My amazing week in Australia… so far

These past few days have been absolutely amazing! The day before I left on the liveaboard, I signed up a tour that came highly recommended – “Uncle Brian’s”. It came highly recommended by other travellers, and when I went online to read reviews, one blogger wrote, pay whatever they’re asking – it’s worth it! The brochure advertised “fun, fun, fun!” and to bring your singing voice aboard “Gus the magical bus”. I was pretty skeptical it would be “fun, fun, fun” (maybe just “fun”), but something magical did indeed occur! I don’t know how or what happened, but something about the tour guide’s energy is just infectious, and by the end of the day, we were all singing along to the songs on the bus! It reminded me of all the great road trips I’ve taken with my girlfriends.

Gus the magical bus

The tour itself went to some scenic places, but it was really only the backdrop to an experience that I would go as far as to say was life changing. Some of the things we saw and experienced were so bizarre taken out of context, that if I write about them here, it wouldn’t really make sense – you’d have to go on the tour yourself to really know. The feeling of being “high” that I felt during the tour (and without drugs, I’m happy to report), I remember thinking I wanted it to last. I would love to inspire that feeling of comraderie in others.

Atherton tablelands

So now, I’m back from working on the liveaboard, and didn’t puke once! Though now I’m feeling a little “land-sick”, and keep leaning to one side when I walk. I would have to say working on the liveaboard was one of the best experiences of my life! Every day was a long day, with only 30 minutes break from 7:20 AM to 9:00 PM; if I did the morning dive and stayed up to socialize with the crew, days were even longer from 5:50 AM until 11:00 PM. There were lots of trying moments, like trying to keep my sea sickness at bay while vacuuming under beds and cleaning bathrooms – concentrating on areas inside cramped interiors while being assaulted by the smell of cleaning agents certainly don’t help! But it was all worth it, without a doubt! I actually got off fairly easy, as the company guarantees that we volunteers can do 2 dives a day; because there weren’t so many passengers on board (at one point we had 10 passengers and 12 crew!), I could have potentially done 4 dives in a day some days. I was diving so much that I actually dreamt I was diving!

Girls’ crew quarters. Not too shabby! Plus delicious meals three times a day – I’ve become quite spoiled now

The first dives I did were quite stressful, as I’ve never dived without a guide. Most people dived in buddy pairs unless they hired a guide – I could tag along if I didn’t have a buddy, but the main reason the company looks for certified dive volunteers is so they don’t have additional burden on the dive masters. And I also didn’t have much experience free descending, especially since I’m quite slow to equalize, adding to my anxiety. On top of that, apparently I have tiny feet that are too small for all the women’s fins they had on board – I had to wear children’s fins! So of course it took me a lot more effort to swim through surface chop with my small fins, and to keep up during the dive, making me slurp up air pretty fast. Before the trip, I didn’t consider myself a good diver, but after getting in 11 dives, bringing the total up to 27, I feel much more confident and comfortable in the water. I also thought I was good on air but really I’m not! Japanese girls are amazing on air! I usually dived with Japanese girls working on the boat, and on one dive (we start with 200 bar), I returned with 30 bar (below the 50 bar safety rule of thumb). Kana, the Japanese girl I was the closest to on the boat, and did almost all my dives with, returned with 100 bar!!! And she was diving deeper than me for most of the dive to boot.

Kana and I

Dive briefing

The biggest things that improved my diving was figuring out I was way overweight (too many weights on my belt) and learning to relax and not be so stressed during descent. By removing 33% of the lead weight I was carrying, I was no longer swimming vertically, so I used less effort (and air) to swim through the water. And the bubbles leaving my mouth were no longer continually bumping my mask around, forcing me to stop and constantly clear my mask. All I need now is a reliable set of fins that fit my tiny feet. Well, a whole scuba set up would be nice 🙂 But don’t know if I’m that serious about it.

Kana had an underwater digital camera, so I’m waiting impatiently for her to email me the photos she took. There’s one of me petting a giant humphead maori wrasse 🙂 We saw so many amazing things under water – white tip reef sharks (both during the day and night dive), lion fish, clown fish, pipe fish, sea turtles, juvenile wrasse (which looks like a spotted clown fish), painted lobster, parrot fish, and on and on… On our last dive, a school of huge parrot fish swam by – absolutely amazing, and the three of us diving together just hovered, while I stared almost slack jawed and breathless. What a great last dive!

I had wanted to volunteer on the Taka that goes out to Cod Hole and Osprey Reef (heard raves about it), but all the slots are filled up until October. Also, people told me if I’m getting queasy on Ocean Quest, I would definitely get sick on Taka… But the diving is supposed to really spectacular, as opposed to just “nice” on the shorter length liveaboards out of Cairns. Lucky Kana got on Taka for September 16, the date that was open to me earlier, but I didn’t have the minimum number of logged dives at the time. I could easily see myself doing the work/dive thing for several weeks, though I couldn’t really see doing it for years. I chatted with one divemaster, who said he’s almost diving just out of habit, and is unsure whether he’ll continue to work in diving when he returns home to Sweden. But, divers I spoke to said it’s like riding a bicycle; you don’t really forget.

Great Barrier Reef!

So long, Ocean Quest! 😦

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