When I first started diving, I was blown away by the number of different creatures in the ocean. It was exhilarating seeing so many new animals, but also overwhelming because I had no idea how to talk about them – either underwater (a finger pointed at “that one”) or above the water (“the fish under the rock that was kind of blue but with the stripe about halfway down and the grumpy face”).
Chris had been diving for a while already and I felt very behind in my ability to talk coherently about what I had seen on our dives, not to mention totally dependent on him to fill out my logbook with any type of accuracy.
I started trying to teach myself (lowering my aims pretty quickly from Every Fish in Every Ocean to The Fish I Am Most Likely to See), but even at a beginner level, I struggled to find good resources that would help a newbie diver (or scubi newbi, as I will henceforth call them) gain this knowledge on her own. I relied almost exclusively on experienced divers to either tell me the name of a fish or point me in the general direction where I could start my hours-long web search. This is how everyone seems to learn this stuff; go on a dive, find something weird and ask the guide about it.
While it’s great to learn from experts (and obviously really helpful), there are two things I don’t like about them being my only source of information: 1) Guides can be wrong – sometimes just a little wrong but others incredibly wrong (at least for someone like me who is a fiend for accuracy). 2) Having someone tell you the name isn’t as helpful (or, for me, as memorable) as having to figure it out based on your own logic, reason or study.
Ever the dedicated, over-achieving student, I wanted to learn how they knew it was the fish they told me it was. Surely if I learned their logic I could start to figure these things out for myself and not need them to tell me, right? Right.
A while back, I decided to make a little outline, initially just for myself, that would help me learn how to identify the fish I was seeing on our dives. That grew into an idea for a fully-fledged course that could help other scubi newbies (it’ll catch on, I just know it) feel more knowledgeable about the creatures they start to discover. It’s the resource I really wished existed when I started diving myself.
So without further ado, may I present our Fish ID Course!
The handy ocean-blue button below will take you to the Basics page, where we look at the two key elements that make a fish a fish. From there, you’ll move on to individual snapshots of the most common reef fish and how you can easily identify them while you’re diving, snorkelling, watching a nature documentary or visiting an aquarium (though their little signs are usually pretty helpful). Casual visitors can dip in and out for whatever morsels they find useful, while more dedicated academics can challenge themselves with quizzes and puzzles.
I sincerely believe there’s something here for everyone, diver and non-diver alike.
Last time on Mobilis Divers: Noelle and Chris realised they had to go to opposite sides of the world for an unknown amount of time. It made them sad. Now they’re working on pushing their dream forward together while they’re apart.
Despite coming to a landlocked, desert state (in the winter), I always planned to carry on diving while I’m here (ideally for free). My ultimate goal is to finish the Instructor course before we try to start our own place. It’s the next step on the professional ladder and it would be helpful for both of us to be at that level when our shop is up and running (Chris already has his certification). There are two catches though a) it’s very expensive and b) it’s something I feel under-qualified for, since I’ve mainly been guiding – not teaching – in the water.
Don’t worry though. I have a plan! I want to start assisting with classes so I can get more practice with that while I save up enough to take the course. Ideally, I would even get paid while I am helping out (I’m over this whole working for free malarky).
Good news is, it looks like that all might be happening – soon! Until this summer I had no idea there were thriving scuba centers here. I knew people did some diving in the mountain lakes or down in the desert, but that’s about it. Turns out there are four dive shops in town (who take people not only all over the state for fun dives but all over the world on diving trips). One of these plainly stood out as the best, so when I got back to Utah in November the first thing I did was pop in there and tell them I wanted to be friends.
The conversation that ensued totally blew my mind for two reasons:
1) Did you know the only warm water diving destination in the continental US (according to their site) is in Heber, Utah? The Homestead Ranch has a hot spring that is a constant 96°F/35°C. People literally ski all morning just around the corner then come here to warm up again. In January, when the temperatures can reach -18°F/-28°C outside, I could come here and dive in a t-shirt and shorts. How nuts is that!
