Blog posts from Gareth, Imogen and Neil
I was really looking forward to day 2. I had woken up at 6 o clock in the morning, and had that lovely "no jet lag for me" feeling. In fact, I felt so awesome that I went for a run in the surf and then hit the gym for 45 minutes until it was time to drag the snoozing carcass of my snooze-addicted wife and go knock on Neil's door for breakfast.
Knowing now the plan, we walked outside the hotel and past the dolphin pens to the car park were Danny would pick us up. I'm not sure how I feel about the dolphin pens to be honest. Part of me can't stand the fact that they are sealed up for life in a confined pen. I really don't like the fact that the hotels make money from having legions of screaming female tourists go for rides. On the other hand, there's no denying that the dolphins are treated very well, appear to get regular veterinary treatment, and for all intents and purposes look to be as happy as pigs in shit. They were leaping out of the water next to us as we walked by. I think perhaps there might be a slight cultural difference in this case. Let me explain. Take one typical girly girl. My wife. She watched the dolphins, took a photo, and then the three us had a discussion about the ethics of confining dolphins and rearing them in captivity. She explained the veterinary and animal welfare ramifications and informed me that she would NOT be going for any rides with confined dolphins. Meanwhile, another lady, of a similar age, from America as it happens, reacted to seeing the dolphins by leaping up into the air and clapping her hands as if auditioning for a permanent fixture in the sea lion pens. to be fair she was the right shape too. she expressed her interest in partaking of a dolphin ride by explaining "OMFG OMFG THERE'S F*CKING DOLPHINS BOB, REAL DOLPHINS LIKE ON TV OMG OMG THIS IS AWESOME, I WANNA RIDE, I WANNA RIDE". If she had jumped any higher and clapped any more I would have thrown a fish in her mouth to shut her up. Anyway, I digress.
Danny and Mer picked us up and took us to a site quite a bit further South, about 45 mins drive from Zero Gravity. This was Cenote Aktun Ha, known to everyone as "carwash". I was strangely excited by the name, so I asked Danny if this was a result of extremely high flow or sudden whirlpools, or perhaps strange fluid motion that led to the water churning around, and he replied deadpan "No, this is where people used to come to wash their cars". Anyway, it was another beautiful and peaceful site, although a bit deeper into the jungle. This brought with it more things with a vested interest in eating me. It started with a tarantula that Imogen rather nervously pointed out. Considering that she isn't afraid of anything EXCEPT spiders she handled it rather well. I thought it was cute, because it wasn't a wasp. Danny told us about the horse flies, which you can't feel land on you, but you really know about it when they bite you. Mid flow her stopped and pointed at my hand "That's a horsefly". I looked down and saw a fairly innocuous little insect sitting on my hand. then the little bast*rd bit me. Clearly insects in Mexico have evolved some kind of Dr Who style trans-dimensional nature. It's mouth was bigger on the inside. there is no way that an insect so small can bit so hard. I felt like someone had just gripped my skin with pliers. I killed the thing and then a large welt started to swell. Danny told us the last time one of his students got bitten they had to cut his wedding ring off. Awesome. Luckily, I just had a welt the size of a bee sting, with the pain distracting in the same kind of way having a bulldozer run over your testicles is distracting. This was how the day started. It didn't get better.
We went through a field drill for basic line laying. Choosing a good primary and secondary tie off and how to tie them. How to watch for line traps and avoid causing them. Wraps and placements. Tieing to the mainline. then the same again but with team roles. Number 1 using the reel, number 2 looking for tie offs, dealing with slack, improving the lay of the the line. Number 3 watching for a preventing line traps. Rotate the team and do it again, and again, until it become easy. We spent an hour tying the trees up and then it was time to get in. We kitted up in a hurry because we were getting eaten alive by the insects and it was quite remarkably hot. I had decided to use a fourth element Halo, which was waaaaayyyyy too much undersuit for 40 degree air temperature, but I figured might be all right for hanging around in the water for three hours, which was the plan. We planned for two dives. One upstream, and one downstream. Danny wanted us to get practice at briefing and debriefing the dives and each other, laying the line, and also looking for differences between upstream and downstream caves. It's all part of the bigger plan to make you more and more aware, more and more observant. To slow you down so you take the time to look at things. All part of his goal of giving you a mental notebook of clues to find your way home should the worst happen.
