The plane’s wheels bounced off the cracked tarmac of the runway as we touched down with a jolt on the San Jose landing strip. I looked out the window and off into the thick jungle surrounding the airport. Everywhere you looked it was green and lush. “Welcome to Jurassic Park…” I thought to myself as I soaked in my surroundings. Costa Rica would be my home for the next 2 weeks as me and my best friend Lincoln backpacked around the country. We had a rough outline in place of where we wanted to stay, with the last half of the trip scheduled to do our open water PADI certification. Finally I was going to get the chance to go scuba diving! After years of dreaming about it, it was time to actually explore under the waves.
We bounced out of San Jose almost immediately, everyone we met warned us it was pretty sketchy and I was eager to get out of the big cities and on the road. We spent a few nights in Jaco, a smaller, albeit extremely touristy surfer town and I immediately fell in love with the local food, pretty cheap and the fish tacos were amazing. Given the spirit of the town, I decided to give surfing a try having never done it, and spent an evening falling off my board and splashing about under one of the most gorgeous sunsets I have ever seen. The sun was back lighting the water as the waves crashed around me, pummelling me into the shallows. An cool place but it was time to move on.
Next up was Montezuma, a sleepy little town with dirt roads full of potholes and on the verge of being engulfed by the dense jungle surrounding it on all sides. We met some awesome fellow travellers from the US, and a couple Brits who were making their way across Central and South America over 6 months. It was in this place, a musty old $10 a night hostel I was overcome with a sense of wanderlust that sticks with me to this day. The feeling of being on the road with your backpack, meeting like minded people and experiencing sights you have never seen before was wonderful. I vowed to never again go to a all inclusive resort, this experience was so much richer.
The whole trip diving was still in the back of my mind and as we made our way towards Playa Del Coco the excitement was steadily mounting. After a few hours on an extremely rickety old schoolbus that was used as local transit, we arrived at our destination. I could almost feel my fillings still rattling about in my teeth for the next hour or so but quickly surmised that for about $6 to travel halfway across the country it was well worth it. We made our way down the long main street and stopped by the dive shop to confirm for the next day. After searching around on Trip Advisor for a while, we had settled on Rich Coast Diving. Everything was set and after bite to eat at one of the local bars, I headed to bed imagining what the lessons would have in store for me.
The blinding sun came streaming through the windows, covered only by a few wooden slats. It was 7AM and already sweltering hot. Since about 5 in the morning a rooster had been shrieking at the top of its lungs and I was ready to get out of there and into the water.
Upon arriving at the dive shop the we were informed we would be being trained by a PADI course director, which was a pretty cool opportunity. Everyone was super friendly and the only students that day were Lincoln and myself. After filling out the required forms and a little basic review, we grabbed our gear and loaded it into the back of pickup and set off to the local pool to learn some skills. Sitting on the side of the trucks bed while it bounced over the shattered asphalt and not being thrown overboard or taking a low hanging branch to the face was a skill on its own. Ahhh adventure!
A quick rundown on the gear and how to properly set up our kit followed and after squeezing into a wetsuit for the first time in my life (Protip: get into your wetsuit in the water, it’s 10x easier) and strapping on my BCD it was time to get wet. I plunged into the water via giant stride entry and watched the bubbles explode around me as I took my first breaths underwater. Even in a pool this was a cool experience. After learning some basic skills such as mask clearing, regulator recovery and buoyancy control we had time to practice what we learned and become more comfortable in the gear. Martin (our instructor) was extremely patient with us and answered every little question and expanded on the answer. By the time we left the pool for the day I was already hungry to get in the ocean, but we had another pool day ahead of us. As the sun went down and I sat munching away on a delicious plate of diced chicken and rice I knew I had made the right choice in learning how to scuba dive. This would be something that would stick with my for the rest of my life.
Day 2 involved more pool training and the last little bit of theory. Having done our e-learning online was great for saving a ton of classroom time. The 400m surface swim was a little taxing at first and I began to worry as my muscles started to feel starved of oxygen, that is until I saw Lincoln breeze past me in a lazy back crawl, flipping onto my back made it much easier. After some safety training and practising the CESA we were wrapped in the pool. The next time I descended it would be in the open ocean.