Detailed report on our PADI diving studying on Perhentian island
At the bottom of the Caribbean Sea, more than two thousand unexplored ships are buried, flooded by pirates during the Gold Rush. Holds of English and Spanish sailboats are lying under water filled with treasures from Terra Nova surrounded by octopuses and cubes-cubes.
An available for tourists option is visiting ships drowned in more “convenient” way or / and willfully flooded, to the delight of divers.
But usually diving is very expensive. Prices in Thailand:
We had been dreaming of diving for a long time and decided to find some volunteer work in a dive center in Malaysia to work and study for free.
Soon it became clear that the best place for diving in Malaysia is Perhentian Islands on the east coast from Thailand. The water here is transparent. The smaller island is backpackers’ one, it’s cheaper, we have counted more than 10 PADI-licensed diving schools, and here are one of the cheapest prices in the world.
On the Workaway volunteer source there were several offers from dive schools, but unfortunately we did not get any answers from them.
From Kuala Lumpur to the city of Kota Baru we got a hitchhike, and from Kota Baru to the city of Kuala Besut (the extreme mainland point with the pier) – by bus, which runs from the central bus station (Central Bus Station) several times a day. The ticket costs 7 RM ($ 1.75) per person, you need to buy it from the bus driver. Both the cashiers and the bus driver tried to sell us boat tickets (at 35 RM = $ 8.75 per person).
The bus drove us to the pier, where we learned that there are no ferries going to the islands. You can get there only by private boat, round-trip ticket (with a free return date) costs 70RM (17.5 $) per person. Several sellers with the same prices surrounded us. We chose the least intrusive and bought our tickets.
We landed on the Long beach – a party-beach of the island. In the evenings, it is crowded: with the onset of darkness music is playing in the beach bars, several people are making fire show at once.
We walked along the beach and checked the prices for diving, simultaneously offering ourselves as volunteers.
Unfortunately, there were enough volunteers everywhere (although we are still confident that it is possible to realize our idea). But we could not stop – we still decided to do diving. Like ordinary tourists.
Most of the companies offered similar packages:
Open Water Diver Course + accommodation at the hostel 3 days and 2 nights (shared bedroom / separate room) + (sometimes) breakfast for 1050-1350 RM (262-337 $) per person. The course price without accommodation is starting from 950 RM (238 $).
We chose the course of the Turtle Bay Divers school.
The school doesn’t have its own hostel, and we were allowed to put our tent right in the courtyard. There are showers, toilets and free drinking water.
The Open Water Diver course includes:
1. Theoretical lesson: listen to a lecture, watch a movie, read a textbook, take tests.
2. Practice in shallow water – 3 lessons.
3. Practice at depth – 4 dives.
4. Exam – you need to answer correctly at least 75% of the test questions.
Almost all instructors are foreigners, they work here only for several months and their eyes are shining. We liked the friendly atmosphere of the school at once.
We filled in the questionnaires, received a thick diving textbook. Our instructor will be Naim from Palestine. He has good English and in general he inspires confidence.
Classes will begin only tomorrow, so we almost all day read the textbook, than impressed the instructor.
And we were pleased with free tea, coffee and crackers.
Prices on the island are high, there are no supermarkets. For breakfast, we used some free boiling water to cook oatmeal. Fortunately we just bought a 1 kilogram package a couple of days ago.
Our classmate Darren (a Malaysian and an ethnic Chinese) came and we all were watching the training film in English for 3 hours.
Then we answered the test questions – about the pressure at different depths, about the equipment … In general, we had time to get bored.
Then, finally, practice! Naim taught us to assemble and disassemble diving equipment.
We felt a bit like soldiers.
And then we went to shallows.
The boat drove us and a couple of other training groups into a secluded bay.
At a depth of about one and a half meters we were sitting on our knees, communicating with special gestures, clearing our masks of water …
The first breath under water requires a little psychological effort. But the physical possibilities in the deep are very diverse: one can not only breathe, but sneeze, cough and even (sorry) vomit. Then you should press the button to clear the regulator, and watch the sea fish coming to eat your breakfast. But the most surprising thing is the new sensations of weightlessness that you can’t find anywhere except diving.
