Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Lush Shampoo Bars - Worth the hype?

Yesterday we just spent the day chilling out really, we went to the splash pad so the kids could cool down, then in the afternoon my mum and dad arrived. They’ve just spent a week driving around the North-East USA (Vermont, New Hampshire & New York), and have now come to Canada for a week. It was great to see them as I don’t actually get to see them much when I’m at home as I’m usually at university. So spending some quality time with mum and dad is nice!

In the evening Dad and I went to watch Justin play baseball, his team won (woooo). The whole time Dad and I just caught up on politics and bickered back and forth about the catastrophe the BREXIT was going to cause – which he argued would be non-existent (pfffft). In fact, most of our conversations have been about politics – whether it be who should replace Cameron, or what’s going to happen to us – we have very different views that’s for sure! After the game Dad, Justin and I went for a quick pint before returning home. I was very sad to have to give up my beautiful king sized bed and to relegated to the corner sofa like some dog :( haha.  

Today we went to White Oaks mall, a place I haven't been in probably about 6-7 years! Just did a spot of shopping, got a burger (naturally), and replenished the kitchen cupboards. I went to LUSH and got a bar of shampoo - I've been meaning to try it to see whether it is actually any good as it can stop you from having to carry liquids in your rucksack, I got one called Brazilliant, along with a tin to store it - note, they recommend getting the larger body butter tin instead of the perfectly fitting shampoo tin if you won't have time to dry your bar out before putting it away because it can melt into the tin and be a real bitch to get out! I also got a free sample of the conditioner to try out. 

I put them to the test later on, and honestly, while the shampoo bar was great, and made my hair smell wonderful, the conditioner was totally pants and did a sweet f* all. It was like rubbing sand through my hair! So, I recommend the shampoo definitely (though it's very pricey), but the fact I can't get a decent conditioner means I'd have to carry liquids anyway - defeating the point really. 

Get your wallets out grandparents, we're going shopping!
In the evening, while eating pizza, all hell broke lose and a huge family domestic ensued, Charlotte ended up storming off for old time's sake, and I acted as peacemaker trying to soothe tensions between everyone - eventually apologises were made and we all headed to bed, ready to start fresh in the morning. Who doesn't love a good family argument eh?! What's a holiday without one of those.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

"You shall henceforth be known as lady Madison"

Despite feeling slightly worse for wear, I went to the Oxford Renaissance Fate with Charlotte and the kids. Charlotte had been able to get a good deal on groupon so whereas it should have cost $50 for 2 adults/ children, she got it for $20, but then had to pay $7 ‘tax’ on the door when entering.

The whole event was very very odd. We started off by watching Madison get made a lady – the queen and her servants came along all dressed in authentic renaissance get-up and had her kneel before the queen as she made Madison a lady of the realm. Then we watched some rubbish sword fights, a girl spinning fire and a couple cracking whips together. Later we went and watched two knights joust one another on horses too… The actors were all just very odd people and you could see why they worked here. There were many other things going on around the same time, lots of actors dressed up weirdly, pretending to be tiny children or crazy… though I’m not sure that was ‘pretend’. If you were high this would be the trippiest event of your life.

My fav photo bless her!

Like Mother like Daughter.
Sword fighting.
Spinning fire
Anyway, the heat was sweltering so we decided not to hang about too long and headed back home. For dinner that evening we had the weirdest meal of my life… And I think I enjoyed it. I’m really not sure, my mind and stomach were just so confused by it! So I had BBQ chicken with bacon on, and mashed potato. Sounds good right? Then, on top of that I had MAPLE SYRUP BAKED BEANS!? Yup. Just as odd as it sounds – but surprisingly delicious, I found myself craving more. I can’t get my head around it, it’s both a dessert and main meal.

After dinner I went to go see Devin and Branden Tanti, two boys I used to hang out with when I lived in Canada back in 2007. It was great seeing them both and they’ve got such a lovely house too – they’ve got a huge garage out back which is such a classic male ‘den’ style – it has a bar, naked photos of women, things they’ve found in the scrap yard (where their house mate works), skidoos, snowmobiles, beer pong, darts etc. Any mans dream really. They've also got 3 Rottweilers! They were adorable and so friendly. We just had a short catch up, had a few beers, then I headed back to Charlotte’s to bed with the promise of seeing them again soon. 

