When I started planning this vacation over a year ago, one of my main focus was to bring us to the most polar opposite and extreme places in the world. We wanted to see what the world had to offer, and experience it from the highest mountain viewpoints, to the deepest underground caves, from the lush undersea, to the driest deserts dunes. Staying within cities, where technology and routine provided a protective shelter, wasn’t going to cut it.
We had the chance already to explore the world from deep within a cave, where light and smell became obsolete senses. Then within the past month, we were brought from Thailand’s beautiful Similian undersea to the harsh and dry Rajasthani sand dunes.
Here are the stories of our adventures.
Scuba diving the Similians
The moment we stepped onto the MV Pawara, we knew we were in for a treat. This ship was going to be our home for the next 5 days as it cruised through the Similian islands, bringing us to some of Thailand’s top Scuba diving sites. This was our Liveaboard experience. We would sleep on the ship in our very own cabin, have all meals covered, all necessary scuba equipment ready, and have the company of another 20 passionate scuba divers. The only thing we had to focus on was spotting the illustrious Whale Shark.
Having the Liveaboard experience took away all the negative aspects of scuba diving: needing to lug the heavy equipment and tanks, needing to wake up very early and endure long boat rides to reach the sites, suffering through long drives back home in wet clothes. We just had to wake up, suit up, and plop into the water. Our first dives were at 7am in the morning, and it was exactly that, half-asleep and plopping into the water.
But the moment you hit the water, you enter a whole different world.
A vibrant world where thousands of beautifully coloured fishes are already awake in the search of food. A world where gravity is defied, and we are free to travel boundless in all 3-dimensions. A world of pure silence, where the only thing you hear is your slow rhythmic breathing.
It’s really as close as it gets to feeling like flying. As we levitated in front of a massive underwater cliff face, with nothing but a blue abyss below us, gazing at the multi-coloured corals and limitless rainbow of fishes, I couldn’t help but feel euphoric.
After 40 minutes underwater, we resurfaced and were picked up by our boat (another perk!). Stepping back onto the deck, the only thing I wanted was to continue exploring the underwater world. We had a total of 14 dives lined up, an estimated 4 dives/day ranging from morning dives to night dives. We were going to be very well taken care of. We were in for a treat!
Having 14 dives also had another benefit. We were going to practice and practice and practice, honing both our safety, navigation, and buoyancy skills. And it’s good that we were, since we were also undergoing our Advanced Open Water Diver certification. This would allow us to dive up to a depth of 30 meters (100ft), which would likely be needed to spot the Whale Shark.
It’s funny really. The Whale Shark is somewhat of a legend among divers. Every one of us wanted so badly to see it and some of us even came to Thailand specifically for the chance to spot it. The chances are not high, but we were told to look into the blue. From time to time, to take our eyes off the corals beneath us, and watch the empty far blue abyss. So I can’t even describe the feeling when we heard the clinking of a carabiner against the oxygen tank (a universal way divers use to signal others by sound, since…obviously you can’t speak or shout underwater). We looked up to see our dive master put his hand vertically, Palm open and facing the side, in front of his forehead.
The signal for SHARK.
We raced forward towards the empty blue abyss and at first saw nothing. Then slowly, from afar, a massive grey form emerged from the shadows. Whale Shark! It was about 20 feet long, a baby whale shark. It glided towards us, calmly propelled forward by the rhythmic waving of its tail. We all froze in place, hanging still in the empty ocean. We watched it sail around us twice, and then as quickly as it came, it swam into the blue abyss. The total experience lasted maybe 30 seconds, but the feeling we all had inside was indescribable. When we resurfaced on deck, a huge smile was hanging on everybody’s faces.
We had come to Thailand, timing our arrival with the month and season to spot the whale shark, and it had all paid off. Sharing these experiences with fellow equally passionate divers from around the world was amazing. We were 5 days together and through this time, forged friendships that we cherish. Thanks to WestCoast Divers for providing us one of the most amazing experiences on our trip!
The deserts of India
As we left the blue and green lush of Thailand, we set foot into India’s Rajasthani desert. Dry, hot, and harsh. Driving 1 hour out of Jaisalmer towards the Pakastani border, we saw nothing but sand, rocks, and dry bushes. But there is something quite beautiful about such a barren land, and how people still live in it. We saw small villages of just a few houses (if you can even call it that), and a line of women walking with large water vases balanced atop their heads. They had to trek everyday to the water well just to get their drinking water. With the same jug of water, they would need to use it 4 times in this order: Shower, wash clothes, wash tables etc…, and then wash floors. Coming from Canada, having unlimited running water is something we should never take for granted.
Wet met our guide, Napu, a young 21 year old boy local to the desert who would serve as our guide, camel leader, cook, and entertainment for the night. He brought us to our camels and we were quickly eager to get on. Getting onto a camel is not the problem. Staying on the camel when it gets up on its feet is the challenge. It’s comparable to holding on for dear life sitting on a bucking bull. OK maybe not that bad, but those who have rode camels know what I’m talking about.
When we arrived at our camp for the night, we were surrounded by beautiful golden sand dunes. The best part? We were the only ones there and would have the entire site to ourselves. Napu began cooking so we went out exploring the dunes. Climbing to the top, we had a full 360 degree view of the desert. As you may have guessed, boundless barren desert in every direction.
We sat down to watch the sunset, a cool breeze sweeping by the dunes, in a perfectly peaceful silence. The clouds contrasted between a deep dark grey and the orange-pinkish glow of the sunset. Then from afar, we saw the flashes of lighting and thunder. A storm in the desert! Just our luck!
The wind picked up and we felt a few drops of rain. There was something utterly beautiful about the sand gliding up the dunes and falling off the other side, almost like ocean waves. We hunkered down near the fire and Napu seem not to be concerned at all about the impending storm. Here he was cooking a 4-course meal with the most rudimentary kitchen tools. The pot and pan didn’t even have a handle. He had to use a separate pinching tool to pickup the burning pot sitting atop the fire he made. A marvel of what you can achieve with such basics.
After a delicious meal, we sat on our cots for the night and took in the fascinating storm brewing all around us. It seemed like the storm passed right beside us, just missing our location. We laid down in the pure darkness, surrounded by sand dunes, gazing up at the sky and the innumerable stars. The silence was only occasionally broken by the bleating of some desert sheep or the chirping of birds. We had the whole desert to ourselves.
After falling asleep, we were woken up at 2AM by the soft desert breeze. Nan and I turned in bed and looked at each other, and then stared again at the sky full of stars. The simplicity of how beautiful Mother Nature is, and how it can provide such a lovely sense of happiness is incredible. We didn’t need some fancy technology light show, or a 5-star meal, or even professional entertainment. Everything we wanted was provided by nature itself.
As we get ready to leave India, we set off towards one of our last Polar experiences: Experiencing the world from the highest point, Mount Everest. Stay tuned!
Photo credit goes to Casper for some of the scuba diving shots!