Category Archives: Animals

Observe, Do Not Disturb

Have you ever wanted to hold a giant silky soft fish?

It goes against my training as a diver, “Observe, DO NOT Disturb”.

I knew it was wrong and just like my recent rebellious photography at St George’s church, I loved it anyway.

I do seem to be breaking the rules more in my old age.

Debra and Stingray

What’s worse for divers than touching a wild animal?

Feeding it!! (We did that too).

Southern stingrays LOVE squid.  They adore it.  They love it so much they will let two people hold them as long as they are in company with the squid bringers.

greg and debra

They love it so much they use a professional vacuum amount of force to suck it out of your hand.

I’ve never experienced anything quite like it.

Would you hold a squid under a vacuum cleaner if it was wild and free?

And in the 50 or 60 dives I’ve done over the years, I’ve only seen one southern stingray and a few spotted eagle rays.  Well, once I saw a school a devil rays and there were about 25 of them but I was snorkeling and I didn’t get to touch or feed them…

Today I saw, felt, touched or fed about 20.  And I need you to understand the ones we got pictures with were the SMALL ones.

They rubbed on my legs in greeting like a cat waiting for a can of tuna.

The biggest one even hip checked me, perhaps because he could.  Perhaps because he had a bit of a pre-squid feeding frenzy.

I was giddy for hours after.  In fact, I still feel a little in awe.

Greg and stingray

Move over monkeys, I have a new animal for the top 5….

P.S.  We only had 10 people with us because we asked our hotel owner to book us any day, any time, when the cruise ship people would not be there.  I’ve heard they take up to 200 people.  That would not be enjoyable.  I preferred our 2/1 stingray to people ratio.

Advertisements

The Horse Whisperer

If you see the Royal Guard on horseback.

Beware.

2012-12-08 13.57.14

This is how the horse looked around everyone else, a bit wary…the ears back are an obvious give away.  Don’t blame Greg, the horse was like this with everyone.

IMAG0017_BURST001

This is how the horse looked around me, cuddly.  That “Beware” sign obviously didn’t apply to me.  Perhaps he felt comfortable around my red coat?

2012-12-08 13.59.34-11

My only regret is not feeding him an apple or a carrot.

It’s For The Birds

In Hong Kong just past Flower Market Road, there is a large group of retired men who spend their days in a park together. They bring their singing birds in unique, beautiful cages and hang them in the trees, from poles or on hooks. Then while their birds sing, they socialize.

I’ve never seen so many birds. Perhaps I’ve never seen this many old men. I’ve most certainly never seen this many birds with old men.

Some men loved to show off their birds. I watched this man give his bird a bath.

These two birds on this perch were my favorite, perhaps because they were not in a cage and definitely because they constantly chatted and teased each other in between “Hello?” calls and whistles to me. I wonder if they are always like that or if maybe this bird just gets especially feisty after a bath?

There were also birds and all manner of bird keeping items for sale.

In the next photo, notice the lovely porcelain food and water bowls that were in most of the cages.

And for those who are reading this and know me well, yes, walking through the park I debated between buying as many birds as I could afford and freeing them or just running through the park opening as many cages as I could. Some of these cages are just too small and it seemed cruel… Then I wondered how long it would take for the freed birds to be captured again and if they would immediately fly away if I opened the door? But my rebellious thoughts stayed only as thoughts and I strictly observed and photographed the bird/man society.

However, even though I don’t like seeing animals in cages (except jellyfish), I still enjoyed seeing this culture that is so different than what I think of when I look forward to retirement.

Are some of the young men in Hong Kong really thinking, “I can’t wait until I retire so I can get a bird and go to the bird garden every day…”

What do I hope retirement means for me? I have grand plans of travel, so I can see more new and interesting things like these men in the park.

What do you want to do when you retire?

A NEW But OLD Animal Made The Short List

Saddle up your benches boys and girls and go ride an elephant!

Elephant rides are pretty common here in Asia.  However, many of the elephants are not treated well and/or don’t live in very favorable conditions.  So even though we have had many opportunities, we have not visited with the elephants until recently.

I found and read rave reviews about an elephant conversation park in the Krabi area (Nosey Parker’s Elephant Camp).

First we visited a pregnant elephant.  Did you know they are pregnant for 2 years?  Did you know their babies weigh around 260 lbs when they are born?  (120kg)

Even though she is due in 3 months, I could not even tell she was pregnant!  I talked to the owner of the elephant camp and he said he did not think she looked pregnant either.  However, he said the veterinarian came this week and assured him she was very pregnant and due in about 12 weeks.  I guess it wasn’t hard for him to miss a 200 pound baby elephant…

The mom was such a sweetie!  Greg was delighted with her, but he kept a little distance, he’s usually (except for ducks and geese) a little more cautious with animals at first. Can you see her about to poke him in the chest? “Give me your bananas!!!”I immediately snuggled right up to her!We had so much fun feeding her bananas (she didn’t seem to mind the peel and she was happy to eat 3 or 4 at a time.)  Did you know in Thailand elephants eat $500 USD per month of food!  (An wild adult elephant consumes 300-600 lbs (140–270 kg) of food in a day (less than that if they are in captivity)!  That’s a lot of food!  They also live 50-70 years!Of course I had fun checking out her mouth and teeth.  (My mouth/teeth interest isn’t just limited to humans!) Also notice she has hair! (Look at the brown fuzz around her head.)

