Cairns

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So, my recent trip to Australia. The flight over wasn’t too bad, all told – I was way up the back of the plane, in the middle seats, so I had nothing to look at but the seat in front. So I watched the Chaser or whatever on my phone, for a bit… watched Die Hard 4 on the inflight entertainment system, then slept a bit. And so the trip actually passed relatively quickly… I didn’t sleep too well, but I did have the seat next to me free, so I had the illusion of more space (it turns out airline seats are specially designed so as to make it impossible to actually garner any useful space from a single spare seat… a brilliant and completely evil feat of design).

Anyway, bitchin’ aside, landing in Cairns was cool. No great epiphany, but stepping out of the plane into the heat & humidity was a very real reminder that I was in another place; that I was on holiday. And after a little standing by idly and unsure, I managed to locate Bobo, and we two headed to our hostel.

It was kinda odd seeing Bobo again – she was stuffing her face with some random pastry or whatnot 😛 and was just like “hi”… so much for a big welcome. 🙁 But then, we spent some 45 minutes waiting for the bus, because the directions I was given – which I followed perfectly – were, as it turns out, perfectly wrong. (the directions were directly from the bus driver himself, I believe, so… what can you do)

Once we’d dumped our crap in our room and noted the general facilities and whatnot, we headed off into town to check that out, and do a bit of general food shopping. Bobo was, as it turns out, also looking to organise some activity or -ties for her week. So we did that too.

Food shopping was my first little guilty pleasure on the return – ha-ha, Confectionary aisle!!!

I did pace myself though… only a couple of family blocks and some other assorted things… and they did last most of the week otherwise unfortified, so, I think I was rather restrained about it, all in all. 🙂

I also checked in with Pro Dive and picked up the textbook, which they suggested I, you know, read before starting the course. The next day. Totally unnecessary, as it turns out, but I did spend a bit of time that afternoon and evening working my way through the beginnings of it. A lot of it was just common sense behaviours, particular terminology, and bits of high school physics all over again (buoyancy and all that). Not tricky, but at 250 pages or whatever, not trivial. (I still haven’t finished it, even now, fwiw; I will eventually 🙂 )

Anyway, aside from that, dinner at the bar in the hostel – OMG real lasagne!!! – and hanging in the pool there… I think that was that night. I was expecting to be jetlagged from the flight, but wasn’t really at all.

The next day I was picked up in the wee hours of the morning (7am or something completely ridiculous 😉 ) and scooted off to Scuba School. There I started forgetting people’s names instantly, as we sat in one of the classrooms and went over all the basic theory I’d already read over the night before. Gaaah.

After lunch, we kitted up for the first time to get into the pool. Well, first we did a lot of assemble-your-crap then disassemble-your-crap, repeat, etc. But eventually we ended up in the pool. And it was all about basic theory – making sure you can breath through your mouth only (I’d never thought about it, but some people can’t even when upright; few people can when on odd angles or upsidedown), clear your mask, not freak out underwater, etc.

I remember it being hyped a bit about the feeling you get when you first breath underwater… didn’t do it for me, though… it was at that point still a bit uncomfortable – with all the gear – and I’m hardly unfamiliar with the water, so… ah well.

For the second ‘dive’ in the pool, we went down to the bottom of the deep pit – about 4 metres or so, I’m told. That was the part that had been worrying me the whole time leading up to this; that I’d had trouble with my ears before (re. equalising) and I was fearful it would prevent me diving. I’d been toying with various ways of equalising in the week or two leading up (and given myself a nice headache on one occasion) but unfortunately, as expected, I had a bit of trouble initially. I took it very slow – and felt like the dunce – going down… I was okay, but a little uncomfortable on the bottom. Then we did… whatever we did there; can’t recall – before doing the ascent. That part should be trivial, but I popped up (last again, yay me!) and was immediately informed my nose was bleeding. Awesome.

I didn’t know if I should get out of the pool at that point or what, but, no one seemed to be implying that, so, I guess there’s no blood rule in diving.

I skipped over, I now realise, the medical we did before we went in the pool. I was surprised at how thorough that was – a lung capacity test and ear tests, as well as discussion with a doctor over any potential issues. One of the things he asked me to do was stand, one foot in front of the other, with eyes closed for ten seconds. That was doable but slightly tricky, which didn’t help my low confidence anyway. That and one of the charts for my ears was all crazy looking, nothing like the other, which was similarly unnerving. That and the lung capacity test seemed to go poorly.

Yet, I passed supposedly. One person apparently didn’t, surprisingly – I don’t know whom, as I didn’t really know anyone at that point.

Anyway… so at the end of all that, as everyone was packing up, I was nearing the conclusion – in my own head – that things weren’t going well, and maybe I should cut my losses and just chill in Cairns for the rest of the week. That was a bit depressing to think about, having come all that way, but I’d been preparing myself for that eventuality and in all honest there’s worse things in life than ‘having’ to hang out in Cairns for a week. 😀

So I spoke to our instructor, Dave, briefly. He seemed completely unconcerned re. the blood nose and all, saying it was harmless and just a result of ascending too quickly, so I put off making a decision for one more day.

I was a bit depressed, nonetheless, when I returned to the hostel. Bobo had been out that day doing two reef dives, and was back before me. She was similarly in a somewhat disappointed mood – she didn’t think much of the diving there, compared to Thailand where she got her Open Water Cert. But she’d met a bunch of new people, of course, on the boat – so she suggested I go with her and crash their free beer & pizza shindig in town. Which we did. We were virtually the first there, though, and it took some time for people to slowly trickle in.