The Man Den.
Paint me like one of your French girls.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

I’m scared of killing children

Today I woke at 7am (far too early for my liking), but least it was a beautiful site. My little 3-year-old niece Madison came bounding into my room to say hello, and Charlotte had baby Brooke, my latest niece, cradled in her arms. It’s the first time I’ve seen her and she’s so cute. She has the biggest cheeks you’ve ever seen, but it’s adorable! I love that Madison is older now as she interacts with you more like a real person – anyone that knows me will tell you that I can’t stand babies. I don’t like the fact they are always crying, and that they can’t tell you what’s wrong, and that they’re so fragile to hold – I’m worried about hurting them! So for Madison to have gotten older and more independent was great for me – though I think I’ll prefer her at 6 even more haha.

My 'new' niece, baby Brooke.
We started the day with Madison’s soccer game. Poor kids, the sun was relentless, I have no idea how they could run round in it! That said, they spent most of their time looking at the ball instead of kicking it. I really like that about Canadian culture though – it centers so much on kids and their sports. Children either play soccer, ice hockey or baseball – or all of them! It’s hugely expensive, but at least the kids are always active and out and about unlike England where the occasional boy will play football and a girl you might know dances. It’s not nearly as common. Also, in Canada it creates a great culture for parents too – walking through Dorchester it felt as if Charlotte and Justin knew the whole town! Everybody was stopping to say hi, and Madison was being pulled along in a little vehicle behind as we walked.

Wagon time.

Hey now, there's three people in goal, I'm not sure this is fair!
When we returned we ended up going to Trail’s End. It’s a local market between Dorchester and London and it sells a variety of things – from furniture, to meat, to fruit. My sister gets all her fruit for the week from there, as it’s a million times cheaper than in store. The other day she paid $3 for one apple in the supermarket, but you can get heaps here for the same price. The watermelons were just an unbelievable size… We went to go see the dogs for sale too (much to Madison’s delight of course), and I just wanted to take one home!

After lunch I attended one of Charlotte’s friends wedding showers. In Canada it’s odd because they have a pre-wedding shower a few months before the wedding, so you end up having to buy the person two gifts – as everyone knows, wedding gifts aren’t always the cheapest things either! They usually send out a list on a website like Sears of things they need for their new house and you can just buy them from the list, but at the end whatever isn’t bought then has a 20% discount applied for the married couple to buy. I must say, Kelly got some odd wedding gifts! She had asked for them I’ll add, but still rather weird – for example she got given a squatting step that goes round the base of her toilet to help aid trips to the bathroom. The best gift though, in my opinion, was the chopping block shaped like the death star from Star Wars! It was funny because you could tell she felt totally awkward opening all the gifts – just as I would too really. Afterwards there was some food and cake to go around and Madison managed to make a right mess – though I can’t say the adults did much better!

Early evening Charlotte and I took a trip to downtown London – it took us ages to park and was a stressful process as Charlotte hasn’t been out drinking since she first had Madison – so about 4 years! Eventually we decided on Barney’s patio. The bar was great and I’d highly recommend it but it was over-crowded and expensive. Since it was a beautiful day it was so busy as everyone was sitting outside – they have little fairy lights over top of the tables, which is cute, and there was a lot of good music on. But I’ll admit, it was spoilt by the fact we spent TWO HOURS waiting for a table to nab and paying $8 CAD for a pint of Somersby’s. Charlotte only had 1 as she was driving, but we chilled out anyway, caught up, and eventually headed back around 11pm.  I ended up spending the remainder of the night till 2am with Justin and his friends from the neighborhood having a couple more, it was good fun/ banter. 


Friday, 24 June 2016

“A J Mansfield, please report to airport security ASAP”

After watching the money I had saved plummet overnight thanks to the BREXIT, upon arrival at Bristol airport (after a lengthy megabus and overly expensive £7 bus to the airport), I waited patiently for my WOW-Airlines flight to Toronto via Iceland.

In the airport I ended up having a mini heart attack as I heard my name (note, my real name is Amber, not Scarlett, I changed it at 18) ringing over the loud speaker, requesting me to go back to security. I suddenly panicked that there was something wrong with my luggage – maybe the valium or antibiotics that I’d picked up in Thailand had been found. I wondered if I just ignored it whether they would stop me getting on the flight, but decided I’d best not risk it so headed over to find out what it was – much to my dismay, it was my debit card! Yup, 3 days after receiving a new one because I’d lost mine in Thailand, I’d lost it again. I dropped it at burger king, though I didn’t even eat there in the end since it was so expensive!

