Five days of doing nothing in Mirissa and Unawatuna is enough to realise that we are happiest when we are active. In fact we realised quite clearly that 12 months of only sitting around on a beach is in fact no way to spend a year.
Hikkaduwa is one of the original Sri Lanka beach destinations, popular with a ‘hippy’ crowd since the 70s. However over the years it has been built up and in some ways butchered with ugly concrete restaurants and hotels blighting the the beach view.
However, following the Tsunami in 2004 much of this was destroyed and the rebuilding has been far more forgiving on the natural beauty the local geography offers.
We weren’t actually planning on visiting until we spoke to a couple at our hotel in Mirissa. But we are glad we did as I think it’s fair to say we had our most enjoyable days of the time we spent on the beach.
The reason for this? We completed our PADI Open Water qualification and learnt to dive.
We always knew we were going to do this, but we didn’t know where. But, Julie, emboldened on a couple of Pina Coladas suggested we speak to the guys at the International Diving School to find out what we’d need to do and how much it would cost.
It turns out you need 4 days and $375 each to learn to dive. We had both. Just.
We knew it would be a squeeze as we need to get to our next destination, Bentota on day 4. But we told the school and they assured us we could get it done.
There was nothing stopping us. We signed up, handed over our money and in return got a 200 page manual to read, and told to watch a 2.5 hour video.
Day 1 of the course is all theory with the dreaded manual and the video (a strange watch with clip-art style humour, overly zealous PADI sales pitches and some excellent teaching).
Day 2 is our first closed water dives where we get to grips with all of the equipment and perform a number of tasks underwater whilst our instructor assesses us. In Many schools this is done within a pool environment but the International Diving School doesn’t have a pool so we do this in a sheltered part of the ocean.
Day 3 and we go out into open water and a 6m dive. Again, we need to carry out more tasks in order to progress. To be honest, it’s bloody hard work.
Although, some of the tasks are fairly easy (swapping air sources, fin pivots etc) others were a right pain in the arse. Julie adapted to it really well and after initial difficulties with clearing her mask (you have to fill it up under water then clear it fully so you can see) she seemed to dominate everything thing that came her way.
I found some of them a bit harder, particularly taking the mask off and swimming with my eyes open. I couldn’t see a bloody thing and it’s easy to get panicked and effect your breathing.
Another challenge we needed to overcome is equalising, reducing the pressure-induced pain in you airs by normalising as you go deeper. Easy once you know how, but it can be really uncomfortable when learning and Julie was in a fair bit of pain for a while.
Day 4 – our first proper open water dives, to 18m and 15m respectively.
So how did we find it?
Well, it was a roller-coaster. In fact here is a diagram draw in Paint to show you how we felt.
We started pretty confident and after the second day were amazed at what we had done and how good we were at it.
Day 3 was a right shit and we struggled. The sea was rough and it was difficult to complete our tasks. We didn’t enjoy it and to be honest both of us thought this wasn’t for us. We did manage to complete all our tasks but we didn’t enjoy it.
The final day was a different story altogether. The difficulties we faced the previous day taught us a lot and as soon as we entered the water we felt comfortable. We had completed all our tasks and today was about going deeper and enjoying ourselves. it was brilliant, and everything we learnt clicked into place.
We had an amazing time and even managed to take advantage of the GoPro Hero (thanks iCrossing) to take some underwater images. We’ll be buying a red filter in Singapore to fix the colour problems of these ones.
So, what can we say. It was a brilliant experience and one you should do if you get the chance. the guys at the International Diving School were amazing and brilliant in their teaching. Thoughtful, considerate and skilful in their craft.
And now, we can’t wait to dive again.