After arriving in Phuket, I couldn’t help noticing that Nick had been sunbeaten and tanned within an inch of his life; after six weeks in Thailand, his darkened skin and bleached hairs had transformed him into the picture of health. I, on the other hand, could be accused of possessing Hairy Milk Bottles – legs which have been neglected and ignored by sunlight for months on end before being abruptly exposed to the brunt of the sun’s rays by a pair of shorts, extracted from the depths of a cupboard and hastily dusted off before being squeezed into by these abominable, milky pale examples of human shanks.
Procedure from the previous day followed. The weather was, incredibly, even better, and much snapping of the camera followed as Nick and I lounged around on the boat.
The diving was spectacular as expected, with sightings of a sting ray, pasty and speckled with luminous blue dots, resting in the sand, more Trigger Fish, which bounced and pecked at the sea floor, a spiny Lion Fish, far smaller than I had imagined, and, to my delight, an inky black octopus nestled under a rocky ridge. We also fell to 18 metres, or 18.5 as I sneakily managed, the deepest I have been.
After the dive was complete, Adam congratulated me on my completion of my Open Water Course, rendering me an officially qualified diver, albeit with a limit of 18 metres.
Back at the Dive Centre, while I lingered outside browsing the Internet on my phone, Nick lurked in a classroom and sat his final exam. He emerged victorious, having passed with 85%, and is henceforth a fully certified Dive Master, which enables him to assist in training, guide and conduct refresher courses and dive to a depth of 40 metres. Bravo, Nick!
His teacher, Ryan, a toothy South African, emerged and slapped Nick on the back, praising him and grinning. “Well done mate! Now are you ready for the Snorkel Challenge?”
“What’s the Snorkel Challenge?” I asked curiously. I would find out later that night.
As with many institutions run by disreputable, booze-driven men, Sunrise Diving includes an initiation ceremony. Nick would be subjected to such a ceremony, along with two other exam passers and newly appointed Dive Masters – a Thai girl named Mei, and Rory, the outrageous Scotsman I mentioned earlier. Sunrise Bar, an establishment associated with the school, would be the place of this ritual. Dutifully, Nick and I walked through the darkening streets of Patong towards the bar, ready for the evening.
The Sunrise saloon was certainly the busiest in the area and by 8pm was positively bursting with customers, most affiliated with the school and there for the revelry. It began quietly, as all parties seem to do, but gradually accelerated as the drinks and food, but mainly drinks, began flowing freely. Nick, however, drank silently, and stared worriedly ahead of him. He knew what was coming. I chatted to an attractive barmaid, hopelessly attempting a conversation, until Ryan stood, spread his arms and called for everyone’s attention. The Snorkel Challenge is to begin, he pontificated. Three chairs had mysteriously appeared outside, and Nick, Mei and Rory were led to them and asked to sit. The tension mounted. The people cheered. I clapped a hand to my mouth. Ryan produced a snorkel and bdsgjvkmdkb::::::::::CENSORED:::::::::::::::
My apologies, dear readers. At Nick’s request, which I shall honour, I cannot reveal the full extent the fabled Snorkel Challenge. Perhaps I will type it out at a later date, when Nick's memories of the event are not quite so raw.
Returning the present-past, as the party raged on, I became embroiled in a drunken dishcushion of global politicsh, (amongst other topics) with a brass but likeable Jack Daniels-fuelled Californian named Eric and a sharp, cynical Aussie called Steve. I don’t think I have ever heard so many f-words and toasts to President Barack Obama in one evening.
However, it was while casually listening to a conversation between a group of some instructors that I had a small epiphany. One said it: “Phuket is a playground! It’s Disneyland for adults!” It struck me how wrong I had been in my thoughts on these people.
Initially, my perception of these Phuket inhabitants was one of free spirit, with the courage and audacity to leave their dreary lives and explore the world. But I was wrong and the instructors are right: Phuket is a playground, a Disneyland and a Neverland (Ranch, to be topical) and an escape from reality. They’re not exploring. They’re escaping. Their running is a flight from the reality of a real life, of a family and of commitments: every day they flee into another world, beneath the sea, and each evening they cloud their lives with an endless, perpetual cycle of alcohol and woman. They are no ties, no pledges and no promises.
By midnight, the instructors were enthusiastically discussing a trip down Bangla Road, Patong’s notorious hive of debauchery and depravity – above its entrance, a neon Welcome to Patong sign illuminates in the evening, revealing the truth and proving the real purpose of Patong. Clambering into the taxi, I left them, faintly nauseated with the revelation and feeling quite glad that we would be actually leaving in a couple of weeks, something seemingly beyond that of the divers’ capacity.
Charming, wonderful people, yes, but they lead lives I certainly would not be able to sustain.