Tag Archives: scuba diving

A little less conversation, a little more action

So, I arrived in Playa Del Cocos, which is in the north of Costa Rica on the Pacific Coast, after a long day of travel and got clean. Like hot shower clean. And then I ambled down the main street to find some grub.

There were a shitload of rich retirees from the US, loads of tacky souvenir vendors on the street, and far too many burger / pizza / rib joints for my liking. I could tell straight away, this place was not for me. I discovered a lil ‘soda’ & hoovered a couple of tacos. I then wandered into a bar, managed to avert the attention of a couple of local men & caught up with a few friends online.

The next day was just gorgeous. 30-something degrees, a light breeze, and bugger all humidity. I booked myself in for a dive and got in a bit of beach time. The playa consists of fine volcanic sand and is the colour of chocolate – hence its name.

Sparkly yachts & cruisers bobbed around in a cove that was surrounded by arid yet majestic mountains. It reminded me a little of Greece or Turkey. It was clear to me this was quite different from most parts of Central America I had seen so far.

On Tuesday I went diving in the archipelago (isn’t that a great word?!) of the Catalina Islands.

Visibility wasn’t so great, maybe 10m (due mostly to the amount of plankton). The reefs were neither interesting or pretty. Sea temps were a lot colder than in the Caribbean (I had to wear a wettie for the first time since leaving home). And we had to deal with quite a bit of surge & current.

But Oh-My-God: the sealife was Simply Spectacular. On the way out, we saw dozens of jumping devil rays, we got a birds-eye view of a humpback whale & her calf. I also spotted two huge turtles bob bob bobbin along.

Underwater there were just schools & schools of oversized tropical fish. We saw snapper, yellowtail, angelfish, triggerfish, barracuda and a big assed spotted eagle ray as well as some massive southern rays. I also saw my first scorpionfish, a cornetfish & a Tiger snake eel which would have made my day right there. But then, it got better and entering  into a channel, we came up against five hooge white tipped reef sharks – no further than 2 or 3 metres away. Totally wicked shit. The stuff you live for when you dive. I surfaced, whooping for joy!

I celebrated with a couple of beers and a big big lunch. I later had a nap and then went to see the sun set from a dock down by the boulevard. I’d call that a good day.

The next day I made my way to Monteverde which ended up being quite the mission. Around 2 in the afternoon, I got dropped off on the highway in the middle of nowhere with the Spanish reassurance (I think) that this was the point where a connecting bus would pick me up.

There was a kiosk selling tired looking fried tacos, a random lotteria and a gas station, where a bunch of Costa Rican cowboys were waiting for a tourist to chop up into little pieces. There wasn’t quite tumbleweed blowing down the highway but there were certainly a lot of big dust gusts added for FX.

I asked at the kiosk and yes, there was definitely a connecting bus at 330. A few locals showed up and I checked with them and they all had different views on what time the bus for Monteverde would come, if at all.

At 430, I checked again with Kiosk Girl who acknowledged that there may not have been a 330 bus after all. But there was definitely a 530 bus.

I didn’t really have a Plan B and started to think about the time I fucked up reading Polish train timetables, and had to spend the night sleeping on a bench in an open train station in a small Baltic village in the middle of October. Note to self: Always have a Plan B (And, Yes I do realise this means I need a Plan A first.)

And then the 530 bus came. At 530!

A couple of hours later I was ensconced in a cozy hostel. I really liked it here. The township of Saint Elena reminded me a bit of Berrima: quiet & quaint. Lots of little coffee shops and art galleries all set against a dramatic green landscape in a crisp, cool clima. The hostel proffered nice vistas, soft lounges, freshly brewed coffee, and good company.

Monteverde is some 1,440m (4,660ft) above sea level and is famous for its cloud forests and rich biodiversity. A bit of googling & I learn there’s more than 100 types of mammals, 400 kinds of birds, tens of thousands of insect species, and over 2,500 varieties of plants (420 of which are orchids alone). I think that’s technically a fuck-load of nature.

Next afternoon, I went horse-riding for a few hours with a proper cowboy who had claimed to be in his mother’s belly when he first started riding. i should say here & now, I was never a pony kind of girl. I’ve only been riding a few times in my life. The last time I was on a horse, I was still a teenager. And I fell off.

