention our visa odyssey, the real reason for the trip. The Thai embassy was a 45-minute walk from our room, so we decided to hoof it. A nice way to see the city to be sure, but if I haven’t stressed this point enough, allow me to reiterate: it is hot here. Sickeningly, unendingly, soul-suckingly hot. At one point I think it was 38C with 100% humidity.  As a result, by the time we reached the embassy, an unassuming compound of buildings centered around a visitors’ courtyard, there was little we could do beyond lying prone in the grass for a good long while. They operate on a numbered ticket system, similar to the DMV, and it was while we were waiting that we realized you need both a photocopy of your passport and two photographs as part of your application. Camille had neither. If you’re being kind you could call me a perfectionist, but it’s really an innate fear of mazeophobia that prompts me to travel with copies of all my important documents.  Unfortunately, I only had one picture, but we decided to take a gamble and try submitting my form anyways. The deadline for visa application for the day was drawing near, so it was try now or wait until the next day. In the first of a series of paradoxical turns in our luck, they actually took my form. Camille and I had to cobble together our cash to make up the fee, but it seemed alright.

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We decided we would use the afternoon to get Camille’s documents in order to bring the next day. It turned out to be a very easy fix (thank you DHL), so I suggested on the walk back past the embassy that we just ask if they’d be willing to take her form a little past the deadline. Maybe people are inherently good, maybe we had paid our karmic debt, or maybe we just looked so sweaty and pathetic that they just couldn’t say no, but they agreed. It was while Camille was speed-writing her form that I felt that sinking, terrible feeling in my stomach when I realized that we had spent all our cash on my fees. It wasn’t my fault, not really, but I felt obliged to remedy the situation. Which was how I found myself in a literal dead-sprint down the street looking for the nearest ATM. I do not recommend, as a rule, moving at all in heat like this. By the time I skidded back into the office, I couldn’t feel my arms and was most likely verging on heat stroke. But, true to their word, they allowed us to submit a good hour late. And you can bet we took a cab home.

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A desired byproduct of this turn in events was that it saved us from having to visit the embassy on three consecutive days. It was around this time we decided to change our flights, leaving us with the next day to plan a bit of fun. We decided to make an early morning of it and visit the Batu Caves. While the limestone is aged around 400 million years, the caves themselves date to about 150 million, and now host a handful of impressive Hindu shrines. Camille and I braved Malaysia’s complex network of trains and monorails and arrived when it was still relatively quiet. Standing sentinel over the 272 stairs to the top was a 140-foot statue of Murugan, the largest outside of India. While I hear it can get quite crowded, for the most part we shared the stairs only with the many monkeys that have made their home at the caves, mostly because they can torment all manner of visitors into dropping bags or parcels. In what I thought was a touching tribute to the idea that you can never let fears rule your life, I touched a monkey’s tail and was nearly ravaged for my efforts. Camille likes to imagine it was the monkey equivalent of a gentle reprimand, except that in monkey society they do a lot of teaching through biting. So, what does she know, really?

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Having ridden the train back into town, we wiled away a few hours in the afternoon perambulating around one of Kuala Lumpur’s many malls. Generally speaking we were dirty, unkempt, poor, and prone to loitering, so I’m sure they hated having us there. Camille bought some earrings, but mostly we just ate more food. We found this donut store that made all these crazy flavors. We regretted only getting one each at the time. But it’s ok, because we found the same store in a different mall later that same night and bought two more a piece. The idea was to take the monorail back to the embassy, but the street on which it resides turned out to be longer than we anticipated. We weren’t able to specify exactly where we needed to go, and no amount of gesticulating and enunciating seemed to help. So, we ended up 45 minutes away again, this time in the opposite direction. An unexpected bonus was that we got to walk past the famous Petronas Towers, which I found to be rather fetching. Visas in hand, we headed back to our hostel to take advantage of their unending hospitality. We had checked out that morning, but in addition to holding onto our packs they allowed us to sit on the patio playing cards until we called a cab at midnight. So, kudos Number 8 Guesthouse.

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Petronas Towers

I did promise you guys more food. So, around sunset we headed back over to Jalan Alor for another round. This time it was pork ribs coated in a sweet and sticky sesame-ginger sauce and a bowl of clear broth filled with sprouts, steamed bok choy, and homemade pork dumplings. A storm had started to roll in, and with so much moisture in the air you get some really percussive thunder. No sooner had we finished our food that the sky opened up. So, we occupied ourselves indoors for a bit so as to avoid the deluge. The rain here has been so crazy to me. It absolutely dumps, everything floods, and then like a switch it stops and drains away. Can’t say I’ve ever seen rain like that. We ended up in another mall. I tried on some leather pants in an H&M and got so sweaty in the process that they got stuck on me and I had to have Camille pull me out. But I- I think I might need some leather pants back stateside.

