Friday, June 22, 2007

Paradise Underwater

Next day after a long sleep, we had breakfast then a late start – 10am, which at the time we thought was too late, but in fact suited us quite well! Hedge talked about getting up for sunrise every day. Talked about. Eventually using my impeccably lazy intelligence, I persuaded him that sunrise wouldn’t be interesting to watch anyway, as there tended not to be any clouds about, so the sun would just come straight up over the horizon.

Diving Day 1
So today we get to do practical dive things instead of just reading manuals and watching tedious videos! We are issued with gear by Ayie, then learn how to put it all together properly and do all relevant safety checks on ourselves and our dive “buddy” – BWRAF – BCD, Weights, Releases, Air and Final OKAY!

Hedge gears up

Ayie wanders what he’s let himself in for

Hedge conquers his equipment

Ready for the oceans, heading for the toddlers’ pool

So we went through the basics of the equipment we’d use, then after tooling up, we headed to the pool, to the alarm of some swimmers. This was our first “closed water” dive, just practicing breathing underwater and swimming with gear on. All fairly successful. No real dangers encountered in 3 feet of water.

Not so hard after all

Was Hedge looking at me or…

Ayie spots the submarine

So the stressful morning over, it was lunch time, but Hedge and I used the opportunity to head out into the real sea, like the men that we are!!

Snorkel Trip Number 2
Another snorkel trip, this time to the other side of the bay, where the coral is a bit better, but there are lots of people. Hedge and I were pottering along in the water when we suddenly both spotted something a bit bigger than your average fish here:

A shark! We both chase it madly, but it’s just too fast for us, and whizzes off into deeper water.

Hedge prepares the shark size descriptions for the pub

We check we’re both still alive

Back to the normal fish.. there are plenty of them about!

Fish mayhem underwater

But, especially in the shallower water, lots of people and families.. the poor coral!!

Unfortunately we weren’t the only interested parties

Coral fun, spot the Nemos in the bottom left

Don’t move, you’re surrounded

And there’s more where they came from..

We swim round the headland to our side of the bay.

Which way’s up?

Pottering along

Underwater shrubbery

Strange small multicoloured things

Hedge investigates

More of them!

Open Water Diving
In the afternoon, we do an open water dive, i.e. in the sea! All went fairly well, but we both seem to have issues with buoyancy – Ayie will hover quite happily at any depth almost perfectly still, whereas it’s like Hedge and I are on Yo-yos attached to boats above us! I also have issues with the cleaner fish tucking into me – whenever we sit on the seabed doing things like practicing removing masks, I would be surrounded by fish, and the smallest would nibble away – and of course with each bite I’d yelp, to the others’ amusement. When Hedge was doing his tests, I noticed a cleaner going right into his ear repeatedly. He didn’t seem to notice.

Later in the evening, we try to read our novels. I’ve got lots of books to plough through – Hedge has brought a load which I have no intention of carrying onwards with me, but the PADI manual hangs over us, making us feel guilty, without (in my case) actually being interesting enough for me to pick it up. I have a number of fishing manuals to read through, including Fishing for Dummies!

A Real Dive!
Next day, it’s our first proper dive, to the Fish Market, or Terumbu Kili. Very exciting. We’re going with real divers, on a boat! Although we will still have Ayie holding our hands!

This is not a drill, I repeat..

Briefing from Divemaster Sham

Chatting with experienced Swedish diver Matthias

Ready? Ready!

Down we go!

One issue of regret is that I repeatedly bottled on taking my camera in the little plastic bag I’m afraid! In addition to worrying about it leaking (though on Matthias’s suggestion I took it down stuffed with tissue to test whether it would cope with 18m or so – it is only rated to 5m), I was also worried about buoyancy, and the camera interfering with the dive, given my lack of experience. I missed out though, as all of the best coral and sights were definitely deeper down – snorkelling is great, but you have to dive to see the real stuff!

The currents were fairly strong on this dive, which is tiring – you end up using your air up a lot quicker if you’re paddling upstream. For some reason Hedge would always use his faster in any conditions, and coincidentally always pick a tank that started with a fair bit less oxygen!

Hedge and underwater zen meditation

Lunch was a quick bite to eat then back to our room for some cramming, as we’re going to be tested on chapters 1-3 of 5 of the PADI book.

Ridiculous colours

You expect me to open my eyes in light like this?

A happy Hedge

Should have had All Bran for breakfast

So, Ayie gives us a quick “quiz” on sections 1,2,3 (of 5) on our book. It’s not so bad, it really is a quiz, not a test. Anything we get wrong, Ayie goes through and explains, and makes sure we understand. Apparently the format is similar to the ominous-sounding final exam, which we’ll have tomorrow or the next day.

In the evening, I go snorkelling with Lily, the young lady who staffs the shop at Coral. Obviously this provides much amusement for Hedge and Ayie.

Snorkelling with Lily


Looks like another mediocre day


In the morning, an open water dive, where I saw some sort of eel – conger? And a long scary looking flutemouth fish.

I insist we have the exam for lunch, as I don’t want to wait any longer, I’m not going to study the damn PADI book any more. It goes well, we’re done. Hedge of course argues with Ayie about the ones he gets wrong, and even writes a small explanatory paragraph on the multiple-choice answer sheet! Ahhh Hedge, be happy you’ve passed! Now we just need to do our second Open Water Dive, then we’re done! Hurrah! We’re both PADI Open Water Certified!

