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Pocna Dive Center Celebrates its 10th Anniversary

Updated: Aug 11, 2023




Established on 12/12/12, this is her story...


People often ask how I came to open a dive centre on a tiny island in the middle of the Caribbean. Well, to understand the dive centre, I guess you first must know a piece of my journey to get here. So, I will give a highly condensed version of my history. This story and its many chance meetings and moments brought me to this place.


As a child, I wanted to grow up to be one of a few things: a doctor, a helicopter pilot, a math teacher, or a diving instructor. I was fascinated with underwater documentaries, especially those by Jacques Cousteau, but I was born a long way from the sea. I grew up in the water, as most Australians do, as my hometown, Mildura, was on the Murray River. We all went to swimming classes, camped, fished, and swam in the river until we were like fish ourselves. Diving was not, however, on the cards.


When I was six, we moved to Bendigo, where I lived for the next nineteen years. When I finished high school in 1989, my friend Marita O'Shannassy, and I booked a cruise to Bali on Fairstar (The Fun Ship!) for February of the following year. They had a dive school onboard, so I signed up for my PADI Open Water Dive Course. It cost me five hundred dollars AUD, a lot of money in 1990, and it meant I had to get up at six am every morning for a week to study and complete pool work.


While I was studying for the certification, the ship was caught in the tail end of a hurricane and was blown off course. I remember sitting in our classroom at the front of the boat, being thrown from my seat by the height of the waves rocking the boat. In the nighttime, I saw the dancefloor had a sea of people that flowed with the movement of the ship—a little hurricane would not stop a ship full of Australians from partying, after all.



We finally made it to our first dive, and off we went. There were no alternate air sources in those days, but we had mastered the art of buddy breathing—sharing air from a single regulator—during confined water practice. It was just as well because I had been given a nearly empty tank! Within a few minutes, I was out of air. My buddy and I skilfully buddy breathed to the surface and were followed by an angry instructor questioning our ascent. He then furiously asked how I could enter the water with an empty tank; a fair question, except it was my first-ever dive, and I still wonder how they could have given me a near-empty one nor verified that I had checked.


The second dive had the instructor breaking open sea urchins and feeding them to the fish. Yes, this is wrong, but I thought then that urchins were some underwater nut. Rules that we have now, like not touching things, were not such an issue back then. He teased a sea cucumber until a feathery substance was issued in defence. Following the standards set by my instructor, I ran my hands through it, expecting it to feel soft and feathery. Instead, it was strands of the stickiest substance. Trying to pull it off proved futile and spread the problem over two hands, much to the amusement of the instructor.

We live and learn. My dive centre, Pocna, has a very stringent no-touch rule. The world has since learned better than such invasive interaction.


On my third dive, I had an inverted ear block. I couldn't get to the surface and just went up and down and up and down. I remember feeling the first tendrils of panic set in when it finally gave way and let me surface. Thankfully, I have never had one since.


My fourth dive had us confront a giant shark after being told they'd never been seen in this area; that was an amazingly cool moment.


I loved the diving experience, but circumstances and finances would see ten years pass before I could complete another dive.


Years went by quickly, and I moved to Melbourne in 1996, interstate to Adelaide in 1997, and then abroad shortly after.


I left Australia in early 1999 after finding a tiny three-line newspaper ad in September of the year before that stating:


Would you like to work in England?

Phone this phone number

########


So I phoned the number out of curiosity and found out I could get a working visa there, but only if I entered the country before my twenty-eighth birthday; I was already twenty-seven-and-a-half. I had just bought a house, worked in a bank for nearly ten years, and lived with my boyfriend. I wanted to do it, so the next six months were a flurry of activity. I worked three extra part-time jobs, rented my house out, left my boyfriend behind with him promising to join me later, took a year's leave from the Commonwealth Bank, and left Australia in March 1999. I was skeleton thin from overworking, alone, and terrified beyond belief, but I was on my way. Understand that this was way before the internet, GPS, and social media were in the world to help us.


I stayed in Bali for two weeks before going to the UK and cried. I was so lonely and disassociated; I missed my boyfriend and mum. I nearly threw everything in so many times. But I didn't. I arrived in England with my working visa on 27 March 1999, three days before the birthday cut-off date.




Life took off at a running pace from then on. The following years contain many stories, parties, history, and friends. I have tried to keep it relevant, but please forgive me if I stray a little. They were great times in my life.


