PART THREE: ROATAN, HONDURAS
Much shorter week that I’m reporting on this time round, we only worked four days in a row because we start our tec course tomorrow, so we’ve been given a day off beforehand. Feeling considerably more sprightly after far fewer days working, though it’s Sam’s turn to start getting a cold, so he took the day off from diving yesterday, to make sure he’s ok for tec, and helped around the shop.
Having said it’s only been a few days, we have got a fair amount done in such a short time. I’ve done another lead, helped out on a try dive, we did our second volunteer shift at the Marine Park and did the Deep Scenario. My lead went well, got a score of 4.5 out of 5. The marine park shift was much easier than previously, because there were far fewer people on the beach, probably only one cruise ship came in that day. Because there were four of us volunteers this time round, we had planned to have two on the beach and two in the water and then rotate round, but all ended up in the water as there was hardly anyone going in from the beach and even then a lot of the time we were just snorkelling around. The shallow reef is pretty ruined but when you get a bit further out it is beautiful, lots of disco fish (juvenile Yellowtail Damselfish which look like small disco balls with flashing iridescent blue spots) and loooads of lettuce coral.
When I wasn’t on diving shifts at the shop, I went upstairs to the classroom and did a lot of the tec e-learning, and by lunchtime yesterday I had managed to get through it ALL. That is: 2 x e-learning book and 1 x a textbook. Great feeling! Have got decompression theory coming out of my ears at the moment, the amount of reading various sources that we’ve done recently.
Yesterday afternoon, Alex and I did our deep scenario (Sam skipped on it due to the cold starting). It basically entailed four missions: descend to 40m/130 ft and hover there for several minutes (every ft below 130 we owed Peg a beer), ascend to 60ft and swim slowly along for 10 mins maintaining the same depth so that we could use it to calculate our air consumption, mark the times on a wrist slate throughout the dive when our remaining air reached certain levels, then breath from a tank hanging beneath the boat during the safety stop. So we descended and hovered for a couple of minutes, didn’t feel anything at first but by the time we moved off I felt slightly drunk and the gas narcosis was definitely hitting me. It went away as we ascended. Other than that, and keeping more of an eye than usual on my air consumption it wasn’t really any different. Once we were back in the classroom we learnt how to calculate our air consumption rate. We both managed to hover at exactly 130ft so Peg didn’t gain any beers, unfortunately for her.
Alex came over for several evenings to have food at ours. Sam’s trend of great veggie food continues: enchiladas stuffed with roasted butternut squash and other veggies, stir fry, chilli baked potatoes etc.
Which brings us back round to today, our next day off. Customary slight sleep in (I was still up before eight), then we headed out for breakfast to a cafe with wifi and tasty food. Sat in the cafe for two and a half hours skyping first Alison, Sam’s mum and then his friend Jess. SO lovely to ‘see’ both their faces and it’s actually exactly a month until Sam flies out of Mexico so it really isn’t long until we actually see them both.
As you might have astutely noticed, Future Self, I have skipped a week. Guna write about our experience of the tec course separately.
So anyway, after the ten days of our tec course we returned to our divemaster training midway through Week Eight. The rest of the week was really enjoyable. We were back to being DMTs the next day, and both on the AM boat, which went a little further than usual, round to the Odyssey wreck. We descended into the blue, and slowly the huge wreck rose out of the water. The main section had fallen apart, but the stern was really intact, and you could swim inside a huge engine room and then up and up along the staircases. There were stairs running all down the back too, and balconies with a table and chair, and the whole place had a slightly eerie, calm feeling about it. An amazing dive.
Our second morning dive was at Balls Deep (so named by two long term customers who bought the right at a Marine Park auction), and had really cool topography: a canyon, chutes, and rather than the shallow reef dropping down to the wall, the wall was much more staggered with sandy patches in between. We stuck near a buddy but otherwise it was just an explore. Accidentally caught Sam on camera with his penis out as he peed!
The following day, Sam and I went out on the afternoon boat, and as there were no customers signed up for the first dive, we had our own bimble around, and saw a lot of wildlife, including my first peas, the tiny, pea-sized (as the name suggests) juveniles of trunkfish. Sam spotted two bobbing about together in the hollow of some coral, black with white spots and teeny tiny pursed-looking lips. Also saw secretary blennies poking out of holes in the coral, a bridled burrfish with big iridescent eyes, a sharptail eel and a spotted spiny lobster.
The next dive Sam led, so I brought up the rear, using the GoPro and just enjoying the dive.
The next day, we both asked to do a lead but just for extra practice, and went to sites we had never been to. My lead was at Blue Moonshine, a drift dive along the wall and then up over the shallows. Incredibly beautiful reef there, the array of colour was amazing. Saw a large hawksbill turtle too.
Sam’s was right up Blue Channel, first through the swim throughs, then up the channel a way, then we looped back. Really cool topography.
