Monday, 6 June 2016

Last Thoughts

So it's been a while since I've been here. As I traveled I found that I had less time to write and it became a chore. I thought I would come back to it and write in retrospect as I did last year. I enjoyed remembering my previous adventures and it was nice to see how far I had come.  However time has moved on as it does and I find that I have no inclination to continue with my blog as it is. So this will be my last post to Plan C.

I did go back to the temples and see Angor Wat as the sun rose though it was so misty I'm still not sure exactly where to sun was. I loved Cambodia and from there I revisited Australia, played tourist in New Zealand and then back to Australia where I finally made it to Tasmania. I used my credit cards to get to the Philippines and from there I traveled to Vietnam and back to Thailand. On the 31st of March 2016 I landed in London and so ended my life as a restless wanderer. I may go back one day and write up these trips but if I do it will be in a different place.

Before I go I'd like to share some last thoughts with you.

I'll start with the 'D' word.... Dating. I've never blogged about dating not because I haven't tried it but because it involves other people and I feel it is wrong to talk about them online. Also it turns out I'm not so good at it and no one likes talking about the things they're bad at! I am sure as I bring this blog and chapter of my life to a close many of you would love to hear about a fairy-tail ending where I met someone and we are now off to live happily ever after. This is definitely not the case.

I date, sort of. For those who know me it won't come as a surprise to find out I am terrible at it. I am picky with a stupidly short attention span. Not one single person I've attempted to date has become a friend, not even on facebook, so I joke about being a crazy cat lady. Of course I don't talk about dating so it is unsurprising that some (most?) people may get the wrong impression. I am not a modern day Miss Havisham. I don't hold up every guy to a perfect version of Josh that I have in my head (to this day I enjoy remembering his faults as much as his virtues) and find them wanting. I will always love him but the person I have become is not in love with him as the person I was used to be. In the end it's come down to one thing, time.

In the early days I was grieved and it took time. Then I wanted to get to know who I was as a single person, and that took time. Finally I thought I might settle in New Zealand and tried out dating but then it turned out there wasn't time. With my busy schedule I never met anyone who I wanted to spend time with more than my friends. Remember that picky short attention span? I have hobbies and interests and friends which filled my life and the few men who were foolish enough to be interested in me just couldn't compete. Then I knew I was leaving and I really didn't see the point in trying to make time. I'm not denying that it would be nice to meet someone who shares my interests but then considering how often they change that might be difficult! I'm not giving up looking but I'm happy as I am so I'm not in a hurry, besides once again life is about to get busy.

There might bot be a knight in shining armour but there is a happy ending, or should that be beginning? I'm not only back in the UK, I'm back where I started this chapter in 2009. The city where life as I knew it ended might just be the the place to give me a brand new life. I'm a different person and life has taken me many wonderful places and now I'm ready for the next chapter. I've recently been offered a position as a travel consultant with a great company. My love of travel will hopefully lead me to an interesting and fulfilling career which will at the same time allow me to continue to indulge in my own passion for travel, though on a much smaller scale than previously. Who knows I may even start an actual travel blog one day. None of us knows what the future will bring but many of us know that we should make the most of what we have while we have it. I think it's fair to say I have done that and more since Monday, 19 July 2010 when I wrote my very first post.

Plan C has been amazing and I cannot thank you enough for sharing it with me. Your comments and encouragement gave me courage when mine faltered. It's been an honor sharing my journey from lost and grieving traveling widow to world exploring travel addict. Some posts have been a pleasure and some have been hard to write but they all helped me in their own way. I will finish up on this:

I am grateful for Jonathan. For everything he taught me, all he gave to me and all that he was.
I am grateful for his friends and family who have gone way way beyond any and all expectations to help and support me on this journey.
I am grateful for every person I have met along the way.
I am especially grateful for my own family and their unfailing support and love.
Mostly though I am grateful for my future whatever it may bring.

