Tag Archives: koh tao

Egadi Islands, south coast Sicily and a quick trip home.

favignana-10Due to wifi access challenges I have been seriously delayed in posting details about our travels!  ‘Phew’, you’d be forgiven for thinking.  So, apologies for dumping posts in a row.

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An ‘It is forbidden to bathe’ sign beside a sea full of bathers!
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The impressive entrance of the Tuna Canning Factory Museum.

We enjoyed our stay in Favignana, the largest of the Egadi Islands, despite me falling and smacking/scraping my leg (the previously broken one) against a dirty marble step in the Tuna Canning Museum.  Subsequently, it became rather badly infected and definitely put a bit of a dampener on touring activities.

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The massive tuna net anchors abandoned on the beach in Favignana.

Luckily, I was able to continue the visit to the fascinating tuna factory canning museum after my fall despite a huge swelling on my ankle.

The beautifully restored building

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The huge tuna canning factory and chimney stacks above the charcoal braziers.

was surprising enough, but the installations within were jaw-dropping.  We were particularly impressed with the life-sized screenings of actual workers from the factory describing what their daily life at work involved; plus, wonderful old black and white footage of the canning process, from start to finish. (A process invented in by the factory owner and multi-millionaire.)

What tough lives those people had.  Working in incredible heat, heaving the enormous tuna out of the nets with huge boat hooks, gutting, cutting, carting the meat across to the ovens, cooking and boiling it over rows of huge charcoal braziers, (oh, how it must have stunk!)  placing the fish into tins by hand and completing the canning process by adding olive oil and a lid which was then sealed in a special machine.  I bet the workers never wanted to eat tuna, that’s for sure!

The final exhibit was the Death Room which gave a chilling insight into the last few hours of the tunas’ lives as they became ensnared and entrapped in the series of ‘rooms’ made from nets, until reaching the ultimate ‘room’ from whence they were simultaneously killed and hoiked out.  Amazing.

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Main piazza, Mazara Dal Vella
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Opulently decorated church in M d V.

After Favignana, we headed south to Mazarra Dal Vella which is a crumbling and chaotic town with incredible charm; plenty of palazzi, piazzas and preposterously opulent churches.  One of the most amazing buildings was a tiny wooden opera house seating only 90 people, rather like a miniature Globe Theatre in construction.

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The main piazza M d V.

All the wood around the auditorium was decorated and prettily painted and embellished with gold leaf.  We walked all around the area known as the Kasbah which was fascinating.

After a couple of lovely days here where we were anchored happily in the bay outside the harbour, we were unceremoniously asked to move by the coast guard who hovered beside us in his boat until we did as he requested.

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Incredibly busy beach near the marina in Ragusa on a Sunday in early September.

On to Licata, where we anchored outside the rather pongy fishing harbour and then finally to Ragusa where we were to leave the boat during a quick visit back home for Ian’s Dad’s 80th birthday doo.img_3534

 

 

We had a wonderful time catching up with lovely friends in the Shire, picking up Erin who had come home from Thailand after 2 years on Koh Tao, and meeting up with all the Moulding family

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A top week.

Last Few Days in Thailand

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All too soon, our days in sunny Koh Tao with our darling daughter, were coming to an end.

 

 

We begaLFDIT 5n to measure time in terms of the number of remaining meals we could take at Tukta’s. (The most fantastic, authentic and reasonably priced Thai food on the island!)

 

 

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We had so many things to fit in to the last remaining days… Ian wanted to dive with Erin.   We had booked to help out at a beach clean up with the delightful Josh from Master Divers on Mae Haad. There was yoga-ing, shopping, tanning, reading, eating and games playing to do.

One day, we walked over to Haad Tian beach and half way up a vertical hill were thankfully offered a lift from a local fisherman to the beautiful resort hotel there.

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It was gorgeous; land to sand luxury!

