Guatemala, Travel

Scorpions and Scuba Diving – A lesson in Fear

Entire scuba class underwater

Scorpions and Scuba Diving

I promise that Guatemala: The Guatemalan Grind (part 3) is coming. But first, this has been my life the last week and feels more prevalent right now. And, you guys are involved in this one!

One of the things – nay, my favorite thing – about traveling is the accompanying personal growth. Every adventure, every change of the routine; it pushes you outside your comfort zone a little. Only outside of this bubble, when exposed to new stimuli, do we learn about ourselves. Even when you ‘fail’. Especially when you fail.

I once saw an “ask me anything” on Reddit featuring Ron Pearlman. He says, “Make failure your friend. Once you do that, you can’t lose. If you regard every failure as a victory, all you will ever know is victory.”

Fear, my old friend.

Fear is a companion we all live with. Fear tells you to quit, that you aren’t good enough, to just give up. He is the negative that holds us back. Personified as ‘mean brain’, ‘anxiety’ and ‘self-doubt’, all the way to the whisper of basic biological instincts: ‘if you aren’t above water, you’ll die’. In any form, fear is something we all must conquer daily, or it holds us back. Therefore, fear (and the conquering of) is the biggest driver of personal growth.

After the incidents in Mexico City, fear told me to quit, to just go home. It would be easy, and I would be back to where I was comfortable. And Fear wouldn’t be tapping on my shoulder [as much]. Conquered with the help of my mother, I found myself in Guatemala. As expected, plenty of fear here too – but not the kind we have back home.

New Kinds of Fear

Guatemala has presented me with unique obstacles I’ve never encountered in the states [or in my travels]. To date, the scariest incident of my life was my near-kidnapping in Vietnam. It took several days of not leaving the house to shake the jitters that almost brought me home. Without the safety offered by my host family, I most likely would have come running back to my mother. Here though, I struggle against the environment, and against myself.

Scorpions – fear at home

Home is where you’re safe. Home is security, where the heart is, and all that cliché craft-fair stuff, right? We’re not supposed to be afraid at home. Guatemala has offered me a first-time experience in this area. As you know, Hayden and I have rented an apartment here. An apartment, unbeknownst to us, to also be home to several scorpions.

Generally, I try to leave wildlife alone. Spiders are a perfect example – they’re just on the job, people! Let them do their civic duty, they aren’t hunting you. Back home, the spiders and I, we have an accord. I am not going to bother them unless they are in my way. If I need to shower, I’ll start the water and give them a chance to make themselves hidden. If they don’t, well, then I sick Girl Baby on them and they become cat lunch. Mostly though, we live in harmony. Scorpions, however, that’s a different sting. (See what I did there? Hehe)

The Highland Scorpion 

A dead highland scorpion
He deeeeead!

Guatemala is home to the Highland Scorpion. While not the biggest or deadliest of the world’s scorpions, a scorpion is still a scorpion – meaning I only like them fried, seasoned and skewered in Thailand. I’m told that a scorpion sting is comparable to a bee sting, but I don’t care to find out for myself.

Hayden and I spotted a few scorpions within the first few days of staying here but tried to simply deter them from wanting to be our roommates. It was fine…until they broke our pact. Scorpion #1 died after being forcefully flung from my arm and slammed into the dresser.

Central America boasts a rich cultural heritage of the legendary Mayan people. Its colorful presence and mystics surround you like an aura wherever you go. There is a saying that it’s bad luck to kill a scorpion and that if you do, two more will take its place. Well, the voodoo is strong here and, sure enough, after killing the first one we quickly encountered another [bigger] one. These little suckers are fast, so we opted for a quick smoosh from a shoe rather than trying to capture it to put it outside.

Hopefully, his buddies will see his crushed body and won’t come around…. either that or we’ve angered the Gods and are going to be stung to death in our sleep.

Assuming we get any. Every brush of fabric on my skin is a scorpion.

Scuba Diving – fighting your own biology

Me scuba diving in lake antitlan throwing the peace symbol
Despite the hand signal, I did not feel ‘at peace’!

The point of this post is, we’ve all been in situations where we need to conquer ourselves – we are what is holding us back. I’m very familiar with this dance with myself and often “go Spock on it”, using logic to overcome whatever wall I’m hitting.

 It takes more than logic to fight biology.

Here at Lake Atitlan, Hayden and I planned to complete our PADI open water dive (OWD) certification. The certification consists of various parts:

  • Confined (pool) water dives & skills test
  • Swimming fitness test (10 minutes treading water, 200m swim)
  • Classroom instruction with quizzes and final exam
  • Open water dives & skills test

Back home, Hayden had already completed the confined water and classroom portions of the course. For him to retake the course here with me would be the same as simply completing the open water dive for the certification back home.

You may have seen on Facebook, but O.M.G is it a struggle.

