Some years ago, my wife and I wanted to leave the comfort and security of home and take a summer vacation to a place foreign and exotic. We chose Mexico. A different language, food, culture. Off we flew to Acapulco.
We spent days soaking up the sun on a beach surrounded by swaying palms, shopping in quaint marketas, and listening to more Mariachi bands than we cared to remember. Nearing weeks end, we decided to do one adventurous thing before leaving. Something we’d always dreamed of. Something we would always remember.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to fly like an eagle,” my wife whispered, after days of watching vacationers being catapulted from the ground by a boat-tugged line that lifted their parachute-equipped bodies high in the air. “I want to go parasailing!”
The next day, we signed my wife up. As she was strapped into the leather harness that would take her into the clouds, she held her head high, threw back her shoulders, looked up into the blue with determination, and screamed, “I can’t do it!”
“What do you mean? You said you wanted to fly like an eagle.”
“I can’t. I’m too scared.”
“Don’t be silly. It’s nothing. It’s safe. It’s fun. You’ll be just fine,” I assured her.
“Then you do it.”
Me do it? I thought to myself. I’m deathly afraid of heights. I get dizzy at the top of a step ladder. But there she was, challenging my manhood in the land of machismo, in front of a crew of Mexican men waiting for my answer. “Strap me in,” I bravely, and foolishly replied. As they did, my heart started to pound.
Sweat poured down my face when the tow line from a waiting boat was attached to my harness. I could barely breathe when they signaled the boat to take off. As it revved its engines and began to cut through the waves, up I went. In seconds, I was flying! Only then did I realize that I wasn’t afraid of heights at all. It was falling from heights that scared me. Securely strapped into a harness, floating beneath a parachute with no possibility of falling, I had no fear at all. I flew like an eagle.
The next day it was my turn to choose something I’d always dreamed of. Scuba diving. We found a brochure that advertised half-day scuba diving trips. It promised an hour of scuba training, an hour of practice in a swimming pool, then an actual ocean dive. I booked it. As we soon discovered, the laws of false advertising aren’t exactly as stringent in Mexico as they are in the states. I anxiously sat, waiting for the hour of scuba training. An old codger shuffled into the room, peeked out from under a sombrero, and mumbled, “These. Air tanks,” he grunted. “This. The mouthpiece and mask. Those. Fins for the feet. So, to the boat.”
As he began to lead us out, I said, “What about the hour of practice in the pool?”
“Pool?” he said, raising one eyebrow. “The pool, she is broken. No pool. We go to the boat.” Eight of us followed obediently.
As the waiting boat pulled away from the dock, he removed his sombrero and replaced it with a captain’s hat. While he explained that we would be diving in twos, with a trained guide accompanying each pair of divers, a young man next to me tapped me on the shoulder. “Ever dove before?” he asked. I explained that it was something I’d always wanted to do since I was a kid when I used to watch Lloyd Bridges on the TV show, Sea Hunt. He explained that he was trained in scuba and had over a hundred hours of experience. This was the guy I wanted as a partner.
After a thirty-minute boat ride, we dropped anchor. We were strapped into our gear and told that our tanks had thirty minutes worth of oxygen. When that thirty minutes neared its end, we would feel short of breath. At that point, we were to alert our guide by dragging our index finger across our throat. The guide would then open a valve on our tanks allowing us five more minutes of air so that we could surface safely. With that, the old man threw away the cigar stump he’d been chewing on and said, “Okay. Jump in.” He pointed to the water with his thumb.
“Just jump in?” I asked.
“Jump in.” He grinned. So, I did, along with my new found buddy. As promised, a guide followed and led us down into the deep. I’d like to say that I enjoyed the undersea beauty – the fish, the sea creatures, but I was so nervous, all I remember seeing were the clouds of bubbles being spit out by my air tank. And then it happened.
Ten minutes into the dive, I caught a flurry of movement from the corner of my eye. My diving friend began flailing his arms wildly, whipped off his mask, and bolted desperately toward the surface. I watched, helpless, as my guide turned to me, shrugged his shoulders, and signaled me to follow him as he continued his descent. Stunned, having just seen an experienced diver drown, I panicked and began to breathe twice the normal rate. In just minutes, I had used up all of my air. I felt as if someone had clamped their hand over my mouth and nose and I was suffocating. I frantically signaled the guide who turned the valve releasing my reserve air, then he motioned me to follow him down deeper. Was he kidding? I’d had my share of diving. I frantically paddled upward, running out of air just as I reached the surface. I climbed on board the boat expecting to find the drowned corpse of my diving partner. Instead, there he was, happily sipping a coke, shrugging off some sort of malfunction of his equipment and readying himself for another dive.
“And you, senior. Another dive?” the old captain grinned.
“Gracias, but no.” There was only one thing left to say…to the captain…to Mexico…to adventure. “Adios.”