Friday, May 09, 2008

Scuba Diving

I write this missive not as the landlubber that I once was, but as the sea-goer that I now am. For I am a qualified scuba diver now and my instructors would wish to see the change. From the unsteady skiff to under the sea and back again, I have passed the trials and received my certificate which makes me more expert in diving that I was a month ago while less expert than an expert.

Off the coast of Cartagena, there are a series of islands that fall under the name “Islas de Rosario”. Upon one of these, one of the larger ones, there is a very expensive hotel which also serves as a base for Diving Planet, a company which leads diving excursions and teaches diving to newbies. To reach the island, one has to take a boat over open water. Over mostly calm seas, the trip is about 50 minutes. And it is hot. The sun bears down upon you like a great yoke or mantel that has to be carried with only brief moments of relief. Thirty layers of sunscreen would never be enough.

CSI was kind enough to loan us Warrick Brown for the weekend. He was to be our instructor. There were three of us in the course, my wife and I and a surly teenager. I say “surly” although I should just say a “typical” teenager since he was no different from the stereotype. Angst and a bad attitude seem to be sold under trademarks these days.

Our first dive was merely to get accustomed to the sea just like “diving” in a pool was to get accustomed to the equipment. These types of excursions are extremely important. The sea has currents, pools do not. Undertaking the various tests and trainings without the pool experience would increase the level of difficulty and likely result in more injuries and complications.

In that first dive three notable things happened. From the start, I found out just how painful diving can be on the ears. It’s a problem that still lingers and I can only hope that my doctor is correct in his assertion that there is no permanent damage. I’m not one used to physical limitations. As a boy, showing no discernible talent or ability, I played ten seasons of soccer, two seasons of baseball, two seasons of basketball, and tried out for the Junior High baseball and football teams before concluding that for me, sports are better watched than played. But not once did I allow the dearth of athleticism that I have been blessed with to infringe on my ability to try.

The ear problem would be the first time I have been physically unable to continue trying. And I don’t want to underestimate the problem. Including today, it’s been five days since my last dive and my ears are still partially blocked, they’re popping like rice crispies, and my right eardrum routinely feels like someone is jabbing a very sharp needle directly into it. The doctor suggests that this will clear up naturally. His theory will be tested next week when I revisit him. In the meantime, I maintain hope that slow improvement is coming each day.

If I can not continue diving, it will be extremely disappointing because the second discovery from the start is that diving ranks somewhere between totally awesome and whatever comes after. The fish, the coral, the wildlife, all of it is superbly sublime. We swam amongst schools of fish, we held aquatic spiders (my term) in the palm of our hands (it helps when your instructor is a Marine Biologist teaching scuba diving while he finishes his thesis), and we saw countless other things that were impossible to catalogue. The marketing material is right. When you dive, you see more species than you would ever see in any other activity which leaves you with an almost unprocessable information overload to the point that after the dive you basically just sit there and say “huh”. It would be a shame to lose out on that.

The aforementioned surly teenager had an encounter in the sea on that first dive. Swimming along quite peaceably, no doubt working as hard as possible to *not* enjoy himself (and failing), he was fish food. A rather large, hungry looking sea marmet was coasting along amongst us and seeing the curly crispiness of the boy’s hair floating enticingly in the clear Caribbean Sea, our friendly neighbor went in for a nibble. I imagine that curiosity overtook him as it is common for fish to see scuba divers in that area and that the question had been nagging at Mr. Fish for quite some time: Do these funny looking land walkers taste good or not?

Unfortunately, we never got an answer from Mr. Fish for the teenager’s violent reaction sent the fish scurrying away. I can only imagine the human flesh is not as tasty as the many other things that fish have to eat. I’d like to think that our teenager had a sudden realization that in the cosmic sense he was no more or less important than the average bit of seaweed. At least to the fish. For all teenagers seem to have an overinflated sense of self importance (I think they’re selling that under trademark as well) and at the least, Mr. Fish treated him as little more than yet another morsel for nibbling. Sadly, my wants are probably just that, my wants, for our teenager continued to maintain his surliness and aloofedness for some time. But, slowly, and I have to think that this is because it takes an extreme amount of energy to maintain surliness and angst especially when one is doing something that is, by all measures, extremely fun, our teenager started to change to the point that at the end of two days, I thought he might almost be human. At least there is hope yet.

We made a total of four dives. The first and last were the best but in those we had virtually no actual “activities” to engage in. They were mostly enjoyment dives. Our instructor was extremely confident and capable and in his trustworthy hands, we were led through the course successfully. Of course, this raises another point. Virtually all scuba instructors are the same, moreso under water. I don’t know why this is, but they are all extremely nice and caring and careful. I say this not as a complaint. All things being even, I much prefer a capable instructor than an incompetent ass who risks my life through malfeasance. Instead, I mention this because I found the instructors so interchangeable as to be ultimately uninteresting. For there’s nothing particularly interesting about cloned underwater personalities. Although, I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge that their “sameness” was, indeed, and interesting puzzle that I have yet to work out.

And so ends my first scuba adventure. I can only hope that my ears clear up over the next week and that the doctor clears me for future dives. We have our eyes set on Providencia an island farther out in the Caribbean and a much better site for diving. It would be unfortunate to miss out on such an experience.



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