Well, here it is.
The Coast of Illinois's first actual hit of winter weather for 2016. The weather-people were predicting INCHES AND INCHES of snow – which did not happen on my particular harbor – and a chilly dip in temperature – as of this morning it was NINE degrees. That is single digit NINE!
The perfect time for more Tales of the Caribbean! Jamaica Edition!
As mentioned previously, our SFJV* set up home base at the Iberostar Grand Rose Hall Resort. Truthfully, home base was the far corner of the 'quiet' pool, where, at any given time you could find 3-5 of our 8 dinner club members floating on noodles, lounging in lounge chairs or hanging on the edge watching water aerobics in the 'work-out' pool.
|Heads in a pool. The perfect spot to observe other people doing water aerobics while simultaneously signaling the drink lady.|
All while sipping Dirty Bananas. (More on these in a later post. I promise.)
This was Arrival Day.
It is surprising how quickly humans adapt.
After what felt like endless hours of relaxation, but was actually only about ninety minutes, Rob (my potentially deceased husband) noted that there was a guy in the work-out pool with SCUBA diving equipment. And – cue the choir of angels – he was giving lessons!
|Here I am. Looking happy, relaxed and no where near a near death experience.|
Long story short, I found myself signing a credit card receipt for 4300 dollars- Jamaican* *and giving the front desk a request for a wake up call for the following morning at 5:45.
This would be DAY ONE.
Of the seven days we were in Jamaica, 5 of those involved a wake up call or alarm clock wake up. FIVE! Somewhere, someone owes me five sleep ins.
We both woke long before the wake up call, pre-gamed my room service coffee with in-room coffee, showered – because it is important to look good before they squeeze you into a sausage casing and enjoyed a room service breakfast like no other.
I must take a moment from the original story to describe our breakfast.
The menu gave numerous options beginning with 'American style omelet' and continueing on through every known a la cart breakfast item in the world. Rob, being a huge breakfast fan ordered the 'American'. I figured I would keep it light and ordered a fruit plate with 'soft' cheese. The room service man delivered two huge plates of eggs, half a small hog of bacon, enough fruit slices for a nursing home, a bowl of ricotta and four delicate pastries.
Coffee, hot chocolate and juice.
This would be my first mistake...
|Breakfast of Champion Vacationers!|
The next couple of hours consisted of signing releases and being sized up by a ridiculously petite lady for our wet suit fittings. I am not sure which of those two things is more fun.
Then it was class time.
Class time is NO joke. Diving can be dangerous if not done with proper training and respect for the environment. Dressel Divers Club is a PADI - Professional Association of Diving Instructors- facility. The emphasis here is on Professional and Instruction.
Our class – three students and one instructor – lasted around an hour. We discussed the effects of water pressure on human bodies, and how to acclimate. We learned about our equipment and, my favorite, hand signals.
|the most obvious 'hand signal' is not included here.|
After passing a written test, we squeezed into our wet suits. We then waddled to the pool where tanks were strapped on and we became the entertainment for a handful of pre-teens.
Pool time is not as fun as it sounds. Pool time is work. It is real life use of the dive equipment. We learned to clear our masks, clear our mouthpieces, inflate and deflate our vests. We practiced finding our regulators in the event we lose them, we monitored our air gauges, and practiced buddy breathing.This is not as dramatic as they make it out in movies. Today's dive gear actually has a spare mouthpiece attached so you NEVER have to take a breath, pass your regulator to your buddy, wait for him to clear it then breath before passing it back. This second mouthpiece is simply passed to the troubled diver, cleared and put in place allowing both divers to breath on one tank.
We used multiple hand gestures. And were reminded repeatedly to BREATHE NORMALLY!
I always breathe through a tube. Did I mention that one of my recurring, ridiculous fears is of IRON LUNGS? Did I mention that I work with people on ventilators who are breathing through tubes? The nursing advice 'pretend you are sucking on a straw' kept coming back to haunt me.
I found myself concentrating on my breathing so hard that I kept forgetting how to breathe. And I have been professionally breathing for 54 years.
Dani, our instructor was very understanding and offered the reassurance that in the ocean there is so much more to see that you really won't find yourself just concentrating on breaths. And in her petite English accent pointed out that, "there's not much to see in a pool besides hair and Band-aides".
Did I mention that I really HATE public bodies of water because of the random hair and Band-aides?
Anyway, I managed to not drown myself in the six foot pool while wearing a full tank of air and only felt slightly self-conscious in my wet suit. Plus I only managed to break a nail and scrape a knuckle while putting the suit on or taking it off. I am not sure. I didn't notice either 'injury' until I sat down for lunch. I passed my pool lesson and after minimal discussion, fueled by exhilaration at accomplishing the first stage of a new skill and probably a carbon dioxide build up high, agreed to come back for my first open water dive that afternoon.
Lunch was my next mistake...
|This is just one example of the delicious buffet lunch at the pool restaurant. This photo is courtesy of our Fireman. I am pretty sure I ate a much lighter meal, but from events soon to be revealed, that is up for debate.|
I arrived back at the dive shop ready to go. The afternoon session included our three student class, Dani our instructor, a second group of seasoned divers with their guide and a sweet couple along for the boat ride.
|This would be Dani, our instructor and me in much happier times.|
While riding out into the ocean, strapped to my tank which was strapped to the boat, it occurred to me that not only was I STRAPPED TO A BOAT but those waves looked pretty big. Especially the ones that kept splashing us. And by splashing I mean drenching the entire boat. It was a wild, fun ride to our dive location. Everyone laughing and joking about how good the water felt as it washed over our seal-like bodies.
The only thing missing from this horror story set up was a basement full of chain saws.
