For the second time the person seated in the seat behind me reaches forward and opens the window that is more on my side than his. Instinctively I half turn to see who the person interrupting my sleep and asking for an argument is, but as I turn I'm struck by the sight below me. Far below is the blue carpet of the ocean, clouds dotted above like a cotton wool and a small spec of a boat, barely recognizable, making its way along the waves. Only a few short weeks ago, I was that spec, and suddenly the change in perspective of how small I was, how small I am, hits me and then everything changes. When you feel that small, window up or window down is miniscule. I glance behind and realise that the person behind doesn’t have a window; he wants to see the view, to possibly look out a tiny spec below and wonder who they are and where they are going. The word re-action pops vividly into my head and I realize that I have just had two vastly different reactions to the exactly same situation, the only thing that changed was my perspective, suddenly I want to thank the person behind me for the lesson. I open the window fully we both enjoy the view. I wanted to start with this story as it shows one of the things I am learning and trying to bring into my life. I say trying as I still sometimes fail miserably at this, reacting to the first though or feeling to pop into my head, but that’s ok, I know the lesson is sinking in somewhere.
The plane continues on and delivers me back to Kuhela after two weeks of training at the blue hole on long island, Bahamas. Again I had to run off and leave her behind for a quick trip away. I’m glad she’s patient with me. It was an amazing trip and was great catching up with Joe again, He has been there for a couple weeks before me as part of the safety team for the vertical blue competition. I've really missed having him on board but am so stoked for him to have this opportunity and it’s been an amazing experience, sadly not for all the best reasons. For those who haven’t heard there was an accident at the competition and sadly on of the competitors passed away, his name was Nick Mevoli, and though I didn’t know him I think everyone in the free diving community has felt it a bit, especially Joe and all the other members of the safety team and divers who competed.
It was great to be back in this amazing place again and after arriving and settling in we all headed down to the beach for a bonfire where it was great to catch up with everyone again. Slowly over the next few days the people from the competition headed back to their respective countries and others arrived for the course. I had decided to head there a few days before the course began to give me time to train and to work on a few things with some of the other instructors there before they left. Both Joe and I had goals set for the trip that we wanted to accomplish and wanted to give ourselves time train, also I have to admit a couple weeks on a beautiful island in the Caribbean is always hard for me to say no to. We got a lot out of the time in the water, both before and during the course and it was great to be able to work on some of the technical things needed to equalize at greater depth. This is where I need the most work as I know its not the ability or fitness to dive deep but equalizing the pressure in my ears as I get deeper that is stopping me. As we dive the air spaces in our ears, sinuses and mask are all compressed and need to be equalized with the surrounding pressure. This is normally pretty straight forward up until around the 25M mark, after which the air in the lungs is too compressed to use for equalization, so its necessary to bring air up into the mouth to use for this. Sounds pretty straight forward, but is a bit trickier than you may think. Swallowing your mouth fill as you descend is pretty common problem.
Helping William Trubridge, who runs the course, was Marco Cosentino, from Italy and Mauricio Fernandez, from Columbia. Mauricio recently set the world record for speed with a mono-fin, swimming 50M in 13.8 secs, that works out to be about 7knots, Kuhela cruises at 5, pretty incredible. We spent the week working on different things with different instructors and I enjoyed being able to try different techniques and learnt a lot. My mono fin technique however still is far from graceful though, sometimes resembling something closer to an epileptic dolphin. As the week went on I found myself hitting the depths of my previous personal best with ease and halfway through the course did a drop to my first goal of 40M easily. One of the biggest attractions of free diving to me, especially at my max depths is the mental aspect. Once you get to around 20M you stop fining and simply fall deeper down and down, into the ocean. Then it’s just you, the ocean and your mind. There is no hiding from any of it; it is simply a beautiful meditation.
The week went on with full days of diving, theory classes, yoga and meditation, and close to the end of the week I began to feel it. Feeling the days blur into one and continuing to learn and absorb the wealth of information being delivered my way. Funnily enough setting my new PB also set up a bit of a mental block for me and with a bit of fatigue I began to lose focus in my dives a bit later in the course and struggled to control the gremlins in my mind who are very, very good at saying just the right things to make you want to turn and head to the surface. The course continued and even on the last day I couldn’t pass my PB, every time arriving to the surface knowing that it had been my mind and not my body that was stopping me. I'd laugh at it rather than get pissed off though, and what better reason is there to laugh? To realize that whether I got there this trip or later on, I was more than capable of diving 45M, or deeper.
