Tuesday, 3 November 2009

In search of Nemo

It's been a full-on week or so here in Cairns, but I'm finally catching my breath, just before the Melbourne Cup starts - the world has fallen silent here, which is actually quite eerie! Still, I'll be tuning in shortly, and my (metaphorical) money is on Roman Emperor to win by a head.

So much to catch up on, but first was the diving. I had two days of dive school in the swimming pool and classroom - I nailed the theory, but struggled underwater. It turned out later, after I kept getting water up my nose and choking, that my regulator had a hole in it and my wetsuit was too small and restricting my breathing, but by that time the damage had been done - I was panicked. Still, I pressed on because I wanted to get out to the Reef and see all those lovely fish (Nemo! Sweetlips! Sharks!) and figured that the worst-case scenario would be if I couldn't manage the diving but snorkelled for three days on the Great Barrier Reef instead - and how bad, really, is that?!

The boat itself was amazing. We had cute little cabins, a sun deck and six meals a day, prepared by an authentically sullen French girl - but boy, could she cook. Plus, and more importantly, the company was fantastic - in particular Debbie, one of my classmates, who had come aboard with her brother and his partner, both diving, and her dad Ken, just snorkelling. We all hung out in the evening playing cards and having a giggle, joined by whoever was around, and had an absolutely excellent time.

Sadly, I didn't get on so well with the watery deep. The first dive we started before the engines had even properly stopped from our three-hour journey to the outer fringes of the reef, and I was standing on the side of the boat still feeling queasy and wondering what the hell I would do if I was sick underwater. The water, too, was choppy, and we were hurried off the boat into it with waves slapping our faces and going down our snorkels and people pressing up from behind and wanting us to go faster... The idea with diving is that you use your breathing to rise and fall, but by this stage, caught in a log jam and under terrible pressure, I was sucking in so much air it was a wonder I didn't rise out of the water like a helium balloon. I certainly couldn't get under, and the instructor had disappeared beneath the waves long since, so I cut my losses and went back to the boat.

After 10 minutes clinging to the steps and bringing my panic attack under control, everything looked much brighter, and the next dive I did complete - I insisted that I was going first with the instructor and at my own pace; oddly enough that all went much better! Still, I was still terrified under the water - the fear was making it difficult for me to breathe - and I decided to stop torturing myself and snorkel instead. Once I'd made peace with my decision - and despite the dive instructors, who spoke not another word to me once I'd told them - I had a fantastic time, and have absolutely no regrets. There's an extreme sport out there with my name on it, so I just have to keep trying them all! And I did get to see Nemo; and sweetlips; and sharks...

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