The only plan we had when TDI Instructor Trainer Ben Reymenants asked us to join a trip to Chiao Lan lake’s floating rafthouses was to do nothing at all; read a book and relax for a couple of days on the water. The group we went with was packed with cave divers and students ready to explore the secrets that hide inside the local caves. Our initial plan was to tag along and make one or two dives to peek into the dark abyss in front of the cave. Well, it didn’t turn out as planned. Curiosity got the better of us and we decided to enroll in the cave diving course. I’m fairly certain Ben knew that all along because he had equipment ready for us to use.
Dark as a night; one only sees the wide light beam emitted by the torch held by your small shaky hand. There is a good chance that you may not see your own light if the diver in front of you decides to stir up some sediment. That’s why you have to obey the one golden rule – no matter what happens or what you are doing, never ever lose your guide line. It just so happened that somebody (not pointing fingers) gently removed our masks and as you might know, seeing underwater without a mask is a bit complicated. Here we go, now it’s time to start exiting!
You must be certain the direction you’re going is the right way out. If you lose the line, you’re in trouble. By holding the line and feeling the previously placed directional markers on it, we started slowly moving towards the exit. Usually when something goes wrong other things that were good until this point start to go wrong as well. It becomes a downward spiral. For example, you may run out of air in addition to zero visibility. That’s another reason to have a good teammate in there which is why I think cave diving is more teamwork than a marriage.
It’s not an ego thing that demands a cave diver to be in good shape. You need to be able to swim long distances without getting tired. Inside a cave, you no longer have the option to go up when you would like to end the dive. As far as you swim in, you must be able to swim out.
There are thousands of years of history recorded in the caves. The caves in Chiao Lan are formed by acids found in the ground and rainwater that dissolved limestone and made cracks in it. It takes thousands of years more until cave systems are formed until, for some natural or artificial reason, the caves are flooded and become home to a very unique ecosystem.
There are stalactites hanging down from the ceilings revealing time stamps and stalagmites grow from the floor like trees. There is almost no vegetation and fauna is quite scarce. You can find some near blind cavefish that may bounce off you during the dive because of they don’t see you (obviously), along with white crabs and lobsters, mustached catfish and snakehead fish dating back to ancient times.
During the last couple of years, it seems I constantly have to test my limits. Like now – I didn’t know anything about cave diving but Ben Reymenants and Paul Kirby taught us the skills necessary to navigate in the caves, deal with entanglements, find the exit in zero visibility, and much more. Over the time I’ve developed some sort of peace and mindset that I’ll do the things as well as I can. A cave diver has to know how to lay a line and tie knots because the line that leads you into the cave is like an umbilical cord; it’s your lifeline that supports you. I practiced my lifeline skills a lot during that week, invented some totally new knots and mastered the known ones.
Tuuli Piirsalu is working as organization development manager for Daimler Financial Services in Singapore. Before urban life she worked as a diving instructor in Egypt, Maldives and Thailand.
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