Since we were complete interlopers, only getting through the security-guarded gates by virtue of being best pals with the local fisherman and restaurateur (Eagle View), we were banished to the tiny, narrow strip of sand under the gnarled roots and trunks of the mangrove trees along the edge of the beach.  In this way, we were not encouraged to set foot on the green and hallowed turf of the sun-lounging area round the infinity pool, darling.

However, we had an interesting hour of tide-dancing, desperately trying to avoid the waves as they crashed up the beach on the incoming prevailing wind. So, with our second set of exercise completed for the day, it was time to relax and read…bliss.

On our return to Chakok, we came across a great vantage point to watch the sunset at the bar ‘Natural High’.  It has a huge, open patio which offers amazing views  of Chalok and its environs.  From so high up and through the haze of spliff smoke,  man, all you can see is tree canopy below. It’s tricky to identify landmarks and makes it seem all the more ethereal and remote, hovering there on its unique peak.  We had a delicious dinner here and enjoyed some people watching before sand sliding down the hill. LFDIT 9

During our last few days we spent a happy couple of hours helping Erin source the items she needed to decorate and equip her home.  There are some great road side stalls and market places in Mae Haad and we spent time in them all.  LFDIT 6We spotted many bird cages en route complete with song birds that apparently Thai people take to bird singing competitions.  That takes X Factor to a whole new level.  The ‘Chick’ Factor perhaps?

We tried road side barbecued chicken for a snack on the walk back and for lunch I tested my paltry Thai at a food stall for Thai people (only Thai signs, no Englishified food, no English spoken),  where we were assured we wouldn’t like anything they had to offer.

Well, as much as I’d like to say I eat anything, my digestive system and taste buds are not quite ready for chicken offLFDIT 11al curry, and marrow spicy soup.  I had fish curry and it was delicious but highly ‘prik’, as the vocabulary is here. My mouth was on fire.  The centre of the table displayed a huge basket of vegetables and spices.  Raw long beans, Thai basil (hot) Thai basil (sweet) and a variety of egg plants in every size. Ian had freshly deep fried fish in little batter clouds. Toptastic.  However, I wasn’t brave enough to try meal worm and other delicacies offered at this road side stall.

We enjoyed our last lunch at Coconut Monkey in Mae Haad with Erin and Paul, also saying goodbye to Anne-Marie (our yoga teacher from Ocean Sound Yoga School).   During our wait for the boat there was just time for Erin to secure victory in the traditional Holiday Back-gammon Championships.

Then we were heading back, bumping through lumpy waters, on the bilious Lomprayah Catamaran,  to the mainland pier and then, by bus past the beautiful, unspoilt, deserted coastline beaches of Chomporn, to the town’s railway station.

We took LFDIT 3a stroll round town and came across this well loaded motorbike, a fascinating police box and one of many gorgeous spirit houses.
LFDIT 12 LFDIT 14After yet another other lovely roadside stall supper, we were back on the sleeper train which left Chomporn at 8.30pm so most passengers were already prone, tucked up in their little bunk beds behind twee, coral coloured curtains.  Our beds were already made up and, soon, we too, were happily ensconced.

Next, we arrived in Bangkok at 5.30am…. The best time to be taking a taxi ride since there is virtually no traffic.  We headed for Silom but somehow just struggled, in the Thai language department, to communicate sufficiently to find our friend Don’s apartment!  Our fault, of course.

We had a wonderful day in Bangkok, catching up with friends and then it was silly o’clock again and we were heading to the airport at 4am to catch our flight to Doha.

So sad to be leaving Erin and Paul and lovely Thailand but looking forward to the next phase.LFDIT 15

 

Trying to Free Dive

Whilst waiting for my morning coffee to arrive, I couldn’t help noticing an arresting photograph of a lithe, slim and elegant female who was gliding along, deep underwater, propelling herself with huge fins as long as her legs, without being encumbered by an air tank, regulator or tubes.

On further investigation, it turns out that such diving is called ‘Free diving’ and basically involves the participants being able to hold their breath under water in order to swim free from the restrictions that having a full tank of breathable air on one’s back would present.