I had initially been psyched to go out, meet people, be all sociable… but then around the time we actually did, the novelty vanished. So I was a bit of a wet blanket… the guys we talked to initially – three Germans travelling together, plus a girl, Menya [Swedish?] – seemed alright up front… but quickly the Germans got a bit impatient in the absence of the promised beer & pizza, and started being a bit stupid. That included throwing one of the [plastic] pot glasses off the 2nd floor balcony, with people below… right in front of the bar’s manager, as it turns out. Brilliant. So, after getting the first & last warning… aie…

Anyway, both hungry for real Aussie food – pizza’s much the same, anywhere I’ve been – and rather turned off by present company, I excused myself and went off wandering Cairns in search of food and/or entertainment. Sadly, there wasn’t a whole lot of either that late (9pmish) on a Monday night… so ironically and somewhat sadly, I ended up eating by myself in a La Porchetta. Yes, I suck.

I noticed though, that by midnight or so when I went to bed, Bobo was still yet to return. I also couldn’t help but notice when I woke up in the morning, that she also was not there. 😉 Turns out she at least had a very good night, with one of the aforementioned Germans (sadly, the pot tosser, Philip). (and the next night, and probably the next… I had been worried going into the trip that she’d be bored and left-out while I was off doing my course, but clearly she’s capable of making her own entertainment 😛 )

Since we’re skirting that topic already, I’ll mention now the single most significant thing I miss from Australia, that I hadn’t even realised… I came to realise it as we were wandering around Cairns on Sunday. And it was: that Australia has girls. No, really. I’ve been living in the valley for so long that I’d actually forgotten what it’s like in Australia (or, probably, anywhere else on the planet… excepting Cooper Pedy). It reminded me that I don’t even have a female acquaintance here, let alone friend(s)… not that I don’t enjoy hanging with the guys, of course, but it does quite minimise the breadth of social modes.

Anyway… it was funny and extraordinary [and sad] that this unrecognised longing actually displaced chocolate as my #1 miss. Scary.

So, onwards… the second day actually turned out a whole lot better for me. I’d managed to buy a prepaid SIM the night before, in my wanderings, so I finally got that working in my iPhone and was able to send Bobo a message to call me and let me know she was okay – although she left her phone in the room, which I knew, so it was more a hope she’d actually return at some point and get in touch.

I should note at this point that I’d decided to unlock my iPhone before leaving for Australia, as a precaution. It turns out it was wise – my AT&T SIM refused to work in Australia; it would access the network just fine, but sending an SMS or attempting a call would just fail without explanation. I had no particular desire to waste money on a prepaid SIM, nor risk the phone by unlocking it, nor let my stupidly large accumulated credit go to waste ($180US and counting, woohoo!)… but I had no choice, ultimately. 🙁

Anyway, as I noted the second day was much better. We did some more pool work first up, and things went a lot better… I [more or less] finally found a way of equalising that worked for me, and got better at pre-emptively equalising too (well, as much as you can in a whole 4 metres). So I didn’t have nearly as much trouble going right to the bottom, and no trouble coming back up. The exercises we did – replacing weight belts and BCDs and all that, underwater – went really well for me, and I felt things were coming together.

We finished up the theory and tests – with the final exam – by the end of the day. I scored perfectly on the four tests and ‘exam’ we had… it was kind of funny to be back in a classroom scenario, and having tests, and fretting again about that one evil little mistake that would ruin a clean run. It was no great accomplishment to succeed in every question, given the tests were largely pretty easy – I think a large portion of the class similarly scored 100% – but still, it’s those little pleasures, isn’t it? 😀

So that was all much better than the first day, and now I was confident going forward, for the 3 day boat trip.

One random anecdote is that Monday night I’d walked back from the city centre to the hostel – only 20 minutes or so; I’d done it already with Bobo the day before, returning with our shopping – because I wasn’t sure if or when the hostel bus ran (it goes ’till 3am or something, it turns out… d’oh). Anyway, it rained for part of the way, which was really nice – it’s a warm rain, and the peacefulness of Cairns at night more than offset the minor discomfort of walking wet. But the funny part was when I walked into the hostel, I stopped briefly at the reception desk to ask them to turn on the air condition in our room (it’s all controlled centrally in reception, despite using discrete wall air conditioners in each room… go figure). The girl there, whom I hadn’t seen before, immediately asked accusingly “Is that sweat?“… I smiled it off and noted it was rain, and wandered off… but in hindsight I noted how amazingly blunt and weird – and somewhat insulting – that question was. Weird. 🙂

I can’t recall right now what happened Tuesday night… wait, yes I do. Bobo came along with me to the Reef Teach class, in town. It’d been recommended we check it out, so we’d have a basic knowledge of the types of coral and fish on the reef, and where to find particularly popular ones (who’s this Nemo character, anyway 😉 ). That was pretty cool – especially the whole primary-school pass-around of stuffed fish & coral… some were creepy, some were strange, some were scary… but it was very interesting, and I think did make a notable difference in my diving. So two hours well spent.

