Spring Break in Bali, Part II: Learning to Dive

Displaying our Open Water Diving Certificates in Open Water

This is Part II in a series about our family's Easter holidays in Bali.  For Part I, Click here.

(Note:  MsCaroline debated creating some artificial suspense about her ultimate success (or lack thereof) in the Open Water Dive Course, but since she'd already posted the above photo on FaceBook, most of her readership (hi, Mum!) knew that she'd passed anyway.  There were a few moments when that outcome was in question, but she ultimately prevailed and is now legally qualified to dive in water up to 30 meters in depth, which she plans to do again as soon as she gets some time off and some more money.)

Those of you who have been Scuba diving before will realize that diving, in and of itself, is not particularly difficult.  Yes, there are a lot of pieces of equipment, and they're heavy, but once you actually get under the water and start swimming around, it's actually pretty chill, as Son#2 would say.  You swim around and look at fish and coral and other cool underwater things and occasionally equalize the pressure in your eardrums until you run out of air and it's time to come back up.

MsCaroline spent most of her formative years in a swimming pool, growing up as she did in Southeast Asia.  She learned to swim in Bangkok when she was barely 3, and has always been more or less completely at home in the water.

MsC, age 3, recently arrived in Bangkok and with no need for any stinkin' flotation devices.

MsC has always been pretty happy underwater as well.

The point is, while MsC had serious - and entirely justifiable - concerns about wearing a wetsuit, she did not have any qualms about the idea of spending extended periods of time underwater.  As it turned out, this was mostly reasonable - but with a few glaring exceptions.

Things MsC learned about diving:

There is a LOT of gear:  Besides the wetsuit and the mask and the fins, divers carry about a gazillion pounds of gear with them:  diving equipment is heavy, people.  All of this gear also has technical names, which (naturally) MrLogical already knew and (naturally) MsCaroline re-christened with more accessible names inside her head (eg, 'regulator'= breathing tube thing;  'backup regulator'=emergency breathing tube thing.)   The point is, the vest that holds everything (which also inflates like a giant blood-pressure cuff) is positively bristling with hoses and tubes and gadgets, not to mention the air tank, which weighs as much as a Labrador retriever.  In addition, divers (at least new ones) also wear weight belts to help keep one submerged.  There were a few times when MsCaroline was heading for the water that she seriously doubted her ability to actually carry everything there without collapsing.  It did not help at all that, in Bali, many local elderly women work at the dive sites carrying dive gear from the vans down to the shore.  MsCaroline has never felt quite so fat, weak, spoiled, soft, and Western, as when plodding down to the dive sites carrying nothing more than her mask and fins while walking behind a queue of 95-lb elderly Balinese woman balancing 150-lb plastic crates of diving equipment on their heads and an air tank on their shoulders.

Diving is all about preparing for the worst:  As MsC mentioned before, diving itself can be a fairly chill activity, and - if one's equipment is in good working order and nothing goes awry, there is not much to worry about.  Unfortunately, the fact is, humans swimming around under water can be in some deep s**t in a very short amount of time if something does go awry.  It is for this reason, then, that most a great deal of diving instruction is centered on teaching you two things:  1) what to do if something happens to your air; and 2) not to panic. One learns what to do if one's air supply stops, if one's emergency air supply stops, if one's regulator falls or is pulled out of one's mouth, or if another diver needs air.  MsC learned how to share air, find air, give someone else air, and even what to do if she were completely out of air and needed to ascend quickly (blow out all the way up or your lungs will explode, in case you were wondering)  Most of this was not too much of a problem for MsC, and things proceeded swimmingly (pardon the pun) until the time came for working on mask clearing.

Diving can be very cool:  MsCaroline has only been diving one time, so she has nothing to compare her experience to, but in her 6 dives she was able to visit two shipwrecks and see some incredible marine life.  Up until now, MsC assumed that the only people who dove in shipwrecks were either:  a) on Discovery channel-type documentaries or:  b) characters in underwater action movies.  In any case, it never occurred to her that she would get to do a wreck dive on her first day.
The Lionfish: I am poisonous.  Do not touch me.

