“I'd like to be under the sea in an octopus's garden in the shade…” That was The Beatles’ song I found myself singing while puttering around on my quirky underwater scooter below the waves at Pirate Bay. But as soon as I saw my friend go by I started singing "Yellow Submarine". Seems I couldn’t help but act silly on my weird contraption. And no wonder. The oversized bright yellow bell helmet made me look like one of those minions from "Despicable Me". But the ability to breathe, laugh, and even sing underwater without anything in my mouth was very liberating.
However, I will admit I was nervous at first. I’m somewhat claustrophobic- and though I adore snorkeling- I’ve always had issues submersing when doing intro-to-dive programs. But it turned out I had little cause for concern. The instruction is first-rate. Your every move is closely shadowed by a diver/guide. You must swim under the helmet to get into the vehicle as it is attached to the scooter, but that is the only time your head gets wet. And they are very spacious inside. You can easily reach your hands up to your head if needed. And if you wear glasses, you can put them on once inside. Either way, visibility is excellent once you submerge.
The unique Aquafari vehicles are called B.O.S.S.- Breathing Observation Submersible Scooters. They are eco-friendly, battery-operated rides that use a tank to supply oxygen to the helmet. The scooter is also attached to a buoy so it doesn’t sink when you turn it off. Though you are expected to drive/steer your own scooter, it’s up to the guide to adjust the depth. And they are very good about showing you how to clear your ears so that the change in pressure doesn’t make you uncomfortable. In regards to speed, they travel about as fast as a motorized wheelchair. So even when I inadvertently ran right into my buddy the collision was of little consequence. It was like bumper cars in slow motion. Comical.
The entire underwater journey takes approximately 45 minutes. Your guide will stop you at certain junctures to get good photos, feed fish, and to point out marine life. Sadly this reef is not in the best of shape compared to many others on the island. Several storms had caused large waves to wash huge amounts of sand over the coral, which killed it. But there is hope for this reef as it's also the base camp for CARMABI the island’s world-class environmental and reef care group. They are conducting in-depth research to find ways to replenish this spot. But that takes time. So at present, you’ll not see copious amounts of colorful tropical fish, but you will see some friendly wrasse and grunts, and one fish that seems to be the diver’s pet. This little fish swims right up and allows stroking and even holding. When we surfaced, our guide told me that it was always the same fish! Surreal.
However, this adventure is not as much about fish-finding and coral viewing as it is about the ability for non-divers to experience what it’s like to be beneath the sea without having to undergo training. I thought it was an absolute blast! And better yet, it gave me the confidence to try diving again because I discovered I was totally fine at 20 ft. below. Doing Aquafari also gave me bragging rights as there are very few other places on the planet that offer this unique adventure. For more information visit: www.aquafari.net.
(Note: There are only four scooters, but there is a full-service beach with restaurants and bars right on site so you'll have a great place to pass time while you wait your turn.) For more about the conditions of Curacao’s reefs see our past article “Coral Island”.
Photo courtesy: Aquafari