I worked for a year in the West Midlands in Shakespeare country; it was so beautiful on the English Canals. My work was a live-in job in a pub along the English Canals, The Boot Inn in Lapworth. The bar was over five hundred years old. I also worked in various other sister bars on my days off. I planned to head to Greece after that for a job that was waiting, but I stopped in Ibiza on the way and never made it to Greece. I ended up living and working in Ibiza for the next five seasons.


I have shown a few of the bars, offices, and hostels where I lived and/or worked below.



It was the year 2000 and was the best of times in my first season in Ibiza. What a life! In Ibiza, people were free, and the music was amazing. Nothing can truly describe the energy of Ibiza in the year 2000. I was employed by Bar M, a pre-club bar for so many massive clubs, but predominantly Manumission, and as such, had a constant stream of world-famous DJs and live shows.



Manumission was the biggest club in the world, with a capacity of ten thousand, often reaching up to thirteen thousand. The shows, the costumes, and the music meant the sensory overload was constant, and most of it was happening in the bar where I worked as a pre-party before the clubs opened their doors on their particular night. I was living the dream.


Manumission. This is just one room.

During the off seasons (winter time), I moved around. l lived in Brixton and worked at the London Ambulance Station in Waterloo; then, I lived in Manchester. I street performed in La Rambla in Barcelona, spinning fire, and worked in Madrid, Ibiza, Argentina, Tenerife, and Honduras. Years later, I would work three jobs in Valencia while attending university there. I went to a Spanish school in Madrid, Granada, and Argentina.


In 2002, during one of Ibiza's off-seasons, I went to Tenerife, where I was a henna tattooist. By that stage, I hadn't been diving for around ten years, so I went to check out the dive centre there. I had it in mind that maybe I could get a job there and complete all my courses up to Dive Master, something that they eventually offered to me, but it was just before I was to return to Ibiza, and I could not do it.

So I completed my PADI Advanced Course there. It was so different from what I had learnt. They insisted that I do a refresher before the dive. I was glad they did, and then we went diving in strong currents off the zodiac. For those that do not know these boats, they have blow-up sides, and for the life of me, I could not re-enter the boat.


We had farmer-john-style wetsuits, and I had forgotten to zip up the bottom of the legs. Every boat always has that diver that tells everyone how good they are. When this man saw me trying to zip up my wetsuit, he pushed his help onto me and grabbed my legs. This pivoted me in the water and had me placing both my hands straight down onto sea urchins, which is extremely painful. I learnt then not to try and pick them out with a needle-like you do with splinters. Now I know to soak them in vinegar to help dissolve them.


In early 2004, I completed my SSI Rescue Course in Australia during another Ibiza low season. I attended a dive school in Melbourne and did my SSI Stress and Rescue. I did everything from the shore, and still, to this date, I have never dived in Australia. I returned for my last season in Ibiza.


However, all great things come to an end, and Ibiza was changing. I knew it was my time to change too, so I went to Mexico.


My first day in Mexico, Cancun

My dear friend, Rick Wildman, one of the DJs in Bar M, now Ibiza Rocks, had hoboed through Mexico years before, and I was enthralled with his stories. When my last season in Ibiza ended, I went to Manchester, where my friend, Jane Charilou, lived. I crazily worked three jobs and bought a one-way ticket to Cancun, Mexico, arriving on 30 January 2004. I had no knowledge of anything and no hotel booked, just an idea that I would "see where it all took me". Oh, the innocence of those days.


On 2 January 2005, I came to Isla Mujeres for a day trip to say g 'day to a fellow worker, Jesus from Bar M, who worked in a nightclub here called La Peña. Unfortunately, he started work at six pm, and I got there at noon, so I just wandered around the island. I never even saw North Beach at that time. Can you believe it? La Peña was a legend in her time and owned by Del, the ex-manager of Bar M. It's such a small world.


Pocna Hostel as she was many years ago

As I walked around, bodily needs encouraged me to stop at a hostel and ask if I could use the toilet. I asked the receptionist if I could, and she said, "Yes. To the left and to the left". I walked into the hostel, and the vibrancy hit me like a force. People sat in hammocks under palm trees and relaxed in groups; there was so much energy. So I returned to reception and asked if they had camping, to which the then seventeen-year-old Vanessa Schramm, Pocna Hostel Receptionist, said, "Yes, we do". Many years later, she is still a dear friend.