Ah yes, that’s right – we ran into Will, Laura & Allison, I believe it was, and the five of us hit up a random Sushi train Bobo & I had passed on Sunday. So I had Sushi for the first time. It was good, and bad – some things I liked, some I didn’t so much (mostly the fish; too salty or too much wasabi). But it was good to finally try it. (and it meant I was comfortable having it again earlier this week when F1 & I went out with F2 & Emily)

So yeah, that was that… I think I probably read more of the diving book, packed my bag for the boat trip, all that sort of junk… then it was a fairly early night, because I had to get up at 5am or something silly in order to catch my 5:45am lift, or whatever it was…

So the boat trip. The boat was pretty impressive – sleeps 38 or so, I think, and thus was much bigger than I’d expected as I had assumed the boat would carry just the class of 16. I hadn’t counted on it also having an Advanced class, snorkelers, and free divers. So we had I think around 36 or so, including crew… quite a bustling little boat, in the end.

The day before we’d all gone out, as a class, to grab lunch just around the corner from the Pro Dive shop (which we’d gone to in order to kit up, if we so desired… I very nearly bought a $150 Sharkskin, for fear of jellies and the thought of using it for skiing back here in California, but in the end the coin came up tails, so I didn’t)… anyway, while at lunch at the food court we all got to actually talk to each other a bit more, which was good. We had also stopped at a chemist, as Dave was strongly recommending everyone start taking sea-sickness tablets that night… the weather was a bit miserable, and there were warnings out for strong seas heading out to the reef.

I laughed at this initially, the idea of taking medication for sea-sickness; I’d never had it before in my life, at all, and considered myself experienced enough with boats. But then, I never used to get car sick at all either, until recent years where it’s occasionally occurred (minorly). So I was a bit unsettled by that… anyway, the point being that once we got underway, the reports turned out to be entirely accurate, and I did indeed not feel too good. Not that I was going to puke, but I was nauseous a little, and generally not feeling great. Apparently I was tinged green, too, so I was told.. so, on the way out I caved and took a tablet, though it probably did very little at that point. (I took a second a while later, from memory, too)

Most people didn’t handle it too well at all – the atmosphere went from social and excited to, well, morgue. I took the opportunity to photograph people, which I’m sure was loved. 😛

Henning & Rainer had particular trouble, I know… Tyler was sick a few times I think – he was a picture of happiness, sitting next to the toilet on the back deck 😀 – while others, like Nancy, seemed oblivious to the whole affair. At a few points the boat was actually rocking so much that water – not spray, the actual water – was hitting the windows on the main cabin. That’s two stories up, on a relatively small boat. Things were flying everywhere. (I took a photo of the coffee cups all strapped down… they very nearly went flying anyway, at one point.)

But we made it. Once we got to the first reef, sheltered as we were from the worst of the swell, people came back to life a bit. Plus, we had our first dive coming straight up – no time to dawdle!

I was only in the water all of a minute, and looking down from the surface for my first look at the reef, when I saw a little reef shark swim by, across the bottom. That was exciting at the time, as the first time I’d seen a shark in the wild and seemingly a very promising start. (as it turns out, white tipped reef sharks are everywhere, and many people saw them on each dive)

-~=% this is the point at which I stopped writing and slacked for a few weeks… it’s now after Christmas, and my memory is pretty hazy now %=~-

The dive went well… I can’t recall now exactly what we did – technical stuff that’s required. Our first four dives were all part of our open water certification, so there wasn’t so much site seeing.

Actually, I have a dive log, don’t I, so I can use that to remind me what we did… so our first dive was at ‘Petaj’ on Milln reef, where we went down to 12.1 metres for 24 minutes… we also spent time on the surface practising cramp removal, tired diver towing and snorkel/reg exchange… underneath it was basically all about learning to descend, attain neutral buoyancy, then return to the surface (with a practice safety stop).

After the dive we had lunch. At some point during this day I pulled some cards out (they had a stash of such things on the boat) and we begun playing poker, and cheat, and… well, we tried a few things actually, over the course of the first day. We also tried to play Pooface, but I’d just dealt all the cards and was literally about to play the first card when the call come out to kit up for the next dive. Gah!

So anyway, I think that call was for our second dive… so that was in the same place, this time to about 11.4 metres for 25 minutes… doing all the mask flooding, practising alternate air source stuff, etc. I think it was also the first dive where we had the option of descending without using the line (a rope from the boat down to a concrete block anchor on the bottom; used by noobs to control their descent, especially while they’re learning to equalise and control their buoyancy and all that.

We also practised a CESA (Controlled Emergency Swimming Ascent), which is what you do if you’re in 12 metres or less and need to ascend in an emergency; you basically just swim straight up, deflating your BCD as necessary and breathing out in one breath. I think we only did it from six metres or so… anyway, it’s not really that difficult, since as you ascend the air in your lungs expands, so while you might worry about running out of air you get a surprising amount of time. I suppose it has that slight mental block of worrying about the infamous decompression sickness, but the point was made pretty early on that such things are rare, and easily avoided (i.e. breathing out as you ascend).

Anyway… let’s see, according to my notes on the first dive I saw – in addition to that reef shark as we were getting in – a stingray, various sorts of coral – mainly stag & brain – a giant clam, and some Christmastree worms. And lots of fish, of course, but to my untrained eye they kinda look all alike. 🙂

The second dive we saw several more stingrays. They’re the blue spotted lagoon rays, fwiw; like the white tips they were everywhere we dived, just about.

And that concluded our diving for the first day, as noobs… there were another two dives (I think) that afternoon (and evening) for other divers on the boat, but for my group, it was back to playing cards.

