My dreams were fractured that night, strange visions of scorpions adorned with space-ships and the character Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I awoke before seven and managed to wash and shave before waking a lethargic Matt up for a seven thirty breakfast and an eight o'clock departure. Being Sunday, the supermarket was still closed which meant our daily ration of water would have to be postponed. The egg-shaped, motorised tricycle of a coco-taxi whipped us towards the beach, the fractured asphalt mere inches away from exposed skin. The sun had barely risen meaning the beach was desolate, the sand cold and the water even colder as we sat and waited for Leo to arrive and open the shuttered dive hut.
Apprehension reigned as more people arrived and we began to gear up, slinging more and more familiar paraphernalia into the surprisingly sturdy rowing boat. The Britons from the introductory lesson before had come along and with a wet-suit on, the weighty kit wasn't so destructive on the shoulders. The dive site selected for today was a long boat journey out and flaking paint of the boat and the rapidly warming sun made for a pleasant trip around the Ancon Peninsular. I watched as many of the passengers, Matt included, took the long step off the boat and into the water until it was only the three learners and Leo himself who ran through how the dive would proceed. Slipping on some ill-fitting flippers, then shouldering the buoyancy vest and tank, then the mask, then a weight belt to assist said buoyancy, I felt nothing if not extremely burdened. Waddling to the edge of the boat, the TV friendly back-roll off the boat was eschewed for a more mask friendly stride.
A taste of salt water still in my mouth, Leo clustered the three of us around a guide-rope leading beneath the water from the bow of the boat and took us below. Leading us down, things which seemed taxing yesterday were now easy in the vast expanse of the ocean; all the while new problems such as my arch-nemesis: buoyancy, and newcomer: swimming horizontal were of new concern. The dive site floor was little more than rust coloured coral and formless reefs but as an introduction to diving the experience was unparalleled. Towards the end of the languid swim in translucent blue waters I began to run low on air and perhaps due to the crushing pressure of less than 15 metres I was nonplussed at this development and continued onward until the signal was given to slowly ascend.
In what seemed like no time at all we had surfaced; the climb back onto the boat was excruciating, moving from neutral to laden while attempting to climb a ladder was less than fun. Despite scraping my knee on some of the rampant coral and sporting a wicked blister from the flippers, it was an exhilarating adventure if not entirely different to my patchy imagination. Heading back to shore, some departed the boat, laden with kit, for different escapades; while others like myself were to go on another dive in the afternoon meaning only a change in tank was necessary. Heading back to shore myself, I grabbed some cold and damp diving socks and different flippers before heading back to the boat which chugged out to a closer site for the afternoon dive.
Suiting up once again, swimming shorts bunched up around my groin, Leo gave a bit more freedom to me on this dive and with the Britons gone and Matt in tow it was back into the water. With my buoyancy almost mastered, the combination of prior experience and a wholly different site made this dive an altogether different adventure. Hundreds of species of fish and a landscape of coral rolled out beneath us as I followed Leo down with Matt exploring nearby with a waterproof camera. Leo managed to temporarily capture a blowfish which duly expanded, much to the delight of its audience, while others pointed out fish of all colours and denominations. With so many other divers in such a close area my main concern was bumping into them and, once again, my rapidly decreasing air. When prompted I took Leo's secondary mouthpiece which may have given me further time beneath the waves but tethered me to him which had the unfortunate side effect of showing just how slow and non-athletic I was.
Despite the calm and enjoyable atmosphere, as I began my unsupervised ascent, my buoyancy skyrocketed and I found myself rapidly rising on a collision course for the boat. I avoided introducing my head to the keel and shunted air out of the vest and swum down, eager and slightly panicked into maintaining my controlled ascent. My ears rang and with little air left, I rose to the surface and quickly scampered onto the awaiting boat, my yo-yo surfacing hopefully not noticed. I prayed for the boat to stop rocking as it made its way back to shore, a merciless combination of decompression sickness, nervousness and an unfamiliarity to the nitrogen mix in the air tanks.
Back near shore I continued scowling at the sky hoping for my queasiness to abate while I busied myself by helping hang out and tidy up the equipment, all the while avoiding the brutal glare of the sun. After everything apart from my nausea had quietened down, Matt and myself were invited back onto the boat where the dive team was having a late lunch of freshly caught seafood in a spicy sauce with rice. The term "gumbo" came instantly to mind. Devouring strange smelling, slimy and unidentifiable creatures was not what I wanted when feeling under the weather but that and the freshly plied water certainly made me feel a lot more human.
Rowing back to shore, I managed to complete the day by falling face first into the sand when climbing out of the rowing boat. I headed to one of the many vacant deck-chairs, camera bag nearby and decided to await what I hoped would be a spectacular sunset; Matt meanwhile began to socialise with the dive team, rekindling old friendships. With the sunset looking less and less likely to be awe-inspiring and more "glow behind clouds", Leo returned from wherever he had dashed off to with two almost attractive girls, one of whom he shared lips and a less than inconspicuous hand-job with. Throughout my time in Trinidad I would never find out the truth of Leo's marital situation yet the niggling thought he was being unfaithful to somebody never quite left me. As Matt is wont to do, he invited the two girls out in the evening, as he put it "by accident". Leo disappeared and I was summoned to the formative party in the dive hut and handed a rum and coke in a disposable cup. The evening had begun.
Drinks were poured, music was played and jokes shared as the light dwindled and I gradually began to get to know the dive team. While undeniably good guys, it was hard for me not to feel like I was the snobbish toff mixing (unsuccessfully) in with "the locals"; crass and boorish were the first adjectives to cross my mind, especially when two other girls showed up shouts of "black pussy" were directed to no one in particular. I spent most of the time talking to the affable Igor who was pleasantly social and also had an excessively attractive girlfriend whom he had argued with earlier over their new dog, a golden retriever. While still young and sprightly, the dog was as thick as a bunch of rocks and it wasn't hard to see there was little going on in his brain.
As I imbibed more and more rum I began to laugh harder and harder at the lewd jokes that were being spoken in uncharacteristically good English. Whether some sort of social survival mechanism kicked in or they were genuinely funny jokes I was unsure but the party began to wind down and the sunset was a non-starter. It was well past the time we had stipulated with the casa-owner for dinner, and despite my protestation to Matt, we stayed longer, drank more and my confusion as to what I was doing continued. Past 9pm the gathering concluded and we followed Lester and his friend to a bus which was either waiting for a driver or simply immobile.
After what seemed like an age we crammed into the bus with an inordinate amount of people on board and I remember wishing for everyone except the driver and myself to vanish into the night. A stifling and lengthy journey later we jumped off the bus in an unknown locale which, blissfully, was close to our casa. The owner and his wife were genuinely pleased to see us and went as far as to feed us the meal we were now two hours late in attending. Post food, Matt dashed out while I attended to a very sunburned foot which, as I was to find out, was only the start of my sunburn. With me in bed, I expected Matt to arrive back late so was surprised when he came back early (I was still awake) only to dash out again and sneak back an indeterminate amount of time later...