“Hey you, right-heart girl, put this one on.” It was 10 o’clock in the morning and I was standing on a not-so-sandy beach in Cuba, preparing for my first scuba diving experience; my instructor had just thrown me a wet suit. A few hours earlier our dive instructor Peter had met us at the host Casa in Trinidad and I had attempted to explain to him about my heart. From my poor attempt at Spanish and the little English he knew, I think he got all the main information, but mostly he just took with him that my heart was on the right-hand side. The other divers, my mum and I all jumped in an old 52′ American car, the local cab service, to get down to the beach.
“Where is the boat to take us out?” I asked Peter. Woops. I had put my foot in it, how was I to know that Cubans are not allowed on boats? Thankfully the dive spot was just a short swim off the coast so we wouldn’t need a boat anyway, didn’t make me feel like less of an idiot though. Peter took some other, more experienced divers down first, while one of his assistants, my Mum, and I snorkelled around the shallow areas, checking out all the coral and sea life.
The water was magical, so warm and clear, I wanted to stay in it forever. I felt like a child on Christmas Eve, so excited for what was to come. Who could believe my luck, I finally get to go Scuba Diving for the first time, in the Caribbean of all places! Peter gave me the OK on sharks – they don’t swim in these waters (and even if they did he knew which answer was the correct one to tell me). Because of my heart condition and the compression that happens as you dive deeper into the water, Peter had decided to just do a shallow dive today. While snorkeling around the shallows I started to test out and how deep I could dive on my own, without the assistance of weights and a scuba tank. I dove deep into the water, as deep as I could go, until I felt a piercing pain in my ears and between my eyes. My “deep” wasn’t very deep. Bugger. Our instructor told me I need to equalize the pressure in my ears, he showed me a demonstration of popping your ears, like when you’re on a plane, then he dove under the water, all the way to the bottom. Simple enough I though, so I gave it ago. I plugged my nose up, and breathed out against my closed nostrils, heard the pop, then dove into the water, trying to swim deeper than before. Pain! I tried it again and again and again, but still the same thing. Above the water I heard the pop, then I dove down into the water and the deeper I went, the more painful it was.
At this point, I felt more like the child on Christmas Eve, who for the first time learns that Santa isn’t real. My dreams of swimming with colourful fish, playing with coral and laying on the bottom of the ocean, while watching my bubbles float up to the sky were so close but yet so far. How could I have come all the way to Cuba, prepare for a diving lesson and not do it? Do my ears have some special anti-diving superpower? I am in Cuba, swimming the Caribbean Sea for goodness sake, this is not supposed to happen!
Maybe I was doing it wrong, maybe I just needed to hear the instructions again. The demonstration looked the same as before, what was I doing wrong? I asked Peter’s assistant to show me one last time. Yup, still had no idea what I was missing. Then the penny finally dropped, I needed to equalize my ears under the water! Such a novice error, of course you need to equalise your ears under the water; you need to balance to the water pressure around your ears. Santa was real again!
I worked out the equalizing trick just in the nick of time, after a few deep dives to the bottom of the water without any pain in my ears, Peter was back and ready to take me out snorkeling. First we got kitted out with the tank and weights, then we had to learn how to use them. All I could think about was how we were wasting valuable time that could be spent making friends with Nemo and Dory out in the reef. Yes, yes I get it, the air comes out of the hose, I breathe it in. Ready, set, go! Finally it was time to start scuba diving with the cast of Finding Nemo!
The water off the coast of Cuba is so clear we were able to see perfectly at 9 meters down, and Peter said it was the same all the way down to 30 meters too. We swam a few hundred meters out, the water got progressivly deeper as we went with more and more coral to be seen. One specific type of coral (the red one) will cause you to come out in a rash if touched, so I avoided it diligently, but touched anything and everything else I could find. Peter introduced me to some amazing sea anemones that when you waved the water at them, poked their heads back into the rock caves. I swam from rock to rock searching for more to play with.
Before we had to turn back to shore, Peter showed us the most amazing sea sponge; it was literally like a huge sponge the size of my torso. It reminded me so much of a pillow I wondered if mermaids use a sea sponge as a pillow. While pondering this thought I quietly lay on the bottom of the ocean looking up to the sky as my bubbles floated up to the top like giant jelly fish. During this moment I felt only absolute peace. Sea-floor meditation. Done.
On the way back to shore I picked up a friend for the ride, a wee black and white fishy! Half way through our journey back to shore, Peter checked my tank levels, it was almost empty. Not too bad I thought to myself, I’d managed to ration the tank out over the dive. Peter showed me his tank, 3/4 full. WHAT?! How on earth (or under the water should I say), did I manage to use 3/4 of a tank more than Peter? Once we surface he explained to me that while I am much smaller than him, my excitement levels caused me to breathe deeper and harder. Oops. I am very excitable, especially when fish, coral and sea sponges are involved.
While in the shallows taking off all my equipment I found that the little fish had followed me all the way back into shore. He kept swimming around my body, like I was some sort of host. Up until I left the water he stayed right next to me, though I never knew his name, I’d found a friend in the Caribbean. If you have any idea what type of fish he is I would love to know. The video below features my little fish friend swimming with me. I apologise in advance, the video is 90% of my butt; apparently the little fella though my crotch was a great place to hang out!