Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Another Life Changing Experience

Ok that sounds a bit scary considering how this all started but this time it was in a good way and nowhere near as complete, so please stop panicking. The week that changed my life started in a boring classroom where I tried not to fall asleep as I watch videos about everything and anything that can go wrong when diving. Two days of classroom and pool activities seemed so innocuous even though I knew they were building up to the main event: scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef. Everyone who had been diving and told me I would love it. I have already said that I found the pool decidedly less exciting this time round but I did distantly remember the excitement of the first time I swam whilst breathing under water. However getting cold in the pool two days in a row and then struggling to find a mask that didn’t leak meant I was slightly apprehensive about how much I would really love being out in the water. Between the alternating excitement and worrying bouts I doubted I would get any sleep but I guess I had been working harder than I thought in the pool because I went to bed then before I knew it six am had arrived and it was time to check out of the hostel and head for my boat!

I met up with the rest of my class and the other passengers at the dive shop we had visited the previous day. From there we were taken to the reef terminal and our boat and home for the next two nights. Once we were on our way to the reef we were given the safety talk, shown yet another video and of course assigned our cabins and bunk mates. Having met someone who had been on the trip previously I was assured that though small the cabins weren’t as bad as she had feared. I think this is because she was certified. Our cabins were fine, they were after all only a place to sleep but I am sure they put us learners in the smallest ones and me and my bunk buddy in the smallest of all. I am sure this is karma’s retribution for being unable to pack lightly. Small as they were they were perfectly adequate for our needs. Stuff duly dumped and safety info absorbed it wasn’t too long before we were out on the reef and even from the surface it looked stunning. I don’t think I quite took in that I was looking at one of the natural wonders of the world. I was too taken by the way the rainforest surrounded the city we were leaving being and then continued all along the coast as far as I could see. It made me quite sad that after lugging it from the hostel to the shop to the boot my SLR had decided to stop working (ungrateful piece of technology!). Thankfully it was such a stunning memory I hope to hang on to it without the aid of my camera for once.

By 11am we were at our first dive site and it was time for us to suit up (not not like in How I Met Your Mother) and assemble and get on all our scuba gear for our first open water dive! We were out at the Milln Reef and the sea looked gorgeous. It was blue, clear and flat and I wanted to jump on in; which was quite fortunate as soon that was exactly what we were doing. Finally it was time to put all our pool practice to the test. We were in the open water. It was quite simply amazing. It is the most amazing thing I have ever done. We had to do a few skill tests but we did them kneeling on the sand at the bottom of the sea. It was hard not to get distracted by the fishes swimming about but somehow we managed it and skills completed we swam around the reef for a while just cruising and taking it all in. Honestly, there are no words for how amazingly amazing this was. My friends had all been right and my worries were for nought, I was hooked. To top it all off once we were back on the boat and waiting for lunch, since our divers were shorter than the certified divers, we saw a sea turtle swimming near the boat popping up for air now and then. My first sea turtle!!! I couldn’t imagine the day getting any better.

Back on the boat and it was time for lunch. Now our class happened to have adopted a table as our own which was right bedside the lunch queue which meant we got served first and were able to claim seconds as well. Can you tell that there was more than one backpacker amongst us? I think the other guest soon figured that one out too. After lunch it was time for dive number two. After our last dive we had to disassemble all our gear so we headed out before the certified divers to re-assemble and get ready and perform our buddy checks. Having decided we were all assembled correctly and that everyone had their air on it was time to get back in the water. So the second time I was in the pool it was a lot less exciting, logic says that maybe the open water would be the same, nope. It was just as amazing. I was under water and I was breathing and swimming and I wanted to stay there forever. I want to live there. I was absolutely without a doubt born the wrong species.  There were more skills tests but less than the last time. Our instructor tried to do as many as possible the first time so that this time we got more cruising about time. Oh my God, it was stunning. I love diving. I was so excited I even loved filling out my log book, working out my residual nitrogen and noting my depths and dive times. Who would have thought I would love paperwork so much? Sadly that was us for our first days diving.