Oh you three
Oh you three

The rest of the travel back to Thailand and Koh Phi Phi doesn’t bear much mention, except to discuss the cab ride to the airport. Our driver played “Malaysia’s favorite love songs” on the radio, and it was god-awful. We’re talking Total Eclipse of the Heart, I Wanna Know What Love Is, Truly Madly Deeply crap. Otherwise, it was essentially a cab to a plane to a cab to another cab to a boat, and then the walk back to the room. The idea was to slip back onto the island quietly and orchestrate a run-in with Rafa and Will. We feared rejection if they were to see us before a shower, truly we were heinous, so we stayed quiet until the nightly staff meet-up at 9. Summoning all of our cunning and sleuth (not much), we naviagted the back roads and approached the gear room from the back alley. Dive Master trainees (DMT’s) have certain tasks they have to complete each night, so it’s a safe bet that you can always find one or more in the gear room packing spares. In this instance it was Rafa. I think our grand orchestration was matched only by the enthusiasm with which it was received. We got such a big hug it picked us both up off the ground. And for me, it was worth every penny, every mile  and every inconvenience for that moment. Tell me there is no humanity to be found in men, and I will disagree with emphasis. Call me sappy, tell me to grow up, do what you will, but I find that to deny yourself moments of unaltered, unfettered, and irrational joy is to do yourself a great disservice.

When I tried to hug Rafa underwater he turned my air off.
When I tried to hug Rafa underwater he turned my air off.

We’ve been back for a few days now. To my greatest dismay, I seem to have caught yet another illness, a doozy of a cold this time. On the plane home, everyone was coughing, and short of holding my breathe for an hour and a half I expected this to happen. Thanks again, Air Asia. On top of it all, I’ve got a double eye infection that’s been passing around the shop. So, can’t say im at 100%. I was only able to put in three dives before I was landlocked. The first two were fun dives with Camille and Will and Rafa. Just us on a boat for a morning with no clients, no gear to set up for other people, no feeling in the way. I had forgotten, even though it was my life before Thailand, that sometimes you can just strap on a tank and go screw around with your buddies for fun. We went to the wreck and looked for new places to swim inside. There was a lot of pranking: pulling off masks and fins, riding tanks, pulling off backflips. The second dive was to a site I referenced in post two when I said they were installing a new artificial reef. It’s been a few weeks and already the ocean is taking a hold. In the first of many successional processes, algae already coats everything. It was…just a nice time to be with good friends in a beautiful place.

The third dive was a night dive, my second ever. The first was years ago during my advanced certification, at our local beginners break with so many new divers in the water churning up the bottom that you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. This was everything that dive should have been. It’s so eerily appealing to me that you can shine a light out into the unfathomable blackness, and sometimes you’ll see something looking back at you. We got to see corals and urchins free-spawning, which is both gross and instrinsicaly fascinating. I found some sort of massive, massive nudibranch or sea cucumber, and I’ve become obsessed with figuring out what it was. And we got to play with phosphorescent plankton. If you turn out your light and swish your hands, it’s like being on Space Mountain at Disneyland. Thousands and thousands of small green pinpricks of light. Truly a unique experience. I had been looking forward to doing a night dive here since we came, and it was really just a great time.

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Rafa has since left to go home to Catalonia. It’s a bit of a personal blow, I must admit, because aside from Camille he was my closest friend on the island. Since I couldn’t dive, we convinced him to let us take him climbing, and I think we may have turned him. Or, at least he says he wants to try it at home. Which makes me jealous, as I hear Spain has excellent climbing. We did a final crawl of the usual haunts: the bakery for breakfast, Cosmic for dinner, a last drink at Banana Bar. It was done right, but there is no easy or satisfying way to say goodbye to a friend, especially when it could well be the last time. It’s one of the things that resonates most with me about traveling, and it both endears and repels me on a very basic level for the same reason. Which is that you find in people a very kindred spirit, an appreciation for certain things life can offer, but it’s entirely ephemeral and fleeting. But who can say? Travel-bugs may scatter, but you can also guaruntee they will always be down for a new adventure.

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I’ve been a bit homesick lately. It’s certainly no coincidence that it’s about a month into the trip. Enough time for the novelty to dull and for reality to reassert itself. I’m not sure if what I’ve done in coming here was to put my life back home on hold, or to absolve myself of it entirely. I could do anything I want. I could go straight home or I could travel for months more. I could fly back to Las Vegas and stay for months, or I could hightail it back to Santa Cruz where I’ve built a life. Or I could drop down just long enough to pick up my things and then jet off to grad school in Washington. I don’t know, and I know that in not knowing there is a conflict: it’s both the ultimate freedom and a most paralytic manifestation of fear. There were certainly aspects of my existence I wanted to change, but I also had so many things back home I enjoyed. Especially more recently, I had shifted in a new direction, and I was so eager to run with it. But pausing your life doesn’t mean that life stops happening around you. Things are still happening that will play a part in what is to come. People are doing things I wish I could do. The day to day goes on with or without you. I wonder what it will be like to just…drop back into it. And does anybody else feel any which way about any of it?  If I do one thing and not another will anyone think twice about it? It eases my mind to know that these are  problems most everyone encounters. I’m comforted by my mediocrity in this regard.

