Checking out the West Coast, then back to Cairns
Perth Travel Blog› entry 3 of 12 › view all entries
Since I knew that I'd be making some money again soon, I decided I'd splurge on a flight out to Perth, so I could see a bit of the West Coast of Australia while I was here. So I booked a ticket for a week's trip. Spent a few nights in Perth, and then out to Freemantle, a beach area close by. There were a few girls in my room at the hostel that I hung out with while I was there. Did a couple dives by Rottnest. I would have loved to head up the coast to Exmouth, as Ningaloo Reef often has whale sharks, but it didn't fit into the finances. As I'm writing this 10 years after the fact, any other details of my trip have faded away (my most vivid memories are usually ones that involve people I really connected with, whereas some of the sites I've seen no longer leave such an imprint in my mind).
Flew back to Cairns and to disappointment. Compass had decided they wanted to hire an Australian as hostess, despite having promised me the position before I had left. I was so upset: I had spent money, counting on a paying job when I came back, and now I was getting more and more broke by the day. I decided not to return to Reef Encounter, as I was ready for a change.
I moved into a house with a group of girls- 5 of us, and 1 guy (he was a skipper, and usually only on land a few days a week, so most of the time, it was just us girls). Two Australians, and English girl and a Swede. We had a wonderful time together: two of the girls I had known before I moved in, and quickly got to be good friends with the others. Samuel's had a van that they took around to hostels to bring backpackers to their bar/restaurant, and the driver would usually stop by and give us a lift as well. And there was always a steady stream of people coming to visit. Other than my meals at Samuel's, my diet consisted in a large part of three minute noodles: cheaper than kraft dinner!
Did a few week-long trips on other boats: Hels and I went on the Taca II up to Cod Hole and the Ribbon Reefs as volunteer hosties. We were supposed to go on their other boat, and it didn't end up running, so they took us both on this trip, despite normally only requiring one hostess. Which meant the two of us shared the work of one, so we had lots of free time! Still up to our antics, we'd play jokes on each other, with wasabi sauce on the regulator mouthpiece, or dive booties filled with cereal. We went on every dive that the paying passengers went on, it was wonderful! Huge potato cod, several feet long. Sharks, giant clams, beautiful reefs.
Then I went up to the same sites with Mike Ball, another liveaboard, again as volunteer hostie. One of my roommates was friends with the dive instructor, and he offered to do my rescue course for me while I was onboard. He was also doing the course for the cook, so in our free time, we'd work on rescue techniques in the water. And still plenty of time to do a few pleasure dives as well. I may have been doing a slow drain on my bank account, but I was logging up a lot of dives, and working on all my courses, as I had decided I'd like to become a dive instructor, and use it as a means to travel.
Then I found a dive company (Cairns Dive Centre) that offered divemaster internships. Divemaster is the first course of professional diving: you can assist the instructor with courses, and guide already certified divers. The course was normally several hundred dollars, but with CDC I could choose to do the coursework in exchange with several weeks of helping out as divemaster, a couple months commitment in total. Since it was heading in the right direction of my goal to be an instructor, I decided to go for it, though my savings were getting rather dismal. I knew I'd be leaving in a few months (my sister was getting married, so I had to go back to Canada for the wedding), so I'd just work like crazy once I got back to Canada.
The divemaster course has several parts to it. There are some academic sections (physics, physiology etc), some practical sections, like demonstrating underwater skills (mask removal and replacement, BCD removal and replacement etc), and swim tests, with and without fins. I had never been a strong swimmer: to dive, you don't have to be. The swim tests were all timed, so this was a huge challenge for me. I was in the water swimming laps almost every single day for a month. Instead of hating swimming, I started to enjoy it, when I finally got the breathing figured out so I wasn't winded.
CDC's main business was with open water courses, a 4-5 day course that taught people how to dive. The first couple days were at the pool and in the classroom, and then a couple days out on their boat doing the certifying dives. I worked with several different instructors: I was responsible for helping out at the pool: cleaning it, helping get everyone's dive gear organized, and getting in the water to assist with the students. It was a great way to learn: since I worked with different instructors, I saw their different teaching styles and techniques. And then I got to choose who I would like to work with for my coursework, as well as for the dives out on the boat. I chose to work with Rick, and Australian instructor. He had a great sense of humour, but he was tough! I thought I'd learn the most from him, as he had great control of his students.
On our days on the boat, we'd do a couple training dives (the students would practice some of the skills that they'd learned in the pool, like removing their regulator and recovering it, followed by a tour of the reef). I'd help with anyone that was struggling with anything (buoyancy is always one of the toughest things to learn, so I'd often be tugging someone back down who was floating up, or making sure they didn't go too deep), and follow at the back of the group. After they were certified, the students had an option of trying a night dive.
Night dives are kind of magical. You take down an underwater flashlight, and usually have a little light attached to the back of your gear. Underwater can be pitch black, only the area illuminated by your flashlight is visible. All the colours that get muted out the deeper you go are in fullforce when you have a light source with you, and shrimp and lobsters eyes glow red. There are little microorganisms that glow when agitated in the water (a phemonenon called bioluminescence), so it you sit down in a sand patch, turn off your light, and move your arms all around, it's like there's fairy dust all around you! And then getting back to the surface, just the beautiful still and peace of the night, under all the stars.
However, night dives with a bunch of newbies is not quite as ideal. Even once you're certified, it's a bit of a learning curve to feel really comfortable in the water, and diving at night you have to be much more aware of your surroundings, as you can't see as well. So with fresh-out-of-training divers, it was a guarantee that you'd be constantly bumped into on the night dive. And lucky me, I was responsible for taking them all down for a tour.
Before we'd go down, I had to give a briefing. It would be a site that we had already dove during the day, but I'd go over the routine, flashlight etiquette (don't shine it in someone's eyes!), what we'd see, etc. I love to play jokes, and I couldn't resist teasing one group a bit. With a very straight face, I explained to the group that during the night, a lot of larger nocturnal animals came out. To make sure that they didn't bother us, we used honey as a repellent. Too much would repel them completely away, we just wanted to make sure they kept at a distance, so the cook would put out honey on the dive deck to use on pulse points: wrist, neck ankles.
The skipper came out to see all the divers getting ready to go for their dive, dabbing on the honey. He couldn't figure out what was going on (he wasn't inside for the briefing), so he asked one person what they were doing. They replied that they were putting on honey to keep the sharks away. The skipper started laughing: 'who told you that?', he asked. All eyes turned to me. I smiled sweetly, and said that anyone with honey could stay by me, the rest would have to stay at the back of the group.
Rick gave me a lecture (while trying to remain straighfaced) after that one, about not playing up on people's fears. Sorry, Rick, just couldn't resist!
Between certification dives, we'd work on my rescues. They were never planned, he'd catch me unaware, and a crew member would shout that there was someone needing help, and Rick would be out floating in the water. Not all of my bikinis were the sturdy sort that held up to a frantic paced swim to a drowning victim, so he got quite an eyefull onetime! He was relentless with making sure I reacted fast, and we'd have drill after drill. And I'd practice my laps at sea too, round and round the boat.
Finally passed all my swims, and finished up my divemasters. It was now May, and by this time, my Australia trip was nearly at a close (a few months short of the year, thanks to my sister's wedding). My ticket was leaving out of Sydney, as when I had originally booked it I had thought I would still be down there, so it was time for another marathon busride down the coast. I had a stopover booked in Fiji, so I decided to put a dive vacation on my credit card: who knew when I'd be back there again!