Scuba Certification, part 2, did we do it?

"Do what you fear most and you control fear."     Tom Hopkins

If you remember way back 3 months ago, Dylan and I were bound to get our scuba certification.  A friend of mine was in Malaysia and staying with us and just so happens to be a scuba instructor.  So we took him up on his offer and started our scuba certification training for our birthdays.

Once the book work and confined dives were done we had to decide what to do in order to get the open water segment complete.  After much discussion we opted with heading over to the East coast of Malaysia to the Perhentian Islands.  I knew it was a bit early in the season but after our last trip there I also knew it would be beautiful calm waters, perfect for easy beginner dives.

We rented a car as it was the best way to get to the other side of Malaysia.  It is a 5-6 hour drive from Penang through the beautiful countryside of Malaysia.  Even though we were leaving the car behind for 3 days it was more comfortable and not much more expensive than the bus so we opted for that.  You can take a bus across the country but it takes a bit longer and has no bathroom and I like the freedom of stopping whenever I choose.

We spent our time chatting and searching for elephants to no avail.  The signs are everywhere indicating their presence but we felt it was more cautionary than realistic.  After our drive we parked at one of the many car park areas near the ferry.  We were able to also purchase the ferry ticket at the car park which helped expedite the journey just a bit.  We walked through the small town to reach the boat passing by numerous restaurants, small stores, and a whole lot of goats exploring the area.  There are bathrooms at the ferry dock and I suggest you go as the ride out is quite bumpy, and they happen to be some of the nicest public restrooms in all of Malaysia.....don't forget your ringitt!

Still looking...
Kids at the playground!
The boats are small and for some reason we got the party boat, perhaps it was because it happened to be the last boat of the day (around 4:30pm).  Loud music blared, the driver smoked a cigarette while laughing and joking with his friends the entire time.  Dancing, laughing and a lack of watching the water had me a bit unnerved but we made it none the less and it was rather fun, looking back on it anyway.

After landing on the beach and checking in with multiple hotels we decided on the New Coco Hut chalets on Pulau Besar (the bigger of the 2 islands) as we had stayed there before and were quite happy.  Surprisingly, most of the hotels were packed so even early in the season I would suggest booking ahead of time.  It is hot and the last thing you want to do is hoof it around the island looking for a place to put those bags down.

The New Coco Hut hotel is located on the beach, has AC, en suite bathrooms, and a lovely restaurant hanging over the ocean with a beautiful sunset view.  It is nothing spectacular but it's in a great location and one of the better bangs for your buck on the island.

We arrived late in the day so the diving would start the following morning.  I may have forgotten to mention the sickening anxiety that I had been feeling the whole day.  It was coming to a head in the evening as we went down to do a bit of snorkeling and I decided to test the effects of removing my mask underwater.

The water is lovely and there is a nice reef just off shore making it a really kid friendly beach.  The area is lined with small huts selling smoothies and snacks as well.  Some people find it a bit too slow paced but for relaxation the Perhentian Islands cannot be beaten.  It seemed a great spot to try out the whole mask removal fear in shallow water.  It did not go well and my worries got worse and worse throughout the evening.  On top of it you are not supposed to drink a lot the night before diving so I with held all together the only chance I had for settling my nerves.

In order to get certified for scuba diving there are a couple terrifying (to me) tasks that must be done.  Here is my list in order of terror:
  • Fully remove your mask UNDERWATER, like 40 feet underwater, and place it back on and clear the water out of it...then continue to function AND don't even think of panicking because you could really hurt yourself if you shoot up to the surface (like I did first try in the pool, luckily not injuring myself because we weren't very deep)
  • Let your mask fill with water and then clear it 40 feet underwater
  • Remove the regulator underwater and rise slowly to the surface while breathing out slowly because you always need to be breathing out while scuba diving
  • Simulate running out of air and sharing with your partner
  • Dropping the regulator from your mouth and retrieving it underwater, all the while remembering to slowly breathe out
  • Partially flood your mask and clear it
I think that is all of it!  I am a perpetual nose plugger even in shallow water.  If my head goes under I am plugging my nose and I NEVER open my eyes underwater, yet here I am unable to fully plug my nose when that mask comes off and needing to open my eyes underwater to see what is going on after clearing my mask.  Worry is an understatement...then add in sharks and other sea creatures that just generally worry me and it makes for a panic induced situation.  My poor instructor!