And as always, now life goes on xxx

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Siem Reap Temples

My first task in Cambodia was to book a tuk tuk to take me round the temples. The hostel had a whiteboard where guests could write their name beside a time and which circuit they would like to do. This meant the guests could share the tuk tuks and split the cost. Most people leave early in the morning so by the time I got round to writing my name there was only one other person in the hostel interested in going. At first I was concerned as she seemed quite young but I soon learned she was not much younger than me. Another consequence of my late start was rising temperature but since we were later than most there were less people about, a trade off I was more than happy about.

We started at the famous Angkor Wat which was still busy with tourists even later in the morning. I soon discovered my new friend and I were of a like mind when it came to viewing temples. It was impressively large and a little overwhelming so we hired one of the guides to explain some of what we were seeing. It was worth it as he was quite amusing though as always most of what he told us I have already forgotten. My fellow backpacker and I decided to visit the top shrine. I had my trusty scarf but for once I was told that wasn’t enough. Fortunately my new friends top was declared appropriate and so she kindly lent me her raincoat so that my shoulders were also appropriately covered and we were good to go. The queue went down quickly and soon we were at the top of the temple where I felt the views were more impressive than the shrine itself. Still it was a good end to our first temple visit and we were ready for the next one. Though we agreed, no more guides!

After Ankgor Wat we visited three more temples; Angkor Tom, Ta Phrom and Banteay Kdie. Each one was different and had its own charm. None of the temples had anything like the amount of restoration work as Angkor Wat yet at Angkor Tom the structure was still very impressively. Much of the surroundings had been cleared and it was easy to imagine how it would have looked in its prime as we wandered through the ancient walkways. Ta Phrom was different from the Angkors in that we walked around the structures not through them. Also it was much more overgrown than the previous temples making it almost seem like part of the forest. I was most impressed with the large tree growing over the temple with routes surrounding ones of its entrances. Only later that evening was I educated about the more recent history of Ta Phrom. Ta Phrom was none other than one of the main temples used in the Tomb Raider films amd the tree was quite famous, oops. Had I arrived earlier the night before I probably would have learnt this sooner as I discovered that the hostel played the film most nights.

 Finally we visited Banteay Kdie, a temple surrounded by the rubble of its outer structures. Here there was much more rubble than Angkor Tom but we could still walk the ancient halls in a similar way. It was like Ta Phrom in that the surrounding forest was much more in evidence. Unlike either Angkor Tom and Ta Phrom Banteay Kdie contained a worshiping woman at a colourful shrine showing that, as I had heard, these really were still places of worship and reverence despite the various states of disrepair they were all in.

For me the later temples were far more interesting than the busy Angkor Wat. I enjoyed the sense of peacefulness now present but also the sight of nature reclaiming what had once been both great and vast structures. Some people might be unsettled by the reminder of how fleeting and fragile our civilisations can be but I never am. I like ruins and reclaimed ruins I think might be my new favourite landscape.

We arrived back in the city late in the afternoon. Though our later departure time had indeed meant quieter temples for the most part the heat was very energy draining. Therefore my new friend and I parted ways for a rest arranging to meet up for dinner later that evening. We quickly realised that the cheaper restaurants were away from our centrally located hostel. We didn’t have to go too far though before we saw a couple of places down a side street. One of them had local dishes at good prices and I got my first taste of traditional Cambodian food.

After the spiciness of Thai food I had become used to (though not accustomed to!) the lack of spice was a refreshing change. I soon discovered that despite this there was still plenty of flavour in the traditional dishes. I honestly cannot remember in what order I ate what dishes but I do remember enjoying every single one of them immensely. After dinner we explored the night markets where we declined many tuk tuk rides and massages and a lot of street food. The food looked good but personally I was too full and slightly overwhelmed by the size of the market. I settled on buying some banana chips for the following day before happily heading back to the hostel. Our day of temples had been so pleasant that my friend and I had decided to visit the smaller temples the next day. This time though we would be amongst the many people starting their day at sunrise and Angkor Wat so off to bed we went.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Thailand to Cambodia - Crossing the Border by Foot

Sadly after only two days diving I had to leave Koh Tao. My New Zealand bank card had arrived at my friends and luckily she was to be in Bangkok that weekend so I was anxious to collect it as soon as I could. I had time for a walk on the beach and some ice-cream and thought how typical that this day should be the one with the best weather. I was glad when I did leave though as our ferry departure coincided with some massive clouds and a lots of rain finding the island.

