We've started, quite literally, a sea change.

Back in December, Dan and I came to Koh Tao, Thailand, for me to brush off my scuba diving certification and for Dan to sit on the beach drinking tequila and talking to people. Plans changed, as ours often do, and after chatting with the staff at the dive center, Dan was talked into starting his own PADI Open Water course while I went diving at the coral dive sites around the island.

After we left Koh Tao, having overturned Dan's conviction that he couldn't swim, we kept remembering the relaxed lifestyle of the people who worked at the dive centers we'd visited and the good food and smiley people in Thailand.

Hmm, we thought. I bet we'd enjoy being divemasters.

Fast forward five months, and we are stepping off the ferry back onto Koh Tao, shiny with sweat and excitement. We signed up with Master Divers, in our view the friendliest of a few dive centers we'd contacted, to do a six- to eight-week intensive divemaster course.

Under the Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI) system, a divemaster is the lowest professional rating. A divemaster is able to take people who are already certified to dive on an underwater tour, to teach snorkeling, and to assist dive instructors.

But before we could start the main stuff, we needed to take a few prerequisites.

* * *

John turned around, his finned foot resting on the edge of the Master Divers boat, scuba tank in place and regulator mouthpiece in hand. “The second rule of scuba,” he intoned, lecture-serious. “Is to look cool.”

And with that, he somersaulted into the twilight water.

Giggling, we followed him in just as the sun sank. It was our first night dive.

Besides making sure we remembered the rules of scuba (the first one, more practically, is 'never hold your breath') our instructor John took us on the five 'adventure' dives that make up the Advanced Open Water course. As well as night diving, we practiced underwater navigation and buoyancy, learned the different families of tropical fish, and experienced deep diving.

Two days later we were certified to go to 30 meters/100 feet deep, and ready to begin CPR training and our Rescue Diver course.


“Oh!” Thom screamed, his head disappearing into the blue bay.

“I can't swim!” he yelled when he gained the surface, arms splashing helplessly.

Dan and I looked around desperately for something to throw to Thom. Nothing looked very buoyant. While we searched, we heard another 'plop!' and then Chris starting to holler.

We groaned. “There went the other one,” Dan said. “Get the life-jackets.”

I ran to the back deck of Master Diver's boat to grab the blue-and-yellow jackets, but found them in a cubbyhole above the toilet--too tall for me to reach. Another diver stepped out of the toilet. “Could you be tall for me, please?” I asked, hoping he wasn't too alarmed by all the screaming for help. “Sure,” he said, handing me the jackets.

I jogged back to the front of the boat, where Dan had thrown a line attached to a small blue buoy to Chris. The other divers looked on, laughing and joking as I threw first one life-jacket to Thom and then the other. Both fell short about 10 yards so I grabbed my fins and mask and threw myself in after them.

“Diver, Diver, I'm a rescue diver!,” I shouted to Thom, as I proffered one of the jackets. He grabbed it, spluttering water.

“Are you OK?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” he replied, hanging on to the jacket. “I was looking at the fish and I forgot how to swim.”

I sighed.

Charlotte, our instructor, was waiting at the ladder, ready to take my fins.

“Good rescue,” she said. “A bit faster next time.”

After two grueling days of rescuing Charlotte's assistants from their suicidal tendencies of throwing themselves overboard at any moment, we were all set to start the real course we'd come to Koh Tao for—the divemaster course. To complete it, we'll need to study two books, participate in five lectures on dive science and theory, take nine exams, undergo tests of our in-water stamina, demonstrate the 20 basic scuba skills perfectly and assist instructors teaching lower-level dive courses. And, have a lot of fun.

How to survive an 18-hour bus ride without actually sitting down
Five weeks ago, Dan and I were on safari in India. We planned well for our daily adventure, looking for wild tigers in their Jungle Book habitat. Every day we checked our bag: Mosquito repellent, extra water, sunscreen, monocular, extra batteries for our cameras, scarves to keep out the dust. (Read Dan's blog about this from April 5)

What I should have packed was a pillow. Something nice and cushy, to suspend my tailbone a few inches above the rattling jeep seats.

Four weeks ago, we were in Kolkata, sweating in the high humidity and 100-degree-plus temperatures. To get there, we'd taken two full days of bus rides and an overnight train. Again, a pillow might have been handy on those hard bench seats.

Three weeks ago, we flew to south Vietnam, planning to stay for two weeks and then head north and west to Laos, then south through northern Thailand, eventually ending up back in Koh Tao, where we'd pursue our new goal of being PADI-certified divemasters.

