Japan is booked!!!

YOKOSUKA, JAPAN - MAY 28:  US navy soldiers li...

Japanese flag

Ok, I did it. I just booked a flight from Darwin to Cairns and another from Cairns to Narita International Airport in Tokyo! After wanting to do so for more years than I care to remember, I am finally going to Japan! A actually have tingles and goosebumps at the thought of it!

Part of the reason I’m looking forward to it is the new challenge. By all the accounts I’ve heard, Japan is a very “individual” country. Being an island like the UK it’s developed a very unique society and ways of doing things. I also believe that only 10% of the population speak any English at all and outside of the main city centres, all the signs are only in the local language.

Time to dig out the dinky phrasebook I have in the backpack and see if I can find a bargain bucket out-of-date Lonely planet somewhere…

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Bye bye Cairns… for now

Well, my last day in Cairns was fairly uneventful. I woke up stupidly early, probably as my eyes were glued shut and my subconscious didn’t like that very much. I gave them a wash, and the pinkness was definitely reduced compared to the night before. Likely something I’d just picked up in the water. I’ll leave my glasses on for a couple of days to be on the safe side. I need to sort more contact lenses out anyway as I only have two pairs left which will last me until new year.

Lunch was beans on toast, dinner was an enormous roast beef dinner at the Wool Shed and I had some good company. Talia, a nurse from Townsville working in Cairns for three weeks and who’s room I’d been camping outside to get a wireless signal wandered over with me. When I was there I bumped into Paulina, a Swedish girl I met on the way back from the rafting. We were joined by another Swede, two Norwegians, a Mancunian and two Danes.

The staff at Caravella were great and I’ve got Ivan’s email address – if I make it up here again for the reef spawning then I have a dive buddy!

I rattled through a ton of stuff online and then caught the last bus at 22:30 to the airport. Cairns airport has a handy feature – benches you can sleep on. And showers in the toilets, should you need them. Very backpacker-friendly! I’m typing this up sat on my “bed” for the night, the only issue being how I can keep my bed while still running to the loo to brush my teeth as it’ll mean leaving my luggage unattended!

If my laptop gets blown up, you’ll know why…

*insert shimmery “time has passed* visual effect here*

I slept quite well on that bench, actually. I woke to find all of the benches in use and checked onto my flight dot on 4:10. I’m now in the departure lounge and wishing I’d opted for an extra hour’s sleep. I could have checked in at 5:10 and still been in good time for the flight. D’oh.

As usual in Australia, all the internet access in the airport is prohibitively expensive. In NZ you can use your home broadband username/password to access the wireless system in the major airports for free! Singapore doesn’t charge you for plugging into a wall socket (though wireless is chargeable). Very strange. I just wonder if anyone would collar me trying to unplug one of the machines in the cybercafe and replacing it with my laptop?

Yeah, probably.

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This day turtley ruled

More diving… As I mentioned, I booked myself a 1-day, 3-dive trip with another company called Deep Sea Diver’s Den on their Reef Quest vessel. At $160 (plus taxes) it was the cheapest I could find, but once the journey got underway I couldn’t figure out how they managed it.

The staff were superb, the food delicious and generous and the kit top notch.

There were an odd number of people on board to do certified dives, which made things a little awkward. Two were very experienced – a youngish couple who both have Dive Master qualifications. Another two had little experience or were new to the reef – they ended up being buddied and taking a guided tour at an extra cost. I was buddied with the two “hosties” – volunteer staff on the boat. This suited me fine as they knew the reef and it didn’t cost me any more! They were a young Japanese couple with 75-or-so dives between them. Nice and relaxing and I saw my first turtle swim past while I was with them.

My second dive was with the Dive Master couple and to be honest I was a little nervous as I was sure they could use their air so much better than me. I’d feel rather guilty at bringing them back to the surface when they weren’t ready. No such problem. I had a wonderful dive and they spotted so many things I’d never have even known to look for. A black sea slug with jet blue markings, the tiniest jellyfish in the world ever, some kind of wavy thing… OK, I’m not an expert! I also stroked a Giant Napoleon Maori Wrass which was just sat on the seabed being “cleaned” by two other fish. Huge thing – about four feet long. Apparently they get bigger.

The only annoying thing was that we had to go into the water 10 minutes before lunch was served to ensure we had enough time for our dive. By the time we got back and changed, all the sandwiches were gone and I could only manage a fruit salad. Which was still delicious, but I fancied a roast beef sarnie!

During lunch, we moved to another part of the reef and I was buddied with a Dutch girl called Lisa who had just that morning passed her PADI Open Water. So this time, I was the one with the most experience. A novelty!

And another great dive. We managed to get away from the ship and back to it without getting lost… and I got to touch my first turtle! Lisa spotted it just above me and to my right, feeding off vegetation hanging off the coral. I didn’t try to ride it or anything stupid – it’s far too dangerous both for the diver and the poor animal – just stroked its shell before it floated off in search of more food.

There was tea and cake available for the journey back to Cairns and I snaffled loads of it to make up for not having my sandwiches!