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In employing her intuition, I received a care package from my mother the other day. Just seeing my mom’s handwriting can cure a multitude of emotional ills. That, and two boxes of Girl Scout cookies. They were melted into one big amorphous cookie and I didn’t even care! I don’t mean to imply I’m unhappy when I say that things are uncertain. It’s fine. It’s something to think about when I’m alone underwater with just myself for company. And really, let me take a picture of me writing this post, in my bikini, on a boat, fingers obscenely orange from the value pack of ChexMix I’m digging into. Can I really complain?

Of Sharks and Charcuterie

I’ll begin with an “I’m sorry” for a potential change in tone in this installment. First off, I’ve felt rushed to get this up since its been longer than I itended, so it’s a bit slap-dash. Second, I’ve embarked on a Hemingway binge and am notorious for sponging up the attitude of whatever author I’m currently entrenched in. So basically, I just feel melancholy and want a cigarette and some absinthe. I’ve also been hungover and intensely ill in the course of writing this post, and am currently seething with rage on yet another awful AirAsia flight (seriously, never fly AirAsia). But we’ll get to all that.

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Koh Phi Phi continues to unveil itself in fits and starts. With a schedule in place, life has settled into a predictability wherein the biggest aspect of chance is getting assigned dive shifts the night before. And even then, I’ve dove mornings all but 2 days that I have been here. So it’s early mornings and reluctantly late nights. I’m not much of a partier or a bar-hopper, but spending time with the people we have met has become one of the best things about Thailand. It’s a wonderfully cosmopolitan bunch all knitted together by a mutual affinity for the wild blue yonder. As with other hobbies, such as backpacking, there tends to be an immediate kinship born from the fact that ultimately, you understand certain motivations. Such as why someone would quit their job and arrive on foreign soil just the be shunted to the bottom of the pecking order.

Nevertheless, these people have become our family. Our French, Spanish, Israeli, Catalonian, Canadian, English, Thai, Chinese, Irish, American extended family.  For not considering myself much of a people person, it really is the bonds that make a lot of it worthwhile. Some of my most contented times on the island outside of the water have been late night games of pool, drunkenly climbing the inflatable climbing wall, or sharing a beer on a beach, passing around plates of meats and cheese sent in care packages from some one else’s home; stolen moments of conversation secreted away on the bow of our boat. I think I lend them more gravitas than others who would see them as simple moments in a given day, but I try not to take it for granted when someone takes the time to look even a single layer deeper. Many of us live a very transient existence, and similar to spending a few miles hiking on the trail with someone you’ve only just met, the general assumption is that inevitably you will pass on. Sometimes a name isn’t even necessary.

Clowns, the lot of them.
Clowns, the lot of them.

But, I’ve come to realize something a bit profound about diving. I’ll admit, I’ve always prioritized it rather low on the list. Without a consistent dive partner at home, it’s easy to let months slip away between dives, and I think I’ve come to love climbing more in the year and a half I’ve done it than in the 4 or so years I’ve been scuba certified. But underwater, many of the barriers that exist between people disappear. Everyone speaks the same language. It’s all decanted down to hand gestures and body language when words fail. A Chinese client who spoke no English teased me about my hair on a dive, because I wear it loose and it tends to balloon out underwater. A Lithuanian boy about my age yanked my fin and pointed with such enthusiasm at a sea cucumber that even I got excited, even though I see probably fifty a day. I watched a couple touch their regulators together in what amounts to an underwater version of a kiss, and I threw up in my mouth a little. But, to each their own.

I could tell you more about my own experiences diving each and every day, but I think I can distill it all down into one day, maybe 4 days ago now, for the sake of brevity (ha!). It was certainly my favorite day of diving in Thailand thus far, if not my favorite day of diving to date. And paradoxically, out of the water it was one of my low points since leaving Santa Cruz all those weeks ago. I started out the morning with my mentor Peter, a brusque and somewhat withholding northern Irishman, taking two Chinese discovery divers out on the boat. Generally speaking, the Chinese who visit the island speak very little English, and there is a lot of hand-holding (sometime literally. I have held many hands in Thailand.) when it comes to the diving. The idea was for me to observe how to handle these types of dives, and to be available for any help Peter might need.

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Blacktip Reef Shark

The first dive was fairly routine. Most days we start at an island called Bida Nok, where there is a shallow cove for training new divers on skills at the surface or in shallow water. As it so happens, it’s quite a beautiful spot when you’re able to dive it to its full potential. Most times we don’t get too far outside the cove, but with more competent divers you can follow the reef out along its spine or go around the other side to a deep wall. It’s pleasant, albeit dangerous, to be left alone with your thoughts, but there’s so much activity on a reef that you’re never bored. On dive two, we went to a new place for me, a stretch of the island called Palong. And this dive was special.  I saw about 15 sharks, all blacktips, some of which got within fifteen feet or so. Up until this dive I’d seen glimpses of one or two at a distance, but this was Sharks. Unabashedly Sharks. When I dove with great whites in South Africa I expected to be scared, much as I did in this instance, but for me it’s all just a thrill. Instead of back pedaling to a safe distance, I find myself practicing restraint in not abandoning protocol and clients alike in my haste to get just a bit closer (Hopefully my boss doesn’t read this). If a whale shark shows up its all bets off!

