The old van from yesterday had obviously broken down. The manager of the dive center was talking to a small crowd from the top of the stairs. This was my fourth time to Cuba so I knew that when time is presented with a number it has no meaning. It just defines the uncertain gap between “pronto” and “manana”.
It is early morning. The small run down dive center reflects in the calm water. I have been to countless places like this, but first time I show up I always have butterflies. What are the people like, how is the equipment and how is the dive sites. Getting closer I hear the sound of the compressor. It is coming from the dirty basement, as always. Big hoses feeding the compressor with fresh air are pinned to the outside wall. In the cracks of the pavement outside is numerous broken O-rings.
And then “he” comes down the stairs. The manager running the place. The cast of people is usually the same. There is always one older manager with scars and rough hands from years of handling heavy tanks covered with sand and salt water. He is the local oracle that takes all the decisions and has endless experience from diving far outside the textbooks. He always has a couple of people working for him. Young, energetic, skinny guys with philosophical tattoos and extreme enthusiasm. I walk up to the manager and present myself. He shakes my hand, “Francis”, and I can feel the rough skin in a hard handshake. Everything is right.
I am in south part of Cuba. The name on the map is Playa Giron and Playa Larga in an area called Zapata, but it will forever be remembered as Bay of Pigs. Today we will dive the American wrecks from the invasion. We watch other cars come in to load dive tanks while we wait for our new transportation. It is a strange sight. They load modern equipment into cars from a different time. The contrast is fascinating.
Then it is our turn. A large, yellow and very old American School bus rolls in through the gate. Wonderful. A 70 seater picking up 4 divers. But it takes us safely along the coast to the dive sites. We stop and go out of the car. Walk down to the water edge and look out into the small cove. I try to picture what it was like here in 1961. What was it like to storm these beaches trying to invade Cuba and be battled down in just 75 hrs. Nothing here reminds us of this dramatic event, but out there, after a short swim through a deep crack in the reef, in 65 feet of water, it is still possible to see the remains of the war.
Time to suit up.