By Jenna van Schoor
Last Sunday I went scuba diving for the first time in five years.
We, a group of AM volunteers and staff, left the bay of Playa Potrero at about 8am and set out for Islas Catalinas, the group of rocky outcrops that you can see from the beach, and which seem a lot further away than they really are. At a quick glance they almost look like ships in the distance, waiting to dock.
It was warm when we boarded the boat, without our shoes, but before the intensity of mid-morning that I’m starting to get used to, the blaze of heat that comes around the time I’m almost fully awake, and only lessens when the work day is slowly coming to an end.
It felt so relaxing to lie on the front of the boat as it headed out and around the curve of the bay ahead of us. The realization of where I was, and how far away I am from home didn’t intrude, and I was only aware of it in the most pleasant way. I felt privileged to be able to appreciate the beautiful hills around us, which I’m planning to climb.
Even while putting on my scuba equipment and getting kitted up, I felt relaxed, laughing at the awkward turtle shuffle I had to do to get across the boat from where the cylinders were neatly packed, to take my seat on the side of the boat before the “1-2-3, GO!” and collapsing into the water in a backward roll. It all felt unexpectedly easy after such a long break, the cylinder on my back suddenly weightless as I looked around me at the other scuba divers on the surface waiting to descend.
But going down was a different story.
About two metres into my descent I experienced such an intense feeling of fear and claustrophobia that I had to immediately ascend and come up. This was partly due to the poor visibility in the plankton-thick ocean around me, and the even thicker soup of darker, deeper water below me, but in general, I think it was the fear of something new. A different place where I was completely out of my comfort zone even with a regulator and a cylinder full of air to support me.
In some ways, it’s the same fear I felt on the second leg of my journey to Costa Rica from South Africa just over a week ago. About midway on my Copa Airlines flight from Sao Paulo to Panama City, the realization of how far I was travelling made me anxious and scared in the darkness of the night lit cabin, making me question why I was taking myself so far away from everything that I knew, geographically and linguistically.
But just as I managed to descend again into the thickness of the water below and relax into my surroundings in the volcanic underwater environment of Islas Catalinas while scuba diving, I feel like I’ve done the same on land this past week in Potrero, the first week of my Communications and Social Media internship at Abriendo Mentes.
I’ve had to constantly remind myself to breathe, appreciate that I’m able to do what I’m doing and fully take in the experience. And after just ten days, Potrero is losing its previously overwhelming unfamiliarity, and is starting to feel like home.