2) More bizarrely, did you know there is a mini ocean in Grantsville, Utah? Really! No, seriously! With sharks and angelfish and all that jazz. I know! I had no idea either. I’ve called this state home my whole life and I knew nothing about this, but it’s real. At Sea Base, there’s another hot spring (not quite so hot as the first) that joins up with part of the Great Salt Lake. The resulting salinity is roughly that of the sea. So someone dug out four big pools and filled them with this oceany water and a bunch of rescued aquarium fish (along with both nurse and bamboo sharks!). Really!
When I planned to do some diving in Utah, I figured I would be spending my time in a tepid swimming pool or a freezing lake with crap visibility. I had no idea there was the possibility of t-shirt diving and bamboo sharks! I seriously can’t get over it.
Needless to say, at the end of this chat I immediately asked where I could sign up. And I’m happy to announce I will be diving with them starting tomorrow! This first few times will be an “I’ll check you out while you check me out” kind of situation with them, but I’m pretty confident it will be the start of a fun time exploring what there is to see around here – while also getting myself ready for this next big step. I’m pretty excited!
There is one part, however, I am not excited for: the Americanisms. Out of the 265 dives I’ve done, 263 of them have been outside of America. That means as a diver I was raised in the metric system – and let me just say, as a user of both, metric is SO much better! It really is. Not because of any scientific relevance or improved accuracy, but because it is designed for lazy people. Europeans couldn’t be asked to spend their time working out 12ths and 7ths and crap like that! They had beaches to sit on, wine to drink and women to seduce. So they invented a system that made math a small and simple part of their life. America should consider doing the same.
Alas, as we are not there yet I will have to learn the conversions from metres to feet, bar to psi, Celsius to Fahrenheit, and litres to cubic feet (as well as metres to meters, and litres to liters). Sigh. I’ll also have to shift my perspective from sea level to altitude. Lots to learn! Luckily, I like any excuse to play in Excel, so I whipped up a few cheat sheets yesterday so it’s easier for me to remember. (Side note: Because I couldn’t find anything as clear and simple as what I made, I uploaded them to a new Resources page here in case they’re useful for anyone else!)
I’m really looking forward to getting my feet wet again this week. I’ve been out of the water more than a month – something I don’t think I’ve done since I started diving. I’ve really been missing my fishy friends from Muscat lately. But, if the internet can be believed, I might be able to visit one of their cousins right here in Utah!
Last time on Mobilis Divers: The Possibly Perfect Place started to look like it could be a real thing, but with some challenges. Noelle got anxious about the challenges. We modified the plans. The universe ignored us completely.
“Some people get a strange dream, then that dream opens a new future or new life or new connections with other people” – Dalai Lama
So there we were, making plans to take a little breather in Utah before jumping head first into this strange dream of ours. I was busy selling things off, packing what was left and getting the cat ready to go. My friends and family at home were busy finding spare rooms for us to live in, looking for job opportunities, and planning holiday parties.
Then Chris got an email.
You see, the first day after we returned from our Summer of Three Places, we started talking to people about our interest in the Possibly Perfect Place. We wanted to get a feel for it from those who have actually spent time on the ground, so we reached out to people who live there and people who have travelled and dived there. In the process, one of Chris’s co-workers casually said, “You’ll never find a job there!”
The idea of either of us getting a job hadn’t really crossed our minds. We were always focused on the idea of starting our own business, not working for someone else. But the suggestion of it made Chris curious. It could help us out a lot with some of the challenges we felt like we were facing. For example, getting a job would mean earning money instead of spending it while we check the place out. It would also give us more time to explore it in depth: looking into the logistics of setting up the business, finding potential sites, making contacts and getting a really good lay of the land before we jump into anything.
Chris hopped online to see if his colleague was right about jobs being so rare, and what would you know but a position had been posted that day in exactly his area of expertise? We certainly didn’t expect that! In a mad dash, he updated his resume and sent off his application. Then we heard nothing. For weeks.
I can’t say I was totally heartbroken that they hadn’t replied. The opportunity sounded great and all (you can’t deny the freakishly good timing), but I was really looking forward to us having some time together for a few low-stress months, something I don’t know if we’ve ever really had before. I knew he was probably the most qualified person applying for the job, but as the weeks rolled by without a peep, I relaxed more and more into the reality of our Utah plans.