Anyways, this was lovely. And largely incident-free. But I remember why I don’t ride horses. I could barely walk the next day.

So of course, not wanting to push myself too hard – I spent it doing sweet FA. Actually, that’s not true: I managed to fit in a manicure & pedicure. And, I am pleased to report my toes are an infection-free zone.

I went zip-lining the next morning. Apparently if you’re going to go zip-lining – Monteverde is the place to do it. I have to say, though, from the get-go – I was a bit iffy about the whole concept. Don’t get me wrong, I love my maximo – extremo – adrenalin-pumping activities as much as the next gal. It just reeked of tourist factory to me. Anyways, I kinda got talked into it by the chica at the front desk, and the next thing you know I’m getting harnessed up (and not in a sexy way), and flying el rapido down a series of 15 highly suspended cables, and of course (!) taking the optional Tarzan swing at the end. Look: It was a pretty cool way to see the cloud forest. And I think I enjoyed imagining I was a big-assed bird flying through the trees but I dunno … Maybe I woulda enjoyed it more if it was in or on or over the water. Anyways: Tick.

I think for me the highlight of Monteverde was a night walk I did through the noisy forest. There was lots of squawking, buzzing, clicking, scurrying & slithering.

In the space of just a couple of hours our guide showed us not one, but two, two-toed sloths; a bright green poisonous snake; an armadillo (Did you know that armadillos (and I think dolphins also) are among the few mammals that have sex in the missionary position?); and i saw my first Toucan Sam!

At one point, we stood in a clearing, switched off our flashlights, and just gazed at the stars. The sound of the wild winds whooshing through the forest sounded just like crashing waves to my ears.

But the best part was the bioluminescent mushrooms. Dunno ’bout you, but i’ve never seen such things! Our guide had us turn off our torches and these organisms start glowing a bright radioactive green in the night forest. How have I not known about this before?! Reckon Gav, Richard, Derek & I could have spent hours tripping out on that shit during our acid-taking days.

We were just about to get in the car and then our guide showed us a massive hairy nasty looking tarantula. The cynic in me suspected that said spider may have been on the payroll. Because it was way too close the office. And in an easily located hole. That the guide then coerced out with nothing more than a stick.

Cynicism aside – this was definitely the coolest thing I had done in Monteverde.

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Summertime

I had one night in Managua, Nicaragua’s capital. It’s a big sprawling beast of a place: Urban. Ugly. And for the most part, Unfriendly. It’s an uncomfortable intersection of poor Nicas and rich ex-pats. I’m sure if you spent enough time here you’d find some beauty, good people and a heartbeat of sorts. But Antigua, it ain’t.

I checked into a nice hotel (‘nice’ has changed SIGNIFICANTLY since I stayed at the Intercontinental in New Orleans). I had my first hot shower in 5 weeks. Cold showers are a way of life here: the weather is warm even during the rainy season so there’s no real need; moreover it’s just because hot water is a luxury. And it’s not really an issue. But you never really get super duper scrubby clean. You should have seen the state of my hotel-issued white towel once I was done.

I then sat down to Skype my dear friend Scott who had sweetly
agreed to visit my folks for a very special reason. As smart as they are – my parents would have to be the least tech savvy people in the world. As in, they haven’t worked out how to use the Voicemail feature on the mobile phone I gave them just last year. So, Scott & I had conspired to surprise them with a video call on his laptop for my Dad’s 65th birthday. In return, he would be rewarded with The Best Laksa In The World.

We had a great jibber. Scott delivered the coffee table book I had ordered online. So now the oldies could get a bit of a taste of where I have been. Dad seemed pleased enough. But I do know the big thing for him was being able to see my face. Mum & Dad oohed and ahhed at the wonders of technology. I had to intervene when Dad started asking Scott how the Internet worked. Maybe it’ll be enough incentive for him to go & do an Intro to Computers course at the local community college.

Now I do not want to underestimate the extent of this massive favour that Scott had afforded me. My parents live a good 45min drive away from Scott’s place in the city. And Scott’s a busy man.

