My first diving experience
Finally I did it! I'd been toying with an idea to do a diving course for over a year now. I even emailed a few diving schools that were nearby where I lived so I was super close to do it, but yet - there was always something that would stop me. Time, weather, location, money.....
And then I had some personal turmoil, struggled to get my head together and move on and because they say travel is always the best solution, I checked if Ryanair had anything interesting on offer. They did! Flights to Azores for 15 eur! I booked it before anything changed on their website and started planning my trip there. The archipelago of the Azores is famous for beautiful diving spots, hence lots of diving schools there. I thought - maybe it's high time I did the PADI Open Water Diver course. So I contacted one of the diving schools that was in a city I stayed (Angra de Heroismo) and next day after I arrived, I showed up ready to learn how to explore what's underneath the water.
I haven't read any reviews about diving schools in Terceira (that's the island I stayed at), just picked one that was close to my hostel. If you don't drive (and I don't) you'd better find things to do close to where you stay. I didn't find the public transport too good there. People are super friendly there so you can try hitchhiking (this is how I got from the airport to Angra) but if you short on time (and I was, working and travelling requires perfect time management skills, no place for waiting in the street until someone gives you a lift), it's better to pick places withing walking distance.
I did my course at Arraia Divers school. It's 25 min walk from the centre of Angra, in a beautiful spot. We used a swimming pool that belonged to the hotel nearby, and then did open water dives in the ocean, just next to the school. The course lasted for 5 days, 3 days in the swimming pool and 2 days in the open water, but I know that's very personal. Some people may complete it in shorter time, other may need more days. A lot depends on the weather but also your preferences and skills. Apart from the practical part, you have a lot of theory to absorb so plan your holidays having that in mind. The book is not the shortest and it's very important to understand everything so that you stay safe once you dive. At the end of the course you've got an exam that tests your knowledge as well as ability to use The eRDPLMl - a mini computer that you use to plan your diving. I actually struggled a lot with it.
Impressions? It's so beautiful under the water, so peaceful, so quiet. But remember to equalize your ears! We went up to 14 m deep and I could really feel the pressure. At first I struggled with equalizing and didn't enjoy at all my dive. Then I pinched my nose too much. In the end I got it right and could focus on enjoying the underwater marine life. In the open water you also practice all the skills you've learned in the swimming pool. I didn't find it more challenging than in the swimming pool. Except for one skill, that I needed to repeat but got tired in the meantime and didn't have any wall, nothing to rest. I really felt at that time "the open water".
All in all, I strongly recommend it to anyone. The life under the water is so beautiful and definitely worth exploring. You vacations can get so much more interesting when you have other things to do instead of just lying at the beach. The feeling of moving up and down, where gravity doesn't restrict you is amazing.
And to anyone who knows any diving spots in Portugal, please recommend some! I won't be leaving Portugal for next months (cheap airlines no longer cheap during the summer :( ), and don't want my diving card just lying on the shelf!