Hello fellow travel friends, adventure seekers, and explorers of our gorgeous planet - whether your travel bug is past, present or future! It’s nice to meet you all. My name is Bailey.
Before I get started, let me give you all a little background on how Laura & I met. Nearly 5 years ago when we both lived in Jasper, Alberta, we were both so far away from home - yet not far enough it seemed at times. Laura was one of my first real friends out there, and we experienced so many amazing things together! Crazy road trips in snow storms, tattoos, ghost hunting (more like me being terrified), and dog walking/cuddling at local shelters. When she reached out to me and asked me to be a guest blogger, I could not have been happier. Although we live on opposite sides of the country, I always make sure to check her updates and live vicariously through her posts, and so should you! So now that I’ve gone & gotten all mushy friend on you guys, let’s get back to it.
Pull on your snorkels & jump right into it with me!
After watching documentaries like Planet Earth and seeing all of the unexplored & unknown (to me) life at the bottom of the ocean I knew I wanted to Scuba Dive, but I really wasn’t sure it was going to be for me. Here’s the thing, I can barely get in the lake with seaweed. If something touches me - I'm out. No questions asked. I’ll be out of there so fast you won’t even see me leave. So you can probably understand the debate that went on in my head when it came to taking the course or not.
I finally gathered up the courage and took the plunge (no pun intended.. ok it was a little intended) - you never know until you try, right?! The course I took was “Open Water Scuba Diver” through a shop in Omemee, Ontario called Adventure Divers. Please do yourselves a favor and check them out! The couple that owns this business are incredible people. Pepe and Sherri are their names, and they are truly amazing. They made me feel right at home, and eased my nerves when I explained my fears. Needless to say I signed up for the course immediately after speaking with them, and my sister Charlize (who was 12 at the time) and I both got fitted for the essentials - mask, snorkel, boots, and fins (NOT flippers - it will upset the scuba world).
One of the first things I learned is that your mask needs to be a specific fit to your face shape - it needs to be able to suction to your face, and stay suctioned under water or else it will leak and you will have a terrible time trying to see all of the wonders of the ocean. Wipers don’t come included on the inside! So getting your own mask that is the right fit is really key. The same goes for fins, if they don’t fit right and fall off, they are completely useless to you. A lot of dive shops will offer fins in your dive package, but sometimes there are only a limited number of sizes available, so it’s risky to not have your own. Another good option is a wetsuit, but depending where you dive you will need different thicknesses. Down South you’ll usually use a 3-5mm, but in Canada you would need to use a thicker suit because the water is so much colder, you could even opt for a dry suit - but that is a whole other course. Charlize and I chose not to get wetsuits because they normally come included in dives along with your tank, regulator, and a Buoyancy Control Device (BCD)
Step one for the Open Water Scuba Diver course was online training and classroom seminars, and then we were able to jump into the in water sessions. The online training was easy to learn, and the classroom teachings were going over the online material to ensure we all understood. There were no questions left unanswered, and by the end of the classroom sessions we were all pretty stoked to get in the pool!
(Learning buoyancy in the indoor pool at Adventure Divers, Omemee Ontario)
I was really thankful that I got to experience my in water sessions in a pool with no fish. It was really great to be able to learn to breathe under water, clear your mask, and learn buoyancy without having the stress of fish or intense salt water to add to the fact that you are now breathing under water - something totally unnatural to your body. It took a few tries, but I feel like I picked up on it really quick. Pepe was great in his teachings, he’s practically got gills, the man has been diving since he was a kid. He really knows his stuff!
The usual process after the in pool sessions are 4 open water dives in a local lake as testing. You complete two dives per day, on two days. Each day is considered a “two tank dive”. Because we were going on vacation to Mexico so shortly after course, we did something called a global referral. This allowed us to take paperwork to an instructor in Mexico, and he tested us while we were there.
This was the first time we were going to dive in open water. EEEK!
(Myself and Charlize on the dive boat in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico)
The shop we went through was called Blue Life in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. I found it by using Trip Advisor, which I now know is incredibly useful when it comes to ratings and I won’t book a thing without it. It’s nice to hear what people find good and bad, especially when there are little things like feeling sea sick that people will rate a company low for - that’s not their fault! Things like that we didn’t bother paying attention to, and we focused on the things like safety that were super important to us.
Trip Advisor reviews told me that Blue Life had a great team of instructors and guides, they were great with children and inexperienced divers (which hit the nail on the head for me - my sister was 12 and we were both brand new). I e-mailed them and they were incredibly prompt with getting back to me and booking two open water dive days to accommodate our testing. The last e-mail we got was advising us our instructors name was Hugo, and he would pick us up at our hotel - how great is that! We didn’t need to arrange our own transportation or anything. Perfect!
After arriving in beautiful sunny Mexico, Hugo picked us up on the day of our dives, and he was super friendly and outgoing. Once we got to the dive shop he fitted us for wetsuits and made sure our equipment was assembled properly (buddy system checks in full effect). We then walked to the dive boat, which was also full of other divers of all experience levels, and off we went!