But my mama’s laksa, which a lot of my good friends will testify, is more than fair reimbursement. A laksa is a Peranakan (Chinese-Malay) dish. It’s a coconut-curry soup which is traditionally made with seafood. Served right, there will be a combination of Hokkien and vermicelli noodles and it will be garnished with fresh bean shoots, a good spoonful of sambal chilli paste, and topped with Vietnamese mint.

Having one of my mother’s laksas is a bit like flying First Class once. And then flying Economy forever more. One friend described it as a “laksa which will ruin you forever”. My friend Jackie, an eminent restaurant critic gave it a thumbs up. And another mate has put it on his Bucket List.

So naturally Scott being the good Aussie mate that he is, spent the rest of the afternoon torturing me with photos of said laksa. Yep. Goodonya.

Next day I made my way to Little Corn Island. It had come so highly recommended by everyone I had met who had been there. I was looking forward to getting back to the Caribbean. Doing some more diving. Eating more lobster. Perfecting my hammock technique. That sort of stuff.

It’s an 80 min flight in a teeny plane that makes too many ‘I’m on the precipice of falling out of the sky’ noises for my liking, to Big Corn Island. Then it’s an hour by panga to Little Corn Island. This particular panga is a big ole wooden speed boat with a bunch of bench seats – maybe enough to hold 30 passengers. It’s a got a couple of really big outboard motors which power it over some seriously high swells: Smooth on the way up. Not so smooth on the way down. Bit like a rollercoaster really. You wanna hang on tight. And that goes for your possessions too. Everything could well go flying. Expect to get drenched. When it rains, they give you a big sheet of industrial plastic which everyone helps hold down over their heads. Definitely an experience in itself.

A short walk from the jetty – I walked past a bar called Tranquilo and saw Skye sitting with a young European fellow. We saw out Happy Hour (which is actually two) and caught up while the sun did its thing over the sea.

Then we went & found me a place to call home for the next week. Most visitors to Little Corn Island will divide their time between the village and the beach, which is an epic 15 minute walk around the other side of the island. On the beach, there are three places where you can drop your swag for the eve. They’re all very simple thatched roof huts with concreted bathrooms. The beds are swathed in mosquito nets. There’s not much else to them. You might get a veranda with a chair or a hammock. You might get a fan. Or a lounge. You might get a power outlet. You wouldn’t get all of the above.

I got one with an uninterrupted view at Elsa’s. Next door at Grace’s / The Cool Spot was where it was at. Most people seemed to be staying there, the restaurant was good (if not a bit exy) and the bar would get busy after Happy Hour ended at Tranquilo. We met a mixed bag of folks from all over the world. They were all divers too, so I would end up spending a bit of time with them over the next week.

The next day & I went and talked to the guys at one of the dive shops, Dolphin Dive. (The other was closed for vacation.) When I told Adam, the manager how long I was going to be on the island for – he advised me to wait it out for a couple of days as the visibility wasn’t so great at the moment. That would be a first. It’s always “25 metres vis out there! We saw hammerheads dancing with dolphins, who were riding on the backs of turtles yesterday! It’s amazing out there!” And then you get out there and it’s Shit. I was well impressed with his honesty. I silently pledged allegiance to his shop immediately.

Over the next week, I did 5 dives with them and some laughs with my good natured DM – a local bloke who told me he was related to 80% of the island. We dove some real pretty sites under nice conditions, but on the whole there was nothing extraordinary to report. Apart from my first sighting of a “Dick Fish”.

On my second last day of diving, I pointed something out to Garry and made an underwater gesture: ‘What is it?’ With both hands, he started simulating a wank of the most massive pretend penis ever. I lost it! I laughed so hard my reg popped out of my mouth, and i took in a few good mouthfuls of seawater. I just did not expect that at all from this quietly spoken man. At all. When we surfaced, I spluttered at him – “WHAT THE HELL IS A DICK FISH!”

Apparently, it was a Black Spotted Sea Cucumber. Too fucking funny.

Little Corn Island is a proper tropical island with hundreds of coconut trees and lots of lush green dense vegetation.

