Wednesday, October 21, 2009

holy diver

I am a coward, a chicken, faint-heart or whatever you'd like to call it. I can list a hundred things that I am afraid of and after a few minutes, I can definitely remember more things that I forgot to add to the original list. Darkness, icy roads, adho mukha vrksasana, formal situations, tall seaweeds... just to name a few. My fears do provide a level of safety cushion though I can't say I am very happy with all of them. Especially with the limitations they bring to my life.

A few weeks ago I had a big, traumatic event in my life. It left me feeling like I was punched in the stomach hard, while I was drinking water. It was very painful and I was unprepared for it. After the initial shock passed by, it made me think “hey, this was painful but I survived. All the stupid things that I've been fearing cannot possibly hurt more, so why not give them a try when the next opportunity arise?”

2 days after thinking this, I am sitting in the Little K and one of the yoga instructors join our table with her boyfriend Bruno. I overhear their conversation and figure out that they are both diving instructors. Moreover, Bruno has already scheduled to take another yogini for a discovery dive in about 4 days time. He quickly makes a plan and says I can join them and one of these 2 discovery dives can count towards my certification. Plus the week after we can schedule for 2 more days in the sea, followed by the exam and I would have my certificate in 10days! Without thinking for a second, I agree to the plan. I am fascinated by the underwater world, however the idea of breathing through my mouth, through these tubes and tanks and all when there's tons of water above me never felt good for me. It was somehow beyond my sense of adventure so I kept postponing it. I was by the Red Sea in Eilat and found excuses not to dive. I was in Kas and said I needed to suntan instead of being underwater. In Dubai I had all the time and a thousand diver friends who regularly go to Fujeirah, but I said the red tide is bad so I skipped. So this was definitely the right time to take another step; meeting the dive instructor that afternoon, organizing everything in a few minutes were signs for it.

Sunday afternoon I see Bruno again and we confirm that everything is set for tomorrow. Weather is good, taxi is booked and equipment is arranged. Monday morning I wake up and pack my bag at 6:30am, go to the Early Bird yoga class feeling super excited. The taxi picks me up from the Yoga Barn at 8:30 and we hit the road to Tulamben. The idea is that we'll have an information session before we go into the water, learn the essential diving skills and then have two dives to about 12 meters, one of which will be to the Liberty Wreck. After a two-hour drive, we reach the dive center in Tulamben. The “dive center” is actually an open-air hut with some suits, tanks, masks and basically nothing else. I have never seen a dive center besides the Oman Dive Center, but this seems to be pretty basic. We are given suits for our sizes and the only place we can change into them is the pit toilet. Hmm... After we change, our instructor Bruno looks at the sea and says that the waves are a bit too strong and takes us to another location. Oh, there goes the wreck dive but we should still be able to see some fantastic corals in the new location. On the coast (which is not actually much calmer than the first location), Bruno gives us an information session, along with a very comprehensive demo of the 5 skills we need to know before we go into the water. As we do this, the sea gets rougher and rougher. We constantly see people struggling to get into the water with all the heavy equipment in their backs while trying not to lose their balances against the waves. By the time the demo is over we don't even remember the first skill. Bruno says not to worry as we will anyway have to review them in the sea, at 2-3 meters depth while kneeling down.

Bruno helps us put on our tanks and helps us walk into the sea. This turns out to be a challenge by itself as the tank is much heavier than I thought and the strong waves do not help. Once we are in the water, things get easier, though the equipment still feels very cumbersome. We finally manage to sink but then it is quite difficult to kneel down due to the strong current. I finally manage to put my knees on the bottom, which is mostly coral rocks and pebbles. So every time a wave hits, I get a deep (but unwanted) scrub to my knees. Sometime later with the help of the salt water, the scratches turn out to be painful. First my partner tries out skill number one and she fails at some point and shoots to the surface. Bruno tells me to stay kneeled down and goes to help her. Damn, being here and watching the fish is fun but my knees hurt. After what feels like infinity, they are back and now it's my turn to try the first skill; taking my regulator off and replacing it while clearing the water off it. I take it off, continue to breathe out... No problems so far. I put it back on, blow to clear but surprise! Some water comes into my mask. Trying to remember how to clean my mask (this must be skill number 3 or so) I breathe through my nose which is of course a big no-no. All that time my mask is clean, I happily breathe through my mouth without any problems and the one moment that water gets into it, I decide to switch patterns, very nice :) Noticing that I don't remember anything about cleaning my mask and I am unlikely to remember in the following 30 seconds, I also shoot to the surface as fast as I can. I explain the problem to Bruno, he reminds me what to do and we go back down. Another struggle to kneel down and I try again. Same thing... I have no idea how I manage to get water into my mask while blowing into the regulator, but this time I am even more successful. I get more water in it and manage to inhale it all through my nose, while holding the regulator in my hand all that time. This time I shoot faster to the surface. While trying to cough off, I wonder what would I have done if we were at 12 meters depth as originally planned instead of the 2, I was struggling with...

Although we didn't realize during out struggle, it's been almost an hour in the sea and we haven't really achieved much. We decide it may be better to call it off and perhaps try some other day when the sea is kinder to newbies. Bruno leads us to the shore, runs to the coast takes off his equipment and comes to help us as by now it is evident that neither of us can go out of the water with the stuff on our backs. Still the sea is so rough, I cannot even stand on my feet to walk out. Every time I manage to lift a little, a wave knocks me down. I panic and totally lose it. I guess this is how we read newspaper stories of grown-ups getting drowned 5 meters from the coast. Bruno comes back and helps me out once again and asks “are you OK?” as I am now out of the water and sitting happily on a piece of wall I say “yes, now I am OK”.

My legs are red, swollen and hurt. I was told that this must be some kind of allergy besides the coral scratches. I don't know allergy to what, but at that moment it feels that I am allergic to everything scuba. We dress, leave the equipment to the “dive center”, have a bit of food on one of the warungs in Tulamben and then hit the road back to Ubud. I feel exhausted and fall asleep in the car.

Overall, it cannot be considered as a successful experience but it was an experience for sure. We couldn't dive, I panicked more than once and I still feel uncomfortable underwater with that funny equipment on my back. But the parts I feared most like being unable to breathe out of my mouth turned out to be much easier than I have dreaded over the years. So I was probably fearing the wrong things to start with! It was an eye-opening experience nonetheless. Almost everything that can go wrong went wrong and we still ended up having a bit of fun (between moments of panic). I haven't lost my appetite to try again; but maybe this time starting in a pool before being in water.

Maybe this is the most important lesson; however I dread, things go wrong in the most delicate moments and all I can do is to go for it again. I cannot control the sea, as I cannot control most of what's going on around me. All I can do is to breathe again and give it another try.


  1. Diving opens up another world, and isn't Yoga all about breathing?
    make sure your next dive is in a pool...
    Good luck

  2. Tulamben is gorgeous...From what I see the underwater life is way more richer and diverse compared to Turkey...I would say do no let a not-so-pleasent first experience make you give up...and keep you away from experiencing one of the most amazing dive spots on the planet, after Egypt, Indonesia. (I havent been there yet but that is what I hear within the diving community) Hopefully if there is a next time I wish you can take some photos of the Tulamben underwater life and the wreck...