During my traveling days, I’ve always been partial to mountains and cities. Tropical vacations has been very few. Looking back, I found out the only two tropical vacations I had both happened to be during Thanksgiving week. Both time i went with Gui, who loves the tropics and a veteran of all the tropical paradise: Tahiti, Bali, Bahamas, British Virgin Island, yucatan peninsula, Costa Rica, and many trips to Hawaii since she moved to San Francisco.
I went with my diving partner Jenny, Gui and Matthew. It was right after Jenny and I got our PADI diving certificates from West Valley college. Jenny and I got off work twice a week to attend the classes (usually one lecture, one pool session) for 10 weeks. Final certification happened in the cold water of Monterey bay with amazing kelp forest. Two full day dives of four dives total if i remember correctly. I also failed the swimming test at the beginning of the quarter and had to retake it (and passed, whew!) prior to our ocean dive certification tests. I forgot how many laps it was required to pass the tests, but it was a longer distance than I could manage initially.
Diving in tropical water is so different from diving in Monterey. I’m very glad we did the trip. I remember seeing my first octopus in flight while diving (thanks to Jenny who noticed him, and i did the incorrect touristy thing by poking it with my flashlight, unknowingly forced it to put up a show for us). It was an amazing sight, not only the octopus changes color as it skid past rocks, ocean vegetation; but its skin also changes texture to match its background. All these happened within the blink of an eye. Then it was gone.
I finished reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on the beach in between our diving trips.
I loved the open air lobby of our hotel, where sparrows flew in and out as we were waiting to check in. The air felt warm and comfortable on the skin in the evening, and hot and blazing during the day.
Looking at the photos, i remembered in addition to Gui and Matthew, Gui’s college friend Sara also joined us. I think she was working for a non-profit in Thailand then and used to send Gui funny stories of her work there. I don’t remember if I dived in Phuket.
I remembered snorkel off the beach in front of the hotel during the day, as i was heading back to the beach, i saw a local boy swimming into the ocean holding a long pole with some fixture of ropes and hooks. I then joined Matthew sitting under a local food stand on the beach. A while later, the local boy with the pole came back with a freshly caught octopus in hand. Turned out Matthew ordered an octopus salad. And we witnessed the entire process of harvesting and cooking in one shot. Matthew said it was the freshest octopus salad he has ever tasted.
I also remembered the last day of the trip when Gui, Matthew and Sara continued on to a diving expedition on the other side of Phuket, I checked out my hotel, still have a few hours to kill before heading to the airport. I walked into the airy patio of Le Meridian on the beach which was next to our hotel but with a much better view and higher price tag, and sat in one of many comfy chairs and read my book on that trip, Enigma by Robert Harris. It was such a pleasant morning, with beautiful view of the Andaman sea, the breeze, the tropical fragrant in the air, always smiling wait staff, leisure sail boat on the sea, and a satisfied read. It must be the low season, the entire morning I almost had the entire large and beautiful patio to myself. Only one other woman customer came in and sat a few seat from me about mid-morning.
In between these two trips, there was also the three weeks Ecuador trip Sara and I ended up going April of 2002. It was also in a tropical setting since Ecuador is right on the equator, and our trip also included one week cruise among the very special Galapagos, but it felt less a tropical trip, more an adventure.
I never quite shook my unease with diving. My sister happened to be an advanced diver, she learned diving in Tahiti while attending a summary school session with Cal’s ocean-biology(or something like that) department. My mom loves swimming more than anything else and she still swim laps three days a week now. I’m the black sheep in the family. The year 2000 was my year of adventure, after mastering skiing, got hooked on rock climbing, and skydived once and loved it. I went for the scuba certification.
But i was always nervous before each dive (even though i really haven’t done that much). Later when i found out my sister also had her own fear about diving each time before she went in the water all suited up. I suddenly felt relieved and decided not to force myself to dive. Snorkel was just as fun in the tropicals and so much more relaxed for me.
My best snorkel experience has to be during our cruise at Galapagos. I remember a penguin shooting past me like a missile and missing my face by a hair as i was entering the narrow entrance of a sunk crater; I remember swimming in the crystal clear water and watch a group of sharks “circling” a large group of fish right beneath me; I remember a sea lion swam up to me and floated itself upside down, stared at me with its huge pretty eyes, and then blew a series of bubble at my mask…
I’m about to visit Hawaii for the first time this Thanksgiving. Surprisingly, everything i read about Hawaii, especially the scenery, reminded me of Ecuador. People’s description of the drive to Hana match exactly what i remembered from our bus ride from Papallacta in the Andes to Pimpilala in the Amazon Jungle. The description of the volcanos reminded me of our mountain biking trip down the volcano Cotopaxi in Quito Valley. And the varied colored sand beaches reminded me of Galapagos.
If Hawaii is a smaller, tamer, more civilized version of Ecuador that’s only 5 -7 hours away from home, then I can see myself visiting it more often. I could also understand why people will equate Hawaii with Paradise.