Maybe my order of events is skewed – it might have been we first tried (and failed) to play Pooface before the first dive. Because I know we once again sat down to try it, and were interrupted yet again by a dive, which must have been the second. That or lunch, or whatever – anyway, sometime that night we did actually succeed in playing it… a few people knew of it under other less PG names, but I’ve discovered that there is a unique take on Pooface for every person on the planet (plus a few billion, probably, just to make it, you know, confusing). So every time a new player joined us, whom had played a variation before, we had to go over the rules again so we all at least agreed mostly on what we were doing.

Anyway, Pooface was a big hit. Especially the first day, when a lot of people were interested in at least trying it. Byron was the one rogue that went off and tried to train Tyler to play Canasta, and we all laughed at them when, hours later, he was still going over the rules. Really. I’m not familiar with the rules to Canasta, but evidently it requires an investment in time similar to studying, you know, Quantum physics.

I think it was that first night also that Danielle played a round or two with us, which was both rather nice and disastrous. Danielle’s one of the Pro Dive staff… she took the Advanced & rescue divers, I think, from memory… anyway, we’d chatted a bit at some random point because it had come up that I lived in Santa Clara, which was a wonderful coincidence (for me, at least 😉 ) because she lived in Santa Clara before moving to Cairns. Nice… so that gave me a plausible excuse to chat to her without having to think up a bad line and chicken out on it anyway. 😀

So yeah, I invited her to play Pooface at some point, late one night, and she brought all manner of new rules that turned it into some perverse sort of Uno (seven’s are skips? WTF?).. 🙂 And she was also rather… competitive, to say the least. She was quickly raising the bar from a fun game for drunks to World Championship Pooface, and I think she took my light critique of her arms racing as a bit of a broadside, which particularly sucked. But I don’t feel too bad about it; my first impression is normally so bad I never get a second, so I’m not well practised. 😉

I did mention earlier that I was a little gaga over the real life girls in Cairns, so, this shouldn’t be too surprising. 🙂

Anyway… I ended up going to bed more or less last, which I felt good about not for some arbitrary competition of lateness, but simply because it was a genuine symptom of a darn good night (there was quite a few of those in New Zealand, too, which still have the cake thus far 🙂 ).

I’m never going to remember what all this cryptic crap means, in five years. Kinda defeats the purpose of keeping a journal. But it’s amusing to me now, and that’s the important thing. 😉

So anyway, the next day I was woken up at something like 5:15 (which is to say, only a handful of hours after I went to bed) by general movement in the main cabin; my room was right off the main cabin (as were those of Bill & Nancy and Will & Laura), which was one of the reasons I hadn’t tried for an earlier night. Anyway, I felt a bit crap, from memory – largely from getting up so early, but likely compounded, by this stage, by dehydration. It was amazing how much water everyone went through on the boat… I normally drink 2-4 litres a day anyway, but I was easily pushing 6+ litres on the boat. And I was still horribly dehydrated the entire time. :/

So our first dive was at 7:10am… that’s right, in the water at 7:10am… it was barely light… we hadn’t even had breakfast yet. 🙁 That dive was to 18 metres – the deepest an Open Water Diver can go to – for 28 minutes, where we did a free descent, some compass work, and general touring of the reef. That was also at “The Whale” – still at Milln reef – which has a good reputation. I don’t think we saw the best of it, as trainees – the Advanced divers had a night swim there, from memory, among others… they probably got to check it out good and proper.

Anyway, on that dive we got to see an angry little lionfish, guarding its rock… seriously, it apparently has (and will continue to) lived on that one rock for it’s entire life. Yikes, talk about sedentary. There were also a bunch of moray eels, more of our friendly blue spotted lagoon rays, some sea cucumbers of various shapes, more coral of assorted types, and some reasonably big Napoleon Maori Wrasse… which a few people got pretty excited about, but to me they look like giant big grey dumb fish. Sorry Wrasse, but you’re just not hip. 😛

After that first dive, we got breakfast… there was something in the middle there.. I think the paperwork for all our dives and whatnot, talks about our upcoming night dive, stuff like that. No doubt there was also Pooface. We also moved to Flynn reef, to the “Tennis Courts”. That’s where we did our second dive of the day, the fourth of our diving careers, and the last of our Open Water Cert dives. There we went down to 15.7 metres for 30 minutes, redoing a bunch of our basic skills things again, but mostly just checking the reef out. I think we were now allowed to swim off by ourselves a bit, so Bill & I went around looking for, I dunno, Jaws or whatever. 😀

This was the first time I caught a glimpse of a green sea turtle, too. I believe this was the one that we saw as we were swimming back to the boat (on the surface); it was down on the reef about twelve metres below, chewing on some coral. Although you couldn’t see a whole lot from there – everything was green and fuzzy, so it might as well have been a level from Quake II – it was a kinda cool experience… I begun to realise I would quite like to see a turtle up close.

