(Updated June 2020)
When I first won this No Regrets Day trip off twitter from Contiki, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But, the day has finally arrived to face my fear of the open waters. It’s been a long and crazy three months. From learning to scuba dive to packing, to flying to Cancun, nothing could have prepared me for the day I was about to have. My No Regrets Day was finally here.
Preparing for Our Dives
The day before, my team of divers noticed that the wind was picking up pretty intensely. Although ,I don’t know much about the ocean, I do know that this isn’t the greatest news. Matteo, our contact with Journey Mexico and one of our dive masters, had been in contact with Celine. They had been discussingthe closure of the port and the possible changes to our dives.
He said he would be up by 7am to figure out the plan. He had to decided if we were going to dive the ocean or dive the cenotes. I’m not going to lie, upon hearing this news I was a tiny bit sad. I’m not afraid of freshwater caves, I’m terrified of the ocean and open water. I knew I didn’t have an option or a say in this matter, but I still was sad.
By 7am, Matteo informed us that the port here in town was closed. However, we were able to dive off the coast of Isla Mujeres. He selected two locations of our dives. They were Bandera Reef and the underwater sculpture museum by the artist Jason de Caires Taylor.
Transportation and Arrival
Within an hour, I made my way down to the lobby to meet up with the team. My dive team for this adventure consisted of roughly 10-12 people, including the captain and mates of the boat. There was myself, Celine, her fiancé Çapkin (the videographer/photographer), Gaby and Miguel (who are partnering with Contiki on a conservation project), Luis and Matteo (dive masters), and Claire.
My mind was going a mile a minute. I was still in shock that this was actually happening. I stayed pretty quiet during the drive, mostly because I was holding back tears. Plus, Celine wanted our first time truly talking to be during the interview.
There were moments during the drive that Çapkin would ask me to do things for the camera. It was odd being on the other side of the lens. Thankfully, both Çapkin and Celine made me feel very comfortable.
We arrived at the port just north of Cancun and the fun began! Çapkin was running the show and directing everyone on where to go and what to do.
Once the van was in place, I was sized for my wetsuit and provided with flippers. I prepped all my own gear (mask and snorkel) and pack my bag.
When the gear was ready, I sat down with Celine (Çapkin filming, microphones and everything) for our 1×1 interview. I didn’t really know what she was going to ask me. I was pretty nervous to talk to Celine Cousteau. Her and her family have done so much for our ocean world.
She made the interview process so comforting. She asked me everything from “where my fear stems from” to “how my family has reacted to this experience”. It was so humbling being able to talk about my family and how supportive each and every one of the them had been during this journey. Once we concluded the interview, it was off the ocean floor.
Dive #1: Bandera Reef
The boat ride from the dock to the first dive site only took about 30-40 minutes. The water down in Cancun/Isla Mujeres was so colorful and so many shades of blue. It would change from turquoise, too bright aqua, too royal blue, too navy blue and back to bright aqua. The pictures don’t do the coloring justice.
At this point, I was just following directions from Çapkin and listening to Luis and Matteo as they explained portions of the dive. The wind was blowing pretty intensely and we were all getting sprayed on by the salt water the majority of the boat ride.
Once in place, with the current drifting us side to side, it was time to fully gear up and descend. This is where my nervous kicked in. I didn’t physically showed my nerves and fear to the crew, I had them. I got really, really quiet (which is abnormal for me). That’s how I knew I was more terrified then I thought I’d be.
For these dives, we did what we call a backwards roll entrance. Meaning, we sat on the edge of the boat and did a backwards roll into the ocean. This was my first time doing this style of entrance. As nervous as I was, I had Celine directly across from me entering at the same time.
I remember sitting on the edge of the boat holding on to the pole and Luis telling me to let go. At this point, I knew I was going to be entering the water alone. That’s when felt a pull on my scuba tank yanking me into the water.
Once in the water, I quickly realized my mask wasn’t cooperating very well. It kept fogging up like crazy, which meant I needed a different mask. So, here I am, floating in the middle of the ocean (which I haven’t done in 10+ years) having to take off my mask. I have contacts and my eyes have caused me issues since moving to the state of Washington. The last thing I wanted was for one of them to pop out.
