When The Panic arrived on day 4, it took me completely by surprise. I had, after all, come to koh Tao with the express purpose to scuba dive. I met Ruth & Stan in Bangkok & after a few days of sightseeing we made our way to Koh Tao, a quiet island in the gulf of Thailand known for diving and as a good place for newbies such as ourselves to learn how to dive.
We chose to dive with New Heaven Dive School in chalok baan kao bay because of their focus on small group sizes & marine conservation. Chalok Baan Kao Bay is also a bit removed from the more populated beaches & big dive schools, which was appealing.
The morning we met Lola I knew we had made the right decision. Lola is effervescent yet calm & capable. If ever you should learn how to scuba dive you should be so lucky to have Lola as your instructor. Our first day started with diving theory. No big classroom, no boring video. Just us 3 & Lola with her beautiful French accent explaining the principles behind diving, the equipment & what the openwater course entailed. She carefully explained the more salient points making sure we understood our safety was her number one priority and should be ours as well. Our first dive was in a shallow part of the bay with a sandy bottom. It was nice to be in the ocean & not a pool. Day 2: Kailee, a lovely girl & dive instructor in training, joined our little group. I was feeling more at ease under water but still had some issues maintaining neutral buoyancy. As long as I was moving I was ok. Staying in one place was another matter entirely. See you are only supposed to use your breath to move. Inhale. Up. Exhale. Down. But not too much up. Nor down. Juuuuust right. The goal is to hover. No legs. Definitely, no hands. By using only your breath you are more efficient under water & use less air which is why this is a particularly important skill to master. Yeah. Well. I bobbed like a cork and had very little control, which allowed Ruth & Stan the time to learn to new skill: laughing underwater. I could not keep myself upright. I fell over. I fell into Lola. I fell into Katie. I fell sideways. I fell forward. I popped up. I dropped to the ocean floor. It was exhausting & frustrating. All the while Lola was encouraging & ever optimistic that soon I would master neutral buoyancy.Day 3: Two more dives. The visibility was unfortunately, in Lola’s words “sheeeeet”, but in spite of that we saw multicolored coral forests, angel fish, parrot fish, emperor fish & spotted rays. I was finally getting my sea legs & wanting more.
We decided that as long as we had the time, we might as well pursue the Advanced Open Water course. This course was a bit more, well, advanced. The exercises included a night dive, a deep water dive, and a few other things. Day 4: This was the final day. 3 dives total, including the night dive. Unfortunately, it was a stormy day, pouring rain & the boats were unable to leave the bay due to rough seas. Day dives were cancelled. The weather finally cleared & by 7 pm I was in the water ready for the night dive. I had a large flashlight in my right had, BCD in my left, all systems go & I began my descent on the line. The visibility was so poor that I could barely see my fins, even with the flashlight. I became a little disoriented & I knew then & there that I was in trouble and I had my self a little freak out. Now, I don’t think of myself as a “Freaker Outer” and I have never had a panic attack, and I probably could have forced myself to continue. But why? So I could tick a box off a list? So I could potentially really freak out in deep water? I knew that if I forced myself & had a miserable time, the likelihood of ever doing another night dive was slim to none. So, with Lola by my side I surfaced and waited for the group on the boat. (The captain, who had taken a shine to me over the past few days, hovered like a mother hen, forcefeeding me cookies & hot tea while I waited)
I have learned a lot about myself traveling these past few months: I am stronger & more capable than I thought, I really like solo travel, and I hate bus rides. Tonight I learned a couple of more things: I know when I’ve reached a limit & I have nothing to prove.
And tomorrow? I will be back under water. In daylight.