Longest – roughest bus route to Las Terrenas, Domincan Republic. It is a 10+ hour trip from the other end of the country to a beach-town where I take a crash course on how to scuba dive. Honestly, initially I am not totally thrilled about the scuba camp probably because I am stuck on a hot, packed bus ride that seems endless. However, I did not know that what I am going to experience on the other end is going to blow my world wide open!
I arrive to The Dive Academy and meet up with a group of PCVs, and Paul our instructor. Paul cuts a special deal for volunteers because he admires our work and knows volunteers get paid peanuts. I arrive and find the Academy office is in a great location, and the staff is extremely helpful. And the room and board accommodation for my group is workable and a deal for our tight budget (btw anything is workable for volunteers). We settle in and Paul starts is instruction via a book work and a series of videos. He answers all of the questions and gives us very real situations of why the knowledge we covered is critical and how it is applicable.
*Diving is about being safe. Not stupid.
After all of the chatter, we play with the scuba gear. I learn so many new terms and at first-sight the equipment looks complicated. But every single gadget has a use and a very important purpose. We finally load up into the back of a truck and head to the sea to get our fins wet. Paul and his team are patient and thorough. I absolutely have some freak-out moments when we tryout our newly trained skills but Paul helps us stay calm. Eventually I grow comfortable enough to enjoy the swim. Paul takes us out to see a couple of ship wrecks, and coral. We also have the chance to dive in the Lago Dudu and experience diving in fresh water with clear visibility. Each dive is different from the last and it is totally exciting. What will I see next?!
*Every dive will be unique. And every dive you will learn something and/or see something new.
After scuba camp in Las Terrenas, I am officially open-water certified which means I can go 60 feet below the surface. But wait there’s more…
Now I can go deeper… My friend Jennifer and her boyfriend Mark invite me to join them on a scuba diving trip in Mexico. Mark also happens to be a Dive Instructor and offers to lead me through my advance training. Win!
*I advise that divers take their open water and their advance training from different instructors. It is like undergrad and grad programs. A different school – different style of teaching. It will make you more aware and receive diverse, insightful tips.
It is a week-long boat diving trip starting off in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico and navigating across the Sea of Cortez. This is actually a big scuba trip. I am one of the more junior divers on the boat which means I have plenty of wisdom to feed from. The 20 divers and a crew of 10 is all the company we need on the yacht. By the end of the week I am a fully trained, and certified Padi Advance Diver – permitted to dive to a maximum depth of 100 feet!
My days on the boat start at 6am for breakfast then our first dive is at 7am. Most days we squeeze in 4 dives and I do not pass up any opportunity to get off the boat. My favorite is my first night dive and now I will share with you a little bit of that magical experience.
The Night Dive
We gear up as the sun is setting and back-roll into the deep dark waters. This is the first time I have a hefty lantern attached to my BCD jacket and under water I can only see what is captured within the scope of my lantern. At night the ocean comes alive! We get to 40 feet deep and the ocean floor is moving with manta rays, a nurse shark, octopus, seahorse, eels, and tons of colorful fish! I hover above huge boulder and swim by a sleeping sea turtle. I think he is just as startled by my presence, as I am by his size (He is about 5ft long). Eventually, Mr. Sea Turtle gracefully drifts up and away from his nook an disappears into the dark. It is magnificent!
I follow my dive team and notice some glitter in the water. It isn’t glitter – it is bioluminescent plankton. When I turn off my lantern and move my hands through the water the water lights up! It is like pixie dust! Magical! I dance in the ocean and it is a total light show! So much fun!
Eventually have to go back up, but I don’t want it to end. As I surface and wait for the boat to come around to pick me up, I revel in the most spectacular view of the stars. The stars are shining down on me and I am shining back as I make the plankton in the waters blink with each kick. The boat finally pulls up and my dive team climbs in. I am completely mesmerized. I watch the boat trail glow as the motor blow the waters back. I dip my fingers into the sea to soak up my last sensation. Is this a dream? I do not want to wake up.
The Shark Attack
The Sea of Cortez trip includes a special visit to Bahia de Los Angles to see the whale sharks. With help from local guides we sight the massive sharks from above water then jump in to the ocean to swim along-side them. So I am so brave to actually get too close but at one point I think a shark sensed my fear and knocked it out of me literally.
I was snorkeling, minding my own business then for a moment, I brought my head out of the water and heard people on the boat shouting, “WATCH OUT!” Then it hit me from behind. A huge 30 foot whale shark ran into my back and swam off. Shocked and a little scared (I am sure the shark was too), I swam out of the way and climbed back onto the boat. When I realized I had no major injury, I jumped back into the water a few minutes later and chased another shark.
I am a survivor of a shark attack.
*Fun fact: Whale sharks are the largest fish on the planet.
I would like to share with you a video made by my new friend Ken Riddick. He was able to capture all the beautiful sea creatures we were lucky to spot during our dives. The frisky whale shark is at the end. Watch it Here On FB!
The Dive Academy in Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic. Check It Out Here
Rocio del Mar Livaboard on the Sea of Cortez, Mexico Review it Here
Mark Moran, Dive Instructor, Phoenix, Arizona. Message me for his contact information
You can ask about an intro-diving class at Destination Scuba (located in PHX) to see if scuba diving is a hobby for you to invest in. Sea-riously consider it. 🙂
Photos below taken by friends Jenn and Mark and kids