My First Scuba Adventure

Breathe in. Breathe out. That's all I had to do. You wouldn't think it would be such a challenge. But tricking my brain into accepting that I really could breathe underwater took some convincing. Especially when the last time I talked my brain into such an ordeal the following happened:

A) I descended into the murky waters of Lake (un)Pleasant where I could only see about 2 feet in front of me.

B) My dive instructor, Andy, took me through (what felt at the time like) tortuous training procedures such as turning off my air supply and making me flood my scuba mask with water.

The last time my brain did anything like this, my air supply was (momentarily) cut off and my sight was (temorarily) taken away from me. Can you blame my brain for objecting to sinking below the waves? I fought that first descent; I didn't get even a half meter below water before I kicked wildly back up to the surface, nearly hyperventilating. It was a true mind game to force my brain to accept my commands to breathe slowly--in...and out...in...and out--as my shoulders, then my mouth, my nose, my eyes, the top of my head sank beneath the surface of the ocean. I was underwater, and my lungs could handle it. Finally, that brain of mine stopped protesting and started to absorb the total awe of the setting. And, oh, how great it was once I convinced my brain to cooporate, to forget about the fact that humans aren't built to breathe underwater!

Scuba diving felt like the most primative, and yet the most hi-tech thing I have ever done. Surrounded completely by water, the only thing I could really hear was the regular in-and-out of my own breathing. Seriously, how primal can you get? And how soothing. Yet this simple act, the very first thing we do without effort or thinking the moment we enter this world, requires complicated, carefully assembled devices, monitored with a computer, and proper training. There I was, 15 meters below water, and I could breathe!

Once I wrapped my mind around that little miracle, I headed off through the waters of the Great Barrier Reef, following Alan, one of the dive crew. I felt quite clunky on my first few dives; I bounced around the Great Barrier Reef like a yo-yo as I tried to get control of my buoyancy, struggled with equalizing my ears, and spent more time thinking about myself than the sights I was seeing on the reef. However, by day two of my dive trip, I had gained confidence enough to really enjoy it all.

It's truly amazing to be in the middle of a world that is so very foreign. It reminded me a bit of standing on a street corner in Hanoi, Vietnam, watching the cars/buses/motorbikes whiz by, completely clueless as to how the system works. I felt so totally out of my element, yet so totally consumed by the experience at the same time. It was all my high school biology textbooks come to life. It was an IMAX movie in 4-D. It was REAL, live fish and turtles, rays and coral, SHARKS(!) and baracuda! And I was in and amongst them. It was simply exhilerating.

I can tell that scuba diving is addictive. There absolutely no way I can let the Great Batrier Reef be the only scuba experience I have. There must be other trips, more adventures, more bio textbook pages come to life for me. I'm hooked.

Tweets from Oz

My blog has really suffered a lack of attention since I took up Twitter. Short bursts of commentary at Erica2point0 have pretty much replaced descriptive passages of experiences here on Terra Incognita. Since I knew my wifi access would be limited during my trip to Australia, and thus my Twitter access limited as well, I thought an appropriate plan of attack for sharing my thoughts and experiences in Oz would be a hybrid approach. I used my iPod Touch to write 140-character tweets that I would normally have posted on Twitter; instead of posting them immediately, though, I saved them in the iPod Notes application. Now, I present them to you in blog form. This way you can feel like you're experiencing my Aussie adventure at my side. Enjoy, mate!

30 September

Completely spaced getting an electronic visa to get into Australia. Oops! Thank God (& my sis Ally!) it processed immediately!

Fun day in San Francisco with my aunt. The California Academy of Sciences is way cooler than it sounds. I highly recommend it!

1 October

Thanks to crossing the International Dateline, the day of October 1, 2009 will never have existed for me. So trippy!

2 October

14.5 hours. Longest flight I've ever taken. Amazingly, it wasn't the excruciating torture I expected.

It's fitting that I flew through San Francisco to get to Sydney b/c SYD totally reminds me of SF just w/ a lot less fog.

4 October

Who cares about the cloud cover? Gloomy weekend on the Hawksbury River w/ friends is wonderfully relaxing.

This has been the easiest round of fighting jetlag I've ever had. Hope it repeats for my trip back.

Jon & Steveo have been navigating our houseboat using iPhone apps. This makes me smile.

Playing the role of 7th wheel. I rarely feel the urge to hurry up & get hitched, but the Tidds, Lords & Wheelers make it look fun.

5 October

Being around a boatload of Brits causes me to lapse into a weird Yank-Brit accent. Biscuit, anyone?

I've been trying to teach little British toddler Elsie an Americanism. So far, "What up, yo" sounds more like "Dudda woah".

I do not row row my boat very gently down the stream. In fact, I'm rubbish at manning the oars of a rowboat.

Finished the second Twilight book while on the houseboat this weekend. I begrudgingly got TOTALLY sucked into the story.

My goal to exercise every other day has been replaced with eating every three hours. Oops.

It's a bit disconcerting to weigh myself on a metric scale. The # looks way too small, considering all the food I packed away this weekend.

The crew has introduced me to an Aussie favorite: chips (chunky fries) dipped in mayo and sweet chili sauce. Yum!

Burned the top layer of taste buds off my tongue: a hazard of trying to eat tasty hot chips too fast.

Love the Aussie toilets that give you the choice between a Number 1 or Number 2 flush. A #1 uses less water than a #2. :)

I keep forgetting to check out the way water swirls the in opposite direction down the drain here.

