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Nervous Wreck – Bali (Indonesia) | We're Not There Yet

R has been using the time while we wait for our visas to be renewed to get his PADI Open Water SCUBA certification. The whole thing has been very relaxed for him and on his third and final day, I decided to join him for a ‘fun dive’. I was thrilled to get the hell out of Kuta for a day, but I had a few reservations about what I was doing once we got there.

Let me give you a quick background: I got certified in Thailand about 5 years ago and had the time of my life. The dive sites were magnificent, my instructor was the picture of competence and professionalism, and I was so taken with the whole thing that I had visions of getting Advanced certifications and going on dive vacations. I wanted to dive at every opportunity; sadly, the next opportunity was six months later in a murky African lake in Malawi and the next opportunity was two years later when R and I visited Indonesia the first time. In the Gili Islands, I decided to go for a dive and was required to take a one-hour ‘refresher course’. I went into the course with all the confidence in the world, but after the dive master had me perform a few routine skills (like mask removal and replacement, sharing oxygen, and swimming without a mask) I had something close to a panic attack. I can’t say why, but I just totally lost my confidence. I started thinking worst-case scenarios and I wondered if I should even go through with the dive at all. I did go through with the dive and once I got under water, I relaxed and was able to really enjoy myself. I had such a positive experience that all of a sudden, I was thinking about signing up for another dive but our schedule didn’t allow for it. I thought I was cured.

The van ride took us about 2 hours to get to the dive site on the north of the island- it was a wreck dive, normally not possible for beginners, but this one was fairly shallow and didn’t involve entering the wreck. As we started to get outfitted for the dive, my nerves started up. I worried about losing my mask and strong currents and getting swept out to sea and defective equipment. There was absolutely no basis for my fears – we were, after all, on a dive specifically designed for beginners; R wasn’t even certified yet! But I couldn’t shake my nerves. I told the instructors that I was out of practice and a little nervous and they told me that I’d be fine, even held my hand as we entered the dive site from the beach. I got through the first dive with by beating down my unease and forcing myself to follow the other divers, even when I started to freak out. It was interesting and I’m glad I did it, but I have to say that I was also glad when the dive was over.

I hate to say it, but I think a lot of my nerves were due to going with local dive guides instead of Westerners. I typically like to support locals and use their services/hotels/restaurants to make sure that my money is actually going into the local economy, but in the case of dive guides I really think that the standards of safety are just not the same. R told me about his ‘lessons’ each day when he came home: where I had to watch videos and take daily quizzes, he was given a remote control and a quiz to fill out as he watched – and the instructors never checked his answers. I was drilled on skills over and over and cautioned that my vacation was essentially on hold while I completed my dive course, R was warned not to come in too hungover. Most importantly, I felt that my instructor understood all of the potential dangers involved and was able to speak to my concerns- I felt like she’d know what to do if something went wrong. These guys were nice and probably very experienced and maybe even very competent, but they couldn’t communicate that to me. And it’s not just a language thing- they spoke pretty good English- it is the ability to make me feel like they understood what my concerns were.

I’m glad I did the dive and completely recommend diving with Hammerhead Dive Shop for those who are not irrationally fearful like me.The diving is definitely not on par with the limited diving I did in Thailand and in the Gili Islands, but we also arrived during an unseasonable typhoon and I’m sure that conditions can be much better than we had. I also want to include R’s take on the exact same dive, since he had a really positive experience with the whole thing and it just goes to show how irrational my fear is.

R’s Version:

Whoa! I just had a great time!  M is right that the guides were pretty casual about the whole process, but then again, that’s been our experience all throughout this trip (New Zealand aside).  While in the US and in other Western countries you have to sign waivers and basically use training wheels for damn near everything, in the places we’ve gone local guides basically protect you from serious danger, but leave it to you to know your circumstances and avoid doing something really stupid.  I appreciate this attitude, and like that my training dives were made to be fun, rather than just teach me things that were completely obvious anyhow.  In any case, they were casual, I’m reasonably intelligent, and so we started the dive.

Which turned out to be totally great.  We walked directly into a fairly rough and pounding surf, which made it very easy to get knocked over when walking with the heavy scuba tank on, but once we got in deep enough we submerged and were pretty good from there on in.

And we were diving a wreck! An old USA naval ship, the USS Liberty.  Diving a wreck really enhances the feeling, which is pretty common when scuba diving, that you’re flying.  There are old girders and chunks of ship above you, below you, and all around you, covered in beautiful, crazily-shaped coral.  And, you go over, under, around and through it, just by adjusting your buoyancy, breath, and doing a little bit of paddling.  It’s such an incredible feeling to move through a three-dimensional garden like that.  Whereas on land, the vegetation and flowers are at your feet, the birds overhead, and you’re pretty much always looking down, in a wreck (or a “wall” where the land drops away vertically), the entire ecosystem reaches out above and below you.  It’s totally incredible to see coral (and fish and sea snakes and sharks) that are below you, and then to look above and see the same thing, coral and fish above it, inverted, as if a mirror of what’s below you.  Coral grow on the old metal cables, and the overall effect is of moving through a plant and animal filled jungle gym, with no real “up” or “down” direction.  And with control over buoyancy through the scuba suit, gravity doesn’t really apply to the diver either, and you move up or down with the same ease.  You just kind of move in loops and circles, up and down, forward and around, scooting through narrow gaps where the ship has broken apart, or along old cables and decks.

Basically, it was a totally amazing experience, and one that – in the USA at least – I wouldn’t have been able to do, especially on a training dive, since wreck dives in enclosed spaces are considered too dangerous for beginners.  All in all, I think that I’m a bit hooked on SCUBA.

By the way, the funny thing we saw on that dive were Chinese tourists getting dragged through the water by their guides.   Apparently most of the Chinese who now have the money and leisure to travel never learned how to swim.  That doesn’t prevent them from wanting to scuba dive (though you’d think it would!).  So they pay crazy money to put on the scuba equipment and then have guides basically hold them by the scruff of their necks and drag them through the water while they just turn their heads in either direction.  The guides hate doing it, but it was another cool thing to watch while we dove.

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