Now you may be wondering how Dylan is handling all this especially since I am so nervous.  He was wonderful!  Honestly I do not think I have ever felt so proud and supported at the same time as I did during this entire process.  He is my rock in a lot of ways and it showed most during this week.  It is a strange thing when your child is stronger and bigger than you and even stranger still when he becomes your strength!

We dove with Turtle bay divers and the experience in regards to them and their operation were both good and bad.  The good was that they were really great with communication, the rates were very affordable, and the equipment was quite nice.  The bad was the location.  We had to take a very small boat over from our hotel, which was no big deal.  But when we got to their place by Mama's chalets there was no dock at all. Nothing but dead and very sharp coral that needed to be waded through in order to reach the rocks you had to climb up.  Not fun at all!

On top of that we were completely responsible for getting our equipment and setting it all up with very little help from the staff. (I have since learned that this is very atypical)   Next we had to walk back down the slippery rocks with all our gear on (very heavy) and wade back over the very sharp coral.  It seemed downright unsafe to me.  They did do a nice briefing about the spot we would head to but even the boat itself did not seem very safe.  No safety protocols, no first aid kits or oxygen or really any parameters if there was an accident or injury.

We did 4 dives over 2 days with them.  They were all pretty much the same.  We had a few sites with good visibility and a couple without but we were doing our skills most of the time anyway and I know it was early in the season.  Another irritating thing was they way they scheduled the dives.  We had at least 3 hours in between the dives leaving us stranded with mediocre food, limited choices and basically using the entire day for the 2 dives.

Certified divers!!
Each dive was a little different but each one, complete with the various skills tests went smoothly.  Dylan blew me away with his ability to push past the fear and tackle each thing head on.  For me it took a little more prodding and certainly a lot more time but I completed them all and pushed the fear aside albeit much slower than Dylan.  I may not have enjoyed things like removing my mask but there is certainly something to be said for knowing I can do it to carry me through my dives from that point on with a higher confidence level.

Best scuba instructor ever!  I could not have done it with anyone else!
Scuba certification was one of the hardest things I have ever done mentally.  It also is now one of the things I am most proud of!  Stepping outside of our comfort zones to tackle a true fear is a great motivator and reminder the next time the kids and I come up against something we are not so sure about!

Our 3 days on the Perhentian Islands were wonderful.  There may not be a lot to do but the beautiful beaches complete with off shore snorkeling was enough for me to relax and enjoy.  It is not exactly the spot for diversity and adventure but if diving and relaxation are what you seek you can't go wrong on these islands.

As an added benefit all that elephant searching from the ride to the ferry panned out on the ride home.  We were driving along and saw a couple cars pulled over and there, right on the side of the road, were 3 wild elephants, including an adorable baby.  We pulled over and just sat in awe watching.  I grabbed my camera and shot away but as I did not have my telephoto lens yet I had to move in closer for a better shot, right?  Locals drove past me yelling for me to move away but I wanted that close up shot for all of you.  As I approached the mother and baby ran into the brush and the male stuck out his ears and charged.  I do not think the command of GET BACK IN THE CAR has ever been listened to so promptly!

It was quite a thrill, and made for a great story upon our return home!   Scuba, and beaches, and elephants...OH MY!

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  1. I'm glad you feel proud of your accomplishment because you should be! You really faced your fears head-on and kicked their butt.

    And the elephants were nice enough to let me know I still can move fast when needed. LOL

    1. Ha, no doubt! The whole thing was a big thrill!

  2. I was hyperventilating just reading this. I'm working on snorkeling without ( with less?) panic---in a swimming pool. We will be living on Oahu for 3 months next winter. It would be a shame if I can't at least snorkle. Baby steps.

    1. I agree, you need to get that down and push past any fears. There are so many beautiful fish that you can only see in Hawaii. You have to get it done:) Good luck!