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Under the Sea

More than thirty years ago, Walter Frischbutter decided to trade his suit-and-tie life for his greatest passion. Today, he is at the helm of a diving school in Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic, where he introduces water sports buffs to the nicest diving spots in the turquoise Caribbean Sea.

Miles of white sandy beaches, turquoise waters, year-round summer temperatures: it is not in the least surprising that Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic, is one of the choice travel destinations for Europeans eager to escape the cold. Walter Frischbutter ended up in Punta Cana, too. The likeable man with a robust manner is originally from Germany. He, too, got fed up with the cold weather. So he packed his bags and moved to a warmer climate. That was more than thirty years ago. “It was my sense of adventure and the urge to break out of the daily grind that made me leave Germany!” He first went to Sicily, then to the Maldives, where he worked as a diving instructor for two years. His next stop was Santo Domingo where he stayed for fifteen years, and now he lives in Punta Cana. Professionally, he is wholeheartedly devoted to his greatest passion: he is at the helm of the “VIP Divers” diving school that shows Caribbean holidaymakers the natural treasures that lie beneath the waves.

Photos: Walter Frischbutter

Working where holidaymakers relax

“I love water sports, and have done so from a very young age. People say that the sea is the cosmos of the ordinary man; I think that describes it well,” says Walter. The ventilator above his head is humming at full blast. He is sitting in his bast-clad office. “On my travels, when I worked as a diving instructor, there came a point when I needed to make a decision: do I go back to Germany and lead a conventional life there, in suit and tie, or do I create something of my own, with which I can make ends meet?” Needless to say, he chose the latter. Today, Walter is an old hand on the island and known far and wide. Years ago, he helped promote the development of water sports in Punta Cana. He chose this part of the world because of the people: when working on a cruise ship, he met some Dominicans and really liked their candidness, friendliness, but also their respect. “Life is much more relaxed here,” Walter adds. And judging from his diving crew, he likes it that way. The “VIP Divers” staff come from all over the world and speak German, English, Spanish, Russian and French. Many of them were fed up with their “old” life. It is obvious that they love what they are doing now. No wonder Walter hardly ever misses Germany. “I fly to Germany once or twice a year, to visit family and friends. But I would not want to live there anymore.”

Swimming with the fish

Walter, who is originally from Augsburg, favours the underwater world. Even if, these days, he is not in the water every day. “I run a company, so I have many administrative tasks to deal with. But everyone should get to see the reefs and diving spots of the Dominican Republic once.” Thanks to the shallow waters, Punta Cana is particularly well suited for beginners. It is also good for families. “If a family member doesn’t want to scuba dive, we offer snorkelling. They can also relax at the beach or on the boat deck, and simply enjoy life.” Those who put their diving goggles on have the chance to see nurse sharks, smooth trunkfish, parrotfish and snappers. “Punta Cana is not, per se, a diving site like the Maldives or the Red Sea, for instance. But there is nonetheless an endless array of things to discover beneath the water surface,” Walter assures. And, yes, dolphins can be spotted too: “But you have to be very careful. If you book a dolphin tour, you will often get to see animals that are living in captivity in the sea or even in a pool. They are torn out of their natural habitat, and things will stay that way for as long as people are willing to pay to see them.” Walter is also familiar with the downsides of this gorgeous region. “The sewage system of many of the hotels is also a problem for the sea; structures still need to be put in place here. And very importantly: on no account should anything ever be taken from the sea – with the exception of plastic waste of course!”

Adventurous cave diving

Ample excitement is to be had with “VIP Divers”, above all for real diving aficionados. Walter’s diving school also offers various cave dives, including in the Del Este National Park. Participants must have cave diving experience as well as an advanced diving certificate, or be in possession of a cave diving certificate. Certification courses can, of course, be done on site at “VIP Divers”. The thrilling dives make it well worth it. “The cave systems in the Dominican Republic are an opportunity to immerse into another world. A truly unique feeling.” Those still “hooked” after that, can also do a diving instructor course at “VIP Divers”. Who knows, perhaps some of the participants will soon be living their own dream.

One last question remains: where do you go on holiday if you live in paradise? “Everything that isn’t work is a holiday for me,” says Walter. “Motor sailing, switching off, and scuba diving, which I still enjoy doing outside of work too!”

Three top diving spots in Domenican Republic

First-time scuba divers in the Dominican Republic are likely to be overwhelmed by the large choice on offer. Walter Frischbutter reveals his Top Three Spots for an unforgettable underwater experience.

Bayahibe: “Though very touristy, this village in the southeast of the Dominican Republic has a lot to offer to divers. The beach is home to the main harbour for crossings to Isla Soana, which is also great for snorkelling. There are more than twenty diving spots off the coast, including impressive shipwrecks that can be explored during a dive.”

Catalina: “The perfect family excursion. Our team will take you by catamaran to this uninhabited island, where the whole family can snorkel and relax on the beach. A highlight in the vicinity of the island is the shipwreck of the infamous pirate Captain Kidd.”

Jaragua: “The Jaragua National Park in the extreme southwest of the island is the largest biosphere reserve in the Dominican Republic, but is still largely undiscovered by tourists. The cave systems offer opportunities for adventurous dives in a unique natural setting!”

Text: Malin Mueller