Monday, January 26, 2009

Leslie’s Worst Fear in Action

Yo Yo Yo!
So you will all be happy to know that Bryan and I are officially certified for scuba diving. The second day of the course we woke up and made our way to the classroom. We met our instructor and the other two couples in our group. Dan and Jenny were from Manchester and Francie and the other Dan were from Ireland. We got to know each other pretty well because we were together from 8-5 for three days.
I think one of the best memories I’ll have of this experience was having Renata as our instructor. Ranata is a tough and kind of scary woman from Germany. Although she was very strict and impatient, she was very competent in the water. Her personality was described as scary funny by one of the guys in our group. She was definitely a unique one.
Anywho, after we were assigned our SCUBA equipment we quickly made our way to the swimming pool where we began the process of understanding how it all worked. Once we had all our gear on we jumped in the pool for pretty much the rest of the day.
Before I go on any further I would like to express to those of you who don’t know already that one of my biggest fears in life is drowning. After jumping in the pool I quickly thought to myself  “what was I thinking.” However, it was too late and I was not about to quit.
We had to perform several underwater exercises one at a time. A couple of them involved filling your mask with water and completely taking off your mask while controlling your breathing. This was the hardest exercise for me and I hated this one the most. Fortunately, I was not the only person who had trouble with this one. After talking with several people around the island I later learned that this exercise is the number one reason why people quit SCUBA certification.  I accidentally got water up my nose and the I would panic and make my way to the top of the swimming pool to catch my breath. This is okay to do in the swimming pool, but very dangerous to do in the ocean.
After several exercises and hours in the pool, we washed our equipment and made our way back to the classroom for theory. We had two chapters and quizzes to complete everyday which was a bit of a drag for everyone.
Later, we went back to our room, and I prepared myself for the following day when I had to perform the exact same exercises in the big open water. Needless to say, I did not sleep at all that night.
The following morning came quickly. After morning theory, it was time for practice. We prepared our scuba equipment for the boat and made our way to the first open water dive destination known as Twins. SCUBA equipment is quite heavy if you’re not in the water, so it was a bit of a pain to walk around on the boat before jumping in the ocean. At this point, I was shaking non-stop. Once we had all jumped in the ocean we made our way to the back of the boat where we began our descent along a rope tied to a buoy floating at the top.
I was the first one to go down, equalizing every meter or so depending on how often I felt discomfort. Equalizing is when the pressure in the water around you becomes too great for the air in your body and you have to blow more air into your head in order to keep the pressure of the ocean similar to that of your head.  It’s the exact same as when you go up in an airplane.
We went down 12 meters in the ocean before we left the rope. It was a great feeling to be that deep in the ocean and seeing things you would never be able to see just snorkeling. At this point, I was feeling somewhat calm but could not stop thinking about the mask exercises.  Our first exercise was taking out our regulator. The requlator is your breathing device and you do this by continuously blowing out of your mouth until you have it back. Breathing in would be a HUGE mistake.Then we had to do an exercise where you signal to your buddy that you are low on air and need to use their alternate (octopus) breathing device, so you take your regulator out and use their secondary source.  This is what you do if one person’s equipment stops working underwater. 
Then the unavoidable came- performing mask exercises in the deep blue ocean.
The first one was filling your mask halfway with water and then blowing it back out of your mask. I completed this one successfully as did everyone else in the group.
The second exercise was completely flooding your mask with water.
My heart is pounding two times faster just writing about this – I accidentally got water up my nose, and so I did the worse thing you could do in the ocean, I panicked. Generally, when a person panics, they completely forget what to do and make a mad dash for the surface.  I did this.
What you need to do is calm down and think about what to do next. I completely forgot what to do, in fact, I can’t even accurately describe to you what I did or how Ranata got me to calm down and breathe again into the regulator. All I remember is trying to shoot up to the top of the ocean as that is generally your first reaction when you can’t breath under water.
Doing this deep in the ocean is very dangerous and causes what is known as decompression sickness. Decompression sickness involves many things including dizziness, headaches, and possibly even paralysis.  Also, if you go up too fast and forgot to let air out (scream, sing, etc) then the air in your lungs expands quickly because the water around you does not force it to compress.  Your lungs can pop like a balloon.   As you can imagine, Renata was not about to let this happen unless it caused danger upon her other students. So, she grabbed me, held me down, and made sure to keep my regulater in my mouth. I eventually calmed down and breathed into the regulator once again.
This was literally the scariest thing that has ever happened to me, or at least that I can remember.
Swimming underneath the ocean in your scuba gear is a wonderful experience and I was always calm doing so, It was the mask exercises that caused fear and panic.
