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:: Expat Beach Dive

Thursday and Friday we mostly putzed around in the Algarve some more. As usual the conference renewed me with a sense of urgency for writing papers. It's the "holy crap, someone wrote a paper about that? I can do something better" feeling you get when you listen to what other people are up to. I spent a chunk of time Thursday and Friday working on my next paper, which I've had in the works for over a year now. I also have to admit that there is a kick to writing while in Europe. It makes you feel like an expatriate working on your next novel. Er, of course, Amy reminds me that novels are fiction, which I hope doesn't describe my research.

The little inlet by the hotel

Thursday afternoon we took a break from the writing to look at the hotel's dive shop. The guys in the shop were super friendly (like most divers seem to be) and fluent in English. The head dive guy (a Norwegian) told us about the beach dive you could do from the hotel, and said it was a pretty good dive (as far as beach entries go). He warned us that the water was very cold (15 degrees?) and that there was a long walk down to the water. We were a little nervous about the whole thing, but we decided to give it a try. After all, who knows when we'll be out here again. Our dive master was a friendly German guy who understood our nervousness and patiently worked with us to get everything right for the dive. He also had a good sense of humor, and only politely chuckled when both he and I realized that I had put my wetsuit on backwards in the shop (hmm.. why are the kneepads on the back of my legs?). We got all our gear squared away and put on properly before we started the long trip down stairs to the beach.

Long stairwell to the beach

The trip down (and back up) the stairs to the beach was an adventure in itself. As I've pointed out before, dive equipment is not light weight. Things were particularly rough on this trip because we had to bring along wetsuits that were very thick, and extra weight to counter the added buoyancy of these suits. My weight belt along was 40 pounds. Throw in the air tank, fins, tubes, and gloves, and you're talking a lot of weight to lug down to the beach. And look at that picture- it's a long freaking way down. Ooof. The worst part was the last 10 feet. We had to climb down an aluminum ladder to get from the rocks to the water. By the time I was on the beach I was so sweaty in my wetsuit that all that cold water didn't look so bad.

Finally, a ladder to the beach

It took a lot of work to get our gear on at the beach. We were tired and there wasn't much room to stand on because it was high tide. Amy and I both fell down into the surf as we were trying to get into the water, so we had to waddle out and leave our dignity at the beach. Once in deeper water, the three of us regrouped and did a final check on all our gear before going under. Well, before I tried to go under. My initial 30 pounds of weight wasn't enough to keep me under so the divemaster gave me an extra 10. I also found that I had somehow burned up 50 bars of air out of 200 just getting ready to go (note to self: try not to flounder so much when you first get in the water). My wetsuit worked well though- the water was cold, but it was nowhere near the face-smashing cold that Monterey was last year. Our poor divemaster- in all the hustle of getting down to the beach, he managed to forget his wetsuit hood. He was a trooper through, saying he'd rather be cold than go up those stairs any more than he had to. Throughout all of this, Amy seemed to be as happy as a clam. She's a pro compared to me.

We set off on a simple course that took us around the rock you see in the picture, and then out of the harbor to a nearby reef. We saw a lot of little fish along the path, but nothing all that special. Maybe we've just been spoiled by our dives in the Caribbean . The reef was kind of interesting- there were some natural formations that geologists say had to have been created from rainfall on unsubmerged rocks. Our divemaster had us swim through a wide, underwater tunnel that I think was one of these formations. From there we headed back to the coast, and which guided us way back in. Just as I was thinking that we weren't going to see any wildlife that was all that memorable, our instructor pointed out an octopus that was hanging out in some of the sea grass. I'd never seen an octopus in the wild before, so I was very happy to see him scooting around. The divemaster went to see if it was in a playful mood (they say some are), but this one wasn't. We later found out that a fisherman had caught three other that morning, so I can see why it'd be somber.

Getting out of the water was awful. Our plan was to take the flippers off as soon as we could touch bottom, and try walking out. The problem was that neither of us could get our fingers under the flipper straps because of our thick gloves. Then the strong tide started pushing us into shallower water. It was a terrible struggle. We tried helping each other, but the weight of our gear kept getting in the way. In my head I remembered Jeff, the divemaster that trained me, telling me that there was an important trick to getting out on a beach, or else you'd wind up with "diver bowling". This bowling is where a diver starts rolling around in the surf on the beach and wipes out other divers that have managed to stand up. Unfortunately, I couldn't remember what the trick was, and the next thing I knew, I was rolling in the surf, tumbling towards Amy. Fortunately, I was a gutterball. Eventually I got my fins off and managed to crawl to the beach. Augh.. Just for the record, the trick for not doing this is to take your fins off before it gets shallow. Doah. I guess we couldn't win here.

But.. the fun wasn't over yet- we still needed to climb out of this hole and get all our gear back to the dive shop. This meant that we first had to climb up the ladder with all our gear, which was much harder than going down the ladder. Amy and I both did it though, and then slowly made our way back up the steps to the dive shop. It was a long hike, especially after having gone through a cold water dive. It all turned out well in the end though. Any dive that you don't lose equipment or people is a good dive to me.

It's an ex-pat life, for us.

We lounged about in the heated indoor pool, and then celebrated our survival by going to town to have dinner at an Italian place. Ok, by celebrated I really mean that we went to the first place that looked open and had food that didn't look too exotic. We knew it wouldn't be hard to go to sleep that night, but we took the precaution of ordering a bottle of red wine at dinner to help speed things along. It's an expat's life for us.

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