Population: 1200 people, a few hundred chickens, lots of well-fed & happy dogs, and at least one cow. Almost everyone speaks Caribbean English and Kriole. A lot of folk speak Spanish.
There are zero vehicles on the island. There are very few shops, and no banks.

Power only runs from 3ish (give or take a couple of hours) in the arvo through to around 5 or 6 in the morning. Rest of the time they make do without. Businesses use gennys. The island does have its own water supply though which means you can drink the water here!

Typical foods here include coconut bread, and there’s a lady who lives down past the little school, who you can go visit two times a day to get the tastiest of them all – hot out of her oven. There’s a couple of kids who sell their mama’s “patties” which are kinda like little meat pies / empanadas. There’s a lot of plaintains & bananas which get served up every which way with gallo pinto (the omnipresent rice & freakinbeans). Then there’s a dish called Rundown, (pronounced more like ‘ran-dahn’ in the Carib accent). It’s a coconut soup dish consisting of seafood, plaintains, bananas, root vegetables and herbs & spices. I was well excited about the prospect of eating this.

And so it turned out, Skye had met a guy called Dennis (seems like every tourist does) on the beach who was touting a rundown by a bonfire on the beach, the next night. Sounded great. Only sticking point was he wanted the money upfront. I suggested we give him ½ that day, and tell him we’d give him the rest on the night.

Later that day, she & I and circumnavigated the island by foot which took us no more than an hour or two. There’s bugger all to see, apart from a lighthouse, which i think we must have missed.

What we did see though was a crazy amount of rubbish strewn along the shoreline. Tiny bits of Styrofoam that we mistook for shells. Thousands of plastic bottles. Hundreds of odd shoes. We hadn’t heard a thing about this from anyone. Why was no one talking about it? I asked some locals later that day and they all said it had washed up in the last big storm a couple of weeks ago. Garry told me there had been big clean up days in the past, and maybe something like that would be organised again before the high season hit.

We had the rundown on the beach that night, but neither Skye or I were really feeling the vibe. It just felt like we’d been suckered into a bit of gringo rort. There was a bit of a sleazy undertone to the whole affair. And to be honest, the rundown wasn’t what i had been hoping for. It seemed like a dish with great potential though. I vowed to hunt down the best one on the island before I left.

Skye left a couple of days after I arrived, for her friend’s wedding in Mexico. We’d been travelling together on & off for 5 weeks. There’d had been some difficult moments. But moreover, we’d had lots of fun and funny times in two stunning countries and we’d met some amazing people with incredible stories. There was a part of me that knew there were bits of travelling with someone which I was really going to miss. Like the travelling bits, in particular. But there was also a part of me that was looking forward to flying solo again.

I fell into an easy routine for the remainder of my days on the island.

I’d get up early, check the sea conditions on the both sides of the island (the beach side is on the East and it can get ridiculously windy there… whereas you can walk around to the Village on the West side and the sea can be glassy as a lake.) I’d have a chat with the guys in the dive shop. And then do some reading or writing over brekky. My dive was at the very civilised time of 1130am. After which it was time for lunch. I’d follow that up with a snooze in the hammock. I’d then go get ready for Happy Hour at 5pm. Have some dinner and be in bed by 9 or 10. What a life.

On my 2nd last night, I tagged along with Stefano (a tall Italian man who was one of the DMs at the dive shop) to the local reggae bar, Happy Hut. All the local lads were hanging around in hammocks getting high. I shared a few spliffs and kisses with Garry. And I must say – both were rather good. I also got given a bowl of a barracuda rundown which was being made by one the young boys, which was absolutely sensational.

Two days later, I was a bit sad to be leaving the island. I think so far it’s been my favourite (and yes, I know I say that about all of them).

I caught the early morning panga with Steph from the bar and learnt she was also going to Managua. She needed to go to Costa Rica for a border run. Steph is a tall, vivacious, pretty Brit who had a smile to shame the Caribbean. She decided to come to Managua Backpackers Inn with me and we really took to each other over the next 2 days.

