To me, diving means plenty of things. As I gain more experience, discover new dive sites, and dive with different partners/students, the more meaning I find in diving. But I believe that the most important thing that diving has given me is the feeling of freedom. Freedom to move, freedom from gravity, freedom from the real world, freedom to explore the Earth and venture into paradisiacal and remote places.
Honestly, my first few times under water were uncomfortable and scary. They were also really cold. I made the mistake of taking my first course (Open Water Diver) in Galapagos without knowing much about the school and the teacher. The equipment was in terrible conditions, the suit had holes in it and I got very cold during my immersions. Looking back now as an instructor, I am appalled by the irresponsibility, the lack of security and the poor judgment of those instructors and diving school. When my Open Water course was over, I thought I would never dive again. I thought it was interesting but I didn’t think it was “my thing.”
Months later I started working in the offices of a dive center in Quito where I observed a real diving course with appropriate security standards and adequate gear. Right away I decided to re-do my Open Water certification and after this second attempt, I was completely hooked. For the next 2 years, I went diving whenever it was possible and I completed many other certifications and diving courses. By then I knew that I wanted to dedicate myself to scuba diving. It was the perfect combination of nature, fresh air, and water, a world under the sea, and so many sites to discover. It was the ideal job for me.
Where have you dived in and outside of Ecuador?
My first immersions in Ecuador were in the Galapagos (Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal and Floreana) but I have also dived in continental Ecuador, specifically in Machalilla National Park and Cuicocha Lagoon.
After diving around my country, I decided to get my PADI Rescue Certification in Austria where I dove in lakes. Then, I moved to New York where I did some immersions in the Atlantic (mostly to explore sunken ships) and after that, I worked as a Dive Instructor in Honduras for two years. In Honduras, I did over 800 dives in the Caribbean Ocean!
Later I moved to the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt where I worked in the Red Sea. During these years I discovered technical diving which consists of diving to a depth 40m depth with the use of a decompressor and multiple tanks… In the Red Sea, I also completed approx 800 dives, the majority technical and with a camera.
After three years in the Red Sea, I moved to Europe. I went to Italy where I had the opportunity to photograph a subaquatic art installment in the Iseo Lake! Then I kept moving, I gave diving courses in the “Costa Brava” in Spain and finally moved to Germany where I dive in the present. Every time I have the chance I return to the Red Sea.
What is the secret to take great photographs underwater?
The key to taking great pictures under the surface is the ability to maintain neutral buoyancy. Neutral buoyancy means that the diver is not hovering in any direction (not moving towards the surface or to the bottom), he/she must be still and take the picture without leaning on anything.
If the camera moves it will not focus correctly and the picture will come out blurry. Keeping the camera completely still underwater requires much practice! I always recommend my beginner level students not to take pictures until they feel more comfortable diving (it’s important to be secure and experienced before trying to take photographs.) An underwater photographer must be able to remain safe and calm, without having to depend on any other divers. This is very important. On the contrary, the camera is only going to stress the diver and the pictures will be no good.
Underwater photography takes into consideration different factors than above the surface. Different colors, lighting changes, depth, and visibility are conditions one must familiarize with. Like everything in life, underwater photography takes practice and lots of hours in the water.
Tell us about your best diving experience. And your most unsettling experience.
The best experience I’ve had was a 75 m deep technical immersion in the Arch of Dahab. This giant arch that rests underwater begins at a depth of 55 m until the bottom (105 m). It is impressive! Full of fish, colors and amazing visibility of over 100 m, the drive took almost 2 hours. I went with a group of friends and started the dive at 6 am to observe the light of dawn inside the arch. I’ll never forget it. It was one of those dives that remind you why hard work and training are worth it.
