Blessed to be a witness

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Thursday, June 23rd

I found Nemo

After 25 years of thinking about it, I am finally a fully qualified scuba diver with a PADI Open Water certification. I had planned to do the course in Australia or somewhere else, but since we're winding down our volunteering, we decided to put some more money into the local economy and do the course on Phi Phi.

I'll keep this short as I do not intend to become a diving bore, of whom there are rather a lot on Phi Phi. Suffice it to say that it was a bit odd at first being so deep under the water yet breathing, but not too weird for me as I have done a lot of snorkelling. Eventually I learned to trust the equipment, and was reassured by the safety procedures - for example, the buddy system combined with an alternative air source on each air tank - means that there is always air available.

The course was three days long. The theory was voluminous but basic, and I managed to get 100% in all of the preliminary quizzes, and 98% in the final exam. Mind you, this is a test aimed at all age groups beginning at 10 years old, so I can't crow too much.

Day one was spent at the beach doing basic exercises (taking off the mask underwater, using one's buddy's air source, etc.). The second day was a baptism of fire: two proper dives in extremely rough conditions, with very low visibility. The third day was much calmer and the visibility (or "vis" as I would say if I were a diving bore) was much better. And I am utterly hooked. It is an extraordinary world down there, and being weightless and moving in three dimensions is a breathtaking feeling.

The diving around Phi Phi is some of the best in the world, and at high season the visibility is good. Despite the bad conditions I saw all sorts of small creatures (no sharks, turtles or manta rays this time alas), including scorpion fish, lion fish, squid. And I found Nemo: clownfish that live in sea anemones, which are the cutest little things ever. I understand why they used them for the movie.

Poor M started the course but her claustrophobia was just too strong to continue. I would love to share this new world I've just discovered with her - maybe in better conditions she can try again.

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