From Madras to Manila

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The perfect storm - Milenyo

Wow. We witnessed one huge storm in end-September.
The day started out promising to be yet another uneventful day when my carpool would be reluctantly heading towards work. It was the kind of morning that promised to be completely boring – overcast skies, hint of rain every now and then.

So we set off, the first sign that something was amiss that there was ABSOLUTELY no traffic on the roads. That at 8:30 in the morning is IMPOSSIBLE in Makati !
Then we found out all schools and government offices had been called off because of an impending storm. So in anticipation, we excitedly called our bosses. No such luck, troop in to work, we were told.

We got to know that the eye of the storm would pass directly over Manila at 11 am. At 11:15 the power conked out. From 12-1:30 we saw the fury of Mother Nature.

Standing in our 16th floor office, we could feel the building sway as wind speeds hit 130 kmph. It was crazy. Huge hoardings across the street started to fall. Trees started dropping like nine pins crushing cars in the parking lot opposite our building. We actually saw asbestos sheets being tossed around – and the best part, the wind was SO strong that the sheet never fell on the ground – it just was swept away (I know I know , it eventually fell) I have never seen anything like this. Except when they cover Florida hurricanes on TV!

We were now panicking and then the next rumor started.
That Manila would begin flooding. Anyone who has lived any length of time in Manila will know that even a slight drizzle causes traffic to come to a standstill.

We weren’t taking chances, we decided to go home at 2pm.
It took us 3 hours to get home that day. Driving on C-5, we felt like we were on the sets of ‘The day after tomorrow’. Empty roads, flooded in many parts. Fallen trees and hoardings blocking our path

It was scary.

Got home to discover that we had left a few windows open and the place was flooded. Amit got home earlier so he had got to do the mopping :-)

Manila didnt have power for 3 days but luckily we had a generator in our condo. People who lived in villages (Alabang, Dasma, Forbes park) weren’t so lucky – they had no water or electricity for a full 3 days…..

Not my best memory of Manila.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Puerto Princessa Part 3: Sabang Underground River

Looks spooky, doesn't it? The Sabang river 'cruise' is an eerie, though fascinating, 1.5 km journey through the bowels of a mountain that is on the UNESCO World Heritage list for being the longest navigable underground river.

[I am of course referring to the river, not the mountain. It would be rather silly of UNESCO to list a mountain as the longest navigable underground river]

The actual river goes on for another 6-7 km beyond the end point of the cruise but you need a permit, exceptional intestinal fortitude and a rather poor sense of smell to go on. And, oh yes, you'll need to shed the boat and a few extra kilos off your waist or else you'll just get stuck up an orifice - and being stuck in an orifice in any sort of bowel, even a mountain's, is probably not a good thing. That's probably why you need a permit in the first place.


This is where it first hits you - the cave is darrrrrk!
And full of bats.

And it stinks to kingdom come. Like the collective farts of a million bats that subsist almost entirely on bugs and rotting carcasses and go entire lifetimes shunning sunlight and any sort of fresh air.

Which is, of course, exactly what you are smelling.

[The bats apparently live on fruit, but I'm not buying that story. Where would the fruit grow in the cave, for pete's sake?]







Artist's rendition of the woosiness you feel when taking in your first whiff of eau d' bat.

Puerto Princessa Part 2: Snake Island

I like sepia - it makes the worst pictures look classy!

















Noble sentiments
Underlined by the two bottles carefully placed under the sign by the last reader































The star attraction!
We finally got to see a couple!














Leave nothing but footprints...

Puerto Princessa - Part 1

As with most of our posts, this is another long-overdue one, an account of our now-not-so-recent visit to Puerto Princessa, Palawan in late June.

The trip was conceived ages back when we took advantage of an unbelievable Cebu Pacific offer of 20 pesos for return airfare from Manila to Puerto Princessa.

Palawan, more famous for the pricey, but divine, resorts in El Nido, is yet another Filipino feast for the senses, with stunning beaches, endless opportunities for snorkeling and diving and light-green seascapes stretching as far as the eye can see. Puerto Princessa, the main city, is a great place to visit for tourists on a budget.
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We stayed at a charming and friendly resort (little more than a B&B really), located conveniently near the airport and just off the main road of the city, a not-very-unusual location, it turned out, as the city basically consists of a main road with houses on either side and wilderness immediately beyond, making it quite possible for your living room to have a zip code and running water and your bedrooms to be outside city limits.