So I went back to Cancun, bought a tent, and my life transformed. I would live in tents intermittently for the next ten years, spending over five years of my life living in one, although my tent underwent various upgrades. The campgrounds were another world—a community of free souls. If I had not needed the toilet that day or been at a different hotel, everything would be so different.




On my way to buy the tent, I stopped at a dive centre called Coral, which has now changed hands and name. I asked about a PADI Dive Master Course, and Ivan Mendoza, who was then a dive master working in the shop, was happy to sell me one. How much a part of my dive centre's story he played will become evident.



From the start, I pestered the manager, Lucas Landeira, in the hostel for a volunteer job. There were various ways to stay or work at the hostel. You could work full-time for food, accommodation and pay, volunteer for four hours a day for food and accommodation, or teach classes for an hour each day for accommodation only. These classes ranged from yoga to fire spinning, coconut tree climbing, drums, or salsa to English or Spanish lessons. Anything people could think of so they could stay for a long time in this amazing place. Lucas had made this place magical.



Lucas is in the front in the blue shirt.

I worked as a kitchen volunteer and later in the newly opened Pocna Beach Bar. I was amongst the first generations of workers and the only female at the time to work this crazy, famous, and now-gone beach bar. Oh, what fun I had, but what a terrible Dive Master candidate I was. I was dedicated and studied, but it was hard with my nighttime job till three am and the "wind down" after-work stops at Coconuts or La Peña. What an incredible time it was in Isla in those days. The memories we made!


Lucas was an incredible manager, and Pocna was the soul of Isla Mujeres in her era. Lucas organized so many famous acts to play in Pocna. I was lucky enough to see Julieta Venegas, Los Autenticos Decadentes, Gondwana, Aguas Aguas, Fidel Nadal, and Mancha de Rolandi, amongst many others. Some artists still return to see the island and are now familiar faces.


While working as a volunteer in the kitchen, I was offered the chance to work on a boat and travel down to Providencia. At first, I said "no," but then I thought about why I was there. The idea that I would "see where it all took me", so I eventually said "yes." It was an amazing journey with many adventures. I got to sail with super pods of dolphins and watched the phosphorescent plankton in the nighttime. I spent three weeks sailing the ocean, stopping at islands like Swan Island, San Andres, and Providencia. At one stage, we were rescued by a boatload of Cuban refugees, two of which were doctors, that came aboard and fixed everything broken that had made us limp into Swan Island. They carved their address on a coconut to let their relatives in Miami know they had made it safe since we couldn't find a pen. I found out years later that the captain, Phil, had contacted their relatives, and he still had the coconut. What courageous people they were and so willing to help. Their kindness left a lasting impression on me.



After my sailing exploits, I returned to work in the beach bar and met someone there who would travel halfway around the world with me and follow my dreams of becoming a dive instructor. I left to meet him in Spain a week before Hurricane Wilma hit.


He played such a vital part in the direction of my life. I went to live with him and his family in Spain, where I went to university to study Spanish. I found employment in three different bars and saved madly for us to go to Utila so I could complete my PADI Instructor Certification. His family did not speak English, which proved integral in my path to opening my dive centre.


Even though he is not in my life now, I am incredibly grateful for his influence on my life's journey. His family is still a part of my life, having visited me recently on this magical island. Everything would have been different without their generosity in letting an unknown, foreign-speaking stranger live with them and welcoming me so completely into their lives.


We landed in Utila in 2006, and I completed my PADI Instructor Development Course (IDC) there. Again, I was a terrible candidate. My skills were not up to scratch, and it had been about eighteen months since I had last dived. I struggled through the extremely pressured course, but I was determined.


I nearly didn't get the chance to start my IDC as I had to have my medical done, and Dr John, famous to those in Utila and still a good friend, had been called out to attend to someone with an acute asthma attack.

The next day, he said I had tonsillitis and it might need to be dealt with. I asked to return the next day, and he replied it would doubtfully be better. I missed the essential IDC two-day prep. Extremely early the next day, he checked my throat and yelled around the clinic, "It's a miracle; I have never seen anything like it." This is very Dr John. So, I was finally permitted to join the IDC.


My knees visibly shook during my presentations, and I was that student who gave more problems than were assigned. I had missed the vital two-day IDC prep, which left me scrambling to catch up. I had been a few years out of diving, and my wetsuit was a brand-new triathlon farmer-john style 5mm. I went straight into a swimming pool for training and had never been trained in a pool or done freshwater diving before. Anyone that knows the three rules of doing a buoyancy check will understand how much my struggle was real.