Outside of diving, on Wednesday when we ‘graduated’ from tec, we went to sundowners bar with everyone and drank, and the three of us ate a drunken pizza at C-Level, really tasty. On Saturday, after eight days straight of diving, Sam went out to meet the others and watch a televised UFC fight, and I stayed in and had an evening alone, watched Monty Python’s Meaning of Life.
On our day off, we went on our usual supermarket trip, only this time with Alex too, then after lunch, Alex and Sam began preparing dinner. That evening Sam and I hosted our first dinner party together (how very domestic), with eight of us trainees in total. There was a fire at the power plant on the island, so electricity was intermittent, and we ended up eating by candlelight and taking one of the tables out onto the balcony because it was too hot inside without the fan. The chatting descend into a discussion about strange English words and phrases and the evening only rounded off when our neighbour came up to tell us that we were keeping him up with our ‘echochamber gigglefest’.
The first few days of the week I was on the AM boat, so I got to dive a number of new sites. I particularly enjoyed Spooky Channel, which wasn’t a site for wildlife but was certainly atmospheric. We began the dive by descending into a low visibility channel. The light was green and gloomy, and the lack of reef seemed eerie. A turtle swam over us just as we entered the channel, a silhouette against the sunlight from the surface. We swam through the half darkness, with just a sliver of light above us, passing a few lobsters and a green moray eel who came out of its crevice to see what was going on. After thirty minutes or so we emerged on the wall, and the deep blue surrounding us seemed almost violet, and bright, like stepping into the light after being indoors. The reef also seemed to teem with life and colour compared to the previous gloom.
I also helped out on the Tuesday night dive, and it was one of my most incredible underwater experiences so far. The main portion of the dive was pretty standard. Although we swam around as one large group, Rudy put me as the leader for half the customers, so I spent most of the time counting lights and checking on people. At the end we came back to the sandpatch and turned off our lights. The bioluminescence was bright, but what blew me away were the strings of pearls. As we waited in the dark, the water surrounding us began twinkling, like strings of small fairy lights turning on and off, as Rudy put it, or like the opening shot of stars wars as the stars stream past the camera, as Ted put it. Utterly beautiful. I swam among them, marvelling, amazed to think they were signals sent out by male shrimp to guide the females towards them. Combined with the feeling of weightlessness in water that you can’t see in the dark, it was a surreal and somehow moving experience.
On Wednesday and Thursday we did Cavern Specialty. It was run by Monty and Paul, with four of us students, us two with Alex plus Wade, another DMT. We began with a mock up of a cavern on the beach, with a guideline rigged up between the trees. Monty and Paul explained how to tie off your own reel when approaching and entering a cavern, then how to follow the main guideline through, which we practised in teams of two. Then we put on blacked out masks and felt our way along the course, to simulate a silt-out, or light failure. Odd feeling, would be even weirder underwater I guessed.
We then headed into the confined area under the dock, where another mock up cavern system was set up. We swam along in one team just looking at the guideline, then holding on or in a sharing air situation, then we put on our blackout masks and it all went to shambles. Very confusing! Really fun though, oddly calming in some ways: when you can’t see all you can do is work out by touch what is going on and keep your hand on the knee of the person in front and your other hand on the line. We did end up somehow leaving Alex behind, I had no idea that the person holding onto my knee changed.
We then went out for a dive to Hole in the Wall, where Monty rigged up a guideline through the caverns, and we practised tying off, then following the guideline. Nothing too difficult, enjoyed the process though, and after a running joke about how PADI expect divers to have snorkels on courses (dangerous to have in an actual cavern or cave situation in case it catches and causes entanglement) Sam stashed one inside his BCD and whipped it out in the cavern. It was a while until Monty noticed and his growling reaction had me laughing away underwater.
The next day, we did two long morning dives. The first was 85 minutes long because we got so involved in what we were doing. Monty rigged up another guideline through another set of caverns/swim-throughs, and we practised different techniques. Sam and I went first, and as we were nearing the end of the guideline, Monty pulled me aside and told me to hide in a crevice above. I watched, giggling away, as Sam realised I had gone and began searching for me. He didn’t find me at first but came back and trained his torch upwards. He looked mightily confused as to why I had decided to hang out floating in a crevice above the chute. Paul also took off one of his fins and used it to disturb the silt and create a silt out to navigate through. We rounded the dive off by doing the route with our blackout masks, trying to remember the instructions from the way in. Whole thing was great fun.
The second dive was similar but in the swim throughs of Blue Channel. Had to cut it short, when Sam and I were midway through our blackout route, because the dive was running over an hour again. They told us that while we’d been in our blackout masks, a divemaster from another shop had passed over with a whole group of divers; we had no clue.
After cavern we were back to normal diving. I had the chance to dive El Aguila wreck finally (all the other DMTs have dived it multiple times but as I have often been on the PM boat I haven’t yet had a chance). We had a fairly large group of customers, and there were also several other groups from different shops at the site, so it was quite busy. We got a chance to do a few of the swim-throughs through the wreck, and I got a feel for it, but still felt another visit would be nice, if I get the chance. Really liked the tiny garden eels, poking their bodies out of holes in the sand by the wreck, waving round like seagrass.
