A bit of a catch up…

I have been travelling pretty much non-stop since the end of November. I have written blogs about my travels but it is only know that I have a chance to start posting them. I’m back in Brisbane now and lessons start on monday so now I’m playing catch up on everything I didn’t get a chance to do while travelling. I have dated the blogs for the day they were written so sorry if things may seem a little out of context now! So, this is from the beginning of my travels….

Sunday 5th December 2010

We have finally found a campervan! Travel starts TOMORROW! We’ve spent this last week in Cairns and I’ve had a nice time but I am definitely feeling it’s time to move on. Our arrival was met with ridiculous amounts of rain and a complete failure to find any suitable campervans. By the end of the day we were feeling pretty disheartened as we’d been expecting to get everything sorted out pretty quickly. So the next day we decided to book ourselves onto a dive course. Now this is something I always planned to do while I was in Australia but as it came closer I felt myself chickening out and not wanting to do it at all! I was worried about the breathing; if I’d be able to swim up to the surface and if I would even pass the swimming test. On Sunday we arrived at the dive shop to commence the course with a ridiculous amount of nerves. These were only exaggerated by our first morning of theory classes where we were told everything and anything that could possibly go wrong. Overexpansion injuries, the Bends, running out of oxygen….everything! I was getting more and more fearful and even starting to consider dropping out it was so scary!

After lunch we had our 200m swimming test and 10m water tread. Which I am fairly surprised to say I was able to do! We then got in the water and went under to learn skills such as taking the regulator out of our mouth and retrieving it and cleaning and clearing our masks. This was all too much for one girl who put her head under and immediately had to get out. We were only just kneeling under the water so we knew that we were perfectly safe but the breathing does take some getting used to. At first it felt like I could just not get as much breath out of the cylinder as I would in the air but apparently this is all psychological. I was feeling a bit less nervous after we’d been in the water but still apprehensive about the next few days.

Our next day of pool training seemed to naturally progress to us ending up on the bottom of the pool 3m down without it being the scary prospect it had been the day before. We practised the same skills as well as complete mask removals, taking our SCUBAs off on the surface and putting them back on, towing our buddies on the surface and sharing air with our buddies. After all this I was feeling a lot more comfortable, but still not ready to head out to the open water! We then had our theory exams which everyone passed. I got 98% and Ryan, the swot, got 100%. But our instructor was telling us the answers directly before we sat the exam so it would be pretty hard to fail. We were then taken to the shop and “encouraged” to buy our own equipment. This is the only bad thing I can say about the course. Our instructor put a lot of pressure on us to purchase our own equipment as it would make the experience so much better. He even said that the course costs were kept low to allow us to buy our own equipment. At over $500 for the course this seemed pretty ridiculous, especially as everyone on the course was either travelling or a student. Obviously we did not buy anything, but I can still say it was an amazing experience –despite a few tiny blisters caused by not spending $100s on my own fins. At least once we were out at sea there was no shop so we could no longer be pressured!

On the Tuesday we took a boat out to the Kangaroo Explorer, a liveaboard boat permanently out on the reef. The boat and cabins were surprisingly nice! Me and Ryan had our own ensuite room that was perfectly nice and surprisingly roomy! We started our time on the boat with a tour, then lunch, then straight into the water. We started off just snorkelling and free diving down a couple of metres, before going back to the boat to get our SCUBA gear on. We then followed a rope down to the bottom of the reef about 10m down. Now I hadn’t realised that I needed to clean my mask between snorkelling and diving so my mask completely steamed up and coupled with poor visibility I could not see a thing. I did not enjoy this dive! We kneeled in a circle on the floor but I could barely see what the instructor was telling me to do and could not see the people on the other side of the circle at all. Bear in mind that there were only 7 of us –it shouldn’t be that hard. This was our first dive in the sea so I was feeling really nervous anyway. I managed to stay calm though and thankfully we were only down for about 20mins! We then had a debrief while the boat moved reef locations. This unfortunately led to Ryan feeling a bit ill…but he was alright. We then went diving again at 4pm. The visibility was so good at this location and my mask did not steam up at all! This dive was a lot better –we even got to hold a sea cucumber! Although the dive was mainly based on us performing the necessary skills, as in the pool. We had an early night because we were getting up at 5.30am ready to dive at 6am!

The early dive started with us flipping into the water –it went surprisingly well! We practised our air sharing ascents from 5m down and then went down to 18m where we swam around for a bit but then didn’t have time for our final assessed activity the Caesar –I’m not sure what it stands for but this is where you make an emergency ascent due to running out of air and your buddy not being around. You have to breathe out constantly making an aaaahh sound. It is horrible! We ended up doing this on the next dive as people were getting low on air. Once we got to the surface we had to do our surface skills though. These include the buddy tows, weight belt removal and replacement and SCUBA removal and replacement. Somehow I ended up towing Ryan about 3 times as far as he towed me and then going straight in to a 100m swim. I think I drew the short straw there! We then had breakfast and moved out of our rooms before diving again at 8am. The only skill we had to perform was the Caesar –I managed to do it but it is such a horrible feeling! We had time to swim about a bit –our instructor got attacked by a Trigger Fish which was pretty funny afterwards when it hasn’t happened to you. When we were on the boat after we saw the result of another girls encounter with a trigger fish –a split forehead! I was surprised that there were such horrible fish down there! After this dive we had now completed all our certification dives so were all awarded our open water certificates. Very proud moment! With all my worried I wouldn’t have been surprised if I didn’t get through the course but I am so happy that I did!

We then went on one final dive at 11am as certified divers. Unfortunately Ryan had problems equalizing his ears so had to go back to the boat. I buddied with one of the dive leaders instead. It was so nice to dive for fun and not have to perform any skills! We saw a lot more of the reef on this dive- loads of fish, coral, a giant clam! I held some starfish –a large blue one and a tiny red one as well as being able to touch some of the corals. This dive made me realise how much fun diving is and made me want to go back so much more. Certified diving is alot more fun than training dives! I didn’t get to see a turtle underwater this time so I definitely want to go back to see one! We did see one on the surface though. I am very excited to go diving again but I imagine that I’m still going to get nervous each time. I’d be interested in doing my marine identification speciality but diving is definitely a very expensive sport so it may be a while until I get to do much more of it. I’m hopeful though! And I would very highly recommend Cairns Dive Centre for anyone wanting to do a dive course!

In other news we have a campervan sorted out! We saw it yesterday it is a little Toyota liteace with 6 seats, 3 of which fold down to get the bed in, plenty of storage under the bed and it’s white so shouldn’t get too hot. The man selling it to us seems very genuine and seems to do this as a hobby/job –he does 1 or 2 a week. It’s got its roadworthy certificate which will be picked up on Monday then we can pay our $3500, get the rego and head off on an adventure! Cairns is a good base for the reef and other activities but it’s not a town I want to stay much longer in. Apart from the lagoon it’s a bit of a disappointment with not a lot to interest me here. I am excited to head up north to Mossman Gorge, Daintree Rainforest, Port Douglas and Cape Tribulation though!

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