60 Feet Under (And How To Survive A Vodka Joss)
The day you ask your divemaster if you can vomit underwater, and he says yes (no problem), is a special day, indeed.
Chances are you've been hanging out with a dive crew long enough to be getting comfortable underwater, and way too comfortable above it...
I had been scuba diving once before; four years ago just off the shores of Oahu, Hawai’i. As much I've tried to recall the entire experience, I can only remember clips of the day; the nerves and anticipation building while watching the laughably dated instructional video, the brief sense of panic when the instructor first flooded our masks, the awe in taking those first few breaths below the surface, and the overwhelming sense of serenity as handsome sea turtles drifted ever-so-slowly above my head…
And now, years later, I found myself on another little island - this one far tinier (try 2 square kilometers) - where seemingly the only thing to do was scuba dive, snorkel, and get wildly intoxicated, making as many rash, regrettable decisions as humanly possible. I’m not one for the latter (or so I thought...) so I decided it was time to get back in the water.
A little more about the locale: meet Gili Trawangan. Lying in Balinese Sea, nestled between the islands of Bali and Lombok in Indonesia, Gili T. has been an increasingly popular spot for young backpackers and divers. There are no motorized vehicles so transportation is left to bicycles and horse-drawn carts. The days are lazy and easy and the nights are usually epic and/or terrifying, depending on your interpretation.
Indonesia itself is a sprawling archipelago made up of over 17,000 islands. It’s home to 20% of the world’s coral reefs, a multitude of fish and marine species, as well as WWII wreckage. These things combined all add up to it being one of the best places to dive in the world.
So off I went.
Cue videos talking about how easy it is to die during a dive.
Lungs bursting, bubbles in your blood, drowning from not checking your tank levels; the possibilities are endless! This part is always the hardest moment of the day. Of course, a little doubt creeps in and you're left thinking, “Uh…I think I want to keep my lungs…”. And, YOU WILL. Scuba diving does present serious risks. But so does driving a car. In exchange for inviting a sense of adventure into our lives, we must be willing to accept certain risks. And with the help of a thoroughly trained dive instructor and good listening skills, you will be equipped to dive safely and return to the surface with nothing but beautiful memories.
Video done. Forms signed. Into the pool we go.
First, allow me to introduce the crew. Heading up our adventure was our Dive Master Simo. Hailing from Finland, Simo was jovial and to-the-point. At his side was the adorable, Karolin. Working on her Dive Master training, along with her boyfriend Oscar, my favorite Swede Karolin is responsible for snapping all the incredible underwater photos you see here. (Thanks, girl!)
We spent an hour or so going through the basic skills and equipment knowledge necessary. A few laps around the pool and I was feeling much more confident and ready for the real deal once again. A little fuel up at the café and we were ready to load the boat.
About ten minutes later I would find myself in the blue, alien, mesmerizing world that I had faintly recalled. With nothing to hear but the bubbles of your own exhale, your vision is heightened and you're able to take in all the stunning details. Anemones and clownfish (that were definitely related to Nemo, himself), angelfish, horn coral, and countless other creatures lit up the sea floor with colour and movement. Aside from a few gauge checks here and there, my only job was to enjoy every moment.
Perhaps it was sometime about now, hovering above a graceful stingray, that I knew one dive just wouldn't do.
Four days later, I was a fully certified open water diver.
The thing about the ocean is, it really does drown you. Once you're under, everything you left behind on the surface is rendered insignificant. No one is thinking about what bills they have to pay or how they can't wait to watch to cook dinner when they're scuba diving, I assure you. You're a guest in a beautiful alien universe and the immense gratitude that comes with that is felt deeply and without effort.
And then there's life at the dive shop.
This is a whole culture that I don't even know how to get into. Hard to be poetic when you're talking about a motley crew of salty nomads who's sole focus is diving and staying "hydrated".
This is where I should probably explain exactly what a "Vodka Joss" is.
So, you know those little sachets full of fruit-flavored chemicals that promise to boost your energy and send you into cardiac panic upon consumption? It's one of those washed down by a shot of vodka.
And we (yes, regrettably I use the pronoun "we" here...) have about four or five of these.
It's an experience.
Which brings us full circle to vomiting underwater.
I am both proud and ashamed to share with you all that I managed to avoid the event altogether; but, at least, there's some sick comfort in knowing, if and when the special occasion arises, I'll be just fine... And so will you!
All barfing aside, scuba-diving is something I seriously urge everyone to try at least once in their lives. It's a truly awe-inspiring and humbling experience that will give you a much deeper understanding and appreciation for our planets biggest asset - the ocean. You can travel extreme distances to experience somewhere completely foreign, or you can just take the plunge - literally - and behold a place where magical creatures and unknown languages really do exist.
And, if you're anything like me, or Monsieur Cousteau himself, you'll come to find that,
"The sea, once it casts it's spell, holds one in it's wonder forever."
Happy dives, ya'll. Xx