“If you can breathe on land, you can breathe underwater.”
Hans lets his words work and enjoys the element of surprise. The diving instructor, who was born on Curacao and returned to the island 9 years ago after 26 years in the Netherlands, sits with us in the pirate’s nest in the shade of a palapa, the typical Caribbean sun canopies made of palm leaves, and tells his story. A few years ago he had the idea to accompany people with disabilities to dives – the freedom that the sea offers makes people forget their everyday life for a moment, the beauty of the underwater world with the crystal clear azure water, the coral reefs and the colourful shoals of fish captivates the observer. First he founded the Animal Encounter in the Curacao Sea Aquarium Park. Situated on a lagoon with many natural pools, the Animal Encounter, where water rats can snorkel in one of the pools and meet many species of fish including rays, is just one of them.
Then Hans founded his diving school. There are no obstacles for him – apart from emphysema there is no reason not to go diving, he says. Depending on the type and degree of his client’s disability, he takes other divers with him to assist him. Whether ALS, paraplegia, multiple sclerosis: he has already taken them all into the water – and safely back ashore. Hans is completely relaxed, but also surprisingly honest: he does not find Curacao so wheelchair accessible. Sure, there are many tourist facilities that are now accessible to people with disabilities. Nevertheless, there are still too many authorities and shops where wheelchair users in particular are left behind. As the idealist that he is, he works against this every day. His dives with handicapped people are more time-consuming to prepare, the expenses for additional staff are higher. But he enjoys this work and compensates for the losses by the daily business with divers who are not disabled. One has the impression that he is attracted by the challenge of adjusting to completely different people and requirements every day.