Friday, September 24, 2010

photo album

Some pics from the last couple of months...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

under the sea

I remember discussing scuba diving with my real estate agent Octavio when my condo was being listed for sale.  During our first meeting, after I told him about my travel plans he asked me if I'd been scuba diving before or was planning to go when I was in Australia.  My answer: "Yeah, why not?  I'm up for trying it out - plus I'm a good swimmer so it shouldn't be too hard."  I am very comfortable in water - several years of competitive swimming, lifeguarding and water polo will do that to you - and figured this would all come in handy for scuba diving.  Octavio loves scuba diving and was quick to point out, and emphasize, that swimming and scuba diving are completely different - so just because you're good at one doesn't necessarily mean you'll be good at the other.  I was surprised at this, and remember wondering, how could they be that different?  I jumped at the first opportunity to find out...

While in Port Douglas I signed up for a day trip to go out to the Great Barrier Reef.  The boat was going to stop at two sites where passengers could go snorkeling and/or scuba diving, so I opted in for the introductory scuba dive at the first stop.  On the morning of the trip, while making our wavy way out to the reef, the scuba diving instructor gave a briefing to cover key info required to survive the introductory scuba dive.  Topics included how to communicate underwater (there are several standard hand gestures), how to equalize pressure (to avoid blowing your eardrums - hold your nose and blow out) and the basics on how to use the equipment provided.  The crowd was divided up into groups of four for the first timers.  It seemed safe and simple enough that I felt ready to take the plunge.

The first step was a test just below surface to gauge our level of comfort before officially going down.  After gearing up with a mask, air tank, mouthpiece, weights and flippers, I was told to sit on the edge of the back of the boat and practice breathing through the mouthpiece while I waited for my one-on-one time with the instructor.  I sat there, breathing in and out through the mouthpiece.  It wasn't difficult, just kinda annoying (in a cumbersome way) so I kept cheating by taking it out and breathing normally (i.e. without it :) ).  The guy responsible for herding the intro divers into the water noticed and had me start breathing through the mouthpiece again.  Three times!  I was happy when it was my turn to slide into the water and get started.  After I got into the waves, my instructor Sean said I'd need to hold on to a rope and go one meter below surface to try out what we'd covered in the briefing.  We both went underwater, with me holding the rope to guide my path and gauge depth.  I thought I was doing ok at the beginning... breathing in, and out, and in, and out... and I was, right up until Sean made a hand gesture to ask if I was ok.  I tried to make one in return to say yes and found myself accidentally communicating that I wanted to go back up to the surface (this is what a thumbs up means underwater - go figure!), which I then tried to follow up with other signals to indicate that my first hand gesture was not what I'd wanted to say.  But we hadn't covered the signals I needed so I was trying to make some up!  It wasn't working...  This all took some brain power and time and at some point I noticed that I was lacking oxygen.  In the midst of trying to communicate underwater I'd forgotten to breathe!  And I'd let go of the rope, and was sinking further underwater, fast...  I panicked.  I couldn't wait for Sean's reply - I popped right back up to the surface and pulled out my mouthpiece, gasping for air.  A wave splashed in my face.  Sean followed me back up: "What happened?  What did I tell you to do?"  I wondered if he'd noticed my fear and felt a bit embarrassed that I'd had to come back up before we were done the test.  I tried to hide it: "Umm, I'm not sure what happened.  I guess I let go of the rope?"  Sean gave me some pointers before suggesting we do a re-take.  This time, when we slipped below surface I focused on two things: breathing continuously and holding on to the rope.  Everything else was secondary.  And I managed to pass the surface test!  Two of the four people in my group weren't so lucky...

So then there were just two of us left in our group for the intro scuba dive.  Sean gave us another quick briefing before we started, reminding us that we'd equalize as a group every meter on the way down and about the hand gestures we needed to know.  When we slipped underwater, I knew that this time there'd be no opportunity to pop back up to the surface: I'd need to remember to breathe the entire time.  We started the descent...  I was doing ok with the breathing, and was busy looking around, trying to figure out if we were supposed to equalize yet.  Were the others doing it?  I couldn't tell.  I didn't want to damage my eardrums and had no idea how far down we'd gone, so I went ahead and did it on my own.  The descent continued...  I was still breathing all right, but still there were no signs of group equalization.  I continued to equalize on my own - pretty much constantly, along with reminding myself to breathe - and the next thing I knew we were at the bottom, next to some coral and just above sand.  Sean made a hand gesture - one that hadn't been covered in the briefing.  I wanted to address whatever he was saying but couldn't, because I literally had no idea what that was!  Now that we were at the bottom I had the added complication of trying to avoid swimming into coral.  At the same time I had to continue trying to figure out what my instructor was saying.  And respond.  And pose for the underwater photographer.  And breathe.  It's amazing how much more difficult things can be when your survival is at stake!  Things that you take for granted on land - like your ability to breathe and communicate - are a challenge underwater.  I'm not gonna lie - there were definitely a few split seconds of panic where I forgot to breathe because I was focused on something else - between the reef, the photographer and the communication attempts, there was a lot going on!  I can totally see how people get overwhelmed and feel the need to head up for air at the surface.  The whole thing passed very quickly and before I knew it we were climbing back into the boat.  I'd barely had time to enjoy the underwater scenery!  Luckily I got some snorkeling in afterwards...

