Finding My Element – Mozambique (Part 1)
“You’re nervous about diving,” he said. Caine’s voice cut through the still, humid darkness of the tent in a matter-of-fact, but gentle way.
A surrendering exhale escaped my lungs before I could catch it. I could feel my cheeks blushing.
“Yup,” was the profound response that left my mouth, a single word that didn’t even begin to touch all the questions running around in my head… How can you be that inside my head?, What if I am a complete disaster at diving? and How did you even know I was up? You were snoring!
It’s my third night in Mozambique, in the tiny town of Ponta Malongane – a stretch of beautiful beach with the occasional thatched roof dwelling that stretches for about 5 kilometer along the Indian Ocean, just north of the South African border. I’ve come to meet my friend, Caine, in this gem of the African continent for three weeks to dive and explore. Except, it’s been raining since I got here. With gale-force winds. And surf.
Read: For the first time all season, it’s impossible to dive. Instead, we’ve been killing time working (if you’re Caine) and pretending not to worry (if you’re me) by taking long runs on the beach.
For context, let me shed some light on the differences between Caine and I:
Caine Delacy, a strikingly good-looking 30-something, has been camping in the jungle-esque landscape adjacent to the beach for about two months now. He has his PhD in Marine Biology from Western Austraila University, an arrestingly hot accent (if you’re in to that type of thing), and has raised an orphaned kangaroo. Operating a reef ecology research project for an international conservation organization, Operation Wallecea, he’s not only been working with students from all over the world this summer, but diving every day in one of the world’s most beautiful coastal ecosystems. More so, Caine is a certified Dive Master, and has been diving since he was 16 years old… logging over 500 dives in his lifetime. As far as I can tell, Caine has adapted to the water by growing his own set of gills, which he keeps skillfully hidden under la crème-de-la-crème of comical t-shirts.
I, on the other hand, live in the land-locked Republic of Boulder, Colorado. While I hail from coastal roots of my own right, I fell prey to the westward movement post-college and migrated from Maryland to Colorado for “two months, I promise, Mom.” Five years and some change later, here I am. I work at an international non-profit (Leave No Trace), enjoy fine wine, and – like the rest of my Boulder compatriots – fill my day with climbing, yoga, running, hiking and enjoying maybe a tad too much sun. My closet passion is dancing, and I love wearing leg warmers.
I’ve masked the effects of Colorado dryness and lack of water by dousing myself with a substantial amount of lotion and many trips to the ocean over the years. As of late, though, the voice inside me begging to get back to the water has become increasingly loud. When Caine asked me to come visit in Africa over the summer to go diving, it seemed like a fantastic opportunity.
… Save two factors: 1) I didn’t know how to dive, and 2) the thought of diving induced fears of claustrophobia in the form of minor panic attacks. Minor details? Of course. However, because my last few years have been a quality mix of dealing with the unexpected and getting over my fears, it was after little deliberation that I decided diving could be just the medicine I needed.
And this is how it came to be that I was certified a PADI Open Water Diver in only two weekends; did my first open water dive in a 55-degree Colorado reservoir with 8 feet of visibility at best; conceded to taking another round of malaria medication; flew across the world with only what could fit in two carry-on size Osprey bags; and was laying blindingly awake in the dead of night, in a leaking tent, in Mozambique, for fear of diving in a REAL ocean. With REAL fish (there were none in Colorado – just crawdads). With a REAL (good-looking) marine biologist as my dive buddy.
If only I’d been able to jump right off the plane, already in my wet suit and fins, and dive right in. Instead, the nightmares and the anxiety of getting in the ocean were only mounting – of not being able to see, or to breathe, or of getting lost.
Please, I thought as I lay my head back down on the pillow, Please let us get in the ocean tomorrow. I’m over the nightmares. I’m over the fear. I just want to do this.
“You’re going to be fine,” Caine came again. “And you’ve got a good teacher as your dive buddy.”
Exhale, again. It’s the only thing I knew to do as I closed my eyes, and drifted off in to the unknown of another dream.