What a Dive

Right let’s start with a quick resume of the PADI course so far: I’ll keep it short. You’ve already had the chance to read about Day 1 (Thursday), so I’ll skip that.

On Friday, I got a different instructor – Adam (half Italian, half Australian) – who will be my instructor from now on. It’s also one to one from now on, which is great. The morning was taken up with familiarisation with the kit then an “enclosed water” (i.e. swimming pool) session where I had to try various manoeuvres in the calm, shallow waters: putting on and taking off the kit, removing / replacing / emptying my mask etc. Whilst I did this, monkeys gambolled in the surrounding trees. Adam said they usually made that noise and they weren’t specifically laughing at me. After a break, the afternoon was “the real thing”: we headed out into the sea, rolled backwards off the boat and descended to 12metres, where we tried the same sort of things as well as just swimming around, looking at coral, multi-coloured fish etc. I felt I did pretty well, but Adam naturally – whilst being encouraging – had a number of action points: don’t flap your arms, keep your legs straight, try to regulate your breathing better etc.

Saturday (today) I spent the morning on complicated tables, reading off residual nitrogen levels, calculating minimum surface times between multiple dives etc. I won’t try to pretend it was easy. Or maybe it is easy and I’m just thick. However, I passed the test at the end with 90%, boast, boast. We then reckoned I should do the end of course exam to get it out of the way. Again 90%! Whether I’ll remember any of it is another matter. After a lunch break we went for another ocean dive to improve on my weak points from yesterday and to try some new stuff, such as coping with an air failure on the seabed, removing my BCD (buoyancy control device – the inflatable jacket that holds the air bottle etc) and weight belt and then putting them back on again. I found the BCD removal easy, but putting it back on in the water was a real struggle.

Unawatuna is best known for its several shipwrecks, but most of them are a bit too deep for a neophyte like me. The coral reef is not particularly striking: possibly due to unscrupulous divers in the past and no doubt due to the damage caused by the tsunami: nowadays, diving and divers are much more environmentally aware (so they say). However, lots of brightly coloured fish zipped about, mostly unconcerned by our presence and from time to time shoals of wee chaps would surround us as though we were in multi-coloured spindrift. I don’t suppose there was anything rare, but we saw Angel Fish, Butterfly Fish and Trevelly amongst others.

Tomorrow we’ll have two more open water dives, no doubt with more challenging exercises, then I’ll be finished! You can’t dive on your own, so I’m going to have to find a friend to dive with from now on, though most dive centres will match you up with a buddy if need be. I don’t think I’ll persuade Sonia! I hope to get another couple of dives out here before I head home in April.

I know I’ve gone on about tuk-tuks before, but it struck me that travelling on SL’s roads is like some sort of video game where hazards and obstacles suddenly shoot into view from your peripheral vision, career around unpredictably and as rapidly disappear. The driver of the bus back from Galle centre to my apartment, not very different from other bus drivers, constantly blew his horn for no discernible reason. As we left the busy bus station, jammed with vehicles, pedestrians and conductors shouting their destination we were in a log jam with several buses in front, all hoping to get onto the road. What point there was in his continual hooting I don’t know as we were about fourth in the queue and no doubt all the other drivers were eager to move too. Besides, with so much honking, it was impossible to know who was actually doing it and to whom it was directed! He probably just didn’t want to be left out. Many of the buses have incense burning at the front: I don’t know if that’s better than a “Magic Tree” pine air freshener, but it makes a change.

As many of the buses just have the destination in Sinhala and they don’t always park at the correct platform, I invariably ask the conductor if this is the right bus as I get on. Tonight’s conductor denied that it would go along Morris Road or even pass the Thomas Gall School and tried telling me to go to a completely different platform. I was sure it was the right bus (Service No 381, if you’re interested), so I asked the driver who confirmed I was right. It was standing (and hanging on grimly) room only and the conductor again tried to tell me I was on the wrong bus. I reckoned the driver probably knew the route better than the conductor did and my faith in him was well-placed as he dropped me right outside my SL home.

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