Raphael Kessler

Home | Travel Photos | House | Friends and Family | Random | FAQs | Links | Contact Details| Search


South East Asia 1999

  1. Vietnam - February 1999
  2. Thailand - April 1999
  3. Malaysia and Singapore - May 1999
  4. Indonesia - June 1999
Africa to home, the long way
- Africa
  1. South Africa
  2. Namibia and Botswana
  3. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya
  4. Uganda
  5. Ethiopia
  6. Egypt
- Middle East and Balkans
  1. Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey
  2. Balkans
  3. Turkey
  4. Iran
- Asia
  1. Pakistan
  2. China
  3. Tibet
  4. Nepal
  5. India 1
  6. India 2
  7. India 3
  8. Sri Lanka
  9. Bangladesh
  10. Myanmar
  11. Thailand
  12. Cambodia
  13. Laos
  14. China, Macao and Hong Kong
  15. Mongolia
- North America and Caribbean
  Caribbean, USA, Mexico and Canada
- Scandinavia and Eastern Europe
  1. Russia
  2. Sweden
  3. Baltics
  4. Poland and Czech Republic
South America 2002
  1. Brazil
  2. Argentina
  3. Chile and Easter Island
Central America and Mexico 2002
  1. Panama
  2. Costa Rica
  3. Nicaragua
  4. Honduras
  5. El Salvador
  6. Guatemala
  7. Belize
  8. Mexico
South America 2003-4
  1. Trinidad and Tobago
  2. Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana
  3. Venezuela
  4. Colombia
  5. Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands
  6. Peru
  7. Bolivia
  8. Argentina
  9. Uruguay and Paraguay
  10. Bolivia 2
  11. Peru 2
Specific Pacific
  1. California to Fiji+ French Polynesia & Cook Islands
  2. Samoa, Niue and American Samoa
  3. Tonga and New Zealand
  4. Australia 1
  5. Australia 2



When I did my last newsletter, I was planning on going down to the Gulf of Thailand, more specifically to Ko Tao, to do some diving. Essentially to get my open water licence and also do the advanced course. Once done with these courses and a couple of fun dives I was to head off to Cambodia resuming the travels. That at least was the plan, it's funny how plans can change.

After getting to Ko Tao, I started on the open water course which went well enough. Aside from the fact that I was unfortunate to have with me on the course a couple who would have been okay if it weren't for the fact that she got hysterical about taking her mask off under water (a necessary skill) during the confined session and ended up wasting forty-five minutes of our time under water, as a result we ran low on air and got cold. It would have been more understandable if it weren't for the fact that she had been diving several times before.

By the end of the open water course I was a licensed diver, that meant I was licensed to dive to 18 metres with another equally or more qualified buddy. I had already signed up for the advanced course though which would hopefully further improve my diving capabilities as well as then licensing me to dive to 30 metres. The course involves two core arts deep dive and navigation dive and then one has the choice of three electives from a selection. I chose peak performance buoyancy, photography and night diving. I also decided to do the Nitrox (enriched air) course at the same time, as it is the cheapest way to do it. On the deep dive one goes to thirty metres and observes the differences the depth makes on decision making (due to Nitrogen Narcosis) as well as the physical differences. These being that white light appears red, whereas red appears as a brown/green. One can also crack open a fresh egg and the yolk will stay intact, if one then slices through it with a knife, the two halves just slowly drift apart, otherwise intact. The final physical difference is the compression of air at that depth, one litre of air at the surface will be compressed to just 250ml at 30 metres. The navigation dive gives one the basics in underwater navigation, one has to navigate a square underwater, amongst other things. The peak performance buoyancy, involves working on achieving neutral buoyancy underwater. The night dive is quite simply diving at night, when other types of things come out and the photography dive is also quite self explanatory. The advanced course went well, but also quickly and by the end of it although I'm sure my capabilities must have improved a little, it was nothing too dramatic. By the end of the course and a couple of fun dives I had included in the price I knew I really enjoyed diving, but I also realised I wasn't yet very good at it.