Ornate Ghost Pipefish
Ornate Ghost Pipefish

I chose to take the afternoon boat out as well to do a bit of fun diving with Camille and our two friends Will and Rafa. Will is about as close to American as we seem to get on Phi Phi (he’s Canadian), so we’ve unabashedly welcomed him into Team North America. He’s also an excellent dive buddy. I often get the impression that feelings of excitement are received poorly, or brushed aside with ill humor. But I love to see people passionately involved in things they love. And Will is a site to behold when you get him down there. We flash our “that’s awesome!” signal and high five so often it’s a wonder we can navigate at all. And Rafa, oh good god, how does one explain our Catalonian punching bag? It’s perhaps most fitting, and the highest compliment I can offer, that I am at a loss of words when describing Rafa. Even though he would probably tell you that we never seem to be at a loss when it comes to giving him a hard time.

Leopard Shark
Leopard Shark

Again, we dove Bida Nok and Palong. I had the ultimate octopus experience. They seem rather fearless here. Will and I followed it along for probably fifteen minutes, watching it flash colors at a whim or glide with languid grace just beneath us. We saw my first Zebra Moray, a lucky find poking out of the wall. On the next dive while following one of the other instructors, we came across an Ornate Ghost Pipefish, something I never expected to be fortunate enough to spot, as well as a Cosmic Flatfish (might have the name wrong on that guy) and a Blue-Spotted Ray. And more sharks! And not just Blacktips. We got our first look at a Leopard Shark, which is much different here from what we think of at home. It was asleep behind a fan coral when we literally almost bumped into it. They’re not as common, and to see one was a real treat. It was quite beautiful. We did a few underwater swimthroughs that were pretty narrow, but I think they’re a blast. Towards the end of the third dive of the day I started to get a pretty intense headache, but the diving was just too good.

Flatfish
Flatfish

Inevitably, subjecting your body to so much physical strain for so long, compounded by the usual rigors of travel, tends to lead to a crash. Camille started to feel unwell shortly after the last dive, and proceeded into a steady decline. I had gotten the following morning off, but ended up taking her morning clients and before the afternoon was out I too was rapidly degressing. During our nightly briefing, I felt so fevered and weak I almost fainted on my feet. It wasn’t a chest infection so much as a fairly virulent flu. Fortunately, it seemed to hit hard and fast, so we were really only off our feet for 2 days. Nevertheless, the heat sucks the life out of you in the best of conditions, and when you’re sick it’s sufficiently worse. So, slowly on the mend, but it could have been worse. And fortunately, you can get just about anything in Thai pharmacies, no questions asked. 

*Note: I get a bit woeful for a bit here, so feel free to skip to the end. Seriously, I won’t be upset. No one likes to listen to people whine. Also, I couldn’t figure out how to incorporate this bit in, I only knew I wanted to include it, so this is my lead-in. I blame the Hemingway.*

A lot of the time, I’m only able to put things down here by invoking a momentary suspension of belief regarding the thought that anyone will read it. It’s been a tough week, truth be told, for both Camille and myself. I’ve ridden some rather abrupt highs and some truly crippling lows. On a personal level, I’ve come to Phi Phi not to run away, but to lock myself into a sort of forced, sustained isolation to deal with things that have come to pass in the last year. It has taught me a lot about what it means to handle grief with some semblance of poise. In the past, I had a tendency to be dominated by sadness. I became a liability to myself and a burden to those who would try to lend assistance.

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Symbolic leaning ship represents my inner torment.

2015 is a year for taking myself back and for repenting. I’ve much to be sorry for and much on my mind with regards to how to get back to a place where I can value myself. To be honest, much of the time I exist in a perpetual cycle of self-loathing, contrition, and atonement. But, these days, when I lapse into those darker places, I know to let them come. Much like sinking beaneath the water, I tend to let these moments wash over me, to see them for what they are and to place them in proper scale in the overarching framework of my life. Which is not to say that I am completely despondent. I’ve found joy in every day that I’ve had here, even the bad ones. I had a good friend here on the island tell me the other day that it’s better to be as I am, to feel too much as opposed to too little, and I think he has the right of it. He’s wrong about how many continents there are, but in this case I give him the credit he deserves, and posit that I am very thankful for his confidence.

Some of you may be surprised to hear all this. I don’t much like to burden people with my problems, which should make it all the more urgent when I do. That’s not what I’m doing now, as it were, I’m just trying to maintain a sense of…journalistic integrity I suppose. It’s cathartic at the very least to see it in print. In any case, apologies for the personal diatribe. Back to the adventure quest!

