As we approach the beautiful limestone island of Bon, the people from the other liveaboards start turning towards us: the ones laying lazily in the sundecks that see how suddenly the blue of the sky is broken by something long and colourful; or the ones listening to briefings that turn their backs to their poor divemaster who is trying to explain where they are going and what creatures they might meet underwater; and in another boat there is a few seconds between the captain blowing the horn and the divers getting ready to jump in from the dive deck to do their giant strides as they are looking up to the sky. On the Hallelujah we are also amazed, especially me the only non Japanese on board and very inexperienced in this field. We gather upstairs on the spacious sundeck, and while Aoy, Lat and Duan are giving massages to three ultra relaxed guests, the rest of us stand there, cameras ready and mouths open, staring at the sky, where a long traditional Japanese kite flies…well, more like a kite that is a string with more that 60 kites, each one with writing and/or drawing from one of us, manta rays drawings are the winners, but there are also triggerfish, traditional Japanese noodle shops and funny drawings that to a Westerner like me reminds me of cartoon TV shows like Shin Chan or Dragon Ball. It is mesmerizing to see the kites flying in a line in the clear blue sky. The Similans are just a distant shade, and Koh Bon welcomes us with its brown limestone and weather worn trees clinging onto it’s steep cliffs.
But the kites are not the only things that flying from the Hallelujah. That ancestral tradition competes with the most modern technology. For a lot of us, the image we have of Japan is a contrast between ancient and traditional values and customs and the most modern technology on Earth. I always have wondered if this maybe is just a stereoptype or a wrong idea. However, flying handmade kites one hour after flying a drone over Donald Duck Bay, gives me feeling that the modern and ancient influences of Japan that seem so different but fit together in perfect harmony.
Once the kites are back to the boat and the briefings are done, the groups kit up and get ready to jump with the excitement that precedes every dive. The excitement is even more tantalising as we prepare to dive Koh Bon’s west ridge…what is swimming under the surface right now? Some big flappy thing??? Let’s check it out!
And yeah, it looks like it is the day of the flying stuff: kites, drones…and huge rays! The visibility is amazing when we start the dive, an endless big blue that makes everything look too beautiful. But at some point at the ridge, the current gets stronger and everything turns to a greener tone…and this is a sign that there is food in the water and that can bring our friends. And this is how it goes; a few big oceanic mantas come to visit us, have a look at the strange humans making bubbles, and disappear in the strong green current, and come back again and hide again and come back. Do they also keep logbooks? (I’ve seen 5 Germans, 3 Chinese, 20 Japanese,…)
As with the day we visit Koh Bon, the rest of the trip is of continuous excitement and new things, on the boat and underwater; surprises and cool stuff that looks to have no end. It is like Japan has come to us, and I learn more about that country in these four days that all of the amazing and interesting Japanese things I’d learnt in all of the other trips I’ve been working with Big Blue. We eat real southern Japanese noodle soup, brown sugar cakes, sushi and sashimi; and apart from playing with kites, we play with take tombo (sorry, it’s difficult to explain, but is simple and a lot of fun) : we celebrate the “diving anniversaries” from some of the guests (a tradition for Japanese divers) giving them presents, eating cakes and with Takeshi-san and Naoki-san wearing really funny customs (well, just wigs and weird glasses but the change was radical :-); their milestones are: 200, 300, 500 and… 1,700 dives!! Oh, and finally I learn how to make horizontal bubble rings using my fists!
The main differences between me and the divers on the boat disappear underwater. In the aquatic realm we don’t speak English or Japanese or Catalan or Swahili, we use signs so we can communicate; we take care of each other; we ask if everything is OK and we point out and share the creatures we find. Two of the divers that are deaf, once underwater, in the realm of silence, use the signs as everybody else; there are no deaf or Japanese or Catalan; everybody uses the same language here. And underwater, as on the boat, we use also the universal language of the smiles. The smiles come and go, for the great visibility, for the manta rays, the schools of trevallies or fusiliers, the extra-terrestrial Pharaoh cuttlefish, or the Nemos that make everybody smile. Like always in the Similans and Surins, from giant fishes to small critters; from that big-big dogtooth tuna or giant trevallies to weird and amazing creatures like the couple of frogfishes and the couple of seahorses in Richelieu, a teeny-tiny pygmy pipehorse in Elephant Head Rock, a small and quiet seamoth, ribbon eels, nudibranches, tiny blennies popping out from holes in the corals,… here, as we always say, there are things for everybody.
“II diving deshitaka?” (did you enjoy the dive?)
“Nani o mimastaka?” (what did you see?) “Manta mimasta!!”
And the trip gets to its end with, like always, the amazing Boonsung Wreck. I’m probably not going to be able to remember all the new Japanese words and probably the next time that I try to play take tombo, I’m going to be as clumsy as the first time, but there are a lot of good memories left from the trip and a lot of lessons learnt. The liveaboards are diving trips, but are also living for a few days with people that turn from strangers into friends, and help you to understand the other cultures and turn it from something distant and strange to something familiar and from which you want to know more and more.
“Sayonara!”, “Matane!” (See you)