The trip down was really great fun! Helen and I spent the majority of the trip chortling away, as we do, while Jenny and Megan (our trip-mates) tried to zone out and ignore us in the front seats. Several key themes would emerge during this drive that would alter the direction of our holiday completely, including the emergence of Helen's narcolepsy (discussed here...) and the overriding theme of conversation that would emerge at random during discussions throughout the following 4 days...taxidermy.
We arrived in Sodwana in the late afternoon, excited, tired, amazed at just how hot it was and generally confused as to why the reception desk was being manned by a Dan Brown novel and not by a person. A little walk around the dive charters camp bumped us into the operator, Eve, who was very nice and checked us in. She then lead us around and explained all to us, including giving us a tour of our accommodation for the next 4 days. Helen and I selected bunks immediately (a VERY hasty decision which I would regret soon thereafter...) and after some dinner cooked in the communal cooking area, we went to bed. After all, we were due for our first dive the next morning and were all very keen and needed to be well rested.
That night, as I ascended onto my bed, the top bunk - Helen, had the bottom one - I immediately realised what a mistake the bed selection had been. There are more steady chronic drunks out there than that bed! It swayed with every bowel movement or breath of both Helen and myself! So, eventually, at about 4AM, I decided to give up on the bed and dismounted to sleep on the floor.
As it turned out, this was probably my best decision as the floor wasn't moving and happened to be the coolest part of our furnace-like room...
The next morning, after a great deal of confusion surrounding whether I had fallen out of the bed or leaped from it in sheer desperation, we all got up and got ready to go diving. We were due to dive at 10:30, and so thought it best to get to the beach by 9:30 at the latest.
Eventually, we left for our dive at 11:30. I would be lying if I claimed that I had been anything short of anxious about this dive, it being my first-ever ocean dive. None the less, I boldly helped push the boat out into the surf, scrambled into the dingy and held on for dear life as we scooted over the waves into the open ocean...
The boat ride out was SO cool! I loved it! It would soon emerge that this was one of the best parts of going scuba-diving, an opinion echoed by both Helen and Jenny. And, apart from one incident where the skipper nearly killed us all, it was great fun and one always felt at ease with having your life in the hands of a hairy old sea dog (...well, only one of them could really pass as a hairy old sea dog, but there's very little drama in describing them as ripped blonde kids in their twenties taking a gap year...).
Eventually, we found our place over the reef and, after being helped by the skipper to don all the gear (an exciting new experience in itself - we were all used to having to struggle and do it ourselves), we dived. I lasted about 34 minutes on my first dive, and following a 5 min ascent to the surface, I was helped into the boat by the skipper. I soon realised that I, in fact, was one of those unfortunates that suffer from sea-sickness. I was given a lollipop by the skipper and I then learned another valuable bit of information: NEVER take the sweet! It makes things SO much worse!
I felt progressively more and more ill while diver after diver emerged from the depths to sing the praises of those who came up with the idea to go under water with a can of pressurized gas on their back. In truth, the diving experience was fantastic, something I'll never forget, but at the time, the sheer amazingness of it all had been overshadowed by my need to reveal my breakfast to the world. After everyone had returned to the surface, we headed back to shore. The ride back was fun (albeit, not as fun as the ride out had been) and as soon as the boat came to a sickening stop on the sands of the beach, I stumbled off and, weight belt and fins in tow, headed back to our gazebo to have a little sit-down.
For all the subsequent dives, I graciously took medication that Helen gave me which worked like a charm! I was due to dive later that day, but hadn't felt confident that the sphincters holding my stomach closed would not stage a coup, and thus opted out. It did allow me to take some great photos of the boat being launched, the beach and the waves:
Our trusty wave-riding, streamlined, balloon...
Look! There's a boat zooming off into the surf!
The beautiful Sodwana coastline