My funds from my last withdrawal had lasted well but were uncomfortably low which lead to me putting off booking my train until the last minute. I was fortunate to get a place on my preferred train but not fortunate enough to get a bunk. Despite the basic seat I was assigned I did manage to get some sleep. I am sure the fact that the train terminated at Bangkok helped me to relax since i would be unable to miss my stop this time. 

In Bangkok I had time to meet my friend to get my card and have lunch before I was back on a train. Whilst in Koh Tao I heard that it was possible to dive in Cambodia and so that was to be my next destination. As with Malaysia there was much more of Thailand that I would have like to have seen but my time was going quickly and there were so many countries still to see.

The train from Bangkok went as far as the Thai border at Aranyaprathet where the train line ended. From there I got a tuk tuk with two Canadian guys to the border. I had read about the scams and I felt sure our driver had not taken us where we were meant to go but the guys got out of the tuk tuk whilst I was arguing about the fare with our driver. I got my way with the fare but the guys had gotten out and we were left at a convincingly official looking building. Despite my uneasiness I am sorry to admit I went along with the other two. One had been before and said it wasn’t what he remembered but as travelling in SE Asia was new to me I allowed myself to be swayed. In the end we were fortunate. All that happened was that we over paid for out taxi and they got a copy of my passport. I’d be worried but my passport has been photocopied by so many different hostels that I didn’t care except I had been proven right that our tuk tuk driver had mislead us. 

Apart from our slight misdirection we managed to cross the border without incident. We filled out all the forms (again!) paid the expected cpsts and walked across. I had completed my first crossing on foot! At the other side a taxi was waiting and the three of us were taken straight to Siem Reap. I had booked my hostel in advance knowing I would be arriving late but they had not so our final leg was once again completed via tuk tuk the round-about way. Fortunately I keep my valuables in my hand luggage and always insist on keeping that with me as during one particularly sharp turn my backpack took a side trip to the road. Our driver was most apologetic and there was no harm but it re-enforced my inclination to always keep my hand luggage with me not matter what. 

Our relatively expensive taxi ride meant I made it to Siem Reap earlier than planned to finds life in the city and my hostel was still in full swing. I was quickly checked in and soon in my lovely comfy bed. I was in a new country and tomorrow I was going to explore but first, sleep!

Monday, 28 December 2015

Fun Diving at Koh Tao

I woke up at 5am feeling refreshed and raring to go. I got ready and headed to 7-11 for breakfast again as it was right next to the dive school I was using that day (called Roctopus!) and not much else was open. In typical Thai style I arrive late but they were running later. This time the ride to our boat was much shorter and more sedate than the previous days as we didn’t have to cross the island this time. Both companies tended to dive on opposite sides of the island which was one of the reasons I chose them.

On the way out to our site the sea was quite choppy which made for an interesting journey. I had never been out in such conditions and wondered how it would affect our dive but the people taking us out knew their stuff. They took us to a site called Green Rock and told us we would swim around it. Our guide showed us a picture of the site as well as pointing out which fish we might see. There were only three of us going out with her so she designated herself my buddy as the other two were there travelling together. Once in the sea I enjoyed floating on the waves before we started our descent  and was amazed at how good the visibility was below the surface. It wasn’t sunny-day-good but considering the surface conditions we could see a surprising amount of life. There were many different fish which I still don’t know the names. Once we surfaced our guide helped us identify some of them but were just too many for me to ask her about them all!  The main surprise for me though was how much of the previous days final dive had sunk in. I knew that it would take time for me to get better at controlling my buoyancy and after yesterday I fully expected it to take a lot of time but I think in my sleep I must have processed a lot. I was still far from perfect but I felt I finally understood how to use my breathing to control my rise and fall. It may not sound like much but for me it was a big deal. I probably missed a few fish whilst testing this new skill but since even a banner fish amuses me I still saw plenty to make the dive worthwhile. I did have a slight issue with my buoyancy during our safety stop but an extra weight from our guide soon sorted out that problem. The highlight for me though was the small school of little remoras who decided to come and investigate me. I wanted to keep them but as we swam off they elected to stay behind. Understandable but sad as they were extremely cute!

