The leopard shark seemed at ease as it gracefully circled us with lazy, swooping thrusts. And why not? After all it was in its natural habitat perfectly accustomed to its surroundings, whilst we hapless visitors from a distant world of blue skies and abundant oxygen, were decidedly out of our depth.
I tried to decipher what the shark might be thinking by staring into its jet black eyes, but all I could conclude was that these creatures must be very good at
poker. There was no information to be had there.
During our briefing aboard Sea Bees’ vessel the MV “Marco Polo”, Renatta, our blonde-haired and exotically-tattooed dive master, had been at pains to explain that the regular shiver of sharks (yes, that’s the highly appropriate collective noun for sharks!) to be found around Racha Noi were only interested in dining on the piscine snacks we took down to them and were completely disinterested in devouring us. Being a frail looking accountant on a two week holiday in Phuket the close encounter with a two meter eating machine was more than enough excitement for my appetite.
Next it was moray eels.
“Shy retiring creatures”, according to Renatta, who like to spend their days well ensconced in their rocky burrows waiting for tasty morsels to troll on by. The one to whom we were introduced, immediately decided to leave his rocky burrow and swim around and through the various tanks and hoses that were keeping us alive in this alien world.
Renatta found this amusing, I found it extremely worrying!
The Lacy Scorpion fish was the next creature to make an appearance…..and what a bizarre appearance it was. A strange, hirsute-faced creature which also sports venomous spines and so needs to be admired from a safe distance….in my case from some meters behind Renatta who was about two inches away from it, happily snapping pictures of “hairy face” with her underwater camera.
Sea snakes are among the most venomous creatures on our planet. They are extremely curious creatures and tend to swim around divers checking them out in intimate detail.
“Don’t worry” Renatta had said, “they have very small mouths and so find it hard to bite you….unless they get you between your fingers or toes, or bite onto your ear lobes.”
Oh, great! That’s all right then.
The black and white sea snake we saw was about six feet long…. a mature male Renatta scribbled excitedly on her underwater writing board and it lived up to its reputation for curiosity by swimming around me as I tried to keep calm, with fingers and toes out of range, and trying to cover my ears….no mean feat.
Finally a creature arrived to whom I felt I could actually relate and enjoy sharing this strange underwater world. A large Hawksbill Turtle gently glided past and graciously accepted some proffered bananas from us. This was more my speed I thought as Rennatta shot more pictures with her camera.
Back on the boat Rennata explained that the day’s final dive was a bar in Soi Bangla to which the diving instructors regularly adjourned after a normal day’s dicing with underwater death. Here, she said, the scariest inhabitants were the lady boys and body building Aussies from the nearby Muay Thai camp.