Eighteen Meters Under the Sea

Itinerary: 

  • Days 1-11: Phuket
  • Days 12-15: Koh Tao
  • Day 16- Bangkok
  • Day 17: Chiang Mai
  • Days 18-24: Elephant Nature Park
  • Day 15: Bangkok

RTW Trip 2014: Peru→ Chile → Argentina → Antarctica → Argentina → Uruguay → Argentina→  Chile→ England → Morocco → Spain → France → Belgium → Netherlands → Germany → Czech Republic → Austria → Hungary → Croatia → Italy → Thailand → United States → Thailand → Laos → Vietnam → Cambodia → Australia → Taiwan

Dates: August 1-29, 2014

Our Odyssey:

If you had asked us a few years ago if either of us would ever have the guts to scuba dive and get our PADI open water diving certifications, we both would have thought you were crazy. Tim in particular has always had a fear of deep water (a legit phobia of his), and I am generally avoidant of risky situations. And yet here we are, newly certified to scuba dive in open water to a depth of up to 18 meters.

We came to Koh Tao with the goal of taking an open water scuba diving course. I had read that this small island in the Gulf of Thailand offered the cheapest PADI courses in the world, for a little over $300 per person, Tim and I got 4 nights of accomodation in an admittedly grimy room with only a fan (no AC), plus the 3 day open water course with Simple Life Divers. While the room was not great, we were not there much anyway, and the value is unbeatable.

We made this experience a priority in our trip because we both feel it is important to learn new skills in life and overcome fears and anxieties. Plus, I have always been fascinated with marine life, and have vivid memories of being a kid visiting the aquarium in the Outer Banks, NC with my family on rainy days over summer vacation.

Our first day started with some classroom time, watching videos and filling out worksheets familiarizing us with the terminology and equipment we would be using. Admittedly, the amount of information was a bit intimidating, trying to wrap my head around how to attach the bouyancy control device (BCD) to the first gauge and the first gauge to the oxygen tank… or something like that.

That afternoon we went out on our first trip on the boat and got our hands on the equipment, actually setting everything up for the first time and doing our safety checks on each piece of the gear. To remember our checks, our instructor Baden taught us the not-so-PC phrase “Bangkok Women Really Are Fellas”, for BCD (basically an inflatable life vest and making sure it inflates and deflates on command), Weights (divers wear a weight belt to help them maintain appropriate bouyancy), Releases (5 restraints that hold both you and your oxygen tank together with your BCD), Air (making sure the air is good and that your have enough of it) and lastly a Final OK.

Before strapping into our equipment, however, we all had to complete a swimming test that involved during one lap around the boat in open water and then treading water for 10 minutes. This intimidated even me, and I am not typically worried about swimming or being in water. Tim, having never done anything like this in his life, was especially anxious, but he successfully completed the challenge despite his fear. I was so proud of him!

After this we completed the confined water portion of our course in a shallow area of water off an island. We had to learn skills like retreiving your regulator (the device you breathe out of) if it falls out of your mouth underwater and how to signal to your budy that you are out of air and switch on to their alternate air supply (which requires removing your regulator and using the alternate one available on your buddy). We also had to practice flooding our masks and clearing them by blowing air out of our noses. All of these were tricky for me and resulted in me taking some water up the nose. I knew right away that while underwater, I do not like having my regulator out of my mouth one bit. After learning all the skills we got to do a very shallow “dive” back to the boat, exploring some of the coral below. Even this dive, with its simplicity of only allowing us to get back to our boat, was absolutely beautiful!

The next day began with some more classroom time and our written exam (which was basically just a worksheet our instructor talked through with us and the five others in our group). Then, that afternoon, we did our first two real dives to a depth of 12 meters. This time I felt almost like an expert putting my equipment together. To my dismay, however, we had to practice our regulator retrieval, out of air procedures and mask flooding- my least favorites- while at the bottom of the ocean. To illustrate what this means, imagine being at the bottom of the ocean with 36 feet of water above you, and suddenly having to detach yourself from your oxygen source. That is exactly what we were doing. Thankfully, with some carefully timed breathing, I completed all of these without swallowing tons of water or drowning. After that, it was smooth swimming- no more skills or challenges left to complete, just enjoying the dives.

Being that far under water for such a long period of time is a really interesting feeling- it is almost like flying or floating on air. The water is just an open space and you are able to float freely about, unrestricted and weightless. The surroundings are also stunning- surrounded by the blue of the water, we saw thousands of fish, big and small, and unique coral and other wildlife I don’t even know the names of (like these little wormy tube guys). It is absolutely otherworldly as both the scenery and the physical sensations are foreign to us in our daily experiences of the world.

Our third day, and our last, was the most fun, as we just needed to complete two fun dives to a depth of 18 meters. The morning went by fast and I wanted it to last longer.

By lunchtime we were officially PADI open water certified and talking with Baden and others in our group about our next scuba plans and who was going to go on to get their advanced certification (Tim and I are thinking of going for it in Australia at the Great Barrier Reef).

That night our group met up to celebrate with all-you-can-eat pizza and beers and it was a fun way to wrap up the experience together.

Tim even said after all of this that he doesn’t think he’ll be afraid of deep water ever again, now that he knows how to trust his body’s ability to keep him afloat and how to use scuba to allow him to breathe easy while under water.

We are already talking about how we can incorporate scuba into our future vacations and travels- it is so exciting to have a whole other dimension of the world opened up that we can explore!

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