Later that day, after we got back on shore I decided to get some exercise.  Running on the beach, I found myself naturally breathing in and out through my mouth - a skill that just hours earlier had seemed so difficult and unnatural underwater that I had to constantly remind myself to do so in order to survive the dive.  How is it possible that something that happens so instinctively and automatically in everyday life can all of a sudden make you feel like a fish out of water?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

reality check

Something happened the other day that I wasn't expecting at all: I actually considered the possibility of cutting my trip short.  This had nothing to do with being homesick or not having a good time - quite the contrary, I've been so busy enjoying every second of my trip that I haven't really missed anything from home except for people and hot yoga.  But something happened back home that made me wish I was there to help out...  It took a couple days for me to find out what was actually going on (it can be hard to reach people on the other side of the planet) which gave my imagination time to go wild with possibilities, leaving me in an unsettling state of constant distress...  I was happy and relieved when I finally found out that everything's ok.  Think I'm good to stick around here a bit longer now... :)

Monday, September 6, 2010

you live, you learn 3

- Spelling is optional.
- Things change.  (Like my 3-digit luggage lock combination, randomly one morning without being reset... while it was securing my bag.)
- Sometimes the hardest sign to find is the one for the road you're on.
- All peacocks are male.  The female is called a peahen.  The generic term is peafowl.
- Rainforest smells can range from rotting vegetation to refreshing.  You never know which one you'll experience next or how long it'll last.
- People here tend to say "double _" to spell things out.  Of the dozen or so people that have read my last name as K-W-T-A-N when spelling it out loud, only one has noticed that this actually forms a different name.
- The great barrier reef is actually made up of over 2900 individual reefs.
- Crocodile tastes like chicken with the occasional hint of fish.
- During the Australian election campaign, the Prime Minister candidate debate was moved because it conflicted with Master Chef, a reality TV show that's a cooking competition.
- In Sydney, you need to hail buses in order for them to pick you up from the stop.  You also need to pay every time you switch buses - they don't have the concept of transfers.
- Female butterflies mate only once in their lives.
- Some species of turtles breathe through their anus.
- Over 90% of people who get bitten by snakes in Australia were trying to capture or kill it.
- Swimming in water with crocs is considered normal for some Aussies.
- The Sydney Opera House tour was delivered live via poor quality headphones.
- Even though he lived for 25 years after construction was completed, the architect who designed the Sydney Opera House never saw the completed building.
- Wollemi pines were thought to be extinct for millions of years until a bushwalker found some near Sydney in 1994.  (Prior to that, people knew they existed only from fossils.)
- Kangaroos like wasabi peas.
- Some things are worth repeating.
- Happy hour is fabulous at any time of day :)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

and i quote 3

"You're turning me on." - Message shown on the display of a Virgin broadband modem when you turn it on.

"Are you planning to go to uni?" - James, who tried to pick me up at Gilligan's in Cairns, making an assumption about my stage of life and next big decision.

"They're not the smartest animals, but they sure do taste good!" - Russell, our second WWOOFing host, appreciating select qualities of a cow that decided to cross the highway in front of our car, forcing him to slam on both the brakes and horn to avoid hitting it.

"Even if you win the rat race, you're still a rat." - Message on the front cover of a blank greeting card depicting a rat emerging from the bush only to be unknowingly overshadowed by an onlooking black cat.

"May contain butter." - Package of monounsaturated spread.

"Ah... it's the cold I'm detecting." - Produce seller at Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne to me, after I told him I was a Canadian with a bit of a cold in response to his inquiry about my accent.

"Ingredients: Love, Purified Water..., Love." - Label on a bottle of cola-scented bubble bath I got, produced by a local company that puts the most important component of their products both first and last on all ingredient lists.

"Why are you there?  Is it because your bed is there?" - My 4-year-old niece Maaja during a phone call home, trying to understand my motivation for traveling.

"We are all visitors to this time, this place.  We are just passing through.  Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love... and then we return home." - Australian Aboriginal Proverb