  • When you change environment

  • When you change equipment

  • When you have been a long time without diving


Fortunately, I passed but had to put in the hours and dedication. Andy Phillips was very patient with me and was an inspirational Course Director. He even forgave me for being late when I had left the kettle boiling on a gas stove while my partner slept and had to run home to turn it off. I don't think he truly believed it to be true; he teased me about it for years; it was! He is sadly missed in the diving community and was an incredible mentor to me and so many.


I then stayed on to do my PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer (MSDT) Internship with Utila Dive Center (UDC). I would wake up every morning at around five am, and rather than stay in bed, I would get up and go and prepare the equipment for the students of the instructor I was shadowing. It was normal for a course to have about ten students, so there was plenty to do before class started. I forged ahead and worked well. The instructors at UDC were fantastic teachers who patiently guided a new instructor freshly fledged.


During and after my MSDT, my partner and I took over the bar at UDC and worked it together.


I wanted to stay in Utila but knew I would have no chance of getting the golden ticket of an instructor job at UDC. So, I went to work at Bay Island College of Diving (BICD). Now, it is a magnificent dive centre with an incredible Course Director, but back then, it wasn't a shadow of what it now is.


I would wake up early and open the bar at UDC with my homemade cupcakes and breakfasts, so my partner could sleep in and take over later. Then I would go to my work at BICD and return to close the bar after. One day, as we were closing, the staff asked me to stay so they could have a drink after a staff meeting. They came out of the staff meeting and asked if I was willing to leave my newly acquired position at BICD and come and work with them. I was blown away. This was a dream come true - of course, I said yes.


Andy had once asked me if I felt I could teach in Spanish. Now I knew why. I had said no at first and then rethought it, changing my answer to yes. Hadn't I just gone to University in Valencia and lived there with my partner's family? Meeting my partner and his family became a crucial part of the formation of my life story because I became the Spanish-teaching instructor for UDC as, even though it was a Spanish-speaking country, they had been unable to find a Spanish-speaking Instructor. Between you and me, my Spanish was atrocious, but I soldiered on and learnt what I needed to learn and taught my first courses there in Spanish.


I felt extremely fortunate to become one of the instructors at Utila Dive Center, where I worked with Andy Phillips and another fantastic Course Director called Angel Navarro. I also completed my instructor Handicap Scuba Association International with Angel. Jim Hutchinson, Jimmy Fingers as he was known, had just finished on the island before I arrived, but his stories were renowned. I missed my chance to work with this legendary Course Director, but years later, our paths would cross, and we would become friends.


Without this phenomenal job and amazing mentors, I would never have been equipped to open my unplanned dive centre on Isla. I had two wonderful years there. I shared a house with my boyfriend and friends, Sasha Engeler and his then-wife Jennifer, who were doing their PADI Dive Masters. It was a crazy, fun time. Sasha himself went on to become a Course Director and is now doing fantastic things working with PADI. I completed SO many certifications and taught so many courses at many different levels, including my PADI Tech Deep Instructor, PADI Staff Instructor, Beautiful Oceans Scientific Instructor, HSAI instructor, and every single PADI specialty instructor course I could complete; I'm a bit like that. I also gained invaluable experience staffing IDCs with Andy and learning how to evaluate IDC students.



Circumstances had me return alone to Australia at the end of 2008; my mother needed me. Leaving Utila, my job, and my partner behind was hard. I decided to travel home with every piece of dive gear and dive material that I owned, much to the chagrin of my partner. The farewell was tense as he was angry that I was leaving with 87kg of things that he felt were a waste. It wasn't easy to ship so much stuff from Honduras, and setting this up had taken a lot of time and effort. Years later, I would use nearly every piece of that equipment. All the notes I had taken while there, and the dive manuals, proved invaluable as nothing was electronic yet. I am so glad I never left it all behind.


When my mother was better, I returned to Mexico. Lucas, the manager of Pocna Hostel and my friend, who had previously allowed this crazy Australian party animal to work with them repeatedly, offered to make a position for me so I could stay; I just had to promise one year. I had only intended to stay a month, but he could see that staying would be good for me. So, he opened a position as an extra in reception, which position had not before existed. I also taught yoga for a month as a volunteer while the yoga teacher, my friend Elissa Hawke, went on vacation. My life's energy started flowing back into me. How little Lucas knew that, once again, he was changing my life.


