One of the drawcards of Cuba is the diving. Spectacular Caribbean reefs, tropical fish, heaps of diving sites all around the island, and (outside the tourist resorts and off-season, as we are now) almost no other divers. So one of our plans for living in Cienfuegos was to get our diving tickets. As it turns out, you can’t dive in Cuba before you are 15, which ruled out Sam, and Geoff had an ear problem and had to back out after the first day. But I got to carry on, and yesterday passed my final exam. Yay!! It’s a great feeling - like when you pass your driving test. You know that lots and lots of people have done it before you, so you have no reason to be smug, but that still it doesn’t take away from the jubilant satisfaction when you get your bit of paper!
Learning in situ at a diving centre with a reef 20 metres off the coast has to be the gold standard of dive lessons. On one of our dives we were joined by a couple who had recently spent three months in a diving class based from a swimming pool in Canada. Which sounded a bit dull in comparison. My book lessons were done sitting looking out over the sea, and the initial get-to-know-the-equipment shallow water stuff was done in a deliciously warm, sandy Caribbean cove.
And then the four dives that make up the course were all over the reef. We’d potter around looking at coral and brightly coloured fish and wrecked ships for a while (and for anyone who hasn’t done it, seeing a reef in real life is just as amazing as what you see on TV – you can’t believe how beautiful it is!). Then we’d settle on the sandy bottom to do the practical exercises – taking your mask off underwater, finding your breathing device when it falls out, undoing your weight belt etc. It’s a bit freaky at first but there’s the satisfaction of it getting noticeably easier fairly quickly – like driving, I suppose.
And then back we’d wend our way back through the coral to the boat. It felt like taking your driving lessons not among the roundabouts of industrial Berkshire (my driving stomping ground), but in the Grand Canyon, on a day when you had it all to yourself.