Then we had a real dive – we descended to a depth of 9 meters (location Batu Nisan). It was spectacular and generally surprising. We saw a large sea turtle, fish, corals and reefs …
Only Vova was struggling with a positive buoyancy – he kept lifting up, and Naim was holding him, not letting to fly away, and gesturing to breathe more evenly and not to flounder with his feet.
I was looking at “breathing” carnivorous plants – you can not pin your finger in them. They suck in fish and then spit out their bones.
If you give vent to feelings of ecstasy, then you forget about breathing, and because of frequent breaths, neutral buoyancy turns into positive one (too much air in the lungs), and you start to float against the will. You need to breathe deeply and slowly. For me it turned out that it was more convenient (more technically) to balance the emotional state, to keep meditative calm and to move smoothly, without fuss.
Diving is like a flight in a dream.
Oatmeal for breakfast, another hour of watching the movie and answering quiz questions. Google-translator is our best friend. We had to learn a lot of new words on the subject of diving. Vova also downloaded the PADI-diving textbook in Russian, and it became much easier for us.
Practical lesson in shallow water, then a break for lunch, briefing and one more dive.
We were practising complicated exercises already at a greater depth, and then again enjoying diving at 12 meters. We have learned to keep neutral buoyancy – to keep in our BCD (boyancy control device – a special vest) the amount of air necessary to “hang”. This time Vova did not fuss and was very pleased.
Upon returning during the analytical meeting, Naim instructed Darren to breathe less often and more accurately. He simply praised Vova, “You’re doing fine, you’re the best. It’s not for nothing that you are kayaking instructor”. “And you,” he said to me. “Are you often smiling underwater?” “Hmmm, yes…” “I’m just asking, because I can’t understand.”
… I just really like learning how to dive. But probably in an atmosphere of universal seriousness, a lady with her eyes bulging under her mask and with a huge hose in her mouth looks quite freaky while smiling.
In the evening we were sitting on the veranda when we heard that someone was shouting “Help!” Everyone jumped. The Malayzian was floundering in the sea near the shore and periodically hiding under the water. “Oh my God, there’s someone drowning, is there any Rescue Diver here?” exclaimed an instructor girl. Japanese girl Miha, her student on the course “Rescue Diver”, threw everything and ran to the shore. She returned, grabbed her fins and mask and ran again. Returned, grabbed a rescue float (a large ball on a rope), rushed to the shore and after a while began to save the “drowning” person. Apparently, her course “Rescue Diver”, in addition to “standard” classes at depth and shallow water (3 days), includes such unexpected training.
In the evening we went to dinner together: we, our buddy Darren and the rescuer Miha.
While falling asleep, it seemed to me that I was checking my buoyancy at the bottom of the sea: I was standing on my fins in a pose “diagonal Michael Jackson” and breathing. Inhale – I rise, exhale – I go down.
Sunny day. One more morning lesson in the shallows. Then an hour-long lunch break, then a briefing on using the compass.
Then diving at a depth of 16.2 meters (location Batu Layat) with a compass and a computer clock.
Today the visibility is great (15 meters).
Periodically the instructor informed: “Everybody look at me, I am showing to you.” And he was doing some trick. “Now you do”. For example, he took off the mask, held it in his hands, then at the same time slightly blew his nose, squeezing his nose (free from the mask at the moment) by his fingers. Oh, so here’s how to do it, I just need to, but was too shy to ask. Naim put his mask on, blew out the water and opened his eyes again. “Now you”. I took off my mask in front of him, blew my nose with pleasure, then blew out the mask and opened my eyes. The instructor applauded me.
While Daren was sailing and returning on the compass under the tacit supervision of the instructor, Vova showed: look. A huge flat fish – the size of a head – sailed to look at our workout.
We were returning by boat with Miha and our instructors, when, nearly in 20 meters to the shore, the boat slowed, Naim put on a mask and suddenly flopped his back over the side. “Help!” he shouted.
“O Lord, a man is out of the way! He needs help!” – exclaimed the remaining instructors in a not quite natural way. Miha grabbed her mask – it’s broken. Darren gave her his mask. A fragile Japanese girl – her weight is maybe two times less than that of a drowning – jumped overboard. “Oh no, she forgot the float,” said her instructor.
After swimming a couple of meters, Mihai returned, “Can you give me a float, please?” And they gave her an orange ball.
