That scuba certification is not for sissies. Last Monday, my dad, Caleb and I set out for Ponta Do Ouro to do some diving. It was supposed to take three hours to get there, and apparently half of it was on a smooth road, and half was over sandy dunes. When we found ourselves on a bumpy dirt road, we thought we had come to the bad road—as it turns out, there was only another even bumpier, dirtier road to greet us after that. When we finally arrived in Ponta Do Ouro, we were glad to get to our hotel, get some dinner, and go to sleep. We arrived at what looked like a campground.
“I have your rooms ready,” said the manager. But our “rooms” turned out to be tents, and they did not provide the best of protection against the sound of drunken revelers outside talking and singing as loudly as possible in a combination of English, Portuguese, and an unknown language. The next day, we found some lodging in a log cabin village where we were able to sleep better. But before that, it was time for our first pool session. The session began with twenty short laps in a sixty-four degree (Fahrenheit) pool, followed by eight minutes of treading water, followed by two minutes of treading water with no hands. After we put on our wet suits things got a little more pleasant as we learned some skills at the pool's bottom. The next day we had our first dive, and the sea was warm compared to the pool, but from the time we began to descend, things started getting sticky. I couldn't descend, but kept bobbing to the surface, and Caleb was having trouble clearing his ears. After descending, it was downright scary. It's truly a different world underwater--you look around and at first all you see is blue. The other divers looked like aliens--I felt extra sorry for Nemo for when he was scooped out of the sea by a scuba diver. After a short lunch break, we had another pool session, this time in an even colder pool, around fifty-nine degrees. It was so miserably cold that our instructor, Siobhan, cut it short, deciding to go over some of the skills in the ocean the next day. We went back to our room, cold and dejected, wondering if this whole scuba certification was worth it. Caleb was having trouble equalizing his ears underwater, and we were all exhausted. The next day, we woke up begrudgingly. We had two dives that day, and on the first one, Caleb couldn't clear his ears and had to return to the boat. The rest of us descended, and our instructor told us using signs that he was on the boat. We started with the skills we had missed in the pool, and they came much easier in the ocean today--since we had already been on one dive, the sea was much more familiar and we were able to enjoy the fish. I had better control of my movement this time, and the skills went smoothly.
Then things got interesting. Siobhan had told us that the reason she had gotten into diving was because she loves sharks; so when I saw her pointing excitedly to something behind me, I took a big gulp. Surely a great white was swimming up ready to eat me in one bite. But I turned around, and what did I find but a huge manta ray--one of my favorite sea creatures only after the blue whale--swimming just meters away from us. He had to be eighteen to twenty feet across, and there were several remoras swimming underneath him. He swam as if in flight, graceful and beautiful in his black-and-white glory. I floated there, staring in awe and thinking of Mr. Ray from "Finding Nemo."
After we surfaced, all the divers with us were raving about it. I had heard one woman ask if manta rays liked the reef we were going to, and to her disappointment, she was informed that they did not. You can imagine her excitement when one actually swam right above us!
“And you new divers,” she exclaimed, “you’re so lucky to have seen a manta on your second dive!” Oh, yes, we were. Caleb was able to catch a glimpse of the ray by snorkeling, and although he opted out of the second dive, he did take and very easily pass the final exam, so if he wants to get certified later, all he has to do is complete two more ocean dives. There was a lot more involved in scuba certification than I thought, but it was well worth it.