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September 17th 2008
Published: October 20th 2008
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The Perhentian Islands became our final destination on this trip. The glare from the pure white sands of Long Beach in Kecil near blinded me with joy, the unhurried pace of island residence and untroubled travelers soon had me in a blissful near coma, the island was beyond pure perfection. We checked in to a truly idyllic and very affordable beach chalet called Panorama Chalets.

My plan was to overcome my unexplained fear of deep water; I had made contact with our leader Ali Watters whom by chance is also a very knowledgeable dive master. I met Ali inside Sunlight Divers as we talked and talked I started to feel a calming wave trickle through me. Ali assured me that there were no terrifying human eating monsters in the Perhentian seas, the visibility was 100% and during the months of March through to October this place is the most perfect island in the world for over all relaxation and scuba diving.

While I had been travelling around India, I had been chatting to a very tall British man on the train into Varkala. I witnessed the same very tall British man’s drowned dead body now laying uncovered on the beach, I saw the chaos surrounding him, his knees smashed with a hammer by ambulance men in order to fit his dead self into the back of a tiny Rascal transit van, his wrinkled feet pressed hard against the back windows, there was no dignity as his room was raided by thieves, it gave me chills that never thawed. Later that day I went swimming in the same sea in Varkala, but was suddenly overcome by a massive wave which smacked my face hard then sucked me under, I was blessed as a friend scooped me up and got me out, therefore saving my life, for which I am still today very grateful to her. But the memory of those seconds of endless bubbles and complete disorientation then terror panic is still with me.

One morning I felt all knotted up inside about the whole scuba nightmare thing, it went round and round in circles in my head, the days were passing me by and we would soon have to leave the island and id have achieved sodden nothing. I had a daily rendezvous with scuba mentor Ali who coached me like Simon Cowel would an X Factor finalist, he told me to relax, to do my very best and to above all not to stress, but I was getting stressed.

I felt so happy snorkeling as I got my head underwater and took a breath. I suddenly felt invincible splashing alongside the most stunning looking fish. Before my bikini had dried out and this new enthusiasm wore off I got myself into Sunlight Divers and signed up.

Tasha was brave enough to take me on as my scuba instructor. As I squeezed my belly into the tiny wet suit which now resembled a professional darts players t-shirt, my adrenaline went into over drive. I held pace and pretended there was no extreme screaming for reasoning going on inside my mind, but there was, my head was like Wall Street before a crash. Inside my foam neoprene wet suit I was nearly peeing myself, but as the wall plaque in the Sunlight office clearly states 'There is no P in wet suit!' With a full and heavy tank of checked and double checked air strapped to my back, which made my thighs look like Fatima Whitbread wearing a buoyancy jacket that thankfully doubled as a life jacket, I proceeded to paddle around the shore line for a bit. I tried to balance upright and put flippers on my feet at the same time, this was personal hurdle number one as things under the water look nearer and bigger than they actually are, so I kept missing my feet and falling sideways. I felt a familiar terror tremor surface within both my hands that displayed as the shakes. I had to slowly breathe out my concerns for shallow drowning. Schools of little fish swam around us and I could still see to the bottom of the sea bed. Instead of normal swimming I moon walked into a slightly deeper depths.

The next part of the lesson I needed to kneel down and get my head under water, thus changing from snorkel to regulator, this may sound an easy manoeuvre, but the buoyancy part was harder than it looked. I already had a big metal tank and five lead weights strapped to my waist, even with a personal heavy boned body structure that I would never normally own up to and a belly full of sword fish and mash potatoes from the night before, none of this could get me to hover or float downwards onto my knees near the sea bed, right under the water’s surface. The problem was my breathing; it was far too rapid leaving too much residual air packed into my over expanded lungs, which simply made me float.

The one thing you must not do under water is hold your breath as this can cause major lung explosions and certain death. I continued to breathe in small bursts and float up to the top as I continued to hyper ventilate which became one vicious cycle. Keeping balance and skill full in underwater buoyancy was similar to being in a bouncy castle with a broken leg and fifteen kids going mental on a very rainy day

My head went underwater, this was a complete Das Boot moment, the tension within was rife; the bubbles from the regulator in my mouth tickled my cheeks and popped at the surface of the sea. I was in shallow water and still shallow breathing as I was trying to get used to continuous breathing from my mouth only, so I would not explode. Tasha gave me instruction using hand signals, as you can't speak underwater unless you have a fish bowl on your head, which at 12 inches below would be a bit ridiculous. She kept encouraging me to breathe out all my air, and then breathe in slowly, she used one flowing hand waving gesture like the Queen of England gives on a royal tour, but Tasha made it look too damn easy. I moved on from moon walking to weeble wobbling to swim horizontally to the reef.

The other problem I had was equalizing my ears because with every few inches you swim down your ears feel like they want to explode with air pressure, similar to takeoff or landing in a plane. The only way to stop this is by equalizing the small amounts of air you have left in your head, between the ears and sinuses and inside your mask, this is done by holding your nose and blowing, the trick is to do this without squeezing out three pounds of cerebrum at the same time.