After each dive there was of course the obligatory “how’d it go? what’d you see?” and so forth amongst everyone. It always surprised me, the variety of stuff seen and how one pair could see such a cool thing, while no one else did. When you think about it we’re all swimming within a few tens of metres of each other, yet my experience was often completely different to most other peoples’. I noticed pretty quickly once we were diving that it’s really hard to actually take in everything around you – you just miss so much. I understand it’s one of those things that comes with practice, and for most of the dives on our three day trip I was still getting to grips with the mechanics – buoyancy control, breathing control, etc. So yeah… I felt I missed out on heaps. At some point in particular I remember someone – can’t recall who – noting that they’d seen, up close, a giant nautilus. Of all the things I really wanted to see on the trip (that I hadn’t already, at that point, I guess), the nautilus was clearly #1. Yet I never did, not even a little one. 🙁

So anyway… on that last dive, aside from the turtle, I also saw lots of bicolour angelfish, mushroom & moon coral (in addition to the pervasive stag & brain that was everywhere), as well as some more [but small] giant clams. The giant clams are also pretty common on the reefs we dove upon.

So that was it; suddenly I was now, apparently, fully qualified to dive to 18 metres in open water, anywhere in the world (more or less). Yikes. I certainly didn’t feel like it.

I also didn’t think we’d really gone that deep. I’d heard from a few people that you really start to feel the depth at about 18 metres (though just starting, there)… I didn’t, really. You still get a lot of light from the surface at 18 metres, and when you look up the distortion makes it seem like you’re only in maybe eight or ten metres, if you’re naively guessing. I tested myself at odd occasions on depth perception, and found I was pretty good… you take what you might instinctively guess, then more or less double it.

Anyway… so, it then came time to decide whether to do the Adventure Diver course or not… there weren’t enough dives left on the boat (give you have to do at least one 30 metre dive) to complete an Advanced Open Water Cert; we’d only be able to do three or four of the five required. But the Adventure Cert, which gives you the same key 30 metre dive limit as the Advanced, required only three dives.

I kinda wanted to just check out the reef itself at this point, since I really felt I was missing out by spending so much time on technical diving, but then… I figured that 30 metres does open up a lot more options for future diving, plus all this talk of getting narked was piqueing my morbid sense of curiosity. 😀

“Narked” or “being narked” is a phenomenon that occurs at a certain depth, with some people, which isn’t well understood in terms of its cause… one hypothesis is that pressure on the brain leads to its symptoms… in any case, it’s harmless and dissipates quickly as you ascend… it’s kind of like being drunk, I’m told. People do very odd (and dangerous) things while narked, like offering their regulators to fish and whatnot. All the standard kind of stuff that drunk people would do if submerged in 30 or 40 metres of water, as you can imagine. As you can further imagine, I’m sure, it’s a very dangerous thing; the difference between 18 and 30 metres is that you cannot likely survive an emergency ascent from 30 metres; you might neither make it to the surface nor avoid complications like nitrogen sickness. So

-~=% whoops, I took another break… welcome to February… I can’t remember much detail now, so, half of this will no doubt just be rehashed from my dive book %=~-

So.. narkedness… Jill was afflicted pretty bad, it seemed. But that was the next day; we’re still on Thursday.

So, I decided in the end to go for the Adventure Cert. I really wanted to just take it easy at this point, and actually try to see more of the reef – snorkel as well – but then I also figured, hey, I’m here now… maybe one day down the track I’ll get the opportunity to do a dive, but it’ll be >18m… so I went with the Adventure Cert. One less dive, and more technical work… but not a whole lot; it’s basically just about night diving, more advanced navigation and more cautionary, deeper diving.

So, dive #5. That was at Gordon’s Mooring on Flynn reef, and we went down to 12.5 metres, only for 20 minutes or so. A fair bit of that was technical – the instructor gives you a direction, you calibrate your compass, swim ten metres, then return, ostensibly using only your compass… kinda easy to cheat, though I didn’t, fwiw. I messed up the compass work at one point, on one of the dives… I don’t think this one; I think it was a Friday dive. Anyway, clearly I did need to pay attention at this point.

So, from memory after the brief compass stuff, we got to swim off on our own [in pairs] and site see. We’d been told this route to follow, up through the “Fish bowl” and then in and around “Mickey Mouse”, so we did that… heading up the Fish bowl we swam over several white tipped reef sharks just resting on the bottom… at first I was hesitant to go near them, since ’till then I hadn’t actually seen them close up, and it seemed a bad idea to swim directly at them – which is what we more or less did, given they were right in our path – but they just watched us warily, and kept their distance from us. I felt apologetic for disturbing them… but it was really cool to swim so close.

Other notes I made in my log book include a “cool purple giant clam (~20cm)”, which I vaguely recall as being an especially nice looking giant clam… I’d already seen a bunch by this point, I’m sure, but this one was better somehow… more purpley or somesuch, I dunno… we also saw two green sea turtles, just swimming around, which was really cool…. not very close, though. I also spotted what I thought might be a Nemo clownfish, but I made the note in the dive book that it had a false eye on the tail, so, presumably just one of the many impostors out there.

The last note for this dive is “Too much to see; not enough time.”. It was very true… it was as good a dive site as promised, but we just didn’t get enough time. Bill & I were pairs from the start, as more or less the biggest people in the group, and that seemed indicative of how much air we used – we were both sporting the largest capacity tanks available, nearly twice the size of the smallest ones some people were using – and had them filled right up, yet we were both going through air much faster than pretty much everyone else. Some pairs were able to dive for up to an hour, bottom time… though at least in Byron’s case – nicknamed thusly ‘Air slut’ – it was largely because he insisted on buddy-breathing off up to three others divers during the course of the dive, to offset his own supply.

