Day 7- Around Mabul Island

I woke up at 1 and 4am again of course- heard the prayer call at 430 and kept trying to get back to sleep until 730 at least when brekky started- but I only made it till 6, when Bryan woke up too. It hadn’t been too hot at night, the sheet was good, as was the fan- but neither of us slept great either way.

We went to the main hall for coffee which was already out and to wait for brekky to be served. It wasn’t long and we were pretty excited about the pancakes- which while they are really good, are not like ours at home. They are much thicker and seem to be made of the same (or similar) batter the snack cake is, which is really yummy. There were also fried eggs, potatoes, toast- and of course chicken sausage for the meat people (as this is a halal kitchen= no pork). There’s always watermelon and usually honeydew- even for lunch and dinner. Fruit is the only kind of dessert we see for a while…but healthier than my normal sweet tooth requires! After that, we were still about an hour from our call time so we sat on the porch of our room- Bryan reading and I was writing.

When it was time, we went to the end of the jetty for our first dive, which was the refresher. There we met Chelsa, the Canadian (I mentioned before)- from Calgary. She was also taking the refresher course- and like the German woman, she too had flown all the way here, alone. I am not sure even I would have felt comfortable to go to a not-first world location alone, so props to them!

We got our equipment from the shed- a BCD, regulator, weight belt, wet suit (shortie) and fins + mask if you need them (we brought out own). Our guide was Aslan and he was really nice. I warned him about my fear of the mask clearing skill and he assured me we’d take it easy. We simply went down the wooden steps at the end of the jetty to an underwater platform and then started down to our intended depth of about 5m. I got about 5 feet down and started panicking. That part has never happened to me before as usually once my head goes under and I am breathing the air, I am fine- but instead, I shot up to the surface again and said I needed a moment. This is bad form for divers. Sigh.

I tried again and although I was a little panicky, I got used to it, though my heart was racing for the skills I’d need to perform. We kneeled on the sand- and Aslan had to warn Bryan because he almost put his knee onto a flounder. One of the skills is you take your regulator out and have to show you can blow bubbles (as you never hold your breath when diving) and then put it back in. Another you have to “throw” the regulator away, as though it was ripped from your mouth getting caught on something, and you must recover it- all while blowing bubbles. These things are usually easy for me normally, though a little trickier this time since I was extra nervous- but this is not the hardest part. The next, you have to use your spare regulator and give it to your buddy who is in distress being out of air and then make sure they are ok while you surface (pretend to). Then you have to be the buddy asking for air. This too was not hard, although I realized rather than giving Chelsa the regulator I was trying to put it in her mouth for her and she looked confused, so I quickly stopped!

We were at 5m or so and next was the mask clearing. I was trying to concentrate on the school of snapper creating a giant curtain behind Aslan as he got really close to me (to keep me looking into his eyes) as I did the skill- and he made me go first! To do this skill, you have to let water into your mask. You’re supposed to keep breathing, but when I do that, I always snort the water up my nose instead of breathing through my mouth. So I have to think through it, very methodically: take in a breath, hold it; let the water into your mask; blow out through your nose (tipping your head back and clearing the water out); breathe again. Thankfully I did it ok, although I didn’t let very much water into my mask, and some got in my eye, which then stung and I wanted to rub my eyes but can’t- which is also part of my fear and dislike of this skill…but I did it!! Phew. Aslan gave me a hi five. Bryan and Chelsa did theirs and then we were done- we could go diving for real now!

There was already quite a bit to see just in front of the resort- lots of fish and even turtles. There were even some obstacles set up, like hoops to go through for a different skill test, which we did just for fun. Our dive was only another 20- 30 minutes or so but it was good. I was so relieved I was going to be able to do this again- and we had 2 more dives scheduled for the day.

I was glad to leave the water triumphant.

When we got back to the front desk a guy came walking up to Bryan and handed him the key to our hotel room that he’d lost snorkeling the day before! Someone found it on their practice dive and we got it back. It was so unlikely and really funny, but we were glad. We sat down to relax with some tea and cake and rested for our next call time at noon.

We gathered back at the dock and this time took a boat around the corner about 5 minutes to a reef off the shore. There were some girls snorkeling there- and it’s apparently shallow enough on the shore side fore people to walk out to it (at least at low tide, I guess). Besides that, some local fisherman were there in their boats catching meals for their family and maybe to sell. Apparently however, the fishing practices around here are unsustainable, so this resort in particular won’t serve seafood, which we are totally in agreement on. It would be like when we were in Africa, going all that way to take pictures of magnificent creatures, only to eat them for dinner later…it just didn’t add up- in our minds at least.

We started at either D or E wall, I am not sure what it was called- but it was a wall dive where the outer part of the reef basically drops off “into the blue” (the open ocean) and you just follow the reef and see all the amazing life that’s there. To get into the water, we had to fall backwards off the side of the boat, which is not terribly hard, but can be a little weird, because suddenly you may be in very deep water, which can be disconcerting.

