February 11th, 2003

dolphins and mantas and whales, oh my

I'm back on dry land. It was overwhelmingly beautiful. Rich blue waters covering colorful plains of coral outlying powerdy white sand beaches wrapped around lush green tropical islands. A very international crowd of divers and snorkelers (I was the lone american) sharing a comfortable boat, excellent thai food, and good conversation. I did 14 dives and saw fish of every color and iridescence the spectrum can produce. I've got more pictures and video than I've been able to look at. Its crass to reduce it to a few words but given the medium it seems I'm going to have to.

The nature highlights include being raced by dolphins on the boat ride out and back. I guess we won, but probably they tired of the game. I've gots lots of video. Diving in murky plankton filled waters with several manta rays with 10+ foot wing(fin?) spans sweeping into and out of our view. One pass in particular was probably less than 15 feet away from me. They were so much larger than anything else I've been around (yes, even that buffalo) that it just threw my whole sense of proportion out of whack. I didn't just feel small, I felt arbitrary. Sorry no video for that one. And then on our return trip a 50' long humpback whale. We didn't go out hoping to see one. We were all completely shocked, but it was absolutely fearless and came within 20' of the boat. On the last night a few of us, after a few beers swam off the boat and onto the beach. Shortly after arriving there the one campsite hit lights out, and turned off the generator. We lay in the waves staring at the stars (2 shooting ones for me) and just felt amazed to be there, and here, and alive.

Since then, I've landed and managed to do a half-assed job of catching up on email. In half and hour I join a few of the divers for a last meal and then I catch a 12 hour bus ride back up to Bangkok to join Sue, who has just recently arrived. Shortly we will head to Myanmar (the country formerly known as Burma), which I've now read quite a bit about and am extremely excited to visit.

Quite a few old friends have popped in to comment on the messages, and I think I've managed to reply to all of you personally. If I've missed someone I hope reading about the pace will help you to excuse me. Furthermore, now that I've got some actual content rolling in, browse your address books and see if there is anybody out there that you think I may have lost touch with who might be curious to hear my happy little stories. In the next day or so I should once again have some time on my hands as I try to hide from the heat. Once we hit Myanmar that will go away again, but I still love to hear from old folks, especially when I've actually got something to say.

Last thoughts, initially I was curious about Myanmar just because the goverment is famously repressive. Thats still true, but after having read more I can begin to put that in the context of a civilization who reached a high water mark a millennium ago, which few cultures have yet managed to achieve. Furthermore its managed to survive through colonization, regicides, revolutions, and plain old time based on some extremely conservative values. Its not hard to understand why they've decided they aren't ready for the internet and free speech quite yet, and I think I can now go there ready to actually listen to what the country, as a whole (or at least those parts I'm allowed to visit) can say. I'm really looking forward to this next leg of the journey.