Sometimes you just need a taste of home.
Sometimes you just need a taste of home.

As of this writing, Camille and I are on a plane bound for Kuala Lumpur to do a visa run. My last experience with AirAisa involved being stuck on the tarmac in the plane for three hours with “Sombody That I Used to Know” played on repeat. It essentially turned me into a sleeper assassin, whereby I’m liable to stab the nearest person whenever I hear it. This time around, they shunted us through no less than 8 lines before we got to the gate and charged me 1,110 baht to check my bag because I couldn’t explain to her what a climbing ATC was for. They’ve progressed to a more diverse playlist, but it’s also my first time on any airline where every drink or snack costs money, which is unfortunately in a currency I do not possess. I am, perhaps justifiably, cranky. I may or may not have responded thusly to Camille’s comment that it was a very clausterhpobic plane: “Thats because it’s a coffin.”

*Edit: We have since made it to our hostel, and I can say it’s good to be back in the land of clean tap water and usable wifi. As is always the case, Wells Fargo attempts to stymie me at every turn by refusing to allow me to withdraw money at the ATM. Even though we discussed my travel plans, including Malaysia, at great length. However, the solution as always is to just try 100 ATM’s with varying savings/checking account combinations until some magic happens. In the end, Camille and I just needed a taste of home, so we took the opportunity to have a midnight dinner at McDonald’s with some really nice Australian boys, Justin and Simon, that we met on the plane.

Malaysia is meant to be a bit of a vacation for us, so I expect a turning of the tides. We’ve got some fun stuff in the works, but I won’t spoil it for you. Expect Malaysia to have a post of its very own, fairly soon.

Murphy’s Law of Travel

Well my friends, let me tell you, it has been a time. I expect a certain amount of snafoos when I travel, of course it’s never entirely streamlined, but Thailand has proven more difficult than I necessarily anticipated. Fortunately, we’ve taken it all in relative stride, and I’m happy to report that I’m writing this from my home for at least the next month. It’s fairly common, it seems, for dive shop workers to move around a lot over the course of their internship.

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Delirious airport picture.

One week, and already so much to tell. Beginning with the fact that we almost didn’t even make it off the ground. Our flight out was just after midnight, so we arrived at LAX around 9:30. When I travel abroad, I tend not to accept the reality of it until I’m getting on the plane. As a result, the adrenaline rush is fairly instantaneous and acute. We stood at the counter trading nervous laughs when our check-in attendant disappeared into the back and didn’t emerge for several minutes. When she

IMG_5034did, it was with bad news: without an exit flight from Thailand we would not be allowed to board. In the end, the solution was to huddle around Camille’s phone and slap together a flight to Malaysia for March.

Otherwise, the flight bit was much as you’d expect. It essentially follows the five stages of grief; inevitably you succumb to travel-induced delirium and learn to accept that the next 24 hours will be unpleasant. However, it was not entirely without its charms. In Tokyo I got unnecessarily excited over the crazy toilets they have. Apparently I don’t handle excitement well because I ended up pushing buttons indiscriminately and spraying bidet water all over myself. Fortunately, they also have warming fans for, you know, drying. In addition, I got my true Japanese ramen for breakfast! Based on my own personal tastes and the recent experience of friends in the Land of the Rising Sun, I think a return visit in the near future may be needed.

We made it to Phuket just after dark. It’s hard not to draw parallels to the last time I visited Southeast Asia, a quick trip to Bali. I remember being accosted and overwhelmed by cab drivers on exiting the airport. Such was not the case in Thailand. A fee was negotiated, and we piled our gear into a car with our driver, his wife, and their young sleeping daughter. I had a vague idea of the way we needed to go, which made it additionally unnerving when the cab suddenly veered off the road early and pulled up to a nondescript building. Our driver exited, as did his wife, leaving Camille and I with the sleeping child. There may have been a brief discussion of holding the girl hostage with the blade in my pocket should things go south. Fortunately, it turned out to be a (relatively) harmless attempt to scam us into ferry tickets, and an emphatic “no” was enough to get us back on the road.

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The first night was fairly uneventful, save the cockfighting and Thai Family Guy on our tv. In the morning, we arranged a van to the harbor, and at long last I felt I could relax. So long as we set foot on Phi Phi, I felt everything else could be dealt with. The collection of people on the ferry was a succinct microcosm of the type of clientele the island receives: frat boys, scantily clad European beauties, Japanese families with selfie sticks, nattering clusters of Chinese businessmen. I’d like the say I gazed in astute wonder as we pulled into Phi Phi’s azure waters, but in truth I was plastered to the wall in the breezeway of the ferry with my many bags, awash in a sea of bodies.