By the end of it, we had decided I should come back & work in the bar with her (while her workmate was back in the States for a few weeks). She’d also said I could take over her house-sitting gig for the duration as well. That just sealed the deal. I could tell the two of us would get up to quite a bit of strife together. Throw someone’s sweet kisses into the mix & I was well excited about the possibility of returning to Little Corn, as I parted ways with Steph in Rivas.

2 or so hours later I arrived back at Little Morgan’s.

15 November 2011

Drowning not waving

I found Captain Vern, who takes punters direct from Utila to Roatan aboard a lovely catamaran. The trip’s more expensive than taking two ferries to and from La Ceiba, but I thought it worth it for the time and mucking around I would save myself. We picked up 10 hungover-looking Danish girls who slept dotted about the boat for the entire trip. I chatted with the only other passenger – an young island boy who was very easy on the eye.

It was raining when I alighted so I jumped in a cab, only to see Skye happily sloshing around barefoot in the mud a little ways up the road. She jumped in, and came back with me to our hostel. I argued with the cabbie over the fare as is fast becoming my personal custom in any new place (he tried to charge me double coz Skye had gotten in the car. The ride was less than 3 minutes long. Fucker.) We checked me in to our simple wooden cabin which was ensconced in a lush green rainforest at the West Bay end of the island.

I showed Skye my sandlfy bites and she oohed and ahhed sympathetically: it was good to be in the company of an old mate. Skye and I met about 10 years ago when she was doing her undergraduate, and I was working at the University of Wollongong. We had been introduced through our incorrigible & infectious friend, Mikey and his soul-soothing lady, Jody. The pair of them had gathered around them the most gorgeous group of girls & boys – many of whom I am pleased to still call friends to this day.

Skye & I had only really spent time together at a collection of crazy college house parties… and while we had very likely shared a little history & possibly even bared our souls to one another – both of us admitted to not really remembering a lot from those days.

What I do know is this: Skye always had a big bright sunny smile on her dial; she was always doing something interesting – whether that be sailing through the Whitsundays or doing a marine science post grad; and she seemed to be very easy-going. I was looking forward to spending some quality time with her and hearing her stories. We had similar intentions for travel for the next month or so. It would be nice to have some company on the road.

We went & got some groceries and booze, and spent the rest of the day just mooching about, getting to know each other and catching up. I organised some diving for the next couple of days with an outfit called Ocean Connection. We played cards with our neighbours that night: a couple of amiable lads from Montana who were getting their Dive Certificates.

Over the next two days, I went out diving with Stefan the Swede in the mornings. I’ve been very lucky to get DMs all to myself. I much prefer this, than to diving in a large group because you’re always going to be at the mercy of the people who chew through their air (it’s standard practice that a dive ends when any one person gets low on air). Stefan had great eyes (for spotting stuff as opposed to the colour of) and was extraordinarily excitable under water. He kept yelling thru his reg and waving his arms about wildly. He was a bit odd, but I liked him.

There were schools and schools of fish. Loads of pretty plants. And on both days, we got to see graceful turtles gently gliding through the gardens.

On one dive, we did a swim-through and were greeted by thousands and thousands of silverfish, swarming. I couldn’t see Stefan’s fins at one point, there were so many of them. Just incredible.

We saw a small pod of dolphins during a surface interval. I wanted to jump in the water with them, but they were moving at a cracking pace. I wouldn’t have been able to keep up.

We also saw loads of little nudibranchs. Nudibranchs are a type of sea slug without shells. There’s some 3,000 different species that have been identified. They’re typically tiny (starting from as little as ½ cm) and characteristically colourful with pretty patterns – a lot of them have ‘feathers’ and ‘horns’. I’ve since discovered they’re also hermaphrodites. I’d encourage you to Google images of them. Soooo pretty!

And then there were the Christmas Tree Worms. These shy little things sport spiraling plumes that resemble a firey red fir. They’re about 2.5cm in size and when you click your fingers, they rapidly withdraw into themselves, so you can’t see them anymore. There’s a lot of animals (and some plants) that do this. You have to have a keen eye for detail to see them in action. They always startle me, in the happiest of ways.

Alternatively, there are those who are very curious and will come up to you for a closer inspection, and will keep you company for a while.

Some sea creatures are sublime show-offs, mincing about like drag queens at Mardi Gras.

