Claire and Amy are two young ladies from the city of Leeds, in fair old Mother England. Claire has been doing the Open Water course with me for the past four days, so she knows me and everyone else in the crew. Her friend Amy declined to partake in the diving — "it's not my thing", she said — however, this hasn't stopped her from getting in on the social side of Ban's, so we all know her as well. Lovely girls, and they've been here in southern Thailand so long, and their tan is so dark, that they're looking less English every day.
Abbie's a cheerful English girl, who's been travelling around the world for several months, and who's recently completed a long volunteering stint down in southern Africa. Abbie's currently undertaking her DMT (Divemaster Training) course with Ban's, which means that she's living and working here on Ko Tao for a few months. Abbie's been with my Open Water group over the past several days, and this is her first time as an instructor's assistant to a group of Open Water students. Great girl, and quite committed to her diving.
Ber's an English bloke, and he's another one of the devoted, dedicated and — let's face it — addicted diving instructors at Ban's, here in Ko Tao. As well as being a full-time instructor, Ber is also now the proud owner of the Hippo bar, which is just off from the main drag of Sairee. Ber took me for my second round of dives today; and like his colleague Flav, he did a great job of showing me around below the surface.
Chris is a tall, long-haired, opinionated lad from Manchester, that great urban centre of northern England. He's one of my comrades in the Open Water course that I'm currently doing: and like me, he's finding diving to be challenging yet rewarding. Chris has a wicked sense of humour; but what makes me crack up everytime he speaks, more than anything, is his positively kick-a$$ super-strength Manchester accent. Chris is here in Thailand for a while — and if he likes it enough, he may just spend the majority of his Thai time right here on Ko Tao.
Mark's a chatty bloke whom I ended up sitting next to, during this evening's long bus ride from Chiang Mai down to Bangkok. Mark's an Englishman; and like myself, he's also a seasoned traveller of South America. So the two of us had a good ol' chinwag on the bus, sharing our (all-too-similar) stories and reminiscences of backpacking in the Latin World. Sadly, from Bangkok Mark's headed out of Thailand: his plan is to gradually make his way home over the next few months, by way of India and various other countries.
I've met some insanely adventurous travellers in my time — but Sonny has got to be one of the maddest. Sonny's an English lad who's off for a year, and who's planning on doing the complete Central Asia and Middle East tour: among his intended destination countries are Pakistan, Iran, Syria, Jordan and Yemen. Like myself, Sonny's well-read and opinionated in the areas of history and politics: this was a big reason why we clicked from day one, and why we never seem to run out of conversation topics. Along with Marie and Claire, I hung out with Sonny for most of my time in Pai. Assuming he survives his pioneering travels, I hope to see him again one day.
The dark horse of today's cooking class, this quiet and rather awkward young English guy came by himself and said very little. I talked to him a bit, and discovered that he's been in Thailand for some time, and that his passion is Muay Thai (Thai boxing) — a gruesome sport that makes its Western equivalent look like a pillow-fight (strange, as it's quite incongrous with the otherwise peaceful and friendly nature of Thai people). The English boxer has been to several of the infamous Muay Thai training camps — they admit keen tourists at some — and although he hasn't tried a proper fight yet, he claims that it's a great sport and that it's very fulfilling. I say "each to his own" — personally, I'd rather eat a raw cockroach than even watch one of those games, let alone participate.
These three buddies are good blokes, and they're all staying here at Cat's to celebrate the New Year, madrileño-style. Dan and Matt are both Aussie boys, who are of Italian heritage, and who have been living and working in Italy for the past few months. They also both have Spanish girlfriends, who they've come over here to visit. Kenny's a friend of Dan and Matt, who hasn't got a Spanish girlfriend, and who isn't an Italian Aussie — actually, he's a Brit of Spanish heritage. Complicated little groups they've got themselves into around here, don't you think? Anyway, we all had a blast this evening for el Año Nuevo ("the New Year").
Brian's an elderly English chap whom I met on the train from Amsterdam to Berlin today. He's a real character: for the few hours that we ended up sitting together, he started chatting away about all sorts of things, from international politics to the nature of women. He's a great-grandfather, who has family scattered all over Europe (and the world), and who's been a bachelor since his wife passed away several years ago. He's amazingly pro-active for his age, and is obviously "the rock" of his large family. He lives in a small suburban place near London called Hertford.
Natalie's the young, space-cadet English girl who lives and works at Gulliver's House, here in Rome. She's been here for about 3 months now, and she's not sure exactly how long she's staying for. She's extremely nice, but she's totally spaced out: not sure if she's stoned, or just a very tranquil person. Anyway, she's very welcoming to all the guests at the hostel, and she's always happy to give advice about what to see and do in the city.