Saturday, February 21, 2015

The day of the coconut

I recently did this "Movie in a plate" version of "Jaws", one of my favorite movies of all time. The shark definitely looks less scary when it's made out of Veggies. It reminded me of my first shark dive and I will always refer to that day as "The day of the coconut".

There’s nothing like crossing something off your bucket list, and the second you become a diver the bucket list seems to get significantly bigger. When we first arrived at our resort in Roatan, we immediately saw an opportunity to take care of a few items on the list including our fist shark dive. For some reason, being in the middle of twenty hungry but hopefully not angry sharks is a diver’s dream come true…Go figure

The dive was offered once a week and we had to wait a few days before being able to brag about it to the rest of the world but we were preparing mentally for the big day…mainly by getting drunk with the resort’s infamous cocktails while trying to convince other divers to sign up for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, thus lowering the odds that a shark would pick us to become their morning snacks. Not getting enough people to sign up for the trip to happen was also not an option, we were on a mission.

Days passed by, we encountered turtles, moray eels, an octopus, a few barracudas and we visited one of their wrecks “The Odyssey”. It was already a successful trip but all we could think and talk about was our upcoming Shark dive.

The day had come, and the sun rising in the distance indicated that it was time to get out of bed and face the beasts. Before becoming a diver, I don’t think I would ever see the sun rise during a vacation…now that I’m a diver, I seldom see the sunset anymore because I’m already in bed recovering for the next day…or I’m inside a bar, celebrating another day of diving.

We grabbed our gear and started walking to the restaurant to get our breakfast and some energy in the form of coffee before going down to the bottom of the ocean. However, we planned on not eating too much because we weren’t sure if sharks would be attracted to vomit or not.

As we were admiring the beauty surrounding us on the path, and getting excited about gaining a new diver badge by the end of the day, we suddenly froze when a coconut fell out of the sky and landed right in front of us, avoiding our skulls by just a few inches.

We had all heard before that we are most likely to die from a falling coconut than from a shark bite but I also have seen every “Final Destination” movies and I learned from these documentaries that if you cheat death it might come back to get you. So we looked at each other before resuming our walk. Was this an omen? Are we not supposed to get on that boat today? I mean some of us will look at it with a “Glass Hal Full” philosophy and say that it’s our lucky day because we didn’t die from that coconut….but others who see the glass “Half empty and filled with toxic poison” will say that it’s probably a sign that a hammock might be a safer activity for the day. But that dive was only offered once during our stay…and the deposit was non-refundable and those were two very good reasons to keep walking to the boat and face our fears in the eye (actually don’t look at a shark in the eye). After a light meal and a few cups of coffee, we said a prayer to Poseidon, grabbed our gear and jumped on the boat with a phony confidence that would get most actors an award at the oscars…or the Razzies awards…either way, we tried to look like nothing could scare us…not even a stupid coconut! The briefing was short: The divemaster was gonna go down with a closed bucket of chum, the sharks would smell that and dance around us for a while until the divemaster opened the bucket, the sharks would then eat and swim away in a matter of seconds and the last part would involve the curious divers swimming close to the bottom to try and find shark teeths. However, it seemed like the divemaster should have probably used reverse psychology instead of treating us like grown-ups. Everything he told us not to do during the dive….we ended up doing. “Please don’t touch the shark” sounded a lot like “Please do touch the shark” especially with the idling engine covering most of his lecture. The boat was full and we were proud to observe that a few of the fearless divers who had joined the adventure were some of our recruits. High-Fives all around! One of the divers cut his hand while assembling his BCD and a little bit of blood started dripping. But we were assured that sharks are not attracted to human blood: they only like fish blood…. Even though it sounded reasonable, I whispered to my buddy that we were going to stay as far away from that wounded diver as possible during the dive.

The first half of the ride was nice but we had been warned that getting to the dive spot required a long journey involving going to the other side of the island where the swell picked up and the boat started shaking like a mechanical bull at a hipster bar. After a few minutes of breathing in the engine’s fumes and being thrown from one side of the boat to the other, I started getting sick…..very sick. The eggs and the curd cheese were slowly making their way up, but my brain was telling my face to keep acting cool because there was no way I was going to miss that dive. After about twenty minutes of bouncing back and forth on the deck, we finally stopped at our dive spot. As an instructor, I should have known better: we always tell our students to never push themselves if they don’t feel good because there will always be another occasion to dive but they will never get a second life…. But I’m also a proponent of the “Do as I say, not as I do” philosophy and I jumped in the water first to try to feel a little better before having to descend down to 80ft where the Shark dance was about to take place. But what I hadn’t realized is that once I was in the water, there was no time to “chill” and feel better. The captain told me to make my way to the bow using the current line and there was no time to negotiate. I started pulling on the line and I was fighting a strong current. By the time I got to the safety stop buoy I was already out of breath but there was no turning back: I was there to see some sharks!

When I looked back and noticed the herd of divers behind me pulling on the same current line, I realized I only had one option: to keep going. So I started making my way down the descent line, pulling on it with one hand and holding on to my camera rig with the other hand. It was such a physical descent and I was so focused on making it to the bottom that I hadn’t even noticed that my buddy was having problem with her regulator and had switched to her octopus. I was being a really bad buddy. Once I got to the bottom I kneeled down on the sand and I tried to catch my breath, but it never happened. I was sucking on my air like the day I did my very first dive and I was not happy about it. The divemaster showed up with his orange bucket and set it a few yards away from us and dozens of sharks appeared out of nowhere. My strobes started firing away and even though a few of the sharks were so curious that they came a little too close for comfort it was one of the most enjoyable show I had ever seen. We swam around a bit and got enough souvenir shots to fill an entire memory card. The minute the divemaster opened the bucket to feed them they all devoured what was inside of it in a matter of seconds and disappeared. There were no sharks left. So it was finally time to try and recover a few teeth that may have fallen at the bottom during the feeding to turn into a cool pendant when we got back home. I swam for about thirty seconds until I realized I was dangerously low on air and no shark teeth was worth my life…so I signaled my buddy that it was time to bail and I started ascending a little faster than I was supposed to. My buddy followed me and by the time we were starting our safety stop I was completely out of air so I signaled her that I was going to grab her back-up regulator but after a few seconds of communicating with each other using made-up signals, I realized something else was wrong: she was already using her back-up because her main second stage wasn’t working.

So….we started buddy breathing during what seemed like the longest three minutes of my life. When our computers gave us the signal to go back to the surface, I was really happy to see the boat again and even happier to say that I survived my first shark dive. We went back to the resort with a lot of joy in our eyes and the memory of an intense but beautiful dive that will rarely be equaled.That afternoon, I ended up slipping on a rock and a sea snail lodged itself all the way into my foot. It was extremely painful and getting it out turned the hotel bathroom into a scene from “Saw” where my girlfriend had to pry it out even though its suction cup was attached to the flesh inside my foot. That day, we promised ourselves that the next time a coconut falls in front of us in the morning, the best plan of action is to either go back to bed or lay down on a hammock for the rest of the day.

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