I can breath under water.
So, I arrived in Cairns, which is (one of) the tropical paradise part(s) of Australia. To go back a bit, right after I wrote last I went to sleep, got up super early, caught a train back to Sydney and then hopped a flight to Cairns. As we came in to land I could tell I was going to like it here right off. The mountains come right down to the stunning beaches and you can see right to the bottom of the ocean the water is so clear. It’s wonderful.
I picked a hostel out of the LP (Lonely Planet), gave them a ring and set up a room. I stuck to my word and got a dorm at $25/night for 3 nights with a 4th night free. Much more affordable, and I would need affordable for my next trick.
One of the main reasons, and probably really the only reason, I came to Cairns was to learn to scuba dive. They have this little thing called the Great Barrier Reef that I had heard good stuff about so I thought I’d like to check it out.
After I checked into my hostel (Global Palace, highly recommended) I went down to the travel desk and started looking into diving courses. I was offered three options, from extravagant to budget. I’m sure you can guess which one sounded good to me. I’ve never been much for budget. I went with a company called Pro Dive which is a PADI 5 Star certified instruction school and I went with their best course. It offers me 2 days in the classroom and pool, and then 3 days and 2 nights living aboard a 30 meter boat on the Great Barrier Reef, at sea.
I’m getting ahead of myself a bit, let me go back just a few hours. The day I arrived the hostel told me they were having a huge party the next night and that sounded like a good way to meet people so I picked up a ticket for $10. All you can eat and drink for $10 sounded solid to me. So I had a pretty early night that night although I did go wander around town a bit and checked out The Lagoon which is a giant saltwater public swimming area right on the main strip.
I guess there is not a lot of swimming in the sea in Cairns because of all the dangerous critters, so this was built to keep everyone cool. Nice place too. The next day I donned my awesome tropical swim trunks and headed down there. I wanted to pick up some sun so that I wouldn’t be the great white whale from beyond when I started my dive course, so I picked a spot, hit the water for a bit and then settled in to crisp. I also walked past three stunningly gorgeous girls sunbathing nude. Twice. I walked past twice.
Now then, back to diving. I headed back to the travel desk and got things rolling, then I wandered down to the 24 hour public health clinic to get my diving exam. Apparently you have to be in decent health for scuba. Lucky for me I had a spare $100 in my pocket and passed with flying colors!
I kid, I kid. I passed with my own actual health, although it was a bit dicey. The doctor wasn’t crazy about my slightly high blood pressure, my weight and my shortness of breath at high altitudes. I can’t blame him. Neither am I. My lung and ear test were both just fine, with no worries. So I passed, and I assume he wouldn’t pass me if I was going to flop over dead in the water, although after today I wonder if he was perhaps drunk.
So! I finally got it booked. They had an opening to get started today (tomorrow, the next day from the day I was just typing about, also known as Friday) so I took it and got ready for the big, big party.
The party was cool, but not really my thing. It was very frat party and I guess I’m just not very frat. The beer and hot dogs were good, but after like 15 minutes they started in on the games to get people in the spirit. The first was beer bong championships. The second was this deal where five guys had to line up and then four girls (randomly) had to get on their knees in front of them. The guys put their hands behind their heads (like that commercial we’ve all seen) and the girl had to work a piece of wrapped bubbled gum from the guy’s ankle area out his waist. In his pants. Shame I was wearing shorts, cause that looked pretty awesome. The final part was that the girl had to unwrap the gum and blow a bubble. Whoever blew first (heh!) won.
Soon after it started to piss down (as they say) so I decided I had enough and went in to call it a night. I had an early morning coming up! After I had settled in and was reading to go to sleep I heard a key scratching around in the door and a moment later I had my first roommate! Matt moved in, and surprisingly he’s an American. He’s from California but has been living here for about 6 months. We chatted for a few minutes about some interesting Aussie styles and flavors and then both settled in. He was doing an intro dive the next day and had to be up even earlier than me.