I eventually boarded the flight, and honestly, I’ve never flown with such a terrible airline. Okay, granted, the tickets were cheap but not THAT cheap. There was no in-flight entertainment, and you had to pay for everything. I mean everything. You couldn’t even get water for free! I was just dying of thirst but had no cash on me other than a £10 note, and they didn’t give change. The worst part about flying with them is that you have NO idea when you’re going to land, so the flight feels like it lasts 10 years as you have no concept of time. There aren’t even screens at the front of the plane with the classic ‘this is where you are flying over’ map with predicted time of arrival/ distance to destination. Luckily I slept for the first 3 hour flight, but failed to on the second 6 hour flight.

Revjivak airport was tiny too and had little on offer. Wow airlines ran 2 hours late taking off since they were ‘triple checking they had everything’, however, on arrival to Toronto they then warned us over the loud speaker that a load of bags had gone missing/ were left behind. How did they spend two hours checking things then STILL end up leaving them behind? Awful!

Anyway, my eldest sister Charlotte met me at the airport and we drove to Dorchester, Ontairo – my old hometown! With chocolate chip waffles for dinner, and a quick hello to her husband (who I haven’t seen since their wedding four years a go!) I swiftly crashed into the HUGE king sized bed in their spare room.

For a 26-year-old and 28-year-old, they have such a beautiful house. You could never get anything in the UK for the price they got it. It’s 4 floors, 4 bedrooms (though they have 1 as a play room), 2 lounge areas, kitchen and 2 bathrooms, it also has a sizeable garden and came included with a hot tub. From the outside it looks rather out of place for Canada, they call it the Taco shack as it looks like it’s been taken from Mexico – but I really liked that about it, it had a nice porch bit to sit out in and a double garage attached to it. Gorgeous!

Anyway, jet-lag is catching up with me,
I’m dying; over-and-out.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Packing for Thailand? Learn from a pro!

After my third time in Thailand, I've come to see too common a sight in South-East Asia: An overflowing 80L backpack with a tired person struggling in the humidity to lug it about. "But why do you need so much stuff" I question, as they tell me they've got a snorkel mask, or a hammock in there 'just in case' for example. This is so unnecessary! If you really need this, you can usually rent it, or just buy it when you need it and then pass it on. Never carry this around!

Also, just because you're going for longer than 2 weeks, never pack for more than this! Honestly, laundry in South-East Asia is SO cheap and efficient that you can easily clean your clothes every 3 days if you really wanted. Ok, so it gets a bit annoying wearing the same stuff all the time, but as a female you can just accessorise it differently if you really want. But people seem to think a longer trip away means you need more stuff, and it's simply not true.

My main rucksack (5.5kg)
N.B. I use 3 day-sacks to put all of this stuff in - minus the shoes and jumper!
- 3 dresses (1 for nightclubbing that's also a day-dress if needed, other more summer ones)
- 8 tops
- 2 pairs of shorts
- 1 pair of sports leggings (for buses)
- 1 hoody (plain black)
- 3 bras &12 pairs of underwear
- 2 bikinis
- 1 travel towel
- 1 pair of nike trainers, 1 pair of flip flops.
- 1 sarong (useful for everything: staying warm, covering up for temples, stop sun burn etc)
- 1 wash bag (shampoo, conditioner, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, small factor 50, small factor 30, small factor 10).

My daysack (5.2 kg)
- Writing pad/ pen
- Sleeping bag liner
- 2 selfie sticks (1 for water/ rust, 1 not to go in water)
- Go pro hero 3+ and mounts/ 2 spare batteries
- Sony D600 DSLR, spare batteries and chargers
- Padlock for hostel lockers.
- Travel adapter
- Kindle
- 1 waterproof pouch for money/ phone.
- Iphone 6

After this picture I removed the sports bra & work-out shorts, added trainers and 2 other bras.

Honestly, in Thailand you'll find you tend to stick to the same loose top and pair of shorts and just re-wear them constantly as they're comfortable and everything else just gets dirty the second you put it on so you're never clean anyway! So out of the 8 tops I took with me, I actually only used about 3 because I also bought 2 while I was there which were really loose fitting vests. I only took 1 jumper because honestly, you won't ever wear it other than on cold bus journeys/ as a pillow, same goes for trousers.

