The day I arrived into the Perhentians, some beautiful little islands off the north east coast of Malaysia, I was terrified of even snorkelling. Half a decade earlier in Thailand I had a cut myself up on a bed of coral following a mad, panicked flailing session in some shallow waters, and it had seriously put me off. I had tried one more time in La Jolla in the US, but the unnaturalness of breathing underwater was too much.
I couldn’t do it and I definitely couldn’t enjoy it.
But as with everything I fear, I try to find a way to deal with it. I’d seen so many great programmes about snorkelling and diving, and so many of my friends loved it. Surely there must be a way for me to fall in love with it too?
So it was 2008, I was staying in a stilted hut in the Perhentians and my good friend Hugo decided to take on the challenge of teaching me to dive.
The theory was fairly straightforward, possibly because I was a bit of a swot and did my homework good and proper. For this part of the PADI course I felt in control. Thinking, reading and remembering. It was familiar.
After the exam, Hugo’s face was sombre. I panicked. No, no, I couldn’t have failed. I had felt confident on all the answers. ‘Just joking’, he said breaking into a smile. Git. I’d passed with flying colours. Well, nearly. One wrong answer. Dammit.
The practical side of things were a little more, erm, panicked.
Hugo distracted me with silly games at the bottom of the sea shallows. Later, he made me do James Bond entries into the water. And when I told him that there was no way I wanted to go to the 18 metres needed to qualify for my PADI Open Water Certificate, he humoured me.
He pointed out cleaner shrimp, took out his reg, let them polish his teeth. I put out my hand for a manicure. They were crazy and translucent and tickly cute (the shrimp that is, not Hugo). And then he showed me his altimeter that displayed a depth of 18 metres. Sneaky chap.
So, despite a hiccup and underwater panic on my first Open Water dive, I eased into diving just fine. I didn’t have to use the excuse of some dormant heart murmur any longer (yes, it had been a worry, but possibly more of an excuse). I even started to imagine working my way through the PADI qualifications, although maybe I just wanted to get my Dive Master for the completion party? I forget. Whatever, I actually learnt to enjoy diving and my breathing calmed so that I didn’t empty my air tank within twenty minutes or so. It was considerable progress.
Sharks, sting-rays, I saw the lot. And I managed to hold it together.
And now, here in Galapagos, many a shop sign screamed out daily dives. Would I dare to give it a go again now that it had been a few years without practise? Would I get by without a good friend holding my hand?
Time to re-employ my just-get-on-with-it philosophy. Push the button.