Mostly though, everyone’s a bit nonplussed by your presence.

I love being underwater (as you’ve probably guessed by now). I believe neither a five year old child nor an acid-loving hippy would have the vision to imagine this world. A world of weird creatures who live in a luscious landscape which waves at you as you weightlessly wander on by. I am a child in this watery wonderland: curious, enchanted, surprised, delighted, astonished, happy.

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to drown and I imagine it would be such a tranquil way to go, once you accepted your fate.

Skye and I spent the afternoons eating, drinking, chatting, reading, and sleeping; and the evenings doing the same. We both were ready to leave after just a couple of days. Roatan is a nice enough island but food & lodgings are quite expensive in comparison to the rest of Honduras. Only the diving is dirt cheap. And for someone like Skye, who can’t dive due to a heart problem – there’s not a lot to do. The beach is not a lie-about type of beach, for all its nasty sandflies. There’s virtually no nightlife to speak of, at least not in wet season.

We decided to catch an 8 minute (!) flight to Le Ceiba, primarily because there wasn’t a lot of price difference between that and catching a 2.5 hour ferry. Chuck in a collective bus ride, a taxi, and the checking in business & we didn’t save ourselves any time in the end. But it was good for the novelty factor. It was only mid-flight, I realised I shouldn’t really be flying after doing a dive the previous day. Hopefully I won’t get decompression sickness!

We caught the bus to San Pedro Sula together and then went our separate ways. Skye to Copan to see the ruins. And I came straight here. I’m currently staying at the D&D Brewery, right by Honduras’ largest lake, Lago de Yojoa. It’s super pretty here – lots of green stuff, bucketloads of birds, and big beautiful butterflies. There’s a lot to do here: a few hiking trails, some caves, a 43m waterfall, a coffee plantation, some small ruins, and so I’m told: good bird-watching (although I’m not sure I’m old enough for that just yet).

I’m just taking it easy today… a bit of a reading / research day… the rainforesty gardens of the brewery are just perfect for this kind of day, and there’s a pool if it gets hot later. I’m starting to think ahead to Colombia. Which is a while away, but I’m keen to organise where i’m going to live for the month of Dec while I do some volunteering and take some more Spanish lessons.

Skye is meeting me here tonight or tomorrow, so I’ll wait for her before we set off on some adventures.

You must be my lucky star

On Sat 16 July, I went for my first night dive ever. The full moon was a night old.

Our Dive Master gave a clear brief as to how the dive would pan out and how he was going to communicate with us, via torch light in the dead of a deep night sea. I must admit, i was glad to hear that we were only going down 12 metres.

I boarded the boat filled with nervous excitement. I remembered a story an old friend had told me about her equipment fucking up on her first ever night dive. She was with her fiancé at the time, who was close by and quick to respond by sharing his air. I was, truth be told, a little scared too.

We motored up to the south end of the island and dropped anchor. While I’m a very relaxed and competent diver, i sometimes find descending a tad tricky. I was relieved when I managed to get down to the floor without too much trouble.

It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the big blackness that bellowed around me. Torches of the other divers flashed in every direction. It was all very disorientating. I located the DM and made mental notes of the color of his tank & fins. And then i looked around me.

I’ve been deep inside the sea’s soul on some 100 occasions. While every dive site is different, there are generally some consistencies in the ‘land’scape, just as there is above sea level. There’s fishes & stuff, plants & rocks & coral. Nothing, Absolutely Nothing looked familiar to me.

I know my heart was beating a lot faster than it normally does. My brain was finding it difficult to make connections with what my eyes were seeing. Once I calmed myself a bit, shapes shifted into the familiar. We started off around the shallow reef. For a little while we didn’t see much in the way of fish and the like. But this gave me time to see the colors of the coral… Under the flashlight, they were a lot more vivid. Rusty ruby reds, luscious lime greens…

We followed the reef wall around a corner, and then the space opened up… I saw sparse schools of queen angel fish (pretty blue and yellow, things they are), parrot fish (who seem to change color as they move about), spotted trunkfish (they’re real dudes, these guys), groupers (I call them the labradors of the sea) and barracuda (who can be a bit too macho for my liking).

