Excerpt: 'Love Always, Petra' by Petra Nemcova

Early that evening we checked out of the hotel and went to the scuba center. From there we took an open van to the harbor, where many boats were lined up side by side. After scrambling over a number of boats, we reached ours. I have to admit I was nervous about climbing from deck to deck in the dark, but holding Simon's hand made me feel safe. Once we got on our boat, we had to remove our shoes, and they stayed off for the three days we were on board -- I loved it. If I could, I would stay barefoot all the time. Simon and I were shown to our living quarters, a little cabin with bunk beds -- we slept on the bottom spooning happily together. The divers were a mixed group -- English, Swedish, American, and Australian -- of about twenty-four people, plus the Thai crew.

Every morning there was an on-deck briefing, to go over the dive site, the currents, the rocks, the depth, the fish, etc. Then you'd suit up, get your oxygen tank, and go over the side. There were four dives a day. I was with Simon every time he prepared for a dive, and I was waiting for him when he came back. He was so happy; he loved the scuba diving. And he was making everyone else happy, too, with his good spirit and his silly humor. While Simon was in the water, I read, took some sun, or chatted with the crew. Simon and I never said that we were a photographer and a model -- we were happy to leave our public lives behind.

We became friendly with a Swedish couple, who at one point came over to us carrying a Swedish magazine. "Isn't this you?" they asked, opening to a full-page photo. I had to admit that it was. You can't keep a secret even in a boat in a harbor in Thailand. Although the others learned that we were a model and photographer, nobody bothered us; it was a very casual time. In between dives we went snorkeling or swimming in the bay. Diving or snorkeling, everyone gets excited about what they've seen. Simon was bubbling over with details about his undersea adventures.

The second night, Simon and I sneakily went up on deck, climbed into a hammock, and slept out under the stars. It was a beautiful experience. Really all we did on that boat was eat, sleep, scuba dive, sunbathe, and make love. It's the best holiday you can imagine.

On the last morning, December 24, one of the instructors came out on deck wearing a white beard, a red suit and hat, and full scuba gear. Santa Claus had joined the dive! I took a picture of him and planned to send it to friends as a Christmas card. After lunch we sailed back to Khao Lak and disembarked.

We returned to the diving center, where we dropped off the equipment and exchanged addresses and telephone numbers with the others. Simon and I went back to the Orchid Hotel. We were given a different bungalow, same layout and still on the beach, but this little house was in the second row. Instead of overlooking the ocean, our room overlooked the pool.

Before dinner that night Simon and I went to an Internet café. The connections were so bad I couldn't send individual messages, so I e-mailed a group message, something that I'd never done before. I couldn't put the picture of the scuba Santa on the e-mail, so I just wrote "Merry Christmas." We left the café and returned to the hotel for dinner. It was a hilarious evening. People wore silly hats, and there were balloons to blow up and funny competitions for the children, as well as a magician doing his tricks. This was Christmas Eve Thai-style, easy and delightful.

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