Working as a receptionist in Pocna

Later in the year 2010, Lucas Landeira mentioned they were going to put in a swimming pool. I asked Lucas if he was to do this to ensure that I was the dive instructor associated with it. Lucas looked at me and asked, "Would you like to open the dive centre?" to which I replied, "Of course!!"


To open a dive centre on my favourite island in the world, in my favourite hostel, was like another dream come true. I went back to Australia and sold my house. I had worked extremely hard all my life and had managed to own my home outright at the young age of thirty-four. Now it was gone, and the money would be used to open the dive centre and help continue my costly journey with IVF to try and have a child, another long history but one with a happy ending.

Lucas and I spent the next two years planning and learning.


I took advantage of this time to go to Thailand to continue diving and update my certifications since I hadn't dived since leaving Utila. I did my PADI Master Instructor course in Koh Tao with Ban's Dive Center, and the Course Directors were Tim Hunt and Guillaume Fargues: two more world-class Course Directors. I had gone a long time without diving, and this was a great way to get back into the industry and a step toward my Course Director qualification. I did my PADI Master Instructor Course alongside Marcel Van den Berg, who is now an incredibly talented, high-profile Course Director in Koh Tao.


I completed the first part of a cave-diving course while I was there, in a reservoir called Koh Sak, staying in floating huts and diving from long boats. It was brilliantly set up by Craig Werger, a tech and cave instructor, and I learnt so much from him. I hadn't done any tech diving since my Tech Instructor certification on my last day in Utila in 2008, nearly three years ago. I had so much to relearn. The logistics behind setting this trip up in the middle of nowhere taught me a lot about logistics and organization. Craig was so impressive and professional that when we returned to Koh Tao, I shadowed his next tech course to relearn and improve my rusty and out-of-date skills.




When I returned to Isla Mujeres, I returned to work in the Pocna reception, and then I opened a bar called Tres Mentiras. It's no longer mine, but it's still going strong.

The name was based on three lies that had evolved with me and a group of friends at the Pocna Beach Bar during my first time working there.

  1. I'm leaving tomorrow.

  2. I'm not drinking tonight.

  3. I love you.

I have heard these lies repeated up and down the Americas and will happily tell you the story behind each of these lies another time.



While running Tres Mentiras, I stubbornly continued alone on my IVF journey, which would take ten rounds and ten years before finally blessing me with my miracle daughter.


Opening a dive centre from scratch is not an immediate or easy thing to do. Especially in a foreign country in a foreign language as a single female. I learnt that blonde hair is most definitely not an advantage.


Never actually planning to open a dive centre meant I was woefully unprepared and incredibly naïve about what it entailed. I had only worked as an instructor at UDC but had nothing to do with running a dive centre. UDC was my godsend in so many ways. Without being an instructor there, I would never have had the experience of multi-level teaching and putting together classes and dives the way I did. But the rest of it was "learn by experience".


I had a hard road to walk and a long way before I would be accepted by the island and its people, even though I had lived and worked here for many years. I had a language to master, I'm still working on this, and I was a new kid on the block for a long time.


So the first thing we needed was a boat. I met a man, Storm, who knew pretty much everyone. He would remain one of my dearest friends until we tragically lost him in 2021. It was a loss felt deeply by the whole island.


Storm and I travelled all over Isla and Cancun, searching for the right boat. Looking and asking everywhere and every one, visiting many hidden boat yards behind ten-foot walls, when finally, Storm called me up, super excited. He had found a boat with permits for all the dive sites. Imagine my surprise when we went to look at it, and there she was, sitting at the bottom of five feet of water.


"Maruca" was a well-known snorkel boat on the island that fell into non-use. When a boat isn't being used and a hurricane is coming, the easiest thing to do is to put her underwater. So that is where we found her.



We pulled her out of the water and gave her a lot of TLC and a lot of work, she was slowly, very slowly, put back together, and suddenly, we had our boat and one with twenty permits!


Then came the logistics. The pool wasn't built, and there didn't appear to be one getting done soon, so we had the boat but nowhere to practice the skills.


Happy after our first confined water session at the docks

Playa Norte, or North Beach, is Isla's infamous beach and one said by Jacques Cousteau to be one of the most beautiful in the world. I remember walking up and down it, neck deep in the water of North Beach, looking for the perfect spot for skills - too many waves.

I tried under the pier in front of Mia Reef, which then was called Avalon - too much current.

Finally, we solved this by contracting with Ballyhoo to dock our boat there for customers and do our skills under the dock. It was perfect.