I finally had my breathing under control and focused on looking out for the big boys. Sharks, turtles, rays, lobster, squid… This is what I was really hankering to see.

Part of the group had convened near a rock so I finned over quickly to take a look. A big ole turtle had poked his head out, and was scoping for an escape route. He saw an opening and went for it. The group parted ways to make room for him.

We continued on our way, and we came to a bit of a clearing, the DM made the signal for us to all to switch off our torches. We each found a spot to rest in the sand. One by one the lights all went off. Complete darkness surrounded me, swallowing me up, sucking me in. My heart started thumping again. Then I saw some twinkly flashes of light in front of my face. I had been waiting a long time to see this underwater.

Phosphorescence is a light phenomenon which in the sea, is caused by millions of microscopic organisms such as plankton. Sometimes you can see this on the incoming waves when walking by the ocean at night. Check out YouTube for some pretty cool clips. To see it underwater in the utter blackness though, is another thing altogether. As the organisms darted about, I saw tiny lights, about the size of a match head, maybe a bit bigger, sparkle on and off in the blink of an eye.

I decided to have some fun with this. I took a big deep breath and removed the reg from my mouth and held my breath. The regulator is the link between your tank and your mouth, so is basically your air source. On the reverse side of the bit which you put in your mouth, there is a big round purge button which you use to clear it if it becomes blocked (for example, with vomit). When you purge, it pumps out a quick shot of air, so the result is a really big burst of bubbles.

When I did this, there was a flash of sparkles all around me. I started purging like a woman possessed, and then when i realized that simply waving my arms around, also sparked off the sparkles, i began a crazy conductor of a symphony routine. Sparkles! sparkles! sparkles! I started to trip out a bit. When I was a l’il nipper, Disney cartoon films all ended with Tinkerbell waving her magic wand around in circles, which would set off a trail of sparkly fairy dust. I felt like Tinkerbell on acid!

I could have played like that for a very long time. But alas, our DM turned on his light and the game was over. Poor little organisms were probably very pleased when we moved on.

The final highlight of the dive was a second sighting of a grand old dame of a turtle. I was just fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time. She popped her head out from under a rock. Another diver and I just waited nearby. The others come over. She eventually figured it was safe and glided straight past us. I could have given her a little smooch she came so close. I kinda wish I had, in retrospect. She was so big and old and looked so sleepy.

Some of the others in our group were starting to get low on air, so we had to end the dive. A quick safety stop, and then we were back on the boat, swapping sightings and excitedly recounting our playtime in the phosphorescent lights.

For the second time that week, I had had an unforgettable experience. I went to bed feeling 4 kinds of lucky.

Sun 17 July

My island home

I spent the next day traveling from Merida to Cancun.

I spent a few hours there, shopping for supplies I thought might be harder to come by, or more expensive on the island.
So if you recall, my experience of Downtown Cancun when i first came to Isla – was that it was just awful. The Hotel Zone in Cancun is also awful. It’s just shiny awful.
Anyone that knows me, knows I’m not good in shopping malls at the best of times. All that fluro lighting, bad music, all those people (don’t get me wrong: I like people. Just not too many of them in the one place at the same time.)

I was very happy to return to Isla Mujeres. There are no shopping malls on the island. No Macdonalds. No Starbucks. Yes there are tourist shops, but they’re confined to a couple of small Avenidas. It’s a small place. Everyone knows everyone. Case in point: Despite numerous attempts,  I hadn’t managed to get a phone number out of Gladys, my contact for the house I was renting, which was very annoying. She’d asked me to send her an email when I got on the boat and she would meet me at the house. Which I did. She didn’t respond. I also couldn’t remember exactly where the house was, having only been there once.

So I went to a cafe and started fretting about how to get on touch with this lady so I could get the key. It was getting on in the day. When along came the owner of the cafe – Gloria, a rubenesque Italian with a warm demeanor, and asked “you have problema, señorita?” Un poco, I replied. I told her my tale and she threw up her hands, and smiled, proclaiming that Gladys was her friend and she could call her. Fixed.

