Underwater Paradise

14 Feb

… or how great it is to scuba dive in Vanuatu, and I have photos to prove it!

Page 1 – Fish Have Sharp Teeth
Page 2 – Squishy, Sticky, Spiky
Page 3 – Playing with Nemo
Page 4 – Advanced Fish and Licensed Driver
Page 5 – Short Note

Fish Have Sharp Teeth
14 February 2011

Yes, they do! And if I had a camera, I could prove it by sending you a picture of my thumb. A big black fish bit my thumb because I was too slow to share bread with the fishes. While it was pouring “outside” (miserable weather these past couple of days), I was swimming with the fishes 12 meters under water in the early afternoon.

See, one of the fears that prevented me from going scuba diving was to be attacked by the wildlife… and it happened within 10 minutes of my first open water dive! Tsk tsk tsk. No shark though.

I did have an anxiety attack after just a couple of meters under water: “I want to breathe with my nose! I want to breathe with my nose! I want to breathe with my nose!” Followed by “I want to go back up! Get me out of here! My ears hurt! I am not a fish what am I doing here?! I want to go back uuuuuuuup! Clear the way tourists!” But Fabrice was keeping a watchful eye and asking how I was (sign language, as good and experienced as he may be, he can’t speak under water – I think). My ego kicked in: can’t make a fool of myself in public, especially when he is handsome. I also remembered having the same anxiety when first using that equipment… that morning… in a swimming pool.

Yes yes, you can laugh. I was ready to tear my mask and regulator and push my head outside the water (a good 10 cm) to breathe with my nose as I was wading in a tiny pool full of tourists in the Ramada Resort outside of town.

I calmed myself down. Thankfully I am used to walking myself off edges. One part panicking. The other reassuring. And the ego helps! Fabrice kept reminding me to pinch my nose and blow to equalize the pressure in my ears. Breathe in and out – only the mouth. Breathe in and out – only the mouth. Breathe in and out – only the mouth.

Slowly I got myself all the way down … and Fabrice left me! He went back up to help the two other people on the dive. The guy had some experienced but I am not sure how much the girl knew. I probably should have talked to them on the boat ride over to the site, but I was flirting with the master divers… Purely strategic: I want them to like me and save me first.

Roger was supposed to be my instructor and he led me through the theory – by reading out loud a PPT presentation… Where was my trusted instructor during the dive itself? Nowhere near me! He was taking photos of the fishes. He really likes Nemo and can’t stop finding him.

Theory was watching two modules on a video — I missed the end because it was time to go to the swimming pool for the first initiation with Max. Back at the office, Roger read me those slides, asked me how to crop his favorite photo of Nemo (which he took) and suddenly it was time for the first two quizzes. I hadn’t even received the book! THEN did I fill out the form, pay, got the book. Whatever works, right? They did say in the book that learning to dive is fun and that divers are fun people… which means I have to ligthen up and throw away the book!

I had lunch at Numbawan, which is right next to Big Blue – so convenient when the skies are openly crying (14 February blues?). Before I had time for a nap, they called me to get the gear and squeeze myself into a wet suit – not the full body thankfully, it was hard enough to get the short sleeves and legs! Getting out of it wasn’t easy either but at least I didn’t have to do that in public. Privacy is not overrated, people!

I got home around 3 and was knackered and starving… the big steak sandwich didn’t last long! I cooked a bit and thought I would look at the book to study the next modules for tomorrow. And learned all the things we did wrong today! Quite scary actually. I did have that thought as they “provoked” me to go into water the way pros do it (sitting on the edge of the boat and falling backwards) rather than the way the other girl did (step off a little ledge at the stern). The thought being: “I have no idea what I am doing! I was panicking in the pool this morning. Now I am carrying weights around my waste and HEAVY scuba cylinder on my back and they are going to drag me down down down. I have no idea what I am doing!”

For example, the book talks at length about the “buddy system,” checking each other’s equipment, talking about where we are going, how long, etc. The guys didn’t even look at my equipment after I set up without supervision. My BCD (fancy jacket) was not even inflated when I hit the water!

I had no idea how to use the inflator/deflator buttons (I learned those words in the book tonight). Fabrice actually pressed one or the other a couple of times for me, until I figured it out. They turned out to be key to allow me to control my depth because at first I couldn’t go down enough and then I couldn’t prevent myself from dragging my fins on the bottom (a big no no, we don’t want to damage the environment with our big feet!). Once you understand their function, it doesn’t mean it’s easy to control your position though. Especially with the girl who kept swimming too close to me – below, above, left right. There is a whole ocean why are you so close! Shoo shoo.

Anyway, I calmed myself down looking at the fishes, focused on the reef and not the distance between my nose and air (12 meters!!!). I thought that I could still get back up if needed. That Fabrice and Roger were close-by and even if their teaching method is quite relaxed (jump and you’ll figure it out), I knew they wouldn’t let me drown. Would be bad publicity, right?

Breathe in breathe out – mouth only. So many blue fish. Equalize pressure in my ears. Oooh this one has mean eyes. Blow into the mask so it doesn’t squeeze my face. Starfish! Breathe in breathe out – mouth only.  Nemo and family! Quite an active dialogue with myself. Everything went well… until Fabrice gave me some bread and I was attacked by a mob (not a school, no no: a mob!) of fish (big… ok smaller than me but still, mean looking!).

Reading the manual tonight also gave me an idea of what to expect in the next two dives I need for my certification. In the swimming pool, we practiced removing water from the mask (I didn’t dare try it in the ocean!) and removing the mask completely (that’s when I breathed in with my nose and had to go to the surface 10 cm above, if that). But let’s not think about this now, as I am about to go to bed.

This was an exhausting day! My Valentine’s Day gift to myself J That and some delicious dark chocolate with caramelized hazelnuts, by Lindt. It was a strong thought to guarantee my survival: “You can’t die now: You haven’t had any chocolate today.”

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2 Responses to “Underwater Paradise”

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  1. Home « Traveling Tastebuds - 15 J0000002Australia/Sydney 2011

    […] I did enjoy my life there, as you can read from my earlier blog entries, in particular diving in Port Vila’s and Luganville’s turquoise […]

  2. Two Sides of Vanuatu « Travelling Tastebuds - 15 J0000006Australia/Sydney 2011

    […] February 2011 – Underwater Paradise […]

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