Then the real scuba stuff started, removing my mask under water, taking regulator out of mouth and sharing regulator with my dive buddy in the event you run out of air! More kneeling, floating, horizontal hovering, general buoyancy exercises which are so important to learn as it took a long time for me to equalize my ears and for my ears to feel comfortable at deeper depths and so to float up to the top is such a waste of time, as you have to go through the whole slow process all over again, which uses up more air giving less time in the water, (see now I understand) I needed to learn to stay down as deep as I could.

During my first lesson a bit of water seeped into my left ear and that was that for three days. I could not hear and felt pressure building within. So I had to abort my mission and let it rest, I was given ear drops and then antibiotic to clear it up. Three days later I went for lesson 2 in D. Lagoon where I managed a scuba depth of nine meters. This was a real dive for me as I had to jump in the sea first, paddle, then put on my heavy equipment, which is normal practise for normal fearless divers but for me I am not a strong swimmer without my arm bands, so I clung to the side of the boat for dear life. My ears still hurt but I descended slowly and when we got down there I looked ahead to see six huge bumphead parrot fish with big white sucky mouths coming towards me, I wanted to scream out 'Woooooooowwwwwwww!' But I managed an 'ARRRRRRRR' instead with my lips still clamped to the rim of the regulator.

I also realised you can do good long burps and possibly be sick this way too. The bumphead fish were stunning and if I wasn't hooked up to an air machine the view would have taken my breath away, so lucky I was hooked up to an air machine. The deeper I descended the tighter the mask sucked onto my face due to water pressure, which I bared until it was unbearable, it was painful. It was time to release and empty the mask of seeping water while nine meters down. I hated this procedure, to begin with I had mild panic attacks, the sea water would race up my nose and the salt stung my eyes, I felt the nearest Id felt in a while to real drowning. The mask clearing increased my breathing rate which increased vital air consumption, which reduced my overall time under water. So I had to really focus and calm myself down. However, Tasha was always at hand, she never once ever left my side, for which I was truly grateful. I was asked to swim two hundred meters without stopping, which felt almost like two hundred miles, we covered navigation and various low or out of air scenario's.

My next dive was at Sail Rock and I managed to get down to an impressive 15.2 meters, this is the dive where things started to flow, I wasn't floating to the top all the time, just some of the time, equalising became second nature, I subconsciously began to clear my mask without Tasha having to hold me down. I began to do it by myself and had that feeling of immense pride which lifted my spirits but thankfully not all my heavy bones back up to the surface! I swam amongst a huge school of snappers, yellow tailed barracudas, butterfly fish and many other vibrant species of sea creatures. The coral was active with vibrant colour and new life and finally so was I.

I attended an additional peak performance buoyancy lesson where I floated like a little Buddha, floated through hoops and picked up weights from the sea bed with my bare teeth! I found myself clearing my mask a lot without thinking as I was laughing so much, underwater! I passed my exam and decided to do a final dive, but this dive presented itself as my biggest challenge yet as on one day only the weather had turned. The sea was unusually choppy and ruff, on the boat to The Temple of The Sea I was getting a little sickness in the back of my throat. We arrived at the location and the boat was rocking as if someone with slight vengeance was pushing us too hard on the swings.

I didn't like it one bit. What I really didn't like was it was too rough to jump into the sea and be handed my equipment which I was now very used too, we had to dress on the boat then fall into the choppy water BACKWARDS like they do in the Bond films. I froze and I mean froze then went slightly deaf with fear as Ali coached me to just fall backwards and breath normally, it was as if he was my own personal dive midwife, after all this training I was now a rubbish heap of nerves. It took a few minutes of deep breathing; I fell backward into the sea, after bobbing back up to the surface with all limbs in the right place we swam to another boats anchor line. I really struggled with this aggressive sea motion, I felt very nauseous, I could not go back I had to continue on as I was promised the deeper we went the less turbulence Id feel. They lied.

I went down, down, down, I managed to go to fantastic 18.5 meters where the plankton was thick and the current pushed me all over the place. I found it hard to keep buoyancy. Ali held my fins and pulls me back down a lot of the time. I saw a huge hawk’s bill turtle which was a delight. I swam alongside many fish, blue ringed angel, long beaked coral, fox face rabbit, blue fin grouper, big eyed Malabar’s, white eyed moiré’s, the list went on. Unfortunately my air didn't, so I had to re surface at forty three minutes. We managed to spend around three weeks on this island, originally planning to spend only a few days, but it was so hard to leave this place what with its stunning serenity my babbling nerves and various ear infections.