I wish I’d thought of that. 🙂

At one point Will & Laura also had a really long dive – 50 minutes bottom time, or somesuch, though they were only 5-8 metres for most of that, I believe – which led them miles downcurrent from the boat… they got a lift from Masa in the launch, which I felt was terribly cheating :P… but I was envious they’d had so much time, and explored so far.

Anyway, digression… so, that Thursday we did one last dive – our night dive – starting at 7:40pm. Same place. Some people say night dives are the best… some say they suck. It’s true there are some things you see only at night, and it is a different experience, but, for the most part the reef is asleep at night, so you don’t see nearly as much variety as during the day. You have flashlights, and little glowsticks attached to your tank so others can see you. Dave’s briefing for this dive was pretty hilarious; he tried to make out that it was very serious, which he did actually convey well – I think everyone got the point not to muck about irresponsibly – but at the same time everything was just a build up for a joke… case in point, what to do if a shark starts harassing us; form a circle around the instructor – and Dave went through all the special hand motions that would indicate this, all very straight faced – to form a “ring of steel”… then he’d give us all the signal to turn around and face outwards… allowing him and the other instructors to quickly swim up, back to the boat, using us as shark bait. 🙂

So anyway… the night dive… we saw mostly sea cucumbers – some pretty cool and scary ones – as well as some weird box/puffer fish which I couldn’t classify from any of the books we had onboard… Jill saw it too; she pointed it out to me, I think. I got a photo of it on a later dive… more on this later…

I also noted I saw a big Maori wrasse, ~1metre long. Can’t remember that as such, though… I do remember the ascent back to the boat. While we were sitting there at 5m for a bit, a couple of Grey whaler sharks were circling around us. That was, again, one of those “should I be worried? I think I’m worried?” moments… but they didn’t give as any trouble of course.

All in all I didn’t mind the night dive, but just found it was relatively quiet compared to the day.

I can’t recall what we did that night… I think by then Pooface was reduced to just the core four or so of us that could hack it in such copious quantities… I seem to recall many people had an early night.

The next day we were up at stupid hours again for our first dive, which would be our deepest yet – up to 30m – and again at Gordon’s mooring (though diving, specifically, at the “Little Sisters”)…

I also forgot, at one point – dive #3, perhaps? – we had a depth limit of 18 metres, as unqualified / open water divers, and Dave said whoever gets to exactly 18 metres gets like a Mars bar or somesuch, but anyone who goes beyond 18 metres has to eat a Vegemyte cracker. Hardly a meaningful punishment, in my eyes – at least make it a whole jar, I mean c’mon… I think there were four people who exceeded 18m, three of which were Maria, Henning and Rainer. Watching them procrastinate over this stupid little Vegemyte Savoy, for I think it was something like an hour in Maria’s case, was just bemusing and bizarre… in the end they all did eat them, and they made such a fuss… bloody tourists. 😛

So anyway, our first dive on Friday was at 6:20am… urgh… and was pretty straightforward… we made our way down to 28.2 metres (in my case), where we did a couple of experiments. One was having us – I think there was six of us, with Dave – count to twenty [seconds] in our heads, and indicate when we thought that much time had passed. The point being to compare your estimate of time with the surface; apparently a big variation indicates you were slightly narked. I’m usually pretty good at measuring time, so I wasn’t surprised that I hit 21s both on the dive and afterwards, on the boat. No narking for me. Jill, on the other hand… ha! Everyone but her had their hands up, and was looking at her, and she was just floating there, seemingly oblivious to the rest of the world… I think it was 52 seconds when she finally put her hand up. I thought she was foolin’, but she swore afterwards that she really did think that was 20 seconds. But then her time on the surface was 31 seconds or somesuch, anyway, so…

We didn’t see a whole lot on that dive – despite having a bottom time of 24 minutes – because it was pretty sandy where we were. Dave led us around a few little coral outbursts [from the sandy bottom], where we saw a surprising number of big morays – three or four on the one outcrop, in one case, which must have been territorially tense – as well as a big lionfish. Lionfish are kind of cool, I guess… but all they do is sit there… meh.

We also swam over, at one point, a rusted anchor [and part of its chain] half-buried on the bottom. I joked that we’d visited a shipwreck, afterwards, back on the boat… but so few people had seen the anchor at all, most had no idea what I was on about. Way to ruin a good joke you unobservant sods. 😛

Perhaps that’s indicative of how much my general perception had improved since our first dives… though I doubt it. I felt better, that I was able to take more in, but I still felt like I was missing so much right in front of me.

So, because we’d had such a long, deep dive – technically we’d exceeded safe limits for manual diving, but because we had dive computers we didn’t actually, given we started ascending, very slowly, pretty much as soon as we’d gotten to 30m and finished the counting test… good thing Jill didn’t take any longer. 😉

Anyway… so because of all that, we could only have one more dive that morning. That one was at 10:22am, and was the last of the Adventure dives… I chose, like pretty much everyone else, to go the ‘Photography’ specialisation, which is a bit of a joke because it essentially is just taking a camera on a dive… no real photographic training of any sort. Dave did take us over the basics of underwater photography – don’t use flash if you can possibly avoid it, steady your breath first, don’t mindlessly smash into the reef while focusing on some sea snail, etc… common sense, for the most part.

Thought even I was surprised by how much the flash was useless – it’s so easy to stir up sediment when you’re near the bottom… several times on this last dive I had extremely carefully glided over to something on the bottom, and was just trying to get the right moment, when someone else would plop down randomly beside me, and half-bury what I was photographing. Grrr.