Our second dive was near a sunken WW2 ship. We were told that if the thermocline was too high we would give it a miss and explore the pinnacles nearby. We descended in much calmer water this time and started to swim. Our guide once again pointed out anything she thought would interest us including a trigger fish which we stopped to look at. Though my mask was not fogging up as much as it had the day before it was still clouding up during the dives and I foolishly decided that this would be a good time to clear it so I could see better. I had mastered the art of not kicking whilst I did this so I no longer floated up however as previously mentioned I still had away to go and this time the tip of my fin touched the bottom just as cleared my mask. The fish thankfully didn’t move but I turned and saw the instructor wave me over. It turned out there was one behind me and it didn’t like me messing up its territory! Of course then fish one decided it would have a go too, I only saw one so I have to take the guides word for this. I am happy to report I remembered the advice from the previous day and kicked my fins to attract it (them?) to those instead of me and swan directly away from their territory. Phew, fish attach averted! I did my best attempt at an underwater apology and was very careful the rest of the dive.

After a short swim  I was excited to see the wreck looming out of the thermocline. The thermocline was just above the bottom of the wreck so there was still plenty for us to see plus I got to experience my first thermocline! It was unsurprisingly very cold but even having been told about it I was still surprised at how quickly the visibility deteriorated in the cold water. There wasn’t any coral on the wreck yet but there were plenty of fish and it was nicely bizarre to see a ship underwater. The gun turrets once used for mass death were now home to little fish who looked like they were enjoying playing hide and seek through the various hidey holes. After the wreck we saw some more coral and marine life and a blue spotted ray! Years on and I still love them and am seriously considering one as tattoo number three....  This time I managed to ascend with no buoyancy problems. The difference a day makes. I was as much in love with diving as I had ever been, possibly even more.

We headed back to the shop and our guide was quick to find me and help me fill out my log book. She was a genuinely lovely person and it was real pleasure to dive with her so I was a sad when she announced I’d have a different guide for my afternoon dives. She introduced us and he turned out to be English and unsurprisingly as friendly and nice as everyone else I met at that place. I do wonder if they give them all happy pills there. Turned out I had just enough time to go to 7-11 for lunch then  it was back to the shop where I got to have a lie down because once again I was in the last taxi. I was also introduced to my new dive buddy who turned out to be English too. I will admit it was nice to converse with people who are fluent in sarcasm for a change.

We were on the same boat I had been out in that morning but this time it was a lot fuller, I guess on an island know for partying as much as diving the afternoon dives are a lot more popular! We piled on and were soon on our way back out to sea. I took the chance to practice my meditation breathing as I had read it could help improve my diving.. Once we arrived at the sight we were to be first off the boat so we headed straight to the bottom deck for our briefing. It was time to dive

My new ‘buddy’ hadn’t been diving in a while so was doing a quick refresher. I was a bit concerned about this as I thought it would cut in to my dive time but as said previously, these guys know there stuff. Visibility was good so whilst my ‘buddy’ and our guide did the refresher I went for a swim about. I kept them in sight and checked in regularly. There were again a lot of fish it was interesting to swim about and good to take my time and great practice at going slow and really looking. Since they were having a review I decided to do one of my own. I attempted a Buddha pose only to open my eyes and realise I was floating up, sigh. I hadn’t gone too far so I stayed calm and concentrated and soon I was descending once again. I did take the time to signal I was ok to our guide who was probably a bit confused as to what to was doing up there. He totally gets points for noticing though. Whilst I was disappoint that I had ascended I was proud of my lack of panicking and my cool reaction which allowed me to fix of the situation quickly.

