In April of this year I had the chance to fulfill a long time dream of mine: learning to scuba dive. I spent 2 weeks in beautiful Honduras on the well known island of Roatan, and lesser known island of Utlia. Both of these small patches of land are part of the a collection of islets collectively known as The Bay Islands. These islands are located off the east coast of Honduras in the beautiful Caribbean waters. Honduras has some of the top dive sites in the world and combined with the warm tropical waters of the Caribbean ocean, this was the perfect place to learn to dive.
Wanting To Dive
I’ve always wanted to learn to scuba dive. I love the water and have a lot of experience and training in in various types of aquatic environments. But as a former river rafting guide, competitive swimmer, swimming instructor and lifeguard, I had chronic ear infections throughout my youth. I’d tried scuba diving in pools but was never able to equalize my ears. The pressure would just build and I’d simply tolerate it (I was in a pool so maximum depth was only 14 feet).
I asked around to friends who are divers and they suggested that I might have a build up of scar tissue in my ears, or maybe my esctasion tubes were just too narrow. Whatever the reason, I figured my body just wasn’t made for the underwater world.
That was until I visited Little Corn Island in Nicaragua last year. I was there for a few days of R&R after volunteering in a small village just outside San Marcos, south west of the capital city of Managua. I was there teaching a First Responders course for a week with some co-workers and, after our course was done, we headed to the warm sandy beaches of the Corn Islands.
While there my friend decided to try scuba diving with a local company called Dolphin Dive. We signed up for the 1/2 day discovery dive that anyone can do, no certification required. I made the decision to give scuba diving one last try. I wanted to see if I could equalize while in the true setting and under true conditions of diving.
I told my instructor about my ear issues and she was very understanding, giving me tips on how to clear my ears. She promised that if I just couldn’t make it happen, I’d get a full refund for the excursion. And wouldn’t you know it, I went scuba diving!
I did have some issues and was the slowest one to descend but the point was, I could scuba dive! So this year when I returned to volunteer in Nicaragua, I made the plan to head directly to the Bay Islands after my week of teaching and become a fully certified scuba diver.
Choosing A Dive Company & Location
After doing some research I decided to head directly to Utila for a full week and take my Open Water Diver course. Then I would head to Roatan for the last 5 days of my trip.
Utila is a great place to learn to dive. Warm waters, great visibility, and a plethora of reefs and dive sites, makes for a friendly and inviting environment. There were more diver operators on the island than I could count, all running Open Water courses. This made it easy to book a course to work with my schedule.
I chose my dive company and booked my course ahead of time, though after visiting I can safely say this wasn’t necessary. You can literally just show up on the island, walk up to any dive shop and almost certainly start your dive course the next day (this goes for most other dive courses as well, if your looking to upgrade your certification).
I arrived on Utila a day late due to a flight delay, and was therefore a day late to start my course (I flew into Roatan and then took a boat transfer to Utila). But Utila, like all Caribbean islands, runs on island time and it was no problem to start my course when I arrived, whenever that may be.
I chose to dive with Altons Dive Center as I had heard good things about them from another blogger. I found it a bit overwhelming to try and choose from the 20 odd dive companies and decided to go on the recommendation of someone else.
Open Water Diver Course
Walking into Altons in the late afternoon, I was given a warm greeting and got settled into my accommodations (Altons has onsite dorm room accommodations and private rooms for couples). I was told that I would start my course the next afternoon with my instructor Shelly, and the great news was that I was going to have a private course as no one else had signed up! Coming from North America where everything is planned so far in advance and most, if not all courses require a minimum number of people in order to run, this was a very pleasant surprise.
My course ran for 4 days and included 3 class room sessions (half day) and 4 open water dives, plus my 1 confined dive. Now I’ll be honest, I did struggle at the start with my ears. And it didn’t help that I ended up catching a bug and getting sick for 24 hrs (great thing about having the course to myself, my instructor and I were easily able to delay my course a day in order for me tor recover). But in the end, my ears did finally cooperate.
