A New Low

I’ve just got back from an exhilarating trip to Manado in North Sulawesi, diving at Bunaken 5 days in a row. After a number of plans that came apart in the past, this time I decided to not wait for anybody, and took off on my own, with an objective to complete the Advanced Open Water Certification.

…… Aaaaand…………..SUCCESS!

PADI-2

Not that it is too difficult, like, for example, climbing a mountain. If you enjoy diving, and have the means and opportunity, it is simply a matter of applying yourself to the task, completing the required dives, and voilà! The certification is yours. As it is mine now. Qualification is one thing, but the diving itself is something else. An experience that transports you into another world; in Bunaken, it is one of those life events where your jaw drops and wants to stay that way, but no… you must not lose your regulator, so shut that mouth and open your eyes wide.

In this part of the world there is a wall… a beautiful wall… With the most amazing forms, shapes, colours and creatures, descending straight down into infinity. For once, I had no camera to document my journey – in retrospect that was a good thing – but I came away with no photos of that wall. If you are curious, you might want to check out the photos by a professional photographer here. Matt (http://matthew-oldfield-photography.com) was kind enough to share this beautiful picture that represents my experience perfectly:

It was my first time going down to 30m (part of the course requirement). I descended with equal parts trepidation and excitement. But the deeper I went, the calmer I got; deep steady breathing helping a lot. At this point, I wasn’t looking at the reef, just feeling my own presence at that depth. Bunaken is special. One plane is this wall, and the rest is deep blue nothingness above, below, behind and sideways. Stunning. My instructor had a slate with a few arithmetic problems to solve, just to make sure my brain wasn’t going over the edge, as it is liable to, at such depths. At one point I was giggling at the absurdity of that situation, which might also be a SIGN, but my amusement was only because those problems were getting a little complex (with brackets and all) and I could be doing better stuff down there like admiring the fish!

Actually, in the larger scheme of things, not having a camera was a blessing. Hands free, I could focus on developing and improving my diving skills, and really looking at everything, rather than chasing photos. The pranayam breathing practice came in handy; with my breathing technique well-regulated, almost all dives went up close to the limit of 1 hour with 50 bar left in the tank. Buoyancy control much better too, and marine life spotting and identification skills improved slightly. I am still terrible at remembering what I saw while logging the dive (which is where the camera helps, bad photos notwithstanding), but when I close my eyes, I can relive the feeling.

Yes! Qualified for Breathing, Diving and Arithmetic!!!

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Another Island, Another Dive

I cannot believe it’s been a year since I went diving, but it is, and our first dive at Nusa Lembongan was enough proof of those skills having rusted.
Ostensibly this was to be a dive buddy reunion from our certification group. Unfortunately half of that original group opted out, leaving just Malavika and I, joined by Sarvesh, Mala’s better half.
Nusa Lembongan is a tiny island just off the Bali coast, with big dive spots. We went with World Diving, and stayed at their nice villas called Frangipani in the back street. At this time of the year, there weren’t any mola-mola to sight, but manta rays were the biggest attraction (see the number of divers hanging around). A ‘small’ shark sleeping under the rock, beautiful coral too, and gorgeous sunset above water. Let the pictures tell the story.

Tip: Remember to wear your shortest shorts while getting on the fast boat to Nusa, coz you have to wade through thigh deep water at both ends, and the stickiness lasts forever.

Blues and Greens

It’s a happy event to be traveling within Indonesia, after a dry spell in the summer. With Anshu visiting, and interested in diving, I had the opportunity to explore new islands, one that I’ve been wanting to for a long time.

We booked ourselves in Gili Trawangan, one of the three tiny islands off the north-west coast of Lombok. If you’re mighty curious about where that might be, click this map. It’s a 2-hour flight across Java and Bali, then a 3-hour drive through Lombok, and a 15-minute fast boat away. No motorised vehicles on the islands. Just walk or horse-cart.

We dumped our bags at Marta’s, and quickly set out to book some dive trips with Big Bubble. The island life is totally focused around diving, snorkelling and partying. Dive centers in Indonesia spoil you; you don’t have to lug your equipment to the boat and back, you don’t really need to check your gear, but it’s always safer to do so. We finished 4 dives in 2 days before Souvik showed up.

My camera handling skills need much improvement underwater, and our guide helped out a bit. (Images best enjoyed in full screen; just click any image.)