On the dock it was bedlam. We wound our way through the cramped streets of the town center until we happened on our shop. It’s hot here. So, so hot. And it’s not even the heat that really gets me so much as the humidity. I’m not much of a sweater, but you really can’t avoid it. Barakuda, fortunately, is an open air building at ground level. We were quickly introduced to the director Eddy, a friendly, albeit sarcastic, Englishman who commands an army of multilingual DM’s and instructors. Between the lot of us, we speak perhaps a dozen languages.

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He introduced us to Raz, an Israeli transplant who was tasked with helping us find a place to live. Most hostels, guest houses, and many shops and restaurants offer rooms for rent on a monthly basis. We’ve come to Phi Phi during the high season, and as a result there are several thousand people crammed into a very, very small central district. It’s perhaps the size of a few city blocks. There are no cars, so it’s all foot traffic, bikes, pushcarts, and insanity. we went door to door, looking for something cheap. As it turned out, we weren’t allowed the luxury of choosiness, as every place we visited turned out to be full. Come nightfall, we were still without a place to stay. Eddy offered us the floor in the classroom above the shop, and before long we were slipping into a sweaty delirium.

The next morning we staggered down the main way to a bakery and slumped, heat-stricken and mosquito-bitten, into a few chairs. We breakfasted on coffee, fresh fruit, and a coconut bun that has quickly become one of my daily rituals. You can bet I’ll be trying to recreate it at home. The game plan was to secure a room in the morning and dive in the afternoon. I felt that if I could just get in the water, I could (in the antithesis of literally) get my feet on the ground. Along those lines, we spent the morning following up on those places that had said they might have rooms in the next few days. And we lucked out! We’re sharing a bed in a room at a hostel tucked off one of the busy streets. It suites us. And best of all has air conditioning!

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We’ve since settled into our routine. I am emphatically, undeniably, stubbornly not a morning person, but here in Thailand I wake like clockwork at 6:30. Thus far we’ve been on AM dives all but once. We live close to the shop, so we’re able to rouse at 7, walk down the street to grab a cheap breakfast of coconut buns or ham and cheese croissants, and arrive at the shop by 7:30. As trainees we’re relegated to the bitch work, but I enjoy the phrenetic pace of the mornings. I’m on the boat by 8, sipping a cup of coffee and setting up gear.

The dives of the day depend on wether we’re working with one of our two mentors, Peter and Remi, or if we’re doing a “fun dive” with some of the other employees. We’ve yet to be tasked with too much responsibility, it’s mostly a lot of fun dives to get a sense of the sites we’ll be diving. And let me tell you, they are some amazing sites. In the first day alone we dove some gorgeous coral reefs. I saw turtles, eels, cuttlefish, a fearless octopus, lots of nudibranchs, sea slugs, a sea snake, mantis shrimp, lion fish, trumpet fish, any fish you can name and then some. The second and third days we dove inside a submerged wreck. Schools of fish poured out of windows like bubbles. Barnacles the length of my forearm drape themselves along the derelict cables, and fan corals grow off the bottom like trees. Today, during another fun dive, Remi lead us into an underwater cave that led to a hidden air chamber.

Ceremony for the installation of a new artificial reef.
Ceremony for the installation of a new artificial reef.

Generally we take our lunch on the bow as we motor back to the dock. They lay out pineapple and watermelon and cookies for those onboard, and in addition to an emancipation from pants and proper undergarments and shoes I’ve returned to a state of living mostly off of fruit and sweets. Once we’ve washed gear and gotten things sorted, the day is ours. We’ve taken to exploring. Sometimes we go down to the water treatment center to get a coconut and banana fritter from the man who sets up outside and makes them by hand. Other times we watch Archer I. The coolness of our room. Every night at 9 we return to the shop to prep for the next day. Phi Phi, it seems, belongs to the night. A late dinner of fried chicken and saffron rice with sweet chili sauce is par the course before a total crash around 11:30.

Yesterday, at long last, we made it onto the wall. It was a hot, muggy day, but Tonsai Wall is best climbed in the afternoon when the sun is behind. We stood on the beach gaping upward, trying to make sense of two dozen or so routes that speckle the face. In the end, we decided the only course of action was to just pick a route blindly. I’ve come to realize a lot of my mental fear comes from the difficulty I perceive in knowing how hard a climb is rated. If I don’t know, I don’t think about it. As it turned out, what we thought was a 5.8 route was a 10a called Scenic Bulimic. My first lead up the route, my legs shook and I had to down climb more than once. Limestone is polished, especially when the route is well-worn. And again, you’re sweating buckets.

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On our way down from the pitch, I had my first monkey encounter. We were using fixed ropes to climb down out of the forest when I noticed a single monkey on the beach. And then another, and another, until a whole troupe of a dozen or so was making their way along the shore. From what I can gather, they come at low tide from further out in the jungle to rifle through trash. They climbed up along the rocks and across the vines between trees until we were surrounded. The largest male came quite close, and when we tried to make our escape onto the beach it charged us with teeth bared. Another came after us on the beach. I’m hoping not to repeat that experience…ever. I’m also pretty sure Camille has joined me in the ranks of those who dislike primates.