Being Sick Sucks
The first 2 days of my course went smoothly. Though I had issues equalizing I had no trouble with scuba diving and learning the gear. The dives on these first few days were restricted to the end of the dock at Altons while I got used to the equipment. On the third day we finally headed out to the open ocean with the rest of the crew. This is where the trouble began.
After my first 2 open water dives I was feeling a bit queasy (the bug) and my ears didn’t seem to want to equalize. The pressure would let up eventually and I had to descend very slowly, but I had a loud whining noise in my ears the entire time I was under water. On my last dive I found that I couldn’t look up at the sea fans waving back and forth under water as this made me nausea (it was a very rough day on the ocean with lots of big waves throwing us around when we were on the surface).
As we made our way back to Altons after the last dive I had to stand and keep my eyes on the horizon as I felt I was suffering a bit if sea sickness. At this point I was beginning to seriously wonder if my body just wasn’t meant for under the sea adventures. I was feeling very discouraged as my confined water dives had gone so well the day before.
Soon after I got back to the dive center I came to the realization that I was actually sick with something and it wasn’t sea sickness. This was a bit of a relief that it wasn’t the diving that was making me sick but also unfortunate that I was, well, sick. I spent the night curled up in bed with excruciating stomach pains (and the occasional run to the shared bathroom next door).
The next day I was suppsoed to complete my open water dives in the morning and finish the classroom portion in the afternoon. As part of the Open Water Dive course offered by Altons, they also through in 2 free fun dives to start you off on your diving career. This too had to be postponed a day but luckily I was the only student and I had the extra time.
So the day after I was sick, I told my instructor Shelly about my illness and she was easily able to accommodate this unfortunate event, and delay our course a day. I spent the day relaxing in the sun, soothing my sore stomach and hoping I’d feel up to completing my course the next day.
Returning To The Water
After a good nights sleep and finally being able to eat again, I felt great as we set out for my final 2 open water dives. Recalling how I’d felt diving just 2 days before, I was a bit apprehensive as we jumped into the ocean. But to my great surprise (and relief!) I found it a lot easier to equalize my ears and never felt the nausea brought on by sea sickness.
I had a wonderful, flawless last two dives. The cherry on top was swimming beside a giant sea turtle as he grazed his way across the ocean floor. Swimming with a sea turtle had been #1 on my bucket list of under water encounters and I fulfilled that wish before I even completed my Open Water Diver course!
Beyond thrilled, I was smiling from ear to ear as we returned to Altons in the late afternoon and Shelly handed me my certification card.
Fully Certified Diver
I have to say that as an outdoor enthusiast, exploring the underwater world was a completely new experience, unlike anything I’d done before. I was not only amazed at ocean life but also how close you could get so some of the wildlife. Humans aren’t viewed as predators for the most part, you’re just another fish in the sea.
The next morning (my last day on the island), I joined a small group of divers and headed out for my first plunge underwater as a certified diver. Though I didn’t require it, Altons paired me up with my very own diver master since it was my first open water dive.
I warned my dive master that I was usually a bit slow to equalize my ears and he said that was no problem, take my time. But this time around I descended as fast as he did, having no problem with equalizing! I never thought I’d see the day when I didn’t struggle with my ears under water. Throughout my 2 dives I felt great! No nausea, no ear pain. I was able to enjoy the incredible underwater world without distraction. And to my delight, I saw not one but three sea turtles!
The next day I set off for Roatan where I explored both above and below the beautiful Caribbean Ocean. The Bay Islands were a great place to learn to scuba dive and I highly recommend visiting. With so many dive operators to choose from and courses starting daily, it’s very easy to get certified with whatever timeline your traveling on. The warm waters and incredible reefs make for a wonderful place to dive whether you’re new to the sport or seasoned diver. I will definitely be returning some day!