So enamoured was I with the thought of floating free and peaceful in the water, that when I came across a dive school on the island that held free diving beginners courses…I thought I’d have a go.

Somewhere In the back of my mind I imagined that I too would look lithe, slim and elegant when attempting to dive down deep under the sea! free dive 2A rather ravishing Frenchman booked me on to the course and, after assurances that I was by no means the oldest ever to sign up, I agreed to return the next morning for instruction.

After a quick round of introductions to the other students, we were straight into the nitty gritty…trying to convert our bodies from land-locked, air-breathing entities into, the more towards the dolphin end of the mammal species spectrum.

With the minimum of explanation about what we would actually be subjecting ourselves to, we immediately started to learn how to breath effectively. Now, there you go, after fifty four years on this planet and, recent yoga sessions excepted, I have managed to breathe without thinking about it at all. It has come so naturally to me. I, it can honestly be claimed, am gifted at breathing. But for this, I am being asked to breathe in a totally different way.

The aim is to maximise the amount of oxygen that can be taken into the body. The coach explains how to compress the air through pursed lips as we breathe in so that first we fill the belly and then the lungs. Then, we equally slowly, exhale.

After whipping off his shirt, the rather ravishing Frenchman (RRFM) demonstrates the technique. He Perches on the edge of his seat to create the maximum space for the air to fill his torso. He closes his eyes in order to fully concentrate on the job in hand. Anyone watching would be forgiven for thinking that this was some kind of mediation conducted by follower of some a dodgy religious sect.
We watch open-mouthed.free dive 3

Now, it’s our turn. I am somewhat perturbed to be asked to remove my top so that RRFM (afore-mentioned) can watch my belly and lung technique! Well, I’ve heard some excuses to take a glimpse of my tummy and chest, but that really takes the biscuit.

Please bear in mind at this stage, that among my fellow free divers, is Courtney from the U. S of A. The alacrity with which she pulls off her top, and bottoms, to reveal a toned, tanned and bikini clad body was, frankly, embarrassing. The rest of the group complied without a qualm. Thank goodness I had had the foresight to wear my black swimming costume under my clothes.

We practise, and practise and before we know it we are ready to go out on the water to try out our new found skills.

We head out in a small tender to the main dive boat. I am encased in a shortie wet suit and a rather fetching pair of neoprene socks. Some of the group have elected to wear long sleeves and leggings, as well as balaclava style head gear. I am puzzled that they think it will be that cold. It’s 30 degrees in the shade!

Without any delay we put on weight belts, masks and fins, jump into the water and swim out to a series of life belt rings bobbing about on ropes attached to the stern of our dive boat.

I am with one other trainee. We have Silvie to coach us.

The first skill is a duck dive. What I would call a surface dive. We have a go. There is the added complication of contending with a snorkel and fins, now pulled on over my glamorous footwear, and trying to equalise the pressure in our ears as we descend.

Next, we have a go at pulling ourselves down a rope suspended from the life belts to the ocean floor, 12 metres below.free dive 4

We have to tip upside down and pull ourselves, in even stokes, down the rope, equalising our ears every time we pull.

I find that the remnants of a horrible cold in January are even more pronounced under water. I can’t equalise easily. I have serious squeaking in my ears as I come back up.

I am encouraged to try going down feet first in order to makes equalising easier.

As you descend the pressure of the water squeezes the air in the lungs and reduces its volume. The body’s reflex to breathe kicks in because it believes that the reduced size of the lungs is due to there being insufficient oxygen available.

In actual fact, there is, apparently, plenty of oxygen for the body to function well for a significant amount of time, as long as you can relax and persuade the brain that it doesn’t need to tell the body to breathe in!

All I can say is, that it is rather like trying to resist the urge to kick your leg up when someone whacks you under the knee cap. My reflex to breathe is very well developed. I discover that whilst I may know that I have sufficient oxygen, I don’t actually I believe it! I rush to the surface lungs bursting.