Soon enough we went off exploring. We swam over some coral then we hit sand, sand and more sand. I never thought sand was that interesting but I lowered myself down and close up I saw fish popping in and out of their hidey holes, an almost transparent crab and what looked to be mini banner fish with babies! Tiny tiny fish that were ever so cute!! To top the dive off I found myself hovering quite by accident. I stayed calm and waited to see if I could hold it. I could! So I crossed my legs and attempted a mask clear and I managed it without noticeably ascending or descending. I cannot tell you how impressed I was with myself, as the saying goes simple things... Too soon we had to ascend to the surface.

We stayed in the same spot for out second dive of the afternoon. This time though we went to the other side of the boat. It turns out that the other side of the boat was similar but different and just as entertaining as the first.

Though eight dives in two days was a lot my only regret was that the following day instead of going on a dive boat I would be getting on a ferry and heading back to Bangkok.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Advanced Certification at Koh Tao

The overnight train was an easy journey yet unusually sleep did not come easily to me therefore I arrived at Chumpon at 5am sleep deprived and anxious to find my bus so I could get to the ferry and attempt more sleep. I had read some horror stories about the company I was crossing with but my worries were unfounded. I was able to stretch out and rest though sleep was still eluding me. Therefore on arrival at the island I was glad to jump in a taxi with two other girls who managed to negotiate my 150 ride to a 100 Bhat ride. I’ve yet to have any success negotiating, I don’t think I have the conviction needed to make it work so I always admire those who can.

Once I had checked in to my hostel I ignored the comfy looking bed and went to organise some diving! I spoke to several dive companies but as usual it was the smaller ones that were the friendliest and most appealing to me. My favourite company couldn’t do my advanced certification so I booked some fun dives with them for my second day and went to my second favourite company for my first day when I would do four dives, two of which would complete my advanced open water certification. .  It sounds easy but it took a few hours of walking about to achieve this so once everything was booked I found a nice restaurant that served a decent Pad Thai. It was a good thing I had a lot of diving planned as I would need to work off some of the food I had been eating!

Back at the hostel I managed a quick Skype home before it was time to do my homework. I had to read the relevant chapters in the dive manual before I could do my certification dives. Once I had swatted up I could finally go to bed, where I again failed to do much sleeping. I guess the excitement of the next day was just too much for me.

6am the next morning I was back at the dive shop and ready to go. Despite my lack of sleep and 7-11 breakfast I was excited that soon I would be back in the water. Before we could dive we had to drive to the beach to find our boat.  The taxi’s here are modified Ute’s which meant that when we crested the last hill of a very narrow road we could see all the way down, it was a great view but not for the faint hearted.

On the boat we were left to put our gear together. At had been just under six months since my last dive which meant I was spared the expense of the refresher required after a 6 month break. It soon became apparent that I could have done with that review. After one of the crew helped me assemble my gear the right way round I was good to go in the water. Before long I felt like I remembered what I was doing again and the nerves were replaced by the pure joy of being a diver once more. As expected the reef wasn’t as colourful as the Great Barrier Reef nor was there the diversity of animal life. However it was amazing to be underwater again and there were manmade blocks which were starting to attract marine life.

I was in Koh Tao in the off season so the weather wasn’t the best. For our second dive the bad weather forced everyone to same spot so there was a lot more diver traffic. Due to the traffic we stayed close to our guide but still saw some interesting marine life.  Once we emerged I got straight out of the water only to be asked why. My limited experience in the reef has always ended with us going straight to the boat so I guess it was habit. Therefore I removed my BCD and jumped straight back in with my snorkel to enjoy the fish massive shoal of fish near our boat. I stayed on the surface though as 1) my free diving is terrible and 2) we were warned never to free dive after a scuba dive and I value my health.

On Koh Tao the boats don’t go out for the day only the morning or the afternoon therefore we returned to the mainland for lunch before I was back at the dive shop ready for my certification dives.

Before going out again myself and three other divers practiced using our compasses on land. One of the girls took a while to get a hang of the use of the compass during our dry land trials but I suspect this was a translation issue. The one guy in our group tutted a bit and his impatience was obvious. I thought it was quite unfair as different people get different things more easily than others. Fortunately our instructor was very patient and went over it with both girls until he was sure they understood.