The tale of my painful tail started the day we went to the Thai consulate in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to apply for visas. The pack I have carried daily since China started to bother me. When I stepped, it bounced on my lower back, which, as we walked away from the consulate through the leafy scooter-lined streets, felt more and more tender.

We spent a few hours at the War Remnants Museum (Read Dan's blog about this from April 14). I shifted my bag from my back to my front like a Chinese schoolgirl. Outside, Dan took pictures of the fighter jets, helicopters and tanks and I perched gingerly on a concrete bench. A part of my body I rarely think about, the area between the flesh I sit on and the waist band of my pants, was starting to give me some real discomfort. It felt tight, and hot, and a little bit itchy but at the same time like it should, under no circumstances, be touched. There seemed to be only one immediate solution: beer.

Luckily, near the museum we found a Czech-style microbrewery pub which sucked the rest of our day's budget away in a nice sudsy foam. Dan carried my backpack and his own, and we went back to the hotel just a little bit fershnickered.

I didn't know it at the time, but my body was trying to tell me that I, along with some 80,000 soldiers in WWII, had contracted “jeep seat,” basically an existing sub-skin cavity irritated by sitting, sitting in a jolting vehicle, sitting in a jolting vehicle in high, sweaty temperatures.

A few days later we arrived in Can Tho (Read Dan's blog from April 17), to look at the floating markets. Boats, rivers, floating stuff--I love it! But, after the increasingly painful five hours on the bus from Saigon, I decided to sit out the boat ride back in the hotel popping Paracetamol tablets. Except I wasn't sitting. Laying, lolling, reclining, yes. Sitting, no way.

We went to a local hospital to see if they could help. A nurse saw me, talked to a doctor, and came back with a cream and some antibiotics. Total cost, about $12.

Hopeful that this would cure it, we booked an 18 hour bus ride to Nha Trang, a diver's paradise on the middle coast of Vietnam. We were going diving!

Well, Dan was. (See his blog from April 26)

We reached Nha Trang at 5 a.m. Dan found us a hotel while I waited, standing of course, on the curb, and then we went straight to the nearest hospital. My backside was red in parts and purple and yellow in others. I could barely walk.

The doctors looked at my derrière for about five seconds and, through a translating nurse, told me to get on the bare metal table, 'cause they were going to cut me open.

The fun that followed I won't inflict upon you, Alaskan Kangaroo readers. Other sufferers of this condition have written online that their experiences rivaled childbirth or unanesthetized root canals for pain. I prayed to faint.

They sent me back to the hotel with a diaper-sized bandage taped haphazardly to my bum and a bag full of medicine and told me to come back in the morning. And the next morning. And the next. And . . . Total cost, about $50.

For ten days we stayed in Nha Trang, across the street from a six-kilometer-long beach and around the corner from cheap beer bars. Our hotel sold $4 snorkeling excursions that featured a floating bar where everyone sits in inner tubes and drinks plonk.

Instead of pursuing beach-goers' paradise, I sat in our hotel room; drank water; read books; took vitamins, antibiotics and pain pills; watched bad TV and climbed on the hospital's metal table every morning so the brisk and ever-changing staff could re-dress the wound with varying levels of tenderness or cleanliness.

On the tenth day, we decided to come back to Saigon. There was no way I could weather the bus ride out to Laos and then down through Thailand. All of the things we'd wanted to do in Laos involved lots of bus rides, boat rides, hiking or inner-tubing in rivers. Plus, mass protests in Bangkok didn't make us want to spend any time transiting through there. So, we booked a mid-May flight to Phuket, in southwestern Thailand, and decided to eat our way through another two weeks in Saigon. 'Cause, at least, I can still eat.

We visited an international medical clinic in Saigon where I saw two English-speaking doctors who explained the problem, the procedure and wound care. They prescribed me more antibiotics and gave Dan instructions so he could start dressing the wound. It would be slow, but the deep, inch-long wound should be healed by May 20, when our dive courses start. These visits total cost: $125.

“This is one expensive bottom!” the nurse exclaimed on our second visit.


For the last ten days, we've lazed about Saigon's District One. Thanks to a great foodie blog Dan found after following a reference from Anthony Bourdain's travel show on Vietnam, we've explored some back-alley cuisine that saved us money and put protein back in our diets.

In four weeks in Vietnam, I haven't seen much more than a small collection of hotel rooms and a wider variety of restaurant menus. To me, Saigon shall remain broken rice, barbecued pork, freshly made custard apple shakes and daily trips to Yogurt Space, a serve-yourself frozen yogurt extravaganza where the staff now give us a 10 percent discount for being faithful customers.

I'm trying not to think of it as just a pain in my ass.