Diving has always been a vague goal treading water in the back of my mind & it had a brush with realization sometime around 2006 when I was in Vietnam with my girlfriend. It was here we were told that the visibility for diving that time of year was so bad we’d likely not even see our hands.
So the goal of diving was tossed to the back of my mind with a life vest only to tread water for another decade or so.
Jump ahead ten or so years…
On the Caribbean coast of Colombia sets a small fishing village just North of the Tayrona National park. Entirely by accident this slightly off the path village began to attract divers & one by one this sleepy little one kilometer long beach front carved out a scene for Colombian diving at world record discount prices. You never know when a wish is going to be granted…
The drive in is breathtaking as the bike meandered down a cliff side road that clung to the rocks so as not to be pulled into the ocean. At the base one small beach, one main road, & a mix of fishermen, international dive instructors & a developing tourist scene. All mixed together like a schizophrenic pot of Caribbean Sancocho soup.
Doing the minimum amount of research I thought I could get away with in order to pick a dive instructor. I went online and read the TripAdvisor reviews and picked the guy who was best rated, not the cheapest, but the best.
Apparently “Reto Muller” a Swiss guy was the man with such a distinction and I was in touch with him via WhasApp to arrange the details. To my slight disappointment he was actually out of town and a French guy named Laurent was looking after things. Being as I felt slightly lead as stray I asked Laurent for a discount, as I had now talked to others in town and the same introduction certification course was being offered for less. He didn’t budge on the price and said they were happy to have me though wouldn’t change the price. Actually I kind of liked that response as I felt who knew he was worth the money.
Instead I met Laurent the next day along with a young German girl who would also be in my group. So one instructor, two students. This was better service than I’d expected. Well it turned out that another Swiss guy had just finished his long term Dive Master course and wanted to help our class. We now had one on one personal service! One French guy, one Canadian, one Swiss and one German girl. Between us we cold Speak Spanish, Thai, German, Swiss, French & English. So any details should not be misunderstood, well unless they were explained to the Canadian in anything other than English.
Within the first hour I am strapped in a wetsuit, oxygen tanks on and just off the shoreline I’m already rehearsing some basic maneuvers and learning how to react if I lose my mask, air, mind etc. Two moments I will never forget were getting over the fear of breathing under the water and the removing of my mask to look around me in the event it was even knocked off. Who knew the mask was more for pleasure than a necessity in salt water.
After an hour in the water we all came up for fresh air and Laurent asked me for the amount of air pressure I had left in my tank. I told him and he asked again, then he asked if I was relaxed or scared. I said I felt pretty relaxed. He said he’d been doing this for something like fifteen years and after an hour in the water I used less oxygen then anyone else he’d taught. Hummm, I wonder how much air I’ve been missing out on above water.
In a day I drink roughly 3-4 liters of water and when it’s hot sometimes more, now this has a side effect and that side effect is I pee often. Once placed in water for an hour I pretty much have to pee non-stop. One would think that being in the water is a prime opportunity and so I did. Well we got back to the dive shop and I’m unbolting my gear and begin to peel off my wetsuit. Well it smells like dog piss in a car with the windows rolled up on a hot day. Laurent looks at me with extreme disapproval and in his French accent says “Kix es bery important not to pee en zee wet suit unn, bery important.” Ohh shit I’m in trouble on day one. They take my suit to soak in a disgrace bath all alone.
Day two we’re on a boat headed out into national park water, we sink, we bob, and I learn about all things diving so as to not blow my ears drums apart yet still enjoy. After an hour or so of chasing electric eels around Laurent makes the signal to ascend and we rise to the top, slowly do pressurize. Now by law, a beginner is only allowed to dive so deep, twelve meters. Laurent asks everyone to look at their dive watches and state their depths, while everyone is rambling off their depths of around twelve meters I somehow went down to eighteen chasing that eel. Laurent again gives me shit and says he could lose his license for letting me dive that low. Whoppsies, day two shit again!
Day three we’re back out on the boat and I want to take some photos. I have this floaty strap thing on my wrist for the GoPro and damnit if the string doesn’t break on my vest and fall desperately to the bottom. It’s deeper than I’m allowed to go, however it does land on a boulder before falling into the abyss. So the Swiss guy rescues it for me. Shit, day three causing some problems.
All said and done it was a fantastic experience.
The first night the Swiss guy took us all to a bar his girlfriend worked at and we were invited to a private party for some American sports final with free food, so naturally we all went and cheered on the yellow??? team. The last night Laurent met me for beers at a local shop and we sat and got drunk together as various people in town stopped by to chat us up in various languages.
All in all hell of a good time with incredibly personal service. I learned on the boat that the cheaper diver courses had from six to eight people in the group with one instructor and one hungover student told me they never made him write the written exam, an exam in which I got %94 on, they just passed him & took his money. So needless to say choose and choose wisely.
Want to dive with Laurent? He’s taught all over the world and is a super nice guy. You can find him newly on Trip Advisor at Caribe Colombiano Diving.