Scuba Certification in La Paz, Mexico

Scuba Certification in La Paz, Mexico

Or otherwise known as “conquering a fear I didn’t even know I had”.

This story starts back in early 2011. Drew and I traveled to a small island named Vieques, off the coast of Puerto Rico for a close friend’s wedding. While there we decided to try a PADI Discover course. You don’t have to be certified, you just go down to a max of 40 feet and pass a few skill tests like filling your goggles with water then purging them and removing the regulator from your mouth and replacing it. After you do the simple tests then you get to go diving for about an hour. It seemed like a fantastic idea. I was not much of a swimmer but I had absolutely no fear of the water. We immediately signed up.

When we arrived out to the spot we would dive from, the instructor went through the skill tests we would be required to do once we were on the bottom. I was excited and feeling fine. Next step, descend 20 feet and start the skill tests. Still fine. Watch Drew complete the tests. Still fine. My turn…and nothing. I thought as hard as I could about moving my hand up to my face and removing my breathing apparatus. Nothing. I try a few more times, getting more and more worked up each time, but still nothing. My body would not let me remove my regulator. The instructor even tried to play tic tac toe with me to divert my attention from the panic that was obviously welling up inside of me. Finally I gave up, returned to the surface and Drew went back out with the instructor. We validated my failure with the fact that I had not been in the ocean in a while and I was just feeling nervous. It seemed reasonable to me.

Now, almost 2 years later, we decide to give it another go. This time with the full SSI Open Water Certification. This requires several days of classroom training, a day of pool training, an open water ocean skill test series, and one recreational dive. The classroom training and written test went fabulously. The pool training was cold, and I was a little nervous, but we were both able to complete all the skill tests in the pool without much problem. Then came the open ocean part. I felt nervous but confident as we arrived by boat out to the test site just about 30 minutes from where Tie Fighter is anchored. It is also the same place that we went last year to swim with the whale sharks. Drew entered the water first while I readied my equipment. Then it was my turn. I flipped back into the water just as directed, floated to the top and immediately threw myself into a full panic attack, hyperventilation and all. I wasn’t even underwater at this point – just bobbing on the surface with my BCD fully inflated. I tried for about 5 minutes to calm myself down but once the waves started throwing me against the side of the boat it was all over. I burst into tears and dragged myself back into the boat. It was not my proudest moment. I have never experienced this kind of irrational fear in my whole life. It was completely foreign and all I could feel was disappointment in myself and a determination to NEVER try scuba diving again.

I took some deep breaths, about an hour’s worth to be exact, and decided that I had to do this. I could not fail – and that was it. I went back into the water, immediately descended with the instructor and made it through my skill tests with no fear at all. I even had trouble with my BCD at one point when it would not deflate properly and the instructor had to manually deflate it. The only part that caught me off guard was the final test. It was the emergency ascent. You have to kick straight up as fast as you can while breathing out the whole time. It is supposed to mimic running out of air. I was ready for all this. What I wasn’t ready for was that the instructor was actually going to turn my air off while I was at the bottom of the ocean. It took me a few seconds sitting down there trying to suck air through nothingness before I shot up into a standing position and blasted to the surface. Drew surfaced a few moments later and that was it. We both passed our tests, albeit one of us with grace and ease and the other with shaking, crying, and blue lips – but nothing says you have to be pretty, you just have to do it.

 First Scuba DIve

Todos Santos and Pescadero

Todos Santos and Pescadero

We decided that this year, instead of exchanging presents for Christmas, we would have an experience. We placed only a couple of parameters on the search. We wanted to learn a new skill and we wanted it to be memorable. We immediately began scanning the internet for something interesting to do. When we stumbled across a National Geographic article ranking surfing in Todos Santos as one of the top adventure destinations for 2012 it seemed perfect – we wouldn’t even have to leave Mexico!

We traveled to Todos Santos by bus – a short 3 hour ride from La Paz. Upon arrival we had no room reservations, so we wandered through town, stumbling across a lovely little boutique hotel called Posada Del Molino where we spent the next two days. It turns out that Todos Santos is an adorable little art town filled with all the kitschy Mexico art that I have seen (and unabashedly loved) my whole life. It is an undeniably cute town, and very peaceful, but definitely on the expensive side, especially for food and drinks. A 12 peso ($1 usd) taco in La Paz is suddenly 30 pesos ($2.50 usd) in Todos Santos, and a jalapeno margarita at the Hotel California will set you back 90 pesos, but I won’t lie, that was the best margarita I’ve ever had in my life. By the end of day one Drew had already grown tired of wandering the same few streets, and honestly, by day two I felt the same. We decided to move on to the next phase of our adventure – surfing!

It turns out that National Geographic is mostly wrong. The good surfing is not in Todos Santos, but actually in the nearby town of El Pescadero. We checked around and it seemed like the Pescadero Surf Camp was the way to go. They had rooms and surf lessons and got really good reviews. We called ahead to make sure there would be space for us – the owner, Jamie, informed us that they had a room for us that night and could probably sort out something for the rest of the week. It turned out to be a lot of moving around over the next week (4 different rooms for 5 nights) including one night of dragging a mattress into the office and sleeping on the floor. Even with all the chaos, it was a fantastic time. We took surf lessons with the owners son, Ryan and his friend Coen, and they were wonderful teachers. They walked us through the basic process while on shore, then pulled us out into the waves and launched us time after time towards shore shouting “paddle, paddle, NOW STAND UP!”. Their genuine exuberance even after many failed attempts made it such a fun experience. Drew and I were both able to stand up several times after only one lesson and walked away feeling very proud of our baby steps in learning to surf. I couln’t have asked for a better Christmas and am now a full convert to the experience over the gift.

Yes, that is the real Hotel California from the song!

Yes, that is the real Hotel California from the song!

Drew serenading me with Christmas songs

Drew serenading me with Christmas songs

The resident horse at Pescadero Surf Camp

The resident horse at Pescadero Surf Camp

Going on a supply run with Angelo - he rode his motorcycle down from Toronto Canada!

Going on a supply run with Angelo – he rode his motorcycle down from Toronto Canada!

We spent a lovely evening around a bonfire down at a friends palapa

We spent a lovely evening around a bonfire down at a friends palapa

Heading to the beach with Coen and Ryan for our first surf lesson

Heading to the beach with Coen and Ryan for our first surf lesson

Surfing involves a lot of waiting. Drinking and waiting.

Surfing involves a lot of waiting. Drinking and waiting.

Mexican blankets sold outside our favorite fish taco stand in El Pescadero

Mexican blankets sold outside our favorite fish taco stand in El Pescadero

When it seemed to cold and cloudy to go to the beach, sitting by the pool made for a perfect substitute.

When it was too cold and cloudy to go to the beach, sitting by the pool made for a perfect substitute.

kilo foxtrot five sierra uniform echo

I am now a level two ham radio SUPERWIZARD!

In November I took the first level “Technician Class” exam and passed with a score of 100%. Last week I leveled up and took the “General Class” exam, to my great disappointment missing 2 questions, but still passing well within the allowable 8 missed questions.

I’m quite proud of myself and am now legally allowed to touch all of the many ham related electronics scattered about the boat. I was also rewarded with a Yaesu VX-7R submersible handheld radio, courtesy of Drew!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA