There are some experiences that are like no others, and diving is one of them. Although it had been described to me as being similar to dreams of flying, I still found myself surprised by the intensity of the actual experience.

Perhaps the most important point addressed during the succinct one-hour training session is safety. For a first-time diver, it goes hand-in-hand with quelling fears of the unknown. So, reviewing it all in advance is an important and comforting step. The demonstration is done underwater in a warm, clear swimming pool after an above-water explanation of breathing techniques and sharing air "down below."

The boat ride out to Los Arcos or Islas Marietas, two popular local dive and snorkeling spots, is beautiful in itself. Along the way, we saw several sea turtles sunning themselves, a couple of huge manta rays almost as wide as the boat was long and a far-off pod of cavorting dolphins.

The descent is made by holding onto a weighted rope attached to a floating donut. It's slow moving, at least if you experience the increased ear pressure that first-timers can sometimes suffer. Following your instructor's signals, you continue to descend, stopping each time you feel discomfort. Then suddenly your finned feet touch bottom, and you're home.

That's when you can begin to relax a bit and look around. In the current you might feel warm one moment and cold the next. We all wore wetsuits, and I was glad I did. The water can be cloudy, but once your eyes adjust, looking around is like a treasure hunt. You never know what you might see. Keeping your eyes on the others, you half float and half swim, with the sound of your own breathing a constant companion. The signal to ascend brought me a combined sense of relief and disappointment: relief to have met the challenge of such an amazing experience and disappointment that it was over.