When I called up P to check if she would be interested in doing diving, she replied in the exact manner in which I was hoping. She excitedly told ‘Let us do it’.
Two weeks later, we were in Krabi, wandering about its night market and scarcely believing that we were actually there. The feeling persisted as we got into a ferry the next morning to go to Phi Phi island where our diving centre was located.
Phi Phi is a small island and even from the jetty, we could see our hotel. However, the minute we entered its narrow streets, packed with dive shops, souvenir shops and restaurants, we had to navigate by sense, rather than sight to get to the Phi Phi hotel, which was going to be our base. It was close to the streets, to the dive centre and to the jetty. Even if its claims of being a four star place seemed a bit spurious, it was very convenient.
When I had done my initial research on the diving, I had picked Phi Phi since the weather was supposed to be good in February and it was rated one of the best diving destinations in S.E.Asia. It was also easily accessible for P (or rather relatively so) and me. We had already picked a diving centre, the Phi Phi Dive Centre based on the fantastic reviews on the net. Phi Phi is however filled with plenty of options and a lot of people just seemed to be walking into the various shops and booking a spot for a dive. There were enough P.A.D.I certified centres, the certification that provides credibility for a dive shop.
We had signed up for the ‘Discover Scuba Diving’ programme. This normally would involve a one day tour with two diving trips. However, given the butterflies that had taken up residences in our stomachs even as we spoke about the trip, we had also requested a theory cum shallow water practice session. And so, we appeared at 1 p.m. at Phi Phi Dive Centre. We were assigned Katie, a petite Texan girl, who was among the newest of the instructor crop.
Katie sat us down and meticulously took us through how to assemble and disassemble our equipment. This is not a standard part of most trainings but it did us good to understand what each part did and how to put it together and use it. This took us over an hour. Next it was time for our practical session in shallow water. Which basically meant a walk to the nearest empty spot on the beach, wearing our outfits and lugging our equipment along. This was easier said than done since a key piece of the equipment was an oxygen-nitrogen cylinder, which Katie estimated weighed around 20 kgs. First we had to get into our wet suits. Then tie the weight belt around our waists. Next our masks went around our necks.
Finally we put on a jacket with the cylinder attached to it and carried our flippers in our hands. Backs bent over, we slowly made it to the beach and got into the water.
The trick to scuba diving is to get the breathing right. One uses only the mouth to both breathe in and breathe out. This is against the natural order of things and even though the principle is the same as snorkelling, the thought that you would be 12 metres below the surface when doing this can mess your mind. Our regulator, through which we had to breathe, was going to be our lifeline and we had to make sure that we got it right.
We sat in the shallow water and practiced our breathing. The weight of the cylinder had melted away the minute we entered the water. Yet the waves kept us off balance most of the times. Once we got the hang of breathing, Katie took us through the three key tricks. The first two involved putting the regulator back into the mouth if we lost it. This seemed fairly simple. The last one involved clearing water from the mask in case water entered it. This one was a bit tougher. We learnt (sort of) the three tricks and then we were done for the day.
We retraced our steps, the cylinder feeling even heavier after the practice session. I was beginning to get a bit worried about the actual diving session. This seemed like scary stuff.
I thought I was going to stay up all night worrying. The practice session had however, tired me enough to sleep. Yet, the next day I woke up early and thoughts began to race through my mind. This was obviously a bad idea. I had a kid back home and here I was throwing myself into stupid and dangerous activities. I thought of the post card lying in my hand bag, which I had superstitiously decided to post only after finishing the dive. I hoped I would be able to do it that evening.