I had lost the jetlag, and the lack of confidence I had felt the day before. It was one of those days where you know you are going to dive well, and I was keen to show Danny I belonged on this course. Danny and Mer kitted up, and jumped in. Danny used exactly the same words I do. " I hit the water first. I leave the water last". I was liking Danny as an instructor more and more. The field drill had been meticulous, well thought out, and passionate, whilst demanding we all raise our game and take it seriously. We all started kitting up. I was ready before the other two and, having ensured they didn't need any assistance, asked them if they minded me jumping in. I needed in the water quickly. There were some treacherous steps which I avoided but a tree right by the water which Danny suggested we lean on with one arm whilst putting on one fin, and then switch arms and do the other. By the time I arrived a sidemount diver had dumped their kit next to the tree, so it was a little awkward to get in. The water, being 26 degrees, didn't cool me a bit, so I was keen to get underground as soon as possible. Neil followed me to the water, and started the same "lean on the tree" process I had done. At this point, however, the dive who had left his kit by the tree realised he had left his gear in an awkward place and decided to retrieve it. He reached between Neil's legs and pulled at his gear. I don't know whether he slipped forwards or Neil stepped backwards. I was watching from three feet away in the water. However the end result was that they connected.
Danny also walked us through simple valve failures that the team had to correctly diagnose and repair in the cave. There were some elements to this I hadn't come across in my other GUE training. caves can be noisy. If you hear bubbles you run a hand across your valves to try and identify what's going rushing into fixing it. There are two other people with enough gas to get you out so dealing with valve failures is a "minor inconvenience" in Danny's terminology. what IS important is that the team diagnoses what is going on and does not turn that minor inconvenience into a "major problem'. bubbles were simulated in the field drill with the flapping of a leaf. You let the diver in question do the initial diagnosis, and then the team takes over. Then the team communicates to everyone what has gone wrong. A quick flow check so that you understands the setting of your valves, and then you re-order the team appropriately. Today was simple failures. fixable and unfixable right and left posts. the other element that was new to me is that the 3rd diver, the one who does have a problem and is not trying to fix a problem, has two really critical roles. firstly, they reference the line and ensure their hand is pointing the way at all times. Its' very easy to come off the line, especially when dealing with a problem, so this is really, really important. the other role they have, which I somehow had not thought of, is that they have to illuminate the valves. Without that, you are turning valves in the pitch black. so the whole team is involved.
I swear to god, time slowed. I saw begin to lose his balance whilst turning and hopping on one leg. what is it about he human psysche that thinks it can f*cking hop out of trouble. You see the same thing at ice skating park when someone is about to fall over. Their brain says "not a problem I bet I can outrun this" and you see them running on the spot before physics says "stop f*cking about and fall over". Neil hopped and turned before the universe finally got tired of waiting and he started to topple forwards with 50kg of weight on his back in an area covered in rocks. I'm not sure why he turned. Perhaps he thought one of the rocks had been replaced with a memory foam mattress, or there was a sofa painted like a rock just behind him. Either way, the result was inevitable. I watched in slow motion as man and gear fell flat face down on the rocks, with one arm out to try and stop him. He hit the rocks hard. The universe stopped. The insects stopped buzzing. People stopped talking. The water stopped flowing. I was frozen watching. Then the universe shook it's head and got back to work. The laws of physics kicked back in. Sound came back. No sounds of water. No sound of anyone talking. Just the sound of a man screaming. Not swearing. Not crying out. Screaming. Which is where it all stopped being funny.