On our day off, Saturday, Sam, Alex, Dave (doing his IDC soon), James, Ellie and I all rented a jeep to explore the island. Sam started off driving, felt weird him driving on the right. We drove along the ocean side road and got to about five miles away from West End, then the car broke down. So we were picked up by the owner of the rental place, crammed into her car with Ellie and I sitting in the boot, and she took us to another car, larger but with only five seats, so someone had to sit in the boot all day. It was also painfully bright yellow. But it worked, always a good bonus.
We drove about two-thirds the length of the island, and stopped at a place on to the south coast called Oak Ridge. We drove the car up to the river and not much seemed to be going on, so I got out and used my Spanish to ask around and ended up on the phone arranging a mangrove tour. A few minutes later, Charly pulled up at a small dock, and we all climbed aboard his small water taxi.
For the next three hours we chugged along, passing through wide coves, lined on either side with stilt houses, and into a long mangrove tunnel. Charly pulled over so that we could climb on the mangrove roots, to see how strong they were, and we had a great time swinging from a rope swing into the water. We stopped at a floating restaurant on the way back to the jetty for a drink. With a little extra time to kill, Charly showed us his town, several hundred people all living in houses on stilts and using boats as their means of transport.
We drove back the length of the island, stopping by our favourite big supermarket to do our weekly shop and load the boot up with boxes of food for everyone.
After the excitement of our jeep day out, the dive shop was very quiet on Sunday. There were no customers at all in the morning, so those of us staff who were in set about doing quite a deep clean of the shop’s equipment, from wiping out the oxygen kits to ordering the wetsuits by size on the rail.
Several mornings during the week were quiet. Tuesday morning there were no customers again, but in the afternoon Sam and I helped out with the instructor course going on, pretending to be problem students who couldn’t quite get the skills being demonstrated by the instructor candidates. Interesting to see how the course is run and the kind of thing which is evaluated. After that, Sam and I did our mapping dive. Between the two of us, we got all the information we needed in one dive. I swam slowly, scribbling an outline of the site onto a large slate, while Sam swam to certain points and bookmarked them on his dive computer so that we could measure depths and times between various points. That evening we drew out the maps. I did mine by hand, Sam did his on photoshop by photographing the slate of scribbled drawings and then tracing the outlines. Interesting example of how we approach things differently.
I also accompanied the ‘turtle people’, as we call them (students linked to the turtle research here). One of the guys, Dustin, has done more than 150 dives and knew what he was doing, but the girl with him had only just qualified so I went along to keep an eye on things. Fun dives really, just kept scanning for turtles, then when we found a Hawksbill Turtle we observed it for a while, he wrote notes, then took a small sample of the food it was eating. The second time I accompanied them on a dive, we crossed paths with three turtles, two of which were foraging. The last one swam after us as we left and almost rubbed bellies with Dustin it was so intrigued by us.
On Thursday, Sam and I were both on the morning boat. There were no customers but Tom was teaching a course so the boat went out regardless, so we hopped on it. We got to dive El Aguila wreck again, but this time without a single other group there. Loved swimming through the hatch. Also enjoyed the large groupers which hang around the place.
On Friday, Abbey took us both out to do Sam’s deep scenario. He could have been signed off for it, what with having done the full tec course, but he figured he’d get another deep dive if he did it anyway. We were dropped off quite far from the wall, completely in the blue. It was an eerie feeling, the weightlessness seemed to increase when there were absolutely no visual references. I floated around while Sam did the couple of skills he had too, enjoying the feeling of being held in the vast blue of the sky. Made me think of a quotation from Jacques Cousteau: ‘The reason I love the sea I cannot explain — it’s physical. When you dive you begin to feel like an angel. It’s a liberation of your weight.’
Our final day together was spent watching tv, chilling out at the pool by the DM house with Alex, Ellie and James, and slowly packing Sam up. We’ve been aware the last week that we won’t see each other for a couple of weeks (will be odd after ten months with no longer than four days apart at a time), and that because of visiting Cyprus and other upcoming plans we won’t be living together for a few months, so we’ve been trying to make the most of time together.
Then Monday morning, first thing, Sam was off to the airport. I went in to work for a couple more days. Tried to really appreciate my last few dives, don’t know when I’ll next be in the water again. On Monday afternoon, because one of the instructors was off sick they were short-staffed, so I did my first real solo unsupervised lead with five customers. All went fine, though I didn’t find it as enjoyable as being at the back, need practice and time so that it becomes a bit more natural.
And with that, I was done diving. Up to 153 dives now, 126 hours in the water in total. Nothing really when compared to the several thousand that each instructor here has. The last ten weeks have been an incredible experience, both Sam and I are well and truly hooked.