Saturday, July 05, 2008

Day 6 Of 7 - Once More Onto The Beach, My Friends

Woke up to the sounds of several loud F words from Lebowski's cell next door.
"We're late, aren't we?" I shouted through the wall.
"Yes!" he shouted back, between F words.
Blasted back down the beach to Sinai Divers, and found out Bob had been there and left. When he re-arrived, he asked us if we knew that meant we pay for all the beers. We sheepishly assented, and so began day two.
More videos. More tests. Then it was back into the gear and back into the water for Confined Water Dive Two. Felt a little more in control this time. I had discovered during the open water phase the day before that your legs are your primary means of propulsion and steering. If you wanna go, you kick repeatedly, and if you want to roll, you kick once, which spins you. Your arms are fairly useless except for grabbing stuff. And unfortunately, when you're kneeling underwater, your legs are no help, so I just resigned myself to spending most of the dive on my face.
More skills. This time we had to swim a good distance (20m maybe) without a breath, to simulate getting to the surface after running out of air. No problem with that. Bob also turned off our air tanks, so that we'd get an idea of what that feels like to run out of air. Feels just like you might imagine. You take a tug of air, and it's a lot harder to take, and then you take another one and nothing happens. Of course he turned the air right back on again, but it was still a little unsettling. And having done that, we worked on helping out a fellow diver whose air has run out. That was sort of the culmination of all the skills, that process. What happens is, a guy swims up to you and makes the 'throat cut' signal for "I'm out of air." You instantly stick your arms up so he can grab your spare regulator, because if you try to get it for him, you'll both bonk heads looking for it until he passes out. Then once he's got it, you lock arms like Roman soldiers, so that you don't get too far away and yank the regulator back out of his mouth. Then you both swim for the surface, and when you get there, he buys the beer. But you don't want to swim too fast to the surface, or you both explode, and in that condition, no one buys the beer.
The amusing part of this dive actually happened before that part. One of the skills is having to take your mask completely off underwater and breathe for 30 seconds, so you'll know what that feels like in case someone accidentally kicks it off your face. Sounds easy. I went first, and I decided that it would be a waste if I went all the way to the Red Sea and didn't open my eyes underwater, regardless of how much it hurt. It actually only stung for a few seconds, and then it was only semi-blinding. However... it seems humans are genetically programmed to not breathe underwater, and thus everyone has triggers that make you freak out when you're submerged. My particular one, as I found out, is having my eyes open. It was difficult to breathe through the regulator with nothing over my nose, but I was able to inhale calmly enough that no water went in it... at first. Soon the 'get out the damn water' reflex took over, though, and I became unable to control my lungs. They kept doing this hitching HUH HUH HUH HUH thing, and no matter what I did, I could not stop them. Only made it fifteen seconds, and then I gave Bob the 'ascending' sign, which, due to my previous behavior, he incorrectly interpreted as 'everything's fine.' So I reinforced the sign with a panicked blast to the surface just to make sure he got the message.
He caught up to me and assured me that that happens to lots of people. Lebowski surfaced just after, and exclaimed that I'm really funny while I'm dying. But I did notice that when it was his turn, he kept his eyes shut, the bastard. And I'll tell you, watching him do that test while I was waiting to do it again was not at all confidence-building. But with my eyes shut, I made it. And it was perversely satisfying to have found a limit, something that hardly ever happens in daily life.
Between dives, Bob gave us the swimming test, where you swim a certain length and also tread water for ten minutes. WOW it had been a while since I'd been in the water. Salt water is not friendly when you accidentally take a snarf of it. But after the test, while Bob went to pick up more gear, Lebowski and I busied ourselves with trying to dive down to this giant concrete thing that was half buried on the sea floor. We both only barely made it, once, and then while using our masks, we saw that there were freedivers just lying there next to it on the bottom, watching us and laughing.
Then it was time for the fourth and final dive, Open Water Two. Things didn't start well. As I was wading out, Bob started making crazy motions over my shoulder, and eventually reached past me and plucked a tiny bedouin kid off my back. He'd been taking hits off my regulator. But again, once we got into the blue, it was fantastic. I really regret not having had an underwater camera, because there would have been more pictures in this entry. Also, you'd have been able to see me all stuffed into SCUBA gear. One thing that struck me is that once you go beneath the surface, you're really there for the duration. If you have a minor annoyance, like the salt sludge that builds up in your mouth from mouth breathing for twenty minutes at a time, you just have to deal with it until it's time to surface. Also, during this dive, my vest kidnapped me. It has a valve at the top and at the bottom, so that you can let the air out if you're too buoyant. You just have to know which valve to open. If you're head up and you pull the top one, great. But if you're say, head down, and not quite smart enough to know that the air has risen to the bottom of the vest, what happens is the vest drags you spazzing to the surface while you yank repeatedly at the wrong valve like a moron. I'm not saying that happened, but yeah, that happened. Twice. Between being too high, too low, and a little slow, I was never where I was supposed to be. But I was in the Red Sea, and alive despite the water's efforts, and when I finally surfaced out of it, Bob shook my and Lebowski's hands. "Congratulations, SCUBA divers," he said.
Didn't keep me from leaving my tank standing up when we got back. Damn.
We hit the bar again, and between alcoholic remuneration, we found out a little more about Bob. Seems he lives just a few blocks over from where we were staying, and just bikes over when it's time to teach new folk to dive. And that's what he does for a living. That's what everyone in Dahab does for a living. It's a town of people who get paid to do what they love to do. That's probably what made him such an excellent teacher. If you're going to learn to dive, learn from Bob. And then eat at Joe's.
Headed back to Sindbad, where Darrin and Freeman had again found the girls. I suppose it's no coincidence Canadians speak French. Now I don't want to suggest the existence of divine providence, but there were four of us, and four of them, and after mixing and matching a while, we all paired off. Miriam was the girl I ended up with, and not just because she didn't speak English and no one else spoke Spanish; she was really pretty. During our conversation, which was halted haltingly more than once by my sluggish language skills, it came out that she was the only one who was not a diver, the only one who was not even interested in diving, and seventeen years old. Wow they grow them mature in Spain. Her age really didn't matter anyway though, because as fun as single-use romance is touted to be, I didn't damn know her from Eve and was perfectly content just talking to her about Spain. Plus, it allowed me to stow my crappy game and watch the other guys throw their crappy game.
About an hour after that, the girls executed what I can only term the Catalan Kiss-Off. They must have had some strange other country telepathy, because outwardly, it just looked like they all simultaneously stood up and waved goodbye. But inwardly, I imagine it went something like this:

