Taganga, Colombia. October 2022.
Murderous-looking lightning bolts silently strike somewhere over Tayrona National Park where I had hiked with a German fellow I met at the gates just a few days ago.
Tayrona lies where the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range meet the Caribbean Sea and, despite being only 150 square kilometers, is rich in biodiversity with habitats ranging from rainforest to coastal lagoons to palm-shaded coves where turquoise water laps onto white sandy beaches.
But I wasn’t headed to Tayrona.
Slickly geared in a black wetsuit, I was sitting in the back of a diving boat pitted North into the pitch-black Caribbean Sea as I watched the small fishing village of Taganga, Colombia fade away into the night sky.
Although I had spent the last two days diving in these waters, it felt utterly different at night. The black water merged with an equally dark sky creates a much less welcoming atmosphere than the turquoise water and baby blue sky I had experienced the days before.
Not only am I out of my element as a land animal in water, but now I’m among the nocturnal creatures of the sea—a mere diurnal ape with no business being submerged under twenty meters of stark black water.
Our boat roars to an abrupt stop as the Captain announces that we have arrived at the dive spot (or so I assume… my Spanish is far from fluent). The boat breaks into an anxiously excited and chaotic gearing-up. Like poorly trained Navy SEALS preparing to infiltrate enemy waters.
I hop up and sit on the edge of the boat with my feet on the bench. Fins on. Mask on. Flashlight in hand. El Capitan impatiently holds up my tank to prevent it from prematurely tipping me backward into the water as I fasten and inflate my BCD and pop my regulator into my mouth.
Ready to go, I hold my mask and regulator in place as I roll back into the ominous pitch-black sea. Once the rest of the crew hits the water, our Dive Master gives the signal to descend.
I release air from my buoyancy vest and, as I become fully submerged, tighten my grip on my flashlight. Without that guiding light, I wouldn’t be able to see my hand in front of my face and could become completely disoriented with no sense of up or down—not an ideal situation with only 60 minutes of air in my tank.
The challenge of night diving, as a relatively inexperienced diver, is finding a balance between not losing the rest of the group—a surprisingly easy feat with only three meters of visibility—while still curiously exploring the other-worldly environment you’re miraculously floating through.
To lose the group is to be stranded in a vast sea, wishing upon a murderous lightning bolt to be found and returned to safety while only focusing on staying with the group is to miss out on an incredible adventure and, potentially, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
My body’s not particularly helpful response to this unfamiliar situation was to produce overwhelming anxiety. Although it may have reduced the pleasurability of the experience, it indeed kept me alive and safe while my forebrain fired on all cylinders to overcome enough of the anxiety so that I could still take pleasure in my surroundings. The colourful fish darting around for a late-night snack, a baby octopus hanging out on the sea floor, and bioluminescent algae that only makes itself visible at night.
It was an experience that I will certainly never forget, not just for the memory of a deep, dark, and mysterious ocean world so unknown to us land-dwellers but for the lesson that it cemented in my psyche which has continued to positively shape my life:
There is so much to gain in both life experiences and character development from purposefully creating new and uncertain and uncomfortable moments in our lives.