While we fed the pregnant elephant the handlers lounged around.  Look at how comfortable they are on top of an elephant!Next, we went over to a stairway and climbed up onto a platform where we were at equal height and able to climb onto the elephants back where a bench was waiting!

Then off we went out into the jungle.  Nope, no seatbelts here…

First we crossed a stream.

It was so different than I expected.  Each step covered so much ground and therefore even though we were just walking we moved much faster than I thought we would!  (It felt like about 10 feet or just over 3 meters per step.)  Also, on the uneven terrain it was not a very smooth ride.  Every step made us lean far one direction and then the next step we’d lean far the other direction.  Downhill just felt jerky, jarring and scary!  Any second we were thought we could slide right off the bench and fall 20 feet (6-7 meters) to the ground below!

Which is why downhill was my favorite!

After 10 minutes or so, Greg got to climb off the bench and ride on the elephants head/neck area.He didn’t feel very stable (he blamed his shoes, I was barefoot).  He almost always had a tight grip with one hand on the bench behind him (which made him lean in a weird way and made me nervous for him too).Then Greg climbed back up on the bench and it was my turn!  It felt 100% natural for me!  (Thanks mom for giving me horse back riding lessons as a kid).  I loved it!  No death grip on the bench was necessary.  I spent most of my time hugging and petting the elephant!  I instantly felt “this is how you are supposed to ride an elephant—not on a bench!”I got to spend a lot of time on the elephant’s neck.

The best part was going down hills.  It must have been obvious by my ear to ear grin that I was having a blast so the guide started taking us off the trails that all the other people were on and just randomly going thru the jungle.  I think he could also tell I was especially enjoying the hills, (did my squeals of delight and giddy giggles give me away?) because he found quite a few hills for us to go down!

I also loved going down a hill into a stream!  Are you nervous for me?  Don’t be, I was SO HAPPY and smiling so much my cheeks hurt!With the elephants sway and how much ground they cover, they don’t feel sure footed especially when my mind was telling me, “that’s a super slippery smooth wet rock we are about to step on” but each step was firmly planted!We loved our elephant guide for taking us off trail, for his funny jokes, for taking our photos and for almost always using vocal commands (instead of the metal poker on a stick).  We really didn’t even like seeing the metal poker on the stick…  It reminded me of what my dad used to use to turn the wood in our fireplace when I was a kid.  Those type of tools should only be used on inanimate objects.

After our ride, we got to feed our elephant pineapple (no problem with skin here either).Feeding our elephant a thank you treat was as much fun as the ride!  I was AMAZED by his amazing and dexterous trunk.  The way he grabbed food from me was incredible.  I never knew their trunk has opposing thumb like ability.  He had an incredible sense of smell and could follow and find fruit easily and bend and curl his trunk in multiple directions.  Then he could close the end of his trunk around fruit it and grab it.  HOW DOES HE DO THAT?  Wikipedia says, “the elephant’s trunk is sensitive enough to pick up a single blade of grass, yet strong enough to rip the branches off a tree.”  When I watched the monkeys I wanted a tail…now I want an elephant trunk too!After his tasty treat, we stayed for two elephants who needed baths.  This park dammed the stream so there was a large, deep pool for the elephants to walk into.  They were having so much fun, it was hard for me to resist jumping in to join them! The handler would stand on the elephant and then tap him when he wanted to go down….Then he’d come back up…It was an elephant elevator.  Except wet elephants must be a little slippery, because he almost fell off twice…  Or perhaps this elephant has a sense of humor and this was intentional? Maybe with his much better than human sense of smell he thought, “You think I need a bath? You do too, you smell worse than I do! Afterall, you have been riding around on me all day.”When the elephants started taking a shower the handler stood on the nearby log.  Do you wonder how they take a shower?  Why they use their own spout of course!  At nearly 4 gallons (14 litres) per spray it’s pretty efficient.  In the wild after a shower they follow up with muddy water because it is a natural sunscreen!My advice, don’t get into a water fight with an elephant unless you are prepared to LOSE!  Even if they clean you well with water, they might start spraying you with mud after.  With the best of intentions of course! You can’t be too careful with the hot Thai sunshine!

I can’t wait to go back with my sister & niece this summer!  Especially since we’ll get to see the baby elephant!

When I used to see elephant stuff everywhere in Asia I always thought, “no thanks”.  Now I see it everywhere and I love it!  I have joined the elephant obsessed!  What amazing creatures!