Additional photos below
Photos: 34, Displayed: 30


20th October 2008

I'm in tears.
Hi there beautiful Claire. I am so happy to read your latest posting. The end of one journey leads to the begining of others. Learning about ones frailties in itself will create stringths. You have conquered one of lifes lessons. Many more to come however You will be surprised to know that Patrick Duffy and I were school mates. I last saw him at our 40th class reunion in 2007. Thank you so much for the kind words to Ann and I and others. Your writtings have been a joy to read. Untill next time, with much admiration, Jim & Ann
20th October 2008

PATRICK DUFFY was your school mate!!!
Well....what a really small world it really is. That made me laugh so much.....Miss you Jim and thanks for the comment. X
20th October 2008

Shine On, Shine Bright...
Thank you Claire for your beautiful thoughts, words & photos! As always you tapped directly into the divine. As you are good with interiors, I am good with electricity – I know when someone shines …& you my dearest are a shining star – creating much needed light for the world! Shine on, shine bright, shine long. I will miss your travel blogs but I am more than grateful for our beautiful friendship. You look so HAPPY, so PEACEFUL, & so CENTERED. Sending much love to you. BIG HUG. MAC from Califonia.
21st October 2008

Happy Days!
It was a pleasure to meet you and Stu - a special thanks to the rare alignment of the planets that put so many great people in one tiny little place :) Love the photos - thanks for the Simon Cowel comparison - a personal hero of mine ;)
21st October 2008

You're making me cry
Oh Claire, what a beautiful ending! You just couldn’t have gone somewhere more perfect to finish your journey. Was lovely meeting you and Stu on the island, and thanks for the wonderful pics. Take care Claire, I hope we get to meet again one day. Love, Ivone x
22nd October 2008

Photo Credits
Ali .....I forgot to mention thanks to you for all the underwater photo shots. My lungs would have exploded trying to take a single picture.
22nd October 2008

thanks for a great read
Hi Claire, I found you pages about 4 weeks ago and have gone through and absorbed a lot of information from you stories...I did read about 80-90% of you posts...its been great reading. My husband and I are looking at travelling 2010 most likely and alot through asia so its been great getting ideas of places to go!! We will be trying to go to a few orphanges along the way and we will try and make it to te boys one in cambodia when we padd through. thanks again for a great read, Michelle
22nd October 2008

Hello Claire :) I hope this wont really be the last of your very entertaining blogs. Mel
23rd October 2008

great blog..
hey, i also have a blog on the site, but came upon yours...i feel like we have similiar stories I just came back from koh tao (island in thaialnd) where i did scuba diving with my boyfriend...and i was absolutely terrified....first tried it in the pool...HAted it, but then as my confidence grew i truly started to love it just like you...and its unny on our last dive we had terrible weather as well, there was a tornado in the distance but what made it all amazing is we got to see a whale shark! So i just wanted to say COngrats on completing ur padi course, i know i was so proud when i finished as well! Yay we are now little scuba divers!
23rd October 2008

Well done!
Good effort on a long journey! Im also jealous that you managed to meet The Great One (Ali). Great will be the day when I get the same opportunity!
24th October 2008

You've cultivated our souls!!
Claire, I read your blog from my desk in an office, with a coffee in hand, I am smiling from ear to ear and do have a tear in my eye. Your journey has been absolutely incredible not just for the places you have been, but for the way you have shared them with us all. I found your blog last year when we were travelling in Asia & were thinking about taking a detour to Central America, you have inspired me so much. Reading your thoughts on learning to dive I can relate to completely, that feeling of the unknown deep seas and the euphoria when you realize you actually "love" diving is simply incredible. Continue to listen to your heart & live for your todays! With much much love, Sarahxx
24th October 2008

that was awesome!
hey claire! I just feel so strange because I subscribed to your blog before I went to travel myself and I just realise now that we were on the perhentians at the exact same moment! I have seen you around but didn't realise it was you, claire from the blog. very sad, I would have loved to meet you :) Have a save trip back home
24th October 2008

all good things come to an end
An era has just finished... just to let a new one start... please, keep blogging from England, it's a whole new world there for you now!!!... Good luck on everything you try and all the best for you and Stu!!
25th October 2008

Hi Claire, well, I've just read your blog in the office, after running over to Sarah with some tissues and wondering why she was crying yet smiling from ear to ear..... now I know. It truly has been a pleasure to be able to share in your incredible journey, one that has taken in so many adventures rather than one big one. If a picture tells a thousand words, your thousands of pictures and wonderful words tell an AMAZING story. Well done for confronting your fears, listeing to your heart and living your life. Keep living the dream, Michael.xx
4th November 2008

You're not getting off the hook that lightly!
I loved this final entry, wiped a tear with the rest of them. Now you need to get on with an everyday blog. Sound of fingernails drumming..... Love you.
28th May 2009

Hi Claire!
One question...was this a "planed" travelblogger meeting? We are going to Perhentians in just a month...and we should meet Ali either there or in's a small world! Where is your next dive? Peter
22nd November 2009

the perhentians are cool place ,, not as good as seven years ago but still isolated enough, and the reason that there's cats galore is because they're the free range kind of cat if you know what i mean? (tastes just like chicken ha ha)
29th May 2012

To Ali's official photographer...great shot...lots of life

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