Mask clearing sucks:  MsC had never noticed before, but scuba divers wear masks that cover both their eyes and their noses, while the regulator (breathing tube thing) is held in the mouth. This is actually a good thing, since the mask (in theory) protects the diver from having water in her nose.    However, even though the mask should stay tight against the diver's face, keeping the eyes and nose relatively water-free - sometimes it doesn't, and it's very common for some water to get into the mask occasionally.Obviously, since one is under water, one can't take off the mask and dump it out like one would do above water. One learns the technique for 'clearing the mask' (pressing on the top of the mask, pointing the head upwards, and blowing gently through the nose.)  Keep in mind, though -since diving is all about preparing for the worst - beginning divers also have to learn what to do when water fills up their masks. Completely.  Now - keeping in mind that MsCaroline has no problem swimming around underwater without any mask at all- MsC reasoned that- while having water in one's mask would be annoying - it wouldn't be an insurmountable problem.

Ah, dear reader, you see where this is leading.

Before the 'mask clearing skills session' began, MsC's dive instructor - a handsome Frenchman named Antoine with a captivating accent and long flowing hair - made this slightly prophetic statement:  'Everyone - zey hate zee mask skeelz sessions. Zey all hate eet.'  Ha, thought MsCaroline, I will not hate eet.  I will be fine with zee mask skeelz.  Those other people probably hold their noses when they jump off the diving board.  And she clambered into the pool like a baby elephant in all of her dive gear along with MrL and Son#2 to learn mask skeelz.

There is probably no need to describe what happened next, but MsCaroline is a bit of a sadist, so she will.  What happened was simply that MsCaroline discovered that it is entirely against human nature to continue breathing slowly and calmly (HA) through your mouth when there is essentially a plastic container full of salt water strapped against your nose.  In the first place, it is HARD to breathe in through your mouth without getting a bit of water in the nose (go right now to the tub with a straw and try it.  She can wait.)  In the second place, when one gets that bit of water in the nose, the instinct is to cough - which one of course does through one's mouth, which is full of the regulator (breathing tube thing.)  This results in more coughing, more water in the nose, and - in case MsC forgot to mention it - it is happening while one's eyes are closed because opening one's eyes in a mask full of water stings.

What took place then - and MsC is not proud of this - was a small underwater panic attack, accompanied by agitated hand-flapping (MsCaroline had learned many divers' hand signals, but unfortunately, had not learned one for 'I'm coughing into my regulator and it feels exactly like impending death, so I need to ascend NOW' so she invented one on the fly) and repeated gestures toward the surface of the pool while she coughed and sputtered into her mask and regulator and any other tube attached to her.

Antoine then revealed himself to be part divemaster and part Yoda, fixing her with an hypnotic  stare and waving his finger (non,non, Madame) slowly back and forth, while pantomiming deep, calming breaths in and out...in  and out.....flap flap, cough, cough, gesture, panic, point.....in...and ...out..flap, flap, cough, choke.....eventually, under this calming influence, MsC found herself breathing, relaxing, and -inexplicably - staying under the water.  (This is even more remarkable if you remember that she was in a pool and could  have surfaced with one good kick.)  MsCaroline can only attribute this to the fact that she is a rule-follower and half-Canadian.  This means that she probably would have likely expired there on the floor of the pool rather than disobey the commands of the divemaster or surface rudely before the session was officially over.

Once MsC had resumed normal(ish) respiration and blood pressure, the lesson continued, but at that point, MsCaroline's internal dialogue had changed from this should be something I can do without much trouble  to I am out of here.  There were a number of other thoughts running through her head - many unprintable - but the prevailing sentiment was No more for me, thanks.  After lunch, I am soooo out of here.  

But that, of course, is not what happened.  And here is the reason why:

With a certain amount of foresight, Antoine - who was clever as well as French - had started the course the previous day by giving a short safety briefing, suiting the Asia Vus up and taking them out immediately on their first (closely supervised) dive.  What this meant was that MsCaroline (a sucker for any kind of nature things) had already tasted the joys of diving.  She had already done this:

Clownfish in an anemone

And seen this:

And this:

And this:

And, when it came down to it, she realized that, she and MrL were having a wonderful time diving together, , and she could just envision them becoming old scuba bums somewhere after they retired, and it was one of the coolest things she had ever done -and even though she did, in fact, hate zee mask skeelz, she was willing to get back in the pool, choke a little more if she had to, and fight her natural survival instincts for a chance to do it again.

