When I first set about traveling in South America, I had no intention of “finding myself” or uncovering hidden talents. Rather, I embarked on a journey of exploring, experiencing and writing. Colombia however, proved to be a particularly special destination and one that eventually led me to discover new interests and conquer old fears. Perhaps the most tormenting fear of mine is drowning, and it was only through scuba diving in Taganga that I would finally learn to conquer this childhood demon.
You Always Remember Your First Time
Long before I ventured into the Caribbean waters in Taganga, I had a little prelude with Scuba diving down in Australia about two and a half years ago. I visited two friends for New Year’s Eve and we all decided to do an open tank shark dive to spice things up a bit.
The day started out well enough. My friends and I gave momentary pause as we noticed our dive master sporting only half an index finger. He later fessed up that yes it was a shark that bit it off and yes it was one of the sharks in the tank in which we were about to go traipsing around. Throwing caution to the wind, we forged ahead, got suited up and started off in the practice pool. This is when I almost hit the abort button. All of my friends had submerged their bodies easily enough, while managing to breath through the regulator simultaneously. I, however, started hyperventilating and my old fear of drowning came charging to the forefront of my mind. I turned around and tried to get out of the pool, but apparently they were prepared for my kind and one of the instructors took me aside into the remedial class and gave me a pep talk as tears were inching out of the corners of my eyes. He was probably saying something along the lines of, “It’s natural to be afraid, just remember to breathe deep”, but all I heard was, “It’s natural to die, just remember to repent before the last breath.” I didn’t want to be any trouble so I went ahead and followed what he was showing me. Eventually I got the hang of breathing underwater, passed the mini-quiz and was soon stepping into a tank full of grey nurse sharks.
The first experience left me in a daze about diving. I barely even noticed the fact that sharks were swimming around me; I was so focused on not dropping my regulator. I remember my jaw hurting the next day because of the death grip I had on the regulator. I came to the conclusion that when it comes to diving, I came, I saw and now I never have to do that ever again. Done.
After a lengthy period of time since my first scuba experience, I decided to give the whole thing another go. After all, everyone seemed to be enjoying it and were miraculously not dying, so I figured that I could also experience the same success. I signed up for the Discover Diving class near Parque Tayrona a northern city in Colombia, and made sure I told my Mom that I loved her.
The big day came and I dumped myself into the water and clumsily put on my Scuba gear. I tested the water timidly at first, before realizing that Scuba diving, much like bike riding, came back to you easily. I glided beneath the water, swimming my way towards my instructor. My heart was racing but the success of my first submersion encouraged me to keep going. We submerged about two meters further and began the lesson, which included taking out and recovering the regulator. All went well and soon enough we were swimming off into the deep sea in search of aquatic life. We did another dive in the afternoon and at the end of my first day I felt I was as solid a diver as Jacque Cousteau himself (well maybe in my mind at least). It was because of my decision to try diving again, despite my fear, that pushed me to work for my diving certification.
To receive my certification I first had to watch a long video with a ridiculous man demonstrating all of the Scuba do’s and don’t’s. Sooner than an expected though, I was getting ready to go out for another set of dives. My instructor, Marin, explained all of the exercises we were going to do and my head shook up and down to convey understanding, even if my mind kept reminding me of my fear of drowning.
It was the same routine as the previous day, boating out to our location and suiting up in the water. This time though, things didn’t go as smoothly. I lost my nerve at first when I choked on my snorkel. It turned out that was all it took to shake my confidence. Thanks to Marin, though, a fierce and patient instructor, I continued on with the lesson. I figured she wouldn’t stop until I died so I shrugged and decided I may as well get it over with. She was attempting to teach me a technique called the free air flow exercise and I was reluctantly learning. I timidly flicked the side of my regulator out as she pressed the purge button and I closed my eyes. I was shocked that when I opened them I was breathing normally while the regulator was half outside my mouth. I had succeeded!
After a series of painful and stressful exercises I finally returned to the surface, proud and exhausted by what I had accomplished. When I finally did get my confirmation above the surface, I felt like one badass diver. When I returned to the water for the second dive of the day I managed to notice more than just my breathing, though I did have fun imagining myself as Darth Vader. It was a remarkable shift from the first dive I had taken nearly two years before. By Day 3, I felt like a pro! I could even make getting in and out of Scuba gear look graceful, not to mention how natural all of the previously painful exercises felt to me.
As I was surfacing from the final dive, I felt a glorious release and slowed my ascent more than the others to enjoy the moment spinning around in bubbles as I made my way toward the light of the tunnel. When I looked out to the horizon, the sun was getting ready to set and I felt a tingling sensation throughout my body. It was a blissfully serene moment and the first time in my life that I realized what my fears had been keeping me from.
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Read Lisa’s complete story here.