6 October

It's Tues but feels like a Mon (yesterday was an Aussie bank holiday) but not too much like a Mon since I'm not doing the whole "work" thing

Brilliant! Virgin Blue has passengers board from the front and back of the plane at the same time!

There's a woman across the aisle from me on my flight to Cairns wearing combat boots, a corset & strumming a ukulele. Hm.

Despite all the prep I did for this trip, this has to be the most disorganized I've ever been while traveling.

Resolved: I will breakdown & buy a pair of skinny jeans when I get home.

I'm repeating in my mind "'Cairns' sounds like 'cans'" over and over yet that pesky "r" keeps inserting itself when I say it.

Stumbled upon a Nando's. This vacation just keeps getting better!

When I travel like this, I feel like I'm doing what I was MADE to do.

Took a quick night class about the history & life of the Great Barrier Reef when I got into Cairns. So glad I did. Learned lots!

Did you know (DYK): the Great Barrier Reef is 1/2 the size of Texas!!!

DYK: Nemo is an anemonefish. Get it? An aNEMOnefish.

DYK: if Nemo's mum had died in real life, his dad would have changed sex to become female, & Nemo would've matured quicker to mate w/ "Dad".

DYK: coral is made up of calcium carbonate, which is essentially limestone. Interestingly, coral is an animal, not a plant.

DYK: coral is naturally white in color. It gets its pretty hues from the algae that live on it.

DYK: the first color to disappear from the spectrum as you descend in the water is red.

7 October

Australia really is a dry country. There are several patches of brush fire outside of Cairns as we head out to sea.

Wow. Just surfaced from my first dive. This is going to require a proper blog entry. 140 characters won't cut it.

Three dives in. Favorite sight so far: an awesome green turtle. Have also seen stingrays, giant clams & some really amazing fish.

I haven't seen any sharks so far, but several others on the boat have. A couple even spotted a barracuda!

I was really nervous about doing a night dive and almost didn't go, but now I'm so proud of myself that I did it.

It's not a true adventure out on the open waters until you use a seasick bag, right? Well, consider this an adventure now. ;)

8 October

My underwater camera only goes 10 meters down, so I rented one for one of my dives. Underwater photography is TOUGH!

End of Day Two on the dive boat and still no shark sightings for me...

I'm the slowest eater ever; always the last to finish my plate. Or maybe I just talk too much during meals? ;)

Don't know why but I get a kick out of hearing Aussies say "Good on you" instead of "Good for you".

9 October

I saw my shark!!!! And 3 barracuda! AND a rare eagle ray! Totally worth the 5:45am wake up call.

Just came up from my last dive of the trip. Saw another shark! And joined a green turtle for his lunch. Love this scuba stuff!!!

I snorkeled for the last dive since Queensland law says you can't fly if you've dived in the past 24hours. It just can't compare to diving.

Total number of dives in 2.5 days: 10.

I am so hooked on scuba. Got a 10% off voucher for my next booking with ProDive. Hmmm... Do I really need to go home?

I'm off the boat but still feel the room rocking around me. I'm hoping a couple of drinks w/ my dive friends tonight will counterbalance me.

Um...not sure if the drinks counterbalanced me or unbalanced me. Either way: fun night out with new friends.

10 October

Ugh. Slept funny on the hostel bed last night & now my hip is all out of joint. Please don't tell me I'm becoming an old lady already!

Woke up in the middle of the night thinking I was underwater watching fish swim by.

Glad to see that my gaydar gets reception across the Pacific. :)

Somehow I made it all the way through check-in, security & boarding at the Cairns airport w/o ever showing my ID. Not exactly comforting.

There's too much Comic Sans in Sydney!

Pretty sure I've never had so many cups of tea as I have this week with all my Aussie & British friends.

11 October

Kookaburra sighting! It was sitting right outside Megs & Jon's back window!

Sun finally came out for the afternoon of my last day in Sydney.

Lunched w/ Jo & her parents at Ripples, the restaurant at the Olympic pool, looking out over the Harbour Bridge & Opera House. Lovely!

I think nearly every conversation I've had w/ friends this week has included a discussion of America's abysmal vacation policy.

2 weeks of holiday is just not sufficient!

12 October

Wish I had brought my big backpack instead of my huge suitcase. I find it much easier to handle.

Props to the United check-in agent who didn't charge me for my overweight bag!

It looks like everyone's boarded the 13.5-hour flight to LAX & so far no one's joined me in my row. Can this be true?!?!

Score!!! 3 seats all to myself! Maybe I'll treat myself to a glass of Champagne & pretend I'm in first class. ;)

Bugger. Another man has joined me in my row. There goes my glass of Champagne.

Tip for anyone flying out of Sydney: get a seat by the window on the right side of the plane. You get an awesome view of the Harbour!

Yay! My fickle seat mate has changed spots again so I DO get the row to myself. Just in time for beverage service!

Never mind RE: Champagne. Apparently it really is only for first class. A mini bottle of Cab will have to do.

Water in the bathrooms on my United flight circles clockwise, the northern hemisphere way. Wonder if it goes the opposite way on Qantas. :)

Goal: attend my workout boot camp 3 hours after landing in PHX. That means it's time to catch some Zzzs now.

Got sent to 3 different security checkpoints at LAX. So unorganized here!

Back in PHX. 1 load of laundry done. 2 more to go. But first: off to boot camp! This will be interesting.

Oct. 12, 2009, has been the longest day of my life. Literally. From midnight to midnight, today will have lasted 42 hours for me.

Back to work tomorrow. Really wish I could take another day off to recover, but I have to be in Denver Wednesday. Back to the grindstone.

Overall: one of the best vacations EVER.