“Tu es costeau?” Willie asked. Costeau means strong or robust in French.
I nodded a little dubiously and he strapped an oxygen tank to my back. When I tried to stand, I nearly toppled over. Costeau? Maybe not.
We were at Papa D’lo in Saint Pierre, a scuba diving club that offers “baptèmes” or initiations to tourists and local Martinicans alike. While the storefront looked abandoned and lifeless, inside teachers Willie and Jackie were friendly and more than happy to use French and mimery to get their point across. For 37 euros a person—cheaper than the regular 50 plus euros most diving clubs charge—we enjoyed an afternoon of “plongée,” as they say in French.
Hunched forward like a turtle and struggling from the weight of the air tank, we made our way to the boat anchored in the ocean just off of Papa D’lo’s backyard with other divers who were much more experienced than us. Jackie helped us get our flippers on and make our way out to the little motor boat. The boat headed off towards Precheur, a small town on the north-west coast of Martinique.
Jackie and Willy took us into the water one by one, literally holding our hands at time and leading us around the shallower ocean depths of Saint Pierre. I got to see a lion fish, a species from Indonesia that was brought over to the United States to diversify aquariums and fish tanks but due to a total lack of predators has become increasingly common in the Caribbean Sea. We also saw beautiful fish of all colors and something like a huge slug. It was really cool to get to touch something that looked like a mini-lobster and a sponge-like thing attached to a rock.
I would definitely recommend Jackie and Willy’s business to any tourists on a budget—it’s worth all thirty-seven euros I spent on it. Of course, if you are not on a budget, I’m sure you can find a business that caters more to tourists and perhaps to an English speaking clientele–Papa D’lo is not the place for you if you cannot speak and understand French. If you do speak French, Papa D’lo is fine. The only thing I wish I had was an underwater camera so I could bring back proof that I did actually scuba dive. But I’ll settle (and happily) for the memory of being able to touch that sponge-like thing!