Near our little hotel were a number of karaoke places, one of which was closed down by a municipal ordinance on account of an hour-long medley of duets at 11 pm by visiting Indian tourists - I'm not saying who - and, what was more important, a row of absolutely super handicrafts shops of which one had really great stuff for very, VERY low prices!

But of course you want to see Palawan... well, here goes...

Starfish Island
No starfish... but what an island!

We were the only ones there at that time, and spent about half an hour there soaking in the beauty of the place and looking for the hundreds of starfish we had been promised before it began to rain and we began to soak in some rather unpleasantly cold rainwater that made us shrivel up like prunes before we made a beeline for the boat.



View from banca en route to Sabang underground river, a UNESCO heritage site

It was around this time that my camera case was falling into the water with our MP3 player and most of our cash. The same was retrieved by intrepid soul in next banca and handed over with cash intact and soul of MP3 player having ascended to the heavens, leaving only the earthly remains for us to weep salt tears over (like that would be a patch on the quart or so of brine it had taken in before expiring)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Fanaa, Noritake, a Wedding Anniversary and Acute Homesickness!

Last Sunday was our 3rd wedding anniversary. We celebrated it by watching a tragic love story (Fanaa) and having dinner with friends. We got ourselves a lovely Noritake crockery set to celebrate the occasion.





I don’t eat off it, I just stare at all that lovely China. Of course, I can’t cook very much so there isn’t much we can eat off our China anyway.

Hmm, what was that again about romance & time spent together being inversely proportional?:-)

Anyway, back to the movie. For all my-not-familiar-with-Hindi movie friends, Fanaa is a typical Hindi movie. Girl is blind. Falls in love with a flirt who shamelessly woos her. Many dances in the rain later, they end up spending a wild night of passion together(in older Hindi movies, it would happen because the girl would be freezing to death and the hero would have to set her on fire to keep her warm&alive :-) No kidding, really!) Hero prays that heroine should be able to see, and lo & behold, one short operation later, the girl is no longer blind! And then there was light!

Or not. Slight twist in the tale - the hero is actually a terrorist who vamooses after this, regretfully leaving behind the one love of his life without knowing that their one night of passion was an immensely fruitful one….

Get the drift? Rest of the movie is about how love triumphs over evil. But Aamir Khan was gorgeous in the second half and Kajol is still a terrific actress and I loved every, every predictable shot.

I had this huge lump in my throat when they showed Delhi in all its glory in the first few scenes of the movie. I miss India, its sounds, smells, familiar faces…..I miss predictable movies & hunky heros & all the singin’ in the rain we Indians are so good at…
Happy Weekend Folks. I'm gonna watch another Hindi movie this weekend:-)

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Lies, all lies!

Hi there, violently protest about the being lazy part. My sister met with a really bad accident in LA & I was with her almost all of May. She is getting better, albeit very slowly:-( We are terribly shaken but very very grateful that she is alive & out of the hospital now…

Have not really wanted to write anything much since then…

UNTIL NOW

If I weren’t married to Amit, I’d sue him for defamation & scurrilous lies. All of them, lies. (Only can’t sue coz it will be our joint account funding Amit’s lawyers. Not good)

I admit I was a little scared, but just a tad. Tell me, wouldn’t you be if you were in a SMALL banca (a very small boat), just enough for 4 people to crawl into, and you were attempting to cross a big stretch of the ocean?? Plus, there is no other boat for miles in sight, and the boatman’s preferred style of navigation is to beam a flashlight that barely reaches a meter into the sea. Worse, the ride is like 45 minutes long to get into the mangrove where the firefly cruise actually begins, and all you have for company till then are the giant 50ft long whale sharks, which as you would have realized from Amit’s post, have this habit of popping to surface ever so often, toppling little Bancas that stand in their way.

SO as I said, I was just a little scared. Not anywhere close to being astral-travel-scared.

But seriously, the firefly cruise was awesome once I began to sight other boats and knew we were not alone in the universe (30 minutes in of paddling about in a pitch dark expanse of sea can spook you). It is something else – citydweller that I am, to watch a sky filled with stars, all jostling for space and sighting news ones that appear every minute. It was humbling and so very beautiful.

So on the way back, I just fixed my fears. Got the boatman to follow other boats heading back the same way so we were never alone. Gazed at the stars, played with the phosphoresent water, switched on my iPod and blocked Amits comments about scary whales & toppled bancas out.

It was perfect.

