In brief: I was shaken awake by a 4.0 earthquake (lesson included), experienced the world of scuba diving at Kallithea beach with comedy effect, and found my third geocache in Greece.
The first thing to mention here was the earthquake. I’d experienced one before in the UK (of all places). I was sharing a flat in Crouch End, North London, on the third floor of a victorian conversion. Back then it had gently rocked me awake. A bizarre feeling, like being on a water bed. I blamed my flatmate at first, convinced he had drunkenly snuck into the flat after a night out and was playing games. That experience kept me awake and within minutes the news channels were reporting the early morning shake.
This quake was very similar. The hotel room had two single beds pushed together. I had woken face down with my left foot wedged between the two beds. I could feel the movement as the beds moved ever so slightly, my ankle swaying and the cover on the bed pulling and relaxing over my leg. Adding to the surrealism was a tapping sound. The bathroom had a frosted privacy door that slid away into a cavity. This hanging slab of glass was rocking and knocking against the walls in a rhythmic fashion. Later on, using my iPhone compass, I worked out the movement was mainly North-South.
It only lasted fifteen seconds or so, but it was enough for me to lay awake listening for tweeting birds and barking dogs. I’m sure I’d seen on telly that animals sense these things before humans do. Part of me expected a sudden and massive ground-tearing shake, but it didn’t come. If it were to happen my understanding was I should either stand in a door frame, get under something solid and sturdy or get out into open ground. What did I do? Switched my camera to a wide angle film lens and set it to video mode. Just in case.
I ended up on Twitter, searching for any mention of a quake in Greece. There had been one in Poland and one in Turkey around the same time. Both around 2.0. For a while I thought I might have just imagined it, but I checked again in the morning and found the details I was looking for:
A 4.0 quake is relatively minor. Historically the Dodecanese islands have frequent quakes of less than 4. The scale is exponential and works along the lines that a 2 is twice that of a 1. A 3 is twice that of a 2. Therefore a 4 would have twice the energy of a 3. Eight times stronger than a 1. According to a few webpages, a 4.0 is enough to be felt by humans as a vibration similar to the passing of a heavy vehicle, enough to crack plaster and would rattle dishes. And that’s exactly what happened. The good thing is that it’s better to have several small quakes. Otherwise the energy builds up and you get a large one instead.
A few hours later I was up and dressed and was trying the hotel breakfast for the first time. I was the only person down there. Laid out was a full buffet breakfast with fried eggs, sausages, mushrooms and bacon. There was also an assortment of cakes. One thing to confuse me was “white tea”. There wasn’t any ‘normal’ teabags down there, so my brain assumed white tea was the right one. Of course it’s normally black tea and we add milk. White tea is something entirely different. And sweeter. And didn’t require the milk.
A stones throw from the hotel was the harbour I was meant to be at by 8.45am. The WaterHoppers team were carrying canister after canister onto their boat. It was a busy one too. And suddenly the feeling of dread crept in. As usual, my imagination had informed me this would be a quiet affair. Much more personal. But no. There were about 35 people on this boat of all different ages, all about to do the same dive experience as myself.
I’ve got to hand it to them. The WaterHoppers crew are fantastic. They checked and double checked everyone for medical issues and ear problems before we’d even left the dock. They verified ages with the younger ones and shuffled numbers around based on known groups. In the end I was in Group 3 for the first dive and Group 1 for the second. One of their Dutch instructors (I didn’t catch his name!) introduced himself and made sure all tongues understood his English. He made jokes about sharks and how easy diving was. It relaxed everyone. He went through different groups to find out where everyone was from and when he asked if he’d missed anywhere out, I raised my hand to suggest “Scotland” for the list. “We have a few Scottish members of crew. Can you PLEASE take them back with you?”, he sighed. Everyone laughed. The ice was broken.
They teach five simple rules for diving:
- Keep breathing. Never hold your breath.
- Equalise. Early and often.
