January 9-15, 2008
Me under the water.
I started my PADI open water diving course with Gretel, an Australian who had been traveling for the last seven years, doing various jobs around the world. Teaching English in Japan and Ecuador, doing office work in Canada and England, and being a dive instructor in Honduras were all experiences she spoke fondly of. She had spent a total of five months in Taganga as a dive instructor, so she must have liked it.
Before my first dive, I had a lot of studying to do. The workbook I was given was filled with boring-but-necessary stuff about diving like how strong the water pressure is at different depths, how a diver can affect his/her buoyancy, and the constantly-stressed message that you can never hold your breath underwater. The book showed an example of a balloon being filled with air at a deep depth, then ascending to the surface, and expanding until it exploded. Then it said to imagine that the balloon was your lungs. Enough said.
When I went to my first lesson, I had to watch some videos that reemphasized everything I had already read and immediately put me to sleep. The funny thing I did remember from the videos was the constant reminder that the dives I would be doing would be in a swimming pool. That's strange, I didn't remember seeing a pool at the dive shop.
After the videos, Gretel and I loaded all of our equipment onto a pontoon boat with a bunch of other people going out diving for the day and headed along the coast for twenty minutes to our dive site. I put on my equipment, filled my BCD (an inflatable life jacket) with air, and jumped into the water. Gretel pointed where we were going and I tested my regulator (the thing you breath from) to feel what it was like before going under the water. When we were both ready, we let the air out of our lungs and our BCDs and began sinking. It was a creepy, yet exciting feeling.
Gretel grabbed my hand and led me to the bottom, only about five meters down. I had to do a bunch of exercises like take my mask off and swim around with it in my hand, take my regulator out and continue exhaling, and turn my air supply off and use Gretel's spare regulator. If one person runs out of air while diving, it's not like the movies where you have to pass the regulator back and forth. Instead, everyone has a spare, so two people can breath simultaneously from the same tank. After completing all of the tests, we went for a swim and got down to fifteen meters (fifty feet). The weightless feeling, being able to breath underwater, and the entirely new world I was experiencing were all amazing, but I was too focused on the pressure building up in my ears and not running out of air to appreciate it.
A good place to learn to dive.
We did five more dives after that, most of which involved a few tests to start, followed by half an hour or more of swimming around and looking at stuff. Coral was everywhere, as were the colorful tropical fish. We saw a few eels every dive, lurking behind the rocks in search of prey. At one point we saw a barracuda, a rare find for these waters. Every dive was interesting, and the more I dove, the more I got used to the environment. By the end of the course, I was able to hover upside down with my nose inches above the ground to look at something. I was hooked.
Once my open water course was done, I decided that I'd love to dive some more, and learning in the ocean was much better than in a pool, so I stayed for the advanced course as well. There wasn't so much studying this time, and our main objectives were doing a deep dive (to 30 meters/100 feet), a navigational dive using a compass, a buoyancy control dive, a photography dive, and a night dive. The deep dive had me a bit on edge, but I didn't experience nitrogen narcosis I was hoping for. The photography dive was fun because I was able to use an underwater camera and go nuts photographing everything I could. But my favorite was the night dive. There were lots of animals like lobsters and starfish that never were out during the day. I could only see a small amount of stuff at a time with my spotlight so I was able to take in more detail than I was during the day. On top of that was simply the thrill of going underwater at night, something people wouldn't normally think of doing. We also did some fun dives during the day, looking at whatever seemed interesting at the bottom of the sea.
Now I have done thirteen dives and am certified to go to forty meters depth and basically do everything you'd do on a normal recreational dive. I can feel Central America beckoning me to use these new skills in her waters.
The photo album for this entry is here.