Then came the equipment. I was familiar with SCUBA Pro and wanted to continue using their equipment. Fortunately, there was a factory outlet in Cancun, so Lucas and I went there and ordered the school's first ten complete sets of equipment, fins, wetsuits, and whatever else we thought the school might need.



Our first trip on the boat, with Dobi, of course


Next, dodgy lawyers and dishonest contractors were slowly sifted through. Our first company contract was copied from a real estate company, and yes, I could open a dive company that could also sell furniture and land, which, of course, wasn't right. Another lawyer fixed that expensive mistake. What I went through repairing that boat is way too long and tragic to talk about here, but I met many wonderful people along the way. The greatest was Chic (Chico Pila), who was by my side through this journey and helped in so many ways. Another wonderful soul sorely missed by all on the island.


Sometimes, stubbornness and hard work are your best allies. Great staff, great friends, and paradise all came together.


Ivan Mendoza and I in the early days of Pocna Dive Center

Ivan Mendoza, who I mentioned before, was one of the first people I met when I came to Isla on 2 January 2005. He was the dive master that sold me my Dive Master Course that I completed with an instructor at Coral Dive Shop on my "day trip" to the island. This time he would come to work with me, helping me open the dive centre and reteaching me all the dive sites. MUSA, the breathtaking underwater museum just off Isla Mujeres, started while I was in Utila, and it changed the diving world. Hurricane Wilma had ripped both the shipwrecks apart, one much worse than the other, a week after I had left in 2005. He became an instructor shortly after starting at the dive centre and was, without a doubt, an incredible one. I am grateful to Ivan's dive knowledge, helping me work out the logistics needed to send out boats, prices, wages for divers, and dive sites. So much came together while we were working together.


So, the PADI dive centre officially opened on 12 December 2012 (12/12/12) with a boat, three workers, me included, a tricycle, and ten sets of equipment. We had no tanks; we would rent these, and no compressor, just a lot of love for the ocean. I had a clear view of what I wanted and the will to achieve it.




Our office was tiny, just a part of the Pocna Reception, and our equipment room was a tin shack with no door that we had to jump over the counter to enter. I had brought it rusty and old from the side of the road, rebuilt it out of the recycled materials found around Pocna, and was very proud of it. The roof was an old shower door donated by a friend, Sid Morris.



Tony Laviada was the owner of Pocna Hostel back then, and he was very welcoming, patient, and supportive of the dive centre. He let us rebuild a new, solid equipment room when we outgrew the recycled and now-badly-rusted one. He approved the build of a compressor room out the back. He always had a kind word and let us go on our way to building our dream. It was a very uncomplicated working relationship that helped simplify learning a complicated business.



The dive centre flourished and went from strength to strength. We purchased a compressor, fifty tanks, a Moto Carro, and more equipment. We went from one trip a day to five. Our tiny shop that started with a tricycle and ten sets of equipment was now a self-sufficient PADI 5-star resort.


Eduardo Martin del Campo, better known as Lalo, grew with the dive centre from being its snorkel guide to an instructor and, on party days, our DJ and sound and light technician. He's a fantastic musician, always playing around the island and giving a helping hand to whoever asks.


Emily Askew came to join my team after years of me asking her to. Her quiet, stoic determination and natural management brought us to new heights. Without her abilities, joining forces later on with Selina would have proven to be a lot more complicated than it was, if at all possible.



We knew Pocna was for sale. She had been for years, and we prayed that our time would never end. Pocna was magic, but I will save her full story for another time. We planned, however, for the possibility that the day would come. We knew that we needed something exceptional to offer any new owner that would encourage them to keep the dive centre on-site and understand how much of a benefit to the hotel we could be.


So I concentrated on my Course Director journey.


I went to Cozumel to work on an IDC with Mike Sobel and then to Playa del Carmen to work on a couple of IDCs with Angel Navarro, with whom I had worked in Utila, and his partner from that time who was also now a Course Director, Jo Armitage. Wow, did I have some great experiences with these talented Course Directors! I also completed my DDI, Disabled Divers International, instructor course with Angel, who had taught me my previous Disabled Diver Instructor course in Utila (HSAI)


In 2017 at the age of forty-six, I finally became pregnant, and in 2018, Gaia Grace Gunn spectacularly entered the world. My mother was to come to Isla on the 11 of March, the day Gaia was due. I asked her to change it so we could spend time before I became a mother. Therefore she changed her ticket to 22 February.


