Finally made it in the water yesterday. Like I’ve said before I talk about diving more than I actually dive, but occasionally I do get to blow bubbles.
We were diving with one of the harvesting divers from Isla Natividad to see how he dived and better understand his working conditions. They dive using a hookah system: a hose connecting a compressor on the boat to a regulator the diver wears. They don’t bother to wear fins. Instead, they wear double the weights a diver interested in swimming would wear and don work boots to literally run on the ocean bottom searching for their catch. Each dive they focus on one particular item. They collect sea cucumbers or snails or red algae, depending on the season. This time, the diver was demonstrating how he finds and collects snails.
To watch the diver do his job was very much like trying to chase a rabbit through a thicket, he moved so fast and so randomly. But it was very eye-opening to see how he worked. We were only diving in about 30 feet of water but normally, they dive much deeper and the work of breathing at those deeper depths is dramatically increased. I was breathing hard swimming around trying to keep up with him. I can only imagine what it would have been like at his normal depth.
While I love the ocean, I think I find man’s interaction with it the most fascinating. For me, diving and travel and exploration isn’t just about seeing things (although I do get to see some really cool things from time to time), but it’s about understanding that interaction. People who make their living directly from the ocean, working on it or in it, see the ocean differently than those of us who simply visit it from time to time. The only way to understand that is to work directly with them.
After making two dives, where I got to do very little sight-seeing other than chasing the diver, the boat man wanted to take us on around the island and show off his home. On the back side of the island is a sea lion colony. You could hear the dogs barking a long way off and smell them from almost as far. The closer we got, the louder they barked and the bulls moved back and forth protectively. It was fun to get up close to them, though, on the boat and watch them sun themselves or jump off the rocks into the ocean. They look like big brown Labrador retrievers.
After that, it was back to work. Matias and I put on about three hours of presentations for the local divers, mostly just answering their questions. And that is where the connection in a place like this happens. We stopped being tourists watching and started connecting with the divers as equals, helping them out and understanding what they do, how they live and what they think. Afterward, we were talking that you can’t understand people by standing on the outside. Travel is great, but getting to know people and become friends is the real purpose behind the adventure..