We hung around for a few days after the end of the course and continued diving and training, taking a day off to rest. On the final day we awoke to an amazing day and heading down the hole for a few dives before our flight. I knew both Joe and I, although not admitting to each other so as not to put pressure on ourselves, were going to be pushing for our goals. We packed up all the left over food from the apartment to pass on to Shiv, one of the guys who was staying to train on the island. On the way to the hole we may have hit a few bumps at a slightly higher speed (read, rental car) and on the last one we found ourselves couching and sneezing as the can of black pepper in the back exploded and left us gasping and laughing. We must have looked a bit crazy pulling up to the beach and getting out the car unable to breathe and laughing hysterically. In most of the islands this behavior would be slightly more indicative of a slightly greener herb than black pepper. One we caught our breath we suited up and headed out to the platform.
Slowly we went through our warm up routines and got ourselves relaxed and ready to dive. Joe was safety for me on my first dive, and it went well, except for the fact that I swallowed my mouth fill and could not equalize, but could see the plate about 10 M below me, so close. Joe dived next and as I sat and breathed up and relaxing for my next dive I mentally ran through what depth he would be at for the time he was gone, as the seconds ticked on my smile grew, he was gone a while and knew that he had made it. When he surfaced Shiv ran him through is recovery breathing and there was the usual 10 or so seconds of looking at him to make sure he was OK, then he gave the signal and it was all high fives and a great vibe all round. So stoked for him and now motivated for my dive I dropped back into my relaxation and prepared to dive.
I moved out to the line and lay on my back and went through my breathing routine, scanning my body from head to toe a few times to release any tension I may have been holding and with a final full inhale I turned and began swimming down into the blue. I heard my alarm go off at 18M, meaning I could stop fining and start my mouth fill, and begin free falling. This is one of the best things about diving deeper, the time you have to simply fall, weightless to the depths below. I felt good and relaxed my body as I fell, starting with my face, then on to my chest, my stomach and my legs. Sure enough those gremlins popped up though, but I simply let them talk and took no notice. A quick glance and I saw the plate below but frustratingly I had swallowed my mouth fill a few meters before though, I decided to keep going and see how far I could get with the equalization I had and with about 3 meters to go I knew I had it. I touched the plate firmly, turned, and started for the surface. It’s a long swim back up but felt good even as the gremlins pointed out how deep I was and that was still well below the edge of the hole, but I just kept fining and working on relaxation and Joe met me at about 20 M and followed me to the surface. Once on the surface I went through my recovery breathing, every breath bringing a bigger smile to my face until I gave the OK signal and it was time for more high fives and congratulations. What an awesome way to finish the course, Joe and my trip together, and to finish on a high for Joe, who’d been through a lot in that very spot only a week before was great. Sharing that awesome feeling of accomplishment and friendship between all of us there was something very special.
We headed back to apartment to pack up and head to the airport and soon enough we were looking down on long island as we headed on to Nassau and to catch up with Aunty Stephanie and spend a few days with her. Flying in planes is something that I do quite often and sadly has lost some of the excitement that it used to hold for me when I was younger. This pilot though was an exception. Coming into Nassau and swaying wildly from side to side and flying along the runway, not touching down, while the co-pilot held tightly on to the dash, is something that certainly makes for an interesting trip. You know your not the only one when you can hear the nervous laughter from everyone on board as we all looked at each and gave that half smile that said, yeah umm, yeah that was great. Was great getting a chance to spend some more time with family and we were treated to two great days of hanging out and having a look around Nassau.
The time came to depart and before I knew it I was back on another plane and just about to turn around to glare at the person behind for touching “MY” window, then like I said, everything changed. There are some many things I have learnt on this trip, some I am not even consciously aware of, and I would love to say that once I learn the lesson I never find myself getting a re-fresher, but that would be a lie. To be honest I find myself dealing with some things time and again, kicking myself because I thought I’d moved past that. I always remember some very wise words that were given to me from my mom though, that even though sometimes it feels like your back in the same place as before, your actually looking at it from a slightly different angle. I take solace in that.
Soon enough I was back with Kuhela, and it felt good to be home. Bocas Del Toro, where were at, is a pretty cool little place and ill fill you in on what’s been happening here in the next post. Thanks so much for reading, and especially for all the amazing comments I've received. Safe travels and thanks again.