Always bring a smaller rucksack with you to just take around during the day because it's impossible/ stupid to carry your large one everywhere! If you don't have one, you can wait till you get to Thailand as it's very cheap to pick up fake ones.

Remember, it's better to pack less and then add more - it's cheap to buy clothes in Thailand - rather than be stuck lugging around a huge bag and not wanting to throw away your best clothes from home because you've realised it's unnecessary!

Pack light and you won't regret it,
Have fun!

Why am I always ill abroad?

I arrived in Bangkok at 9pm in the evening, and I was in excoriating agony – my stomach felt like I was being repeatedly stabbed and my bladder just wasn’t working. I’ve had it happen a few times in the past, and I’ve actually fainted from it twice before. I can’t even describe how painful it is, I was crying walking round with my backpack, desperate to find somewhere to lay down, eat paracetamol and just wish it away. 

I eventually found a rather dingy but very cheap hostel just down from the Lomprayah office. It was called Aris hostel, and was 150 baht (£3) a night for an A/C dorm room. But the rooms have no windows in so you have no idea what time of day or night it is, or what an earth is going on outside – it was really isolating and depressing, especially when I already felt retched. I eventually fell asleep and awoke at 6:30am, still in some pain, though far less than the day before.

I really wanted to go to the floating market, but it was about a 2-hour drive out of Bangkok and I was running low on money and it would have been expensive to get there. I decided to go to the week-end market to pick up some last minute gifts. A tuk-tuk said he would take me and then detoured along the way to some tourist shop trying to get me to buy hotel nights (despite the fact I told him I only had one day left), and so he told me he wouldn’t take me to the weekend market and hailed me a taxi instead – the taxi driver told me it’d be 200 baht! Instead, I decided to try my luck at the Bangkok bus service. It only cost 15 baht to get there in the end, though hard to navigate. The market was absolutely huge, there’s no way you could ever see everything, and it was so hot and crowded. I ended up getting a few items but my stomach/ left hand side below my rib cage started to get the stabbing pain again so I decided it was time to leave after only an hour. I spent the rest of the day just chatting to people in the hostel and making friends, before calling it an early night.

The thing I hate most about Bangkok is the humidity. It is also hard to breathe and feels like there’s heavy smog about all the time. You can’t walk more than 2 minutes without dripping with sweat and feels like you need a drink and a sit down! So honestly, so many people just hung about the hostel all day. It wasn’t exactly cool there either, but it was marginally better than outside and didn’t require movement so it suited us just fine. There were some very heated political discussions going on though, from Trump to the Brexit, it got a bit out-of-control at one point.

Anyway, I hung about all that day too, leaving only to grab my usual lunch of a toastie and Gatorade from 7/11 and for a trip to the pharmacy. I ended up getting tablets for my cystitis that are only usually sold as prescription drugs in the UK, and later found out they’d actually been discontinued now due to dangerous side-effects, oops. I managed to get some cheap Valium too to help me sleep better. If you try to get it on Khao San Road the price is now insane – it’s 500 baht (£10) for 10 tablets, but I got 10 for 200 baht (£4), though they are in a dodgy seely bag instead of a real packet; least they’ll do the job. I was glad that it relieved some of the pain, and that the allegoric reaction I was having to the sunlight in Koh Tao was finally going away a bit.

I am a medical walking disaster as you can tell. When I finally got back to the UK, I went to the doctors about the pain in my side, and the problems associated with it, and he was very concerned about what it could be so ordered blood tests, urine sample and an ultra sound rushed so I could get the results back within a week so I could hear before I went to the USA. All the tests came back okay though so I never got to go back for more advice/ testing on what else it could be. So, don’t be surprised if I end up in hospital in the USA as it still keeps playing up even now and is a huge inconvenience!

The flight home sucked, I lost my debit card in Bangkok. Thankfully it wasn’t stolen – though do note I met 4 people in my hostel alone that were robbed in the 2 nights I was there on Khao San Road!! Stupidly the ATM’s in Thailand give you your money before they return your card, and you have to press a button on screen to get it back. But, I forgot and just accidentally left it in the machine :(. That meant I couldn’t get any food, or duty free, and the flight ended up being delayed by 3 hours so I was starving. They did give us a voucher for free breakfast, which was very generous, but the breakfast tasted awful; worst scrambled eggs of my life! I was just so glad to get home and return to the comfort of my own bed away from the mayhem of Bangkok to give myself time to recover before I head off to Canada next week.

