“So you’re going to lean right back, fall into the water and I’ll join you there in a moment.”
My heart turned to stone.
I was on a tinny in Taganga near Santa Marta, accompanied by my PADI scuba instructor Darwin, about to jump right on in and breathe under water for the very first time.
Darwin – one of many Colombians comically named using English surnames – looked at me quizzically as I freaked out. He, possibly technically a fish at 99% H2O, had grown up defying the laws of nature by breathing underwater. I, on the other hand, was much more of a land creature and not entirely sure that we humans were welcome there below the surface.
looked at him fearfully checked with him first to make sure he wasn’t joking (this man had rigged up my air supply after all) and when his nodding made it clear that the boat was no longer my home, fell backwards into the water as commanded.
First time jitters
Day One of my PADI course was not what I’d expected. The theoretical videos we’d watched had sung the praises of scuba in a terribly strong American accent and were accompanied by the goofy antics of white-toothed, perky divers decked out in the height of fashionable early 90s diving gear. In them, the happy crew practised on the bottom of a fluorescent blue swimming pool with oxygen tanks that matched their equally fluorescent pink and yellow wetsuits. They thumbs-upped more than is socially recommended and always surfaced with the help of an energetic high five.
It all looked so easy. It all looked so…theoretical.
I lost about a kilo in nervous energy while watching them through laced fingers. How would this vanilla-bean video actually happen in real life?
There in that tinny I was
interested perturbed to note that my first day was not going to take place in a fluroescent blue swimming pool, but on the sandy bottom in the waters of a cove. A cove which, being a real one, was a regular witness to actual sea life, some of which would probably bite me.
A surreal experience
My first breath under water was a beautiful anticlimax, happening automatically in the moments I spent tumbleturning beside the boat, attempting to right myself for surface after my backwards entry.
Soon, I was joined in the water by that’s-not-a-first-name-Darwin and taught how to ignore my heart’s dubious beating by voluntarily descending below the surface, weighted down with a collection of instruments and heavy metal objects. It was there on the sandy bottom of that cove that I finally decided a shiver of sharks waiting to chew off my regulator was probably not just past the murky point where visibility dropped off. And that our situation was infinitely superior to that of those pesky high-fiving fluro scuba actors inhabiting the bottom of a school pool.
Diving was one of those experiences that you realise is amazing – while doing it, and not just in retrospect. Going out twice a day to dive while spending all other downtime splayed across a hammock? Yes, please.
For anyone who’s ever thought that they would like diving, but just hasn’t quite believed that their regulator would manage to successfully deliver them oxygen: It will. You will.
- The PADI Open Water course is a standard international diving certification. Upon completion it allows you to dive anywhere in the world to a depth of 18 metres while accompanied by a diving professional.
- Other brands of similar courses are available – check with a diving school – though it seems that the PADI is an older, more well-recognised one. Or perhaps just the one with the most cash and the snappiest marketing, who knows?
- Taganga, outside of Santa Marta in northern Colombia, is famous for being a diver’s go to zone. It’s also not far from Tayrona National Park – a beautiful slice of nature on the Carribean coast.
- Taganga is chockers with diving schools. As prices and course lengths do vary, plan to stay a couple of days to shop around before starting your course. (For eg: some will even include accommodation (mostly hammocks) in the school’s own huts on the coves near where you’ll dive, though your accommodation savings might be cancelled out by having to pay for the school’s food.)
- Course prices vary with the seasons. My three-day PADI course with three nights in a hammock cost 580 000 Colombian pesos (USD$315) in January.