Sun, fun and scuba!!!

Trip Start Jul 05, 2005
Trip End ??? ??, 2006

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Wednesday, March 1, 2006

I finally got a chance to get to the beach this past weekend. I took Friday and Monday off and headed to Santa Marta/Taganga, which is on the Atlantic coast. The reason or rather excuse I had was to get scuba certified. The better reason was that I needed a break and realized that I had not been to the beach here in Colombia since arriving.

I had taken my two week scuba course (in Spanish) at a dive school. It was really great and the instructor, Gustavo, was a doll. I took the class with some really nice people from Bogota, but ended up doing the certification with a group of guys from an insurance company. It was actually a lot of fun and it wasn't bad being the only woman in the group. In any event, I decided to take up scuba diving because I was afraid of letting something other than me control my breathing...yeah, I know, control freak! After completely embarrasing myself in the pool before the open water dive this past weekend, I was ready to go. The embarrasing part was that I panicked when I had to let my mask fill with water and then remove the water without going to the surface. It's tough at first, but now, it's cake. Oh, I convinced (although it didn't take much) my friend, Adel (see previous entries) to come with me on the trip. Adel is an advanced scuba diver and I figured it would be great to have him along.

I left Bogota at 7:30 am on Friday and was at the beach by 9:30. The town we stayed in was called Taganga and is about 20 minutes north of Santa Marta (popular tourist area). I didn't know what to expect except that Gustavo had told me it was a fishing village but there were beaches nearby. I must say I was pleasantly surprised when I got to Taganga. It was a fishing village, but it was really neat. The people were super friendly and it was small. It was kind of hippyish (sp), but had a lot of character. I walked around and it was the beginning of Carnival (kind of like Rio), so there was a lot of partying going on (see Carnival pictures). Kids were dressed up and singing and dancing in the streets. After walking around and checking the town out, I rented a speed boat with a boatmaster and for $4000 pesos ($2US) he took me to a little beach called Playa Grande (Big Beach) area around a set of rocks. The ironic part was that the beach was kind of little. Nice but little.

Around 1 pm the scuba group (Gustavo, Carlos Andres, Jorge, Hernan,Fabio) and headed out for our first of 7 dives (including 1 night dive). The water was choppy and i was starting to feel a little nervous about my first dive. I think the rest of the group was too because few words were said until we got to the dive spot, which was beautiful. The name of the cove and the area was Granate (no real translation). As soon as we got into the cove you, the water was calm and shades of green and blue. I instantly felt better. We put on our gear and into the water we went. It was freaking cold. Minutes later I was 40 feet deep and still alive! Breathing wasn't a problem, but when my mask started to fog up, I knew I was going to have to stay calm and concentrate on how to get a little water into the mask and get rid of it without freaking out! It worked perfectly and then I was able to see amazing fish, corals and even an octopus. Octopus was really cool. They change color to protect themselves. The first dive was the basic part of the certification. We had to remove our regulators (breathing mechanism) and put it back on. Fill our masks and purge them. I successfully completed those tasks. I was so excited! We swam around for about 27 minutes and then headed to the surface. We got back in the boat and there were hi-5s everywhere! It was really awesome!

We rested for a while and did our second dive. More tests, but this time I was so much more relaxed. Again we saw more beautiful fish in all shapes and sizes. I was so amazed at the magnitude of the enviornment and the beauty of each creature we saw underwater. After the two dives, we headed back to Taganga and hung out. We waited for Adel to arrive-- he had to work and joined us at around 8:30 (hahaha!). Adel and I took a cab into Santa Marta and hung out at a really cool sushi bar that was on the top floor of a building overlooking the water. By the time 11 pm rolled around, I was done for the night. Party girl was bushed! We headed back to the hotel and the following day we took off for our dives at 8:30 am. Adel decided to dive separately and we basically spent the day apart, which worked out fine. Adel isn't an early riser and I couldn't wait to get into the water again. So I dove in the morning and he dove in the afternoon. That night at 6 my group went out for a night dive. Night diving is a completely different animal. The fear factor is 10 fold and the sea is so different at night. As you can imagine, the visibility is limited and you always have the JAWS music playing in the back of your head. Okay, maybe I'm a little freakier than most people, but that's what I was thinking. Down under, the colors were completely different than during the day. They were more vibrant and different colors altogether. Coral that was a burnt tone of red was bright red at night. The fish were harder to see, but it was still cool.

Later that night, we headed into Santa Marta again to "El Rodadero" (the slide) which is the beach area in Santa Marta. We had a couple of drinks and just hung out. Again, I was exhausted and we stayed out till about 1. We talked about tons of stuff like we usually do. Adel's such a great friend and I feel very lucky to have him here. He really signs up for whatever crazy thing I want to do.

The next day, we did two more incredible dives and I realized that I was hooked. I wanted more, I wanted to stay. Unfortunately, everyone else including Gustavo had to head back to Bogota the following day. You can't fly after having scuba for at least 12 hours. I had planned on going to Parque Tayrona, a natural park, the following day and had arranged for a private guide to take me and show me around. That night, the entire group got together and we went partying in Santa Marta. We didn't get home till I don't know what time, but had a really good time!

I am so glad I stayed! The park was absolutely incredible. It's in the jungle and there are beaches everywhere. Some are swimable and some aren't. We hiked into the jungle for about 2 hours and were greeted by yellow monkeys in the trees as we walked into the park. It was so different to see the monkeys in the wild instead of in a zoo. There were beautiful birds and other unseen animals. The hike was really awesome, especially when I got to meet a Kogee (native Colombian indians). We had food along the way from local vendors. There was a bakery along the way and the woman made the best bread I've ever tasted. She cooked it in a stone oven, but wouldn't give up the recipe for her chocolate filled bread. Yummy!

We saw three beaches (there were plenty more to see)and at the last one, Cabo San Juan Guia, we had lunch and I had a nice siesta in a hammock which my guide set up for me. Lunch was a fabulous red snapper (entire thing head and all). I took some great pictures and then we hiked back for 2 hours and he dropped me off at the airport.

While I was in Taganga/Santa Marta, I realized how lucky I was to be in Colombia and experience the things I've done. I get lonely at times and really miss my friends and family (all you guys!), but that passes with the next adventure. I can't believe I've been here about 9 months. Now I'll have to figure out whether I can extend for another year. There's a part of me that wants to stay and there's another part of me that wants to head home to DC. I'll have to wait and see what happens. In the meantime, I am planning my next scuba trip or atleast a beach trip when my friends Tanya and Sheila come visit in mid-March.

Check out the pictures, they are really fabulous and you will be able to figure out why I am contemplating retiring in Granate, near Taganga. I could actually live on the ocean, something that is probably out of my reach in the states.

Love you all!

PS. I'm on maid #5. Can you believe it?
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