Day 14 | Memoir of a dive school dropout

We woke up around 6:30am, tired after a short night of sleep but definitely excited to start our scuba diving practice in a swimming pool this morning. Ko Tao is pretty empty early in the morning and the only tourists we bumped into at that time were other scuba diving students. This is the road where our guesthouse is located, which leads to the main intersection of Sairee Village.

Road leading to the main intersection of Sairee Village

On our way, we walked by The Gallery, the restaurant where we had dinner last night. Note that unlike almost all establishments on the island, they specifically ask customers to kindly leave their shoes on. I think this may be because Chris (the owner who we met) isn’t actually from Thailand.

The Gallery Ko Tao, a shoes-friendly restaurant

We stopped by the 7-Eleven so Mimi could get her morning coffee without which she is unable to function. I don’t have this problem. When we got to Roctopus, our instructor Holly wasn’t there yet so we decided to keep walking down to the beach and enjoy some quiet time there.

We got back after a few minutes and met Holly and the rest of our group. The group consists of only four students: beside Mimi and I, there was a German guy named Alex and a Finnish girl named Etty. Mimi has already tried scuba diving two years ago in Mexico, Etty tried before in Finland, whereas for Alex and me it’s truly the first time.

On the floor in front of us, the Roctopus staff had prepared all our diving equipment, personalized to our size/weight (for the wetsuit, fins and weight belt). This included the large tank of compressed air which I thought was quite heavy. Holly made us inspect all the pieces separately, explaining the important things to double check for each one. Most importantly, we made sure the tank had been controlled recently and was not leaking, checked the air level and also smelled the air to ensure it was clean and safe to breathe underwater. Holly told us a bad sign is if the tank’s air smelled like car exhaust or what she likes to call “Bangkok.” Holly also explained how to put the weights on our weight belt and how to balance them so that both sides are equally loaded.

Once we were done checking our equipment, we changed to our swimsuits and headed to the pool that Roctopus rents for students to practice. We did not put on our gear right away however. Holly first asked us to go in the deep pool and just stay there for 10 minutes. We could tread water or even float on our back, the only rule was that we could not touch the sides of the deep pool. After that she asked us to swim 10 laps of the pool. The purpose of these two tests is for her to ensure that we are comfortable in the water and can at least float and swim for some time. Students that fail these simple tests aren’t allowed to scuba dive. The four of us had no problem here.

We got back to pick up our gear and brought it into the pool. There we started practicing shallow water skills. The first one was filling the mask halfway with water and then clearing it up. This can happen frequently while diving and it’s important to be able to get rid of the water without panicking. Before it was even my turn, I knew I would struggle with this because I find it really discomforting to have water up in my nostrils. I tried to do it a few times but every time I tried, I felt the need to come back to the surface and breathe. The instructor was very patient with me and kept encouraging me. My level of stress increased as we were repeating the same exercise over and over again. Eventually Holly decided to skip me and get back to it later. Mimi was the last on line and did not have a problem clearing her mask.

The next skill to practice was taking our regulators out of our mouths and putting it back in to breathe again. There are two ways to clear out the water from the regulator: blowing air with your mouth or using the purge button. We had to be familiar with both. This was a bit easier for me but at that point I felt like it was hard for me to stay under the water for too long. While others were repeating the moves, I kept coming back up to the surface. Holly understood I wasn’t comfortable and we talked a bit while Mimi was listening on the side. I think I was panicked and started to feel pins and needles in my fingers and toes. That’s when I decided that I should probably pass on scuba diving, at least for now. Mimi asked me to at least stick with the swimming pool practice but I felt too stressed to keep going and did not see the point if I wasn’t going to dive in the ocean anyway. In retrospect perhaps I should have forced myself in the pool (since there is zero risk of drowning or depth / pressure-related issues). I took my gear off and went to walk on the beach while Mimi completed her training session in the swimming pool.

When she was done, it was around 11am and we went for an early lunch at Su Chilli, one of the best rated restaurants on the island. Mimi was a bit disappointed but also very understanding. I would have reacted the same way, and felt pretty sad myself that I would not be able to share this amazing experience with her. We came back to Roctopuss since she had to attend another academics session. I talked to the manager there and they offered me a refund. We were hoping for a full refund but they only gave me back 55% of the total package cost. I left Mimi to her class room and headed back to the hotel to take a nap.

Before 2pm, I was awaken by someone saying “Housekeeping!” at the door. Still groggy from sleep, I opened the door to realize it was just my cute fiancee playing a joke on me. Later, we went to the beach and swam in the super shallow water. Stray dogs were in the water and of course Mimi could not resist petting one of them.

Dogs were also playing on the beach. Cute right? What if I told you that one of these dogs did #2 in the water a few minutes earlier? At least we were far away from the action when that happened.

We got back on the sand and admired the sunset over Sairee Beach.

Sunset over Sairee Beach

There are numerous restaurants, bars and lounges on the beach itself. Tonight we decided to have dinner and drinks at FIZZ beachlounge and tried one of the Thai beer brands, Singha. Neither Mimi nor I are beer fans but we both enjoyed it.

Relaxing at FIZZ beachlounge

Free entertainment was provided on the beach in the form of very talented fire dancers. Locals were also selling paper lanterns like the one that can be seen ascending in the sky in the video below.

We did not stay out late since Mimi still had more homework to do for her scuba diving certification and was in need of rest before her first open water dives the next day!

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