Contiki,  Mexico,  Travel

#NoRegrets Day

The day finally arrived to face my fear of the ocean. It’s been a long and crazy three months since finding out I was the winner of Contiki’s #NoRegrets contest on Twitter. It’s hard to believe that my #NoRegrets Day is finally here.

Prepping Phase

The day before (April 2), we all 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, who is our contact with Journey Mexico and one of our dive masters, has been in contact with Celine regarding the closure of the port and the possible changes to our dives. 

He was up by 7am to figure out the plan: 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.

Good news finally came the morning of the dive. Matteo informed us that although the port here in town was closed, we were able to dive off the coast of Isla Mujeres. The two locations of our dives would be Bandera Reef and the underwater sculpture museum by the artist Jason de Caires Taylor.

Transportation and Arrival

It was 8:30 am when I finally made my way down to the lobby to meet up with the team. The team consisted of 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 on the drive that Çapkin would ask me to do a variety of things for the camera. It was odd being on the other side of the lens, but 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 and I was pretty nervous, after all this is Celine Cousteau were talking about here. Her and her family have done so much for our ocean world.

She made the interview process so comforting and 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, including my grandmas and grandpa, have 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. I was able to capture a few images with my waterproof camera. 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) and 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 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 many dive locations, staying off the ocean floor is a huge MUST and you must be able to control the amount of air in your vest (aka BCD) to maintain proper “buoyancy” just about the ocean floor. If too much air, the higher you swim. The higher you swim 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 am a science brain and I was able to control my buoyancy fairly well throughout this first dive with occasional assist from Luis.

This first dive was a reef dive , meaning we’d been since many different types of fish and ocean creatures and at most 45 feet below. 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 and she, Luis and our other dive master (who was monitoring location and air) pointed out a variety of different sea creatures; from fish, to blowfish, to spiny lobster. The amount of fish along this reef was unbelievable and I really had no idea the amount of species lived in one area. (remember the part about hating the ocean; this also lead to my ill-knowledge of the ocean). It was quite a sight to see and having Celine, Luis and the rest of the crew alongside me pointing things out (later explaining things) was more than I could have asked for. The reef was so peaceful and really meditative. It calmed by breathing down tremendously from the first few dives I did here in Seattle (I used 1000 PSI of air in 20 minutes my first dive; where this dive I used 1200 PSI). We stayed underwater for a good 50-60 minutes swimming between reefs, alongside reefs, and in movement of the current.

The worst/greatest part of this first dive was being dragged off by Luis to an open area where swimming less than 10-ish feet from my face was a barracuda. This thing was huge (in my eyes) and all I could picture was this thing attacking me leaving me helpless (terrifying). But it did the complete opposite. It swam stared us in the eyes (not sure exactly who) and 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 longer of a swim and before out ascend, Luis and our other dive master (I forgot his name) communicated back and forth using the turtle sign. I looked at Luis and would have jumped for joy if I was on land, because this was one sign I knew. There must have been a sea turtle somewhere near us, and sure enough their 20-25 feet ahead of us was a sea turtle swimming away. At this point, I was smiling so big, under my regulator that nothing could take it off my face.

Once ascended and near the boat, I was walked through the steps to remove the gear and climb aboard (which is way easier than putting the gear together/on). Back on the boat felt abnormal and 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 (Scuplture Museum), while the dive master (I feel really bad for forgetting his name) and the first mate changed out all the air tanks in prep for dive 2.

We weren’t on board for very long (at most 20-30 minutes) as this second dive was shallower at 35 feet. There’s this huge graph/calculation that goes with diving to monitor the oxygen/nitrogen levels to prevent “the bends” but at this point if they said jump off a cliff, I would have done it. So, when the dive masters say dive…you dive.

The first dive, Çapkin was actually in the water below the boat filming as we splashed, where this time he remained on board to capture the boat side splash. I’m not sure how all the footage will come together be he sure does know his stuff. 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.

Underwater, the view of this second dive is night and day different from the first dive. There were 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. Yes, VW bug rests on the bottom of the ocean with fish living inside it.

Unlike the first dive, we weren’t the only people at this dive sight and 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 this second dive 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/funny this act was. 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. We/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, me asking 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 (mind you it’s only 4:30) and we were back on the main land, driving home to the resort. Though the day wasn’t quite over yet and the conversations continued to flow. The entire boat ride back consisted of Claire, myself, Celine and Çapkin talking anywhere from love to life to futures and it continued during dinner after we all showered and regained strength. 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 and 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 and 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, but for now 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”, but to me these words controlled many moments of my life. I didn’t allow myself to join in with friends who were taking a midnight dip in the Pacific Ocean, or taking an afternoon refresher in the Ligurian Sea off the coast of Italy. I stayed on the side lines watching. No one should live in fear of anything and for many people we do let fear control parts of our lives and in some cases cause 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. I wouldn’t be trying to figure out how I can do my part in saving the ocean (one plastic bottle at a time). 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.

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  • amccormick

    So glad it was positive for you – from seeing the beautiful bounty in the ocean to the realization that you are just a curiosity to the fish to your first michelada! Just got home myself from my monthly volunteer dives at Moody Gardens in a million gallon tank with multiple 6′ brown sharks, barracudas, etc.!

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