Continued from Part 1…..
I’m looking at volcanic sand, crashing waves, a derelict soccer pitch and what could possibly be 3 alcoholics smoking something fruity through an empty beer can. Its 2pm and my bus had arrived in Playas del Coco. Where is the white sand beach and turquoise water? Suddenly my spontaneous commitment to this place seems ill judged and maybe, just maybe, I should have at least checked out some pictures on the internet. Oh well, let’s go check out the dive shop.
To an official looking man sitting in a car outside the police station…‘Por favor?’ A donde esta Rich Coast Diving? The guy points back up the road where I came from on the bus, away from the beach. Off I trudge in the heat with back pack, dive bag and hang luggage in tow. I get some odd looks.
When I arrive dripping with sweat and fairly exhausted I expect they are expecting me, ready and waiting to welcome my arrival with open arms, ready to appreciate the life changing mission I was on, slightly apprehensive and unsure of myself but enthused and ready. ‘Welcome to RCD Laura! Why don’t you go diving right now! I have a room in a big house full of new friends for you!’ In I go and I am greeted by the nicest Dutch girl I think I’ll ever meet and she was to become a good friend in CR. She laughs at the size of my dive bag and has to juggle my needs with the customer she is dealing with and so I don’t get much attention or direction about what to do next for a short while. I finally get to ask where the owners are at which point Brenda appears from out the back. I needed a rest and a shower so asked about the accommodation we’d arranged. However plans had changed and I am told that the rooms are occupied so I should stay in a cheap hotel until something becomes available. Eventually I moved into my first accommodation; a nice condo with swimming pool for $200 a month.
So I check in with a little help from a soon-to-be work colleague who thankfully does all the talking for me (evening Spanish classes over 3 months didn’t instill any memorable vocabulary) and into my basic mosquito den I go, for a whopping $30 a night (this is a lot when you budget for $10!). This is not how I imagined my first day. Showered, changed, housemate-less and completely shattered I head to the over-priced supermarket to find some food and drink. My first day as an intern is to be spent in Physics class with my Course Director; my first dive was 8 days later.
The diving, although initially disappointing with the 5–10 meters of visibility and occasional thermocline (cold water area) slowly became utterly spectacular and visibility reached 20-25 meters on many occasions. Not a wow factor by measures of other tropical climes but a big bonus when you’re used to 10 meters. The big sea life in the Pacific west coast of Costa Rica is abundant and rivals any pristine Asian/ Red Sea reef in terms of jaw dropping nature. During my time here I’ve seen schools of eagle rays, sting rays (some 3 meters in diameter and on one dive I saw probably 30 in one go), white tip reef sharks, big imposing bull sharks, milk fish, turtles, devil rays, giant manta rays, golden rays and in the late summer months humpback whales jumped and played next to our boat amid huge pods of dolphins. I felt as if I should start commentating on the ‘playfulness of mammals’ in my best David Attenborough voice. Not that I have many David Attenborough voices to choose from. One night I went snorkeling with a couple of friends to look at the aluminous plankton, when an Eagle Ray swam towards us in the light of our flashlights and the aluminous plankton trailed the wings of the ray like the trails of fireworks. If I went home tomorrow with only these experiences imprinted in my mind all will not have been wasted.
Above the water fireflies lit up the small jungle paths that linked all of the friend’s houses, frogs croaked, monkeys came down to feed on the fruits in the trees, we saw crocodiles under the bridge by the river and sometimes we went and caught fish at the beach for our supper. This is what life is all about. We even had a resident tarantula. One day a crazy dog foamed from the mouth for a few days, died outside my house and was eaten by turkey vultures. It wasn’t always beautiful! But sometimes the urban world we live in becomes suffocating to me and to be immersed in Costa Rica is very good for the soul.
My new friends were from Europe, US, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica and even Iran. My second house was the nicest house I’ve ever lived in with lovely house mates and only cost me $100 a month. The ever changing groups of dive instructors and dive masters all hung out at each other’s houses, we cooked together, had beach fires, went dancing in salsa bars and generally had a blast. Traveling makes the world a small place. Awww! Nice innit?
During the 3 months as a divemaster intern I learned everything from filling tanks, shop operation and boat handling to improving diving skills such as navigation, search and recovery and rescue protocol. I worked closely with the instructors, captains and my course director absorbing as much information as possible.
I decided that if I was going to sustain this addictive lifestyle for a while I would need to become an instructor; you can earn more money needed for traveling and dive instructors are in more demand than divemasters who tend to be local people that are rightfully given job preference. Once all divemaster exams were passed and workshops completed I applied for the next step: the Instructor Development Course.