Welcome to paradise
After three surf lessons, two achy upper arms and one bruised chin, I knew: surfing is not my calling. So I said goodbye to the Nicaraguan Pacific coast in order to give the almost waveless Atlantic a try. And you know what? Best. Decision. Ever.
I ended up in paradise, a.k.a. the Corn Islands: two picture perfect little islands, 70 kilometers off the eastern coast. As soon as my plane landed on the biggest of the two, Big Corn, I knew it was going to be heaven. The bright turquoise sea, crystal clear. The tall palm trees, slowly waving hello to everyone who would look up. And, as I soon found out, the complete absence of stress whatsoever.
Let’s try diving
At random I walked into a dive shop to rent some snorkel gear. Soon I got talked into taking a dive course instead. Oh well, why not? Being a scuba newbie, I took a beginner course (PADI Open Water). As divemaster Fred would say with his heavy French-Canadian accent, this course teaches you the basics of “how not to die underwater”. Which sounds way more gruesome than it is. In fact, you learn skills you most likely will need some day. Think staying with your buddy, clearing your mask and checking your air regularly.
I was lucky to have a teeny tiny class: it was just me and a French guy with unpronounceable name (within hours after he introduced himself, our dive instructor Otto and I just called him ‘moi’– the French word for ‘me’). Though before we were allowed in the water, we had to study. Happy days… just kidding. The overly American e-learning program drove Moi and me crazy. The study material itself is not that hard. It is just a lot. And with a lot of repetition. That, combined with slow laptops and an overloaded Wi-Fi network, converted us to sighing screen zombies for hours on end.
Into the water
About a day and a half later, we first greeted sunlight again. Yay, it was time for our pool session! The infinity pool itself was pretty enough from above the surface, but below it was were my first real diving experience started. Oh, how I love to breathe and see underwater! How you can be weightless, how you can forget about time… I say this now, but back then in the pool, it was actually quite a mission. Especially buoyancy, the skill of drifting horizontally without ascending or descending, has been a challenge to master (and to be honest, is still work in progress).
The studying that followed was mainly powered by Toña. This Nicaraguan beer often helped me get through another mental study breakdown. However, no beer for me before our first ‘real’ dive: the effect of alcohol doubles every ten meters when underwater, so best not to push any limits there. I remember my first dive very well. We had lots of skills to practice and I was watching Otto and Moi like crazy to make sure we stayed close together. Time flew by and before I knew it, Otto signaled ‘up’: back to the surface.
Look around you!
Back at the boat I realized that I had hardly noticed any of the fish and coral surrounding us. The cheesy e-learning voiceover had already warned us for this: the beginner’s vision is narrow as you focus on your gear, technique and buddy. If it would’ve stayed like that, I don’t know if I would’ve pursued my diving career… But you can guess by now that it didn’t. Soon things got easier and I almost forgot about keeping up with the team. I was stunned by the abundance of colorful fish and coral around me. The graceful rays! The impressive (but harmless) reef sharks! Tons of huge lobsters, baby drum fish… and everything in between.
And so I got hooked. Hooked on diving. After an awesome two weeks it was hard to leave Big Corn. However, a few weeks later I was lucky to dive some more on the island of Utila, Honduras (Turtles! Dolphins! Seahorses!). I started out a newbie, but went from Open Water to Advanced and even Rescue in a month. One more course and I may call myself a Divemaster. Unfortunately, it is not the time now… but I truly can’t wait to get back into the deep blue!
Where to go?
Cheapest dive courses?
Most authentic/least touristy?
Corn Islands (particularly Big Corn)
Best party scene?
Most healthy reef?
Best sea food?
Best overall/international food?
Easiest/cheapest to reach?
Best things to see underwater?
My advice? If possible… visit both!