- Clear your mask of water by looking upwards, press mask to forehead and push air out through your nose.
- If you need to ascend quickly to the surface, breathe out all the way to empty the lungs.
- Signals. Thumb and forefinger for “ok”, waving arms in a crossed motion for “not ok”. Thumbs up means “go up”.
Almost an hour of sunshine later we arrived at our dive destination at Kallithea beach, near Faliraki, and tied up. Groups 1 and 2 got changed and were in the water less than 15 minutes after we’d berthed. With an hour or so before my group was up, I took the chance to go for a wander. Yet another location in Greece with historical significance, surrounded by stunning landscapes.
Inside this beautiful building was a machine that issued collectors coins. The machine stated “This high-quality coin is part of the exclusive “Hellenic Heritage” collection and is only available at this location“. Sold! For two euros I decided I’d get one as something I could trade as a trinket in my new hobby of geocaching. Somewhere in the UK I’d deposit this coin for someone else to take and move on. Lucky them.
Time flew and before I knew it Group 3 were up. The bad thing about being so far down the chain of divers is the quality of kit you get. All the good stuff is already gone. My wetsuit was rather… tight. Not that I’m someone troubled by their obesity, but it wasn’t a good look. A fat Scotsman in a tight rubber suit. There’s no photo of that. Loaded with flippers, the group headed down to the water. Though cold initially, the wetsuit does its job of insulation between you and the sea. Double-glazing for water. Like rubber gnomes we sat in the shallow sea, bobbing in the waves. Behind us a member of crew was fitting the tanks and the weights, strapping them over and around us. Your centre of gravity shifts from that moment on and quite regularly I found my flippered feet rising out of the water as I rocked backwards off-balance.
Once you’ve spat in your mask (a true diving technique which stops the glass from fogging), the regulator goes in your mouth and you are turned onto your tummy. Face down in six inches of water, staring at rock and sand, you are asked to “breath normally”. Your brain doesn’t quite understand how you can be underwater and breathing, so it takes a little while to get used to. One by one, this torture-style method went down the line of rubber gnomes. A few minutes later a hand movement from a crew member suggested I should slide backwards where I was met by our dive leader.
The waters around there go as deep as about 10 metres. Anything deeper than 12 requires a qualification. We were to go to about 4 or 5 metres on the first dive. Those with a second dive would go out further and deeper. As each person would be photographed underwater, the dive leader went through his hand gestures and method of photography. Seconds later we were led by hand to the floor of the bay.
Initially it’s a sensory overload. Your body is in a peculiar state in an alien world. When the first rainbow coloured fish flashed past me I smiled and nearly laughed at what I was doing. For the record, you can laugh in a respirator. You can even be sick in it and it all comes out the other side without letting water in (fun fact of the day). On the other hand, smiling isn’t clever. You should keep a tight seal around the respirator to keep water out of your mouth. Smiling lets water in. Trying not to smile in such a situation is one of the most difficult things to do, so I’ve discovered.
As I mentioned before, wearing all that gear changes your centre of gravity. To go a little deeper you press your chin down towards your chest. This tiny change in body mass makes you sink. To go up is the opposite, as you point your head upwards. I also discovered that by not using the flippers, not making any movement with your legs, you will sink like a stone. This requires Rule 2 (Equalise. Early and often). To equalise, pinch your nose and blow so that your ears pop. And it works. Every foot or so that you sink required another equalise. The pressures can be immense.
Imbalanced, and occasionally sinking to the bottom, I found myself scrabbling along the rocks on the floor of the bay. Once in a while a startled fish would bolt out from a rock, stare at me and then dart back in. I imagined it ‘tutting’. It was the equivalent of a drunk sing-song on the way home from a night out and a neighbour telling you to shut up from their bedroom window. At least, that’s how I imagined the fish to be feeling. In honesty, the fish don’t seem to care that we’re in their world. Yes, they swim away from you. But most swim around you. Some directly towards you.