Luckily, Celine was next to me talking as Luis swam back to the boat to grab another pair. After the goggle situation was taken care of, it was finally time for us to descend.
For those of you who know scuba diving this next part will come naturally to you. For those of you who don’t, let me talk to you about something called “Buoyancy”.
With every dive locations, staying off the ocean floor is a huge MUST. You must be able to control the amount of air in your vest (aka BCD) to maintain proper “buoyancy” just above the ocean floor. If too much air, you’ll start to float to the surface. The higher you float the further away from the ocean life you see. Too little of air causes you to plummet (exaggeration) to the ocean floor, disrupting the ocean life and stirring up all the sand. Both options are horrible for a good experience.
Luckily, I was able to control my buoyancy fairly well throughout this first dive with occasional assist from Luis. I’m a new diver after all and this was really my first true open water dive.
The Actual Dive
This first dive was a reef dive. Reef divers are fun because you get to see so different types of fish and ocean creatures. The reef was only 45 feet below the surface.
For much of the dive (as directed by Ç “do this”, “swim together, over the camera”, you get the picture) was spent with Celine and I swimming alongside each other. Occasionally, Celine or the other dive master (who was monitoring location and air) pointed out a variety of different sea creatures. I got to see a variety of colorful fishes, blowfishes, and a spiny lobster.
The amount of fish along this reef was unbelievable. I really had no idea the amount of species that could live in one area. It was such an experience having Celine, Luis and the rest of the crew alongside me pointing things out (later explaining things). It was more than I could have asked for. The reef was so peaceful and really meditative. I could tell I was calming down underwater. My breathing rate truly slowed down during this dive.
In Seattle I used 1000 PSI of air in 20 minutes my first dive. This dive I used 1200 PSI and we stayed underwater for a good 50-60 minutes swimming between reefs, alongside reefs, and in movement of the current.
The scariest part of this first dive was being dragged off by Luis to an open area. There swimming less than 10 feet from my face was a barracuda. This fish appeared huge. All I could picture was this thing attacking me leaving me helpless (terrifying). But it did the complete opposite. It swam for a little then turned around and swam away like we weren’t even there.
Did you know that barracudas acted this way? I sure in hell didn’t. I really pictured this evil creature attacking anything and everything that got in its way. Mind Blown!
After a bit more swim and before out ascend, Luis and our other dive master communicated back and forth using the turtle sign. I knew this sign and it would have been a joy seeing a turtle. And sure enough, there one was, 20-25 feet ahead of us swimming away. At this point, I was smiling so big, under my regulator that nothing could take it off my face.
Once we ascended and I got near the boat, I was walked through the steps of removing my gear before climbing aboard. This was way easier than trying to get on the boat with all my gear.
Back on the boat, I felt abnormal. It took roughly 5-10 minutes to get back to a normal groove, during which we were refueling with fruit and water. Celine and I chatted about what just happened and it’s all a blur to me now. Still hard to believe this was real and just our first dive.
Dive #2: Sculpture Museum
While eating, our captain drove us to our second location; the Scuplture Museum. During which time, the dive master and the first mate changed out all the air tanks in prep for dive 2.
We didn’t need to say above water very long before our second dive.This second dive was shallower at 35 feet. With scuba diving, there’s this huge graph/calculation for monitor the oxygen/nitrogen levels, called surface interval time. This helps prevent “the bends”. But, honestly, at this point if they said jump off a cliff, I would have done it. I was new to diving and didn’t know any different.
During the first dive, Çapkin was in the water below the boat filming as we entered. This time he remained on board to capture the boat side splash. I’m not sure how all the footage will come together (and I never actually found out. Contiki never sent me anything after these dives.)
He even directed me to film myself, with my GoPro, on the first dive and Celine the second dive. I’m really eager to see the footage captured by Çapkin because his skill is uncanny and easy to follow.
(It's 2020 and I have still never seen footage from this trip. Contiki said they would make a video and send me the photos. I've never received them or heard back from them when I would inquire. I have since given up and I haven't traveled with them since.)
