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The Rapture of the Deep: And Other Dive Stories You Probably Shouldn't Know Paperback – 19 Dec 1999
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From the Author
When the economic recession hit California in 1991, I lost my "real" job and headed off to the South Pacific to become a scuba instructor. Seven years later, I was still doing it, after venturing through the Caribbean and Southeast Asia. I first put pen to paper on this project when I was managing a dive shop on the tiny island of Gili Air, located off the coast of Lombok, Indonesia. Most of the book was written there and in Thailand over the next year. Since then, I've managed to wrestle the monster into what you see here - an adventure travelogue based on scuba diving. Readers have described it as a "fast-paced page-turner." Hopefully you will enjoy it this much also.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Railay Bay, Krabi, Thailand
"I've seen things here that I could never possibly have imagined, and I'm a guy with a pretty broad imagination." Gene
As I turned my student's air off, I watched her eyes, waiting for a reaction. The needle on the gauge in front of her plunged to zero as she sucked hard on her mouthpiece. When she realized that there was nothing left to breathe, she looked at me quizzically, then shot to the surface. Fortunately, we were in a shallow training pool, and not the ocean.
"Why'd you come up?" I asked.
"I ran out of air."
"You didn't run out of air. I turned it off."
"What the hell did you do that for?"
"It's the skill we're practicing. You're supposed to signal 'out of air' and let me turn it back on. Let's try it again."
It had been a long season, and it was frustrating to spend extra time with an inattentive student. (Used together, the words "air," "off," "under," and "water" usually penetrate even the deepest of daydreams.) As she put her mask and regulator back in the appropriate places for her brief descent, I took a deep breath and reminded myself that overall, I still loved what I was doing. Glancing at the high limestone cliffs and jungle surrounding the tropical resort, I reflected for a moment on the events of the previous eight years and what had led me to that pool, ten thousand miles from home.
It was an inspiration that started while I was working as a high school teacher in Los Angeles. I enjoyed teaching, but stressful conditions made me miserable. Feeling trapped by the city, I spent evenings watching sunsets from my balcony while televisions flickered on the window shades of the apartments around me. I saw my lifetime as a book, but my future was written before me as a tale as monotonous as those of my neighbors. I dreamed of an edition filled with a series of adventures, tightly packed to fit into my given volume of life. Those porch sunsets beckoned me across the ocean, to mysterious lands where bills, taxes, and dull routine would disappear.
At the end of the school year, I accepted a position as a professional mountain guide, but I soon realized it wasn't what I sought. Hacking and thrashing my way up some godforsaken mound of ice-covered rock with clumsy customers on the end of my rope had lost its appeal. Continuous weeks above timberline left little time for a social life. I would march to each summit secretly hoping that the dream girl I had never met might somehow find out about my heroic ascent and surrender herself to me in fairy-tale awe. Instead, I returned from every plod to share a cold wet tent with another male climber who also hadn't bathed in awhile. To top things off, the pay was so lousy, we had to live out of our cars on days off.
It was time to continue my quest for Eden, and becoming a diving instructor on a tropical island seemed to be an ideal choice. I could still have adventure, pursue my dream girl fantasy by investigating the diver-as-playboy stereotype, and be in a place where a hammock and a piqa colada awaited me at the end of each day instead of a damp tent. Also, unlike mountain guiding, if inexperienced customers inadvertently tried to kill themselves with uncoordinated antics, I wouldn't be tied to them.
However, I quickly discovered Scrooge-like dive shop owners bent on working me to exhaustion during the crush of high season, a few impossible to please customers, and a tedious month-after-month cycle of twenty dives per week. Nobody mentioned long evenings filling tanks, unclogging boat toilets, or sweeping floors when I was signing on the dotted line. I started to miss family, friends, hot showers, and Mexican food. It also seemed wasteful that after going to engineering school, the only ratio I was calculating was rum to pineapple juice.
In New York City, I once complained to a friend over dinner about slaving for an incompetent shop owner in the Caribbean. He leaned over the table and pointed his finger at my face. "Hey! They could whip you down there, and it would still be better than wearing a suit to work in Manhattan every day!"
He was right. I wouldn't have traded lives with him under any circumstance. I was far from the daily grind of freeway rush hour, in a place where vacationers from all over the world made an effort to maximize their fun. Winter had friends at home bundled in coats while I flourished in the warm caresses of the trade winds. Brilliant starry nights spent outside under the Southern Cross also reminded me that I was doing fine right where I was.
I also enjoyed introducing people to the underwater world and watching their excitement grow as they discovered it. Over four-day courses, I helped them hone their skills until they could safely dive without me. My approach was left over from the mountain days - leading innocents into a formidable challenge and working them through it to build the confidence they needed. Weakness was their greatest enemy. Self-sufficient adventure was their greatest thrill. No whining was allowed.
Students form the backbone of the sport diving industry. Although most never do more than twenty dives in their lives, their sheer numbers support the trade with further tuition, equipment sales, and boat trips. The professionals reap the proceeds: divemasters, the ski bums of the tropics, function as trip leaders and underwater tour guides. Instructors, licensed to teach through certifying organizations, make more money, but find themselves diving in swimming pools half the time. Shop owners are instructors turned businessmen. They optimize their time by concentrating on greenbacks rather than the emerald hues of parrotfish.
