Meg Dixon: Adventure Queen (Not)

In my normal life at home in England, the most adventurous I really get is trying a new television show on Netflix, or possibly trying a new coffee at Starbucks. So when I booked a travel trip with a company called Xtreme Gap, I don’t know what I really thought was going to happen. Probably should’ve guessed it might be a bit, well, extreme… 
As part of our programme for our two weeks on Koh Tao, we had to pick an ‘extreme’ activity to do. Whilst I was tempted to do some ‘extreme’ yoga (an oxymoron if I ever saw one), I eventually settled for rock climbing, purely based on the fact that I’d enjoyed indoor rock climbing at the age of about 8 at Brownie camp. Way to make a decision, Meg… What I didn’t expect was to be confronted with a ginormous rock with nothing whatsoever to hold and the responsibility of doing all my own knots and belaying (feeding the rope from the bottom) my climbing partner, all too aware that, if I let go of the brake rope and they fell, they would die. Shit. 
Now this was when Cesca announced she was scared of heights. Not quite sure what possessed her to choose climbing as her activity, but we had a lot of fun discussing Disneyland rides in order to overcome her phobia. ‘It’s like we’re on the thunder mountain ride at Disneyland’, I said, to which Cesca replied,’But that’s fun!’. Possibly on the wrong activity I think… Having said that, I felt a bit like a proud mother when, on day one, Cesca overcame her fears and climbed her mountain, both physical and metaphorical. #totesemosh. There was a real sense of achievement at having climbed a real life mountain in the real jungle, one that wasn’t actually invented for humans to climb, like we’d done something impossible. And then there was day two…

Climbing queen on day one…

As you can see from above, the rock from day one sort of had footholds and hand places, however day two’s mountain was a flat as a blackboard. And I’m only slightly exaggerating. After uttering ‘what the fuck’, we all decided to give it a try. Whilst Holly and Bonnie clambered up like little monkeys, me and Cesca had slightly more difficulty. After attempting to climb with my harness upside down, I got about halfway and then realised that, shit, I did not like climbing and fuck this. Luckily, Cesca was having an equally dead moment, so there we were, having a meltdown, ten metres off the ground (although I suspect Cesca really just wanted a hug from our hunky instructor to be honest!). And then, I decided that if I could deal with depression, infidelity, a dissertation and 7am starts at work, I could take on an immobile piece of rock. So I stopped hugging the rock and took the leap of faith (literally) onto the next foothold. And I did it! It was simultaneously the best and worst thing I’ve ever done. However when we got to the next climbing site, one of the highest points in Koh Tao? Me and Cesca’s response? Hell no. 

Yep, I had no idea how to climb this either…

And then there was the scuba diving. Being a shit swimmer and generally not very water savvy, it’s never been something that’s particularly appealed if I’m honest, and, y’know, sharks. But our package included a free taster in the pool and after realising that you actually can breathe underwater with your oxygen tank (not sure what I thought happened), I felt like endless new possibilities had been opened up to me. So, £166 later I was signed up for an SSI Open Water course, which qualifies you to dive anywhere in the world up to 18 metres. Impulse purchase to say the least. After signing my life away and watching a few terrifying videos about death via scuba diving, we hit the pool to learn the skills. And I was shit. I just about died putting myself through the fitness tests, and I had a rather awkward habit of floating past the instructor as he tried to demonstrate something to the group due to my bad buoyancy skills (fancy diving word for floating underwater). As for taking out my air and removing my mask underwater? Um, no. Why?! Needless to say, by the end of the first day of the course, I was being taught on my own, away from the rest of the group. So talented. 
So all this taken into consideration, I was rather anxious about actually going into the sea. It had already been agreed that I would buddy up with the instructor due to my general uselessness, and I was very aware that she was going to have the most boring dive ever if I didn’t sort my life out. So, after spending ten minutes wimping out about jumping into the water from the boat, I knew I had to man up and do it. So I jumped in, and despite feeling like I was going to die instantly, I was actually okay. Until we went underwater, and I felt like my ears were about to explode everywhere. Panicking, I tried and tried to equalise (fancy diving word for popping your ears), but all I could hear was the training video in my ear warning about the risk of burst eardrums. Oh my god. So me and my poor buddy swam to the surface and back to the boat where she warned me that I wouldn’t be able to dive if I couldn’t pop my ears as I could really damage them. Feeling gutted that my diving career might be over before it had begun, I sat passive aggressively on the boat and glared bitterly at all the happy divers as they came to the surface talking of fish and fun. 
But after lunch, the instructor agreed to let me try again, and so we went down to twelve metres a metre at a time, stopping often to equalise. And I could do it! It was like something had clicked and my ears had decided finally to play along. And it was the most incredible thing. Weirdly, after all the chaos of the boat and the surface, underwater is amazingly calm and stress free, just you, your oxygen, your buddy and the fish. I felt amazingly removed from all the stresses of life, and just totally taken in by this new world, the coloured reef, the Nemo’s and Dory’s, the entire schools of fish just swimming right by. A personal highlight was a plant growing on a rock that sucked itself in when you waved a hand over it, and then slowly came out as you moved it away. Needless to say, I was gutted when our oxygen supplies started to dwindle and we had to leave for the surface. I was completely hooked…

The dive site, and fellow diving buddies/rivals…

  However, before I could complete my final dives, the ones that would actually qualify me, disaster struck. A bout of sickness and an infected cut on my toe meant that a day designated to exploring the ocean became a blur of clinics and sleep. Although it would’ve been a really bad idea to dive in that state, I was completely gutted to have missed out. However, the good news about being off to Australia next week is that it’s basically known for its diving, so I’m pretty sure there will be chances aplenty to finish my qualification and get back underwater. Watch this space…

  

Here’s to an amazing, new and very expensive hobby/passion! And as for climbing outside? Never, ever again.
 

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