So, this last dive… we saw quite a lot, though it was still relatively short at 29 minutes [bottom time]… I remember seeing a couple of blue spotted rays swimming around each other… ‘fighting’, you know.. 😉 Heaps of little fish of all colours and types, of course… sea cucumbers, the evil spiky ones… more giant clams, naturally.

And a sea snail! I hadn’t seen any the whole time ’till this point, and then I finally spotted two on a coral outcrop. I tried to get a photo – they look really cool – but the camera was at about 8cm, and we were right along a deeper section so the current was strong… it didn’t turn out so well. 🙁

Oh, and now that I read my log book I see this is the dive where I saw the Leopard fish thing a second time – and I got a photo of it, even! Most of the similar-coloured fish of this type, in our identification books, had a similar kind of Leopard-print to them, but only four or so sections over the length of their bodies… not a fine pattern like this one… Anyway… I’m still, all these months later, unsure what its name is. In the absence of existing documentation, I can only assume it’s a previously undiscovered species… thus, in scientific tradition I claim naming rights… and hereby name this species… Bob. 😉

Actually, I have called him Hexafish for now, which I like.

I think from memory it was this dive that I actually had a fair bit of air left by the end… I’d been working, the whole trip, on reducing my air usage – which is kind of hard because that’s a rather abstract goal, and the training from the start is “deep, long breaths”, which is hardly conducive to limited air usage… anyway… Bill had less luck, so in the end I think he more or less ran completely out… I remember I’d been asking him how his air was, and once it hit 50 I signed for us to go up, but he insisted we stay down… by the time we surfaced he had virtually nothing… I really appreciated that; he felt bad on some of our dives that we finished up because he was low on air – he’d said as such, and apologised – but although it did suck that our dives were so short, I was never far behind in any case, and in a way I was glad it wasn’t me being the limiter. As it was, I appreciated his concern, but was nonetheless a little miffed that he’d pushed on with low air… granted we were only in five metres or so by that point, so it wasn’t really a safety issue, but still…

Stupidly, I was mostly upset that I hadn’t used up the full capacity of the camera, which in hindsight is a completely retarded metric for the quality of a dive. As it was, a) many of the photos just sucked anyway, because I’m not a good diver yet, and b) the reason I didn’t fill the capacity was because we simply didn’t see as much as I’d wanted… I wish I’d had the camera on one or two of the earlier dives, instead. Ah well.

The various specialities you could choose as an Adventure Diver were, essentially, Underwater Navigation, Photography and Naturalist. Given the natural indistinction between a photographer and a naturalist, the joke was that “naturalist” divers did so naked. 😉 Dave told the story of a group where he said that line – I imagine it gets reused a lot – and the one girl in the group responded, optimistically, “Really?!”. Apparently they actually did convince her to dive naked, and while (on her ascent) someone on the boat did throw her a towel for modesty, she suddenly found herself in the midst of a jacuzzi, as another dive group returned to the boat from below her… a classic, if perhaps tall, story. 🙂

So, that concluded our diving for the trip, the week, and thus far in my life – though I look forward to the next opportunity, whenever that may be.

After we returned from the dive – and this was the one where Will & Laura tried to swim back to Cairns on their own 😉 – we packed up the boat and headed back to Cairns. The weather was crap again, and once more the cabin turned into a morgue for all the queasy people scattered about… I think in general though – and I especially, if no-one else – handled it much better this time, simply from having been on the boat for the three days and gotten used to the rocking. So, the trip back wasn’t so bad.

It was kinda sad to be finishing up… it’d been a really fantastic trip, and more than once I’d fantasised about quitting my day job and becoming a dive instructor.. Dave in fact was in I.T., in London, for years, before throwing that in and moving to Cairns. In a strange way it gives me comfort – it reminded me that I’m still relatively young 😉 and can survive a career change down the track, if need be. It’s a bizarre kind of safety.

So, the tradition is that each dive group gets together and has dinner the night they return, as a last goodbye and all. I went back to the hostel from the boat, to chill for a bit… I may have napped for a while, I can’t recall. I think Bobo was there, chillin’ out in the room, reading magazines and somesuch… it was more or less the first time I’d seen her since Monday, I think. 🙂

She declined my invite to join me at dinner – quid pro quo and all – so I went off alone. I randomly met Byron, Allyson, Patricia, Karen & June on the way to the bar at the marina, which was really fortunate because initially they wouldn’t let me in, on account of wearing thongs. However, being as I was accompanied by four beautiful girls, they eventually had no choice but to relent. Haha, suckers! 😀

Though I wonder if I should be worried that this situation has been replayed more than one in my life… hmm… 🙂

So anyway… we hung there for a while, until it came time to wander over to the restaurant for dinner. It took a fair while for people to rock up… I chatted with [other] Allison, Marion, Katie & Kiran for the earlier part of the night… [[ I apologise if I screwed up the names… I’m reasonably sure that’s right, from memory… I can remember faces, but the names are transient… ]]

Marion was completely out of the blue; from Toronto where she has some day job, but otherwise lives to ride horses, and also plays Halo 3 hardcore regularly. Whaaaa…? A girl that, more than merely plays Halo, actually plays on Legendary, and enjoys the campaign more than competitive multiplayer… I think I’m in love. 😉

Nah… we did kind of hit it off well enough on that, simply because I could scarcely believe it. Alas, the fates would have it that Ross’ Xbox Live subscription ran out more or less while I was away, so my rough intent to suggest we play together sometime fell through… I don’t like Halo 3 that much anyway. 🙂

People trickled out relatively early, I felt – people were leaving by 10pm. A few of us – Byron, Dave, Masa, Danielle, … damnit, there was someone else too… anyway, it ended up being just this little group of us, by midnight or somesuch, so we headed off – given the restaurant/bar we were in was closing, oddly – in search of other bars.

