my open water journey – part 1

Posted in Diving, Malaysia, Solo Travel by

I got my Open Water Diving Cert in October 2015. It was once of the best decisions I made that year. Not only did I make new friends and learn a new skill, diving also calmed me down. 2015 was a year filled with lots of changes – some good, some bad…and along with the changes were tons of emotions. Diving taught me to breathe. To exhale all the stress and focus on the beauty around me. Here’s my journey.

(The below was written for my personal blog way back in 2015. I adapted it for this blog). 

Warning: long post ahead

Swimming History (or the lack of it)

When I was a kid, I loved the pool and beach. Once, during a church camp in 1995, we three older girls disobeyed my parents and as a result, our swimming pool rights were taken away from us. I was sad. The older sisters blamed me because I was the tattletale. Couple of years later in 1999. my family stayed at a chalet in Loyang for one week with some friends of ours. All of us kids went to the pool every single day. I loved it.

However, I never learned to swim – partly due to the fact that I feared deep waters. It didn’t help that my dad would throw us into the pool when we were younger and we would panic when we couldn’t touch the bottom. Years passed, the love of water waned. I thought it was too troublesome to wash up after a swim (I still think that). But once in a while, we would go for a swim at my grandmother/uncle’s condo (whenever we had birthday parties or BBQ’s).

Early 2014, I had the chance to go snorkeling. It wasn’t something that was on my to-do list but it was fun and my love for the water came back. I wanted to do more than snorkel. I wanted to dive. Growing up with little siblings who enjoyed watching National Geographic videos, I’ve seen lots and lots of documentaries on the underwater world. Around the same time as my snorkeling adventure, I made some friends (who were my classmates at that time) that were into diving. As they told me of their adventures, I grew more and more curious. But I didn’t have the opportunity to do anything about it – besides, I needed to learn how to swim first.

Later that year, a few of my close friends told me that they would go down to the community pool once in a while to *swim* (note: none of us knew how to swim at that point of time). That sounded fun. So we planned a swim date. It turned out to be pretty awesome – imagine a whole group of friends trying to swim. But I still didn’t know how to swim. 2014 was winding down at that point of time and I decided to write a random bucket list/to-do list for 2015. One of the items on the list was to get my diving certificate. But…but…I needed to learn how to swim. And learn it the proper way.

Early 2015, upon return from my USA trip, I decided to bite the bullet and signed up for swimming lessons. To be honest, I kind of dreaded my lessons. I enjoyed the fact that I was learning something new, my instructor was a cool lady but I hated the process…the washing up part. I don’t like to take baths. There, I said it. I like being clean but not the time it takes to get clean. I think it’s a waste of time. So yeah, I liked the swimming but not the washing up part.

It took me about 20 lessons and I was confident enough underwater.

(a picture my new diving friend snapped during my OW)

Diving

Once the little snag of not knowing how to swim was taken care of, it was time for me to sign up with a dive school. I researched on the different routes to get certified and PADI seemed like the most popular and since my knowledge was scarce, I decided to go with that route. Next was diving schools. I was more inclined to find a (cheaper) less popular place to dive and as my financial output that year was pretty high, flying overseas for the purpose of diving was out of my budget. I did consider going to Perhentian but after reading some accounts of girls being sexually harassed and having my parents in favor of me going with a Singapore based diving school ruled that option out.

After a lot of help from Mr. Google (or should it be Ms. Google?) and a blog post, I decided to go with Blue Reef Scuba and sent them an email. They replied with the needed information and schedule and that was it. I was on my way to get my diving cert.

I had to attend a theory lesson + do a paper test (I’ve heard that they only have the test available in English at the my dive school). On one of the weekday before we left for the dive trip, I had my pool session. The pool session was pretty much to test that you know how to swim and to learn how to put on all the diving gear and lots of other stuff. Basically it was an orientation before the real thing. There was just one other student besides me. He would turn out to be my buddy on the dive trip.

The Dive Trip

I went on a Liveaboard dive trip (aka “LOB”). You pretty much live on the boat the entire trip. The best. I spent the quiet time I had on the LOB typing out the daily activities, thoughts and details. So you’ll be treated to a recap à la journal style (with some added thoughts from present day).

Day 1 – Journey to Endau Rompin

From the very start of the journey, I knew it would be good. As I sat on the sofa at the dive shop and waited for everyone to arrive, a young lady bounced in. I didn’t pay much attention to her (although she was talking a mile a minute) and concentrated on some work issues while using my phone. She left to buy some things and came back later. Upon her return, she plopped down next to me and introduced herself with a jaunty “Hi!”. Then we started talking. Her name was J and we found out we were the same age. She was also solo (we would turn out to be the only solo travelers for the LOB dive trip) and also wondering if she’ll meet anyone nice. Remember my apprehension? Well, that disappeared after meeting her. Our group (comprising of 2 instructors (one each for OW and AOW), 2 DMs, 2 OW, 4 AOW and 6 leisure divers) loaded up into two 14 seater minivans and started our journey to Kota Tinggi for dinner. The journey would take about 1.5 hours. After we had our dinner, we all loaded back into the two vans and readied ourselves for the 2 hour journey to our boat. It was during dinner that we all introduced ourselves and prepared ourselves to spend the next 2 days together in a confined space (when we weren’t diving, that is). I found out that there were 3 final year medical students and one med graduate in our gang – that calmed a bit of my fears.

