I’ve been a diver for over 11 years… well, sort of.
One of the first things I got to do while in Placencia, Belize was a full day of snorkeling at the Silk Cayes. The cay, which looks like if taken from a “Wish you were here” postcard, is fully surrounded by colorful coral formations and marine life. You can spend hours snorkeling over them and not get tired of the variety of fish, corals, and sponges that lay peacefully under the sea.
By the end of the day, I was all excited about my full day of snorkeling and the fact that I swam with turtles and sharks. Once back at Placencia; Patty, the owner of Splash Dive Center and the one responsible for this snorkeling tour, asked me if I was interested in doing a Discovery Scuba course. Discovery Scuba is like the trial version of the Open Water Diver certification. You can experience how it feels to dive underwater without having to go through the whole course. If you like it, then you can go ahead and get certified.
I was already an Open Water Diver, so I didn’t need to take the Discovery Scuba. But my diving certification is SSI (Scuba Schools International), not PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors), which is more recognized internationally and the certification Splash Dive Center offers.
After she learned that I’m already certified, she offered me to do the Advanced Diver Certification. My question then was, would they be able to accept my SSI Open Water and give me an advanced PADI course? Isn’t it like changing religion on your way to become a minister? Well, turns out you can!
For years I thought I was confined to only SSI and accepted the fact that I was just not going to be able to dive as freely “everywhere” in the world unless I started from square one by getting a PADI Open Water.
The reality is, I had already started my SSI Advanced Course about 8 years ago, though I never finished it. During that course, we had to do two-night dives, which were the last two dives of the certification. As I was doing the first-night dive I noticed that my body started shaking. And the shaking continued… and it continued.
When I finished that first dive and got into the boat, I still was shaking uncontrollably. I had a mild level of hypothermia. It was clear that I would not be able to do the second dive, at least, not that night.
In the end, I never got to do that one last night dive and my advanced certification reached a sudden stop. Till this day I didn’t get to touch the sea again as a diver. I practically self downgraded myself to a snorkeler and snuba enthusiast category.
Now in Belize, I had a good reason to put a stop to that. This country has some of the richest and vibrant barrier reefs in the world. And then there’s the Blue Hole, a diving opportunity I could not let pass. But, in order to dive in the Blue Hole, you must be advanced. And so my advanced course began, again.
It’s hard to explain how I felt when I first touched the water again as a diver. A million thoughts went through my mind. Will I drown? Will I breathe ok? Will I remember to do everything ok? What if something happens underwater?
To make sure I would do ok, Patty took her time to refresh all the Open Water concepts and helped me practice what I had learned 11 years ago. It was time to go underwater. I deflated my BCD (a flotation device) and a soon as I felt totally submerged and breathed for a few seconds with the regulator in my mouth, all those scary thoughts went away. Phew, I wasn’t as rusty as I thought I would be.
In no time we were doing a few technical dives and was diving as if I had done it all these years. I felt so comfortable under the water that I even questioned myself why had I not done this before.
A few dives and technical reviews later, I became an Advanced Diver! That moment felt almost like if I was graduating from high school or college. Well, it took me longer than those to complete!
Doing this certification was a great opportunity I could not let pass. The pristine underwater surroundings, the marine life in these barrier reefs, and having Patty as an instructor were the perfect encouragement that pushed me to complete one more task in my life as a traveler.
Now, I’m one step closer to a goal ahead: The Blue Hole.
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