Afternoon’s dive saw turtles! They’re so slow and graceful, but unfortunately very shy, so generally when you’ve spotted them they are gliding away from you.

In the evening we walk round to the Laguna resort, the largest on the strip. There’s live music playing out front with three skimpily-dressed girls dancing – I speculate that they may be available for a price! Anyway, inside, we ask to use the internet. It’s not that expensive, but is painfully painfully slow, and probably takes about 30 minutes just for us to have a quick look at our inboxes. Washed down by a couple of beers of course.

Heading back we observe the stars, which are really quite bright here. It’s Hedge’s first opportunity to see the Southern Cross. Also there’s an incredible bright star (planet?) in the West – so bright that it looks like a floodlight on the hill behind our resort. I wonder what it could be…

Our first (and last) full day of dives! I intend to get the most out of it, and use our dive table to see how long we can stay down. I hadn’t realised before this week just how limited you are in recreational diving by nitrogen limits – Typical dives are 45 minutes, and you can just about squeeze 3 of these in to a day if you’re careful, but it’s a push.

First dive at a site called Southern Tip. Saw a sting (?) ray, but the current is so strong that divemaster Matt calls it off after 18 minutes. We moved to Kerengga Kecil, a safer spot with some lovely coral and another ray!

Final dive at the Mini Mount, which is like a small underwater mountain. This turned out to be my best dive yet. Unfortunately Hedge was having trouble equalising and so abandoned. We went down and circled the mountain. I’d calculated that I shouldn’t stay down a minute over 45, and had asked divemaster Sham to let me know when we were getting close to this. I started to think “this is a long 45” and asked him the time, only to get the response “50 minutes” PANICCC!!! I came up and did an extended safety stop, but still.. this was pushing it, and getting the bends is no laughing matter.

Anyway, the dive – we circled around the mount, seeing incredible coral, lots that I hadn’t seen before, whole schools of fish in the gentle current (you always get more interesting fish when there’s a bit of a current apparently), and circling around us on the sea bed – decent sized sharks!! I was trying to point out an interesting fish to Matthias, but he wasn’t paying attention. Why not, I thought. Then he points over my shoulder. I’m the closest to a shark which, well, I wouldn’t like to be any closer to thank you very much!

Not the most enthusiastic sales girl

Hedge practices buoyancy

Noisy nights along the bay

In the evening, in addition to closely monitoring whether I needed to be evacuated by air to Singapore (the closest decompression chamber), I meet Lily and we go for a wander round the bay. She shows me “blue sand” – if you scratch the sand in one point with your toe, you find little glowing blue spots. Is it some sort of plankton? Whatever it is, it looks cool, like a little blue LED in the sand.

Later, sitting outside of our chalet watching the heavy rain that’s appeared (the first all week, just as we are leaving, yay), I am absolutely eaten alive by mozzies. No exaggeration, I look down at my feet and see about 4 mozzies all stationary tucking in! I brush them off, but there is blood all over my foot, and in the morning, I kid you not, there must have been about 20 bites on my feet! I didn’t sleep well knowing that the sods were in our room too, driven in my the rain.

Saturday – Leaving the Island
Our final morning on Redang, and the weather was a bit strange. We had a swim, breakfast, then relaxed on the loungers for a while before walking round for the 1pm boat. The weather was strange – cloudy but calm, quite unlike the toasting hot week we’ve enjoyed.

Melancholy weather as we leave

The 1pm boat turns out to be far too early for our purposes, but after a few hours sitting in the exciting Terengganu Airport, we are on AirAsia and back to KL and civilisation!

Scumbag airline

I’ve chosen my usual haunt in KL, Le Meridien, and Hedge is impressed.

8 different kinds of pillows on request

It’s a 5* hotel right at the back of the central station, with the express train to the airport. Not the most exciting hotel, but unbeatable convenience. We snack in the lounge bar with a couple of beers before retiring.

Twin Towers

Hedge’s last day, so we set out to do KL’s somewhat limited (though still interesting) sites. First stop, the twin towers, the world’s tallest building for a while (couple of years back), and still looking good!

It’s tall

Hedge under the Petronas Towers

After we head to the Menara Tower, which isn’t as tall in absolute terms, but sits on a hill, and you go to the top, so you get a much better view of the whole city.

The Menara KL Tower

Kids running under the fountains

Islamic Arts Museum
Last stop, one of my favourite places in KL, the Islamic Arts Museum. Firstly it has amazing air-con, which is always a bonus in Malaysia. More importantly, it has a great collection of what I find to be such beautiful art, that produced by and spread through Islam.

Interesting temporary exhibition

Spice vessels

One of the more expensive spices

Spice harvesting


Cuppa cha

Beautiful script

One of their interesting temporary exhibitions has photos from Lafayette Galleries in London, which took a series of portraits of colonial figures in their hayday, sometimes dressed in their traditional dress, sometimes in whatever was the fashion of the time.

Lots of other beautiful artifacts but we were out of time

We’re running short of time, so we walk back to the station, pas the beautiful old KL Station and train company headquarters, colonial buildings with Islamic influences.

Interesting Moorish architecture

Time to say goodbye to Hedge. It’s been fun!

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