Monday, July 17, 2017


Well, I got to cross another item off my bucket list. I finally got to try "swimming with the fishes" using a Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus—better known by the acronym “scuba.”

I learned that Dominica would be celebrating DiveFest this month, and that on Saturday, July 15, anyone could show up at Purple Turtle Beach and get the chance to strap on an air tank and “blow bubbles” underwater. I alerted the other Peace Corps Volunteers on the island, and one of them chose to join me. However, he wasn't the only person I knew who was present.

Because I enjoy giving my students new experiences, I brought along one of the sixth graders. He had recently scored the highest on the sixth grade national exam, so this was a reward from me for his efforts. He is also the best swimmer among all my students, and had already started doing snorkeling and free diving with some of the teenagers in the village. I felt he would enjoy this unique opportunity that he otherwise would never have had the chance to try.
Another reason to only bring along one child is because there was a second offer on this day (which, with more students, would have become very expensive). At Purple Turtle Beach, you could learn the basics and then go into the water, but you were only swimming in shallow water maybe six feet deep. The bottom was all sand, so it was devoid of interesting scenery. However, if you enjoyed the free introductory session on the beach, for $50 EC (about $20 US) you could go over to the Cabrits National Park and do a longer session off their pier. The scenery is much better over there!
All three of us—the other Peace Corps Volunteer, my student, and myself—enjoyed the introductory session, so we decided to do the $50 deal (meaning I paid a hundred, but it was worth it—the more you give, the more you get). We were given some additional training before we were suited up and taken out to the pier. Unlike at Purple Turtle, we were all in the same group, so no one was able to take pictures. Thus, all the pictures in this story came from the beach dive (along with one above showing my student learning the basics of CPR, which was also being demonstrated at a beach gazebo as part of DiveFest).
I was the first to jump in from the pier where big ships dock, such as the Sea Cloud in this previous story. Following the instructions from our instructor, I placed the arch of my flippered feet on the very edge of the pier. Holding one hand on my regulator and mask, and the other on my weight belt, I lunged one foot forward to jump in the water. Once everyone was in and ready, we went down maybe 20 feet to a large flat patch of sand in the midst of the boulders and coral under the water.
A huge school of gray fish watched us with seeming curiosity as we descended. Our instructor, using sign language, told us to sit down on our knees on the bottom, as he demonstrated a few of the instructions we had covered before coming down (how to clear water from our mask, how to purge the regulator if it came out of our mouth, etc.). It was so bizarre to be kneeling on the sandy bottom of this underwater world, yet still breathing relatively effortlessly!
The tricky part of scuba diving is the need to equalize the pressure on your eardrums as you go deeper. Our brief experience in the shallow waters on the beach was not deep enough to cause any problems. However, in deeper water, you need to pinch your nostrils shut and force air into your Eustachian tubes to counteract the increasing pressure of the water. I was able to do it well enough to get through the dive, but I don't consider myself a master of this technique. Just like most things, I'm sure with more practice, this standard technique becomes quite easy.
I enjoyed exploring the sea bottom, with its incredible variety of life. I saw some of the same fish I described in my previous blog post about snorkeling. However, this time I was able to swim at their level, rather than simply gazing down from the surface of the water. To be breathing underwater while free to move around was a surreal experience. I'm very glad I was able to add this to the list of adventures I have enjoyed while serving with the Peace Corps on the Nature Isle of Dominica.

With this little excursion completed, my focus has shifted back to preparations for the Courts for Kids project. The 23 Americans will be arriving in the village this Friday. I hope it turns out to be successful!

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