Saturday, July 26, 2014

Creating the dream - second part

First of all, I want to point out that I was planning on diving when I would go on vacation. Yes, hearing my friend out and watching video's and informing myself about the possibilities made me orient my vacation with 'some diving'.  The idea at that time was: Let's see if I like diving!

So after checking out flight prices I was sure to be headed to Malta, it looked like the cheapest option within the EU with, apparently, pretty good diving possibilities. This was around January '14.

Time to book my ticket, low price, well ahead. Voila, ticket booked! Malta it is. You can imagine that after 10 years of not flying or having been on a proper vacation, I already was excited. It was still 5 months away but it sure did thrill my thoughts allready.

In order to get more comfortable health wise, I started going to the gym and knocked myself out doing cardio amongst other things. I wanted to loose about 10kg of weight. I went swimming for a bit as well to get used to bigger things filled with water than my shower at home. 

Yet, for further prep, I still needed to find is a place to stay and a dive club. I decided to find a dive club first, and choose my hotel accordingly in order to minimize traveldistance between both. I got in touch with a dive club and they knew a good cheap place for me to sleep. Perfect! 
Finally I almost had it all, my vacation was almost completly planned. The only thing to do now is loose more weight and get on that plane upon the day of departure. In the end I lost 12 kg before I left in June. Way to go!

A little problem occurred on the day of departure, my passport was not with me because I thought I wouldn't need it for traveling in Europe. But I did since I am Italian and living in Belgium. So I arranged/updated my passport in a few days and left 3 days later than supposed.

*****Note to self: Always travel with passport!!! Where ever you go. :-)

So here we are, in a lot better shape now, leaving for Malta. I can't wait to jump on that airplane, land and smell the air upon exiting the plane. The air of a southern country always smells so much different than what you are used to breath every day. It surely did smell like Italy right away but still different. I could smell the ocean being not to far away now. :-).

It's around 11 pm and a taxi gets me to my hotel in 35 minutes. I meet the hotel manager, very friendly guy, and he walks me around.
I get to take a night-peak from the hotel roofterras overlooking Mellieha. Being on a hill I get an idea of the landscape.

Time to unpack and get to bed. I'll start my first courses for Open Water Diver the morning after!! Yeah!!

I get picked up at 08.25 AM and we head for the dive club in Mellieha bay. After some paperwork and introductions it's time to head to the classroom for a theoretical morning session, followed by a pool session, and this goes like this, 2 days in a row. Outstanding to start with, getting familiar with rules, knowledge and equipment is really necessary.
Still, I can't wait to get in the ocean with all this gear. :-)

We were only 2 newbies, an English guy and myself, so the french, well English speaking instructor had plenty of time for us, which is always good.
On the 3rd day, we finally went for the Open Water Dive till a depth of 12,5m in the ocean... at Cirkewwa bay.
As we get ready and put our fins on, me and my dive buddy start to get really excited and a bit nervous. We went in the water and put our fins on, regulator in the mouth, and we started descending. And that's where I remember seeing what I saw that time when I was 16, back in Italy. It suddenly remembered me how beautiful it all actually was under there, under the surface of the ocean.

After repeating some elementary exercises we rehearsed in the pool the previous days, our instructor took us for a swim around the bay. When we surfaced after 37 minutes ... I felt relieved, relaxed and delighted. This is .... so cool! 

Nothing compares to the real thing, you can all see it on short movies you pick from YouTube for example but...being actually in it is what gives you the real experience with all the thrills, the complete package.

Yes I was thrilled, even more thrilled for the next 12m dive. For that one, we went to Anchor Bay a few hours later, which is at the Popeye Village. Yes, the one from the movie. Another great dive, very different site, with a gigantic anchor underwater.

The underwaterworld is revealing himself, he's coming to life, and I slowly start to trust him. 
And so goes on the next day, two dives, but this time till 18m, after forfilling the written examination. After this day, if all goes like planned, we will get certified with PADI Open Water Diver 18M.

With every dive I take ... the good feeling grows...I start to feel really comfortable down here. I start to look for different things every time and the surroundings really start to catch my eye.

In the water I probably still look like a waving crazy man but I'm slowly getting the hang. Finding my perfect buoyancy takes practice but its...very important! If you find it, you really feel close to weightlessness, it's awesome. 

So I try to relax as much as possible when encountering new things such as octopusses and scorpion fish or astonishing overhanging rock formations with moray eels and short tunnels and arches to swim through. We end up in a really big school of small fish a few times aswell. They just act as if you weren't there although it looks like they all look at you ha ha. Just amazing!

Relaxing is also important for keeping your air supply for as long as possible. Really, you want to spend as much time underwater as possible, most dives are over after 45 minutes or an hour, especially with my newbie breathing style. :)

Finaly, at the end of  these 4 days the overall feeling is outstanding. I had one of the best experiences in my life thanks to my dive instructor and the great team at the dive club. Same goes for my divebuddynewbie, we both graduated with a large smile saying we should do this again sometime!
Any time really Jim!

In the pocket: PADI OWD 18m which will later be replaced by a more bankcard like pass. PADI will send it my home in Belgium once fabricated.
I know this means nothing but it's a start to becoming a recreational diver. Job well done.

Ok well what now? Time to explore the island I guess, and have a good party with appropriate drinks. But first I inform myself in the dive club for the next week because I really feel like I want to do more diving in a few days. Ow yeah, for sure!

I get a price list and some good directions and I decide to do the Advanced OWD 30m. Same deal as before, some theory, some swim tests, exams, and 5 additional dives giving me the opportunity to go dive worldwide at PADIpoints till 30m. Note that this is something you really want to be doing when there is something to see, like a wreck or special dive location or something in that direction. But it's good to have right.

With some time off now I take some days to meet some people, and enjoy local foods and my vacation in general. We also spent a day at the beach and I get the best memory of Italy ever. The sand, the sun, the pick-nick, the beer, the wine, the ocean, the people, their way of life. Getting sunburned even more. 

Malta comes with the ability to go to the beach at off times, even if it's only once a week. 300+ days of sun a year. Nice rock! :-)

And with diving on my mind I get the chance to relax to the max and I can't wait to get back in the water all geared up. My last dive would eventually bring me to the wreck at Paradise Bay, P29 Patrol Boat close to the Madonna. At 30m, with my new instructor, great dutch guy by the way. I'm really excited now. This will be something else.
And the day before the actual 30m dives I 'll be night diving... OMG that sounds scary but at the same time I'm very curious...very curious indeed. The Advanced Open Water course comes with 5 additional dives, to your choice. So in addition to the deepdive and the multilevel dive (standards), I chose for a navigation dive, night dive and a wreck dive. These will be done in 3 days. Again, now certifying me as PADI Advanced OWD 30m after I finish. 

Now the first dream, the one to actually dive, has been realized. And I love it! The next chapter will form my dream to a next level. Stay tuned.