When he got the email requesting an interview. I was not wholly enthusiastic. To put it truthfully, I dissolved into a snotty, teary heap. It felt like once again the plans we made were being ripped up in front of our eyes. I knew I could not go with him, I just didn’t have it in me. I still needed rest and that still needed to be in Utah because it’s simply the easiest place for me to go. A small, annoyingly excited voice inside of me did keep twittering that, despite my anger and frustration over the timing, this job presented a really great opportunity for us and our future. I wanted to punch that voice, but I was forced to give it the stink eye it instead.
When he got the email offering him the job, I would like to say I was prepared and excited and ready to accept this crazy twist of fate. But no, I dissolved into a snotty, teary heap. Now that it was a real possibility, I started thinking about how our day-to-day lives would look, and I didn’t love it. The Possibly Perfect Place is far from Utah, so far it is actually nearly an antipode. With the time difference (if we’re both working typical hours) one will be working while the other is sleeping, which means we’ll probably only be able to talk to each other on the weekends. And knowing the American system, I was keenly aware that once I got a job I would not be able to go visit him because I simply would not have the time to. His job offer felt like the last nail in the coffin of our relaxing, refreshing time together. Because it was. And it totally sucked.
On the other hand, when the emotions subsided and I let that small, annoyingly excited voice actually say its piece, I couldn’t deny the coincidence. What are the chances that we would say “Let’s go check out this place in January” and a job in that exact place (a pretty remote and unknown one) at that exact time would magically appear? Although it will be really hard for us to be 8,000+ miles apart (for we don’t know how long), in terms of our big-picture hopes it certainly makes more sense for Chris to be there, checking out the possibilities, than in Utah spending his days doing crossword puzzles while I’m at work. Plus, every relationship needs a time where you have to communicate through long-form letters in lieu of face-to-face time, right?
Once we accepted the new state of affairs, things continued to slot into place without us doing much. We managed to sell off nearly all of the things in our house and one of our cars without actually trying. And Chris got a surprise week off, which he was able to use to go back to the UK to visit his family (he had planned to in January but wouldn’t be able to with the new job starting then). All too easy… It feels like, after so many years of trying to land somewhere and make things work, this opportunity is simply – and tenaciously – presenting itself to us on a silver platter.
I suppose the Dalai Lama is the renowned and respected man he is because he happens to understand how the world works. He simply accepts that strange dreams can lead to new futures, new lives and new people. We, on the other hand, didn’t have His Holiness’ wisdom to recognise that once we voiced our dream it might take on a life of its own and we’d just be along for the ride.
Last time on Mobilis Divers:Noelle and Chris spent their holiday looking at potential new homes. Nothing felt right. They got sad. Then they got an idea…
Imagine you want to set up a dive centre. You want to be there for a while so you’ve got some expectations for it. It needs to be by the ocean – arguably the most important condition. You’d like that ocean to have some interesting stuff to look at because you’ll be in it all the time and you get bored easily. It would also be great if there are other people around, a nice variety of people from different backgrounds so you can learn new things and not be the most foreign person you know. Now paint in the details around you – lush palm forests, margaritas on the beach, bustling marketplaces, the sun setting behind a volcano. Ok, got it? Can you see it? Smell it? Feel it? Good! Now go find that place!
Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Despite our best attempts this summer we just could not find one that fit the bill. But when we reviewed our options and the Possibly Perfect Place began to emerge, it started to look more and more enticing. It’s got great diving, possibly some of the best in the world (fab!), just off the shores of a reasonably-sized city (exceptional bonus). It’s fairly close to more familiar types of civilization (when we need a quick escape to our cultural roots), and yet it is still pretty underdeveloped (potentially great for growing a business – though perhaps trickier in terms of infrastructure).
The more we look at The Possibly Perfect Place, the better it sounds. It really does seem to have it all and at exactly the right time for us. There would definitely be some challenges, but the potential feels undeniable. So we started thinking maybe we should spend some quality time here on our Hunt for the Perfect Place in January.