The following chapters are a blend of travel stories and anecdotes, most of which were written overseas. They start with my first dives ten years ago and proceed more or less chronologically as I metamorphosed from an impressionable neophyte into a veteran instructor. The change in my attitude during this time is reflected throughout the book. That is, the first stories generally explore the wonder and beauty of coral reefs, while hundreds of dives later, the tales focus less on the common sights and more on the customers, who provided an endless source of amusement. The locations change throughout the book as I explore dive sites in new countries: from Australia and the South Pacific, to the wonderland of Palau, over to the Caribbean, back to Palau, and finally to the unbelievably unfamiliar environment of Southeast Asia.
My visits to these lands varied from one week vacations to working stints of a year or more. Whether Palangi, Haole, Farang or Turis, the names all meant the same; I was the big white guest. I saw many vacationers projecting their own world onto the foreign environments they visited, thereby missing out on the full travel experience. Unlike them, I spent enough time in each country to become absorbed in the lives of the local people. In fact, I didn't have much choice. The surrounding cultures seized me and pinned me until I said "Uncle." This is the story of my encounters with these people, as well as the close calls, the humor, and the nomadic life of a professional diver.
IT'S YER SHOUT, MATE
"Germans are cranky because they're hungover all day. Aussies start drinking at breakfast and have a great time, all the time." Karry
"Q. In what month do Australians drink the least amount of beer? A. February. It has the least amount of days." Mind Trap
"Where ya from, mate?"
"Oh, a Yank. Need a beer?"
My new friend gave the high sign to the bar and brought back four VBs (Victoria Bitters) for me and his two buddies. They opened the circle to let me join them and riddled me with questions as to why I was in their pub.
There were a few chest high tables in the room, but no stools. Music wasn't played, but the pub roared with happy-hour conversations. After taking a few sips from their stubbies (an Australian sip is approximately one-third of a beer) my companions ordered four more from the bar. I had certainly stumbled onto the right crowd on my first night in the outback, hospitable and generous. I did my best to keep up with their pace as a third round appeared. As soon as that one was finished, they watched me intently.
"It's yer shout mate!"
Oh, so every one takes turns! I thought they were just being good hosts. It didn't take long to figure out that Aussies won't stand for beer moochers and will tell you when it is your turn to shout (buy) a round. This is dangerous in a large group because a half-dozen men will drink six, twelve, or eighteen beers as shouts go full circle. Very few stop after six.
Australia is a rough land. They have the worst droughts, hardest rains, and biggest mosquitoes - and the people aren't afraid to tell you so. They reflect their environment with parched humor and rough manners, but they also possess an uncommon friendliness.
I originally landed in Hobart, then hit Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane as I worked my way north towards the tropics. Travelers I met coming the other direction told me that the thing to do in Cairns was take a diving course. After surveying my funds, I decided to go for it. I was already an avid snorkeler, and scuba was the next logical step.
After a friendly chat with the Qantas crew on the flight from Brisbane to Cairns, I was handed eight unopened cans of Castlemaine XXXX (pronounced "Four X") as I left the plane. Sitting next to the driver on the bus into town, I offered him one of the beers.
He said, "Nah, I'm right, mate."
"Mind if I have one?"
"Won't bother me long as ya don't break out singing."
He let me off at the wharf where my first priority was finding a dive school. Across the street, the doors of Dives Are Us beckoned. The cheap prices indicated that the courses were over-packed with students, but I didn't care. I was on a budget. I just wanted to have fun and get a certification card. The price included six dives, a night dive, and an overnight boat trip to the Great Barrier Reef.
A sugar town turned to tourism, Cairns was a sad excuse for a tropical paradise - a mishmash of buildings pinned to the coastline by jungle covered hills. The Great Barrier Reef earned its name by keeping waves away from the shore, allowing mud flats to build up instead of sandy beaches. The neighborhood pubs were fun hangouts but the real action was clearly on the reef.
The next available dive course wasn't for two days, so I had time for some sightseeing away from the town. I hitched rides over the winding roads of rain-forested hills, through sugar cane plantations, and past stately homes built on raised posts to reduce summer heat and flood damage.
At the end of the day, I was hot and thirsty on the homestretch when an old ute (pickup truck) with three rough-looking characters in front stopped to give me a lift.
The driver said, "We're not going far, mate, just up to the pub."
"Perfect. I'll join you." I hopped in the back.
Terry, Johnny, and Ronny were cane cutters who had spent their lives working in the sugar fields. As soon as we got inside the pub, I knew what to do. I shouted the first round and was "in like Flynn" with them. ("Good on ya, Yank.") After a couple shouts, they invited me over to their place for tucker, and said I could throw out my swag in their caravan (have dinner and put my sleeping bag on the spare cot in their trailer for the night). We had a great meal of fried steak and onions . . . and beer, of course. Real bush-style living.
As I was leaving the next morning, Ronny asked me for advice. "The doc said fer me to lay off the piss cause me liver's crook, what d'yer reckon?" (The doctor said for me to quit drinking alcohol, because my liver is sick. What is your opinion?)
I poked under the right side of his rib cage with my finger, and he jumped back in pain.
"I think the doctor's right."
He didn't seem to think that was fair and protested, "I only drink ten beers a day!"
Top customer reviews
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Please note that this is not a "how-to" guide to diving. The book is certainly educational, but it chiefly is a series of humorous stories about life as a divemaster. The dives, the students, the nightlife, the romantic scene, etc.
The only downside is the navigation on Kindle. The table of contents does not work, so be sure to bookmark your place. If you get reset to the beginning, as happens occasionally with my Kindle, you'll find yourself scrolling forever to get back to where you left off. Overall, however, the great content of the book more than compensates for the Kindle navigation glitches.