Nobody expected it. At least not during the first minutes of the first dive of the trip. And not in Anita’s Reef. Nothing against that divesite; it is one of the most beautiful: white sand, impossibly clear water, bommies full of soft corals and glassfish, gardens of hundreds of shy and lazy eels,…a perfect place to start the trip, but to spot an oceanic manta ray? No way. But sometimes there are surprises, and to start the trip with one in the shape of a huge and curious manta…yes way!
When a liveaboard starts with absolutely everybody having enjoyed the big ray, this makes the things a little easier, I’m not going to lie. Everybody sharing the experience, smiles from ear to ear, everybody around a computer watching the video of the unexpected guest,… great start.
It’s not the only surprise that this trip brings us. Other moments bring us a lot of happiness, not only for the fact of meeting with amazing and elegant sea creatures, but also for the hope that the encounters create: between the first and the second day there are sightings of reef sharks in three different divesites: white tip reef sharks in North Point and Elephant Head Rock, and a black tip in Three Trees. This is very good news knowing that the number of reef sharks are declining dramatically globally and in Thailand which is a place where this sad fact has been pretty obvious for the last years; only in the Similan and Surin Islands has it become easier to spot manta rays and whalesharks than reef sharks!
Although sharks and mantas are always the first thing that people write in their logbooks, the lists are long and the divers that keep their logbooks religiously write and write and write; some doing small sketches of their favourite sightings, others with piles of books to check the exact species of this or that, others showing photos and photos to the diveguide testing his/her knowledge and wisdom. From the endemic species of the Andaman Sea like the Andaman Fox face Rabbitfish or the Indian Mimic Surgeonfish, to the big guys (apart from the already mentioned) like the cobias in the Boonsung Wreck (the ones that for speed, size and colour everybody thinks are sharks) or the hungry Giant Trevallies, to the small dudes like the flabellinas in Richelieu Rock, our friends the Tigertail Seahorses, the gentle ribbon eels, pygmy pipehorses, ornate ghostpipefishes,… And not only fishes are written in the logbooks, there are people that also update it with the new levels, like Benedicte who has become a PADI Advanced Open Water diver after missing some naps in terms of filling the knowledge reviews and improving her skills underwater…If that was possible 🙂
An extra reason for joy and a lot of chatting remembering past anecdotes is the return of Mark and Cindy, old friends of three of the staff on board, Diego, Anna and Dani, who were their mentors during their divemaster course…Looks like they really enjoyed the trip with that relief of not having to draw any maps, do any swim tests, any current checks at 7 in the morning or having to attend a (fake) unresponsive diver situation every now and then! Let’s see who wins the competition when they put the videos taken by both Gopros side by side…I think that Cindy’s manta shoot is going to get the prize 🙂
A final unexpected sighting, this time above the water, was the trip leader wearing a demon paper mask and getting hit by beans thrown by guests and staff alike; all this happened after everybody had been eating sushi with the help of a compass to make sure that we were facing 240 degrees while eating it. Sounds weird? It is all part of a Japanese festivity: “Setsubun” – an old tradition that is for the last day before Spring in which all that things are done with the goal of having good luck; but I have no idea if the ones that are going to be lucky the next year are the ones throwing the beans – and what about the one wearing the mask who is getting hit by all the beans – is he also going to be lucky? Each person has to eat the same number of beans that corresponds to the age that that person has – what does it mean that I had to eat a fair amount of beans to the point of getting really full :-)???
We’ll see if after all those Japanese “rituals” we are going to have luck for the rest of the year, at least until the next Setsubun, but at least for the rest of the trip looks like the luck is in our side, starting the days with perfect sunrises, enjoying flat seas all day long, ending the last dive of the day with a perfect round red sun sinking in the Andaman Sea without one cloud in sight with just the silhouettes of distant and slow moving fishing boats and of course enjoying the delicious dinner and a well deserved beer under the light of a bright yellow full moon.