We slowly made our way back up to the top, and prepared for the second dive. I was more calm the second time because I knew the mask exercises were done for the day.
That night our group went out for dinner and we had a lovely time reminiscing about the past two days with Ranata. She was definitely mean sometimes, but I am thankful for her competence in the ocean and knowing exactly what to do in those situations.
As much as I wanted to sleep that night, I could not. Thinking about what had happened earlier caused my heart to beat fast the whole night. I was not looking forward to the next day because I knew we had four new exercises to complete and one was mask. : (
We had to meet at 6 am the following morning in order to be one of the first divers in the water. Our first dive was 40 minutes out and we were going down to 18 meters this time. The first dive was a piece of cake because we had no exercises. We simply swam around and looked at beautiful fish, including Barracudas, Butterfly fish, and so much more. It was a wonderful dive. There were sharks deeper in the ocean, but we could not see them. 
Our second dive was not as fun as the first dive simply because we had to take off our mask completely, put on sunglasses that Renata had, and do something silly for the camera (we had a professional videographer filming us for the day). While watching Dan, Francie, and the other Dan perfom this exercise, I was continuously telling myself that I could do it and to be calm. Renata swam over to me, handed me the sunglasses, and I just looked at her for a minute or two before taking off my mask in order to breath deeply and relax. The moment came when I finally took off my mask, put the sunglasses on, and did something stupid that I can’t quite remember. I was doing just fine until Ranata handed me my mask and I put it on. Unfortunately, the snorkel got in the way, and as a result, I started panicking. Once again, my first reaction was to swim up and once again Ranata held me down and helped me breathe into the regulator.
Once I finally had my mask on and I was breathing calmly, I swam over to Bryan grabbed his hands and looked at him with nervousness. He calmed me down by signaling to breathe deeply and slowly. He looked at me like everything was okay. I was thankful to have him there.
The next two exercises were a piece of cake compared to the mask ones. We had to sit on the bottom of the ocean holding our feet like buddha. Simple. Then we had to find our way to Renata using our compass. It was really funny because in the video that we watched later that night, Dan had no idea what he was doing with the compass and was off somewhere different from everyone else. He was lost. We all had a good laugh about that one.
After the exercises we simply swam around and looked at the fish until it was time to go up. We did see some clown fish (Nemo) and our first encounter with a dangerous animal. 
I did not see the Trigger Fish, but Bryan did.  The trigger fish was about three feet long and two feet tall and has a bite like a dog.  It’s VERY territorial.  The group saw it and simply swam the other way.  It was busy munching on a school of small blue fish. 
When going back up, you are not supposed to equalize even though you have the same discomfort when going down. However, some of us forgot and we equalized. This can cause decompression sickness, but it is not as serious as swimming to the top quickly – I think. : )
Anywho, we were done with the practice, and now it was time to take the final exam. We went back to the resort, ate lunch, and then took the exam. All of us passed with flying colors. The exam was multiple choice, with a couple of questions asking for pressure, meter, and time calculations that we used to determine how much “residual nitrogen” is in your body with the chart we received from the book. These charts let you calculate how much nitrogen you’ve breathed from the tank and avoid nitrogen narcosis.  Those questions were somewhat difficult, but we all managed to get through them. Yay – We were done and certified. I couldn’t believe I made it through.
That night we all went out to celebrate by first watching the video of us scuba diving. It was put together nicely by the videographer with music and special effects. We could have bought one but it was a little too expensive (2500 baht – $80) so we passed. We took his card in case we decide to change our minds.
We then went to an Australian restaurant known as Choppers, Renata came along. It was very interesting talking to her because she has such a rough exterior, but is very much interested in finding someone she can spend her life with. It is hard for her to find someone because she is a 51 year old scuba instructor on an island working with very young people and tourists who only stay for a short while. I hope she finds someone soon.
The time came when we all said goodbye for the night, and Bryan and I made our way back home deciding what to do next. We literally had no idea where we were going until we arrived in Koh Samui.
We took a boat from Koh Tao to Koh Samui to and made our way to the airport thinking we were either going to Singapore or Koh Lanta. Unfortunately, the flights were booked for both destinations, so we went to the busy district of Koh Samui, found a travel agency, and decided to take a boat and bus to Koh Lanta that was far cheaper than flying. We decided to stay one day in Koh Samui to see what is was like. We are leaving the island tomorrow at 6 am and are very excited to see what Koh Lanta is like. Supposedly, the island is far less touristy and very beautiful. After that we will go to Singapore and then Bali.
One last thing – There are many workers on Koh Tao and Koh Samui who are from Myanmar (Burma), and so Bryan and I learned to say hello and thank you in Burmese. There has been a couple times where Bryan said thank you very much and the Burmese workers were so excited that someone spoke to them in their native language. It made my day everytime.
Traveling is so much fun! I think I’m addicted

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