Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Diving Snake Cave, Koh PhiPhi

There is a lot of dive sites in PhiPhi. But this is one which you won't find in any other dive shops leaflet. So of course, I went.

"Humpff" "Schhhh", "Humpfff" "Schhh" is pretty much the only thing I can hear. Around me, blue, blue and more blue. Slightly turquoise. It's not really clear actually. I only can see may be 12 to 15m ahead.  Bubbles come right onto my face and blur my vision. It comes from my friend Ian, who went down quicker than I did. I give a quick glance at my watch. I am getting to 14m underwater, we are on our way to one of the dive site on Koh PhiPhi Island, the famous Snake Cave.

Expiring the maximum air out of my lung, I try to catch up with him. On my sides my two other friend Jessie and Bruno do the same. The wall of coral and pinnacles finally appears. I switch my torch on and start looking around for small organism like the others. Bubble coral, fan coral, hard coral, blue, red, green, orange, colours, fishes. My mind drifts off. It does it a lot when I'm diving. Unless I lead customers, I don't seem to be able to concentrate underwater. I stare deeply at the blue, I get lost into the rhythm of my breathing. No precise thoughts, it switches my brain on the off mode. I follow along, keeping the yellow fins of Jessie in the corner of my eyes, when I hear a banging on someone's tank, a huge Cobia just appears in front of us. It's a good sign, Cobias swim with whale sharks, and they are the ultimate underwater lottery prize in our waters.

We continue down until Ian gives us a sign we reached the entry of the cave. I breath a little bit harder, I am nervous. It’s my first real cave. And I have a lot less experience than the others. They are all instructors, and I am only a brand new dive master with less than 200 dives. Nothing compares the thousands held by these guys. Worst of all, someone died in here previously. Panicked in the tunnel leading to the cave. It is not an easy dive site. But I am here to fight my fears. I hate dark and snakes. And this is a cave, with snakes. Banded sea krait come inside the air pocket to reproduce. They are also the most venomous snakes in the world. I am nervous.

We form a line and enter the dark tunnel. There is no way back now. It’s a 5min swim in that tunnel. I flash my torch nervously trying to see the top of it. I breath even harder. I look at my gauge and it’s getting down quickly. I need to calm down. I can’t afford to ran out of air, I will need some for the way back. I try to concentrate on looking at the small shrimps to distract my self. The tunnel seems to go up. We getting nearer to the cave. It’s absolutely pitch black. Ian who are leading the dive signal us for the safety stop. I look down. I can see the slimy bottom, I look up. I can see the top of the tunnel. I feel highly uncomfortable to be in such a small space, somewhere into a rock. The water part doesn’t bother me. I feel so peaceful in that environment. I remember that and drift again, only staring at the dark. I get somewhere in my head where I need nothing. It’s so quiet here.

3 minutes later we ascend slowly. Finally the surface. I take my mask off, inflate my BCD and look up. It’s not a cave, it’s a cathedral of stones. It’s at least 30 meters high, and 20 meters large. Full of cavities. Natural stairs seems to lead into dark corridors and unknown rooms. High above us hundreds of stalactites. It’s got something Harry Potter-ish. Our torches create a light show, flashing the walls.
I forget about the stress, the fear of dark and the snakes. We climb out of the water on a small rocky platform and get our gear off. An overhead in front of us is covered with names of the previous divers who made it here. As we come into it, there is a snake, sleeping under a rock. I don’t dare to come even near it. The boys chase it away and we settle down. There is candles already in the cave. We brought lighters in an underwater camera housing. The names written with mud shine in the flickers of the light.
The fingerprints of the previous visitor are still marked into the clay between the rocks. I grab some and feeling like a prehistoric cave woman start writing my name too.

It is impossible not to stare at the intricate work of nature here. I am stunned to have managed to get here and see this. All you can hear apart from the echo of our voices is the gurgle coming from the sea and the slow water fall next to the overhead. I just sit there, trying to take it all in.
After a short surface, time to get back in the water. The way out is a lot easier that the way in. A turquoise light appears quickly at the end, in what seems no time we are getting to the exit of the cave. The large shadow of the rock clash against the blue of the outside. Having two divers in front of me, I wish I had a camera to take one of these National Geographic shots, because it looks like one.

Back into the deep, we slowly make our way up to the surface. I look down at my air gauge, I still have 60 bar. I see Bruno coming at me asking me how much air I’ve got as we reach our safety stop. I show him, he grabs my second regulator. I guess I’m not the only one who breath a lot when stress. I grab his gauge, he is down to 20.

We reach the surface to find our long-tail waiting for us. Glad to have managed to do it, but exhausted I climb into the boat, watching the sunset over PhiPhi Don, knowing that although I’m leaving in a couple of days to overcrowded, messy and polluted Hong Kong, I’ll be back very soon in the water.

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