Finishing this blog has been on my to-do list all summer. The days of summer are quickly running low, as are my memories from those final weeks of our trip back in May. I believe in finishing what you start, so here I go, tying up loose ends and ticking things of my never-ending to-do list.
Dan convinced me that our trip wouldn’t be complete without a little scuba diving. Being a bit of a fish myself, it was an easy sell. We had heard that Taganga, a small coastal town on the Caribbean coast near Santa Marta, Colombia, was one of the cheapest places in the world to get certified to scuba. I like cheap, but I also like safe, and after reading some accounts on the internet about people who had gone diving with one of the discount scuba schools in Taganga, I was feeling queasy. Dan assured me that we would be smart and safe and not just go with the cheapest offer.
Despite the heat and the temptingly cool ocean, we spent our first day in Taganga researching. We visited the top three scuba schools in town: Poseidon, Aquantis and Octopus. Poseidon had the priciest package but they also had the nicest looking facility and equipment, a good safety record, offered accommodations included in the price of the course and the students who we met in the office seemed really enthusiastic. Aquantis was a close second but didn’t offer the included accommodations, and Octopus was by far the cheapest but also seemed to be the most disorganized of the bunch.
We moved into the Poseidon apartment later that day and met our teacher, Jimmy, a smiley Colombian who could barely speak English. It’s hard for me to believe now that my Spanish is dwindling, but we were instructed for our Open Water Diver certification almost entirely in Spanish! Dan and I spent the rest of that day with our new manuals, trying to cram as much info into our heads as possible. It had been almost 5 months since I’d studied for anything and I was out of practice. It probably didn’t help that we were studying in hammocks and drinking rum and cokes to “stimulate” our brain cells.
My first impression of scuba diving was that it’s complicated, especially the equipment. I’ve never been a very mechanical person but I was forced to become conversant in the language of valves and pressure gauges. We were gradually introduced to the underwater world, spending the first day in shallow water practicing skills and discovering what it felt like to breathe like fish. My first few breaths were very cautious but breathing underwater felt comfortable, familiar even. Maybe I was a fish in a previous life?
The next few days were filled with diving. We explored the waters of Tayrona National park each morning, with the other divers from the school. Our first dives were at 12 metres but as we progressed we were able to go as deep as 18 metres. While underwater, we explored a kingdom of reefs, anemones, tropical schools of fish, moray eels, lion fish, rock fish and “mariposas” (butterfly fish). Each day, we felt more comfortable. Scuba diving is much more than just breathing underwater. It’s also about controlling your buoyancy so that you don’t have to work to keep your body level in the water; and it’s about observing the wildlife without disturbing their natural environment.
The world at 12-18 m below sea-level is a very peaceful place, especially when all you can hear is your own breathing and the muted sounds of the fish world. Jimmy turned out to be an amazing teacher; and, if I may say so, we weren’t too shabby as students. We both got 100% on our final tests and were awarded an extra “fun dive”. I’m really looking forward to doing more scuba diving in other parts of the world. It’s such a soothing, quiet place – qualities that are harder and harder to find in the above sea level world.