Scuba Diving in Panama, an Experience of a Lifetime
Honduras is a country steeped in biodiversity and beautiful people. I was born there surrounded by incredible wildlife and nice beaches teeming with stunning coral reefs. As a nature enthusiast and a supporter of peace, I try as hard as I can to always be filled with experiences that allow my body to rest and find some peace of mind.
I’ve read endless articles on the benefit of being close to the water, how you become happier and healthier. If you ask me, the beach is where I feel more like myself. Whenever my toes touch the sand, my skin absorbs the warmth of the sun, I remember the lovely times I had back home with my family and how happy I felt. When I was little, my Mom tried as much as she could to take us to the beach every chance we had. My siblings and I would spend the whole morning building sand castles and jumping from the dock into the Sea. My favorite memory was snorkeling the coral reefs in Roatan, Honduras. I never forget the colorful fish swimming around me and the crystalline water that made the sun rays look like fairy dust when I hold my breath underwater.
It’s only natural that humans want to return to familiar spaces that remind them of home. Some may say it’s their grandmother's beach house; some might say it’s their uncle’s lake house. It could even be their inflatable pool in their backyard full of cousins splashing around on a hot, sunny day.
The immeasurable sense of tranquillity that we find when we are near the water allows us to slow our fast-paced daily lives. Our love for the water is inescapable, and the reasons behind it might be related to how we feel towards it. Just like the moon pulls on the water that we seem to be drawn into it as well. Apart from the fact that 70 percent of water composes the body, we seem to relate to one of the world’s strongest and biggest forces on earth in a more sentimental form. Water seems to be the most calming presence and the most turbulent one as well, just like us humans.
As a lover of the sea, I’ve come to appreciate and value its presence for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been extremely curious and restless when it comes to exploring. I started snorkeling since I was a little kid and it never seemed enough. I always wanted more but never figured out what it was.
As an adrenaline junkie, I thought the next step would be to get certified as an Open Water Diver. I always had the time and money to do it, but I still felt scared of trying. I had heard many stories of how you could suffer from oxygen toxicity, pulmonary barotrauma (burst lung), and decompression sickness like arterial gas embolism. The fear of being dependent on an oxygen tank and entering a world completely different from my own kept me up at night thinking if I wanted to do it. Nevertheless, my Mom had already bought a flight to Bocas del Toro in Panama, and I had reserved my spot at La Buga Dive and Surf Center.
My Mom and I arrived in Bocas del Toro, and we felt back at home. The little Caribbean island welcomed us in a humid yet sunny day. I started studying from my Open Water Diver manual so I could get in the water as soon as possible. I did five hours of watching videos and some intensive reading. As I went along with my studies, I realized that when it comes to diving, as long as everything is planned carefully, everything will be alright. Like many things in life, if you do things according to the rules, things will turn out Okay.
Since this was my first-time scuba diving, I was assigned to a professional instructor named Leandro Mora. Leandro has been scuba diving around the world for about eight years, he knew everything there was about the sea and its wonders and more so about scuba diving. La Buga Dive center is located right above the water, so we went on the boat for about only 15 minutes until we reached our desired destination.
I began preparing my scuba gear alongside Leandro. He helped me put on my weights and my BCD with the tank in place. Although it was hard for me to walk in the boat with so much weight, I still managed to reach the end of the boat. Seconds before going in the water, I found myself feeling incredibly calm. I was finally ready to put all of my knowledge into practice. I was about to dive in a spot called “Mystic World.” As I slowly descended Leandro reminded me to equalize my ears to avoid a " squeeze."
I could immediately feel how the pressure was released, so I began to go down until I reached the bottom. Leandro and I dove off the boat and started practicing how to handle an emergency situation with tips that would allow me to stay alive in case something bad ever happened while diving. Communication underwater is extremely important. It's hard to express ourselves underwater without using our voice, but we can still use our body. Hand signals are the essential method of underwater communication for scuba divers.
After practicing hand signals, Leandro pointed at my computer hanging close to my side. I read my computer and checked my oxygen. My oxygen level was 3000 liters. Everything was in order. Leandro signaled my computer again and I thought he wanted me to check my depth this time. I realized we were 50 feet deep. Later, Leandro signaled that we were going 10 deeper. We dove off to a shipwreck that used to be a ferry that transported cars to Isla Colon.
The boat was intentionally sunk about 11 years ago and became the house of big and small fish. While I was diving the shipwreck, I got stung by jellyfish about 4 times, but that didn't stop me from following the cute schools of fish that were swimming around. I was able to spot 3 big lobsters, a seahorse, two moray eels, and a stingray hiding in the sand with her baby. I was also able to dive near a plane wreck. Yes, a Jetstream 31 crashed during a heavy tropical storm in the Columbus Island. In 2000 the people of Bocas decided to clean it, and now it has become a little home for hogfish, spotted drum, and snapper. The plane has also become an artificial reef for divers to explore and take amazing pictures.
I thought I had a lot of respect for the sea, but I never realized its true immensity and all the life it holds. I realized how breathing underwater was one of the most exciting sensations I’ve ever experienced. It’s you and your body communicating on a whole other level. The fact that we are used to carrying the weight of gravity for almost all of our lives but then we go to the bottom of the sea, and we become free, weightless blown my mind. I also found diving became therapeutic for me and I wonder if it did for others as well. I wanted to share my experience with everyone because if I could be overflown with such joy, then others could too.
I wondered why was I so scared this whole time? In one second, I realized that was the most blissful experience of my life, and there was zero fear. What is that fear good for anyways? It only prevented me from experiencing my best life. I realized fear just ruins my day and that some of the best things in life are on the other side of terror. So even if you are scared to do it do it anyways, only good things can come out of being courageous and wanting to pursue experiences that bring you true happiness.
The island of Bocas del Toro gave my adventure a nice final touch. I thought I would only be there to study and dive. But I never thought about having the chance to meet beautiful people who would share my same values and outlooks on life. I overlooked how nice it is to work but also have some fun on the side. The amount of delicious Caribbean food I was able to enjoy once again was a total joy. The pleasure of hearing music coming from every corner of the town filled me up.
As my adventure of scuba diving came to an end, I packed my bags to go home. I sat down and felt thankful for having a family who supports me on my crazy journeys. I felt lucky to live another day on this crazy little world, and I said goodbye to the island who gave me my first scuba diving experience.
Here are some links for Dive Shops and PADI Certifications in the area: