I woke about 6, It then took me over an hour to force myself from my bed and manage a shower. The lift here goes all the way to the 7th floor, but in almost true spinal tap fashion, "this one goes up to..." 8, so i trundled up the last flight to the restaurant area and commenced my 41st year on this planet with a banana pancake and a lemon juice. Breakfast of champions.
I was collected from the hotel reception area just after 9 covered from head to toe in factor 50, which enabled me to slide easily to the back of the minibus for the short journey to the local docks where a couple of herds were loaded onto the boat for the trip to some bays and coves off the local islands for a little snorkeling. This was to be my first time (again)
It took a short while to get there, so plenty of time for our guide for the day to run through some tour speil, memorise peoples names and generally enjoy himself. He was good, almost everyone's names were committed, the only problematic one being "Sergio" which he struggled with. Easily overcome though. Sergio became "john wayne" for the day.
We arrived at our first drop, towels, flippers, and masks with snorkles attached were handed out and with my size 30's on I duck waddled up to the side of the boat and plunged overboard into the warm, salty waters. The level of the south china sea dropped about 2 inches as I decided to take in whatever I could through every orifice before surfacing again, coughing and spluttering away.
It took me a little while to get the hang of snorkeling too, its just not instinctive first of all to only breath through your mouth and it's easy to panic when you initially run short of breath. But soon enough you become accustomed to the new way of filling your lungs, your breathing becomes more definite and controlled and you start to focus on the marvels that lay beneath you in the clear shallow waters, rather than the fact that your nose, your buddy for the last 40 years of your life, no longer functions.
Then you notice a few small jelly fish around you and mild panic sets in again. I worked the flippers hard and I was soon clear to go back looking at the purple and blues of the corals and plants drifted over by all manner of tropical fish, none too bothered by the white whale floating above them. I will avoid using the term "moby dick" for obvious reasons. After 30 minutes or so I returned to the boat, drank some fresh water and waited while my body drips sea back out of my nose.
We then went to another bay, launched ourselves in again into deeper waters and paddled our way to the shallower depths for more snorkeling. I felt something sting my arm but the pain was short lived and didn't affect the enjoyment of the swim, turns out others got stung too but none were serious. Must have been a vodka jelly.
After this second dive the table was set and we all sat around to a dinner of noodles, chicken, egg, tiger prawns, seaweed and other dishes before making waves to our way to our 3rd and final coral reef where we would have to swim through deeper, choppier waters to reach the warmer shallow corals. The plants and coral here were brighter and more colourful than the previous ones we visited, and the types of fish more diverse. I swam through schools teaching maths and over little urchins who had been left outside before something a little bigger caught my eye.
Long, thin and silver, and within touching distance, it just floated there, trying to work me out. I in turn floated there, giving him my best eye back in a game of fish v man. Who would flinch first. I can only vouch for the way I was feeling at the time and I think the south china sea rose back it's 2 inches I had stolen earlier at that point. Disgusted the barracuda moved on, and I decided that was enough, i used my size 30 flippers to run back over the water to the boat and dried myself down.
Shortly after the guide produced an amazing array of fruit for us all to enjoy, but before tucking in he also led the entire boat in a chorus of "happy birthday to jim". A couple of people on the boat had known but one had let the guy in charge know too. So Germans, Austrians, Dutch, Portuguese, Americans, Mexicans and more all sang in chorus to wish me a happy fortieth, god only knows how I'm going to top that one in the future.
So another amazing experience on my travels, and I'm only half way through the asian part of this bloody thing.
On the way back in the evening to the hotel, a walk that lasts about 2 minutes I had the now expected approaches from old men riding Honda Love's offering girls or drugs. It's the major blot on the page of an otherwise enjoyable location and one that Vietnam would maybe do well to address if it wants to further itself as a family friendly holiday destination. I'm starting to run out of polite ways to say "piss off" in a friendly, non confrontational manner.