Aquatic antics

Trip Start Mar 01, 2009
Trip End Dec 21, 2009

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Where I stayed
Corona Backpackers

Flag of Australia  , Queensland,
Friday, August 28, 2009

Enough about my land adventures for now. My next big adventure felt like it occurred on a completely different planet altogether. I saw the world from a completely different angle and I liked what I saw!

Along with the Inca trail getting my PADI certification was the other big mission I set out with when embarking on my travels 10 months ago. Diving has always been something I have had an interest in but without the incentive might never have got around to. After all the water at home is not all that inviting at the best of times. However when in Australia and upside down and under the rest of the world and the water is clear and warm and teeming with all sorts there doesn’t seem like a better place or time to stick my head under and suss out what I’ve been missing out on all these years.

The thought of it was enough to stir up all sorts of mixed feelings but prominent was the feeling of adventure and overcoming something I wouldn’t necessarily categorize as a fear but it certainly brought some adrenalin flowing back in those places it hadn’t flown in a few months. I remember going out on the boats as a kid with Dad when I was so small I still had that ity bity red and black life jacket which I’m pretty sure now wouldn’t even fit over my head and going on diving/camping trips during the summer and most of all the weird and wonderful treasures brought up from the depths of the Atlantic by Dad some of which took up permanent residence in the garden for many a year. A lone tap for example, rust encrusted and yet remarkably fitting into our rockery is just one example. So I suppose it was sooner or later that I was going to take the plunge and get over my fear of the unknown.

Water has always encouraged a sense of dis ease in me, ever since I was a kid. Whether it be my totally irrational fear of swimming pool filters or not being able to see the bottom of the sea bed, or sewweed or anything at all really. In fact the only time I’ve ever really been comfortable in the sea is when on a horse or a surfboard. Perhaps it’s the distraction they provide but without them I have always been on the over cautious side when it comes to water. I was finally convinced to learn to swim at the age of 11 when going on holiday to Italy with family friends who I was bought to believe were school champion swimmers and so I finally obliged and stuck my head under the water. Followed by a large amount of spluttering and nerves I finally got the hang of it but still kept a wide berth of those dodgy looking filters when allowed.

But enough about all that. The truth is I didn’t know how I would react to being underwater without the reassurance of being able to pop my head back up over the surface and make sure all was still well with the world. I didn’t think I was going to like having to take my mask off under water or the feeling of not having oxygen or any of those unthinkable things that could happen as a result of trying to do what people really shouldn’t - compete with fish. If you heed and take to heart all the dangers and possible hazzards associated with scuba diving I don’t think anyone would dip their toe under the surface of the sea net alone dive down to unfathomable depths. It becomes clear that the proper place for us 2 legged beings in on dry land. However the sense of adventure beckons and the knowledge that there exists a whole other world down under is enough to entice a large proportion on the population to leave their reason on dry land and take the plunge.

Day 1 : There were medical exams and swimming tests to undergo before we even touched on the practical. We were one student down after swimming tests due to their inability to swim. Interesting choice of hobbies when one can’t swim I thought to myself while maintaining my 10 minute treading water. Not really my forte but I passed. There was theory, theory and then some more theory and then came the fun part. We organised our equipment, put it all on and stuck our head under the water. Breathing underwater for the first time is a truly bizarre feeling - similar to sky diving in one sense - you have to go against your instinct and actually tell your brain it’s OK - completely unnatural but you sort of know what your doing so hang in there and it will all be ok in the end. Somewhat like jumping from 15,000 feet and seeing the plane every few seconds as you tumble and free fall from it! The brain isn’t completely reassured but you persevere anyway and hope you do actually know what your doing.

Day one consisted of staying under water (kneeling) in the shallow end and doing skills such as talking off your mask and replacing it under water, removing your air and finding it and replacing it and all that jazz. Difficult at times to resist the urge to just stick your head above the water when things got difficult but on the whole thoroughly enjoyable and I couldn’t wait to get back in for day 2.

Day 2: More theory and an exam and then back into the pool. This time with a splash as we took a giant step into the deep end for the first time. We descended to the floor of the pool - a whole 3 meters! Once on the bottom the first things I noticed was a dead spider, trying to distract myself and not get engulfed in multiple fears at the same time! Again another session of basic skills and just getting accustomed to life under the surface. I loved it. By the end of our final session in the pool I was chomping to get out to the reef and get a proper feel of diving. I had taken to it like a duck to water and I couldn’t get enough of it.

Day 3: Was amazing! The reef was spectacular, the fish completely unfazed by these particularly strange looking creatures pretending to be fish who clearly had no idea what they were up to and consequently looked ridiculous all weighed down to get the bottom and with all sorts of contraptions attached when having gills just made life so much simpler. Our first dive was down to about 12 meters and thankfully didn’t involve any skills. Just adjusting to the depth and getting use to our new surroundings. It was simply lovely being out on the reef on the boat. We could snorkel to our hearts content when we weren’t diving to maximise our time out on the reef and when I was recovering from my aquatic antics the bow of the boat was the perfect spot to remedy the effects of a Melbourne winter on my tan or lack of. A couple of days on the boat and I looked less like I’d just suffered an Irish winter and began to fit in a bit better with the sun soaked crew. It felt good.

