While here in Cozumel, I had decided to get my advanced open water diver certification. There are many specialty dives you can do, and out of all the selections, night dive was the only one I absolutely had zero desire. None whatsoever. Of all the dives I could possibly do, that is really the only one that absolutely freaks me out. I’d say terrifies me, but that’s probably too strong a word. Scares the crap out of me? Sure, let’s go with that one. So why did I do it? The instructor said “You really need to.” I was going to retort: I’m paying you, and there is no requirement that I do so, so suck on that mister! However, I was almost sold on it by reading the manual’s description of how it’s better for photography (but I don’t have a camera that can go beyond 3 m, and we’re talking 9-10 m), colors are different, some creatures are nocturnal. But I still wasn’t sure. “I’ll pick you up at 4.” Fine.
But, this is Mexico. 4 PM could easily mean 6 PM. And in this case, it was more like we’ll leave at about 7:30 PM. Plenty of time to get my anxiety up. So finally the car was loaded, and I was in it trying to not show my fear. It only takes us about 10 mins to get to Paradise Reef, so I was doing my deep breathing. But no, that wasn’t our first stop. Apparently “I already picked up everything” didn’t include tanks. Kind of an important gear piece. So we were headed there first, but we have to stop to pick up a master diver candidate first. She was dressed more like a hooker than a diver. I watched her stumble to the car and heard her slurred speech, and I was a bit nervous. Then he had to put more credits on his cell phone. I resisted the urge to scream. I was nervous enough as it was, and the further delay was putting me on edge.
When he got out of the car to get the tanks, Hooker Diver leaned forward to ask me something in Spanish, and the stench of cheap alcohol washed over me. When he got back in the car, I said to him in English: “You realize your friend is a bit drunk, right?” No, he didn’t. So we had to take another side trip to drop her off at her home.
Finally at about 9 PM we were parked at the beach. With only a thin sliver of a crescent moon shining on the water, every wave made me want to not get out of the car. We reviewed the signals used when night diving while I tried to slow my breathing and panic down. There was a cool breeze which helped keep my sweat to a minimum. “You okay?” he asked. Do I lie? Then I couldn’t believe it when I said “Maybe. Let’s go.” Who said that last sentence! “It will be fine. You’ll enjoy it.” So he’d like me to believe.
Masks were on. It was showtime. He gave me the sign to descend, and I had half a mind to put my fin down and say “Hell to the effin no!” But replace effin with a more adult version, maybe add a couple of other choice words, and it would be more correct probably. Instead I could hear my raspy breathing through the regulator as water covered my head. With only our flashlights to cut through the inky black darkness, I followed my instructor closely. Every kick cycle I reminded myself about my breathing.
The first time I saw his light flash up and down, I felt the adrenaline rush and I stared closely. Oh, it was just a coral head he wanted me to see. Phew! The first several fish we saw were nice and blessedly small. I didn’t know if our barracuda friend (we had a slight run-in with it during the previous day’s dive) would be attracted by our lights or not. After the first few unusual fish spotting, I was more relaxed. By the time we found our first octopus, I was hooked. Then came the signal to go black and cover the lights. Floating while hovering near a reef with all that coral when I couldn’t see was a new source of anxiety for me. But then I waved my hand and saw the green sparks from the bioluminescence. I looked at my instructor with a child’s glee on my face. He obviously couldn’t see me my face-wide grin, but his moving fins caused even more showers to appear. Panic was completely gone. I could do this all night. Okay, I surrender. Night diving actually IS fun, I thought.
On our way back to our entrance/exit point, we found an octopus walking along the bottom. To get to see them that close, see the colors change, etc., was just an incredible experience. When we surfaced, I was positively joyous. But our adventure wasn’t over. Walking back to the shore, I hear “Follow me very closely so you don’t step on any sea urchins. They’re all over the place.” Nice. So I followed him like a puppy dog over the slippery stones until we were finally on land, still completely elated by this experience that previously had almost, almost, terrified me before it began and now had me almost completely hooked on night diving. “See these?” he asked, waving his flashlight at a bunch of gray, rectangular shapes that reminded me of trilobite fossils. “They’re cucarachas.” I positively can’t stand cockroaches, and stepping on them in bare feet? Yeah, not so much fun. I trudged on quickly and made it through the sea urchin and vile cucaracha gauntlet back to our car.
That’s when we discovered the car decided to stick to the apparent agenda for the evening that nothing but the dive would go positively smoothly. It refused to start. I laughed quietly, shook my head, and looked up at the stars as I heard several new swear words in Spanish join the cacophony of nighttime songs in the air.