I’ve always wanted to learn to scuba dive, but I’ve never gone. If I’m being completely honest, while I’ve always wanted to do it and thought it would be cool, I was afraid of it. Even when I’m on the bottom of a pool, my ears hurt – and so I was so scared for what would happen to them under water, and so scared that scuba diving would be incredibly painful. I could easily envision myself being one of those people whose ear drum ruptures under the water or something equally melodramatic.
One thing I’m trying to do on this trip is to do whatever it is that a place is known for. So anytime in the Philippines you say “Siargao” people immediately say “Oh, so you surf?”
Thus I went surfing in Siargao.
And whenever I said “Coron,” people would always say “So you like to dive?” and I would reply with something along the lines of “No, I don’t dive, but it looks pretty without diving and it’s way easier to get to than El Nido.” But then I got here… and I felt like such a wimp for not going diving. I mean, it’s not a patently dangerous activity (my filter for such things is whether I’d be willing to tell my mother what I’m doing before I do it. She did not find out about hang gliding in Rio until after the fact. My Internet sucked in Coron, so I didn’t get to tell her before I went, but the fact is I would have been willing to.) So it’s not horrifically dangerous – I was just scared.
I decided it was time to put my big girl pants on (or wetsuit, as it was) and give it a try. I signed up for an intro to scuba session with two dives at the best-known diving shop in town – Sea Dive. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I didn’t know if it would be a class with a lot of other newbies, or if I’d just be new in a group of people who knew what they were doing, or what. I also had no clue how much training there would be before going under the water.
It ended up being three divers on my boat with three guides – one guy was from the Netherlands and was working on his main scuba certification, another was a master diver from outside London who just needed a guide as a buddy, and then there was me. On the way, David, the guy from the UK, warned me that diving is incredibly addictive and to watch out.
We took the boat about 20 minutes away to a beach with a good reef on it – I went to the same beach as part of my islands tour a couple days before. I followed my guide, Ken, to the shallow area, where the water was about up to my chest.
There he went over the primary skills – I learned to breathe through a regulator, how to put a regulator back in if it falls out underwater, and how to clear my mask if water got in it. I did not do so well with mask clearing! You have to breathe in with your mouth and then breathe out your nose and it’s embarrassing to admit how difficult this was for me! I kept accidentally breathing in my nose right before blowing it. But I got it on the third try, and then he decided we were ready to go diving.
I couldn’t believe it was that quick, but I followed him down. About five or ten feet down, my ears started to hurt. I was trying to equalize them but it was not working! I tried a few times and then I got it (note to self: the “swallow” method does not work nearly as well as “hold your nose and blow”)! So on down we went. For the first dive, we went down about 15 meters (I was kind of surprised how far we went!), and it was incredible!
And then I thought about what I was doing. Breathing under the water. While 15 meters below the surface. Where my mask might fill up and I’d need to clear it. So I started kind of freaking out (mildly… like it wasn’t bad enough for my guide to notice anything!) and reminded myself of the wisdom from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Don’t Panic.
I took a few deep breaths, reminded myself I was safe, and continued on. Then I spotted a barracuda! And next we were swimming over some clown fish lounging in a sea anemone. It was sort of like living inside Finding Nemo.
After about forty-five minutes, we came back up to the surface and I had finished my first dive! At that point, I had a good rush of adrenaline from the excitement.
The guides made us lunch on the boat (sweet and sour pork, seared tuna steaks, rice, and salad – it was seriously good) and we ate while on the way to the second dive site. I wasn’t diving on the second site, so I had about an hour to enjoy. This one was a cargo ship that sank in WWII and it was in deep enough water that there wasn’t a beach nearby. I went up to the bow of our bangka (the boat) and laid out in the sun.
I didn’t realize I’d fallen asleep, but I heard someone standing near me and realized the other guys were coming back up. I laughed at how hard I’d slept and how quickly I’d fallen asleep. It was perhaps the best nap of my life – so many things about it were just perfect. The sun wasn’t too hot, there were some decent clouds, the waves were just gently rocking the boat and it was fantastic.
Then we went on to the third dive site, which was the wreck of the Japanese gunboat Sangat. I didn’t know when I signed up that I’d get to dive on a wreck, and I cannot tell you how excited I was!
As we were getting ready to go in, one of the guides saw me leaving my GoPro behind and was like “Wait, why aren’t you taking your GoPro?” I just replied that I had a lot to think about, what with not forgetting to breathe (not ever holding your breath is apparently one of the first and most key rules of diving), worrying whether the mask would fill up, etc, and I didn’t know if it would be good to have the distraction. He just laughed and said to take it, that I’d be fine.
He was completely right, and it was so fun to take videos and pictures under water. They’re not great, mainly because I was mostly concentrating on diving, but still… so fun to have! Of course, we were about ten feet down when I realized I forgot to put on the red filter for underwater – so the pics are super blue, but whatever. Live and learn.
The Sangat has been down long enough that there is a reef that has grown out of the boat, so there’s a ton of sea life to see. It was creepy and fun to be diving on a wreck.There were giant Angelfish, and lots of rainbow parrotfish. When I saw one of those it made me laugh – we had one in our aquarium when I was a kid (named Rainbow… creativity for the win) but it kept eating the other fish, so my mom eventually flushed him down the toilet. As I saw it in the wild I laughed and thought to myself “I need to tell Mom that Rainbow pulled a Nemo and made it back to the sea!”
All too soon, it was time to head up again. We got out of the water and were in the boat a bit before the other divers, so I grabbed a Coke and enjoyed the sun on the bow of the ship. As I was watching the shore, I saw a family of monkeys! I’ve never seen monkeys just in the wild before! They were playing and chasing each other and going up and down the beach and then through the treetops. I probably watched them for about twenty minutes.
As I watched them, I thought to myself how incredibly perfect the entire day was. It already ranks among the highlights of best days of my life – I had so much fun and felt so relaxed. It was a great time to reflect on how crazy lucky I am to get to have this whole experience in my life – and a time to remember that sometimes facing your fears leads to the best memories.
Oh… and my ears are totally and completely fine.