So now it’s today. The big day when I earn my gills and fins and breath like the fishes for the first time. I got picked up at my hostel at 8:25am and met the rest of my friends for the next 5 days and we headed to the training center. Nice place. We settled in for about four hours of classroom time and lame videos (where many shots were taken at the Americans who made the videos) and then hit the pool.
The first thing we had to do was to prove we knew how to swim. I figured this would be quite easy! I swim all the time. I love to swim!
I guess I don’t usually swim 200 meters at a time. 🙁
We had to do 16 laps of the fairly small pool and honestly, I barely made it. I day dreamed the entire time of my walk of shame when I gave up after 15 laps, gathered my things and went home. I finally made it, and I wasn’t the last person in, but it was really hard for me. My cardio vascular health just sucks. It always has. That’s what comes of sitting on your ass for 15 years, I guess.
We then had to tread water for 10 minutes and tell the dive master a bunch of personal details like where we were from, favorite food and so on. I wasn’t sure if that was to pass the time faster or for them to see how out of breath we were. Either way, I had no problem with that at all. It’s easy to float when you are fat.
So I passed the test, although I wonder if I should be sticking with it. I guess the upside is that once I am certified I can go at my own pace and not be under a “training” regimen, but on the other hand I wonder what will happen if a rip pulls me out to sea.
Actually, I know full well what will happen. I will die and the sharks will eat (extremely) well that night.
The rest of the day was hard, but very fun and rewarding. We quickly learned about the gear, how to set it up, get it on and get in the water. We learned how to find your regulator if you lose it and a few other things and then we put our heads under water and breeeeeeeeeeaaathhhhed! THAT was a weird feeling. I got used to it really fast, but I felt like I was breathing too hard and too fast all day. Turned out I wasn’t doing any worse than anyone else. I talked to some of the guys after and they all felt the same way, and I ended up with the same amount of air leftover as everyone else, so that’s good.
We practiced a lot of the basic skills you need to dive: Clearing your regulator, clearing your mask, adjusting your buoyancy, constantly hiking your weight belt back up cause it just barely fits (that one was me only), swimming with flippers and loads of other stuff. Not a lot later we went to the deep side, which is 4 meters deep and hit the bottom!
One of the things I had the hardest time with was wanting to constantly surface to breath. We’d be sitting on the bottom practicing skills and while the other guys were working on stuff I would find myself holding my breath and thinking “Hurry up, so I can go up and breath!” and then I would think “That’s what this giant pacifier in my mouth is for” and I’d remember I can breath under the damn water! Crazy! I got well used to it by the end of the day and was perfectly happy sitting around on the floor of the pool being awesome.
And that was about that for day one! I have homework tonight (really!) and then tomorrow it’s right back in the pool. After we wrapped up I spent a few minutes chatting with the dive master (who was different from the instructor) about some of the struggles I had and he said not to worry. He said he went through the same things and they would help me some tomorrow to get me better outfitted. He’s a big guy too. The biggest problem I had was keeping my weight belt up (it was just too short for my fat gut) and keeping enough weight on me to get me to sink. That was pretty embarrassing. I had like twice the weight of everyone else on my belt and in my pockets to keep me down. Instructor said “You must have huge lungs” but what he meant was “Cheeseburgers float well”
And that’s all for now! I am utterly exhausted. I had a quick dinner at the Night Market (which I’ll tell you more about later) and now I’m catching up online before I start my homework. I am gonna some serious sleeping tonight, I know that.
Oh, last thing. I was the only one there with facial hair, and I noted to the instructor early on that my mask kept filling with water every time I breathed out. I had a pretty good idea why, and he confirmed. It has to go. The hairs on my upper lip make it impossible to get a good seal on the mask. So tonight, I will shave again for only the second time in like 3 years. Fear!
No pictures just yet, and probably not any till after I am back from my dive trip. Although, I can guarantee it will be worth the wait 🙂