Day 2 – The Dives

I did 4 dives the first day. As there were only 2 OW students, we completed our exercises within the first half of the dive. But I struggled with my buoyancy until the third dive. The forth dive saw us joining one group of leisure divers (which consisted of my new-found friend J and my OW buddy’s brother). I paired up with J and we were off! I started having some mask and buoyancy problems during the forth dive…which made me apprehensive for the next day of diving.

Then the night fell and the AOW and leisure divers started to prep themselves for the night dive. But before I start on the night dive, let me give you a small glimpse into what it is like on a LOB dive trip.

You eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, eat and sleep. During the times you eat, you’ll be spending your time either sun tanning on the deck of the boat (while the boat is sailing to the next location) or chatting with new friends. You share life stories, dive stories, silly stories with those around you. Unless you buy a data card or have auto roaming, you are totally cut off from the world. Your phone’s main duty is to take pictures. At night, you go to the lounge area (where there is an air con) and continue talking.

Then the cook (yes, there is a cook on the boat) makes a pot of instant noodles and everyone digs in. Bed time is up to you but after a day of diving, most are tired so you’ll return to your room – which will be shared with either your travel partner or travelers of the same gender, and you sleep. Oh yeah, what about bath time? There will be about 2-3 shower stalls with warm-ish water for you to get a clean after a day of dives.

Back to the night dive. Since the night dive wasn’t on the agenda for us OW students, my buddy and I watched the AOW and leisure divers don their gear and disappeared into the darkness. I sat at the top of the deck and started writing in my journal while waiting for their return. Before the night dive, some of the leisure divers were talking and expressing their fear of diving at night. Unknown to me, that would fuel my fear of night diving in the future.

Here is a recap of my first ever logged dives:

First dive: We descended to 5m to do all our exercises. I hated the mask clearing. It took me some time and some salt water into my body but I did it. My buddy was totally chill and expressionless. He completed all his exercises in record time. After everything was done, we finned around a bit before ascending.

Second dive: My instructor’s tank was low on air during our first dive so we came up a bit earlier, had our second breakfast of the day the readied ourselves for the next dive. We only had our CESA left to complete. This second dive was horrible as I had no idea how to control my buoyancy and (stupidly) used my BCD like an elevator (as described by my instructor). My mask also started to fog up a bit so it was hard to see. I was getting quite upset with myself as I was always sinking down. When we finally surfaced, my instructor gave me some tips to relax (just breathe normally and slowly and enjoy the fishes) and he taught me to use my lungs to control my buoyancy. He also told me to stop thinking too much.

Third dive: This dive was after lunch. All the groups met back on the boat for our lunch. Some took a cat nap and we pulled alongside some other boats and chitchatted. Then it was time to dive again. I mentally prepared myself to do better. And I did. I was awed by how I could control my buoyancy by just breathing. But I still needed to work on my navigation skills – how to turn left and right neatly.

Forth dive: It was already getting quite late so the open water decided to join J’s group to dive. We weren’t going to go very deep. Thankfully our group was small – 4 divers to 1 instructor and 1 DM. I already touched on this dive somewhere up there in this post. My mask was too tight and it kept leaking – making my eye sting. I wanted to end the dive but the DM laid his hands on my shoulders and told motioned for my to clear my mask. The most hated thing. What continued was endless clearing of my mask for the entire duration of the dive. My weight belt also shifted somehow from the third dive and it was uneven and caused my legs to drag on the sea bed. The DM tried to adjust it but it was too tight. Then we finally surfaced. I was never so glad to have fresh air. Thus ended our dives for the day.

Day 3 – The Last Day

We had two dives on the last day. Our first dive would be the ‘deep’ dive where were would hit 18m. The boat brought us about 2.5 hours out to the middle of the sea to a place called Snake Stone. This was the first (and last) time they were coming here for this dive season. The dive season would close a week after I took my OW. The water was choppy. Jumping into the middle of a choppy sea pulling ourselves along the line to the buoy freaked me out a little. But I did it. Descending was by rope but since the rope had barnacles and such, the instructor had me hold on to his BCD and my buddy hold on to mine as we slowly descended. I was equalizing with every breath. We saw schools of barracudas circling us, some small sharks and even some moray eels.

We surfaced to have some nasi lemak, rested and dived again at the same location. The visibility took a turn for the worst and there wasn’t much to see already. The rest of the leisure and AOW divers were diving at together with us…so there were 16 of us at going around.

And that ended our dives for the trip. We came up to have our lunch, take our showers and the rested the rest of the boat ride back to shore.

The boat crew was AWESOME. They helped us every time we came out of the water and each time we were going in. The bed was comfy (since I’m short, most everything is comfortable), the company was pretty good, the DM’s and instructors were really nice. I’m glad I chose the school I did and that I opt for the LOB.

We left Endu Rompin at 5:23pm and stopped by KFC for dinner.

This trip taught me to relax a bit. Yes, I still have the tendency to want to rush through life but diving helped me to slow down my pace and smell the roses (or see the fishes). 🙂 And I made new (good!) friends.

Our ‘little’ boat

The cabin which I shared with J. 

The lounge area

February 22, 2017
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