Just about the worst thing I've ever seen.
Just about the worst thing I’ve ever seen.

As luck would have it, we’ve made a few connections in the local climbing community that may prove lucrative. There is some crossover in hobbies with our coworkers, and one girl named Carmen introduced us to the manager of one of the local climbing outfitters, Ibex Climbng. Towards the end of the month they’ll be losing a guide, and assuming we feel comfortable on the walls they’ve offered us some freelance work guiding climbs for tourists. We’ve also met up with another shop owner, a local named Kong, who seems very nice and knows a lot about local climbs. I’m really excited to start challenging myself. Thailand is proving  a rather physical endeavor.

There’s a lot I’d like to write even still. It’s been a hectic week, and I’ve ridden the requisite highs and lows of settling into a new place. There’s a lot of feelings of being in the way and of inadequacy in learning a new skill set. Some thoughts are more profound than others, and I’m sure the disjointed nature of my existence is mirrored in the writing. It’s been so busy I doubt I’ll be able to crank out more than one post a week. But it’s nice to write in the evening and as you can see, a week is more than enough content. It’s true, the title of the post is Murphy’s Law of Travel. And a lot has gone wrong. But, I’m a firm believer in high risk, high reward, and thus far Thailand has proven to be worth every struggle.

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Please read this, for the love of god, and appreciate it for the labor of love that it is. The Internet is so bad here it takes hours just to format. I’m sitting in an alley way as we speak leaching internet from a restaurant. Sorry, I’m just cranky. Rant over.

Thailand!

Alright, alright. I hinted at it at the end of that first post, but here it is: I’m off to Thailand! I don’t know where the line is drawn between traveling and moving, but I think I might be toeing it. As of now, there is no return date, but odds are it will be around 6 months. This is about twice as long as any other trip I’ve ever taken, and it’s also the first trip where I have been entirely in charge of planning my time. It’s a bit daunting, but in the best way possible.

Thus far the plan is only solid a few days out. We have a hostel booked for one night in Phuket, but beyond that it’s a fair bit of dice-rolling. Alone I’m not sure I could do it, but fortunately I am being joined by one of my best friends, the ever-lovely Camille Baettig. Even more lovely for the fact that I’m writing this blog post from her room, cluttered with our various travel accoutrements, and because she is graciously allowing me to sleep in her bed.

imageAs such, it’s probably best you know a bit about her! Camille and I met, fortuitously, as roommates in South Africa. We are both graduates of UCSC, and in our last quarter participated in a field class revolving around marine biology. I recall often the day she approached me to ask me to be her roommate. We didn’t really know each other, aside from a loose association from having been in classes together. Apparently she remembered me as being that one girl who always contributed too much in class (a fact that surprises me little). For whatever reason, she decided I might be worth living with. I, on my part, immediately ran home and gushed to my own roomie about the fact that someone wanted to be my friend.

It’s an interesting fact that really, Africa was only a year and a half ago. We’ve done a lot of living since then. It was established fairly early on that there were a lot of commonalities between us, but I often appreciate her most for our differences. Camille strikes me as a more socially pliable, no-nonsense version of myself. While she suffers from the same foibles as most of us do, she takes crap from no one and often puhes me out of myself. We push each other in all that we do, for better or worse.

Since becoming friends, Camille has become my SCUBA partner, my climbing partner, and general adventure buddy. While SCUBA was something we had both pursued independently, we’ve been climbing together since  day one. As a result, even after she moved home we progressed along much the same lines. She’s an entirely different type of climber than I am despite the identical start, proving that there’s a nature/nurture argument in climbing as well. In the time I’ve known her we’ve dove with great whites, jumped off bridges, gone sky diving, eaten crocodile, climbed most everything. I’ve been to London and Ireland, and she to Austria, Germany, and Spain.

Divezone.net
Divezone.net

Thailand, it turns out, is a natural destination for people with impulses such as ours. Not the partying (although I’m sure there will be a little) or the sex trade (there will be none). But for adventure in the high and low places of the world, it suites. We’re going as part of a dive master program with Barakuda Dive Center. By working for free for a time teaching diving to tourists on the island, we save ourself the few grand it would cost for the certification. Granted, we still have to pay for things like rent and food, but you can’t beat the location. Koh Phi Phi (pronounced Pee Pee) is pretty darn photogenic. While I haven’t seen it, I know they filmed the movie The Beach there, so if you’re curious you could watch it.  The diving is world-class, known for corals of course, but also for manta rays and whale sharks and excellent wreck diving.

It’s also, in a very serendipitous turn, the birthplace of climbing in Thailand. While the most recent guide book is ten years old, and while the bolts are notoriously tenuous, and while the tsunami swept away much of the infrastructure on the island, one look at those limestone cliffs is enough to get my fingers  twitching. The climbing there seems to be a good combination of things I enjoy: multi-pitches, sport routes, and plenty of lead climbing. And I get to experience it all on a new type of rock. I’m especially excited to get a deep water solo under my belt.