Night of Liquid Fire

Sandi has been lazy and is refusing to write so thought would put in my bit on the night-time firefly cruise we went for after whale-watching. It's a 2-hr experience where you get taken out across the sea to a river mouth where you have these hundreds of fireflies that congregate on three trees and convert them into arresting, Vegas-style flashing displays that are quite out of this world!

We set out for the cruise in a little boat at around 7:30 pm, well after it was dark. The ride over to the firefly site was quite surreal - complete and utter silence, an inky-black sky dotted with a gazillion stars and the soft swoosh of the boatsmen's oars as we made our way, gently rocked by the waves ...

...and Sandi clinging to my arm and shaking in her boots completely spooked out by the darkness and the all-enveloping sense that we were the only living beings for about a thousand miles that did not sport gills and didn't have the common sense to stay on dry land rather than taking to the ocean in a bathtub - a sense that she communicated to me in urgent and insistent whispers that increased in volume till she frightened the boatmen who thought they were hearing voices from the deep and gave themselves up to rowing furiously for land.

And, oh, the phosphoresence! Liquid fire!! With every stroke, every ripple and every leaping fish, the sea comes alive in shimmering green and the boat leaves a vivid, flourescent trail behind it. If there ever was a time when I felt one with the universe, this was it.

Sandi, too, was feeling one with the Universe, as her soul had, by then, departed her body and was at that point roaming free and thinking positive thoughts or whatever it is that recently departed souls do while hovering over the Boat of Darkness as it made its way inexorably to the Isles of Doom.

I was, I admit, rather disappointed when we finally reached the banks and made our way up the river towards the firefly trees where Sandi's soul decided it was safe to make its way back to its earthly form and she perked up and played with fireflies for the rest of the evening before we started back for the resort.

"Look," I said,"crocodiles!" and sent her soul scurrying for cover as we made our silent journey to shore, to safety and back into the real world.

Pity.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Big Fish!

We first learnt about the butanding from Kate's blog and were instantly captivated by the idea of swimming with the biggest fish in the sea. The best season is only from Feb to early May and we made a a spur-of the moment decision to go in end April, booking full-fare tickets to Legazpi and somehow managing some last-minute acco in Donsol just a couple of days before we left.

Booking acco is a lot harder than it appears, as there is only one landline in Donsol and most people make do with cell phones which seem to be almost permanently outside the coverage area. There is of course no internet and other connectivity either and hence reservations are made manually (our resort used a blackboard!) and the entire thing is a rather hit-and-miss affair.

But it was a decision well-taken. Swimming with the whale sharks has definitely been a highlight of our life and easily one of the top three experiences we have shared together (the others would possibly be soaking in the panorama of the French Alps from the top of Mt. Blanc and spending happy hours listening to music at St. Marks' Square in Venice)

To Legazpi

We took the Air Philippines flight to Legazpi, which is the capital of Bicol province and the closest airport to Donsol. It is also the home of the Mayon volcano, of which we have already written. The terminal building is a quaint little garage-sized unit that has the mandatory bird-flu foot bath, a superb view of the volcano, and little else - not even a conveyor belt for the baggage!

On to Donsol

From the airport you have a choice of regular taxis (can be bargained down to 700-800 pesos) and air-conditioned vans (shared, at about 60 pesos a head). Having done little research before coming, we made the mistake of taking a taxi and spending way more than required.

The ride itself is a little over an hour on decent roads till you actually reach Donsol town, where the taxi will ask you to alight and continue on with a tricycle (no, it's not what you are picturing - it's a motorbike with a covered side car and will take perhaps 40 pesos). You need not do this, as the road onwards is just about wide enough to accommodate a taxi. It was being widened when we went so I guess it would be even better in a few months.

The Woodlands Resort

Last-minute begging and pleading by Sandi helped us get a non-aircon room (800 pesos) at the Woodlands Resort, a comfortable and friendly place with cheap and good food, though not very upmarket. Don't land up expecting a pool with jacuzzi please!! The only luxury was an outdoor hammock that was almost permanently occupied.

The weather was pleasant - at least for Indians - and we felt no need for an aircon, the pedestal fan being enough to keep us quite cool. Aircon rooms are larger, with a sitout and come for about 1500 pesos. There is little scope for negotiation in season and anyway you're usually thankful that you have a reservation at all, given the hi-tech nature of the process.