On the boat it was time to gear up again and thanks to my morning dives I had no problems getting everything in order and even managed to help one of the other girls. Eventually we were all geared up and it was time to get back in the water. As soon as we descended my mask fogged up! It was new and I had used toothpaste on it in an effort to prevent the fogging but I fear one night was not enough. Before long the trainee dive master pointed out to me that I needed to do it again and motioned for me to clear my mask. I doubt anyone who reads this remembers but clearing my mask was my least favourite task when doing my original open water certification. Our instructor made me do it time and again and I appreciate why but I hate it because it involved filling the mask with water and I’m afraid I’ll lose a contact so keep my eyes closed and then I can’t see. Not to mention I always get water up my nose. Anyway I did it, badly it turns out. Later on I happened to see the OW video and realised I really had forgotten some real basic things. This was one of them but at least next time I would be better prepared.

During the dive I was paired with the impatient guy who turned out to be an annoying dive buddy. The good news was that I managed the navigation tasks easily and once they were complete we had a lovely dive.

Next was buoyancy. This is my weakest and most desired skill: to gracefully float through the water and even sit in perfect harmony with the ocean. Yes. Well. Here I found out just how much I had forgotten. I had forgotten about using my BCD to change my buoyancy. I get the theory easily enough but in practice. I’m up and I’m down. I’m floating away. I’m bumping in to people. It is extremely frustrating. This would be why love brings suffering as Buddha says. I love diving but I desire to be better than I am and I suffer because I fail to meet my own expectations. However my love outweighs my suffering though on this dive it was hard to remember why. My mask made it hard to see and for some reason when I tried to clear it I often ended up floating up. I later learned from our instructor that I have a bad habit of kicking when I clear it so now I know hopefully that won’t happen again (much). Anyway since I was quite tired by this point I really struggled. I managed the basic stuff but the more advanced was beyond me. There was also a task I was unable to do because I didn’t know what it was. Our instructor had demonstrated and other had gone before me but my visibility was so low I had no idea what they were doing until the last person did it. I shrugged my shoulders and tried to get this across but there is only so much you can communicate underwater and I don’t know how to sign "I’m sorry I didn’t see what you did and I can barely see you cos my mask is fogged up. Actually I could now but I'm tired, frustrated and feeling very unsuccessful." However I did enough to pass and that (as well as being the story of my life) is the main thing. I might have been tired and feeling a lot stupid but I had actually learned a great deal. It is true that you learn more from your mistakes and that dive I really think I learned a whole lot.

Finally it was over and though I was by no means in perfect harmony with the ocean I had done enough to pass my certification. Back on dry land the girls returned to their hostel to get their dive books so there would be a wait to fill out the details from our day. I decided to stay and help rinse the rest of the equipment as really I wanted to shower before I ate. Eventually I went looking and though I didn’t find them I did find the dive master from our morning dive and was able to get the details of our dives from him. Over an hour after the girls had said they would return I found our instructor and told him I needed to go get some money but I would be right back. By this point I was extremely hungry and if you know me you know that isn’t pretty. The only slight consolation was that he seemed just as annoyed as me at the non-arrival of the two girls.

 I took the opportunity to collect my washing which turned out to be a wise move as on my return to the dive bar the rain started. I ordered a burger and I swear it was the best burger I have ever had, did I mention I was extremely hungry?! I’m sure my instructor didn’t believe I was just hangry as he was quite concerned about me but as always once I had eaten I felt my mood improve and I was once again able to form sentences and be almost sociable. As there was no sign of the girls we finally filled out my dive book and completed the paper work for my certification. He went off to check on it since I was being awkward by splitting my advanced only to discover I was not on the system. I did not have a tantrum at this point and much to his credit neither did the instructor. Thankfully I had my card and my log book so he could see I should be in the system and promised he would sort it. I have to say I did feel sorry for that instructor; he earned his money that day with the four of us! I know I for one I was more than happy to call it a day. I felt for sure there was no way I wouldn’t sleep well that night and I was right. It took me a while to clam my mind and drift off but once I did I was out for the night. The power of sleep had returned to me and not a moment too soon, after all I was only half way through my diving.