MARIA: OK, I'm getting tired. CKO time.
CONSUELA: All right... my guy's a dud.
LIDIA: Not sure about mine. Come back to me.
MIRIAM: Mine's old. Nope.
MARIA: Not digging mine. Connie?
CONSUELA: Mmm... nah. Let's bolt.

The four of us waved as we watched them go, and then sat there in silence for a moment. "Well, that went well," Lebowski finally ventured.
"Club?" Darrin suggested, and we all nodded, thinking it would be harder to hear our resounding defeat over blasting techno.
On the way, we all came up with excuses why the girls hadn't fallen swooningly into our arms. Freeman put the spotlight on me about Miriam, and I shrugged that she had not been exactly legal. "Here she is," he quipped, and I had to admit that that hadn't occured to me. I wasn't in America, was I? Talk about BOOP you're elsewhere...
The dance club was very cool, although if you're trying to forget an instance where girls wouldn't talk to you, the very worst place to go do it is a place where hundreds of girls won't talk to you. It was set off from the beach down an alley, and the door to the place was a giant dreamcatcher-inspired gate that rotated to let you in. Inside it was desert island Tiki hut, and in back there was a balcony that you could only get to by shaky rope bridge. A rope bridge, by the way, is the perfect thing to have in a dance club full of drunk people. I could barely get across it, and I surf turbulence. I'm sure there's a compound fracture in that place three times a week.
After a few Sakaras, we all retreated to our cells, and I prepared for my next and final day in Egypt, during which I planned to do nothing at all but sit and watch the sea.


Blogger Aviatrix said...

"It was perversely satisfying to have found a limit, something that hardly ever happens in daily life."

Hell yes.

12:26 AM  
Blogger AkuTyger said...

I took a SCUBA class a long time ago and never made it through the open water test because of that mask thing and regulator thing. I freaked out. I was only 12 or 13 at the time, but still...

2:21 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

Avi: That's me. The hardest of the core.
Aku: Give it another try. You're where some of the best diving is, I hear. It's worth the temporary flip-out.

8:47 PM  
Anonymous sandtalker said...

Every time I used to go diving, I would hear the John Williams' two-tone theme as I descended. That was always good for an adrenaline rush...

9:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But I did notice that when it was his turn, he kept his eyes shut, the bastard."

I totally opened my eyes when I went back to finish my Open Water certification.

It, as you say, "actually only stung for a few seconds, and then it was only semi-blinding."

I could make out blotches of color.

What did you say to Miriam again?


9:44 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

Leb: Sorry you're blind now, but at least we're both blind. And what did I say to her? Same thing Bill Murray said to Scarlett Johansson, ha ha.

9:50 AM  

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