That’s right! As Whitney alluded to in Part 1, we are officially scuba certified! This is basically the whole reason we went to Egypt in the first place. And to make it even better, this was technically for the sake of my work and future career. A slight deviation to explain: As I have mentioned in a number of previous posts, I study fish. In fact, I have now worked in fish-related research for about 6 years. For those of you not so familiar with fish – they live in water. We as humans are not so good in water, especially when trying to stay under it for long periods of time. Therefore, not being scuba certified has always been a bit of a hold up in my research (especially when working on Lake Victoria). So, following my field work last year, I decided that it was time for me to certify. Of course when I informed Whitney, she decided that she would not be left out and would join in the fun. Thus, we went to Egypt! Now I know what most of you are probably thinking: why go all the way to Egypt to do the open water certification course? Isn’t it much easier/safer/cheaper to do it locally? To this I simply say: Yes, you are right. But where is the fun in that? Practicing diving in a swimming pool is useful, but it’s nothing like this:
So I think it’s safe to see why we went all the way to Egypt.
For those of you not so familiar with the PADI Open Water course, allow me to briefly explain. The course consists of both knowledge and skill based instruction that takes you from (in our case) having never dove before to competent and able to dive freely without the aid of an instructor. This comes in the way of video and text study, combined with quizzes and a final written exam, while also completing a series of confined and open water dives with your instructor. We completed this over the course of 4 days (would have been 3 had Whitney not gotten a little too carried away with the “all-you-can-eat” portion of the stay). Day one was pretty laid back with some videos, text study, and swim tests. Day two, however, had us literally in over our heads: we quickly went from trying out breathing with the regulator underwater to diving at depths of 8-10m (sorry, we are officially on the metric system. I’ll try to convert for those of you not as versed in metric: ~30 feet). While in hindsight, it makes sense that the course should move this quickly, it was definitely a surprise for us at the time. Nonetheless, we survived!
From here, things progressed in both complexity and duration. I had heard about all the various skills and tests of the open water course before the trip, but I don’t think it ever really occurred to me that I would actually be doing them. The idea of removing my mask (I wear contact lens and am blind without them) or taking off my entire scuba kit at depth seems ridiculous, but there we were doing them. While there were certainly some moments of hilarity for both of us, we passed all them with relative ease. So, that was it. We had officially passed. And with that, we were set free to dive alone. Before moving on to our diving adventures, I have to first mention our instructor: Mahdi. He was fantastic! We couldn’t have asked for a better instructor. Not only was he extremely patient in letting us figure things out, but his overall excitement and enthusiasm was unbelievable. And he was extremely smart. From talking with him, we learned that he is actually a lawyer and spent time as a professor of law at an Egyptian university (in his early 20’s!). He had been diving since he was a teenager and worked as an instructor for the past eight years. You could tell he just really loved what he did. I’m sure a majority of the instructors are just a good but Mahdi definitely made it an enjoyable experience. Thanks again Mahdi! So that was it, we were free to dive. And dive we did! Aside from the guided dives that we did as part of the course, we were able to do 3 dives on our last day (we had to stop diving on Monday since we flew on Tuesday – pressure differences between diving and flying are not kind to the body, you have to give it time).
The resort that we were at was not like your typical tropical vacation spots. It wasn’t a place you go to lounge on the beach with a drink in your hand or party the night away at a local club or bar. It was a diving resort and that is what everyone was there to do. Of course you were free to drink as much as you would like or sleep the day away in the sun, but no one did that. Everyone was there for the diving and the desert sun is really hot….
The picture above is from the ‘diving shade’ – essentially the staging area for all diving activity. From this point, everyone prepared for their upcoming dives. Diving options consisted of the North or South Reef and you could choose whether you entered/returned from shore or by boat (as can be see below). You would simply write your name on a whiteboard, check where you wanted to go, and then go. If you chose to go by boat, there was always one available at anytime of day. It was an extremely simple, yet extremely efficient system.
Being that Whitney and I were very new to diving, we stuck to shore entry and exit. To give you a bit of an idea of what this looked like, the following series of pictures tracks one of our dives from beginning to end. You will see that we began at a rope that leads out past the dock for boat loading. From here, you chose either the North or South side of the reef (this dive is the North), swam out until you hit your desired time/air usage, and then swam back to same rope leading back to shore. The scenery along the way requires no explanation, the pictures speak for themselves.
I wish I could say that this was one of our better dives, that it wasn’t always this breathtakingly beautiful but I can’t. Whether we went North or South on the reef, this is what we got. As Whitney says: “it was real-life National Geographic; real life Finding Nemo”. As she’s right. It was truly amazing. I think it’s safe to say that we have found ourselves a new hobby. Future trips and adventures will most certainly be planned as diving excursions. Why did we wait so long to try this?! By the way, for those of you interested: all of these pictures, both above and below water, were taken with a Nikon Coolpix AW120. I highly recommended this camera if you are in the market for an easy to use, durable camera. We took this camera down to 18m (60ft) and it worked perfectly!
Until next time,