"Grargh, annoying" and "Ooh, spooky"

Tonight I managed to do the night dives I’d flown all the way back to Cairns for. As with the three-dive day package I did a couple of weeks ago, I was with Deep Sea Divers Den on the Sea Quest vessel.

Before this, though, I was trying to sort out my Indian visa which is rapidly turning into the biggest pain in the backside. I was hoping to have my passport returned to me while I was still in Brisbane, but it never re-appeared. After two phone calls, I finally got a call back once I was in Cairns. At least I know they received my passport (there’s no trackable registered post in Oz, believe it or not) but I “hadn’t included a passport photo”. This is cobblers. I did. I paid a stupid amount of money to a Kodak shop to take them, the woman at the Post Office helped me cut one out of the collection and trim it to size and we packed the envelope together. What they mean is they lost it, but the woman on the phone insisted I’d forgotten. Nice start.

Next up, and the main problem, is that I didn’t include my flight itinerary though I had included a half-page letter explaining why not. Basically, I don’t know where I’m going to go in February when Hans leaves India. I may fly to North Africa with him, I may head back into SE Asia to see Jo, or I may head home. I can’t make that decision yet as it depends on so many factors. I have bought my flight in, but no exiting one as yet. I couldn’t explain this to the woman on the phone who was just telling me to send copies of my tickets – which I can’t even do for the flight in as they’re sat at Air India’s office in Kuala Lumpur awaiting my collection!

So I ended up drafting a second letter, sending them another photo and enclosing a copy of my savings account statement which hopefully should prove that I can definitely afford to buy a flight back out as and when I want to. I did ask them to call me immediately if this was a problem and I’d just buy any old flight out and fax them the details. As it stands I have to get my passport back by the 22nd as I fly out in the early hours of the 23rd. To this end, I had to spend another few quid on express delivery envelopes, although I’m not sure they “work” across large state boundaries (such as, for instance, New South Wales to the Northern Territory where my passport is now going to have to be sent).

Nightmare.

Anyway.

After sorting this mess out and posting the bumph off, I walked up to the wharf for the night dive. On the way, I bumped into a group of backpackers excitedly taking photos of some large insect and got talking to them. They were from all over the place, though the girl I talked to most was from somewhere in the US. She became the second proud recipient of a business card!

At the wharf I got all checked in and onto the boat, filled in the safety and fitness form and was provided with my equipment. I also bumped into Simon who I’d buddied with for my Advanced PADI – he’s now working as a hostie for the company so he can build up his number of dives for further qualifications – pretty much what I want to do only I can’t get the working visa to do it. I got talking to a small group of people from the UK – Iona from Scotland, and Lorna and her brother Dave from somewhere “darn sarf”. We needed even numbered groups for the dive, so I buddied with Iona who was the only one of the group to have done a night dive before – I think as part of her Advanced PADI course.

We had to have a guide as we were effectively night dive virgins, so that was another $15 per person per dive (grr) and the larger torches were $6 to hire as well. I do think they may a difference, though, so were worth the extra. The first dive was a bit of a nightmare, however. With us four and two other guys in the group, things got a little confused as it’s very easy to lose track of the group if you’re not careful. As had happened the previous night to our guide, he lost some people and gained others from other groups! Lorna also couldn’t sink properly and had to hang onto him to stay underwater.

The experience can be summed up very well with one word: eerie. We didn’t dive deep – 14m at the most and the vast majority of the time was nearer 5-6m. The visibility was superb – had this been daylight I think it would have been the best range of sight I’d have experienced yet. In the distance I could see little groups of greenish lights clustered together and moving around in mysterious ways – the other divers in their groups looking at the same bits of the reef together.

We managed around half an hour for the first dive then returned to the boat for food. Lorna was loaded down with more weight (as well as the dinner!) so sank much more readily on the second dive. Our group reduced to four as the two other guys went off on their own, it was a lot easier to keep track of my buddy. Our guide checked air levels frequently and as anyone neared 60 bar, they were sent to the surface. Fairly predictably, this was in order of dive experience. Dave first, then Lorna, then Iona. Finally (after 55 minutes, more than 20 minutes after Iona was sent surfaceward) I returned to the boat. Frankly, I’m really pleased with how long I stayed down as it says a lot about how my breathing’s coming along. With just the instructor to worry about, I was able to concentrate on my buoyancy as well so it was good practise.

We saw a few things I’ve not seen before including one or two patches of coral that were, indeed, spawning. Not the whole enormous underwater upside-down snowfall of a full reef spawn, but I have seen something and that’s great. I also saw a Lion Fish – don’t touch these! It’s a lot “quieter” under the sea at night – fish do sleep! I scratched my ankle on some coral. Four days later as I type this I have four very angry looking red dots where I did this, though there’s no swelling or discomfort.

On the way back I dished out the now customary cards and finally got to bed at around 2am after packing my bags.

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