Welcome to Koh Tao!
Holy crap. It begins. To be honest I was getting pretty anxious about being in Bangkok for much longer. Just being in Thailand is only a part of the Watson, and I was itching to get to Koh Tao.
Why Koh Tao? What am I doing here? Koh Tao is one of the smaller inhabited islands in the Gulf of Thailand, and is a global mecca for scuba divers of all levels, proclivities, and inclinations. I got off the ferry and walked past at least 10 dive shops crowded next to each other on the beach. Dive bags virtually flew through the air into the backs of trucks (this would be very dangerous and did not in fact occur). Sitting with my gear in the open-air trunk (somehow I am always in the trunk), I hurtled over dirt hills and bungalows to Chalok Ban Kao Bay to New Heaven Diving School.
I’m here, at New Heaven and in Koh Tao, for a diversity of reasons, listed below from least to most theoretical:
- To get back in the water in a controlled environment where I can track my progress as a diver
- To dive in the Pacific for the first time in a safe space
- To refresh technical skills in coral conservation and restoration
- To get new technical skills in coral conservation and restoration
- Because I had to delay my visit to the Canary Islands
- To see restoration done by an agency with significant resources
- To see restoration discussed in the educational context
- To see how ecotourist agencies address climate change (practically and rhetorically)
In many ways it’s frustrating to start my Watson As A Tourist. But “Acting in Place” and being committed to a community is not only possible in formal dive communities like New Heaven (NHDS), but necessary if I want to explore how the majority of divers – tourists – learn about coral restoration and sensitive environments. I refuse to go through their conservation course mindlessly, or uncritically, and will be pushing myself to connect to passing tourists and the divemasters working at the school.
NHDS is unique on Koh Tao as a dive school focussed on conservation diving, and I’m excited to see if it puts its money where its mouth is. Dev is the charismatic owner, character assessment TBD but welcoming. Chad is the director of the conservation program, ditto on the assessment. It’s a bunch of 20-somethings working the shop, a bunch of scuba junkies who are more than happy to act their age off the clock.
My first hours of arriving here were hectic but already worth the trip. After an afternoon of wandering Bangkok’s Chinatown (see the gallery I just posted), I waited in the Hua Lamphong Station for the next leg of travel. I took an overnight train from Bangkok to the mainland city Chumphon, waking up my Aussie and Belgian friends to barely make getting off at the right stop. More waiting. A bus to the ferry. More waiting. Rumbling off the ferry with all of my gear like a sumo wrestler tip-toeing through honey to the truck. NHDS was pushing off on a morning dive, and the room I’m renting wasn’t ready yet so I was happy to observe the chaos. A traveler’s nap. Dinner with soon-to-leave but badass Emily. Watched the shop dogs fall asleep. A quick afternoon swim. Drinks with the staff.
It’s the end of my second day here, from which I have emerged a hubristically burned and cheery from some freediving (nudibranchs! rays! clownfish in anemones!). As much as I’m trying to keep my eyes on the world (and my stuff, which is mundane), I increasingly realize I have to keep an eye on myself. I get critical of myself and my project. I’ve been critical of the divers who are here, and even the projects going on at New Heaven Dive Shop. But if I learned anything at Reed it was that this criticality is never only A Good Thing, it is not redeeming, it is nothing without some following positivity and action and suggestion and support. So you know what? I’m going to stop stopping myself from having a good time.
Posts about encounters with Emily and a coral conservationist from China to follow. More interesting than anything else I have to say, really. I am itching to get into the water but have to wait one more day.
I can’t wait to start diving. When I dive for more than a week at a time I start to have dreams set underwater, like dreaming in a language you’ve just begun to learn. About time, I say.