I’d been wanting to do this for a while, and it’s not as though I haven’t had the opportunity. I thought about it when I was in Bali in 2010 and I thought about doing it in Dubai earlier this year. The two questions I had were:
- Am I fit enough?
- Will I fit into a wetsuit?
I think (hope) the answer to those two questions now is ‘yes’!
When I found out I was going to be in Bali for the whole summer I decided this was the time to do it. I asked Harry to recommend somewhere and he booked me on a course with YOS Marine Adventures in Tanjung Benoa.
I was told the driver from YOS would pick me up on Wednesday at 9am – and he was at our villa at exactly 9am. I got to their centre at about 9.20am and waited in the entrance for my instructor, Made Antari, to arrive.
We talked about any health concerns I had (none) and I asked him how long he’d been diving. He said he started diving in 1999, got his Master Scuba Diver certificate in 2002 and became a qualified instructor in 2007. He told me as I was the only person doing the course over the next few days we could do it in 3 days instead of over 4 days. Great! I was also asked what I wanted for lunch – I had the choice of nasi goreng, mie goreng or a club sandwich. I asked for nasi goreng.
The morning consisted of watching three videos on various aspects of diving. After each section Made gave me a questionnaire to fill in about what I had just learnt. If I got an answer wrong he would explain the correct answer to me. If there was anything I didn’t understand I could ask him. This is where other people would have come in useful as people usually ask questions about things I would never have thought of. At noon my lunch arrived and then there was one more video. Made gave me my Open Water Diver manual, Recreational Dive Planner (RDP) and the exam to do at home and I was done by 1pm.
I did my second day of the course a week after I should have. I went to bed after the first day and wasn’t feeling very well. I felt even worse when I woke up on Thursday morning and called them to postpone the rest of my diving course. I told them I’d call them when I was better and they were fine with that. I eventually re-scheduled for the following Thursday. Made picked me up at 8am and we drove to the YOS centre. I was given a buoyancy control device (BCD), wetsuit, wetsuit boots, mask, snorkel, regulator, a weight belt and fins. Wetsuits must be the most uncomfortable things to get into (and out of)! But it fit! From the centre we drove to the public pool at Tanjung Benoa. I understand it is used by several diving centres but luckily we had the pool to ourselves that day. Made told me to do a couple of lengths of the pool, just so he could be sure I could swim. It was disgusting. There were so many dead insects floating on the surface I didn’t even want to get into it. But of course I had to. When I was done, I got out and he showed me how to assemble my equipment and get into the BCD. I put the regulator in my mouth and put my head in the water. I could breathe! We went through a series of exercises – taking the regulator out of my mouth while under water, finding the regulator under water, how to indicate you have no air and you need your buddy’s alternate, how to stretch if you have cramp under water, and so on. I did most of them without any trouble – at one point I panicked and thought it would be a good idea to take my mask off. I don’t know what I was thinking – that is clearly not the thing to do in any situation!
The air in the tank is actually very drying and my throat was parched each time I surfaced. Diving is thirsty work!
At about noon Made decided I was ready for the open water. I was excited but terrified at the same time.
We got on a boat with all our equipment and were driven out to sea for about 10 minutes. We got to our dive site and got into the water. I didn’t have to plunge in backwards, I sat on the edge of the boat and eased myself in, turning so I was facing the boat. And then we descended. About 5 minutes into the first dive I had to tell myself to just keep calm and not to panic because I realised I was at the bottom of the ocean and suddenly thought ‘What the f*** are you doing?? Why are you doing this??’ And then all of a sudden: ‘What if I have a nosebleed?’ Thankfully I didn’t have to find out. We did the same practice exercises we did in the pool, swam around for a bit and did some more practice exercises.
It was amazing. When I got to the bottom I was surrounded by fish! I felt like I was in ‘Finding Nemo’. Made had warned me that when we first get to the bottom the fish would approach us as they would think we were food. Colourful coral, colourful fish, sponges – all around us.
We spent 30 minutes at 11 metres before we surfaced for a break. We went back down again for 22 minutes (at 9 metres) and then called it a day. We went back to the centre, had some lunch and Made dropped me off at our villa.