There are a couple of catches though. It’s expensive to travel long term. We’d spend quite a lot just in the time we need to properly look around – money we need to get our shop up and running. Also, and maybe more importantly, The Possibly Perfect Place is totally foreign to both of us. We literally know nothing about doing business there. We have no idea what we need to set up a company, how complicated it is, or how possible it even is. It could take months or years to figure it out. It could take a few weeks. We simply don’t know.
This is the point where I started getting edgy and freaked out. This whole plan felt uncannily familiar to me. The thing is, moving here would be the third time I’ve gone to a Possibly Perfect Place (PPP) to make my way and – spoiler alert! – it did not work out at all the way I hoped it would. In fact, it kind of wrecked me.
The first PPP: I moved to London to set up my own business. By myself. Without any form of financial support to…I don’t know…pay my rent or buy my food. Which meant I was running around like a nutter trying to simultaneously earn enough to live in one of the world’s most expensive cities and also trying to get a business off the ground. Did I mention by myself? Not sure what I was thinking. I was either very brave or very stupid. Maybe a bit of both.
It was stressful. Very stressful. It made me a crazy person.
The second PPP: In Muscat, it was supposed to be easy to land there, get a job and get my life back in order. I was so excited to have a normal existence again. But alas, that was not to be. Laws change quickly these days and I found myself blocked at every turn. Let’s get a job! Oh, I can only be a lawyer, doctor or teacher? Hmmm, ok… I guess I’ll learn to teach English?… Done! Oh, now you need me to have a Master’s in Education? Hmmmm, ok… I guess I’ll just work under the table and hope not to get deported? What’s that you say? Oil prices dropped, the economy crashed and no one can afford English classes, even from charming illegal immigrants? Hmmmmm, ok….I guess I’ll just sit at home and invent ways to keep myself busy…
It was stressful. Very stressful. It made me a crazier person.
So when we started talking about dropping into another PPP without any idea about our actual chances at making it there, I kind of melted down. I’m tapped out, guys. Running on empty. Out of gas. Burned out. And any other oil-related metaphors you can think of. This big project of ours is going to take some energy. Quite a lot of it. A level of energy I simply do not have at the moment. Energy to remain persistent and excited and unsinkable in the face of constantly changing circumstances – because the game will change as we go along. That’s just how this stuff works.
Stepping right out of Muscat and into another totally new and unknown place and attempting to start a business sounds stressful. Very stressful. I don’t want to become the craziest me yet by pushing myself even further over the edge when I haven’t yet recovered from my other failed attempts at settling in. I also don’t want to ruin our chance of building something great and making our dream come true by jumping into it when I don’t have the resources available to do it right. I need a rest – a big one – so I can start this adventure with all my wits at my disposal.
So we made a decision to take a little breather before we start this adventure, some time to chill out and get ourselves ready and rested so we can face the craziness that will ensue when we try to set up a business a world away. We decided to go back to Utah for a while – it’s where I’m from, where my friends and family are, and where I can get some work without needing a visa. It’s restful, and refreshing, and familiar, just what I need for a little bit.
I bought a ticket to come home in November – in time for Thanksgiving, of course, because my mom makes the best pumpkin pie ever (it’s sweet of you to think your mom does, but you obviously haven’t tried this one). Chris made plans to join me in the spring. We started picturing our summer of fun together: diving trips with friends in Mexico, camping excursions to Arches and Canyonlands, evenings with friends and holidays with family. I was looking forward to this time of ease, immensely.
But, like I said, the only constant in this game of life is change and making plans is the best way to tempt fate into showing you who’s really in charge.
We’re long overdue for an update. So much has changed just in the past few weeks it’s been hard even for us to keep up with.
Our original plan was this: get to the end of January in Muscat then head out to parts unknown, looking at various places where we might want to set up shop. In preparation for this, we made a list of three places we felt had good potential and planned a trip around them this summer. When we got on the ground, however, things weren’t quite how they appeared on paper.
