Scuba Diving in the Bay of Pigs

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I wrote this particular entry on Sunday avfter an Extremely Traumatic Experience. Obviously the best way to deal with an Extremely Traumatic Experience is to talk about it extensively so it’s a teensy bit long. Enjoy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Sometimes life in Cuba can be more similar to life back home than you expect. This morning, for example, I woke up heavily bruised, with a pounding headache, back-brushed hair skewing in various directions, some barely explained grazes on my knees and vivid memories of spending several hours the previous day hanging on for dear life to a giant of a man aged about 45. In England, I would associate this combination of symptoms with a night at Bop or perhaps even Erasmus (the 45 year old man being my old friend, Michael, the bouncer. Obvs.). Obviously Erasmus doesn’t exist here so the causes were quite different: YESTERDAY I went on a SCUBA DIVE!!!!!!!!!!
BACKGROUND INFORMATION: It may surprise you to know that I am actually NOT the world’s most proficient swimmer. I did successfully obtain my 50 metre swimming badge aged approximately 10 years old, though I could only do this by swimming on my back, as I couldn’t swim on my front because putting my face in the water freaks me out. However, despite this fact – and despite the fact that any fool could tell you that scuba diving most definitely involves putting your head under the water – as we were cruising toward our diving spot of choice, this was the narrative going through my mind: “I’ve never done scuba diving before. Maybe I’ll have natural talent for it, which I’ve never known about!” I pondered. “I love fish. I love aquariums. I can already tell that this is the sport for me. Maybe I’ll keep it up in Britain. I could get certified. I could become a trainer; that would be a great summer job. Maybe I’ll even find some buried treasure on a shipwreck and become a millionaire!” The prospects were very exciting.
We arrived at a small bay in Playa Giron, a beach in the infamous Bay of Pigs in southern Cuba. The sea was so clear it looked like liquid cling film, the sun was shining and the view was breath-takingly beautiful. We chose to dive because it’s one of Birthday Boy’s passions. Bajan Housemate and he are very experienced, so they split off to go on some kind of intrepid adventure, involving a sunken American warship, and which I imagine to have been rather like the opening scenes of Titanic. The rest of us were left with several cheerful, portly Cubans who cheerfully showed us what we were meant to do and cheerfully helped us do up our wet suits. It was all going ‘swimmingly’ (if you’ll pardon the pun), and I thoroughly enjoyed both the wet suit and the goggles. This was the high point of the morning. In many ways, as soon as I had to enter the water, things began to go dramatically downhill.
First of all, I had to put on this huge jacket with a tank full of oxygen, as this is vital for you to be able to breath whilst under the water (as there is no air underwater).  I did not ask exactly how heavy this tank was ( I shall estimate that it weighed approximately 100 kilograms) but I can tell you that once it was on I couldn’t stand up without assistance, and one of the portly gentlemen had to assist me into the sea, where I promptly toppled backwards due to the weight. The portly gentleman hastily filled my jacket with air so that I floated on top of the water, bobbing up and down on my back (or, in his words, with “my inside-up”). At this point I was encouraged to put on my flippers. I tried to bend forwards to reach my feet but what with the puffy air filed jacket and the 300 kilo oxygen tank on my back, it was remarkably difficult to move, and being unable to reach my feet put me into a fit of giggles which made all movements COMPLETELY impossible. Portly Gentleman had to put on my flippers for me, while I flapped around and rolled over, and I no longer knew if I was laughing from amusement or embarrassment. I was surprised to note that nearly every other member of the group successfully walked into the ocean and put on their flippers without any assistance.
Anyway, we all bobbed around for a bit and I got carried away by the current because I was bobbing too much, and had to swim back and got all tired, and then we had to spit in our goggles(!) and put them on and we saw some fish and got excited and all these sorts of things. Then, one by one, my companions had their jackets deflated by a portly gentleman and ducked under the water.
What then happened is a bit of a blur to me, but I’ve tried to piece it together for your reading pleasure: When it was my turn, I went under, mouth tightly clamped around the mouthpiece, and accidentally breathed through my nose, which caused my goggled to steam up, which surprised me, so I opened my mouth to express my shock and breathed in water and panicked and had to be resurfaced. Portly Gentleman cheerfully reminded me that when I went underwater, I had to breathe. I thanked him, put the horrible thing back in my mouth and bobbed around for a while, hoping he would leave me there. However, he obviously was very keen to see the fishes again as he went back underwater, grabbed my hand, and took me with him!
I imagine he was hoping that once we were under the surface again I would realise that it wasn’t so bad after all, and that as long as I breathed through my mouth and kept my mouth shut, I would be okay, and I would be able to let go of his hand and swim off and enjoy the coral. But I did not let go. I held on to that man. He pointed at fish, I nodded enthusiastically, and kept hold of him. He pointed at my companions, who mainly seemed to be taking to diving like ducks to water (if you’ll pardon the pun), and I observed and nodded and waved at them and kept hold of the man. He repeatedly asked me if I was okay and I replied (using the scuba diving special signal) that I was – and I reinforced my tight hold of his arm.  I held onto that man extremely tightly, as if my life depended on it, and stayed with him for the complete duration of the dive. I think three times I considered letting go, when I was distracted enough by the fish and the coral to calm down a bit – or just after he accidentally dragged me along two feet of coral and I cut my knees – but the thought of it gave me mild heart palpitations and made me breathe faster which made lots more bubbles come out of my mouthpiece that hit me in the face, which alarmed me (and the fish) and then I just held on tighter. At one point I contemplated letting go and swimming to the surface, where it was safe, and waiting there until everyone was finished, but I had an inkling he wasn’t about to let that happen. Then I no longer knew if I was holding him or he was holding me – it was very confusing.
Eventually, after what felt like a lifetime, he tapped me on the head and pointed upwards, and I stood up out of the water, only very nearly avoiding toppling onto my back again. I was shaking and wobbly, and made my way slowly out of the sea and, with the help of a portly gentleman, climbed back up onto the rock where the coach was and took off my jacket. Then I saw Bajan Roommate and I had a little cry because I’d been so scared but I’d had to be so clam for so long to avoid panicking and drowning. Then I had a little wee because I’d needed one in the water but hadn’t wanted to wee on Portly Gentleman and also I find it difficult to sea-wee.
There were two others who had found it a little perplexing, and had also made use of some hand holding (though only I had kept a grip of my man for the entire trip), and we all took a bit of time out to regather our Selves. Some of the group were sorry to get out, and had loved every minute. I find that very suspicious. I haven’t felt that close to death since the Great JLS Riot of 2009.
However, in conclusion, I did manage to see a sting ray floating along on the seabed. I recognised it because I have seen them in Birmingham Sea Life Centre, which I can enter for free with my Blue Peter Badge. I love a good sea life centre and plan to do all future sealife viewing at this venue, and NOT whilst scuba diving. J
Kisses from the Caribean,
Sarah