Made picked me up at 7.45am on Friday. He was with another dive master and a driver as there were three other people joining us for the day (a German man and his two teenage daughters) and we went to pick them up from the Keraton Jimbaran Resort. They kept us waiting for 45 minutes – and no apology when they eventually showed up! While waiting for them I walked around and took some photos. The father and younger daughter had already done their open diving certificate so they were going to be on one boat. Made was taking me and the older daughter on another boat and we would both complete our certificate. I got the impression that the older daughter didn’t really want to be there at all…
Anyway, we headed off to Padang Bay almost an hour behind schedule. We got to Manggala Restaurant at about 10am. We assembled our diving equipment and had a coffee. We then got into our wetsuits, left our stuff at the restaurant and walked down to the beach where we got into two outrigger canoes. Made told us that Padang Bay was the main harbour for the island and ferries left from there for various other islands, including Lombok. It was pretty busy! We were driven to a spot about 10 minutes away from the main harbour, a place called Blue Lagoon. We did our first dive here. Made told us we would have to put on our weight belts, fins and masks and then put on our BCDs in the water. Was he joking? I could barely manage to get myself into it out of the water! I eased myself into the water, holding on to the edge. I eventually got into my BCD, put my regulator in my mouth and we descended. We spent 45 minutes at 15 metres. We did a couple of the exercises from the day before (breathing without the regulator, breathing without the mask – I hate that one, and a couple of others). I saw my first stingray! And those tiny electric blue fish that dart all over the place… The water was so clear.
When we ascended, the water was very choppy. It was difficult to hold on to the boat, remove my weight belt, BCD and fins – it seemed to take forever and my left ear was blocked. Once I was back on the boat, we relaxed and had some water while we were driven to our second dive spot, Jepun. After about 10 minutes I started feeling sick.
Made started talking to us about our second dive – we would have to use a compass and swim to a point he would choose – and then swim back. He looked at me. ‘Are you feeling OK?’
‘I feel a bit… sick.’
He told me it was the rough water and once we were back under water I’d feel better. Really? Because the last thing I felt like doing was getting back in the water. I was glad I hadn’t had any breakfast and the coffee was starting to seem like a really bad idea. He told me I could descend, do the navigation exercise and if I still felt sick he’d take me back up to the boat. I agreed because I wanted to finish off this final exercise! We got back in the water, put on our BCDs and descended. He let me do the exercise first – I swam 20 metres following the compass and then back again. ‘OK?’ he signalled. ‘OK,’ I replied. I was feeling a bit better. He left me in one spot while he carried out the same exercise with the German girl. By the time they got back I was feeling almost normal. We swam around for a while – I saw my second stingray, lots of parrotfish, and many other things. We spent 43 minutes at 14 metres.
When we ascended the water was even rougher than before. We ascended further along the shore and the boat was supposed to be there to meet us. It wasn’t. We waited about 15 minutes while Made tried to get the driver’s attention – and eventually we got back on the boat.
I think, for me, the worst part is getting on and off the boat! Actually being under water is fine… Back on the boat, I had some water but had to close my eyes and focus on my breathing as the drive back to the beach was very rough and I was feeling sick again. And my left ear was still blocked which didn’t help.
Back on land, we walked back to Manggala. The waiter told me there was a shower at the front so I could take off my wetsuit and wetsuit boots.
There was also a rack to hang our wetsuits on. It was surreal showering in the middle of the street (practically) but nobody seemed to care. We were two of the first divers back that day and I soon realised that it’s quite normal to shower outside the restaurant and then have some lunch! While we were waiting for lunch I ended up chatting to an Australian guy who was also waiting for lunch. He seemed to know everyone and I thought he might actually live in the area (but he lived in Athens). Made and I had our lunch and he gave me my temporary PADI card (hurrah!) and log book while we waited for the other boat to return.
As I was sitting there, watching people coming back from their various dives, I thought that a year ago I really wouldn’t have been able to do this. I was nowhere near fit enough then – and I’d have really struggled getting on to the ladder to get back into the boat! As I was thinking this, a huge man walked into the restaurant in his wetsuit. He was easily triple my size at my heaviest weight last year and I really wondered how he managed it.
The others from the second boat finally arrived and they had their lunch. I walked around for a little while taking photos. If you’re ever looking for Manggala, it’s right opposite the Kinky Reggae Bar!
It was a gorgeous day.
On our way back to Jimbaran, we stopped at a temple called Pura Goa Lawah (or Bat Cave Temple).
The minibus was quiet on the way back – most people fell asleep – and I eventually got home at 6pm (with my left ear still blocked).
It was an incredible experience – and Made told me that if he takes any people to different sites over the next few weeks he’d give me a call and I could join them. I can’t wait!