I was pretty nervous to take the leap of faith in to open water for the first time, but everything went really well and Hugo was great with us. He was confident but really funny, and definitely eased our nerves. I will never forget the feeling I had of swimming through schools of fish with no fear. Life under the ocean is really something else. Everything is beautiful, and it’s really incredible how the underwater environment works. All of the species living amongst each other, most species not affected by our presence at all. We dove 4 different sites in two days, including one by the name of Barracuda, and yes we saw quite a few of them and their large teeth! We also saw sea turtles, lobster, and a plethora of gorgeous fish species I can’t even name off.
I knew as soon as I got to the bottom of the ocean on the very first dive, that I wanted to make every trip a dive trip. I was hooked. Needless to say, my previous fear of fish seemed to disappear while under the water. Even when faced with the barracuda, I was more in awe than in any type of fear. I definitely kept my distance, but I was not afraid. I had rented an under water camera, but during the testing we weren't allowed to use any extra accessories - so I was only able to snag a few pictures on the last dive. Regardless of photo evidence or not, it was the best experience of my life. The first thing I said when I got back on the boat after the first dive was “when can we go back down” which says it all.
(Exiting the boat in Mexico)
Fast forward to 2 weeks ago (09 March 2016) - Barbados! Which if you have never been, should definitely be on your bucket list. It is amazing. And yep, you guessed it. I made sure to go Scuba Diving!
I was referred to a place called Roger’s Scuba Shack in Hastings, Barbados. We have family friends (Ron and Debbie) that have been going to Barbados for more years than I can likely count. One of the guys frequently dives, and recommended Mark as an instructor out of Roger’s. We also had a friend, Ashley, who needed her 4 exit dives for her open water certification, so it was perfect.
(Myself, Charlize, Ashley, and Ron on the dive boat in Barbados)
It was definitely nice to be able to dive in the group without having it considered a test. I got to enjoy and see so much more, so much that I probably didn’t know I had even missed out on in Mexico. One thing about diving is that you will never be able to take everything in. There are so many incredible things to see and never enough time! You’re down there for approximately 45 minutes to one hour per tank - depending on the type of dive and your breathing habits.
We did 4 dives over the course of 2 days again, and Mark was such an incredible tour guide! We were able to dive a site in Carlisle Bay that has sea turtles and 6 shallow wrecks. It was really amazing. I was really excited because regardless of location, most shipwrecks are in deeper water, and the Open Water Scuba Diver certification only allows you to dive up to 60 feet. Don’t get me wrong, 60 feet is (for now) deep enough for me, but I always thought it would be amazing to see a shipwreck.
(Shipwreck in Carlisle bay)
The clarity of the water is beyond crystal, so beautiful and blue that it looked like it was photo shopped into a postcard from a location I could have only dreamed of visiting. The visibility at 60 feet below was around 90 feet. The dive at Carlisle Bay particularly stood out for me because it was the stopping location of quite a few catamarans and tourist boats. While we were diving the wrecks from the bottom, the visitors on the boats were snorkeling above us. The site was so full of life, both human and aquatic, and the energy here was incredibly exciting. We spotted a couple of sea turtles swimming about, a lone seahorse that was just hanging out, and we even got to see Mark catch some (almost invisible) shrimp. (above: shipwreck at Carlisle Bay, Barbados)
Another site we dove had a ton of sea turtles in the reef, some quite large. We were also able to get up close and personal with a stingray. I had bought a GoPro for this vacation knowing that I wanted it for the sole purpose of diving. It was well worth it. I was able to get some great shots of aquatic life and the wrecks without getting too close for comfort. We got really close to the stingray below and it’s fish friend. It was pretty incredible to see the movement it makes, and watch it bury itself in the sand and become practically hidden.
(spotting stingrays on a dive in Barbados)
My whole experience diving, even though I’m not advanced by any means, has been such a life changing one for me. It’s forced me to face my fear of fish and realize that there is a whole other world out there to discover. It pushed my limits and my abilities mentally, and I really believe it has taught me so much about myself.
I cannot thank Pepe and Sherri at Adventure Divers (Omemee, Ontario), Hugo at Blue Life (Playa Del Carmen, Mexico), and Mark at Roger’s Scuba Shack (Hastings, Barbados) enough. Without their knowledge, guidance, and leadership, this might not have been something I ever would have enjoyed, and now it’s something I can’t get enough of!
(Myself, my sister, and my friend Ashley with Mark from Roger’s Scuba Shack, celebrating Ashley passing her Open Water Scuba Diver testing)
I can also say that if you get the chance to get certified, that doing it with someone makes it all the more memorable. I am so glad to have Charlize to dive with, it’s pretty unreal to have someone to share your experiences and stories with. I also gained a new diving travel buddy (congratulations again Ash! So proud of you!), and made some definite lasting friendships and contacts that I know would welcome us with open arms upon return.
If you are debating taking a diving course, or if you are advanced and just looking to find locations, I would recommend contacting any of the dive companies I have been with. The instructors were all amazing, and the companies were all great to do ‘business’ with. There were no issues with booking dive dates, with our beginner skill levels, paperwork, transportation, or payments. Overall my experiences would be 10/10 and I would gladly return to each dive site - and I hope to soon!
The only question is… Where to next?