As a way of life, scuba would leave a lot to be desired. As a hobby, though, it’s brilliant; it anchors the experience of a new place, whether you’re on a quick visit or diving in as an expat.
I didn’t always feel this way. My husband, Rick, and I started diving together on our honeymoon ten years ago in Fiji. I was a novice, and nervous. And the dive boat left at 7:30 in the morning, for the love o' Pete. So scuba felt more like an obligation than a raison d'etre.
Now, though, I’ve experienced shore diving. I’ve gazed upon a forlorn little seahorse, and hovered in rapt fascination as a silver army of barracuda barreled by on their way to war. Or lunch. Or something. Not exactly a whale shark sighting or a friendly swim with dolphins, but I live in hope.
And I know how useful a dive itinerary can be to one’s social dance card. I traveled alone to Cozumel but was quickly adopted by a group of hard-core divers from Buffalo who later shooed away some incorrigible policía surrounding my rental car. In St. Eustatius, Rick and I were treated to an unforgettable Caribbean view by the owners of Dive Statia on their spacious patio overlooking the sea. And in Bonaire, our B&B hosts, who doubled as divemasters, pointed out not only the best dive sites, but also everything the guidebook hadn’t told us about a possible future expat existence on the Dutch Antilles island.
Seeing a new destination through the diving community's lens brings different perspectives: the local leaderships' vigilance as environmental stewards; options for health care (especially as they relate to bites, stings, and nitrogen bubbles in the bloodstream); the best spot for a cold beer. All the important stuff. And, of course, what's going on beneath the surface (aka How's the diving?). The diving's always good for a story.
In Sharm el Sheikh, the corals were Williamsburg blue. Blue. I’d never seen such a thing. And the morays weren’t hiding in holes, as is their habit. The six-foot monsters were free swimming.
But why hide, really, when one is long enough to wrap one’s snaky self completely around a bubble-blowing human, if one were, say, looking for a diversion? And then continue on up the quivering air hose to smile real pretty into the petrified diver's mask just before sinking one’s pointy, bacteria-laden teeth into…um. Oh, sorry. What was I saying? Right.
Even the quality of light in the water seemed different there in the Red Sea, like an old home-movie kind of blue, with the fish set in bold relief against it, as if they were dropped into a 3-D computer animation. It felt like we’d descended into a slow-motion Cousteau film, with the bubbles sounding a slow wah wah wah, and our limbs moving at a turtle’s pace through the very salty water.
It was spectacular diving, right up until the moment the Lone Single Guy dropped in out of nowhere and finned my face. One second, I’m communing with a lipstick-wearing parrotfish; the next, I'm backing up, squid-like, from a Speedo-ed spastic with a disposable camera.
And that’s pretty much my diving experience in a nutshell – moments of wonder followed by musings on mortality, interspersed with mild hallucinations and the occasional blow to the head. Kind of like tequila. But more expensive.
For me, the scuba learning curve has been a little steep and sometimes scary – underwater I still keep my hands to myself and my tank banger within easy reach – but the benefits are pretty robust. And if you’re a single woman, it’s a great way to meet guys. Just sayin’.
Photos (c) www.RickCollier.com Take a look at Rick's site for more pics of Bonaire, Egypt (including Sharm), and Statia.