Things have mellowed out since my little episode a couple weeks ago. My oh my, has it been crazy, though.  I apologize (mostly to you, mom) for not writing in ages.  Time has been flying as each day seems shorter and shorter under the heaps of dive physics readings pile up. The life of a Dive Master Trainee, otherwise known as a DMT, is quite a busy one–especially if you’re trying to complete the training in a limited amount of time. In my case, there is a very limited amount of time to work with, especially after my run in with the jellyfish, which put me out of commission for a number of days. In fact, three weeks later, my body is still dealing with the damned allergic reaction. The wounds around my ankles ooze on a very regular basis, while the rash on my left leg simply refuses to heal. Additionally, I continue to get little itchy bubbles on various places where the jellyfish(es) got me, popping up at random intervals. I pump a steady stream of antihistamines in my body each night, but I believe the only real cure for this affliction is time, rest, and lots of ignoring–I don’t want to pay too much attention to it, because I’m entirely convinced it’s got a vendetta against me and paying it any mind will just give it the little edge it needs to conquer.

I spent the last couple of days resting, giving my body a break from the daily demands of diving on a schedule.  I completed the Rescue Diver course and Emergency First Responder course last week, and have been focusing primarily on getting closer to that magic number: 60. The day before yesterday, I was back in the water after a couple of days off and I rounded the wonderful 40 dives mark that allows me to formally begin my Dive Master training.

I had to spend the last tree days on land because my body decided to up the ante with the allergic reaction. Deciding that the rashes, itches, open oozing sores, and fatigue weren’t enough, my immune system sprung some mucous into the mix. With 35 dives under my belt, I rolled off the boat above Angol Point, and began descending with my instructor and an Advanced Open Water student. At 5 meters, I felt the squeeze on my ears. I tried to equalize, blowing gently out through my nose while pinching my nostrils closed, but I just couldn’t. There’s no more discouraging feeling in diving than not being able to equalize. It happens with you’re congested, and your sinuses are filled with mucous; the mucous makes it impossible to pass air through your sinuses during equalization. If you can’t equalize the pressure, you can’t dive. It’s a horrible thing. If you try to force equalization on descent, you can rupture your ear drum. And worse, if you take decongestion medication and it wears off during the dive, you risk a “reverse squeeze” on the ascent.

So I signaled to my instructor that I couldn’t equalize, and she gave the “OK….you….up.” I went back up to the boat, hearing the awful plastic bag popping sound in my left ear as I came up from 4.5 meters.

That was the indication that I needed a break. I spent a day in bed, sleeping and eating antihistamines like candy. The next day I spent at the dive shop, doing land-based activities.

There has been an element of anxiety throughout my experiences here. In fact, since I arrived here, I’ve felt a ton of pressure (no diving pun intended) on me to get this thing finished.  Changing my airline tickets, extending my visa, trying to get FedEx to deliver a package on time, and battling against my immune system, took a LOT out of me. It seems that my luck has been nothing short of shitty ever since I arrived here. The number of times I’ve been able to sit back and chat with a new friend, or enjoy a sunset after a long day of diving can be counted on one hand. Forget about reading books for pleasure or writing.  There just aren’t enough hours in the day.

I don’t lament this at all. Actually, I can honestly say that I enjoy the challenge. In my travels, thus far, I’ve been spoiled rotten by the ability to do what I want when I want to, with no restrictions whatsoever. I’ve had unlimited time and energy to spend as I wish, and my focus has been primarily on the pursuit of internal growth and reflection. I spent two months doing whatever I pleased with my days, and relished every moment of it. But I came to Boracay with a specific goal, and that goal is incompatible with the kind of lifestyle I had become accustomed to in traveling. I wanted to establish for myself a real sense of place, and quit the whole nomadic gig for a while. I had lost so much enjoyment in dealing with little travel details that consume energy and time, that I have gotten to the point where I need to dig in my heels and just stay put.

So not only did I come here hoping to become a diving professional, but I came with the hope of changing my pace and introducing some sort of routine back into my life. I had contacted this dive shop, among others, while I was in Borneo, after deciding that I wanted to “go pro” as they call it in the PADI world.  I was eager to get diving again. I swear, the worst travel decision I ever made was diving on Ko Tao, because all it did was get me hooked on the underwater world. Only a month after becoming an advanced diver, I needed more. So I had spent a couple days emailing around the Philippines, where the diving is worldclass, and found a place that was willing to give me a good deal on a DM internship for a month. I was a little apprehensive about committing to a place online before meeting the people in real life, to see if it was a “good fit,” but my email correspondence with this “Chris” person had been so positive that I decided to go for it. They were willing to make a deal for my budget constraints, as well as answer all of my ridiculous questions about what to expect from Boracay.

Although my life has become pressured and busy, I know it would not have been this way had I not encountered those damned jellyfish that first day I rolled off the boat. It is so much harder to lead a full and enjoyable life with you are fighting against your health, and I am certain that my poor health over the past three weeks has made my daily life much harder than it would have been otherwise. But honestly, it’s been a very good challenge for me, and I am grateful for that. I have faced the hard reality of the situation–that I might have invested a whole lot of time and money in this and not be able to finish the course–and I’ve pushed myself to rise to the challenge.