I was determined to have my baby girl out the back of Pocna and have the first baby born in Pocna. However, a trip to the doctor showed that she had the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck, not once but twice. I had to have a cesarean, and I had to wait a very, very long week to have it. The date was set for 21 February, a day before my mother arrived. She changed flights again and arrived on the 20th of February. Everyone was invited to my baby shower on the beach on the 19th. On the 20th, my mother and I went out for one last child-free meal before our lives would wonderfully change forever.


They don't allow people into the operating theatres during cesareans here in Mexico, but they made an allowance for my mother. Listening to Latina 80s Rock, my favourite genre here, Soda Stereo from memory, they started the cesarea. Gaia Grace Gunn was born. Then the electricity went off before they could get to the placenta. There was no emergency backup light, just pure darkness. The lights came back on and then off again. Phones were taken out of theatre gowns, and the phone lights were used.


It made me think, who brought phones into an operating theatre?


Once again, the lights came back on, and the placenta was thrown into a waiting bucket, half of it making it in, and then the lights went back off. But they did a great job, especially since the hospital was still under construction and not everything was finished.


I was given a bucket to have my first shower, and a family member or friend was meant to stay with me during the night and bring me food. I refused to allow anyone to do that, though, as they would have had to spend the night in an uncomfortable chair, but I wished I had.


There was a hospital staff party that night in the ward with loud music and snacks, just twenty meters from my curtain, not a room. They finally finished at three am. Apart from this, the staff was amazing! I had so many visitors. They never stopped. I felt so special. So many people had been on the IVF journey with me, and I never knew it. I had been so focused on myself.



A few months later, I was accepted into the Course Director Training Course. I had completed my IDC exams needed for the CDTC application when I was about eight months pregnant. Being a massively pregnant woman coming in for IDC exams with instructor candidates turned some heads and got people talking.

I went to the Dominican Republic with my four-month-old daughter and mother to complete my CDTC in 2018.




We could now become the only PADI 5-Star IDC Resort on the island.


Roberto Valencia was one of my first friends on the island, and we were friends long before we could speak each other's language. We had both lived in the Pocna campground and had been on many wild adventures together. Years later, we would reconnect again in Pocna and could finally communicate; him to me in English and me to him in Spanish. He came through all his courses with me and would now be my first IDC student. He even had his first child less than two months after I had Gaia.



Pocna was sold to Selina in 2019, and our little office was put out the back with the compressor room until Selina finished a complete rebuild. Our hostel was no longer, and the entire hotel was a building sit. We stayed open in the backyard area where our compressor operated, in another tiny little shack built to become our temporary office. Still, we could remain open, something that was to come to a dead halt because of Covid-19.



2020 was a year that not many who experienced it will ever forget. Pocna had closed in October of 2019, and we were working out the back of a demolition site of a hotel. Isla had been suffering bad weather with "El Niño" from the start of the year, throughout January to the beginning of March, which was our high season. This meant that the port was often closed during those months. The weather started picking up in March, and we had bookings far in advance. Even though we were still working out the back of a hotel under reconstruction, things were looking up.


I was here in Isla during the Swine Flu pandemic in 2009 and saw how that shut down Cancun. It was only two weeks, but that seemed like a long time for the tourist industry until Covid reared her ugly head. I had pulled all my staff together when the first whispers of Covid hitting Mexico happened and had warned them of what it had been like with Swine Flu and to be prepared, thinking it would only be a week or two. I couldn't imagine the length of time that we were/are to suffer Covid.

At the start of March, bookings began to cancel. Then in March, it hit hard. I closed the doors on 21 Mar 2020 with a very heavy heart. Every single reservation had cancelled, and it was just becoming evident that this was the only sensible decision. Two days later, the government also decided to send everyone into lockdown. Emily was due to have her baby any day, and she had to go in for a cesarean before the doctors left the island.



We had been hit badly by the closure of Pocna and the rebuild of Selina then we were crippled by El Niño so shortly after. I had about twelve staff members and their families to support, and we had nothing left in reserve. So, I put out to GoFundMe. I could not open this in Mexico or access it here, so I had to rely on my friend Kim and my mother to help me from Australia. So many friends, family, and old clients helped me support my staff for the four months we were in lockdown and without work. My mother and her partner, Gary, donated and donated and even did it anonymously. They knew so many of my staff's families needed this, and they played a significant, quiet role in helping all of us over here. I cannot thank enough all those who helped support my staff during those difficult times.