We continue to practise. Taking the obligatory cycles of belly and chest breaths before descending the rope as far as possible.

Soon, it is time to return. We head back to the shore ready for day two in the morning. However, it is as I am walking home that I realise that I have been burnt to a crisp. The powerful noon day sun has burnt my arms, face, scalp and knees. My skin is red and swollen. I have to make an ice pack to cool off my arms. Now I understand why some of the course members covered up so completely. Very wise.

On day two, a week later, I am with Camilla.

She is supremely reassuring, and, with her support, I am soon diving down to 15 metres. I feel much more confident than on my first day but still experience this overwhelming urge to breath in when I am about as deep as I can go, which is not the done thing. Camilla encourages me to relax and try to think about something else. AS if! She suggests that I descend, control the rising panic and then descend again! I try it and succeed, to some extent. I open my eyes momentarily to see a huge shoal of brightly coloured fish swim right by me, i am almost distracted from the bursting feeling in my lungs. The water is clear, even at that depth and I can see other course members diving down beside me. I feel like I have been under the water for ages, but it’s probably only 45 seconds. I panic all over again at the thought of where I am. Wondering if I have sufficient air to make it back to the surface. I do! Phew!

But, it’s not a comfortable feeling. I have to try so hard to stem the rising tide of fear and panic. As a strong swimmer, I have spent years trying to stay afloat and above the water. Despite assurances that we are built for swimming under the water; and explanations of how it is that we would definitely have sufficient oxygen to complete a dive for up to one minute at this stage in our training, I find that I still can’t persuade my body that it is a natural thing for it to be doing. It’s such a shame, because it looks amazing, doesn’t it?

free dive 5The lure of pearls, or shells, or fish would probably help. Certainly, diving down a rope in this ‘Constant weight’ discipline is seemingly pointless. The record, I am told, is 200m. That is the distance someone has descended on a rope. That is an awfully long way down should something go wrong.

I didn’t achieve my certification. I didn’t reach 20 metres, I didn’t complete the rescue of another diver. For the first time in my personal sporting history, I find that I am not equal to the challenge. I tried and it was interesting…but it’s just not natural, for me!

Sustainable tourism

Approaching Koh Tao on the Lomprayah Catamaran you can see lush green forest, coconut palms, turquoise waters and white sandy beaches.  A beautiful paradise island.  Along the Sairee beach front you can see a few cleverly concealed roof lines in amongst the vegetation.  It all looks lovely. Continue reading Sustainable tourism

Yoga Treat – Retreat

So, here we are on Koh Tao, staying at the Southern end of the island in Chalok, chilling our beans in tropical temperatures – not! (It’s a cool 30 degrees.)
Having decided we need to improve our general fitness and searching for boat friendly exercises, we signed up for weekly unlimited yoga lessons at Ocean Sound Yoga School reading that “Yoga’s combined focus on mindfulness, breathing and physical movements brings health benefits with regular participation.” Not to mention, better sleep, circulation and improved liver function. Who could ask for more?

At the appointed time we tentatively peak our heads in at the first session.

We are by far the oldest and greyest in the room. Sorry, ‘space’. I feel incredibly self-conscious as I spy other people are sitting in the lotus position, eyes closed, practically hovering off the floor, even before we’ve started the lesson.

However, I go with the flow.

We are asked to sit in a comfortable sitting position – I am struggling to sit comfortably. Crossing my legs is awkward and painful. My knees jut up insolently. I am conscious of excessive belly blubber being bunched up and out of my leggings, like rising bread dough.

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There’s lots of new vocabulary with quite a bit of Hindi thrown in. No mention of chakras yet, but we need to arrive in the place.

Anyway, I focus on my breathing, as I am encouraged to do, finding that despite my best efforts to concentrate wholly, I am constantly distracted by invading thoughts that randomly pop into my head.

