Ever since I was fifteen and learned there was such a thing as marine biology and that it was actually someone's job to swim with dolphins, I have been fascinated with undersea life. And then when I watched a program where divers explored the Great Barrier Reef, it became the first thing on -what later people would call- my bucket list.
Item 1: Dive the Great Barrier Reef.
Twenty Four years later and I still have not donned a wetsuit. Until yesterday. After two weeks walking back and forth in front if the various dive shops, I finally crossed the threshold and went inside. And booked a dive.
Needless to say I was a little nervous.
The day started at 11am, and began with very basic theory of water pressure, breathing and hand signals. Following that, we kitted up and jumped in the pool. After a brief explanation of equipment and the exercises we were to do underwater, we released the air in our jackets and sunk to the bottom if the pool. We then practiced breathing with our regulators, with each other's emergency regulators, equalizing pressure, expelling water from our masks, hand signals, and using our breathing to go up and down in the water. Expelling water from your mask is particularly disorientating when you have contacts and can't really open your eyes. And i found it took a lot of concentration to swim horizontally and move myself up and down by inhaling and exhaling air. I have to admit that when the pool lesson was over, there was part if me that thought "Ok...maybe that's enough! Maybe I can just leave it there!". We breaked for lunch and sat with Mike & Abbey (who had been watching me in the pool), and Sean - my cheery diving buddy - an English teacher from Alaska. We were both excited, but I did have some apprehension how I would take to it all in the ocean.
After lunch, we carried our own equipment to the boat and joined four other small teams of divers of different experience levels out to Han's Reef, just off the coast of the third Gili island - Gili Air. Sean and I were the only beginners. Our team of three - including teacher Donna from Donegal, were the last to enter the water. Kit on, backwards in, inflate your jacket, kick away from the boat, regroup, and then slowly release the air and go down. The first thing that hits me is how surreal it is. I can see the other divers in the slightly murky blueness and all I can hear is the slow but loud breathing if my regulator. I can see why people liken it to walking on the moon. And then all my attention is brought to my ears. I had mentioned to Donna earlier that I had been waking lately with a slightly blocked nose. She didn't seem concerned, even though you shouldn't really dive with a cold as congestion can inhibit your ability to equalize. But she did suggest we take the descent very slowly and equalize as often as possible. So while Sean ploughed on down, and could be seen in my periphery literally swimming through hoops (!), I took my descent painfully slowly. My ears were indeed a problem. Each foot brought on new pain. I was at the time too preoccupied with achieving balance to really question whether or not this could in any way be normal. Eventually I reached the sandy bottom, and Donna had me sit on my knees, regulating, while she gathered Sean. Wow. I was 12m under the water. I was doing it! From where I was sitting, I could see distant clumps of reef. Visibility was fairly good, but surprisingly cloudy given how crystal clear it appeared from the boat. Once we had all given the ok sign, we started to explore. As we approached a reef, it appeared to come alive. Fish of all different colours, lionfish, giant cuttlefish and all sorts of others I have no names for moved around us. Donna swam in front of us, pointing and making clear specific hand gestures for the different animals. Breathe Jen. You're floating up. Breathe out. Whoa too quick. Ow my ears. Breathe in. Ok ok alright. Look around. Breathe. Not too much. Breathe out. Slowly. Going down...ow my ears. There was a lot of this. Seinfeld said it best in his scuba bit: "Please don't die. Please don't die. Hey a fish. Please don't die." I was, admittedly, a little distracted. When we came upon a large wall-like reef, teeming with life, I was excited again. I struggled a bit with my distance from the reef...but I was able to focus on the fish. Until...my mask began to fill with water. I tried to do everything we'd practiced in the pool...but it's hard when you can't see. I didn't exactly panic...but I wasn't relaxed either. And treading water doesn't work the same way in scuba gear. In the end, Donna pinned my legs between her knees and tried to help me do it calmly. After three tries, somewhat success. After this, as my mask sloshed around with water below my eyes, i was ready for it to be over. I forced myself to look around and take it in. Lots of fish. Yes. Lots of fish. Nice fish. Yes. Oh she's signalling for the acsent. Wow that was quick.
Actually it was 51mins. Time had flown! I could have sworn it was 15. As Sean and I reviewed our experiences, we discovered they were quite different. He was hooked. And fully decided to continue with his open water certification. I was glad I'd survived.
I don't regret any of it. Perhaps I did have the start of a cold after all. Perhaps I have small eustachian tubes. Don't know. But I'm good with snorkeling for now. Right after, I was quite deaf. Like the feeling you get when you have a cold when flying. My ears have still not quite recovered. But I did it. It was difficult and cool. And I finally did it :)
Tomorrow we leave Gili T, reboard the fast boat to Bali (fingers crossed)...and head back up the coast to Candidasa. After nearly three weeks here, Gili T has been good to us. We will surely miss it. But it's time to see some other things.