Place Number One had the best potential. It is already connected by flights to two pretty famous diving destinations. It has some very special stuff there, including one particular fish that, out of the entire world, is only known to exist in about a 10-square-meter patch just off the shore. It’s also got a great potential for a mix of muck diving as well as reef diving and there aren’t many shops there yet. Perfect! Why isn’t everyone setting up here?!
When we spent some time here, however, we saw why this place hasn’t picked up. Between the rubbish EVERYWHERE, the odd tensions in the air and the general lack of anything else to do except diving, we just did not vibe with the place. It had a strange aura. One that the fanciest dive center there worked around by taking people completely out of the awkward surroundings and creating a total escape far from any of the villages. Not really our thing. We want to be part of the community we are working in, not trying to pretend it’s not there. So Place Number One came off our list.
Place Number Two was gorgeous. Beautiful. Stunning. Awe-inspiring. Incredible. And all the other adjectives you can think of to describe that absolutely stereotypical tropical island (replete with volcano) in the middle of the ocean. It is full of friendly people (Place Number One had a strange aggression we weren’t fond of), has a wide selection of foods (not just fried chicken from street stands), and is teeming with interesting history. It’s a truly special place and one that in moments of unbridled excitement I could happily see myself living in.
The catch here is that it is so, SO far from anything. To get there we took a Pelni boat (a unique experience if you haven’t yet been on one) that took eight hours. I don’t mind the time it takes, but the sensory overload was too much (see image below). There is a flight we could take instead, but only if the weather is good. And there is a faster boat option, but only if the weather is good. It would be one thing if the Pelni was something we’d choose to take if we had to, but due to the island’s remote location and the area’s two rainy seasons, it’s a boat we would most definitely be spending a lot of time on. Additionally, the diving was decent, but not incredible, which meant that the hassle of getting there (and getting anyone we want to visit us there) would not be worth it for what we’d see in the water. And so Place Number Two was crossed off.
I make it sound like this was just a quick flick of the wrist and another place was casually dubbed A Place That Won’t Really Work For Us. The truth is, it was far more existential than that (for me at least). I mean, our plan is to find a place to build a dive centre – a place where we want to settle for quite a few years. It’s not a quick, set-it-up-and-sell-it-off business thing for us, it’s a lifestyle. We want to become part of the community, to train up locals and create new jobs, to raise a garden full of papayas and jasmine trees. We want to stay. We want to settle. So to start with an already short list of possible places for this dream life of ours and find ourselves crossing them off one by one was… how can I put it… utterly crushing.
By the time we got to Place Number Three, I was struggling with the idea that maybe we were never going to find something that ticked all the boxes for us. I know we’ll have to make adjustments from our ideal place – perhaps we can forego the view of the sea out our front window and the volcano out the back, or maybe we can scrap the idea of our own resident whale shark who shows up when he hears the sound of our boat – but there are some things I am just not willing to live with on a regular basis for years. It was a hard realisation for me to admit to but one I think was important to be honest about now instead of two years in when it drives me crazy and I run away screaming. Still. Not easy. Not easy for me to say. Not easy for Chris to hear. Not easy for us to find our way through. There were a lot of not easy conversations at this point in the trip. Conversations I hope we’ll laugh about in the years to come when we’re nestled into our Perfect Place and can’t imagine having settled for anything less.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We were just arriving at Place Number Three.
Place Number Three is phenomenal. Not in the resplendent, idyllic, endlessly lush and tropical ways of Place Number Two, but in it’s own bizarrely sparse and martian kind of way. This place is weird. In fact, that is what it is known for. There are so many odd creatures here you’re just never going to see anywhere else. Some because this is their only habitat on earth, some because the landscape itself makes it easier to find them than any other reef would. It’s a great place. I would happily dive here every day of my life because you know you will always see something funky. Every day our log books spilled over with all the fabulous things we saw. It’s amazing. Genuinely outstanding diving.
