Day two of my three-day rock climbing course stepped things up a notch. Yesterday was good fun, but nothing serious: just a few non-technical climbs on beginner runs, where I was teamed up with various people doing no-frills half-day sessions. Today, my venerable instructor Let taught me the most important and the most basic of technical climbing skills: how to perform top-rope lead climbing. It's very different to simply scrambling up carefree, with a rope above your head the entire time: more thrilling, but also far more scary.
For something completely different, this afternoon I continued doing what I started this morning: more fun climbing! We were a group of four this afternoon (plus Let as our instructor): Martina, a crazy Korean guy and his wife, and myself; and instead of the "1-2-3" wall, this time we headed over to the "Diamond Cave" cliffs, up on the northern side of Railay East bay. The climbing continued to be extremely fun, and to pose few real technical challenges. It also, however, continued to be utterly exhausting — by the time we were done for the day, I was wasted.
If it's rock-climbing you're after, then Ton Sai is the place to be. In fact, there's very little else to do at Ton Sai — or in Railay — aside from lying on the beach: so if you're not into rock-climbing, then perhaps you should be someplace else. Last night I signed up for a comprehensive 3-day climbing course, with Ton Sai-based company "The Rock Shop" — and today was the first day of that course. I've never before been rock-climbing on a natural, outdoor wall; although I did a fair bit of indoor (artificial-wall) climbing many years ago, when I were a 'wee lad (plus I've abseiled down natural cliffs before). It was a sweaty, exhausting introduction to the sport — 9am-6pm, with a 1-hour lunch break — but it was more fun than anything I ever imagined; and I finished the day feeling a strong sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
I did my third and fourth dives this morning, and they're the final dives that I need to do as part of my Open Water course. Today's drill was pretty similar to that of the diving yesterday morning: on the boat by 7:30am; one dive at The Twins, then over to White Rock; and completion of the remaining handful of PADI-required underwater exercises. My group had Ber as our instructor today, instead of Flav, and we descended a bit deeper than we've done previously: we made it to 18m, which is the maximum depth permitted for an Open Water certified diver.
The pool dive yesterday was just practice. Today was the real thing: at 7:30am we were on the boat (little dinghy from Sairee beach, then we transferred to a big boat for the actual diving); and by 9am, my first ever scuba dive had begun. All scuba diving must be done with a buddy — and for today, my buddy was Alex. Once again, the deep-sea Dutchman Flav was my instructor. By midday, we'd completed two dives — to a depth of 12m, and at the sites of The Twins and White Rock. Contrary to my tip-top expectations, real diving proved to be quite a challenge: but I survived the ordeal, and I'm ready for whatever the next day holds in store.
The second day of our PADI Open Water course began quite similarly to the first day: with more theory, and more boring educational diving videos. We revised yesterday's material, and went over our "homework", before finishing off the 5-part video series. The theory is a total joke — the instructors don't take it seriously, the material is largely common-sense stuff, and it's all done simply "for the record" — but at least we're now through most of it. Then, in the afternoon, our practical tuition began: for the first time, we got fitted up with scuba gear, and we jumped in the swimming pool at Ban's for our introductory "simulation dive".
After four blissfully quiet days on the slopes, the world finally makes sense again: as of today, Kitzbühel has crowds... and lots of 'em! For my final day of skiing this year (seriously — look at the date, will you), I once again got in as much slopes-time as I possibly could. But today, I was battling some fierce hordes on the pistes and in the chairlift queues. Looks like I got in my ski trip just in time, before the rush — if it's going to be like this for the next week, then maybe the fact that I must depart Kitzbühel isn't so bad after all. Maybe... but probably not :P.
Things were a little messy this morning, after last night's big crawl. I woke up rather hung-over, to find that (after 3 privileged nights) I'm now sharing my room with 4 new people (2 Aussie couples from Melbourne), who informed me upon arising that I was snoring my head off all night (hey, they should kiss my a$$ — I could have done worse). Plus, I went downstairs, to find my beanie randomly hanging on a hook in the kitchen (WTF?). Anyway, a good Snowbunnys breakfast cured me a bit, as well as giving me my voice back (must have been all the passive smoking at Flannigans that robbed me of it — gawdammit Austria, could you please enter the 21st century and pass some anti-smoking laws!). And heading up to the Kitzbühelerhorn, for another day of skiing, was more than enough to complete the curing process.
After two days of learning and practicing, today I took Craig, Sarah and Kade up the big mountain, and showed them what a real ski run looks like. Since this was their last day in Kitzbühel, it was also their final opportunity to give the slopes a try. For the first time in my life, I found myself an "advanced skier" amongst newbies (I'm accustomed to the reverse being true), and the burden of teaching (rather than of being taught) fell on my shoulders. It was an interesting experience; and — as long as you're able to be patient — quite a fun day.
It wasn't what I had planned, but it's what happened: today I was crazy enough to hit the slopes with Nikolas and Viktor — the fearless Swedes of Snowbunnys — and to embark upon a grand tour of the resort with them. We covered an awful lot of runs today, and most of them were in the eastern area of the resort, which I didn't get around to visiting yesterday. Plus, we managed to navigate our way around for the entire day, without getting stuck or having to catch a bus once: it was lifts, gondolas and skis all the way. And as an added bonus: I even survived to tell the tale.