|Jardines de la Reina, aka Gardens of the Queen (2018년 5/6월호)|
쿠바 다이빙 여행기 여왕의 정원
Diving in communist Cuba involves a lot of documentation, including a special visa, an affidavit of approved activity (in our case, under the category "education exchange" to study marine life), Letter of Authorization, and proof of medical insurance. Fortunately, I was ably guided through the labyrinth of regulations by noted photographer, Richard Salas*, as he regularly organizes and leads dive groups to the pristine waters of the Gardens of the Queen and other scuba destinations worldwide. Our dive group was largely comprised of diverphotographers from Germany, Mexico, Australia, Canada and America. We all benefited from personal, one-on-one tutorship with Richard, aimed at improving our photographic skills.
Getting to Cuba involved a midnight red-eye flight from LAX to CLT(Charlotte, North Carolina) and then a connection to Havana, and we arrived by noon, the next day. Alas, it took two and half hours to clear customs and the ordeal made the mojito (Cuban highball with white rum) taste all the more soothing, once I reached my clean and cool B&B accommodations. A few laps in the salt water swimming pool also helped revive my spirits.
The next day, Richard had arranged a sightseeing excursion of Havana, whilst riding in well-preserved American jalopies from the '50s and '60s. On hearing me exclaim that the motor sounded very good for such an old car, my driver admitted a Mercedes engine was under the hood. Touring Havana from a convertible car was a great way to experience the historic city. We walked on well-worn cobblestone streets and sampled Cuban cuisine which was quite tasty. A few cigar aficionados branched off in search of Cuba's best stogies, at more than $100 apiece! In conversing with locals, I learned that Cuban citizens are prohibited from enjoying scuba, as divers could employ it as a means to rendezvous with an escape boat bound for Florida, only 90 miles distant.
At the wee hour of 04:30 the next morning, our bleary-eyed group, lumbered onto a bus for a 5-hour marathon drive to the port town of Jucaro, where we transited ourselves and weighty luggage to a boat, which chugged the ocean for another 5 hours to the Tortuga, a "floating hotel" firmly anchored in the Garden of the Queens archipelago, 50 miles away. From under the Tortuga, a resident crocodile regularly emerges, on hearing the familiar call of his name "Tito, Tito". The toothy beast was ever eager to gobble down offerings of plucked whole chickens.
On Valentine's Day, my dive computer accurately recorded a single 1,440 minute dive, at an average depth of 60 feet, off Cuba's southern coast. To be sure, it was my back up computer which had somehow de-clipped from a D-ring and fell into the watery depths, as I was climbing aboard a bouncing dive boat. The next day, an energetic dive master found the computer and plucked it off the reef. Cheerfully, I gave him a well-earned reward, and noted the computer was frantically flashing an SOS message (which cleared, after a day). A few days later, a different dive master managed to locate an errant camera rig which, in the excitement of encountering a crocodile named Nino in his natural mangrove habitat, had temporarily become separated, for an uneasy hour, from its owner, my roommate!
Nudibranchs were miserably meager; I found only three species. Apparently the Caribbean is not noted for them, in general. However, plenty of other marine life captivated our attention and kept our strobes firing away on turtles, crocodiles and wide array of colorful fishes. The reefs of Jardines del la Reina are interspersed by cays and huge stands of mangroves, all thriving with life. Healthy sea fans, giant sponges and abundance of corals can be seen on every dive. Though Fidel Castro was a diver-hunter, he was instrumental in establishing the region as a marine reserve after a convincing conversation with Jacques Cousteau.
The highlight for most divers were aggregations of sharks, predominantly Caribbean Reef and Silky. Beneath our boat, swimming sharks were so hick, they whacked my fins and bumped my legs and, on occasion, I ould reach out and pet them. Having left my wide-angle paraphernalia at ome, it was most challenging to shoot everything with my fixed macro ens (60mm 1.4x teleconvertor), including full body shots of sharks, arracudas and giant groupers, but it can be done.
The water visibility was quite good, averaging a clean 80-100 feet, which allowed me to linger on photo ops, while keeping an eye on bubbles of distant divers so I could navigate back to the anchor line. The water temperature was a consistent, warm 79℉ (26℃), except one dive, inside Octopus Cave, where it was noticeably 2 degrees less, as if a cold underwater spring fed into the cavern. Surge was minimal and the occasional current was mild.
Finally, this dive report would not be complete without introducing Dr. Britta Siegers, who resides near Cologne, Germany. Though she lost both her legs in a train accident just before age two, Britta is an intrepid diver, with scuba diving skills better than most. Since her first scuba experience in the Maldives, she is approaching 1000 dives while enjoying fantastic sites on all continents, except Antarctica. Britta enjoys diving for the sense of exploration and wonder "flying in another world", which she adroitly documents with her marine camera. Britta does not employ fins, but deftly maneuvers using the power of her arms. She is comfortable in her customized wet-suit and commands near perfect buoyancy control.
그녀는 맞춤형 웨트슈트를 입고서 편안해하고 부력 조절을 거의 완벽히 해낸다. 드라이슈트 다이빙은 보다 어렵지만, 브리타는 캐나다, 노르웨이와 그린란드의 차가운 물에서 다이빙을 해왔다. 드라이슈트를 착용하고서 웨이트의 착용과 암/핸드 스트로킹(arm/hand stroking)의 적절한 사용은 수중에서 적절한 부력 및 추진을 유지하는 데 중요하다.
Britta represented Germany in four Paralympics, in swimming and wheelchair-tennis. In fact, she won one of her eight Gold Medals in swimming at the '88 Seoul Paralympics, the first time when it was held at the regular Olympics venue. The indescribable emotion of entering the Olympic stadium, with a hundred thousand people cheering in the stands, has imprinted her mind and heart forever. Britta was quite impressed by Korea and its hard-working people and very much enjoyed her time in Seoul. Britta's bucket list includes a “once in a life-time experience” of returning to Korea as a scuba diver to discover its beautiful underwater world. During her athletic career, Britta established several world records.
운동선수로서의 경력에서 브리타는 여러 차례 세계기록을 수립했다. 지적 분야에서는 화학 분야에서 박사 학위를 취득하였고 법학을 공부했다. 현재는 독일 및 유럽 변리사가 그녀의 직업이다. 다리의 상실이 삶에 대한 브리타의 열정도, 긍정적인 목표를 성취하고 꿈대로 살아가는 그녀의 능력도 꺾지 못하였음은 분명하다. 브리타는 우리 모두에게 영감을 주는 사람이지 않은가! 그녀 자신은 다음과 같이 말한다.
"Being handicapped does not mean you have to abandon your dreams. Accept yourself the way you are; think positively; motivate yourself to improve; and, above all, believe firmly in yourself. Work constantly for your goals and you will receive more support and positive acknowledgement than you ever imagined possible. Live your dreams!"
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