I stayed at the Arcadia Beach Guest House having picked it because of what Lonely Planet had said about it. It was sort of a hostel as it had a dorm room, but it was slightly better quality and reasonably quiet. It must have been the place for people my age as during the course of the week I met four other people there who were 31 years old! I’m not sure why they’ve got a Roller to ferry backpackers around but I wasn’t complaining!
I’d come at a strange time. The owner, Craig, who lives in Brisbane, was in charge this week as the managers were taking some leave. So Craig also had a few workers in to do odd jobs and housekeeping. These were Michael from Crosby Beach, Merseyside, Celia from France and Katie from Germany. Andy and Deborah were also from Brisbane, and they were taking care of reception.
Then the conversation turned to diving. I’d always wanted to get my PADI Scuba Diving Licence but I was waiting for the right time to find me, rather than forcing the issue. I would have done it years ago if I hadn’t have been massively scared of water, depths, big things underwater like rays and shipwrecks, seaweed and choking. Other than that, getting my licence was a no brainer!
There was only me and one other girl, Sunny, on my PADI course. She was 17 and from Alaska but living on Maggie Island with her family for half a year as her Mum’s Australian. Me and Sunny were left in a boiling room at the side of the dive shop to watch three intolerable dive videos back to back while doing a test at the end of each one. At lunchtime I had to lie down in my dark, air-conditioned dorm. It was all too much! After lunch it was time to choose our equipment and get into the pool. This is where my problems started. I hadn’t realised the compressed air was going to be so dry. I had an operation on my vocal cords a few years back so I like to have water available to me at all times in case I get the stabbing sensation I have in my throat from time to time. This wasn’t going to be an option underwater so that was my first worry.
Secondly it was really noisy! I wasn’t expecting so many bubbles…I thought it would be peaceful! I hated the entire thing and was pretty close to panic. I even cried – which is pretty unusual for me. At the end of the session the instructor told me it was probably going to take a bit longer than usual to get me through the course. I felt like a total failure. I considered all the options: run away and lose my money, take longer to do it (and I didn’t really want to be on Maggie any longer – I was already up to 6 nights) or just man up and face my fears. I spent the evening with the family from Alaska, then had a conversation with my sister – who is also a diver – sent a few miserable texts to people to tell them how rubbish I was, then read as much as I could of the PADI book and tried to talk myself into it.
It obviously worked. The next morning three others joined us and we were straight into the pool for skills like mask removal. I spent 10 minutes underwater and when I’d completed all the tasks without freaking out I felt it was one of my biggest achievements ever! From there I just relaxed into it and by that evening I’d done a dive in the sea at Alma Bay. 24 hours earlier I was thinking that would be totally impossible. It just shows what you can talk yourself into!
The following day we did three open water dives. The first was in Geoffrey Bay where there’s a shipwreck called the Moltke. Now THIS would be a challenge. I’ve long been fearful of the thought of shipwrecks but there was no getting out of it now. Luckily the visibility was pretty appalling so the thing just emerged all of a sudden and actually because it was surrounded by coral and lovely fish I decided I quite liked it. We did some skills and I got through it.
The final dive was back at Alma Bay and it was lovely. Rob found a sea cucumber, and he made white stuff – similar to a spider’s web – come out of it, and he was wrapping it round people’s hands. I found a bit on my hand much later that evening by which time it was like dried glue.
The next day I had to leave Maggie Island. I didn’t really want to, which is probably why I ended up making the mistake of getting the sunset ferry and arriving in Townsville in the dark, which I wouldn’t recommend.