One day I went to Puka Beach and another beach which were both beautiful.. The first one had only like 5 other people on the whole beach so it was extremely peaceful and a nice snorkelling spot (minus all the little jellyfish).
But after a couple days sitting around White Beach (and getting burnt) I decided to start my open water diving.
I went to a place recommended by a fellow traveler I met in Sri Lanka. The dive instructor he had wasn't there and instead I was greeted by a tall blonde lady who I immediately felt comfortable with... us blondes gotta stick together! She explained the course to me and we arranged to start the next morning.
For everyone who has their open water they will know the process, but for those who don't here's an explanation. There is a manual with coursework and reviews to work through and five different videos to watch (each ranges from 30-60 minutes long). There are four dives to do as well as some confined water practices and the dives last depending on how fast you go through your oxygen. I thought I would probably go through mine really fast (based on my first two dives in Mexico) but I actually surprised Bev and the other instructors by conserving it so well. Because of this I spent about an hour on each dive and still had a good amount of oxygen to spare. The deepest an open water diver goes to is 18m and it certifies me for that as long as I'm still with another certified diver.
The first day I started with a confined session before going on my first dive. We practiced the same skills I learnt before diving in Mexico - the hand signals, how to clear your mask underwater, what to do if your mouthpiece (regulator) comes out, and how to share your oxygen by switching to your buddies extra mouthpiece. I was a bit nervous before when we were getting the equipment on but once I got to the water I was calm. After practicing these we hopped on a small boat (basically a dingy with a motor) and went out to the dive site.
We went to Angol Point, rolled backwards off the boat into the water, descended by a rope and kneeled on the sand to go through the skills again. Right when we got to the bottom we were surrounded by fish, all curious and checking us out. The rest of the dive was spent working on my buoyancy while swimming around the coral and enjoying the view! Bev pointed out some different fish and eels to me that I otherwise wouldn't have noticed, and after about 50 minutes we started to head up. She deployed the SMB (a balloon that says "divers below") so that any boats would know people were coming up. This one boat either didn't see it or didn't care and came right above us, so we stayed a few meters underwater waiting for them to move. I was calm because I knew I had lots of oxygen left but Bev was super unimpressed that they didn't pay attention.
After getting a taste for diving again I spent the afternoon sitting inside drinking tea, watching the videos and practicing the equipment prep. Then I went off for dinner with my homework and went to bed early!
The second day started with a homework check and some more videos. After that we had a confined practice to do as well as another dive. We spent about an hour underwater maybe 6 meters deep off shore, practicing more skills. This time I had to completely remove my mask so I couldn't see and sit there, and then swim without it and put it back on. This was tough cause the second my nose wasn't plugged by the mask I started to get water up my nose but somehow I didn't panic and I figured it out. I think that made me realize the seriousness of what I was doing because even though I wasn't that deep yet I saw how easy it could be to drown if you weren't paying attention/being calm. We did some more practice, taking the equipment on and off underwater, doing emergency ascents as if I had no oxygen left, and stuff like that. Again I had been a bit nervous beforehand because there were so many skills to do and when I think of things piling up I get overwhelmed. Once we got underwater though I calmed down, and could just focus on the task at hand.
We basically went and switched our tanks and then got on the boat to go to the same dive site as yesterday. We practiced those skills again in deeper water, as well as the emergency ascents alone or while sharing oxygen with your buddy. I think it only took us about 10 minutes to go through that and then we got to swim around and relax! I was feeling even more comfortable in the water and felt like I was getting control so I could go closer to coral knowing I wouldn't hit it. I was also keeping track of my oxygen and Bev would randomly ask me what I was at... If I got it right without looking all was well but if I was wrong there would be a beer fine (luckily I was always right ;) ).
After the dive I finished the last couple of chapters and videos before heading off for the day. That night I had to learn how to use the rdp table (for calculating nitrogen levels in the body and determining the safe amount of time needed between dives).
For my third and last day we started off with some practice rdp questions before I took the quiz. I was so excited because I got 100% on that part (yay me!) and it involves numbers and simple math which we all know is difficult for me. I decided to do the full exam before the dives so I could get it over and just enjoy the time. Once I finished the exam I got my equipment ready and we walked off to the boat. We went to Friday's Peak first, where we once again started with a few skills like the mask removal and manually blowing up my BCD underwater. I practiced using a compass and there was a bit of a current which was good for me to practice with. Then we got to enjoy the dive again! This spot had some man made corals, so it was cool to see blocks of cement and other things that had begun to be a part of the ecosystem. The actual "Friday's peak" was a large mound filled with different corals and fish, so we swam around that a few times to try and see all that we could. I spotted a moray eel in there and was pretty excited, and there was a group of snappers (larger fish) floating above it so we got to swim around them.
After this dive we went back to the dive shop, had a quick snack, switched tanks and got back on the boat. We went to Coral Gardens this time and because Bev and I both felt comfortable with my skills we didn't do any more practice, just swam! It was amazing to be down there and I found that my mind was so relaxed... Usually I have a thousand different things going through my head at a time, but down there it was different. I don't know if it's because I have something to focus on or what, but it was nice to finally have piece of mind. I just listened to my breathing which became super rhythmic and looked around, totally happy and content. It was such a nice feeling to find!
My three days of the course went by really fast and I was surprised when I was already done! I am so happy that I took it and I'm excited for the dives I can do now as I travel around the Philippines and the rest of the world!