From Madras to Manila

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Diving 101

I don't like the sea very much.

It has too much salt. And the sand gets between your toes and into your clothing, making sure to harm your softest parts after you dry out, at which point you are also really sticky and your hair has the texture of a scooter helmet. It will take an hour-long bath, with moisturized soap, shampoo and conditioner to return to normal. And then your skin will peel from the sun and the salt and people will run from you in terror for the next fortnight.

No, I'm not a beach person.



Snorkeling, so called because of the sound you make when you mistakenly ingest a snootful of sea water instead of the life-giving air you expected, is a life-changing experience. The colours, the corals and the dazzling array of sea life makes all the pain worthwhile. And the very first time I went into the water with mask and flippers - Boracay - I was hooked!

So when our friends Jimbo and Martha invited us on our maiden dive at Anilao, we jumped at the opportunity.

The Pier Uno Resort

Pier Uno was the lovely dive resort we stayed at. Managed by the very friendly Chiko, this charming little place has cozy little rooms, some pretty decent food (including an absolutely heavenly mango dessert) a great view, little outdoor wooden huts that are ideal for chilling out in, a karaoke room (!) and of course all the dive equipment you could need.

We arrived bright and early on Saturday morning, looking forward to a lazy Saturday mentally preparing for our big adventure on Sunday when we were informed that the big adventure would actually take place in a couple of hours and could we please get ready in, like, fifteen minutes so we could get going already?

Preparing for the Dive

Diving, as we quickly discovered, is not quite the picnic we hoped it would be. For one, as this was our introductory dive, we'd have to sit and take lessons from Jimbo, our certified-dive-master friend. The lessons included some pretty sinister info about the physics of diving which they illustrate with pictures of an air-filled balloon slowly shrinking in size as it moves deeper underwater, the implication being of course that the air balloon could be us, if we didn't pay attention in class. I didn't quite feel up to shrinking much beyond my 50 kg frame so I sat in rapt attenton and listened.

Over the next hour or so, we learnt the basics of diving, which can be summarized as below:

  1. Don't descend too fast or your ears will burst and the blood will encourage nearby sharks to make a meal of you. You must 'equalize' every couple of feet (pop your ears like in a flight) to keep descending
  2. Don't ascend too fast or all the air dissolved in your bloodstream will expand, making your blood resemble a fizzy cola, causing you excrutiating pain and bloodletting, leading to a similar result as in point 1. This is called the 'bends'
  3. Staying in place is difficult due to the body's natural tendency to sink or float, necessitating the use of weight belts and a humungous inflationan / deflation jacket that presumably will help you control your movements
  4. You must breathe only through the regulator in your mouth because inhalation through any other orifice will have unpleasant consequences such as death by drowning
  5. Now that you know point 4, remember to keep calm as breathing too rapidly will cause you to shoot up like a rocket resuting in point 1
  6. Every so often your mask will fill up with sea water and you will have to expel the water wherever you are (20, 40 or 100 feet below the surface) so tilt your head at a 45 degree angle upwards, gently lift the mask and breathe out through your nose. Breathe in through your mouth and repeat as often as required. DO NOT DO IT THE OTHER WAY ROUND. And, oh yes, keep calm
  7. If your regulator should happen to slip off your mouth, like if you go open-mouthed with awe at the underwater beauty, keep calm - a recurring theme - continue to breathe out slowly (because you should never hold your breath underwater due to the possiility of the fizzy cola effect), swing your arm back and up and voila! the offending tube will be back in your arms and, presumably, in your mouth before you can snork out 'Jack Robinson'
  8. Take in the scenery, relax and have fun

Got that? Good.

The Equipment

First, let's get used to the flippers (or 'fins' as they are called here), which is, of course, nothing like the free-and-easy activity it looks like on National Geographic. For starters, they take the skin off your heels, not a pleasant experience at the best of times, but in salt water it's about at par with having your fingernails pulled out. And they are so damn ungainly - you need to make wide leg movements to get anywhere at all, and that's not even in the direction you intended to go.

Once you have lied to the dive master about your degree of comfort with the flippers, you move on to the 'real' dive equipment - wet-suit, mask, flippers, BCD (Buoyancy Control Device - the inflation / deflation jacket mentioned earlier), scuba tanks, regulator (with spare) and weight belts. All in all, you've added about 25 kg to your body weight. The advantage of this is that you're that much more willing to plunge into the water, if only to take the load off your knees.

Taking the Plunge!

We went into the water in the classic dive style - pushed backwards into the water when we weren't looking. And then Jimbo gave us the signal we'd been waiting for - 'Dive!'

The next 30 mins passed in the following carefully orchestrated activities performed at pre-determined depths:

1 foot: I forget all that we'd learnt that day

2 feet: My ears start singing and I start equalizing like my life depended on it (OK, I remembered something!)

3 feet - 4 feet, 4 ft - 2 ft, 2 ft - 5 ft, 5 ft - 3 ft ... 10 feet: I bob up and down like a cork, alternating between ear ache, floatation control and trying to clear my mask. And the scenery? Well couldn't see much of that, what with all the bubbles I had around my head as I hyperventilated

10 feet to 20 feet: Jimbo grabs my BCD and shoves me down to the seabed, where I perch on my knees uncertainly, the slightest movement threatening to send me shooting to the top.

It is that this point that I first look around me and see Sandi, who's been at this level for the last 10 minutes feeding the fish and having her picture taken. I also see some fish.

20 feet to 0 feet: My rather bewildered brain finally registers that fact that, unless I were to grow gills in the next few minutes, there's nothing to breathe formiles around and that my flesh-and-blood existance depends solely upon a 2 cm wide tube whose supply could, at any moment, sputter and die - and me shortly thereafter. So I do what any sane person would do when faced with that realisation - I tear off my regulator, snork a snootful and shoot for the surface!

And thus ended my introductory dive.


We're planning to get certified now, which means I will take another 8 to 10 stabs at this, culminating in a final (not literally, I hope) effort down to 60 feet, at which point we will get our diving certificates.



  • Awesome blog! and great all your articles (starting late but caught up fully)..good, now here's a nice way to keep tabs on you folks..till they fix google earth to zoom into your party places :-)


    By Blogger Indipower, at 7:14 PM  

  • Bonjour, if you have stashed food or bicycle or liquor bottles please make it on my name for safe keeping when you go diving, thought I still do hope you dont becomes sharky's next meal. I dont know whats the deal with you people, havent walked for 30 years and want to take panga with sharks in their habitat, god save you. Remember if we were meant to go underwater we would have some gills like waterworld, and if we were meant to fly we would have some wings unlike Icarus.
    Well enjoy your diving, say hi to jaws and sharks tale for me and did i say piranhas.....
    you have a flair for writing, god given talent, like lata mangeskars vocal cords, make it count and continue having fun.

    By Blogger adarsh adarsh, at 12:16 AM  

  • still one of the funniest pictures...head on the full thing

    By Blogger Sumit, at 9:22 PM  

  • Hey - if I could make it, you can too...

    Stick at it - absolutely brilliant pastime once you get the hang of it. And make sure you get to Coron at the north end of Palawan - not only will the scenery make you just die at its beauty, there is brilliant diving. And ensure they take you to Cathedral Cave when you are there...

    *sigh* - miss it!

    By Blogger Kate, at 3:41 PM  

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