***This post was written by guest blogger, Erin D. who frequently shares her experiences living life as a true 'leisure nut!****
Up until recently, I assumed that before they allowed you to strap a tank on your back and throw on some flippers, you had to go through hours upon hours of SCUBA classes. Since you were about to partake in, what some might consider, a risky activity, I figured that instructors would thoroughly go through everything, from the names and purpose of each component of the gear to how to properly breathe to ensure you wouldn’t pass out….or die. And I’m sure that some places do this. Actually, it’s even possible that I was being told that during my first pool practice dive, however, I will never actually know. As I was getting ready to dive into the water, my instructor was giving the group a lesson on breathing and the hand signals…in Spanish.
All of my friends that have gone diving had told me it was going to be an amazing and surreal experience. Most of them have actually become certified while in other countries, and because of this, I figured that there wouldn’t be any issue with having my first dive in Colombia. However, unlike my friends, I was actually going to be diving in a country where they really don’t speak much English. Like, most people don’t even try a little. I had started to notice this in the first few days of the trip, while my travel companion and I were trying to get directions to our hotel and when placing orders at restaurants. The Colombian people we encountered were extremely friendly and I could tell that they wanted to be able to communicate with us; it was just not happening. But surely, the SCUBA instructor would speak English, right? Nope.
When we booked the dive the day before, we spoke (in English) with a dive master at the SCUBA center. He walked us through what we would be doing the next day, regarding what time we needed to be there and the possible locations we would be diving. Everything seemed fine. Arriving the next morning was a different story.
The previous day’s English-speaking divemaster was not going to be joining us for this trip. The new instructor only spoke Spanish, but I was assured by another first-time diver (who spoke a little English) that everything would be okay. So we all jumped into the pool and began to learn the process, first with the instructor teaching everyone else, and then with my new friend attempting to translate to me. It’s also worth noting that my travel buddy was SCUBA certified and didn’t need to take the pool course, thus not being able to help instruct me. The first time I went under, I knew that I was probably going to have issues, having only half understood the half of the lesson that was being relayed to me. Fortunately, I made it through the pool dive without issue and actually felt ready enough to give it a go.
The ocean was a different story.
Once we jetted out to our first dive site and got our gear on, I knew that this was going to be a huge test for me. I hate being out of my comfort zone, and this was so far beyond that realm. There also wasn’t really a way of turning back once we were in the open ocean. Sure, I could have just decided to not go and let my fear get the best of me, but I figured that I’d paid already so why not just give it a try? Ready to go, I held onto my mask and did my best Navy SEAL impression as I fell off the boat, tumbling flippers over tank. Aside from the initial shock of it, I was okay. But now came the hard part: I was going to have to rely on the hand signals that I learned to make sure I didn’t die.
The instructor led us over to the anchor line, which we were going to use to descend. Because he knew I was nervous, he sent the others down first and waited to guide me down. Once they were all waiting below us, he held my hand and started to lead me under slowly, constantly using the hand signals to make sure I was alright. About five feet below the surface, everything finally hit me. I began to panic and the instructor could see it in my eyes. He led me back up and waited for a few minutes until I calmed down. Not wanting to wimp out (or waste the money), I eventually indicated I was ready to try again. So we slowly descended into the water. This time around, I didn’t panic. I actually had a revelation that helped me through the process: While this is a risky activity and I could either get hurt or die, it actually wouldn’t be a terrible way to go, surrounded by beautiful fish and coral. Morbid, I know, but it helped.
Throughout the afternoon, I was actually able to maintain a sense of calm, despite knowing that this could have ultimately been my demise. The second dive of the trip was not nearly as bad, and I was able to swim around a sunken ship, a sight I realize I would have never seen if I allowed my fear to take over.
Since Colombia, I have gone on one more dive trip while in Greece, where the dive master (and all of the other divers) spoke English. And this time around, I was actually able to retain some of the information the instructor was going through before the dive. Although, I am still amazed at how little they actually tell you before throwing you off a boat.