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

Settling in

Yesterday I managed to get a few things organised. Along with a German couple, we went through all the diving brochures and settled on a 4-day PADI course costing $320+extras (medical, reef taxes, fuel levies etc) coming in at around $440. This was by far the cheapest, and there’s an option of a 5th day on a very nice boat with 3 “pleasure” dives for an extra $100. Myself and the German guy (I didn’t catch his name, but I’m sure I’ll have it on the next update) will be doing the course while his partner and Kerry will join us on our fourth day for snorkelling.

The staff member who helped us book everything was great. Very friendly and knowledgeable and had happened to use the same company to get his own PADI certification. We managed to drag a $20 discount per person out of him as well, and may be able to get more money off if we go for the fifth day.

The weather still sucks, though, and in fact has probably got worse since yesterday. This is one of the reasons for a lack of photos so far. The other is that Cairns itself isn’t massively picturesque, though I’m aware that the surroundings most certainly are. I don’t know if I’ll see any of them while I’m visiting, as it may make more sense to come back another time when the skies are blue. As it is, the visibility while diving is apparently down to 10m because of the overcast skies. This isn’t a huge problem while learning to dive as you mainly concentrate on techniques and don’t move far. The first two days are in a swimming pool as well. If we opt for the fifth day, though, it could be disappointing if the weather out at sea is as bad as it is here. I guess we’ll just have to wait and find out.

After sorting all this out, Kerry and I headed to the Wool Shed for our free/discount dinner. We’d been told that the servings were OK for nothing, but the upgrade sizes were very generous. So we got our two meals, upgraded one and split it so we had enough for two! Just spag bol, but it was pretty decent for $5 between us.

As we were finishing up, a group of other backpackers joined us at our table. A mix of Dutch, American and Irish who had all “upgraded”. I have now seen how much steak you can get for $7 and feel I’ll be making the most of that offer once I start diving and need the calories!

We all got talking, and we shelved our plans to go on an organised pub crawl instead opting for a bottle shop, a few tinnies and back to their hostel for some daft card games and a nice night in.

At 11:00, the security guard closed the public area (which makes sense as it’s close to a lot of dorms, so they need to keep the noise down) and we walked back into town to PJ Murphy’s. Yes, an Irish theme bar. What a surprise.

At one point, Kerry grabbed my arm, pointed at someone, looked awestruck and walked off with another 4 girls in tow. They all started hugging some tall guy with curly blonde hair and a scraggy beard. Has anyone heard of Matthew McConaughey? Apparently he’s famous or something.

We gave up drinking at around 1am and sploshed back to the hostel where we ate crisps, drank wine/cider and listened to all the rather poor mp3s I have with me on my laptop until 4:30am. Whoops. I’m glad we booked the diving course to start on Friday! And yes, I do know what date tomorrow is…

Today I just loafed around, recovered from a hangover that I was expecting but never actually got, bought more second hand books that I really shouldn’t have and scoured everywhere for a battered, cheap Lonely Planet guide to Japan. Unfortunately, no luck. I can only get new ones. Either 10% off or with a phrasebook thrown in for $5. Hmm.

I have also updated the accommodation page with information on the hostel I’m at now.

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