As the tides turn on my first of two weeks here in Thailand, I reflect on a few days at sea and a few days on a Khao Lak beach, where 12 years ago the Tsunami hit and they still speak as reverently of it as if it were much more recent history, reminding me that however sad and devastating it seemed to me at 9000 miles away, I will never know what the images on the Internet could not convey.
The Andaman Sea in late March is like bath water. The air, like a warming sauna without one iota of that lovely dry heat. The fruit here comes pre-peeled and wrapped in plastic film and styrofoam, which is then wrapped in its own plastic bag(s). There are more nail and massage places, tailors and tourist shops than I’ve ever seen in 4 square blocks. Something like The Beach meets Fort Lauderdale at Spring Break. I’ve also managed to lose my sunglasses.
But we came to dive…
Most divers have a critter wish-list. That is, we part mer-humans make a small private wish each time we head into the water, hoping to encounter a whale shark or manta ray or ghost pipefish or seahorse or other such aquiline critter we have not as yet met. To this end, I spent 4 days this week aboard the June Hong Chian Lee, an old Chinese Junk that has been renovated as a liveaboard dive boat. And so, I spent the days in the company of divers from far and wide: from the UK and Sweden and France and Argentina and Finland and the Philippines and Switzerland… Each of us with our own personal quest to find Nemo or other critters on our respective lists.
My fish checklist was rather easy to tick off this trip, as I’d never dived waters on this side of the planet. Nemo, check. Butterfly fish and triggerfish of all colours, shapes and sizes, check. Honeycomb moray, white-eyed moray, spotted moray, green moray, check, check, and check. Leopard shark, check. But there are some special critters that are simultaneously elusive and for their own reasons special to each diver… My list includes seahorses, ghost pipefish, manta rays, sea dragons, hammerheads and some others. So when Mick, our divemaster, pointed deep into a crevice on the Andaman’s famed Richelieu Rock dive site and I realised what he wanted me to see, the words that formed in my head were, “OMG, are those really….” [whispered in my head: Ghost Pipefish] Yes, indeed they were. It’s hard to convey underwater to your dive buddy that you’ve just seen a critter on your lifetime wish-list; a thing you’ve been diving for nearly 20 years in hopes of glimpsing. Yet, all he can see are your frenetic hand signals (none of which can adequately depict said ghost pipefish) and a very silly grin on your face (which causes perhaps some alarm, because one is not supposed to get narc’ed at 20 metres).
Maintaining a sense of awe and wonder at the regular everyday marine life and general spectacle of the undersea world while at the same time experiencing a first glimpse of one’s bucket list critter(s) is the practice, really. It’s not hard to take for granted what we know and that with which we are comfortable. What’s hard is to see the precious magic in the everyday schools of yellow snappers or run-of-the-mill parrotfish or blue tangs and trevallis. As if being privileged to observe the underwater aquatic ballet isn’t magic spectacle enough.
And so, ghost pipefish seen but, alas, not photographed, we wade back into the (Andaman) sea to see what other wonders may make themselves known…
And on dry land, the mangoes are sweeter than nectar, the bananas equally so; the massaman curry does not disappoint, the sun sets like a ripe tangerine dunking itself in the Indian Ocean, and this mermaid trades fins for feet and embarks on the second half of her adventure.
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