Keep me posted on your adventures in Bangkok, whether you love or hate it, and what you think others shouldn’t miss!
Lots of love,
Scarlett x

The remainder of Koh Tao

Okay okay, so the rest of Koh Tao? What did I get up to? Well, lots of drinking and getting burnt. I’m honestly the biggest idiot ever and I really really messed up. When I first arrived I didn’t have sun tan lotion on while I sat in the sun for 30 minutes, and burnt my back really badly – however, to make things worse, once it had peeled I then burnt it AGAIN and my back turned into an ugly mess. Along with an infection that had spread to my face, I felt like the marvel character deadpool – help.  I honestly wanted to cry looking in the mirror – my back is now a patchwork piece, and I can’t see it returning to normal in the near future. Lesson learnt! My back is hard to reach though…

While diving I couldn’t drink alcohol, as I often had to start the next morning at 7am, so, though I contemplated doing my advanced open water, I decided it’d be most fun to spend the rest of my vacation chilling near Sairee beach and renting a scooter to see the island.

One morning while diving I couldn’t sleep, I awoke at 4:30am and couldn’t get back to sleep I was so restless so I decided to go for a walk. My god it was petrifying, it was pitch black and I couldn’t see a thing, I was sure I was going to get murdered – but thankfully I didn’t. I ended up just watching the sunrise and chilling on the beach. I wanted to go to a viewpoint but it required a scooter, which I didn’t yet have so had to skip out on.

One evening while diving though, I had those travel moments I live for. Those moments that take your breath away, get etched in your mind forever and regardless of how hard you may try you can never explain the beauty of to a person that wasn't there. These are the moments that I seek every time I long for travel, and they are the ones that make the hard-times in life seem worth it.

While studying with Adam, it began to chuck it down, and I mean REAL rain. Running in it hurt as it felt like mini pellets hitting your skin. The water levels were rising rapidly and thunder/ lightening gained momentum, setting fire to the sky above as it danced in intricate patterns alive with energy. I decided watching it was not enough; I wanted to be a part of it. Placing the books in a bag wrapped in my clothes, I ran into the rain and the unsurprising coldness struck me frozen. Debating whether to turn back, I decided forward was the only option as I could deal with a little cold for a once in a lifetime experience. We ended up wading into the water since it was warmer than the outside temperature, and just lay there in the sea watching the sky dance above us. Eventually, after returning our stuff to our cabins, we climbed some rocks and sat above them, discussing what was happening with the eerie green lights distant in the ocean. The sky started to settle a bit and the coldness really started to kick in so we decided to call it a night. It was truly breathtakingly beautiful. Tropic storms are one of my favorite things in life, just beautiful! That said, it did ruin the visibility the next day though for diving, but it was worth it.

Lotus Bar during the day, rare site!
Adam and I decided to drive up north, and got a room at Good Dream Hostel. From the window you could just see coconut and banana trees, which was pretty cool. We ended up going on the Koh Tao bar crawl – it was 400 baht (£8) for a free bucket at the start, a t-shirt and a shot at one of the bars as well as entrance to a lady-boy show. It was a great night as it started out at a pool party, which was pretty wild, and then moved onto the lady-boy show (amazing), then to a fire show at Lotus bar, eventually back to Choppers bar (where it starts) for some awesome live music then finally ending in a club and– On that note, Lotus bar is my favorite bar on the island as their fire-shows are just amazing fun. I strongly recommend the place to anyone who is going to Koh Tao!

One evening we went to Ao Nang viewpoint restaurant, sadly it was too dark to get photos/ really see how beautiful it was, but it was a great spot for a bite to eat overlooking the ocean. We also went to Godfathers pizza joint one night; the pizza was pretty decent if you’re looking for a western bite to eat on the island.

Adam and I on a bike.
When Adam left, I tried to venture back to Koh Tao central hostel, where I stayed the first night, but unfortunately they were fully booked so I had to go to the hostel above the restaurant next door, which was pretty crap honestly – but only 200 baht (£4) a night. I ended up just zooming round on my scooter all day (how I got more burnt). I went down to Tanote Bay where you can cliff jump and had a go – it’s actually really difficult to get up as it’s just a rope you have to climb up. Also the coral swimming to it was so sharp I cut my hand open and it wouldn’t stop bleeding. It’s a perfect place to go snorkeling though! I felt like I had heat stroke and so just had to go back to the hostel eventually to lie down.