I Haven’t Seen the Movie

Since I strongly dislike Leonardo DiCaprio, I’ve avoided the movie “The Beach” successfully for the last 10 years. However, spending a day in a boat around the islands where it was filmed has made me reconsider the movie.The islands are so beautiful.So next time I’m missing Thailand I might go and rent it.Just to catch another view of the stunning cliffs next to the turquoise shallow and sapphire blue deep water. Notice how small the boat is in comparison to the soaring limestone cliffs above?We both saw turtles around here too!  In general, Greg and I just loved hanging out around these islands, especially since we avoided the crowded and touristy beaches.  We enjoyed it enough, it is possible we will survive a Leonardo performance.  But we have been back nearly a month, and I have not rented it yet.  So maybe not.

Best Diving In Asia So Far

My recent two days of diving were easily the best diving I’ve had so far in Asia for many reasons.  I got to see my first seahorse, and it was worth the wait because it was even cuter than I imagined!my first Octopus…my first cuttlefish, and we saw 2 or 3.  Do they look a little alien, and front heavy to you like they do to me?and a few of one of the most venomous creatures in the world.  Banded sea kraits.  When I wasn’t in the water, I loved hanging out on the huge dive boat.  The first day we shared it with just 6 other people (the second day there were about 25 people but everyone still had lots of room).  It had a nice open area in the back that had a roof for shade from the intense Thai sunshine.  It had tables on the main level with bench seats.  They were super organized with equipment and each person had a number assigned area.  We also had warm fresh water showers off the back of the boat and a delicious hot Thai lunch.And it was so much better than the boats we saw like this coming from Phuket that were overloaded with people. Here’s the long tail boat we used to shuttle to the big boat from beach and back.Here’s the beach! What a view!  There were always many long tail boats here.Here’s the sweet underwater housing and lens the videographer used. (That’s my dive instructor from Finland on the right of the lens).Our very Thai style shuttle from the shop to the beach.My favorite seat on the boat was up front either leaning against this…Or even better, standing next to the Thai flag with the wind in my hair and an unblocked view of the passing islands.And of course I loved the fabulous weather, the smooth sea conditions, the dolphins we saw throughout the day, the incredible visibility, the warm water and spending the last 40 minutes of each trip watching the days highlights on our dive movie!  I’ll be back!

I Have Proof

I’ve been scuba diving since 1998.  Over the years I’ve learned a few things.  I can usually tell when it will be a good dive versus a really good dive.   Of course, rarely there are those moments where you think, this is going to be one of the BEST dives in my lifetime. 

Feb 12th I had one of those “this is going to be spectacular” moments, just before I did a giant stride off our fabulous dive boat. 

My biggest clue and the best sign for an amazing dive day is when the dive masters/instructors are chatty and excited.  Because every dive instructors or dive master I’ve ever met has been low drama.  In fact, having someone who can stay calm in a tense situation is ideal if you’re 80 feet under water and something goes wrong.  So by nature, it should take a lot to get a dive instructor worked up.  And headed out to the King Cruiser Wreck on that Friday morning I noticed everyone was a little keyed up! 

Another clue happens when you get to the dive site.  I watch the dive staff carefully for their reaction.  They always give away if it’s better than average or worse than normal conditions.  The look is usually quick and fleeting, because it’s important to stay positive for their clients to have the best possible experience.

So, by the time we stopped at the dive site, I was already excited from all the buzz on the boat, and I was watching my dive instructor extra close as he looked down at the wreck.  He openly exclaimed, yelled really, in sailor mouthed fashion a string of obscenities that might still be echoing somewhere off the limestone cliffs on the islands nearby.  We clearly had unheard of visibility and fabulous conditions for diving.  He was so excited in fact, that I momentarily considered grabbing a few extra tanks of air so we could stay down there longer!

So down we went, and it was extraordinary!  Even better because I had this incredibly talented videographer (really he was more than that…he was a short film maker) catching every moment of it.  These weren’t youtube quality movies.  I left Krabi with two 40 minute high definition films, one from each day including video of before the dive and a bonus DVD of his best footage of the local dive sites.  Amazing, and worth every penny spent…or Baht.

Ao Nang Divers has a fabulous boat and staff, great equipment, talented and friendly dive instructors/masters, and good food.  However, the number one reason I have been recommending them to people is because of Stewart at Krabi Imaging.  I wish I could upload all 40 minutes of both my videos so you could be as happy and amazed as I am.  However, Stu puts a weekly condensed video up on his website so you can see what the diving conditions are like, right now.  And last week he put up a short video from my wreck dive (I’m in the background of a few shots)!  So with his permission, here is 3 minutes of my dive…

Vodpod videos no longer available.

 

more about “King Cruiser Wreck“, posted with vodpod

I never want to dive without a videographer again. But I’m not sure if any other videographers will compare. I highly recommend flying to Krabi RIGHT NOW and going diving with this team (because the visibility is fantastic…so why wait?). Don’t worry if you don’t know how to dive, they will teach you. And you’ll have proof from Stu, of all the best yellow boxfish, turtles, shaded batfish, moorish idol, banded sea snakes, durban shrimp, ghost pipe fish, octopus, cuttlefish, eels, lionfish, scorpionfish and all your best moves so you can re-live every moment anytime you want! You’ll have proof.