After a couple of days off from diving, but with a lot of socialising (one of the good things about Ko Tao is the community feel to the place, after a little while there one gets to know a lot of people, although this often means lots of late nights.) , I had the brainwave to do the DiveMaster course. This is a course that lasts several weeks and involves a fair quantity of diving as well as theory, and practical testing. By the end of the course one has a professional diving qualification, that can be used internationally. In addition to this most dive outfits will give some reduction, sometimes very substantial ones to divemasters. Another consideration is that the course and its minimum number of dives is cheaper than just fun diving. After discussing it with several different people, particularly as to whether or not it would make me a more competent diver, I decided to do the DM course. Before one can do this though, one has to do a medic first aid course and the rescue diver course.

The medic first aid course is day and a half of land based theory and practical exercises, how to deal with general first aid emergencies. Ranging from seizures, to shock, to spinal damage. How to assess the situation and how to try and improve it. It also involved a lot of practice on Annie a CPR dummy, one could practice chest compressions and resuscitation on. The most valuable lesson however was never help anyone in an accident in the States. The chances of being sued are far too great, a recent example of which was when a first aider was sued as he had given the statement, "I am medically trained, I am going to help you". When unfortunately he was unable to do so, the woman successfully sued him as he had not fulfilled that which he said he would. People like that deserve to be ignored as they die at the roadside.

From the MFA course I went onto the Rescue course which involves the necessary skills in both anticipating and preparing for surface or in water problems as well as how to deal with the problems if they occur. There is a lot of simulation of unconscious diver on the surface, how to administer rescue breaths, etc. get them safely to the boat whilst at the same time stripping off all ones own and their equipment, then getting them onto the boat and what to do there.

There are also simulations of unconscious diver underwater, getting them to the surface, then to the boat etc. There were also recreations of how to deal with panicked people on the surface, which generally involves getting drowned a bit oneself. When Jess, one of the DMs was doing a bit of surface panic I went to rescue her, but she was panicking so enthusiastically, she slapped the snorkel out of its bracket. So as I was not in scuba gear, I had to skin dive about five or six metres to retrieve it. Going down was fine, on the way up however I took in some water as I ran out of air, not very impressive considering the free-diving records are at well over a hundred metres. The most fun part of the rescue course however is the underwater scenarios bit, where I as rescue diver had to cope with all the things taking place to my dive buddies. For this exercise Matt (the instructor) and Gab (at the time his assistant and DMT) just pile on the underwater problems, such as: - Passive panic. Someone just freezing mid-water with a blank expression. - Entrapment, getting stuck under a rock whilst going through a swim-through (underwater cave). - Accidentally dropping their weight belts.

      -          Running out of air.

-          Their tank strap coming undone.

-          Dropping their masks

-          Dropping their fins

It was all quite good fun, although it came on thick and fast, whilst I'd be helping Matt putting his tank back in the strap etc. I'd notice Gab had gone for a swim, leaving his fins under a rock, by the time I had retrieved them for him, Matt had done something like drop his weight belt, this went on and on and although exhausting was also amusing.

Unfortunately it has already been useful as A couple of weeks later, whilst assisting on an open water course, I noticed one of the students a big American fellow, in mid-water displaying the typical signs that panic is about to start, I went over to him and as I got there and tried to relax him he got very agitated as he thought he was lower on air than he really was. He then went into a blind panic, almost a perfect recreation of the videos they show of it. He threw his regulator (the thing through which one breathes) out of his mouth and considering we were at twelve metres, there wasn't a lot of air around so I slapped that back in, at the same time he tried to take the mask off his head, so I had to slap that down. Meanwhile he is kicking as hard as he can to get to the surface. In diving it is very important to have a slow ascent rate as otherwise one can suffer permanent injury. So I was doing my best to slow him down, but all I could do was hold onto him with one hand whilst the other was slapping the reg back in his mouth and the mask back on his face as he was repeatedly trying to remove them. Once we got to the surface, I managed to calm him down, thankfully neither he nor I were hurt in the ascent. I got him back to the boat we checked him out for symptoms of DCS (Decompression Sickness) and then an hour later he even came on the final dive of the course, so an all round success as no-one got hurt and he got back in the water.