One of the plus points of staying at Woodlands is that you are within a short walk of the Tourist Office which is where you need to go to register and get a boat to go see the whale sharks. And if you are a diver, there's Prosafari, a diving service provider situated on the Woodlands premises.

Another good option is to stay at Vitton, which looks a shade better and is situated right next to the Tourist Office.

Registration at the Tourist Office

OK, now this is the part that could make or break your trip so pay attention. The system has been carefully designed and tuned to perfection to ensure that is the most illogical and unreasonable process known to man. If there was a perfect example of how to take a simple thing and make it into a tangled weave of uncertainty and confusion, this is it.

Everyone (foreigners and Filipinos alike) has to register at the tourist office before they can have a shot at the Butanding. Registration is a nominal 100 pesos for locals and 300 for foreign nationals. The boat with crew, BIO (our guide, the Butanding Interaction Officer) and spotter comes for 3,500 pesos and can carry up to seven people.

You fill out a form with your details and get assigned a boat number. If you are few, try to team up with others (you'll find many people at the office who would be glad to share) to reduce your costs per head.

And then boat numbers are called as they are available and the respective groups make their way to their boats and spend a happy morning frolicking with the sharks. Right?

Wrong!

The Tourist Office seems to operate under the assumption that the number assignments are a basis for further negotiation. In other words, it only entitles you to participate in a raffle, as it were. Thanks to the efforts of a zealous lady who is assigned to sort out your forms and put them 'in order', the numbers are called out like in American football, "36, 24, 16, 52, HIKE!" or something like that.

Thousands of years of mathematical evolution seem to have passed this lady by and she seems to be unaware of the serial nature of numbers. To her they are only symbols and and could have easily been substituted by hieroglyphics, had she known what they were.

To compound the problem, they don't tell you when your number is likely to come, forcing dozens of people to camp in front of the desk waving their tokens and praying to their respective deities to get them a boat. It was in this process that I discovered that Hinduism has a significant gap in its array of gods - there is nobody we can turn to for expediting our token.

And the ultimate irony? The local government, in its infinite wisdom, had organized a parade of boats for that morning which no tourist went to see because they were at the tourist office clamouring for boats, which weren't there because they were all at the parade! Its funny in hindsight...

Anyway, to cut a long story short, we had to wait from 7:30 am to 12 pm to get a boat, by which time the butanding had all gone off to sleep and the few who were there were being wooed by some 60 boats (the parade was over by then, you see), making it impossible to get a decent sighting.

But We Made Up the Next Day

Disappointed by the first day's experience, we decided to cut down our planned time in Legazpi and give the butanding another shot the following morning. And we were not disappointed.

Wiser from the previous day's experience (and due to the fact that the 'sorting lady' was missing in action due to the stress of the previous day) the tourist office had set a limit of 25 boats at a time and we managed to get on to the 16th (though our number was 10 - they never learn...).

And it was amazing! We saw and swam with 13 butanding seeing about 9 in the first hour itself. In fact, they were so numerous in the morning that no sooner would we get into the boat after a swim, we'd be told to put on our fins and be ready to dive again! On at least two occassions, the fish decided to rise while I was directly above it, making me scamper quickly out of the way. And I had to be careful not to be hit by the tail on several occassions when I fell back. But they are so gentle and go about their own business - I guess to them we're some funny coloured fish like the many that swim along under them... Boy, was it worth it! Sandi and I were within touching distance of the fish on several occassions.

Armed with my trusty disposable underwater camera (525 pesos in Manila) I was able to take some decent shots, though the water was murky with plankton - which is why the sharks are in Donsol in the first place, so one cannot complain - and they did not come out as clear as I hoped.

A ghostly shape in the water









The gills and back of the head



















Dorsal fin - from right next to it! The fins are distinctive and the fish can often be recognized from the cuts (usually from propellors or fishing attempts) and abrasions on it















The view from above



















Say hello to Mr. Whale Shark!


















Also check out this video, which is what made up our minds to go to Donsol.