The certified divers had one more day dive left so we headed out to the water with our underwater cameras and snorkel gear. Now I know this is going to be difficult to believe but I got lost. Not from the boat, it was a bit too big to lose but from my class mates. I did find them and got a few photos but nothing too exciting since having taken the camera out to have a play I had managed to put it back on the wrong setting. Photo wise our first outing together wasn’t that successful but it was till fun. However I was tired and it wasn’t as good as diving so once I lost everyone again I headed back to the boat to see what I could see from there. Once on board and in dry clothes I headed to the sundeck to discover that I had missed seeing some sea turtles and even though I waited around for a while they declined to return.

Once everyone was on board it was time for dinner where our reputation for being first in the queue was further established before we settled down for a night of chatting and checking out each others photos, annoying everyone had better photos than me, stupid camera – of course it was the cameras fault I didn’t put it back on the right setting and not at all my own stupidity. The certified divers were heading out on a night dive which we took great interest in as we were to go out on one the next night. For now though we could only look on and listen in which was fairly entertaining since their safety talk was quite amusingly given. Of course one advantage of not diving meant that we were first (surprise surprise) to get the evening treat before it was time for an early night. I was going to resist, I brushed my teeth and everything but it was apple strudel. I love apple deserts it was too much for me and a completely unfair temptation. I could only hope all the swimming would be working off at least some of those calories.

The next morning we were glad of our early night as we were up with the sun. Now it is well established by my nearest and dearest that I am not a morning person. I made this quite clear and fortunately I was not alone. The assembly and buddy checks were done without much conversation and the previous days banter was definitely missing. Once we were in the water though the time of day was irrelevant. We had moved to a different site in the reef the previous day so this was our second dive site ever and it was awesome and yes, you guessed it, amazing. I am not exaggerating or kidding. I couldn’t help but smile even though it meant I kept making my mask leak. Every time I got in the water I never wanted to leave it. Even the realisation on my first dive that Josh would have loved it (he loved snorkelling and fish) didn’t dim my enthusiasm, if anything it made it more precious. I have no idea why neither of us never thought to try scuba before. It seems insane with our mutual love of water, new things and adventure it simply never occurred to us, anyway I digress. Where was I? Oh yes dive three, location two, stupid o’clock in the morning. So laughably our skills on this dive involved navigation, fortunately they gave us a compass so not even I was able to get lost either above or below the water. Skills tested it was off for a swim. Two major events on this dive were reaching 16.9m, the deepest I had ever been, and seeing a sea turtle having its breakfast. I floated in the water and did my best to animate jumping up and down with my hands in two fists making a jumping motion. I am sure I looked completely ridiculous but it was all just too much. This was as close to heaven as I was going to get whilst still breathing.

Post dive it was time for breakfast, of course we were first, why were you even wondering? Before it was time for the most important dive yet: our qualifying dive. During breakfast we moved to yet another part of the reef but it wasn’t long before it was time to assemble our gear for the last time on this trip and then complete our buddy checks before we could hit the water.  Our final test was to hit 15.2m but not go deeper. We were warned that there would be a reward for success and punishment for failure. Being me failure was not an option and boy was I glad that I succeeded. This was my fourth dive in less than twenty four hours but the joy didn’t wear off. Every dive was as astounding as the last and the reef was just stunning. This time though the euphoria was something else, once we were back on the surface we were all qualified open water divers!!! But before we were all signed off there was the small matter of the dive test. Thankfully I hit 15.2 then stayed well above because that meant I got chocolate whereas my unfortunate fellow divers who got a little carried away by the stunning scenery and drifted below got crackers with vegemite and mustard. Sometimes it really pays to be..... pedantic, shall we say? Anyway vegemite or chocolate we were all happy as because in case you didn’t get it already, we were all certified open water divers!!!! Hells yeah!! And my life has once again changed direction, for now when I think about where I go and what I want to do there will be one question I shall always ask: How accessible will the nearest dive sites be? 

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