Published: August 11th 2010August 8th 2010
About the only shot that came out half decent.
Ready to jump right into life under the sea, I wriggled and squirmed my way through 2 hours of very boring (though mandatory) PADI videos and actually had to study a few chapters in the manual. I felt a bit like a 12 year old student suffering through science all over again. Yes, yes, I know fish have gills. Yes, I know I need air underwater too. No, I don't care what that type of valve is called. Aaaaand so on.
But the very next morning, bright and early, my lovely (and very patient) instructor Remy suited me up, tank and all, and in the water we went! What an incredible feeling, to breathe like normal 10 metres below the surface. Underwater, I was all over the place, floating around like a puffer fish as Remy told me later. Not to mention distracted - I kept tugging on his fins, trying to get his attention when a fish swam by. And he may or may not have been a little annoyed when instead of paying attention to his signing, I would clap my hands and cry "Look! Look! It's a Dory fish!" Talking underwater achieves nothing by the way. I
figured that one out quickly. ;)
Diving is a rather lazy sport, but in order to achieve neutral buoyancy (that's when you neither sink nor float), you really need to use your lungs. Inhaling slightly makes you rise, and exhaling makes you sink. Logical enough. Except that the PADI videos drill into you NOT TO HOLD YOUR BREATH UNDERWATER thanks to pressure changes at certain depths. And this is wise advice in theory, because pressure builds the deeper you go. This makes the air in your lungs more dense, so the same amount of air at 10m expands to twice that volume on the surface. If you were to hold your breath at 10m and rise to the surface without exhaling, you risk bursting your lungs. Not so pleasant. But in order to control your buoyancy, a certain amount of breath-holding is necessary (though only within very minor depth changes). I didn't quite believe Remy at first, so we practiced buoyancy control, along with some other basic skills for the next 3 dives. Eventually I got the hang of it, and have since learned that my lungs are strong like bull. Or maybe strong like whale is more appropriate.
Can't remember the name of this guy, but he was huge!
Not bad on air either - like a Honda Civic on gas!
Along the way we saw some really impressive fish too, including a bunch of butterfly fish, triggerfish, clown triggerfish (look this one up, he's pretty), box fish, parrot fish, scorpion fish, anemone fish, trumpet fish and lion fish. Some other highlights were a blue-spotted stingray, a honeycomb moray eel swimming out of the coral, a school of 20 barracudas, a frog fish, a squid, a ghostpipe fish, a black-tipped reef shark and a sea turtle! Really amazing.
Dive number five was my first boat dive and was a great experience. So good in fact, that immediately back at the dive centre, I wrote the 'final exam' and signed myself up for the Advanced course. Not in the budget plans, but when in Rome... This course was a bit quicker, having less knowledge to review and was also a lot more fun because I had mastered the basics. Of quite a large list of options, you choose another five dives to practice varying skills. It was mandatory to do a deep dive (to 30m) and a navigational dive, both of which went very well. Learning how to
use a compass is probably better than relying on directions like "turn right at the blue fish." Beyond these two dives I completed one on buoyancy, one on underwater photography (lots of shots of a tail fin, or yellow blur) and one on fish id. I haven't quite mastered the 21,000 species of fish that exist, but I can now tell the difference between a banner fish and a moorish idol. Can you?
Pulau Weh was a great spot to park myself for the week. The atmosphere is laid-back and very much dive-oriented, so it was a great place to learn. I met a wonderful group of people at Lumba Lumba who came to feel like a family away from home. Time on land was spent reading in their comfy hammock, chatting with other divers, and obsessively scruitinizing pages upon pages of fish species trying to figure out exactly which one we'd seen. "I swear it had a giant purple stripe with fangs and webbed feet!" Not impossible underwater, I can now say that with certainty.
There are more photos below