I lost my room key and money-belt so ended up being super late to the bar crawl, but because I already had the t-shirt it was easy to get in without paying as I just attached myself to the crowd. The route was slightly different this time, which was good but also a shame because they missed off the pool party! There was an awesome bar with a shit ton of beer pong though which was good fun. I ended up spending £20 somehow though which kind of bummed.

That’s something I definitely did notice from the last time I was on Koh Tao 3 years a go – it’s getting more and more expensive! Everyone thinks Thailand is the cheapest place in the world, but honestly, island prices aren’t that different to home when it comes to alcohol – especially if you want the alcohol to be real! For example it’s about 160 baht for a cocktail (£3.20), and at our local club Kasbah in Coventry we get them for £4 anyway. It’s about 100 baht (£2) for a shot, and at the same Coventry club we pay 80p on Mondays! It can be up to 500 baht (£10) for a bucket of alcohol, something you could actually find cheaper in Zante for example. So yes it’s dirt-cheap if you live in London, but for the rest of the UK I think you’ll be surprised at how much more it costs you than you think.

The following day I trekked back to my hostel after a late night party and ended up  being so fed up with the heat and my sunburn that I hopped onto the ferry and headed back to Bangkok. It cost me 1200 baht again (£24) but you could definitely get it way cheaper – for example it was 700 baht with Seatran boat but you had to depart at 2pm and you arrived a stupid time in the morning in Bangkok, and I couldn’t be bothered for that!

Overall, I love Koh Tao and it’s a beautiful island – it was the driest summer they had on record so was super intense heat-wise, a little too hot if I may say! One thing I’d caution against though, if you’re renting a scooter/ moped, be sure to take photos/ make a video of the bike before you take it away – Koh Tao has real issues with scamming tourists, making them pay for scratches they didn’t do – make sure you get around the bottom of the bike too as that’s a common area for them to pick up on. Also, don’t drive drunk – it’s stupid and everyone injured on Koh Tao has some story about an accident involving a bike. Don’t be one of them! But do go visit the beautiful island, learn to dive, party and enjoy yourself.

Over and out xxx

Open Water SCUBA Qualification on Koh Tao

Honestly, diving was a lot harder than I thought. I never really considered what it would entail, I just knew thousands of people each year got their open water on Koh Tao, and I wanted to be one of them. I never thought about the risk you put yourself in, or the fact you’ll have a lot to learn and think about when you go into the water.

The diving course started off with possible the most boring two-hour video I have ever seen. It explains the ins and out of diving, and just monotonously trawls through a whole bunch of crap and is impossible to take anything in. The Dive school then gave me a book which I had to read as homework every night and answer all of the questions at the back of each chapter and learn them for a test I would take at the middle of the course.

