After a rather long overnight trip from Kuala Lumpur to Mersing, involving an entirely unsuccessful attempt at getting some sleep on the beach I made it onto the ferry across to Tioman and arrived on the island along with a few others joining the expedition. It was by this time around 10 in the morning and turning into a very hot and sunny day. We were met at the jetty and driven to Swiss Cottages where we were to spend the next 6 weeks. After a brief introduction to Katie and the staff at Swiss Cottages we were pointed in the direction of breakfast, which was definitely needed by this point. Despite arriving completely exhausted I could feel myself relax immediately. The staff of both the dive centre and Swiss Cottages were all very welcoming and after some food and a quick snorkel it was clear I was going to love it here. The rest of the first day involved lunch, unpacking, getting to know the other volunteers as they arrived and an evening trip down to Cabana for a beer and some more socializing.
I arrived here having never dived before so the next day I was set up with all the necessary kit: BCD, regulator, weight belt etc, and on Sunday I began my open water course along with 5 others. That day we just did the first confined dive as we were all a little nervous and so it took a bit longer to complete all the skills than had been anticipated. By the end of that first dive though I could tell I was going to enjoy it and was looking forward to getting back in the water.
Over the next three days we completed the rest of the confined dives, the 4 open water dives and all the book reading, DVD watching and tests required to pass the course. Although some parts were more challenging than others (when removing your mask underwater it’s important to remember not to breathe in through your nose, as this resulted in me swallowing a large amount of sea water! Not a mistake I made again) it was always enjoyable and starting the open water dives was quite exciting since it meant seeing rather more marine life than the confined dives had offered, including a turtle (which I actually managed to swim right over until it was pointed out to me – my observational skills need some work). We were in fact reminded at the end of the dive that we were still technically supposed to be learning and could we please try and be less distracted by the fish until we’d finished the rest of the open water dives, after which there would of course be plenty of time to explore and see exciting animals.
Having completed our open water course in a grand total of about 4 days we moved on to the advanced course. On Thursday we began the day with an ‘Underwater Naturalist’ dive, combined in my case with ‘Underwater Photographer’ as I have brought along an underwater camera. This one mostly involved having things pointed out which we had to write down details about and I would photograph in order to later identify them. I spotted a cuttlefish during this dive, got quite overexcited and tried to call to people, which doesn’t work all too well with a regulator in your mouth! The afternoon had us doing ‘Peak Performance Buoyancy’ including a short underwater assault course where you had to swim through hoops without touching them (harder than it sounds!). My favourite part of the day however came at around 7:15pm when we embarked on a night dive. It felt quite strange at first and it was pretty dark, but it was actually quite relaxing and I thoroughly enjoyed it. We saw several bamboo sharks and when returning to the beach there was even an octopus in the shallows. One part which everyone seemed to love was when we settled on the bottom and turned off all the lights. Instead of it being pitch black we were surrounded by tiny green specks of bioluminescence. It was fascinating and everybody happily sat there waving their arms around and enjoying the light show.
Friday we did a ‘Deep Dive’ and ‘Underwater Navigator’. Navigation is a useful and often necessary skill, but I enjoyed the deep dive rather more since it was just exploring a wreck and spotting fish (a scorpion fish and a lion fish amongst those seen this time).
All this meant that by Friday evening I had completed both my open water and advanced open water courses. Definitely a reason to celebrate and perfect timing since Friday is party night, so we grabbed some bbq food, cooked up some pasta salad and bought rather a lot of alcohol and hauled it all to Cabana. It was definitely a good night, although I think next week it might be sensible to buy more bottles of mixer than bottles of spirits rather fewer! The food was delicious though and there was to go around, and the night ended in some very talented dancing from a lot of people. I now know most of the underwater hand signals for shark, turtle, and various fish as it seemed appropriate to incorporate them into the dancing!