The most unsettling experience for me was my first immersion in Galapagos. It was my first time underwater and my instructor took me 12m under (when your first session shouldn’t be over 3m!) without explaining anything to me. There was a strong current, sea lions and sharks all around. Normally this would be an incredible encounter, but it wasn’t comforting when I had no idea what to do with my diving equipment. We kneeled at the bottom to do some exercises and my instructor told me to fill my mask with water. This exercise is actually very simple when done in less depth but in this specific situation, it panicked me.
Which are your favorite animals encountered during a dive?
Mostly species living in coral reefs. The reef is full of life, animals of all shapes, sizes, and colors. I’ve seen fish, sharks, mollusks, crustaceans, sponges, etc. I’ve had the luck to dive with hammerhead sharks, Galapagos sharks, whale sharks, dolphins, turtles, and more.
However, the animal which had an impact on me (more than any other) is the Giant Manta. I’ve had the chance to dive with Mantas on three occasions in Isla de la Plata. I’m always mesmerized when I watch a Manta go by. They are immense, and they cast a shadow on you when they swim by with their long tail and serene movements. It’s impressive!
Taking advantage of this question, I must admit that even though I’ve done over 2,000 dives in different parts of the world, the occasions where I’ve observed large quantities of marine life have been few. Us divers have noticed the drastic change of oceans in the last 15 years, the ocean is emptier than ever. It’s very sad. It’s not uncommon to dive for an hour and not find anything else than dead coral.
For you, which is the best diving destination in Ecuador?
While I haven’t been there yet, I’m sure that the best destination is the area surrounding the islets of Darwin and Wolf. Darwin and Wolf are in a key location in the ocean, they have become a temple of life where hundreds of species meet. As the Humboldt current goes by, it brings along fresh food that attracts schools of sharks, mantas, whale sharks, and many others.
Do you think diving in Ecuador has changed?
I started diving when I was 13. Back then there were only a few diving institutions and very little information about the sport. Now, diving has become a widely known activity with growing popularity in the country. There are also many options available to anyone who wants to learn. I believe this is a global change. The last 20 years diving has become more accessible.
What are your future plans?
I have some plans and projects that I’m working on and I wish they would all come true, so I’m not revealing them to you ;). What I can say is: my plans have to do with Ecuador, tourism, recreational and technical diving, Apnea (free diving) and nature!
What kind of traveller are you?
I don’t consider myself a traveler. Traveling is visiting a place and then going back home. Few times I’ve traveled. What I’m trying to say is, I’ve moved a lot and only once I’m installed, I’ve traveled around.
I consider myself a nomad. Someone who moves from one place to another without plans, due dates, and most importantly, a return ticket. I love the feeling of throwing myself to the unknown without expectations or deadlines. Simply to find what this new place is going to give me, and what it’s going to take away. Everywhere I’ve lived has been key, either good or bad, to becoming the person I am in this moment. It is very important for me, as the nomad I consider myself to be, to have the freedom to stay in one place as long as I need. Could be 5 days, could be 5 years.. Only by living somewhere you really get to know the people, culture, nature of the place (this cannot be achieved with short trips or travels). And this is why I am a nomad and not a traveler; for me, it’s better to know 1 place deeply than visit 20 superficially.
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to learn how to dive?
My first tip: respect the ocean. We must always remember that against the sea, we are nothing, not even a pin. Accidents generally happen when our ego goes “this is easy for me, I can do anything.” No matter how much experience you have or how strong you are, no one can defeat the ocean. For this reason, if the conditions are bad and the diver doesn’t feel comfortable with the situation it is better not to do the immersion. There is a phrase I love and always repeat to my students: it’s better to be above the surface and wish to be underwater than to be underwater and wish to be on the surface.
My second advice is to really look into the diver school and instructors. Learning with someone who is not well trained can cause a terrible experience for a beginner.
Finally, my advice for every future diver is to respect marine life. Divers have to be part of the solution, not the problem. It’s important not to touch anything underwater, be mindful that our gear is not tampering with our surroundings and remind ourselves that we are only visitors.
Thank you Vanessa for telling us your amazing experience in diving!