Remember this scene from the Ben Stiller classic “Along Came Polly”? I wish scuba diving was this glamorous, hilarious, and romantic.
I, however, learned how to scuba dive in a monsoon.
I’ve been a bad gringa — I’ve been MIA because I’ve been busy studying for my PADI Open Water Scuba certification, which I started last week in the midst of a drowning tropical disturbance. That’s the charm of Mexico, which I’ve stated before: something always has to go awry first.
It started at 6:45 a.m. on Thursday, when I awoke and saw the ominous sky, but decided to keep on with my planned scuba class. I couldn’t bear the thought of staying indoors all day long, listening to the rain, bored. I hailed a taxi in the rain — there was two inches of water puddling the street! — and headed out for my lesson, first in the pool, and then in open water.
When I arrived to my scuba locale, the rain was sweeping in in huge sideways blasts, and I took safety under a leaky palapa, watching the lightning over the Caribbean. This bad weather wasn’t going anywhere, so defying every safety principle I ever learned, I was going to plunge into a swimming pool with a big metal tank strapped to my back in the middle of a lightning storm. Perfect!
Also along for the ride was a super-cute couple from Dallas who’d been married for 23 years. In between lessons, they told me how they get remarried each year in Vegas, and gave me some “insider secrets” to marriage success. Armed with barrels full of new information, we all hopped in the pool and after learning some basic scuba skills from our instructor, Clemente, we headed down under to take our first underwater breaths.
It was crazy! And exhilarating. Fear is there, but the air comes.
I was trying to concentrate on everything new I was taking in, but I kept imagining swimming off in the pool, all the time underwater, breathing and alive. The feeling was miraculous, and I couldn’t get enough.
But there were a few little issues. I’m not a technical gizmo girl; I’m a successful airhead, and proud of it. I can operate simple machinery: a computer, a cell phone, and sometimes a car. The bells and whistles on the BCD (our scuba jacket) threw me off — valves, hoses, buttons galore.
But I succeeded amazingly at the other so-called “difficult” skills — taking off your mask underwater, putting it back on, and clearing it of water. Donezo! It was actually incredibly easy.
We were ready for our first dive. Typically, we’d do a shallow beach dive, but we were in the midst of a monsoon, remember? Visibility was awful. So we hauled our gear on the boat and headed out to 40 feet of water for a real, true dive. My first dive. I don’t think the fear registered because I was in a bit of shock.
We had to assemble our gear ourselves. Talk about trusting yourself, and your equipment. I’d assembled my tank one time only, and that was about two hours before the boat ride. A lot can happen in two hours. Like, uh, forgetting.
But with Clemente’s help, I got it together. I turned on my air. I lifted my weight belt and slung it around my waist, then I backed into the BCD, arms through the straps, buckled in. We were ready to go.
One by one we stepped off boat. Once everyone was in place, Clemente signaled our descent. We deflated our BCDs and slowly started to sink. I was breathing underwater, in the Caribbean! Then I looked up and saw the surface and thought: I am breathing underwater, in the Caribbean.
I signaled to Clemente that I was freaking out and wanted to go up. But he swam to me and — there is no talking underwater, of course — signaled to me to calm down, to breathe. I didn’t want to abort my mission. I wanted to succeed. I focused on the bottom, which was now close. I focused on my breathing. My heartbeat began to slow. I had pushed the fear (mostly) away. I was scuba diving!
We did another dive later that afternoon, and on Friday, still in full-on monsoon weather, we dove to 60 feet. I swam right over a nurse shark. I saw a bright green moray eel. A giant sea turtle. Lots of parrotfish, grouper, and barracuda. A lobster!
After some skills tests in the water, and some real tests (see above), I’m a scuba diver!
I promise wetsuit photos are forthcoming. I didn’t want to break out the camera in the rain!