Up at 4:15 a.m., bags out on the gravel in the dark by 4:45 a.m. Grab some meager breakfast and pile into the jeeps by 5:00 a.m. Off we go on the bumpy dirt road taking us back to Hoedspruit. For our final sighting we see 3 spotted hyenas – a great way to end our time in the Bush. Then I doze the rest of the way. We board luxurious busses to begin our journey to Sodwana Bay.
We arrive early evening and are shown our tents. We are camping. Dinner and orientation. We are divided into groups based on our diving experience: Group A consists of the experienced divers; Group B contains the referral divers (they’ve completed most of their certification; Group C is designed for non-divers, or the snorkelers; and finally, Group C, of which I’m a member, is reserved for those of us seeking to complete diver’s certification. Finally, we settled into a good night’s sleep before we begin our coastal experience.
In the morning the certified and referral divers as well as the snorkelers head to the coast where they begin diving. The rest of us are escorted into "the classroom" at the dive center which is a rounded one-room building with a thatched roof - very "beachy". Inside the walls and floor are all exposed wood reinforcing that "beachy" feeling. Wet-suits hanging from the rafters and draped over chairs and benches confirm that we are at a diving center. Fins, masks, and snorkels are placed around the room awaiting the return of this week's user. We seat ourselves on benches around a large square wooden picnic table that takes up most of the space in the room. Our attention is directed to the small T.V. at the front of the room. Videos #1 and #2 are our assignment. We pull out our dive manuals to follow along with the video. There I sit with my students who are now my peers.
Our video session is followed by a "lecture" outside on the deck of the scuba center. Our instructor is a sarcastic 50+ scraggly blond man who happens to be a manager of the dive center. I have to admit, I'm impressed with his knowledge of physics as it relates to diving. Furthermore, he explains things really well, using analogies and spatial activities that involve us standing up and walking around, mimicking various aspects of a dive. Despite his gruff personality, he's actually a good teacher.
It is our turn in the pool for our first confined water dive. The water is frigid. Several of us are shivering. Can I just clarify that I HATE cold? As my body rattles under water I'm doubting the selection of a winter location for this "summer research expedition". I question whether this is "worth it" but I attempt a smile for my students. But actually I hate this experience because I'm so cold. However, our group all completes the confined water skills and a small sense of satisfaction begins to swell within me.
Students and teacher (that's me) climb out of the pool and laughing together we share our thoughts regarding our first underwater experience with scuba gear. We are on the same level, experiencing and learning together. I don't know if they feel it yet, but I am a student with them.
The best part of the day is the hot, and I mean hot, outdoor shower! The luxury shower assigned to teachers is attached to the site leader's house. It is surrounded by a high stucco wall. Huge potted plants hang down over the sides and trees and bushes spring up all around. The area is spacious and includes a sink and toilet in addition to the shower. The most amazing feature is that when I turn on the water, hot water pours out. For the first time during the entire South African experience, there is necessity to turn the cold water knob in the shower.
In the evening, we meet back in the mess hall and the divers and snorkelers tell of their experiences. The snorkelers are definitely the most enthusiastic of the students. They have seen manta ray and humpback whales! It is now noticeable that the different school groups are, indeed, mixing and friendship are forming.
Following our curry dinner (chicken or vegie) with beet salad we receive our first ecology reef lecture. Though it is interesting, it is tiring to sit through a lecture at the end of the day. Along with the students, the teachers struggle to maintain attention and that night everyone slips into the sleeping bags eager for rest.