Back in Cairns, I had a shower and caught the free bus to the Wool Shed. Outside, I bumped into Celeste who works for Down Under Dive who I’ve been studying with. We had dinner along with some of the other staff (I had a 300g rump steak for $7 – bargain) and then I headed home. After finishing my homework for tomorrow, I got talking to a girl staying in a room near where I access the internet and we popped out for a drink. She’d just got engaged when her work (she’s a nurse) foisted her up to Cairns for 3 weeks, leaving her fella behind. Nice to have a natter instead of spending the night alone.

I had an early night after that, as I had the final day of my Advanced Open Water in the morning.

Advanced PADI day 1

Well today was pretty good but I have a lot of homework to do so I won’t rattle on too much! Another early rise to get to the boat for the trip out to the Reef. Today’s course was to be part one of my Advanced certification, part two being on Sunday. By itself, this day would net me an “Adventurer” certificate but there’s no point in doing half of it!

There were three dives and this time I was with Mike, a Dutch guy now living and working here. I buddied with two people as the numbers were odd – Simon from the UK and Raisha (apologies if I spelled that incorrectly, I’ll check my log book later) from Canada. After a quick briefing, we donned our kit and made our way downstairs for the first of the dives – Deep Diving. This is the one which will allow me to dive below my current limit of 18m.

Mike took us down and we had to complete a simple number search game on a pad. Generally, it will take longer underwater than on the boat as Nitrogen Narcosis can settle in if you dive too quickly. People have been known to start doodling instead of answering the questions in the past! Once we’d done that, we separated out and did some exploration for the rest of the dive. Simon led as both Raisha and I only had 4 dives under our belts having just completed Open Water. Simon’s been diving for a year and had notched up 25 or so.

Once on the surface we were correctly informed by Mike that our buoyancy needed a lot of work. I already knew that, so it wasn’t too disheartening and one reason I’m booking 3 fun dives for tomorrow.

After some grub, we did the Boat Dive option. Essentially, we all know how to do this anyway as we’ve all been taught on boats, so it was a simple tumble into the water (rather than our usual big step, for variety) and a fun dive. Again, we let Simon lead and had a good scoot around. Poor visibility, but some wonderful sights to behold nontheless. In particular my first clear view of a shark. Only a little Reef one, maybe one metre long, but it was no more than seven metres away. Amazing!

Back on the boat, a quick zoom to another spot on the reef and we undertook our Naturalist Dive. This involved spotting a nice fish and drawing a doodle of it and making notes so we could identify it back on the surface. This dive lasted longer than the others as both us beginners were learning how to breathe a bit better so our air was lasting longer.

It’s hard to get across how great this diving lark is without showing people first hand. I know I’m being brief about each dive, but believe me it’s an amazing experience each and every time! As you stop concentrating on everything you’re wearing and begin to do things by instinct, you start to spot more and more around you and appreciate it so much more.

I’m now safely back on shore and thinking about getting a job on a boat in exchange for dives. I hear a few companies are offering so I may chase this up and stay in Cairns for a while next time I come up… which is likely to be the start of November for the Reef spawning season. 4 night dives, $290… Hmmm…

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Today I passed my PADI Open Water certification which means I can dive anywhere in the world, up to 18m deep, without an instructor. I am sorely tempted to buy all the kit I need to make this a permanent hobby as it is much cheaper in Cairns than just about anywhere else, plus I can claim the tax back when I leave the country. However, lugging it around when I’m not using it is just not an option right now. Grr.

Again I’d like to thank the staff at Down Under Dive, especially Heath, Mitz and Celeste, for making the course so much fun and therefore so easy to learn. Incidentally, I aced the exam – 50/50 🙂

We’ve all seen what it’s like underwater on TV. Well, that’s nothing compared to being there. It’s like reading a Lonely Planet and assuming that going to the place will be just as good. If you’re physically able, try it. Especially somewhere with a better climate than the UK if you want to see the brighter fishies! It’s a relatively inexpensive hobby, especially if you do buy your own kit as most decent stuff will last you 15-20 years with good care.

I met a great bunch of people on the course as well and I’m tempted to do the Adventure or Advanced course shortly.

Aside from that, I had two nice nights out recently. The former was a pub crawl organised by an agency in town. Supposed to be $15, but Kerry scored two tickets for nothing. Free dinner, free pizza when we got the munchies later on and free entry to some decent pubs and a not-so-decent club. Very 18-30, but who cares? It was a good laugh and I even got a free souvenir photo of our group from Saturday night.

Unfortunately, this meant I’d had 4 hours’ sleep before my first open sea dive. Whoops. And I get seasick. Whoopser. Still, I managed it well enough to pass that day’s course!

Sunday night was more sedate. A walk to a restaurant a few minutes away to try their Aussie Game dish. A sampling of emu, croc and kangaroo. Croc was the best – much better than the alligator I had back home. ‘Roo tastes very much like steak. Emu was weird. Nice, but strange. Spicy, almost. After that, a quick walk round the night market, an ice-cream from Baskin Robbins and an early night as I’d spent far too much of Sunday not enjoying myself.

I also caught two films over the weekend: Little Miss Sunshine and The Departed, both of which I’d recommend.

I have updated the Fotopic archive with a gallery of larger-scale photos from the dive. There are also a few videos we managed to take underwater which I’d love to post. However, the broadband here’s not brilliant so I’ll get them online as and when I have a reliable connection. Posted by Picasa