Diving out of your comfort zone

Adventure, backpacking, Discover, Diving, Uncategorized
You can’t talk to each other under the sea. I mean, you have the bare essentials with hand signals and motions to say OK, Up, Down, Shark! and so forth. But you can’t have a real conversation, it’s just about reading the emotion in each others eyes.
That’s something I really struggle with. I was never one to be able do ‘sponsored silences’ at school. I like to ask a lot of questions, as well as answer and argue them. I’ve never really been able to think without giving a running commentary, so naturally – I felt lost underwater. Particularly when I didn’t remember what I was supposed to be doing, floating around in the open water – wide eyed, and trying to gesture ‘I don’t know arms’ out like an idiot.
I was fortunate enough to be able to do my open water diving course in one of the most beautiful spots in the world, the Gili Islands. I was even more fortunate to have the most caring, understanding and supportive diving instructor – Mimi. For these reasons, I was able create some of my most fond memories.
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The beautiful Gili Air
I’ve never been much of a water baby, except for when i was an actual baby. But when water goes up my nose (I’ve got a big one), it fills me with panic and claustrophobia. It’s something that made me avoid going under water – and given that that the sea likes to swallow people, a paddle was enough for me.
With that said, my boyfriend told me there was no way i would be able to become a certified diver if i was scared of the Sea. Not really an unreasonable statement, but I hate being told that i can’t do something so i decided i had to prove him wrong.
My first dive was a fun dive, and it was exactly that! The mixture of adrenaline, mystery in this new enchanting world and Mimi’s cool and calming presence affirmed the fact that i wanted complete the course – pass my tests and become a certified open water diver.
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Flipping backwards off the boat

Two of the tests i needed to pass that were literally the last thing i would ever want to do:
  1. Pull up your mask to allow it to fill with water, tilt your head back, apply pressure to the top and blow air out through your nose to clear.
  2. Take the mask off at 15 meters below, put it back on around your head and repeat action 1.
Luckily enough, we got to practice the tests before hand in a swimming pool. It sort of went exactly how i hoped it wouldn’t. I watched as my group took off their masks casually and then Mimi gestured with her arms that it was my turn.
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Not something you see every day.

I peeled back by mask to let the water come flooding in. Panic filled me as the water suffocated my nostrils and the adrenaline sent my body shooting up to the surface of the water. But before i could spurt out, there was a firm grip around my jacket. Mimi shook me with pleading eyes, and i could only mimic this gesture with equal measure. I didn’t need words for this, i knew i wouldn’t be able to act this way in the real test without risk of getting the bends.
The bends is basically caused by the nitrogen you are breathing in, it starts to expand as you rise, if an air bubble gets into your bloodstream and travels to your heart or brain –  you are dead. In the real test we would be some meters below, and given that none of us wanted to die, we took the safety measures of rising to the surface slowly.
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Putting on our mermaid costumes

Gili Air fast became my most favorite place in the world. The laid back island attitude, natural beauty and familiarity of faces you passed each day made it feel like a home, and having such paradise feel that way is pretty euphoric. The 7 Seas Diving school team started to feel like family too, I couldn’t have been luckier.
The whole nose thing seemed a bit ridiculous, but Mimi never once made me feel like I was stupid. She persisted with me, and i was soon able to clear the water out of my nose by repetitively breathing out through it (funny that).
The day came, and just wanted the boat journey out to the reef to continue on. I really didn’t want to do my mask tests down there on the Sea Bed. As the boat stopped, sickness rose and my breath shortened. Everyone was in the water, but I had completely lost sight of any state of calmness. But i was determined. Shakily, i flipped backwards over board and tried to regulate my breath back in the water. I lay afloat in the water until i was ready to go down.
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Joe, Mimi, Pijan, Simon and Me having a well deserved beer after a dive.

I can’t tell you how relieved i was when the mask test was over. I had my eyes closed the whole time but i could feel Mimi there with me. After that, I started to feel more confident diving, and once i had passed the open water test i started my Advanced.
I’m so glad i got to prove Simon wrong –  but more importantly,  I got to prove to myself that if i pushed myself out of my comfort zone i could achieve (and enjoy) something i never knew was possible. Next up i just need to create an underwater talking device and i’l be as happy as Dory can be.

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Swimming In Shark Alley

shark cage diving, Sharks, South Africa

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I know what you are thinking. How sexy do I look in that orange PVC Rain jacket. But this story isn’t about me, or the jacket –  it’s about the time I went Shark Cage Diving in Gansbaai, South Africa.
Who isn’t fascinated by Great White Sharks? Whether feared or admired, getting the chance to go face to face with one of these monsters was something I had to experience. The boat ride was pretty choppy, and cold. An hour into our journey we stopped at what they call the McDonalds Drive through, a point between two islands inhabited by thousands of birds and seals. Naturally, the great whites were going to get a bite to eat here, so it was the perfect place for a sighting.

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I’m not sure what I imagined the cage to look like, but i thought it would be a lot more secure than this – the gaps between the bars were easily big enough for a shark to slip through. Having said that, there was 10 of us going into the cage at once, so at least i had a one in 10 chance of survival if a shark decided to attack.

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I didn’t really anticipate how cold the water would be either. I wasn’t very prepared for what the Antarctic ocean had in store for me despite wearing an inch thick wet suit it still completely took my breath away.
Wet suit, goggles and weight belt on – I  was the first person to enter the cage. This was no act of bravery but in fact the opposite. I’m a complete wimp and find that unless i throw myself into something and do it first, I might just over think it and back out completely.
The first few minutes of being in the cage were completely insane. My heart rate and senses were through the roof scouring the Sea around us for a pair of eyes or nose spearing towards us. My intuition kept jolting at the rhythm of the ocean and it was extremely difficult to keep some sort of buoyancy. The bait was dropped in front of the cage ‘protecting’ us, and we all held our breaths as we waited.
My heart jolted as I sensed something out of the corner of my eye – but it was in fact a dead seal bobbing on the waves. 10 minutes passed and the adrenaline subsided. The visibility only allowed us to see a couple of meters in front of us – and although we could hear jeering from the boat at the sight of some great white sharks, they were not close enough for us to encounter them.
Our time was up and I was pretty disheartened as the next few groups piled in the cage. We watched anxiously in jealousy that another group may get to experience what we had also come to do.
And there he was. Taken on my wind up underwater camera, It’s pretty impressive that Simon managed to capture this shot in the seconds that this great white graced us with his presence. I will never forget the awe I felt as i looked into those rolling eyes. Like empty sockets.
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Inevitably, the last group got to meet a Great White – we were kicking ourselves for going first, if we had of waited until last then perhaps that would have been us.
So they let our group give it another try! I was actually quite reluctant. As i mentioned, the water was freezing, and being out at open sea the wind and waves weren’t kind. All i had to keep me warm was the orange PVC Jacket. I had just about dried off and warmed up – so i feared being let down again and left as an icicle again. None the less, i had to get back in – when was i ever going to get the opportunity again?
Me Simon and our friend Justin were pretty desperate to see a shark by now. We began mimicking seal noises and even debated cutting our leg to draw in the sharks. Unfortunately the Great Whites weren’t fooled by us, and this time i wasn’t lucky enough to meet Jaws.
Having been disappointed with the outcome, it’s still one of my fondest memories. The anticipation, being out in the open sea and appreciating the beauty and power of these endangered creatures.
I will be back, Bruce.

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