Anyway, getting back to the DM course, part of the course involves academics, namely eight exams, covering aspects from physics, environment, physiology to decompression theory. One also has to prepare an emergency assistance plan, and prepare an underwater map of a dive site. The practical assessments include:

-          fifteen minute tread water,

-          being able to display the eighteen primary skills at a demonstration level,

-          assisting the instructor on courses

-          leading fun divers

-          making sure the boat is prepared and fully kitted out

-          leading some programs

-          rescue assessment

-          underwater stress testing

-          eight hundred metre snorkel,

-          four hundred metre swim,

-          one hundred metre tired diver tow,

The most amusing bit in many ways is the stress testing which involves swapping all scuba gear underwater, whilst breathing from only one air source and being harassed by the instructor, namely by having ones mask taken away and having air blown in ones face to disorientate you, whilst he also plays about with your equipment e.g. turning off air, inflating BCD, dropping weight belt, undoing scuba unit. The first time I did it was not too bad, but the other DMT apart from being a lot smaller than me (making kit swapping more difficult) did not deal very well with the whole thing, which made it more difficult for me. The second one I was actually having a great time and laughing throughout most of it. As Jim (my instructor) pulled the reg from my mouth and the mask from my face I mouthed some appropriate obscenities at him and sat there blowing bubbles until he gave me my air back.

The course went as well as I expected, and did undoubtedly improve my skills. The best bit about diving however is nothing to do with helping folks out, tests etc. it is the fun of diving through caves and seeing wonderful marine life as well as generally having fun. Undoubtedly the greatest thing (every pun intended) I saw whilst diving was a whale shark, picture below. The largest fish on the planet. It took Jacques Cousteau twenty years to find one, I saw one on my twenty second dive, not bad going really. It is a gorgeous great thing, although the one I saw was only a youngster they can measure up to eighteen metres. It swam within arms length of me several times and I spent about twenty minutes with it. A bit of a coup was the fact that we had a videographer there to film some open water students, so the whole thing is on video as well, what a bonus.

Another great dive I had was when Gab and I did a map of the Nang Yuan drop-off. It was good to go diving with someone of equal or greater competence as opposed to always having to look out for people for one, the other thing was we had a great time trying to find new swim-throughs and caves and getting nearly stuck several times. At one point when we were both going opposite ways round an underwater pinnacle, I came across something worth a look. I tried to make as loud a noise as possible to get Gabs attention which I eventually did, I then waved him over, initially he looked like he thought I was in a panic, then I remembered the underwater sign for turtle as I had just found a gorgeous big turtle, Gab and my first. Both of us were very excited by the discovery so had a bit of an underwater dance until the turtle got pissed off with us and decided to leave. We continued to map the dive site, but it all just got sillier and sillier as we were both in great spirits.

An interesting dive I had was when I took some divers on what should have been a Naturalist dive. As it was, they didn't get to see any fish at all, the closest we got was plankton. The visibility was bad, but the problem was that the compass I had been using was getting stuck, so we ended up doing a big loop around the dive site as opposed to seeing the site itself. The whole dive was "Blue" which means that there was absolutely no reference point at any time either up down, left or right. Interesting as it gives one a feeling of just being in the middle of space.

Around Ko Tao are a number of sites covered by Trigger pits, where the Titan Triggerfish lays its eggs. These are very aggressively territorial fish that are also pretty big. On one dive I was leading I got buzzed by a Trigger Fish as I must have been in its territory. This involved this huge thing swimming right into my face and opening its mouth to show me its nasty teeth. On a subsequent dive I felt a tugging on one of my fins, and turned round to see a bloody great trigger fish biting into one of them, the idea is to swim away horizontally as they have a conical territory, but I swam in a bit of a circle as the fish was not allowing me to kick that fin.

My final dive in Ko Tao, was when Gab and I were taking some fun divers around one of the sites. Gab and I were both looking at each other , wondering what was going to happen to whom first. He then went for my mask and got it off my face, but I managed to get it back off him before he swam off. He was then on his guard as he knew I would want some revenge, which I found in the Sea Caterpillar a bizarre invertebrate with an odd texture that also feels incredibly limp. I picked one of these off a rock and swam over Gab then wrapped it around his neck which freaked him out good and proper, his eyes were so wide they looked like saucers. When we got back to the boat we sent the fun divers up and then went through the motion of an underwater fight. He got my mask off m, I got his off him, he got one of my fins off, I turned his air off, general good fun going on then when we finally went up, we saw that the fun divers had been spectating on the whole thing and found it very amusing to boot.