Tips for First Timers

Based on our experience, we think the following will help:
  1. Get to the tourist office by 7 am, the opening time, register and get your number as early as possible. It is possible to register the evening before but don't bother with that unless they also give you a boat number
  2. Stand at the desk, making sure you are on the first few boats
  3. Go in the morning, preferably when it's sunny. Afternoons and rainy days are not good for spotting
  4. Find people to share with, preferably not more than 5 swimmers in all due to the jostling that invariably happens when so many people are trying to follow the same fish. The ones behind invariably get kicked in the face and give up after a few attempts!
  5. If you are a weak swimmer ask the BIO to hold you by the hand and guide you - you'll get the best view this way
  6. Keep swimming with the fish - don't stop in awe as you'll find it difficult to catch up
  7. Don't bother trying to aim the camera - just point in the general direction and shoot
  8. Try to get near the mouth so you can see the mouth and eye - Sandi managed to do this and was rewarded with a wonderful viewpoint
  9. Keep your fins on all the time in the boat, as you'll have to jump at a moment's notice
  10. Keep a spare day as backup. If you have a good sighting on the first day, you can always visit Legazpi on the extra day

That's all folks! Do get to Donsol next year - and write to tell us how you liked the experience!

....

Oh, I forgot to tell you about the Firefly Cruise! Sandi, do you want to tell them about that?

Friday, May 05, 2006

The World's Most Perfect Cone

... and also one of the most destructive geometric shapes (conical or otherwise) you'll ever encounter is Mount Mayon, one of Philippines' most famous sights and also its most active volcano.

[Note the smoke from the top - Mt. Fujiyama isn't half as thrilling!]

The title of 'most active' took some doing in a country where you can't toss a pebble without hitting a land-mass directly connected to the Earth's core but Mayon has worked hard for the spot, having erupted a total of about 50 times in the past 400 years, the most recent major one being in 1993 according to this site. At that time it killed about 68 people and prompted the evacuation of 60,000 others.

[By the way, I would not recommend throwing stones at a volcano. Who knows whether it was just waiting for a nudge from you to push it over the edge so it can erupt in your face?

And yet this was not even one of Mayon's more spectacular efforts. It's worst eruption so far was recorded in 1814, when it hurled igneous rocks the size of dinner tables over 10 kilometres (?) to the nearby village of Cagsawa, which was all but destroyed.

Over 1,000 people who had taken refuge in the church were killed and all that remains today is the bell tower surrounded by ruins and a breath-taking view of the volcano.

The church itself has been rather unlucky. It's was destroyed by the Dutch, rebuilt and then decimated by the volcano. I guess after that people figured it makes more sense to just go to church elsewhere!

The bloody history of the volcano and its potential for wreaking havoc at regular intervals have of course made it a popular tourist spot. There are even fool-hardy adventurers who choose to trek up this smoking, unstable mountain!

Sandi and I visited it on our way back from visiting giants, but that's another story that will have to wait till I can get the photos.

And, speaking of photos, check out this site for some pretty fabulous pictures of Mayon.

[Note: If you are flying into Legazpi, which is where you need to go to see Mount Mayon, remember to sit on the left of the flight while arriving as well as departing. The landing gives you a great first glimpse of the cone and the return flight actually passes right by the crater so you can see it clearly right next to your window!]

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Diving 101

I don't like the sea very much.

It has too much salt. And the sand gets between your toes and into your clothing, making sure to harm your softest parts after you dry out, at which point you are also really sticky and your hair has the texture of a scooter helmet. It will take an hour-long bath, with moisturized soap, shampoo and conditioner to return to normal. And then your skin will peel from the sun and the salt and people will run from you in terror for the next fortnight.

No, I'm not a beach person.

But....

Snork!

Snorkeling, so called because of the sound you make when you mistakenly ingest a snootful of sea water instead of the life-giving air you expected, is a life-changing experience. The colours, the corals and the dazzling array of sea life makes all the pain worthwhile. And the very first time I went into the water with mask and flippers - Boracay - I was hooked!

So when our friends Jimbo and Martha invited us on our maiden dive at Anilao, we jumped at the opportunity.

The Pier Uno Resort

Pier Uno was the lovely dive resort we stayed at. Managed by the very friendly Chiko, this charming little place has cozy little rooms, some pretty decent food (including an absolutely heavenly mango dessert) a great view, little outdoor wooden huts that are ideal for chilling out in, a karaoke room (!) and of course all the dive equipment you could need.

We arrived bright and early on Saturday morning, looking forward to a lazy Saturday mentally preparing for our big adventure on Sunday when we were informed that the big adventure would actually take place in a couple of hours and could we please get ready in, like, fifteen minutes so we could get going already?