We begin the session with some deep breaths and then we have to bring our hands to a prayer position at our heart’s centre and start the practice with an ‘Om’ – to get the vibrations moving around the space.

It’s all Ian and I can do to stop ourselves sniggering childishly, positioned as we are, at the back of the class, like proper delinquents. I try not to look at Ian – he’s a bad influence. No one else seems perturbed or in the least embarrassed, just us! We try to focus and be more mature.

Anne-Marie, our teacher, encourages us to be positive and grateful. ‘Gratitude is the attitude’ – which is a sentiment I like and can see the value in aspiring to. We are urged to try and think about what we are grateful for and dedicate our practice to somebody whom we love. Hmmm, who to choose?

So far, so good. Lots of thinking, focussing, positivity and gratitude. Love it! Oh, but don’t forget to breathe!

Gradually, the pace is picked up and we are swooping up to Down Facing Dog! Bums aloft, heads dangling down. From here, in time with our breathing apparently, we move to Cobra with a chest dip, slide and elevation to lift the heart up. Smoothly followed by a push through the pelvis, back up to Down Facing Dog.

Ian and I are struggling to keep up with the instructions and the breathing.

Once in DFD we are looking in the wrong direction, and in any case, our eyes are bulging with the strain, and sweat streams into our eyes to blur our vision. We can’t see what’s being demonstrated.

Come on! Focus on the words!

Excellent and clear instructions are given. Others in the room swiftly flow their movements. Legs kick back and up, then under and through, inhale, lengthen, fold, breathe, plant the hands, step or flow back, high plank!!!!, breathe, hold, lift, hold, lift the other foot, (but put the first one down first!) hold, breathe, lower knees, swoop through to Cobra, lift up to DFD. Start again! Somehow, we are always behind by at least a beat.

So we continue five! – More! – Times! (No wonder there are so many exclamation marks in this piece.)

We attempt poses like Warrior, Eagle, Crow, Triangle, Pigeon, Humble Warrior, all supposedly flowing without pause, one into the other. Sweat drips from my nose, sweat drips from my cheeks; I am glistening like a salmon. I am wobbling like a jelly fish. Limbs aching.

Breathe, try to forget that this practice goes on for one and a half hours!

Finally, we can relax in Child’s Pose or, if we prefer, we can do some fun inversions. Attempting to balance on our hands, our forearms, our head and hands.

Ian and I just rest and marvel at everyone else’s energy.

Gradually, the speed of movements begins to slow and we start stretching out every part of our body.

The mats are slick with sweat. Bare backs on the mat make squelching, trumping noises – further temptation to giggle from the immature amongst the gathering.

Lastly, we recline, completely supine and allow all our muscles to flop and relax, concentrating on the breathing. Aargh, this is more like it.

I am woken by a snore! I discover that the noise came from me and try to pretend I have a sniffle. We wriggle our fingers, wiggle our toes and stretch ourselves back into this world. Slowing sitting back up, we complete the practice with an ‘Om’ and three ‘Santi’s.

No further giggles from us…we haven’t the energy.

Namaste.

PostScript.

As a previous practicer of gymnastics, I am astonished at how the techniques and positions we are learning for the yoga poses are exactly the same as those I was learning for gymnastics. Every pose is a perfect example of excellent form. Whether it is splits, hand stands, head stands, planches, bridges, lunges, straddles and pikes. All the techniques are spot on. I wish I had begun to practice yoga at a much earlier age. By now, I’d be able to wrap myself up and tie myself into a Bowline; which might be quite handy on the boat, I believe.

We’ve attended classes every day so far and are definitely improving in muscle tone and flexibility. Our initial cynicism has waned. Even Ian can talk about his third eye, his spiritual heart, enlightenment, manifestation, and the servant gliding up and down his spine in time with his breathing, without the faintest curl of his lip!

We aim to sign up for the remaining time we have here. At this rate we will be svelte, gorgeous and completely enlightened by the time we leave.