With my diving done for the while and the DM course completed there was only one further ordeal, the snorkel test. This is when the DMT is given a mask and snorkel with a funnelling the top and then a bucket of booze, several shots and beers are poured into it and the victim has to drink it all. My first one went well enough until Jim decided to blow into the funnel and I got a gut full of air, I finished the drink, but just a short time later it came back. Apparently a new record for the rapidity of ejection. As a result Leo, another instructor kindly decided to take it upon himself to give me another bucket, this one unfortunately stayed down all night. Apparently this was another record as no-one had ever previously done two tests in an evening. as might be expected my co-ordination was more than slightly impaired and I fell down repeatedly, and then stupidly got up and fell down again. The next day I had to go around gathering in articles that had been lost that evening and then I decided to go out for another big night as it was my last on the island. I then left for Bangkok where I currently am again, shortly though to be heading to Cambodia, about five weeks later than originally planned.

Otherwise that is about it from me except to say I have had a great time here in Thailand, met up with a bunch of old friends as well as meeting many new ones.

To give a rough list of the marine life I saw, will not really do justice to the range of things I saw. It included but was not limited to the following (more details on many of the fish can be found at
http://www.fishindex.com/phpinfo//26) :

-          Giant barracuda - up to about two metres, extremely quick and extremely sinister looking.

-          Yellow tail barracuda - less than a metre in length

-          Margin Snake - extremely deadly but not unattractive

-          Honeycomb grouper

-          Potato Grouper - some up to two metres in length (n.b. they grow a metre every fifty years)

-          Cobia

-          Cuttlefish - large and translucent and easily perturbed

-          Porcupine Fish - a type of puffer fish, but with quills when it is inflated

-          Puffer Fish - very big, especially when inflated

-          Box fish - similar to puffer

-          Yellow Box fish

-          Blue spotted rays - attractive stingrays, blue with yellow spots, particularly common on night dives.

-          Remores - a long thin fish that likes to perch itself in the middle of another e.g. dead centre on a porcupine fish's head, so it looks like it has a mohican.

-          Jellyfish - from very large to tiny, some almost totally invisible, some with an orange hue

-          Sea Caterpillars - strange looking things about a foot long with what looks like flowers coming out their mouths. Particularly good for freaking people out.

-          Sea cucumbers - lethargic lumps generally black, but sometimes more interesting colours.

-          Yellow moray eel

-          Gold edged moray eel

-          White eyed moray eel

-          Anemone Fish - cute little fish that use the anemone for protection and actually end up adopting its colour as well as being totally covered by the stings from the anemone.

-          Nudibranchs - little colourful sluggish type things

-           Sea Slug - flat slug

-          Butterflyfish - lots of types, all colourful

-          Long nosed butterflyfish

-          Clownfish

-          Damselfish

-          Scorpionfish - incredible camouflage and very dangerous

-          Rabbit fish

-          Angel fish - lots of types, all colourful

-          Banner Fish - trailing a long dorsal banner

-          Batfish - shoaling fish that get lonely if lost so will accompany divers for the duration.

-          Gobifish and shrimp - small fish and shrimp that live in a symbitiotic relationship as the shrimp is blind

-          Cleanerwrasse - sometimes annoying, but ultimately helpful fish that clean out wounds and bites.

-          Sergeant majors

-          Red Snapper - favourite of the fishmongers

-          White Snapper

-          Squirrelfish

-          Soldierfish

-          Parrotfish - lots of types, all colourful - eat coral, then crap sand - 90% of Ko Tao's sand is parrotfish crap.

-          Toms - long thin fish that generally swim near the surface

-          Urchins - many with nasty noxious spines

-          Anenomes of different colours

-          Corals - of a wide range of colours and styles e.g. fan coral and whip coral

-          Christmas tree worms, skittish coral dwellers that look like two tiny trees, but retreat when scared.

-          Phosphorescence - On a night dive if one shuts out all ambient light and then waves ones hands around small green phosphorescence appears. Swimming in the black can also do this but it is even more surreal. Another fun thing is to blow air rings in the darkness that glow green and get larger as they
near the surface.



All the images and text on this website are the copyright sole property of Raphael Kessler and cannot be copied or reproduced without his express permission. 
If you want to use any of his intellectual material please contact him via the link above