Adventure seems to follow me everywhere. What I mean by adventure is that crazy things that probably wouldn’t happen to most people, tend to happen to me. It’s a gift. 🙂 One such time was back during my first year in China, when Linnea and I took a trip to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. Malaysia is known for good diving, so we decided to give it a go.
Linnea was a certified diver, but at the time, I was not. I had been on a 3-day diving excursion in Australia a few years prior, but those were guided discovery dives. Not having a ton of time to get my certification, I opted for the discovery dive again. Linnea, myself, and the guide were only ones diving, so I was pretty excited about the one-on-one attention I would get. Before we dove out in the ocean, we participated in some training in the shallow waters near the shore, things like breathing under water, clearing our mask, removing and locating our regulators, and reading the gauges that indicated how much air was left in the tank and how deep we were. During our training session, things started coming back to me. That unnatural feeling of breathing under the water when your brain tells you “this is wrong.” Remaining calm when your reg was out of your mouth and you couldn’t breathe. The stinging in your eyes when your mask filled with saltwater. I had listened to the directions. I had practiced the drills. I knew the underwater signals. I was ready.
The boat took us out to a deeper part of the water, far from the coast and, sitting on the side of the dinghy, we tumbled into the water, ready to explore. The first thing we noticed was the murky water. Bummer! How were we supposed to see everything when we couldn’t see more than 3 feet in front of us? I guessed that the recent daily rains had stirred up all the sand and muck from the bottom of the ocean. Regardless, we kept going. As we dove deeper and deeper into the depths of the ocean, I was constantly aware of where the guide and Linnea were in relation to me. Linnea was swimming a few feet above me, while our guide was next to me. Once we reached our final depth of 14 meters, we slowed down, taking in the coral landscape in front of us. Every 30 seconds to a minute, I took stock of my diving buddies, making sure I was keeping up with the more experienced divers. Something caught my eye. A clownfish! I had found Nemo! Stopping for half a minute to take a mental image of this beautiful creature in its natural environment, I was in awe.
Following my brief distraction, I swam ahead, checking the locations of Linnea and the guide. Uh oh! I can’t find them! Swimming in a circle, darting my eyes up, down, and all around, I realize I’ve lost them. Crap! Don’t panic, Jennifer. The worst thing you can do 14 meters underneath the ocean is panic. Constantly turning in circles, looking for any sign of them, my mind replayed the directions the guide gave us. When the air gauge reads 50, it’s time to go up, or else you might run out of air. When you go up, you have to go slow because of the pressure. Safety stop at 5 meters, where you wait for 3 minutes before you go to the water’s surface. But what do you do if you get lost? As I racked my brain, I realized he didn’t tell us. As someone with an insanely accurate memory, if he had told us what to do, I know I would have remembered it. Think…think…what would I tell my students if they got lost on a field trip? ‘Stay put! I will find you!’ Two people looking for each other isn’t productive. It was decided. I would just stay put and wait until they came to find me. They would come to find me. Right?
Doing my best to distract myself from the thought that I am 14 meters under the ocean, in another country, as a non-certified diver, in murky waters, alone, I look at the fish and coral around me. Despite my efforts, the scenery is just not as cool as it was a minute ago. Steadily looking at the gauges, I become more and more weary as the little dial marches toward 50. I decide to make a plan. If the needle reaches 50 before I’m found, I have to ascend. I know how to read the depth gauge. I’ll just stop at 5 meters, and since I don’t have a watch, I’ll count to 180, and then safely swim to the water’s surface. Time ticked by. S-L-O-W-L-Y. Swimming in circles, on the lookout for someone, anyone, I noticed the needle touch the 50. Time to go up. Just then, I feel a tap on my shoulder. I’ve been found! Turning around, I come face to face with an angry guide. I get the “What the hell are you doing?” shrug. Me? What am I doing? “I’ve been waiting on you!” I gesture back. Pointing toward the surface, the guide indicates that it’s time to ascend.
Following the safety measures, we reach the surface. Breaking through the water, I am greeted by Linnea’s face, a face that is scared, worried, and unsure. “Where were you? What happened? I was really worried!”
Our guide, clearly annoyed with me, asks me why I didn’t come up once I was lost. “I didn’t know I was supposed to come up. I just thought you guys would find me,” I replied, quite annoyed that he’s mad at the girl who is doing a discovery dive, supposedly under his careful watch.
“I told you, if you get separated, wait 1 minute, then come up to the surface.”
“No, you never told us that. I would have remembered that!”
“Yes I did. You just weren’t listening.”
“Linnea, did he say that?”
“No, he didn’t. I just know from my diving certification course,” she informed me. No apology was given by the dive instructor for his lack of instructions.
At that point, we load the boat, headed back to shore, a bit more shaken up than when we left. Linnea had been so worried about me. Apparently I was lost at sea for about 8 minutes. Now 8 minutes isn’t that long when you’re driving, reading a book, or watching a TV show, but 8 minutes alone, at the bottom of the ocean feels like forever. I felt really bad for Linnea. I knew I was safe. I knew they were together, and therefore safe, but she didn’t know what had happened to me. She thought she’d have to go back to RBIS and tell everyone she lost Jennifer at the bottom of the ocean. She thought she’d have to call my parents, and tell them I was lost, or worse. I can’t imagine what she was going through.
See what I mean? Adventure finds me. Even though it was scary, it was an adventure, and it makes for a good story, don’t you think?