Day 1

Our instructor told us this, but it took my head being 10 ft under to believe him – the brain tends to freak out a bit when underwater. Everything you [think you] know bubbles right up and out of your brain with every exhale. Humans are not underwater creatures (though there is some debate about that).

We [humans] like to be breathing through our noses and our mouths while being upright. In scuba, none of that happens. You are not standing. “Up” is subjective, and air comes from one (ONE) single place.

We started our confined water dives in a shallow part of the lake. About 3 minutes in, I was ready to quit. I felt panicked, air-starved and scared.

Mind you: This is after we’ve spent the last 20 minutes huffing and puffing our way into our 7mm wetsuits. Here in the lake, a wetsuit is not an optional luxury but a requirement. It was the first time I’d put one on, and like everything in scuba, it was way harder than I thought it would be.

After a few minutes of sitting underwater learning to trust the regulator, I managed to push through it – and I’m glad I did. We performed basic drills: taking your mask off then putting it back on and clearing the water from it, removing your gear and putting it back on, etc. etc.

Slipping out of our suits without the grace of the penguins we resembled, we spent that afternoon watching 3 straight hours of PADI video classroom footage. It was a real treat to use a TV!

Day 2 – kick it up a notch

Day 2 started with the wetsuit jig, followed by swimming skills. I was relieved to find out I could pass the physical fitness part of the test. We practice a few more skills in the shallows, then hopped on a boat and zipped out to “Aguas Caliente” (“hot water”, geothermal springs) for our first open water dive.

Zach took us along the floor of the lake and pointed to areas where we could stick our hands in the mud and feel the hot water coming through. It was an enjoyable dive, but I was so focused on not sinking nor ascending, breathing, and making sure to stay near everyone that it was edged with anxiety.

After about 30 minutes, it was time to make our safety stop and ascend to the surface. I won’t go into detail about the ensuing humiliation of getting back into the boat! LOL

Day 3 – 3rd time’s the last time

You guys seriously pulled me out of bed for day 3.

A screenshot from Facebook showing a selfie and all the supportive comments from blog followers
P.S THANK YOU GUYS FOR ALL THE SUPPORT <3 I was so touched by the outpour of encouraging comments and messages – I’m not sure I could have gotten back in the water without you <3

Despite your encouragement, I knew day 3 was going to be a hard one for me. A culmination of soreness, anxiety, a pulled back muscle, and exhaustion from the ever-choppy lake water, all spiraled into resenting scuba.

The day began as usual – the wetsuit jig, equipment checks, hauling our crap down to the dock to get into the boat. We make it to the dive site, Casa Del Mundo (locally known as the Underwater Hotel as it used to be above water before the lake rose) and assume the position on the boat to fall back into the water. 3…2…1…Drop.

At this point, we inflate our vests to keep us at the surface. I reach for the control device and it isn’t there. A gasping “Help!” brings Zach over and he manages to grab, inflate it and then chew the rest of my team out for not checking me. Later reviewed footage shows that the control device was in place, so the impact of the water when we fell in must have dislodged it.

I signal to him that I’m okay to descend, but I’m still a bit shaken. I spend the next hour puking a little in my mouth and using 90% of my brain power to breathe and make sure I don’t float the surface. We practiced drills more – taking all our gear off and putting it back on. Taking our mask off, swimming 30m and then putting it back on and clearing it (that one was super scary, talk about trust in your divemaster). We even learned to breathe from a free-flowing regulator (constant air). All at 50 ft. underwater.

By the time we got back in the boat, I was done. Something I struggle with personally is that when I hit the “done” wall, that’s it, I’m done. When I got out of the boat on shore, I was done. I wasn’t the only one who was shaken – Hayden was feeling a little psyched from the endless depths of the lake, so instead of completing another dive, we called it a day. We would do the final dive on Tuesday.

I am not a mermaid…but I am Scuba certified!

Hayden and I set out to complete our Open Water certification. This would allow us to go to any PADI shop worldwide, rent scuba equipment and go dive somewhere up to 60 ft down. When Tuesday rolled around, and it was time to complete the last dive of the course, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Big time kudos to Hayden for reaching his goal.

Zach was wonderful in addressing my concerns and finding a solution that better suited me. He was able to certify me at the Scuba level vs. the Open Water level. The difference is that I can only dive to 40 ft. and I must be accompanied by a divemaster. I am never, ever, ever planning to dive alone so that’s just fine!

While I didn’t get my Open Water certification, I’m happy with my Scuba level certification. If, if, if (okay maybe that’s too harsh…when) I go diving again, it will be with a divemaster somewhere tropical, calm and free of 7mm wetsuits. I’ll love all the coral and the fish. I’ll love the clear movie-blue of the water and I’ll feel compelled to upgrade my certification.

When that time comes, I’ll be ready to jump into the deep end – past 60 ft.

Thanks for reading, and being with me every breath.  <3

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