Camille deep water solo'ing in Spain. Such a babe.
Camille deep water solo’ing in Spain. Such a babe.

In a few hours Camille and I are headed to LAX. We have a 13 hour flight before a 6 hour layover in Tokyo. It hasn’t come up yet, but I spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about, talking about, and eating food. Which means that if you continue reading, you will probably spend a disproportionate amount of time hearing about food. I plan to initiate a culinary blitzkrieg on Thialand from day one. But, I’m going to begin with a real bowl of ramen and a shot of Japanese whiskey. As a gift to future, jet lagged me.

I took this just now.
I took this just now.

So here’s to the start of the next big adventure. I always say it, and I always mean it, but people always fail to appreciate what it means to me when I say I could not do the things I do without the support of a few choice people at home. I might not say it enough, but I love you guys to pieces.

Thailand, you may be the Land of a Thousand Smiles, but get ready to be the Land of a Thousand and One. I’m coming for you.

A Circumspect Greeting

I’m going to begin by stating right off the bat that my past forays into blogging have proven tepid at best. I love to write, but find it difficult to follow through with any form of consistency. I never imagined that what I had to say was all that important, even less inclined to believe people would want to read it. However, I have something big on the horizon, something that has catalyzed this blog into being, and I’ve decided to run with it for however long the momentum lasts.

So welcome to Moist: Wet, Sweaty, Tacky Adventures! A bit of a mouthful to be sure, but I wanted a way to incorporate multiple facets into a single title. I’ve often joked that I live my life in a perpetual state of moistness, and while I abhore the word, I’ve decided it’s time to own it.  There’s experience in these words, memories that come to call when they exit off the tongue.

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Before I elaborate on the “what” of it, I think it best you know a bit about me. My name is Amanda, and I suffer from a fairly virulent strain of itchy feet. Before you pull out the Lamisol, allow me to clarify that this is a pathogen of the wanderlust variety. I never can seem to stay put. This inclination has seen me all around the world, and I am thankful for every moment. Perhaps not as thankful at times as I should be, but writing has a way of allowing me to analyze things with the added dimensions of time and introspection. And there are many, many drafts between you and the final product.

I often wonder if my travels are a byproduct of my various interests, or if the converse is true and a natural inclination for wandering has allowed me to discover the things I hold most dear. In college I pursued a degree in Marine Biology and a minor in Chemistry. I tracked sea otters, wrangled elephant seals, played God to a  bowl of minuscule jelly polyps, and gaped slack jawed at the intricate beauty of a sea star under a microscope. It was an easy step from the land to the sea, literally as easy as a single giant stride from a boat with a tank strapped to my back. C.S. Lewis said “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” SCUBA diving was the door to that world. Hence, you see, the “wet” of it all.

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As to the “sweaty,” you have to go back to the beginning. The very beginning, when I was born via emergency C-section because my intention was to come out backwards. My mother says I could never sit still, not even in the womb. Between grade school and high school I rode horses, played soccer, ran track and cross country, surfed, and spent most days out until twilight. It is not so surprising, perhaps, now that you understandmy predilections for the out-of-doors, to hear that as an adult these desires manifested themselves in hiking and backpacking. On a recent backpacking trip to Catalina, I explained that backpacking was the only time I ever felt strong in every sense of the word, because at the end of the day the only thing that gets you to the end is your own determination and your own two feet. While I love the weekend jaunt through my local wild spaces, I’ve found a great love in long-distance trips. But we’ll get to that. It is, at the end of the day (and during the day as well), an extremely sweaty endeavor.

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It is fitting perhaps that “tacky” comes last, as it is the most recent development, unless you count my lifelong penchant for ageneral lack of class. When I was younger I spent a lot of time…up. Call it a Napoleon Complex gone amiss, but I’ve always sought high places. I don’t consider myself a “peak bagger,” but I do always seem to find myself standing on peaks, sweating. And so we come to the final obsession, the one that seems to be burning hottest these days: climbing. For the uninitiated, tack refers to a quality of the skin whereby it’s easier to hold onto the rock. I don’t have it. Salt water and callouses will never go hand in hand (heh), but I’d like to think its one of the few things for which I have a natural inclination. I often feel on the cusp of devoting myself to it entirely, and much like writing, when the urge strikes I will embark on a binge that ends only when my physical state necessitates rest.

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This something big that I spoke of, it brings it all in. The wetness, the sweat, and the tack. It draws on all of my previous travel, experience, and mental grit. For the first time, it’s truly all on me. I had every intention of introducing it in this post, but I do think I’ve already veared a bit into verbose territory. So, please, if you like what you’ve read, stay tuned. I imagine most who are reading this at this early stage are doing so because they know what I’m headed into. To tell you truthfully, I wish I could bring a good many people with me. But if I cannot tempt you to the Land of a Thousand Smiles with Instagram filters and the promise of that favorite buzzword “adventure,” at the very least I look forward to chronicling what will be a truly life-changing experience.