It’s just that we got here a little too late. Had we been in a position to open a place ten years ago, we would absolutely choose this one. We both love it immensely and we will certainly go back to visit because we cannot wait to see what other weird stuff we can find. Alas, there are already seventeen (SEVENTEEN!) very established dive resorts here already. Not just casual little places with a couple huts and a rented fishing boat. Resorts. Ones with very established reputations and deeply experienced guides. We’d struggle to make a place here. It would be a very uphill battle to even get into the market and an even more uphill one to get a big enough slice of the business to make it worthwhile. *sigh* Place Number Three will live on in our hearts but we sadly cannot find a way to live on there.
And so, our Summer of Three Places ended with all three spots being struck from the record. It was a pretty down time for us. We kept looking at what it was we liked about these places and what it was we didn’t. We made lists of our criteria again and again, trying to figure out where we might be able to go that would work with all of our requirements. We got frustrated and sad and worried. Nothing seemed to fit any better than the three we had just visited. But as we kept looking into the murky waters of our dream future, a name began to emerge. Slowly, slowly it rose to the surface, bobbed around for a minute and finally settled at the top of our list: The Possibly Perfect Place…
One of the big ticket items on our Things To Do To Open Our Own Dive Centre list is: get industry experience. We’ve both been doing some guiding with our local shop, but since July, when he finished his course, Chris has been hoping to get some teaching experience under his belt.
Today, a couple of potential students reached out and are interested in booking. Woot! It is an exciting day at our house. Lesson plans are being made, learning materials are getting themselves organised and office supplies are being discussed. We’re both pretty happy about it, but Chris, in particular, is ready to get his feet wet as an instructor.
A couple of weeks from now we might be able to cross another big item off the list! Woot!!
I LOVE to plan. Like really, really, deeply, passionately LOVE to plan. Why? Because planning is so much easier than actually doing.
When I want to get fit, I make schedules, I orgainise my equipment, I buy new clothes and create little outfits to wear to yoga. Then I never go. Why? Because I planned it, man. Don’t try to convince me it’s not the same as doing. I totally envisioned myself going to the gym every morning with my new purple yoga mat under my arm. That’s pretty much the same thing as going to the gym every morning with my new purple yoga mat under my arm.
Only it’s not.
Planning is great because it makes you feel busy and productive, but it doesn’t actually involve any real work. Sure, there’s lots of pencil moving and beard stroking and tea drinking, but no matter how you look at it, it isn’t the same as getting shit done.
I am fantastic at convincing myself that planning and doing are one and the same. So good I am almost convinced it is my super power. That’s because I’m an Impostinator. I avoid actual work by doing LOTS of relatively unimportant jobs that I convince myself are urgent – more urgent than, say, doing the ONE task I know I need to be doing.
This seems to be a real thing, folks. We have looked deeply into each others and made a plan to stay in Oman for one more year and then head off into the great unknown and start our own thang.
Where do we go from here?
It seems like such a huge project: find a place we want to live, buy or build our own business (in a foreign country), settle in and make it our home and our life for the next 10, 15 or 20 years (who knows?).
And what about all the other stuff before that? Will we have enough money? What legal realities do we need to be aware of? What will we do with our kitty?
We’ve got a lot on our minds these days. And while it’s all terribly exciting, we are also a little overwhelmed.
Start this blog for real. We want to share our experiences, our ideas, our plans and our fears here, mostly as a way to get them out of our heads and onto “paper”. We’re hoping this will help us organise the project and keep us accountable for nudging things forward a little every day.
Let’s just clarify something from the beginning. I am not a photographer. That is to say, I rarely take photos (on land or in the water) that I would see as sellable or of much artistic merit. I do love taking photos though, and diving into the underwater world has been a really fun adventure. It takes all the difficulty of photography on land and adds the elements of movement (of both you and the subject), unpredictable light and inconsistent colors. Yay!
Needless to say, there’s been a steep learning curve, but in using tips and tricks I’ve been shown along the way, my shots have improved a LOT in just the few weeks I have been doing them. In this series, I want to show you the progress from my first underwater shot to my best and all the tips I learned along the way. Hopefully it will help you with your practice too! Continue reading “Underwater Photography – Lessons from a total newbie”→