I was met by Teresa, a tiny Mayan lady who worked for Gladys. She took me up to my casita, introduced me to Jorge – a big black gentle giant with a 1000 wattage smile, who seemed to be the manager of the building. We took care of business and I started nesting.

My new little pad was cuter than I had remembered. (Skip 4 paragraphs if  the details of these sorts of things, don’t interest you)

The room featured sandy-yellow walls with a quaint hand-painted mural of a sun setting over a coconut tree, by the bed which was on a raised platform. There was also a painted bedhead on the wall, which was on theme.

At the foot of the bed, there was a leaf-green colored enclave which housed a small bathroom (toilet paper goes in a wastepaper basket in Mexico – the plumbing just can’t handle it). And also a little open wardrobe for my expansive collection of couture).

Next to the bed, there was a space to hang a hammock, and by the window overlooking the busyish street – a small red plastic Coca Cola table with 3 white plastic chairs, all sporting different beer and soft drink brand stickers. This would serve as the location for my classes.

I had a little fridge and a 20L water bottle with a makeshift pump for my drinking water. A little bookshelf for my pantry, with a color TV on top of it, and a 2 burner gas cooker in my kitchenette. I was fortunate to have both wireless and AC. Very simple. Very sweet. A 5 min walk to the Centro. A 10 min walk to the best beach on the island. I knew I was going to be very happy here.

The next morning, I went for a swim in that perfect aqua blue water and wondered why it was so blue. I later did a bit of googling, and there’s a bunch of theories ranging from the cleanliness and temperature of the water (26-28 degrees), the quality of the sunlight and sand, the number of microscopic organisms that live in the water … then i started reading a scientific article about color vibrations and bent water molecules and my head started hurting so I thought better of questioning why and decided it was much easier to swim in ignorant bliss.

I spoke to Coleena my teacher. Turns out she was moving into my apartment block that week, which would be most convenient. We started lessons the next day. 3 hours a day, 5 days a week.

On Tuesday i went snorkeling with Fausto the Fisherman. We met up early and it was just the two of us out there. Soooo many fishes!

It’s a rule that visitors must always wear a life jacket in the Garrafon National Marine Park (clearly the locals are conscious that the loss of a tourist’s life would put an end to a good portion of the island’s livelihood.) But I found it quite limiting and frustrating. I am quite experienced in and on the ocean (for those who don’t know me- I participate in distance ocean swims; I love a body surf; am an experienced diver, etc) So I’m comfortable in the water. Fausto sensed this and let me take off my vest so I could do a bit of skin diving with him. Much better!

We saw reef sharks and trumpet fish and barracuda and groupers and starfish and nudibranchs and a ray and a lion fish. The reef was just so incredibly rich.

Two days later, on the Thursday I went out diving. I did my first wreck dive – the Cañonero C58 C55 (Depth: 33 meters), which was just wicked. It’s a big old WW2 Navy boat about 180 foot long with at least 2 floors and was just thriving with schools of various types of fish. We went through some of the rooms of the ship including what would have been the engine room and the captain’s cabin. The 2nd dive was a drift dive along a reef called Las Pietras Negras, which was a much more shallow and cruisier dive. Apparently this is a great place to spot turtles, but we didn’t see any.

I met two very interesting well travelled sisters, fresh out of college; and their dad on the boat. Dad was doing his Advanced Open Water ticket. The girls had just completed their Dive Masters’ courses in Honduras in a 6 week period because it worked out cheaper than to go diving every day for a couple of weeks. Crazy, huh? One of then had lived there for a while, opening up her own restaurant; while the other had just finished a two year stint in the Peace Corps. At the risk of sounding like the little old lady who lived in a shoe, I find these sorts of young people so inspirational. When I was 23, I was just pissing all my money up against a wall. Imagine what these girls are going to have accomplished by the time they’re 40!

I was absolutely knackered when it came to my lesson. Note to self: No more dives before class. As relaxing as they are, they can also take it out of you. My classes are 1 on 1, so there’s nowhere to hide. It’s been almost 10 years since I studied, so it’s kinda hard work plus the 3pm starts are right about the time my brain stops functioning and I just want to siesta. I know, I know: Cry me a fucking river.

Fri 8 July