Here’s the type of things to expect, this is also for myself so I can remember what to do next time I want to go:
-       We lose heat 25x faster in water (consider when choosing wet-suit) & sound travels 4x faster (so it’s hard to see where it’s from).
-       You should test cylinder every 5 years, visually inspect it once every year.
-       Before entering the water BWRAF: BCD (using hose, then inflate orally/ dump purge), Weights (right-hand opening and good positioning), Releases (check shoulder, belly and safety straps on tank), Air (breath on own regulator while friend breathes on your alternate air source together and check SPG doesn’t flicker, then swap and test their tank), Final Ok sign.
-       You should ascend 9m (30ft) per minute to avoid nitrogen-related issues. Ascend with one arm up and looking upwards, be sure to deflate your BCD and only re-inflate on the surface. At 5 minutes do a 3-5 minute safety stop.
o   SORTED 5-point descent: Signal (hand), Orientation (look where you’re going), Regulator (put in your mouth), Time (start of dive), Elevate (inflator to let out air from BCD), Descent.
o   STELLA 5-point ascent: Signal (hand), Time (end of dive is when you start ascent, not reach the surface), Elevate (go up to 5m), Look, Listen, Ascend.
-       Remember, when diving at 1000 ft/ 305m above sea level, nitrogen rates differ so take these into account when calculating your no-dive time.
-       Boyle’s law states that in a given temperature, then pressure and volume and inversely proportional. You also have to learn the chart for this.
-       Don’t dive with blocked sinus, and never hold breath under water. Continually squeeze your nose and breath out to unblock your ears while descending, make sure you don’t wait until you feel pain.  
-       If you’re within 9m of the surface and have to do an emergency ascent with no air, and you’ve lost your friend with their alternative air source, make ‘ummmmm’ noise when rising with regulator still in your mouth to keep the airway to your lungs open. Rise as slowly as possible to avoid nitrogen build up in brain. Inflate BCD on surface and wait for assistance.
-       2 fingers tapping on hand means “how much air” be sure to stay wary of your SPG. Tapping on tank helps to get other divers attention.
-       Nitrogen narcosis in like being drunk/ taking NOS balloon, may do stupid things, might try giving your regulator to a fish! Rise 1-2 meters then try descend again.
-       Dive computer:
o   Deepest point reached during the dive, no matter how briefly, is called depth.
o   Bottom time is the total elapsed time from the start of descent until the surface.
o   Surface interval starts when you’re on the surface of water until your next dive (your computer will tell you how long you have to remain there).
o   No decompression limits refers to the maximum allowed time at the depth.
o   Repetitive dive refers to a dive that has taken place more than 10 minutes after another, but less than 12 hours after.
o   Always check your watch to see when you can fly again, if in doubt leave 24 hours to fly above 8000 ft.
o   Always start dive with the deepest point and go upwards.

When I first got to Alvaro Dive School, I was asked to fill out a health and safety questionnaire – honestly, I put back pain down but later they allowed to change my answer. Frankly, put no to everything, else they’ll make you go to a doctors near the pier, which will cost loads to get to, then you’ll have to pay to see, just for them to say ‘yes you can dive’ – when they don’t actually check you at all. It’s just bureaucracy.

Now to my actual experience diving – I didn’t understand why they asked you if you were claustrophobic, or why it would matter at all, but being underwater diving was a totally different story. When your instructor tells you that you may have a stroke and die if you ascend too quickly, it really makes you panic when you’re underwater. You always have to stay really calm and remember you can’t act irrationally – doing so could actually kill you.  So, when you start getting stressed out, or really want to go to the top, you can’t – it feels like you’re trapped in a box, it was super scary at times!

But, on the whole I loved it. Maybe I would have enjoyed doing a few taster dives instead though as it was a bit intense.  Some of the things you have to do include:

But, on the whole I loved it. Maybe I would have enjoyed doing a few taster dives instead though as it was a bit intense.  Some of the things you have to do include:
-       Swim twice around the boat (equivalent of 200 meters) & tread water for 10 minutes.
-       Removing and clearing your mask – which means you can’t see at all and gets really disorientating. You have to swim around for 1 minute too without it on too. At one point my mask kept getting fogged up and I couldn’t clear it properly and it was just terrible and so stressful.
-       Your instructor has to cut off your air supply so you know what it feels like if you’ve run out of air without knowing it.
-       You have to learn to blast your alternator and switch from yours to your friends alternative air source if you’ve run out and how to make ascent.
-       Use your SPG and use specified hand signals to show how much air you have left.
-       Demonstrate neutral buoyancy – that means, float at eye level at the surface with no/ minimal air. Float in ‘buddha’ position. It’s actually way harder than it sounds and really confused me! Buoyancy was the hardest thing to do the entire qualification.
-       Swim and navigate using a compass – they give you a direction, and you have to set the compass and swim there, change the direction of the compass, pivot and swim back. 

Etc etc etc! On my first dive I went to Aow Leak, second and third in Tanote Bay, final was in Hin Ngam Bay. In Tanote Bay we found a small ship-wrecked catamaran, it was a shame though as there were like 8 other tourists around the boat too learning to dive and it was so confusing having so many people! That’s why learning to dive with a big group would have been a terrible idea. Could faintly see a sting ray underneath but luckily on our last dive we actually came across 3 sting rays just swimming in daylight! Also a pufferfish. The stingrays were my favorite though.

Overall, it was good fun; I loved it and would definitely do it again. However, what I would recommend would be not to take the decision lightly to do the open water – it’s actually a lot harder than you expect!

Have fun and be safe!
Any questions drop a line below xxx