It was a good one! Definitely, as predicted, much different from any of my previous New Year’s experiences, but it was a scenic, relaxing, and enjoyable weekend made all the more pleasant by new friends, little jungle cottages, the best diving we’ve had yet, and more than our fair share of “exotic” (in Thailand, anyway) foods like pizza and tzatziki.
As I said in my previous entry we were able to skip out of school a little early on Friday, on account of a meeting-related absence on the part of nearly all the other teachers. Had good conditions for the duration of the two-ish hour drive, and made it on the ferries just in time for yet another of Thailand’s awe-inspiring sunsets.
We met up with Eugene’s friends Jess and Fin upon arrival. They’re newcomers to Lanta– “stuck” in Thailand, as it were, with passport issues, but in the fortunate position of being dive instructors, which has allowed them to find freelance work in their period of limbo. This was in turn fortunate for us, as their temporary residence on the island has them renting a house, which they generously shared with us. I keep saying “they,” but Fin actually was off as soon as we arrived to spend the weekend instructing on a Live Aboard diving boat. We spent the evening on Jess’s porch with a bottle of Sangsom, and it was a good way to kick off the trip.
But the next day, New Year’s Eve, was for diving! Jess had to lead a dive anyway for Lanta Fun Divers, and they ended up being very cool about how they let us go about things. Since Eugene is also a certified dive instructor, they led him lead Wayne and me and we got to do our own thing. Additionally we each got a 20% discount because we weren’t being led by one of their instructors. It was a pretty sweet deal.
And what an incredible dive site! We went by speedboat to a nearby island, Koh Haa, which is a national park. As usual there were two dives; Eugene was quickly briefed about the dive sites, which were on either side of the island, and we were off! The visibility was incredible and from the very beginning we knew we were going to see some cool stuff. He took us to newfound depths of 30 meters on the first dive, which involved kind of crawling down a noticeable and seemingly endless decline, for the first time really giving us (or… me at least) a sense of the enormity of it all. We noticed how the colors differed down there, and how our mental responses were a bit slower (an easy numbers puzzle that took me 3.7 seconds on the surface took me 8 seconds down below!). Then it was time to explore.
On the first dive, the coolest thing we saw was probably the enormous barracuda. I’d say it was 4 feet long and a foot around (but I’m a terrible estimator and things look bigger underwater so… who knows). And like most barracudas it had these intimidating teeth poking out the front, but it didn’t give us a second look. It didn’t do much of anything; just sat perfectly still, waiting for the appropriate prey to come by. Seemingly, we were not that prey.
The second dive was the more impressive of the two, however. We knew there were caves and were a little nervous/excited to go through them. Eugene had proved to be a good guide thus far, and the caves were actually quite spacious with large openings that made them easier to navigate. It was definitely an added element to the experience, especially as you turn to exit and come upon a veritable fish playground. As I said before I’m a bad estimator so it’s hard to say just how many there were, but if I had to give it a go I’d have to say about a zillion. Partially because we were a little deeper than we’ve gone before, partially because it was a much more open area than we’ve been to before, and partially, I’d say, because of the area’s national park status (and the subsequent preservation), there were more (and more beautiful) fish than I’ve ever seen before all swimming within and around all varieties of gorgeous soft coral. The one I’ll hold above the rest on this dive was the enormous Bluestripe Angelfish I made an attempt to follow around for a bit. It was the size of a dinner platter! The picture doesn’t really do it justice but it was awesome.
We made it back by mid-afternoon and had the requisite post-dive beers and before we knew it it was time to get ready for the big night! We went down to the closest stretch of beach where a number of beachside bars were set up and decided it was a great place to park it for the night. Some music, drinks, good company– and of course the midnight fireworks– made it a night to remember.
And then… it rained. For two days straight.
New Year’s Day was spent alternately playing musical chairs on the porch (three chairs, four people… it forces you to be opportunistic) and seizing the odd dry spell to escape for food. And catching episodes of Sex and the City in between all that? Anyway it was a fine excuse to do nothing in our post-NYE… slumps, but we started considering leaving the next day, rather than on the 3rd as initially planned.
Of course, it was a bit of a Catch-22: we’d come by motorbike so if it was really rainy we essentially couldn’t leave. But if it was sunny… well then we wouldn’t want to leave! The morning of the 3rd offered no promises (it’s actually when I took the above picture, when Wayne and I got caught shopping and had to duck into a side alley for refuge and a fruit shake); but by early afternoon it looked just clear enough to make for what we expected to be a relatively easy departure. Jess was sick so Wayne, Eugene, and I set off to run some last-minute errands. Until… the clouds opened enough to give us hope of a beach afternoon, and we thought a beer at the Gecko bar seemed like a good idea, to give us a sense of what the weather would do. (Plus I had to get some pictures of the beach, you know!)
And guess what happened. It cleared right up! We decided we absolutely couldn’t leave, but instead had to enjoy some sunshine and saltwater. (And, in my case, a much-needed beachside massage… mmmmm.)
We finally left the beach and indulged in some tzatziki and souvlaki at the Greek Taverna that had been catching our eye each time we drove by. Considering that we did need to rise early and get on the road the next morning (I had a puppy to get back to, after all!) our final night was quite chill. Breakfast at the German bakery in the morning had us in good shape to head out, and we did so on a perfectly clear (though sunburn inducing) morning. It was indeed a great way to kick off the new year!