With Souvik around, we spent an entire day in a glass-bottomed boat, and snorkelled around the three islands, stopping at Scallywags on Gili Air for a delicious lunch.

If that wasn’t enough, we had a further visual treat of a full moon rise from the beach.

We then took the boat to Lombok, where Souvik headed back to Jakarta, and Anshu & I spent a couple of happy days shopping and trekking through rice fields to find a secluded waterfall.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Sea

The “Sea” challenge was posted when I was up in the mountains, and I had such a longing for a deep dive! Yeah, that’s what the sea means to me – the magnificent underwater, marine life beyond my wildest imagination, the calm and quiet below the turbulent surface. If I can’t have a dive, even snorkelling will do.

To view the photos in all their glory, click on any for a slideshow:

I’m Piscean by nature, Fishy by theme, is it any wonder that the sea is such a big influence on my life?

The Adventures of Uju in Indonesia – #4 The Big Splash

Diving at Tulamben

And then we all went to Bali. Wanted to celebrate but stayed off the alcohol because Sunday was Dive Day! I was keen to test out my newly acquired Open Water Diver status, and Uju & Souvik signed up for a Discovery Dive with Bali Diving Academy. They picked us up early morning for a 3-hour drive to Tulamben in north Bali. The discovery divers had a 15 minute orientation learning to ‘breathe’ with the SCUBA gear, while I had a brainwave to hire an underwater camera.

 

 

Souvik was VERY apprehensive about the whole situation, and chickened out of the first dive with all those big waves and murky waters. Uju was braver, and early in the dive she decided to focus on her breathing, and leave everything else to her instructer, Made (pronounced Maadey). Smart move. Diving off the shore was a new one for me, and a very clumsy attempt. Ni Luh, my buddy from the academy helped me put on the fins and off we went.

Murky water on the surface got much clearer in the deep. We were happy to pose, in spite of my mask flooding annoyingly and repeatedly. In the pictures below, I’m the one with the yellow snorkel, perpetually clearing the mask.

Made got us some lovely pictures of the coral, as directed by Uju.

Diving at Tulamben Diving at Tulamben

 

We got out after 45 minutes, for the lunch break, and our excitement knew no bounds. Getting in from the shore is tough, but getting out is way more difficult! At lunch, we talked Souvik into one more try, with me promising to hold his hand all the way 🙂

The second dive was at the USAT Liberty shipwreck, something that I was very eager to do. And asked for the camera.

Souvik and Uju descended first, and I lost the group. So I bobbed on the surface, waiting for Ni Luh. I was happy to not see Souvik bob out, so I imagined he had got over his fear. Turns out, Ni Luh had pulled him down just as he was having second thoughts, and both Souvik & Uju believed that was me, keeping my promise. So they went in on good faith, and continued the dive with Made, while the dynamic Ni Luh came back for me. Divine intervention! Souvik followed Uju’s advice to leave it all to Made. I believe he held them both from above with their tanks, and showed them around.

Ni Luh & I descended properly together, and went all over the shallow ocean floor looking for the wreck. She was searching, and I was just looking. 15 minutes, and no sighting, so we got out again, to wait for Made. I thought to check my air gauge, and managed to lose the weight belt in the ocean. OOPS! So we simply waited for Uju & Souvik to finish, then Made helped me wear Uju’s weight belt, and we got back to the dive.

This time it was magical. I got trigger happy. Can you see the shape of the ship that the fish and coral made their home? (Click on any image for a larger, more beautiful view.)

Nothing more to say, except that we celebrated with a BIG dinner that included Souvik’s favourite butter chicken.

 

Taking a plunge

When I told a friend I had joined an open water diving course, the first visual she thought of was this:

No, not of the lovely lady on the right, but the ageing, grumpy, rather unfit looking Sanjay Dutt (extreme left). And people who I call friends are laughing hysterically at the thought of me in a wetsuit like Sunju baba.

And to think, my motivation was Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, my favourite stars learning to dive.

Well at least I haven’t found any reason to be grumpy about these diving classes. Loving all the SCUBA equipment, learning complex manoeuvres of ‘hovering’ or achieving neutral buoyancy, and all those ‘what-if’ exercises of losing the mask, running out of air, and what-not.

At our last pool session, our instructor thought it would be cool to show us what we looked like at 5-7m deep.

 

Around a camera, girls will be girls, always happy to pose:

 

The proof of the pudding is tomorrow – our first open water dive trip to complete the certification. Let’s see how deep and blue is the deep blue sea!