Meanwhile our instructor Naim was squalling “Help!” with a thin voice and floundering. Miha swam up and threw a float at him. He grabbed the float, but then for some reason let it go and started sinking again. Miha threw a float to him and tried persuading him to hold on. Naim finally agreed. When Miha came a little closer and offered to sail to the boat, Naim suddenly let the float go and started drowning Miha, leaning on her head. Then again and again. Finally, Miha sailed away and again threw a float at Naim’s head. “Please, hold on! Let’s go to the boat?” “Take me to the boat!”
Miha pulled him to the board. “Get in the boat, please! Okay? ” she begged. “Take me to the boat!” Yes, our dive instructor obviously knows how to be a problem drowner. “Okay, I’m joking, I will go by myself.” And he climbed.
“Miha, I saw you were going to come to me without a float? I’d drown you in a couple of minutes.” “Yes, I first forgot, and then returned …” “And you,” says Naim to us. “You are the kayaking instructors, and you did nothing? Just watching?” “And laughing,” says Vova.
“Thank you very much,” says Miha to Naim. “No, thank you – you saved my life.”
When came back, the three of us were making the test – a preparation for the exam. It was already getting dark when we checked the test with the instructor and finally went to have some dinner.
In the evening there was a downpour.
Morning exam. It was necessary to answer the test questions correctly – at least 75% of them. In general it was not difficult: we had already passed all this. Everybody passed: the guys had 1-2 mistakes (mostly because of the English problem), I had none.
Now we are officially divers!
We are going to the final dive, and this time we were allowed to take our cameras with us (all underwater photos were taken that day).
The instructor brought the dive plan, and I understood that my dream comes true: we are going to visit sunken ships.
Police wreck – 3 ships, specially “decommissioned” to a depth of 16 and 19 meters. When ships are flooded intentionally, this is done in a “convenient” place, including diving comfort.
After the night storm, there were big waves, and the boat captain, who delivered us to the place, said that it was not safe for him to wait for us on the surface and he will come back later. Naim swam with the snorkel mask, looked and went back on board. “Visibility is very bad,” he told us. “Would you like to go somewhere else?” On the surface of the restless sea there were divers’ bubbles – at the bottom there was already a team. “Now visibility is bad everywhere,” I said, “let’s stay here?” The guys supported, and Naim, to my delight, agreed. The boat was rocking on the waves in such a way that not only my sense of security left me, but I began to get nauseated, so I wanted to get out of the ship urgently.
Finally, we began to dive. We neatly descended, holding the rope, because we were carried away by the current. Visibility was about 5 meters.
Suddenly the instructor vanished, and then he emerged from below with Darren’s camera. It turned out that Darren had dropped it. Another couple of moments – and the current would have carried it into the obscurity of muddy waters. In general, it is necessary to dive very smoothly, gradually equalizing (“blowing out” the ears), so as not to damage the ear drums by the pressure drop. But the lightning-fast Naim saved the camera, showing once again that he is very cool.
Giant flocks of fish surrounded the darkened bodies of the ships and froze in place, as if looking at us.
From under one of the ships the cold current was beating – and it was frightening.
Looking at my computer I first time reached 18 meters depth – it’s maximum one allowed an Open Water Diver. Hooray!
At the sight of the gaping emptiness of the cabins, surrounded by schools of fish, I was breathless (breathe, breathe smoothly). The only thing that broke the romance was that the current carried me directly to the ship, and I had to make an effort not to crash into it. I still touched the ship several times with my hands and fins. It was necessary to stop earlier, when we sailed to the ship, and enjoy it staying against the current.
Nearby, another 1-2 teams of divers sailed, and I could distinguish our instructor thanks to his unusual fins. But once I confused by buddies and was going to join strangers. Vova, my buddy (fellow-partner), showed “let’s go” and led me to ours. It was hard to orient under the water.
When we returned to school, we paid for the course and officially became divers. Electronic certificates came to our mail, and physical certificates will be sent to Kuala Lumpur.
Now we can officially dive anywhere in the world with a dip of up to 18 meters for recreational diving.
We wanted to take a fun dive to Sugar Wreck the next day, but I caught a cold, and this is a categorical contraindication to diving.
So we left this beautiful place with some regret and came on the road again.
Another dream came true: we tried diving.
P.S. Now we are adding to our wish list participation in the Dive Against Debris volunteer project (diving to clear the ocean from rubbish). And diving in the Caribbean 🙂