I can now officially say that I am an advanced open water diver, hooray! I finished the last of my required dives today with a search and recovery dive, but we started out the day with a fun dive at Tortuga. It seemed as though all of my favorite sea creatures knew that it was my last dive of this trip and came out to send me off. We saw several white tip reef sharks, a couple of octopuses, a spotted eagle ray, and a lobster. There was also a TON of puffer fish, which I loved. They are always fun to dive with; they just swim around lazily and look at you with those adorable little faces. This was the perfect last fun dive to do before I left Coco.
We went to the Estudiantes dive site on our second dive so I could do my search and recovery dive. To meet the performance requirements, I had to demonstrate two underwater search patterns, the expanding circle and U-turn, and successfully attach a lift bag to a “lost” item and lift it to the surface. In the expanding circle search pattern I swam outwards in a circular pattern from my buddy, who acted as a pivot in the middle of the search area on the other end of a rope that I was holding. The U-turn required me to start on one edge of the area to be searched and swim 25 kick cycles, turn 90°, swim 5 kick cycles, turn 90° again and swim back 25 more kick cycles, and then repeat the pattern until the whole area had been covered. I found the lost item both times, but was more successful at the u-turn pattern.
After the search patterns, my knot tying skills were put to the test. I was most worried about this section because I’ve never understood knots that well. I’ve always left them to my Boy Scout brother who is a whiz with them. His skills must have rubbed off on me though, because I was able to tie all three knots required for the course with minimal issues. Then came the lift bag operation. I fastened the lift bag to a weight belt with about 25 pounds on it with one of my handy-dandy knots and then began adding air to make the bag neutrally buoyant. I began my ascent and it went off without a hitch, and just like that I finished the last dive of my advanced course! Woohoo!
I am leaving Playas del Coco as a whole different diver than I was when I arrived. I started out nervous and unsure of my abilities but after three weeks of diving with instructors and working at the shop I feel way more confident in the skills that I have learned and the diver that I have become. By completing the night, deep, underwater navigator, search and recovery and peak performance buoyancy dives I feel that I have gained a deeper understanding of diving and have found the joy that comes with knowing how to dive well. From here I am excited to travel to new and exciting dive sites and experience different oceans and the variety of marine life that inhabit them.
Leaving Coco is a bittersweet experience. Even though I have only been here for three weeks I have met some really amazing people who have all influenced me in different but equally valuable ways. Even though I came to Rich Coast Diving to get more dive experience, I learned lessons here that I had no expectations of learning. I learned how to cook traditional Venezuelan food from my roommate Pana. I learned some really useful Costa Rican slang. I learned the deep sense of peace that comes with living just steps away from the ocean. It is amazing how these experiences all happened within such a short period of time, but I know that they will stay with me for the rest of my life.