For this blog post, we thought you would like to hear from someone else. So here’s a guest post from Bobbi Lee Hitchon who did her Divemaster course with us recently. This blog post was featured in her website www.heelsandwheelsonline.com.
“Today you are going to be blind,” Angel Navarro, the dive center manager at Exotic Island Dive Resort in Malapascua, says as he pulls out a black garbage bag and stuffs it into an underwater mask.
He mentioned the night before that he had something planned for divemasters in training (DMT) as well as two newly certified instructors the next day at House Reef. Still waiting to receive my rescue diver primary and secondary training before moving onto divemaster training in a few days, he was nice enough to ask me to come along. The practice is a surprise, but no one anticipated a blind dive. Angel explains this dive is not only to show what it’s like to guide someone who is visually impaired on a dive, but also inexperience divers with no disabilities.
The practice would show just how much attention to give the average diver but also when to back off. Angel pairs me with Jo Armitage, IDC and Divemaster Coordinator at Exotic. Given her experience, I felt more comfortable playing the blind diver than the one leading. Luckily I’m first to lose my vision. I stuff half a black garbage bag in my mask and wait for Jo’s instruction. “Ok Bobbi, we’re going to stand up,” she says and takes my hand. “Now just walk straight.” She seats me on a stoop at reception. “Now I’m just going to bring our equipment to the boat,” she says. “Are you alright to sit here for a little?” It was fine, so I wait there for five or six minutes until Jo retrieves me and guides me to the boat. The boat we’re on is one of Exotic’s smaller boats, but the ride to House Reef is only about five minutes. On the way out, Jo points out where things are and grabs a few things for me, but I put on my wetsuit, booties, weight belt and fins as well as put connect my BCD and regulator to a tank only with minor assistance.
Then comes what I think will be the real challenge, not being able to see in the water. Jo and I worked out touching motions to signal “Ok,” “deflate,” “down” and other common signals used underwater before the dive. We descend slowly and once at the bottom, Jo touches my knees to signal we’ve reached bottom. It feels good to know where I am before we start swimming. Jo holds my hand the entire dive and moves it to touch things or puts things in it to feel. I touch a sand dollar, an empty crab shell, but my favorite is a gooey sea cucumber at the end. She squeezes my hand twice to ask, “Ok?” I squeeze back the same to respond, “Ok.” The 20-minute dive feels quite quick. I’m really surprise at how I keep my buoyancy and how comfortable I feel down there without being able to see anything. We reach the top and now it’s my turn to lead. The dive I guide goes pretty much the same. I feel less pressure than I thought I would guiding someone underwater for the first time. The only thing to worry about is sea urchins. That would be quite a surprise for blind Jo!
It’s not part of the general divemaster training, but an extra lesson Angel and Jo use at Exotic Island Dive Resort in Malapascua to teach students’ good leadership. Impromptu practices like this make me happy I chose to train for my divemaster here.
While earning my divemaster is something I’ve wanted to do since I finished my advanced open water course three years ago, it was not in my original itinerary for the Philippines. After diving three days with Exotic during which I only inquired about the divemaster internship, I decided at the last minute that this was the place to do it for a few reasons.
Obviously Malapascua is a dream island to spend two months and its unique underwater sites attracts a high level of diving, but I chose to train for my divemaster here mainly because of the dive management and crew.
The new management here is really dedicated to giving its students the best education possible. They’re very attentive, friendly and do more than just teach what is in the books, like a blind dive for instance.
I wanted to receive my divemaster, because diving is something I enjoy, but at a professional level, something I can find work with all over the world. Still it wasn’t the easiest decision for me because of my financial situation. I saved up enough during my work-holiday visa in Australia to backpack SE Asia on somewhat of a budget. A pricey certification would undoubtedly cut into that.
After some calculating and I have to admit it, some borrowing, I found it was doable here with only a slight increase to my budget. I say here because while the course will almost always be pricey no matter where you do it in the world (expect to pay at least $US1200 for the DMT), the price of living here can be really cheap.
Exotic offers accommodation for divers at extremely low rates (best to inquire, but think $US142 for five weeks accommodation). People can also maintain a healthy diet here for little money (a loaf of bread is a little over 50 cents US, a meal at Ging Gings is about $US3-4, San Miguel Beer is less than $US1). Other than that, there aren’t many more expenses as most of the time you’ll be diving or studying.
The divemaster course can be completed in two weeks, but to get the most out of a divemaster internship at Exotic, the longer the better. The divemaster internship includes unlimited diving and instructors recommend diving as much as possible here to build confidence. Students can stretch their internship out as long as they want or are able to. It’s recommended to have at least five weeks to make the most of the internship.
I highly recommend divemaster internships at Exotic to anyone interested. For those who are interested, consider requirements needed before someone can start their DMT:
- divers must be advanced open water, rescue diver and emergency first response (EFR) certified (EFR must be completed in the 24 months prior)
- they must have at least 40 dives before starting the course
- divers must be at least 18-years-old
- divers require a medical evaluation by a physician in the last 12 months
I say consider so people don’t feel down that they have a lot more requirements before they can actually take part in the DM course. Most resorts can work out a deal for people who want to start their DMT, but have not completed all the requirements. I hadn’t completed my rescue diver and EFR course before I came to Malapascua, but found a way to fit it in here.
If diving is a well-liked aspect of your travels that you may want to make a career of, ask around when traveling to cheaper countries. Those interested may find it’s doable on their budget. Read more from Heels and Wheels [like]