I had a revelation the first time I went scuba diving. Actually, it was the second time. My first time I panicked and shot to the surface (only a few feet above me) when I had a common reaction: breathing underwater is the most unnatural of acts.
The second time, when I’d mastered that fear and dove 130 feet, circling an underwater pinnacle teeming with tropical fish and lobster off the Caribbean island of Saba, I had a greater insight. The revelation was this: scuba diving isn’t just a sport. It’s a sublime form of sightseeing. Instead of a culture of landmarks, you feast your eyes on forests of staghorn coral and undersea mountains and caves as crowded with life—from colorful parrot fish to massive, absurdly graceful manta rays and the occasional shark or barracuda—as Grand Central Terminal is at rush hour.
To have this revelation is easier than you might think. While it requires lots of equipment, several hundred dollars and days of training to win your Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) certification, a PADI certified “resort course” can have you communing with Neptune in three hours for closer to $100. You learn modest life-preserving skills like clearing your mask, sucking air from your instructor’s regulator if something unforeseen happens and how to avoid the bends. Much of this instruction occurs on dry land, followed by a little quiz. Then you’re ready for a guided tour of the deep.
The clear turquoise waters of the Caribbean, off islands such as Curaçao, Bonaire and the Caymans, rank among the world’s top diving destinations. Others include the Red Sea and the 2,300-kilometer long Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia, the world’s largest coral reef system. Don’t assume above-ground calamities will foil your plans. I almost canceled a scuba trip to the British Virgin Islands last year after it was clobbered by the category-five Hurricane Maria. However, Keith Royale, of Blue Water Divers, apprised me that the weather was actually a therapeutic respite for the coral reefs and fish populations that are threatened by tourism. “It’s amazing what the absence of humans will do.”
And with that I was back to an alien world and one I didn’t have to board a spaceship to reach.