There was a second dive in the afternoon which involved all the skills we’d previously practised in the security of a swimming pool. This time however we were taking off our masks and replacing them on the bottom of the sea bed. Not hugely deep but at 8 meters too deep to shoot to the top in a panic. It all went fine and with the exception of a few stingy eyes there was no trouble. We saw all sorts that day even though it was primarily a skills diving day. The reef was spectacular with all sorts of colours and plants and coral. The visibility depended on the day but ranged from anything from about 10 meters to 25+ on the last day. The water was about 26 degrees and the sun blazing overhead. Diving conditions couldn’t have been better for the three days I was on the boat.

Day 4: The final day of our open water certificate course. There were another 2 dives to complete both with skills but more enjoyable than the previous day probably because we were a little more comfortable in the water so got a lot more out of it. On the first dive of the morning after our skills session and we were going for a little exploration I suddenly saw what I’d been hoping for for the past few days. A shark!! I was swimming along at the back of the group and suddenly saw it to my left. It was so frustrating as I suddenly realised I couldn’t shout under water. I didn’t want to miss the shark and so didn’t have time to swim up and grab anyone’s flipper so was just hoping one would turn around and catch me gesticulating wildly underwater. They didn’t. So annoying but it was also nice to see their envious faces as we surfaced a time later and I was finally able to spill the beans!

However a friend I made on the boat that day - Tom saw 2 turtles which he liked to rub in my face when I mentioned the shark and then to my utter disgust saw a shark on his second dive of the afternoon while the turtles continued to keep a wide berth of me. Other than the shark saw huge rays, giant clams, sea cucumbers (possibly the most boring looking animal on the planet but with some interesting qualities), Nemo fish (otherwise and correctly known as clown fish), a Maori Wrasse fish whose pet name is Wally who was practically bigger than me and the friendliest fish I have ever come across - coming up to people and obliging the underwater photographer day after day in the friendliest way possible. There was then all the paperwork to complete! That took some time but we were then deemed certified scuba divers. It was a good feeling as I reckoned there would be a few more times in my life where I would take the plunge. Like the following day for example!

Day 5- The plan was to just do another 3 fun dives on the Friday - not that the past 4 days hadn’t been fun but I hadn’t been sure how much of the reef I’d actually be able to enjoy so I’d decided to so this last day just to get more comfortable in the water and do some more enjoyable dives rather than purely skills related ones. However I had my arm twisted on the Thursday by my instructor Caleb and ended up doing an adventure course on the Friday and doing 3 of the 5 dives required to attain the advanced PADI cert allowing deep dives to 30 meters rather than the standard 18 meters which is useful for wreck diving. Bali here I come! The plan was to rent an underwater camera for the day anyway so Caleb kindly offered to throw the camera they rent out on the boat for free and one of my dives would be a photography one. It was too good an offer to resist. So the books were out again as I boarded the Osprey V for the final time. The first dive was the deep one so we went down to about 22 meters - had a few problems with my ears on this occasion - nothing to do with the depth it was the initial bit of the descent that got me so was a little nervous at the beginning however after our reaction tests at the bottom for nitrogen narcosis mine were actually faster at 22 meters than they had been on the boat! Not sure if that’s a good or bad thing but I suppose it’s good that I didn’t have nitrogen narcosis! We had a swim around and saw another shark - closer this time and I sorely regretted my decision not to bring the camera down with me on this dive! And then there swam a turtle! It was so cool seeing one just swimming around under the water in it’s own little world. It felt like such a privilege to be part of their underwater world for as long as our air held out so for an hour or so - it was such a great feeling and everything was so unbothered by us as well which really gave us the chance to get up and close to so much that I never expected to.

As well as the deep dive the other speciality dive that’s necessary to do for the advanced cert was a navigation dive which just involved using compasses underwater to get back to a certain place and then some natural navigation too which involved using underwater features to locate where the boat was etc. But apart from that we also spent a lot of time swimming around and in my case taking pictures. At one point I was so engrossed in taking pictures of Nemo that I was unsure as to where my group was but when I looked up there was a group of divers right next to this interesting school of fish so started making my way towards them and the fish and after a few snaps of the school I realised there was one missing from the divers so turned around to see the 3 I was actually diving with hovering over the sea bed, arms folded with an amused expression watching my antics and waiting for that moment of realisation. There was much laughter when we reached the surface a while later. So much so I almost forgot to inflate my BCD in time. Good times! We played around with Wally on the way up and then there was a bit of snorkelling before our final dive of the day. I did a photography one while the other two I was doing the course with who were actually training to be dive masters and working on the boat for 3 months did a naturalist dive so all about identifying plants and animals and coral. A handy combination as when they forgot what they had seen they could just have a quick refresher with my pictures!

Those two final dives were without doubt my favourite out of the whole week. The final day just gave me extra confidence and felt a lot more comfortable in the water than I had on the training dives. Things like I’d got the hang of my mask and so it just didn’t fog up at all and buoyancy came a lot easier and instead of thinking about it too long and hard just did it and it all seemed so natural. Think having a camera helped too as it was a distraction and made my diving just happen rather than thinking too hard about it. It was such a great feeling to just be able to dive and get up close to the coral and animals and yet feel in control!

The week was a huge success and the moment I stepped off the Osprey V for the final time I just wanted to get back on again! It had been so much fun and I loved the diving so much - probably more than I ever expected to. It’s inspired me to spend a lot more of my life under the sea discovering all sorts of weird and wonderful things and just getting the chance to see world in a completely different way! And I discovered something new - I love Scuba diving!
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pipparush on

I'm off to do a padi course in Aus ....
Just watch me - next chance possible I am off to do what you have just done!! Of the whole trip I think this is the bit I envy the most. Good on you girl, considering I couldn't get you anywhere near the water when you were little. I am more than incredibly impressed. Amazing - yet again!

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