Preparing for the Dive

Diving, as we quickly discovered, is not quite the picnic we hoped it would be. For one, as this was our introductory dive, we'd have to sit and take lessons from Jimbo, our certified-dive-master friend. The lessons included some pretty sinister info about the physics of diving which they illustrate with pictures of an air-filled balloon slowly shrinking in size as it moves deeper underwater, the implication being of course that the air balloon could be us, if we didn't pay attention in class. I didn't quite feel up to shrinking much beyond my 50 kg frame so I sat in rapt attenton and listened.

Over the next hour or so, we learnt the basics of diving, which can be summarized as below:



  1. Don't descend too fast or your ears will burst and the blood will encourage nearby sharks to make a meal of you. You must 'equalize' every couple of feet (pop your ears like in a flight) to keep descending
  2. Don't ascend too fast or all the air dissolved in your bloodstream will expand, making your blood resemble a fizzy cola, causing you excrutiating pain and bloodletting, leading to a similar result as in point 1. This is called the 'bends'
  3. Staying in place is difficult due to the body's natural tendency to sink or float, necessitating the use of weight belts and a humungous inflationan / deflation jacket that presumably will help you control your movements
  4. You must breathe only through the regulator in your mouth because inhalation through any other orifice will have unpleasant consequences such as death by drowning
  5. Now that you know point 4, remember to keep calm as breathing too rapidly will cause you to shoot up like a rocket resuting in point 1
  6. Every so often your mask will fill up with sea water and you will have to expel the water wherever you are (20, 40 or 100 feet below the surface) so tilt your head at a 45 degree angle upwards, gently lift the mask and breathe out through your nose. Breathe in through your mouth and repeat as often as required. DO NOT DO IT THE OTHER WAY ROUND. And, oh yes, keep calm
  7. If your regulator should happen to slip off your mouth, like if you go open-mouthed with awe at the underwater beauty, keep calm - a recurring theme - continue to breathe out slowly (because you should never hold your breath underwater due to the possiility of the fizzy cola effect), swing your arm back and up and voila! the offending tube will be back in your arms and, presumably, in your mouth before you can snork out 'Jack Robinson'
  8. Take in the scenery, relax and have fun

Got that? Good.

The Equipment

First, let's get used to the flippers (or 'fins' as they are called here), which is, of course, nothing like the free-and-easy activity it looks like on National Geographic. For starters, they take the skin off your heels, not a pleasant experience at the best of times, but in salt water it's about at par with having your fingernails pulled out. And they are so damn ungainly - you need to make wide leg movements to get anywhere at all, and that's not even in the direction you intended to go.

Once you have lied to the dive master about your degree of comfort with the flippers, you move on to the 'real' dive equipment - wet-suit, mask, flippers, BCD (Buoyancy Control Device - the inflation / deflation jacket mentioned earlier), scuba tanks, regulator (with spare) and weight belts. All in all, you've added about 25 kg to your body weight. The advantage of this is that you're that much more willing to plunge into the water, if only to take the load off your knees.

Taking the Plunge!

We went into the water in the classic dive style - pushed backwards into the water when we weren't looking. And then Jimbo gave us the signal we'd been waiting for - 'Dive!'

The next 30 mins passed in the following carefully orchestrated activities performed at pre-determined depths:

1 foot: I forget all that we'd learnt that day

2 feet: My ears start singing and I start equalizing like my life depended on it (OK, I remembered something!)





















3 feet - 4 feet, 4 ft - 2 ft, 2 ft - 5 ft, 5 ft - 3 ft ... 10 feet: I bob up and down like a cork, alternating between ear ache, floatation control and trying to clear my mask. And the scenery? Well couldn't see much of that, what with all the bubbles I had around my head as I hyperventilated






















10 feet to 20 feet: Jimbo grabs my BCD and shoves me down to the seabed, where I perch on my knees uncertainly, the slightest movement threatening to send me shooting to the top.















It is that this point that I first look around me and see Sandi, who's been at this level for the last 10 minutes feeding the fish and having her picture taken. I also see some fish.

















20 feet to 0 feet: My rather bewildered brain finally registers that fact that, unless I were to grow gills in the next few minutes, there's nothing to breathe formiles around and that my flesh-and-blood existance depends solely upon a 2 cm wide tube whose supply could, at any moment, sputter and die - and me shortly thereafter. So I do what any sane person would do when faced with that realisation - I tear off my regulator, snork a snootful and shoot for the surface!

And thus ended my introductory dive.

Epilogue

We're planning to get certified now, which means I will take another 8 to 10 stabs at this, culminating in a final (not literally, I hope) effort down to 60 feet, at which point we will get our diving certificates.

Goody!