Once underwater, I realized how vastly different the two dive spots were. There was some fish but not to the scale of the first dive. This second dive was so unique in nature because no other place in the world has these specialized sculptures made out of this special material that enhances and supports coral growth. 100s of makeshift human sculptures rest on the ocean floor included a VW bug.
Unlike the first dive, we weren’t the only people at this dive sight. At times, we had to stop swimming because these people were getting in our way. But we had to go with the flow. Swimming alongside these sculptures, popping in-between sets of them and swimming on top of them was quite entertaining. Luis gave me a bit more freedom and I stuck with Celine for most of this second dive.
The best moment of the entire trip was this one very territorial fish, who for easily 10 minutes, kept attacking Celine’s GoPro, biting at the silver dots around the lens. I couldn’t stop laughing (which isn’t good for my oxygen levels, but I didn’t care). It wouldn’t stop. Biting at the lens, turning away, and attacking the camera again. (You’ll see it in the video- once it’s done).
While we swam and before ascend, we started to have a little fun with our videographer, Çapkin. As a group, we sat at the bottom of the ocean floor taking pictures, trying to time our breathing patterns with each other so bubbles are surrounding our faces. I really can’t even describe how fun thiswas. Can’t you picture it 7 or 8 adults swaying back and forth sitting on the ocean floor with full scuba gear taking pictures. Unreal.
Çapkin also had me do some paired swimming with Celine, individual swims and ascending movements in front of the camera. I was able to get more comfortable being the center of attention during this second dive vs. the first. It’s a very strange feeling having someone film you and you basically are supposed to “sort-of” ignore them. If you’ve never had it happen before, picture someone reading over your shoulder. It’s the same feeling.
The Journey Home
Once back on the boat and undressed, the conversations took off. They couldn’t control their excitement for me, my abilities to scuba dive and my new-found love with the ocean. I was having a hard time with coming up with words at this point because it was still so surreal.
Before returning to the main lands, we docked at a local restaurant on Isla Mujeres for some refreshments and some food and the post-scuba interview. Celine ordered a “michelada” (no idea) and I got one too. I didn’t know what the guidelines were for post-scuba refreshments, but everybody else was drinking beer so why not.
A michelada is a mexican cerveza beverage prepared with assorted hot sauces/spices/peppers served with a salt rimmed glass, lime juice and your choice of beer. Here in America, we pretty much just use calmato juice (not nearly as good).
The interview lasted quite a while and consistent of Celine and I chatting about my experience. I was able to ask Celine some questions about her relationship/partnership with Contiki, and Claire asking some questions and guiding me to say a few words to the camera.
It wasn’t long before the day had come to a close. The entire boat ride back consisted of Claire, myself, Celine and Çapkin talking anywhere from love to life to futures. We even continued the conversation during dinner after we all showered and regained strength.
Many Thanks to My Dive Team and Contiki
I don’t think I could really express my gratitude towards Celine and Çapkin, towards Claire and the entire Contiki family, or towards the rest of the crew who made today one of the greatest days of my life. Words blended together in sentences don’t really show my hearts true feelings. I don’t know of anything that would be able to do it justice. Living this experience is something that nobody could take away from me. I can truly and deeply say that my fear (mostly) of the ocean is gone.
I am still terrified of sharks and will, at one point, have to face that fear and shark dive. For now, I can say I’m not afraid of jumping head first into the open waters and swim freely among the fishes. Contiki made this possible and without them, I’d still be living with my one true regret, Fear.
I know to some of you these are just words on a blog and you might not really understand what I mean when I say “living in fear is a regret of mine.” To me these words controlled many moments of my life. In the past, I didn’t allow myself to join in with friends who were taking a midnight dip in the Pacific Ocean, or take an afternoon refresher in the Ligurian Sea off the coast of Italy. I stayed on dry land.
No one should live in fear of anything. We let fear control parts of our lives and in many cases, it causes us to miss out on something beautiful. If it were for Contiki, I wouldn’t have this new-found passion and love for the ocean. Nor would I be contemplating my next big adventure and whether or not it’s going to include diving.
This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and one that will go down in my history as “One of the Best Days of my Life”. Thank you again to everyone involved; whether physically diving with me, on the boat watching over me, or back home supporting me with love and encouragement. Each of you hold a special place in my heart and will never be forgotten.