So she did.

Nothing like an underwater 'selfie.'  

If you are interested in going to Bali to do some diving, MsCaroline cannot say enough good things about the Baruna Dive Center in Amed, where she and her family did their dive course, and would recommend them to anyone, whether they are an experienced diver or a beginner.  


BavarianSojourn said…
WOW! Well done you, you did better than I ever did with diving, and look at that fish! :)
MsCaroline said…
E-thank you, but I doubt I did better than you. By the time I finished the course, I was pretty sure that my instructor couldn't wait to get a beer with his mates and regale them with tales of my incompetence. The fish were great - made a powerpoint of some of my favorite photos and took it to school yesterday - the kids LOVED the clownfish (Nemo!) in the anemone. Their reaction alone was so worth it!
Barbara said…
Woo hoo! You did it! Looks like a fabulous vacation. My ex and I got certified in a freezing mountain lake on the Utah Idaho border with about 7' visibility through the murky water. I panicked 12 ft. down while we were doing some "skeelz". We called them "stupid human tricks." Our instructor, who was not charming at all and didn't seem to like me much, glared at me through his mask, grabbed the front of my vest with both hands, dragged me back to my place and held me, staring the whole time, until I calmed down. I did get certified. He recommended my first dive should be somewhere warm and tropical. I say first and every dive--warm and tropical!
MsCaroline said…
Barbara - OK, your experience puts everything into perspective. Our dive course sounds like Disneyland in comparison to your subzero Diving with an angry Clint Eastwood. I have no doubt whatsoever that, had I had your instructor, I would not be certified at all. I do have to say,I really hadn't considered diving anywhere NOT warm and tropical - I think 'cold' would be a definite deal-breaker for me. You are clearly far tougher than I am, but I already knew that from reading your blog! ; )
Nance said…
This is just another example of something being way harder than I want it to be. I always wanted to go do this, but now that I know it's a lot of work, forget it.

Why can't I just put on an air tank and a mask thingy and go look at pretty stuff?

MsCaroline said…
Nance - I felt the same way. In fact, the refrain running through my head for pretty much the entire mask skeelz session was, "This is not for me. I have made a grave error. This is not for me." Only the fact that I had told virtually everyone I knew (and quite a few strangers) that I was getting my dive certification(and fear of subsequent humiliation) kept me from writing the whole thing off as a tragic life lesson. I was actually really quite content with snorkeling - high level of satisfaction with far lower probability of death. MrL, however, felt I would enjoy diving 'so much more'(and he was right- to some extent. However, had I just kept on snorkeling, I'd have been perfectly happy and never missed diving.) Cue "What I did for Love" and fade...
Trish said…
I'm so full of awe for what you did. I'm a poor swimmer, Dougie says I swim like a brick, and not really happy in water, so what you have done is something I doubt I will ever do.

That photo of you in the Finding Nemo film is just brilliant.
MsCaroline said…
Honestly, Trish, there's really not much swimming involved at all - surprisingly so! Once you're under you just sort of kick a little, but it's this very leisurely drifting thing. Frankly, I could have used up a whole tank of air just floating over that anemone and watching the clownfish dart in and out -I had no idea that they really did that, by the way, it was like seeing the movie come to life! -because it's so interesting just to watch what's going on in one spot on the reef. ...it's all quite different to what I'd expected. Not that I'm trying to convince you or anything. As I said before - snorkeling would have been just fine. ; )
Love the pics, and full of admiration for your diving!

By the way, am thinking of you today after all this Korea-related threat news. Hope you are safe and sound.
MsCaroline said…
Thanks, Nappy - although, as I told Trish - it's not really as demanding as you'd think! We are all safe and well here, but we are certainly all a little worn down with it all. Life does go on completely as normal - no drills, no warnings, restaurants and shops are full, streets as crowded as ever - but the constant level of low-level-tension is getting exhausting.

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