Anytime I get a chance to go to the Caribbean, there’s one thing on my mind: diving. Alas, on many work trips, there’s little to no time for diving, so I was more than a little excited when I got my itinerary from AFAR and it included a full morning of diving Curaçao.
Bright and early on the second morning, we suited up and headed down to the marina where Ocean Encounters is headquartered. Having gone diving in a couple dozen countries at this point, I was immediately in awe of how expansive and clean the facilities were (not always the case, non-diver friends). When I checked in to get my rental gear, I was doubly impressed by the quality of equipment given to me.
Ocean Encounters and me, we were already off to a good start.
We didn’t waste any time boarding our boat and motored about 20 minutes out to our first dive site of the day, just off the beach of Santa Barbara. I love islands like Curaçao where all the dives are within a half-hour’s boat drive. With my seasickness, there’s nothing more stressful than being on a dive boat for hours!
Then again, the water was relatively calm on Curaçao, and I didn’t get the slightest bit queasy on our ride. Again, a nice dive boat usually helps that, and Ocean Encounters’ fleet is top-notch.
The bad news is that my camera malfunctioned on this dive and I don’t have many images to show from it. The good news is that prompted me to buy a new compact camera and underwater housing for my next Caribbean jaunt next week!
Our surface interval ran around 45 minutes before it was time for our second dip. On both dives, we had clear visibility and a bounty of colorful marine life to greet us.
We saw many of the usual suspects we see on the majority of Caribbean dives: trumpetfish, needlefish, lionfish (b00), a moray eel or two, even a turtle. The reef seemed very alive and thriving, and I was pleased to read that Ocean Encounters is a part of that effort, educating those about keeping the sea safe and doing their part with coral restoration efforts.
Diving is exhausting, though, so we immediately headed straight to Sea Side Terrace, an old shipping container-turned-restaurant, for some fresh catches and caffeine before we continued on our afternoon.
The next day, we had a morning of beach bumming on the schedule—only it rained, so instead of “bumming” per se, we more flitted from beach to beach on a photo safari—before we checked into Aquafari for our afternoon snuba, or rather our ride on a self-propelled submersible scooter.
While we got the briefing, I was confident and ready to jump right in. After all, I love the ocean: snorkeling, diving, swimming—give me all of it!
Only, the second I submerged and put the helmet on, I had the beginnings of a panic attack. The contraption only has transparent glass on one side and not having a 360-degree line of vision really made my claustrophobia rise.
So I opted out. I mean, I’d already gone diving after all, so I knew what was under there. SVV and two British girls went instead and I swam laps in the sea above them as they motored around below the surface.
Am I disappointed in myself that I couldn’t overcome the sense of claustrophobia? Sure, always.
But I’ve also dealt with such issues for so long—a decade now this year—that I know when to push it and when to ease off the throttle.
For those of you who have mild claustrophobia, you might be fine; know that you aren’t locked into the contraption and can dip down and swim out at any point. For those of you, like me, who grapple with a sensation of feeling trapped and just can’t handle it, this is definitely not for you. For what it’s worth, SVV loved it, then again, he can’t at all relate to what goes through my head when I have a panic attack as he’s never even been mildly claustrophobic (lucky!).
On the final morning, we did a quick walk-through of the Curaçao Sea Aquarium, which was a pretty impressive facility for an island. Show of hands if you’ve seen Finding Dory? That’s exactly what the open-air park set-up reminded me of.
Our dive operator Ocean Encounters also offers Animal Encounters in which you can dive with dolphins—in a way that’s safe for the animals in their native habitat—or snorkel if you aren’t dive certified.
Furthermore, they have turtle and shark-feeding opportunities right there in the outdoor lagoons of the aquarium. Needless to say, appealed to my animal-loving heart!