Waking up at 4 AM is usually never fun, but when the impetus is a trip down to the Caribbean side of the Republic of Panama, well, I can manage. A five-hour flight out of Houston landed myself and the rest of the Texas A&M University at Galveston’s Tropical Marine Ecology class in Panama City, Panama, and after a short bus ride (including a requisite stop at the famous Canal for pictures) we found ourselves at Octopus Garden dive hotel, in the historic town of Portabelo. Within minutes we were introduced to the small (but very friendly) group of hotel staff, and set up in air conditioned rooms (a blessing in the humidity of this country, which generally is, at minimum, 80%!) After a delicious dinner of the hotel’s signature dish–octopus in a coconut cream sauce–we set up for our first Caribbean dive, a night dive in sponge reefs just a stone throw from the hotel’s ocean deck. 20 feet down, when the visibility cleared, we were treated to a long reef wall, replete with large coral specimens, parrotfish, schools of vibrant blue gobies, and a few spiny lobster, not to mention a number of the hotel’s namesake octopus nests, or “gardens”. After a few rounds of pool (yours truly remains undefeated at 9-ball,) we retired to our lodgings, ready to get up at 6:30 tomorrow for a long day of diving!