Open Water

That’s right. Day three saw some drastic improvements in my ears’ ability to equalize and in Nikkie’s ability to pop extra motion sickness pills. Dives #1 and #2 smashed. All of our pool work completed, half of our dives done, theory completed, and a cool 98% on my final exam (the inner nerd returns). With slight envy, I watched the other students receive their certification cards and mosey on their way. We still had two dives to complete the following day.

Onward to day four of our three day course. It turns out our original instructor did get the day off, and we were going to go out with the owner of the shop, Rob, and Divemaster in training, Mike. Rob began in the morning by stating he was sick of diving in Alma Bay. Alma was where we had gone for the previous two days, and the remainder of the class had completed all of their dives. The bay was pretty, but sights (coral and fish) were minimal, and the visbility had been very poor (one metre at worst, four at best). Instead of heading back to the bay, we were going to head out to Moltke, a shipwreck in Geoffrey Bay. After prepping our equipment, getting a short briefing on the dive, and getting the somewhat cryptic reassurance that the entry for this dive just required a bit of faith, we headed out to our launch point.

This is what a certified diver looks like.

A bit of faith, true. Strapped into dive equipment essentially feels like being strapped into a large backpack, though more awkward with poorer weight distribution. To enter the water on this dive, Rob and Mike wanted us to stand on the edge of a slanting boat dock a few feet above the water, face the other direction, hold onto our regulator (the thing you breathe out of) and fall backwards into the water. Which looked a bit freaky, but was quite fun once accomplished. Then off we swam to our wreck.

The dives in the course are not only practice dives, but involve you practicing specific skills you need to be able to do in order to become certified. These involve “losing” your regulator and recovering it, taking off your mask underwater and clearing it of water, and using an alternate air source – your buddy’s tank. We completed the final few skills we needed to on our wreck dive, which I knew meant that we would be passing the course. I couldn’t even really think about the practical reasons of why I was doing what I was doing, because at this point, finally, we were really diving. Alma Bay was cool, you still get the experience of breathing underwater, but this was something else. Swimming over and around this wreck, which was now covered in and teeming with life, was extraordinary. It is truly another world, as clichéd as that sounds. We are so accustomed to what we see on land, every day. Grass, trees, creatures with legs. So much of what we saw on this dive I had never seen before, in real life, with my own eyes. And it was incredible. Diving somehow manages to be a thrilling adrenalin rush and a calming, almost meditative experience, all at the same time. Because it was only the two of us diving with two experienced divers, we essentially got VIP treatment. We stopped at leisure, watching the fish go about their business. In nooks and crannies of the wreck, they would often not be doing anything at all, just hovering in place, slowly getting rocked from side to side with the movement of the ocean, as were we. Rob held my hand out to touch a reddish plant (animal?) growing (living?) on the wreck, and as I gently brushed my finger along it, it turned from red to bright white. Schools of fish flew past overhead. I began the process of grasping the subtleties of controlling your buoyancy with your breath – controlling your up and down movements by breathing in and out.

I still had a bit of trouble with my ears, and had to descend slowly – and return to shallower depths several times – for them to equalize. I’m hoping this improves as I become more experienced and it doesn’t cause me any issues in Cairns.

After receiving our official (temporary) certification cards, Nikkie and I headed back to Townsville. We had booked one night at Civic Guest House, a hostel in town. This is, without question, the best hostel I have stayed at in Australia. Townsville, who would have thought, boasts the best hostel and the best coffee shop I’ve seen in Australia. So far, hostels in this country have been less than amazing, being a disappointing combination of expensive and unremarkable. At between 20 and 35 AUD a night, depending what city you are in, a night’s rest is certainly not cheap. And nothing is ever free, from Wi-Fi to laundry to linen at times. Cash deposits for keys and cutlery are commonplace. And then you get a rather bland dorm room, disinterested staff, and lackluster common spaces, all in a slightly grimy state.

Civic Guest House restored my faith that hostels can be done well in this country, for a reasonable price. Booking last minute, we got the cheapest room available at 24 AUD / person for a four-share dorm. Reasonable. And then we got inside. The place was spotless, with a sprawling, half-outdoors layout that included randomly placed bathrooms and showers, a lounge room with no TV, a giant chess set, an adorable and orderly kitchen, and small sets of wrought iron chairs and tiled tables in the courtyard. Adorable, charming, and run by an equally charming German couple. Free Wi-Fi, bonus. The fact that the hostel was not licensed to sell alcohol, as so many are in this country, meant that you could actually drink on the premises without fear of being thrown out. In short, this hostel could have been lifted directly out of some coastal Mediterranean town, fixed up slightly, and plunked down in central Townsville. Brilliant.

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