I must also say that my ability to work with my limitations is only possible thanks to my two amazing instructors:

Chris "Frenchie" and Jenna "Hobbit"

Chris “Frenchie” and Jenna “Hobbit”

Jenna and Chris are a couple who’ve been diving for over 20 years. Jenna is from England, and Chris is from Scotland. They’re a funny duo, but also incredibly professional and good at what they do. At many places, the dive center staff treats DMT’s like sorority pledges, running silly errands and lugging tanks this way and that. But Jenna and Chris are better instructors than I ever could have hoped for. They treat me with respect, and have put my health as their priority. Due to the number of days I needed to spend out of water, they threw their original schedule out the window in exchange for one that puts much more pressure on them. They’re amazing. There isn’t a question they can’t answer, or a skill they can’t teach me with flawless performance. When I reported to them the other day, after seeing the doctor for a followup, that I have lost over 10 pounds since I arrived on the island three weeks ago, Jenna looked at me with a frown,

“Well we don’t want our DMT fading away, now! Here, I’ve cooked some Thai chicken and rice, will you have some with us?”

I gratefully joined them for dinner in the classroom.

Jenna and Chris as the reason I’ve held on to my sanity since I arrived here, through all the crap I’ve found myself dealing with. They’re the ones who found me this little apartment, and they’re the ones who’ve been able to get me to where I am today–12 dives away from being a Dive Master.

Speaking of my little apartment, I must say, it’s such a wonderful little place where I live. I am on this island, Boracay, where the majority of tourists who come to the Philippines end up going. It’s pretty much known for tourism; it’s like the Times Square of the Philippines. Throughout most of Southeast Asia, a tourism hotspot like this would likely be deemed “shit” in my book. In Thailand, for example, I was entirely unimpressed by all of the places that everybody told me were “oh, just so amazing!” To me, those places seemed phony and superficial–like they weren’t parts of the country at all, but just places built by tourists for tourists. But Boracay is different, and my oh my am I glad it is. Boracay is a small island with three distinct sections: Station 1, Station 2, and Station 3. Station 1 is chok full of tourists–or so I’ve heard. I’ve actually never been there, but every backpacker that I meet who comes through the hostel at the dive center tells me it is. Station 2 is, I don’t know…in between? Station 3, where I live, is quiet. During the day, the beach is scattered with sunbathers and divers, but always a mix of tourists and locals. At night, the beachfront has a mellow bar scene with some places playing live music and others just offering good food and breezy beach tables. There are some jazzy lights wrapped around palm trees, and with people around sipping drinks and enjoying conversations.

It’s nothing crazy, and its really quite nice. If you walk up any road from the beach, you’ll get to the main road in about 6 minutes, where you can hop on a trike for a couple of cents and ride to anywhere else on the island. I live about 5 minutes walk from the beach, up a quiet road at the end of station 3. When my diving day ends at 5 or 6, I walk down the beach a bit with sunset and sailboats to my left, and then hang a right and disappear from the scene entirely. Walking up my road, you quickly realize it is a backroad not traveled heavily by tourists. It’s lined with a couple little street vendors, a square where local guys play basketball and volleyball, and a bunch of small houses. If you walk almost all the way up to the main road, and turn left down a little alley, you’ll be greeted by a ferocious guard dog named Bruno: you’ll have arrived at my house.

The first night I came here, Bruno and I had a standoff for about 2 minutes; he growled and backed me against the cement wall of the alley while I cowered and called for assistance. A young man came out of the house and shooed Bruno off. The young man, Jose, and Bruno (as it turns out) have over the course of three weeks, become my very good friends.  See, Bruno is not all that big and tough after all:

Bruno, the dog with much more bark than bite

Bruno, the dog with much more bark than bite

Now, when I come home each evening, Bruno comes running up to greet me (it took many days for him to even smell me without growling with bared teeth), and Jose (the young man who came to my rescue) welcomes me home with a smile. The house where I live is actually a family’s home that has been turned into a boarding house…kind of. The family (Jose’s sister, brother and mother) live downstairs, and upstairs there are four rooms being rented out. The room farthest from mine is home to a young couple with a baby and another room is home to another couple, who I never see because they work nights. Jose lives in the room next to mine, and I live in the corner room, with green and blue walls and pink curtains. Cora, Jose’s mom, turned the home into this kind of boarding house many years ago to make some income after her husband died. She is a lovely lady, with a beautiful singing voice and a very warm smile. When Jose isn’t home to help me with the fire, Cora helps me cook outside over the wood stove. She doesn’t have a gas stove in the house because she’s afraid of the possibility of an explosion–smart lady. The last time I used a gas stove, in Malaysia, it was leaking due to a missing o-ring in the top valve. Safety and regulations aren’t exactly stressed here, so she’s very wise to keep the risk low by just using wood and fire.

Coming home every day is usually the highlight of my day. I look forward to seeing Jose, who sits with me out on our porch and listens to my troubles (usually, I’ve come home with troubles) while shaking his head and smiling. “Potut” is what he calls me, which he says means “shorty.” He loves music, and so when my package finally arrived, containing little speakers for my iPod, we sat for hours listening to music on blast with huge smiles on our faces. I am definitely going to miss Jose when I leave here, and since I’ve sworn to myself I will never return to the Philippines (don’t get me started on the corruption of the government and the money they’ve bled from every orifice of my soul), I fear I might never see him again. But in three weeks, he’s become like a brother to me. We laugh at each other, cook for each other, and take care of each other. The other day, when I felt awful after not being able to equalize, Jose cooked me the most delicious garlic and ginger soup and then tended to my oozing wounds with peroxide and aloe. He’s just fantastic.

In one more week, I will finish my dive master training and be on my way. But until then, I will enjoy the rest of my time with Jose (and of course, Bruno), and try to set aside some time for sunset viewing. Having read all there is to read for my DMT, besides the Encyclopedia of Diving (which no one in their right mind would read start to finish), I’ve earned a couple of nights where I do nothing but relax.