The experienced divers jumped first as their dive would be closer to 45 minutes compared to the student dive of apx 30. Once they were safely off, it was our turn. Dani went over our dive procedure one last time – big step off the boat while holding your regulator with your right hand and covering your weight belt with the left; swim to the rope and hold on until all divers were present. At this point we would slowly, hand over hand on the rope, descend a few feet, equalize pressure in our ears and then continue down. This first dive would be to around 40 feet and involve 6 -7 stops to equalize pressure and do a general 'everyone good?' check.
Rob stepped off, swam to the rope. Pete, the other student – not his real name – jumped next and I followed shortly after at the command of the boat captain.
I swam to the rope.
And this is when the Ocean decided we had things a little too smooth. It took our little dive as a personal challenge.
I am not exactly sure what happened. There was some floundering. Some crashing into Pete. There was a whole lot of mind cursing and peering longingly to the depths where there were no waves. Or floundering, Or bobbing up and down...and up and down... and up and down....
At some point my mask was knocked crooked and I used my newly acquired sign language skills to motion that I needed to surface. Dani acknowledged and we both returned to the surface. (Not a tough task as I am pretty sure I was barely six inches underwater.) She asked if I was okay and I explained that I just needed to fix my mask. I should have attempted to clear it as taught but instead lifted it from my face at which point the Ocean saw its opportunity and threw a Perfect Storm 15 foot wave over us. I will never forget the image of Dani's head bobbing in the water as the enormous wave curled up behind her. The final images of George Clooney and Mark Walhberg in The Perfect Storm flashed through my mind. And the cook from The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald...'aye mates, its been good to know ya...' I felt one with the universe. Not really ready to die but okay if this was the BIG ONE.
The salt water.
Up and down...up and down...up and down...
Totally my bad.
I motioned to Dani that I needed to get back on the boat. She reassured me it was okay and whistled for the boat captain to circle around for a pick up.
Of course, as I swam to the boat I had the recurring thought that once on the boat I would be bobbing up and down ON A BOAT while we waited to pick up the rest of the divers.
But first I had to get ON the boat.
The Captain deserves a medal. Not only did he have to manage a concrete boat in rolling seas but he had to do so without crushing the middle age tourist who was trying not to think about the rolling seas as she passed him her weight belt and swim fins before hoisting her onto the deck.
Once on board I crawled sea lion style to my safe place, wedged on the deck of the boat between the concrete seats, well out of the Captain's way. The nice couple who were getting not only a ride but a show helped unzip my wet suit and offered encouragement before returning back to their seats well out of range of the American who was turning several shades of Caribbean green.
I am not sure what went on from this point on. I heard a lot of commotion, equipment was being passed back and forth and all at once Pete was beached on the boat deck and then Rob was sitting beside me, asking if I was okay and trying to keep hold of me, even though I apparently kept waving him off.
It seems that the rough water had only become rougher prompting the Captain and dive crew to cut everyone's trip short. I don't understand the need to pick up those other divers. I mean, come on, they had air tanks. They were experienced. Jamaica is a big island. Just swim for crying out loud But no-o-o-o-. We circled around for the experienced group, who slowly re-boarded the boat on the port side as I leaned out of the doorway on the starboard.
And in what is now becoming a tradition on my Caribbean vacations, I heaved to with all the commitment of a professional. If there were an Olympic medal for vomiting off of a boat without getting the boat or anyone else messy I would win the gold.
I am not a pleasant vomit-er. Rob, who was worried that I would fall out of the non-existent door, kept trying to soothe me while holding on to my wet suit. I heard later that I kept shoving him away with less than pleasant, incomprehensible words. Dani, our instructor offered me a drink of water finally giving up and pouring the fresh, cold water over my head.
|Dive boat. Made of Concrete. The reasons are many.|
In the end, we all made it back to shore with completely different experiences.
Rob was exhilarated and ready to return the next morning for another try.
The experienced divers wondered what all the fuss was about.
I am not sure what Pete was thinking, he had that look Jimmie Stewart has at the end of It's a Wonderful Life when he realizes he has another chance.
I was exhausted yet curiously excited and anxious to give this new sport another go.
But not this trip.
And not until there are absolutely no waves and I have had a little more practice in the confines of a swimming pool.
|This is where I spent my remaining 'open water' dives. That would be me on the far left. Please note retiree Coach second from right signalling the Drink Lady!! (photo courtesy of Fireman!)|
I feel I should make a couple of notations here.
First off – the waves really were ridiculously big, tossing a concrete tri-maran two thirds out of the water. The Captain and crew held several meetings during this trip, at the beginning changing our dive location to a more protected spot and later calling a stop to the trip altogether. I never truly felt I was in danger. I did feel confident in my training of the SCUBA equipment.
My lack of ability to maintain digestive equilibrium is a problem I am learning to conquer.
Although I must also note that it has become common ground in meeting new people.
The following morning at breakfast a delightful man stopped me in the buffet line to inquire after my health and exclaim delight that I was still alive – turns out he and his wife were the couple along for the ride. We had a laugh over my impressive Mal de Mer and learned that the Captain was none too happy with the weather, not smiling until we were all safely back on the dock.
DresselDivers was wonderful. They credited this first disastrous dive – giving each of us two more open water dives, of which Rob enjoyed three of, seeing a seven foot nurse shark lounging in a ravine on his first one! This is also only a beginner experience. To actually become certified requires a much longer program. However, taking this class gives us a discount should we sign up for the full class with any PADI facility.
*Seriously Fancy Jamaican Vacation – click here for more info.
**The cost of the lesson which included two open water dives was around $200 (American) per person.
And of course, at no point was I paid to write this.
Come back soon for the next installment: All Inclusive -The Adventure!