I had to laugh when we eventually ended up in this particular bar that had been advertising all week about a bikini model championship they were having, and it turns out that yes, it was that Friday. We turned up right as the last girl was objectifying herself. Funny thing before that, though, was one of the bouncers; I was expecting trouble again – the whole thongs thing – but the bouncer looked at my [Australian] drivers license and says “hey, I’m from Mt. Eliza”, and I’m like “sweet”, and he’s like all letting me through… nice. 😀

It wasn’t a bad bar, I guess, though it was completely standing room only – ah ha, Will & Laura were there too! – because of the comp. And of course we got there as it was finishing, as noted, and immediately afterwards they had a Queens beauty comp, which to be honest I think was better, because at least that was funny… the bikini models seemed very plastic and I was completely unconvinced that their idea of a great Friday night out is in a sleazy pub being ogled, half naked, by two hundred guys. I mean, each to their own and all, but… no, sorry, I’m not buying it.

Now, of course, I had a lot of pressure on me this night, because unexpectedly we were now a relatively small group, and Danielle was still with us, all dressed up and looking even hotter than before, which was pushing the limits of possibility. Unfortunately, we had splintered into dive instructors and noobs, so… it was cool nonetheless chatting with Will, Laura & Byron… I still have a feeling I’m missing someone… but anyway… yeah, no Danielle. *pout* She was being mildly harassed the whole time by some other Pro Dive dude whom hadn’t been on our boat, which she seemed ambivalent about, but that was enough to ward me off. Yep, I still suck.

So, eventually we decided to end the night with but a fizzle. It had been a good night, though. It had been a good trip. I hadn’t really felt like I’d hugely needed a holiday, I don’t think… it was more opportunistic and the desire to catch up with friends & family… but the random diversion to Cairns, to dive, turned out to be a really, really good one. 🙂

After all that, in the wee hours, I went into the town centre to where the hostel bus picks up, and waited. It turned out the three Swedes were there waiting too, whom I’d met earlier in the week, over breakfast, via Bobo. She can’t recall their names either now, though. 🙂 It was two sisters and one of their boyfriends… yet between Bobo & myself talking to them on different occasions, we couldn’t figure out who was with who or what the deal was… I realised on the last night, as they were asking me things I’d already told them at least once before, that they probably didn’t understand English nearly as well as they made out, and that then explained why our conversations were so generally weird. 🙂

The bus took ages… I can’t recall why, but I missed the first one even, because there were more people waiting than it could carry. I grabbed an orange juice from the bar nearby. I also chatted for a bit with some random girl… June, I think her name was? Anyway, she was German, heading south down the coast; had been up to Port Douglas the day before, etc… I dished out my standard travel advice (stay away from Sydney, Melbourne rules 😉 ) and was actually quite enjoying being generally social, but it was late and she went straight to bed when we arrived at the hostel… and there were few other people around, at that hour. So, I too went to bed. I think… Bobo was probably already there; I can’t recall.

The next day we didn’t do a whole lot, Bobo & I… she had a flight to catch at some point, so I think we just sort of bummed about, relaxing in or by the pool, etc… I’m not usually a resort bum, but I guess I was pretty tired by now, and Bobo wasn’t feeling well (she reminds me now) so, yeah… I saw her off in the afternoon, then at some point went into Cairns to grab dinner. I wandered through town a bit just sightseeing – got the photos to prove it – and presumably headed back relatively early to get some sleep. It may have been this night that I was social on the bus, though… I can’t remember, and Bobo is being most irresponsible in not remembering the details of my private life either. 😛

[[ Bobo’s online, and I’m throwing questions at her randomly, as I write this. It’s an interesting coincidence, because she’s currently online planning our her upcoming holiday with Harry and Philip – yes, Cairns Philip ]]

Anyway… the next day I had my flight out, which was kinda… I was looking forward to seeing everyone, of course, but… Cairns… damnit, why can’t Apple build their new campus in Cairns?!?

My Melbourne trip will be the subject of another entry… if I can remember enough that it’s not just a collection of disordered anecdotes. 🙂

Also, I’ve put up the final set of photos from Cairns… I’d put off doing it initially because I couldn’t remember peoples’ names, but, hell, there’s no chance that’ll improve now, so… to all those un- or mis-named, we salute you. 🙂

Also, I forgot to mention that at some point on the last day, or maybe the day before – think it was the last day though, between the two dives – I went snorkelling for a bit. That was really cool – I saw way more snorkelling than diving. Well, no sharks or anything – they’re generally found deeper – but in terms of coral and fish and all… you naturally see more closer to the surface because there’s more light, and that’s also where you tend to get the most coral. And there’s no limit on your air, either, so you can take it easy, check things out at leisure, etc… it was really cool. In all honest I think if you want to see the most of the reef, snorkelling is the way to go. Diving was fun and challenging, and I certainly saw things you wouldn’t really see from the surface necessarily, but… for pure sightseeing snorkelling is where it’s at.

A glass-bottomed boat would be sweet, too.

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