Saturday, September 13, 2008

Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus

For the past two weeks or so, another old worker, Natalie, and I have been bumming around East Timor after Emily left. Actually, there's been a small group of us at the hotel who meet up for supper most nights and generally hang out on the weekends. It's made all the difference during the downtimes.

While I'd thought about doing scuba-diving while here, it takes about five days to get PADI open-water certified and, as previously posted, I've been crazy-busy with work. Plus, now that I'm (finally) leaving on Thursday, I thought all my options were over.

However, Natalie researched the opportunity and talked me into doing this open water diving course at Dive Timor. Luckily, they offere an intro course where you do a little book-learnin', a pool session and one open water dive - all in one day.

I've been snorkeling before (most recently, last week) and while it's always beautiful, it can be a claustrophobic experience if you don't remember to keep calm and trust in your snorkel. I thought it would probably be the same was with diving. Yet, SCUBA iss one of those things that I've always, always, always wanted to try. .

They say you won't ever forget the first time you can breathe underwater, and I have to say, it's absolutely true. Not only is it awesome, it's also bizzare. It goes against everything you've always done in your entire life, and I found myself struggling to fight against natural urges (such as wanting to rip off the mask to take a deep breath of air). Of course, you just have to keep reminding yourself to BREATHE, but it's hard because part of your mind is also telling you that that's impossible!

In the pool session, we learned how to fill our masks partway with water and then blow it out, as well as what to do if your regulator (breathing mask) gets yanked out of your mouth, and how to share air with your "buddy". For me, the scariest part was filling the mask with water, but after a few tries, you get the hang of it.

The real fun came when we hit open water. We dove with an instructor, Martin, who was constantly by our side and went over a list of hand signals with us so we could communicate underwater. Getting in and out of the ocean surf was a bit challenging (SCUBA gear is heavy!) but we managed. Once underwater, I had to constantly pop my ears to regulate the pressure, and get used to swimming with all that stuff on my back.

There wasn't much to see but white sand and blue water at first, but we eventually made it to a coral ridge. I can't remember (or name) all the fish we saw, but I do remember seeing a clown fish (NEMO!), a big grouper, several angel fish and lots of tiny little electric blue ones. The coral ranged from brilliant red, pinks, greens and yellows with tiny fingerlike wavies or thin filigrees. Martin poked an enormous pink clam and it shut tight. I saw a bright blue starfish the size of my face.

It was a bit freaky to be that near to wildlife and not be on National Geographic. We were careful not to brush the coral with our fins. Martin pointed out lots of little things, but as I wasn't really adept at turning, I didn't trust myself with getting too close. I found swimming accurately to be really tough - I kept running into the ground, or swimming too fast or generally just being overwhelmed by things to remember!

We we surfaced, both Natalie and I were laughing. What an experience!

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