Arriving in Guatemala, I was greeted like an old friend by Leo, the driver sent by my hosts, Pana Divers. The fact that I’d neither been to Guatemala nor met Leo before was entirely irrelevant to the warmth of the welcome he gave me. That warmth, generosity and joy of living of the Guatemalan people was an ongoing theme for what was rapidly becoming an amazing adventure!
Pana Divers is based in Guatemala, which is the name of the capital city as well as the name of the country. Pana Diver’s launch as Poseidon’s latest exciting Rebreather Center was timed perfectly to coincide with their 25th Anniversary. Pana Divers are the original pioneers of scuba in Guatemala and a PADI 5-Star IDC Dive Center. In addition to me being there to celebrate the combined launch and anniversary, Todd Martin, our US Tech Support Manager would certify Pana Diver’s Service Staff to support and service Poseidon Rebreathers and Regulators. Milton Marinho, Jr, a PADI MKVI/SE7EN Instructor Trainer from Brazil, would certify as Poseidon Rebreather Divers, eight of their dive staff. By the time I arrived, Milton had completed the Rebreather Theory and Pool Sessions.
The city of Guatemala sits at 5,000 feet / 1,500m in southern Guatemala, surrounded by mountains, with imposing volcanoes to the south west; Pacaya, Agua and Fuego, the last of which had erupted eighteen months ago. The Pacific Coast lies 60 miles / 100km to the south west of the city. With black sand and cooler water along the Pacific Coast, the diving does not compare to the spectacular tropical waters of the Atlantic Coast, which is where we were headed. We had been told to expect a five-hour journey by car.
As we wound our way out of the city, the first part of our journey was on an impressive, Taiwanese-built freeway that carved its way down the mountains to the plain, almost 4,000 feet / 1,200m below. The volcanic landscape was plain to see in all directions with much of the city’s bedrock being pumice stone; some 150 cubic kilometers of which were spewed out by much-earlier volanic eruptions. Veins of black obsidian could be seen glistening in the sunlight by the side of the road.
On the plain, the road became two-way where overtaking the many trucks was essential for good progress. The road is the only connection between Guatemala city and Puerto Barrios, the Atlantic port, so it is constantly crowded with trucks hauling imports up to the city. Following the course of a river, the scenery varied greatly from near desert to tropical jungle. From bright, cloudless skies to tropical downpours. Our destination was Amatique Bay, a private resort to the south of Puerto Barrios, where Pana Divers operates a resort dive center and dive boat.
One of many Guatemalan firsts – 5 Poseidon SE7ENs dive together!
The following morning, we woke early for the team to prep their dive gear for Day One of the course. The candidates were all diving the new Poseidon SE7EN, so this was the first time we knew of that five Poseidon SE7ENs would be together in the water. This was a first for Poseidon, Pana Divers and Guatemala! When new candidates prepare their rebreathers for the initial open water dive, it always takes longer than expected, as there’s much to learn and become familiar with. Milton and Rodrigo Solorzano had planned for two dives on the first day in confined open water. Diving alongside Milton and the Pana team, I was impressed with their combination of professionalism and fun. I was also impressed to see Milton, a Brazilian, being the quietest of the group!
On Day Two, we headed out on a journey of about 75 minutes. Having travelled over darker, deeper water, we were delighted to see the bright white sand and turquoise waters at the top of the seamounts, our dive destination for the day.
Seamounts are undersea mountains formed by volcanic activity that were once thought to be little more than hazards to submarine navigation. Today, scientists recognize these structures as biological hotspots that support a dazzling array of marine life. The biological richness of seamount habitats results from the shape of these undersea mountains. Thanks to the steep slopes of seamounts, nutrients are carried upwards from the depths of the oceans toward the sunlit surface, providing food for creatures ranging from corals to fish to crustaceans. New estimates suggest that, taken together, seamounts encompass about 28.8 million square kilometers of the Earth’s surface. That’s larger than deserts, tundra, or any other single land-based global habitat on the planet.
The plan for Day Two was to do three dives to build on the skills from day one, add in bail-out cylinders, deepen the profile of the dives and complete the graduation dive for the first group.
Mooring in around 20 feet / 6m of bright water, we were eager to go diving! From the shallow summits of the seamounts, the steep slopes dropped away down to 80-100 feet / 25-30m between the various summits, so this was recreational diving heaven and a perfect place to instruct a course. At the edge of the seamount range, the slopes drop to 500 feet / 150 m, so it’s also a perfect place to return for technical rebreather dives and courses.
Another Guatemalan first – a patriotic pre-breathe
Out on the boat, but not diving rebreathers that day, Rodrigo decided to entertain us during our pre-breathe with a sung rendition of the Guatemalan national anthem. To my amazement, the other divers joined in during their pre-breathes with a sound not unlike rebreather bag pipes! 5 minutes later, pre-breathe completed, riotous laughter ensued!
The group were exceptional divers and took to Poseidon Rebreathers like ducks to water making this one of the easiest and most fun courses I’d ever been involved in. I had the honor of being dive buddy on two of the dives with Roberto Matheu, founder and owner of Pana Divers and someone I’m now proud to call a friend. In talking with Milton on the boat ride home, we both agreed that the day really felt more like a day’s diving with a group of old buddies than a course with a group of strangers that we’d only met a couple of days beforehand.
For the second group of candidates, we decided to switch the dive program to three dives on the first day and two dives on the second, enabling longer dives on the second day so that everyone could really start to appreciate the possibilities of rebreather diving. In reviewing the program, we both agreed that, given the obvious skill of the divers, this would be a better way to do things.
A Final Guatemalan first – closed circuit tooth recovery
On the third day at 100 feet / 30m, one of the group lost a recently replaced tooth. As he proudly displaced the gap in his teeth, we realized that shared laughter underwater is another great advantage of rebreathers. Back on board, Milton demonstrated the “tooth recovery skill”, proving that the Poseidon Rebreather loop was indeed fully closed circuit! As an act of solidarity, all members of the group blacked out one of their front teeth so that the graduation photo would not reveal the identity of the toothless diver.
The return to the city
On our return to the city, we prepared for the two evening launch. Wednesday night would be the dive professionals launch and Thursday would be for customers. I gave my first (and second) Poseidon Rebreathers presentation in Spanish which will be available shortly for download for those of you looking for Spanish language materials. The SE7EN manual will also be available in Spanish very shortly.
Two great evenings later, the trip was over and I was on my five-hour flight back to Los Angeles. Having arrived a week earlier in a country I knew little about, I left with wonderful memories and friendships that I know will last a lifetime. I’ll be back.
Pana Diver’s coastal home in Amatique Bay proved to be a great base for the pro0gram with helpful staff, great food and accommodation that felt like home from home. I thoroughly recommend it. If you’re interested in more details, please contact Roberto or Suzette Matheu and they’ll be happy to help! firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com.