Sunday, April 17, 2011

Our date with the Sea

The next morning was sunny, paired with a bright blue tropical sky. I wouldn’t usually mention something so meteorologically common to these parts except that Jamie, the dive instructor assistant, commented that it had been weeks since anyone had even seen the sun above the usually brightly lit town of Sabang. Evidently, the weather had been overcast and hazy for quite some time. Why would that be something worthy to note? Well, cloudy skies mean murky water conditions. Being able to see well what’s “down there” is always a prime concern.

Feeling delightfully nervous, like the first day at school, which for me it more or less was, I headed out the door down the porch steps and to the left. It was 8:15 am. Self-conscious in my wetsuit I ambled the short distance from our room and up the semicircular red tile steps to the dive shack patio near the pool. Peter and Jamie, along with two other Big Apple master divers, were already going about their business in the dive shack area as I approached.

For a short time, a very short time, I went into observation mode choosing to hang back to watch the interactions between all these interesting fellows, some busily preparing to dive, with others just kind of hanging out and making small talk. Everyone was friendly, forthcoming and welcoming. I was immediately comfortable around them.

In short order I learned which of the guys the dive masters were, and which were hotel guests like me, except that they were alreadydive certified and there to go out on an adventure dive, as they call them. Soon I stopped studying everyone silently and took any opportunity I could to question everyone I came in conversational contact with. I am an inveterate interviewer. If I meet you, I can’t help myself, I begin to find out who you are, what you do, and what you know. Most people like talking about themselves, but sometimes they are wary of questioning asking folks like me. I’ve learned to identify the resistant ones and quickly back off.

Watching Jamie, a fellow retired Air Force guy, interact with his Dive Instructor mentor, Peter, I soon learned that folks didn’t normally call him Peter or Pete, but Pedro. That was cool. I liked that. I was thinking of telling everyone to call me Felipe to match his Español Pedro, but I thought that would be just a little too obnoxious, even for a wiseass like me.

Jamie had already told me a little bit about my two new classmates. I don’t remember their names already, but both were close friends from Houston, Texas. One fellow was a fireman crane operator, the other an electrician working as a contractor for the Americans in Afghanistan. Jamie mentioned that the fireman hadn’t been able to negotiate a boat egress into the water the day before; he just couldn’t quite come to grips with the uncomfortable feeling of throwing oneself straight backwards out of the boat into the water. Although, by the time I did a boat dive with him later that day he was good to go. Sometimes people just need some time to steel themselves, gird their loins, take a deep breath and go for it.

The electrician Houstonian was on a work break from Afghanistan. At first, when he said he had come here directly from there I assumed he was active duty military, but no, he said he was a contractor. With shaved head and robust build I then assumed he was involved with security, but eventually I learned he was building inside American compounds and NEVER left those compounds, always staying on the inside of the wire. Smart move that.

Pedro gave the three of us a short briefing on what he would have us do that morning on our first training dive of the day. We would walk straight into the water and once we were deep enough to submerge we’d head down and then out beyond the floating bars to the deeper water.

We all tanked up. With fins in hand we trooped single file down the lane passing by my room through the bar and restaurant. I was the last one of the group as I always was for the rest of my training. What’s up with that? I have no idea. I just liked lagging behind, I guess so I could see everything and everyone. Oh, and I’d always stop for a moment at our room to drop off my baseball cap; so maybe THAT was the primary reason, or perhaps just the mechanism I used to be last.

Water, sky and boats are what you see through the far opening as you walk down the central pathway toward the beach. It felt a bit like being part of a parade, with all of us in our wetsuits and dive gear, trooping along, almost like a military unit, on our way to our date with the sea.

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