There was no government assistance for those without money on the island, but people on the island looked after their own. I saw food trucks every day giving to those in need. Musicians held virtual concerts, and raffles were organized to assist those in need. People pulled togeher. I saw so much good in people in those hard days.


Isla was, however, a ghost town, and it was terrifying. You were not allowed out of the house. I was a single mother alone in her apartment building and could not even go to the supermarket with my child as she was not allowed in. Fortunately, two friends would later move into my apartment block and help look after Gaia while I went out for the necessities. People could not leave their houses for anything but the absolute necessities, and police would patrol everywhere with speakers on. It was also unbelievably hot!


I pray we never have to go through this again. So many of us lost so many wonderful friends during that damn pandemic.


The end of July started to see a cautious reopening. Those brave first few who confronted travel and the virus started dribbling back into the tourist industry. They brought life back to the business and the island, sometimes also bringing a new version of the virus.


So much changed in the world at this time. We learnt to do so much via Zoom or WhatsApp. We transitioned completely to eLearning and avoided classrooms. We sanitized everything. We learned different ways to teach. But more than anything, we grew.


Selina started rebuilding again and was finally finished in October 2020. We got our new offices in the form of a huge palapa, and inside this, we built our equipment room, sales office, and classroom. We met the new manager, Omar, who would become our friend and support within Selina. Our IDC could be fully opened. We had become a PADI 5-star IDC Resort before the sale of Pocna, but now, we could truly fulfil our potential.

Selina had completely rebuilt Pocna. There were twice the number of rooms, all completely refurbished. December 2022 will see another build take place, again nearly doubling that number.


I had mentioned that I was a disabled instructor when they were making plans for the initial rebuild, so they put in a couple of rooms that were wheelchair friendly with wide doors, large bathrooms, and no steps.


A kitchen was added where guests could cook their food, and the whole place had a new style and a fresh vibe. A huge emphasis was put on the digital nomad with a co-work area with high-speed internet and conference rooms. The beach bar was no more, but a massive palapa with a restaurant was in its place. Marea opened the restaurant and started the nightlife up anew.



Some old ruins had once existed on the beach but had been torn down by Pocna years before, but some foundations remained. Pocna had intended to put the pool there. Now Selina had built a palapa there instead, and this became the wellness area. Pilates, yoga, and fitness classes are held every morning, overlooking the ocean.


There is even a movie room and air-conditioned luxury teepees that have been added during the remodel.

More than anything, we now had a pool that Selina had let me have a say in how to design so that we could use it for diving purposes. Lively nighttime parties happen beside this pool, too, on the weekends.


Selina truly was beautiful. Is beautiful. It was not Pocna, and that broke the heart of so many. Pocna was special and always will be, and the memories forever touch those who had the chance to share in her journey. Still, Selina is building her legend on the bones of Pocna, and that magic is now permeating the new era of Selina.


____


We loved Pocna and always will, but with Selina, we were able to grow. Our offices were huge and could accommodate our needs. We went from a small dive centre to a large and very professional one. The pool made a massive difference to our abilities to teach courses, and my new classroom meant we could really build the professional side of the dive centre. Selina was very much on par with how the dive centre was heading, and we envisioned many similar objectives.


Our dive centre grew, and our staff numbers grew.

Emily became our General Manager and flourished in the position. Mariano Negrette became our Head Instructor; Pia Metz became our Accounts Manager, and Javi Cuevas our Maintenance Manager.


The Isla Mujeres hotel became the biggest-selling Selina in the world.

As of March 2022, Selina marked an important milestone, with one hundred open locations worldwide. Selina is a global brand with a portfolio of one hundred and fifty open or secured properties across twenty-five countries and six continents.


We have taught nearly four thousand five hundred courses since opening our doors in 2012 and have taken over fifteen thousand divers out to the stunning dive sites around Isla. By July 2022, we had already well surpassed the number of courses of the previous year, and the trend continues.


So, now we are coming to our tenth anniversary, and like a phoenix, we have been reborn many times during our growth over the years. So many staff have come and gone but remain good friends to us here. So many staff are still with us, which is why we have evolved the way we have. We see many a friendly face return time and again with our customers. It is difficult to mention only a few on this blog when so many contributed along the way. To every one of you, thank you.



Pocna Dive Center 12 Dec 2012 - 2019 (Before Selina)




Pocna 1973 - 2019






Pocna Dive Center (With Selina) 2019- Now



Selina 2020 - Now


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