Fish bigger than my hand swam in shoals around us, gawping at how amazing I looked in my rubber suit. Some of them had the look of “wow!” on their face. I blushed at their kindness.
Occasionally the dive leader turned to face each of us, asking the thumb-to-forefinger “ok?” question. I failed the first part of the test by giving a thumbs-up; the universal dive signal for “going up”. I then waved my hands as a way of saying “I’m a silly sausage!”, which in turn was the universal dive signal for “problem”. Realising the cacophony of errors I was making, my head sunk and my shoulders drooped as a sign of failure. Looking back up I gave him the “ok” sign back. In reality, my underwater conversation was a shambles. I’d just told him I was “going up, I had a problem, I might die, ok?”.
He’d clearly witnessed this before. He gave me a double OK back, which I replied in mirror fashion to confirm that all was well. We continued on further. And slightly deeper. Every now and then another fumbling rubber gnome either above me or below me would get into a flap and hit me in the face with a flipper. This was something we all got used to as the group tried to stick together, never going further than the dive leader.
A couple of times I held back and let the group go on ahead. The Director side of me wanted to watch this scene unfold. If I’d had an underwater camera (it’s now on the list!) it would have been the perfect photo opportunity. A completely brilliant blue underwater scene with the professional dive leader clad in black, like a James Bond extra, dead centre, a couple of flippered blobs above and below, a shoal of fish swimming by, at all times surrounded by streams of bubbles. It was beautiful. Alas, I didn’t have an underwater camera, so that image isn’t in my Flickr stream this holiday. You’ll just have to take my word for it.
Without realising it we had been out to where the ridge drops off and back in again. It seemed odd when I reached a point where the water was so shallow I could push down on the floor and was back above water. We were back at the rock where we had our torture session, with the next group of rubber gnomes nervously waiting to go in. I absolutely loved it. Every second. Several different countries represented the group I was in, but the smiles and OK signals coming from each of us was universal. What an amazing thing to do!
It would be after lunchtime before the second dives would take place. Checking my geocache app I discovered a newly placed cache was less than a mile away. Dried and dressed I took a hike out of the bay, heading towards the main road. There was a car park for people using the tavernas at the bay, and visitors to the Kallithea Springs. Honing in on the location took me a little while, but I was directed through the trees to a single boulder. Around the other side, near the bottom, was a pile of rocks. They hid the hole below the boulder where a blue bag was hidden alongside a geocache note, notepad, pen and a screw. Acting nonchalant I perched against the rock and took a photo of the find. I pocketed the screw and scribbled in the notepad, signing off with TFTC. “Thanks for the cache”. In return for the screw, I left my 4.50 euro fake Ray Ban sunglasses!
Back to the diving. The second experience was so much better than the first. I had a better wetsuit, better mask and a better fitted tank. We swam out for longer through green and blue waters. I’ve said it somewhere else on this blog that I’d witnessed colours in the sea I’ve never seen before when snorkelling. This was the same experience. And with bigger fish. Stunning scenery. What a way to see the world!
If you ever go for a scuba experience, I definitely recommend you do the second dive!
By 4pm the day was done. We disembarked from Kallithea beach and started the journey home. Our nameless Dutch leader gave a debrief and asked if anyone would do it again. Many hands shot up, including mine. Would we do a two-day certificate course? Fewer hands went up (it’s six times the dive experience price). Would we go back the following year with a full PADI certificate and be part of their crew? Nobody put their hand up. But inside I was screaming out. Hell, yes! In fact, the more I’ve thought about it afterwards, the more it makes sense. Six months a year in Greece, part time, as a dive leader? Why the hell not!? I guess the only question is money, and accommodation. “Keep it in mind. We are always desperate for people”.
By Saturday evening I still hadn’t heard back from the Land Rover Safari people. Sunday was likely going to be another day of walking around. Or shopping.
* The geocache site was found the next day by a regular german cacher. He took the Ray Ban sunglasses on his way back to his hotel!