We went down to somewhere just under 30m and saw a ton of fish. Aslan had a little metal pointer and when he saw something, he’d tap on his metal tank and it makes a sound so he could get your attention. We saw a few scorpion fish, which are hard to spot because they look just like the rock and coral- and are venomous and painful if you touched or stepped on them. There was a cute little pipe fish that looks a bit like a seahorse but wasn’t. We also saw some trigger fish, which we were warned can attack you if they have a nest. They have a sharp beak as their role is to eat the coral. Often the crunching you hear when you go in the water is actually trigger fish eating the coral away- then they poop out sand and that it where sand comes from. We saw a bat fish hiding in a coral cave- as well a dog faced puffer (my fav) doing the same. There were 4 or 5 turtles and one of them was about twice as big as the others. We see turtles a lot on our adventures, but I never tire of them.

The whole dive was about 50 minutes and I still had 50 bar of air left (starting with 200). What’s nice here is that the boat will come to pick you up wherever you are- whereas in Australia the boat was really big and current or no, you had to make your way back to it. Just before we surfaced, while doing a 3m “safety stop” (which is required every time), Aslan took out a banner on a line of string. He used his extra regulator to blow air into it, inflating it, and then this popped up into the air and showed the boat where to come and get us.

We headed back to have lunch during our surface interval and another dive was already scheduled after. Lunch was again cauliflower, broccoli and tofu- this time an even different spicy sauce. Although it’s the same veggies, I give them credit for the variety of sauces and spices they use! I was excited, albeit a tad nervous for the next dive…which unfortunately, did not go well for me.

It was another few minute boat ride to a different reef area- but it had started pouring rain as we got on the boat, so it was a torrential downpour riding to our site. It was enough that I got cold during the ride- and then when we got in, my mask fogged up right away. The normal routine is to fill your mask with water to clear it, but as we know I barely got that done during the skills test…so yeah. I was struggling with it and actually, it was making me claustrophobic and I started freaking out. I basically had a panic attack while at 25m and it went on for the entire 45 minutes we were down there. My mouth was also really dry and I was feeling like I needed water right away…in all it really messed me up. I also got really cold and felt fatigued- probably because of the panic attack more than anything- but in all, I had a terrible dive and questioned my future as a diver. This was a very distressing thought because I used to love diving- and Bryan really does. I would hate to ruin his time or sit out- and in the future not be able to do this together…

I have been struggling with panic attacks and anxiety for the last few months especially, and I had thought it was mostly under control- and especially, while having fun on vacation, I’d not have one…and diving is NOT a good time to have an attack. I wanted to cry but I was too amped up and upset; I just kept running through the whole thing in my head over and over. Most of all didn’t want to waste this time and money; secondly, I didn’t want to give up diving…but I really thought that was it for me.

I also had a bloody nose at the end, which happened when I blew out my ear in Australia- and occasionally when I dive. Thankfully, I was able to equalize this time and my ear was feeling ok, although was very clogged with water- and my toe was doing ok in my fins (as both were concerns before we left). However, I got a cut on my foot between that nail-less big toe and the second, which was starting to get infected and hurt really badly- especially as I can never have it dry or clean it and have to walk around barefoot…so that was a new frustration as well.

I was not feeling good at this point.

I was so stressed and tired when we got back. Bryan hung out on the porch to read and then went to the bar for a bit. All I could do was lay down because I didn’t even feel like I could be upright. Finally, I’d napped enough and was ready to get up. We went to the bar and I got a cider- which was cold! By now, I was feeling a bit better.

I stopped at the dive shop and bought a dry bag- it’s a thick bag that rolls up and is waterproof so you can bring stuff on the boat and it won’t get wet. You’d maybe think how or why you would need to be dry on a boat, especially between dives, but I have to bring pants and a hoodie to warm up with if necessary. Most of the time just taking off your wet suit and rash guard and having the sun/ air on you will do this, but only if it’s not cold or rainy- or if the wind (from the boat moving) is cold.

We hung out with Chelsa a bit as she prepared for her classes (she was doing the advanced open water course that Bryan and I took in Australia) and had homework and studying to do- but shortly we went down to get dinner too. Guess what it was: same veggies, different sauce- maybe a Szechwan type? Very good as well. Chelsa knew a lady at one of the tables, so we sat down with her and the 2 dudes she was talking to. The lady, Lisa, is actually a travel blogger too and I got her info- and what’s really funny is I am pretty sure I have read her blog! I couldn’t be sure by the name of the blog- “Andiamo Adventures” is kind of recognizable… I will look back through my emails and “likes” and see if she’s there- or how I feel like I know her blog.

There was a guy Tom, from Colorado (the only American we met that had come as far as us) and he was talking about flying up to Seattle and renting a Harley to drive around the state and down to Portland next month, so that was kind of funny. He was doing the nitrox course (that we were banned from for my thyroid condition) and he was explaining it a bit to Bryan- for a long while…so I excused myself and went to bed. It was not a very peaceful night, however.


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