Snorkel vanity shots

I may be slacking on my diving, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been in the water. The dive boats still go out twice a day and always have room for a snorkel hitchhiker, especially one who brings cookies for the group. The only challenge is tracking down a snorkel, as they are often all checked out, but somehow I always manage. It’s a chill and cheap (ie, FREE!) way to spend an afternoon, and still be part of my diving community. The other day I had company of a snorkel buddy, Robbie, who graciously took some fabulous mermaid-esque photos of me free diving. Finding the little rainbow reef squid below was such a treat!

Photos courtesy of Robbie Labanowski.

AWOL in Utila

It’s been a little longer than usual between posts. In fact, I just got a ping from my Dad to make sure I’m ok. (It feels nice to have the check in, just in case!) So I thought I’d catch the rest of you up on my radio silence too.

In essence, Utila got me. Everyone said it would, and they were right. Different than most places on the road, many people are in Utila for a month or more to complete their divemaster training so it’s more socially stable and possible to connect on a longer term basis. Habits and friendships form. I’ve been taken in by the lifestyle and relationships I have started here.

So what has actually been up? I finished my Rescue course over a week ago and since have been a Utila bum: hanging out, coming second in pub quizes (1pt off, so close!), eating delectable food with even better company, exploring more of the island via ATV for half price, getting sunburnt snorking for free off dive boats, restarting Mad Men from episode one, doing too much grocery shopping hungry, contemplating a specialty dive course but not getting my act together, defending the honor and reputation of the Great Julia Child, injuring my hands and componentry constantly and mysteriously, drinking my signature rum and ginger, hitching late night rides on golf carts going way too fast, not sleeping enough, and the big news: moving into an apartment with my favorite dive buddy Nico.

Some highlights where a camera was present:

Best dinner in Utila. πŸ™‚
Host/chef with the mostest, tending the grill.
BBQ–can’t get enough! Β // Β The art of a perfectly poached egg. Respect.
ATV-ing it up, Pumpkin Hill bound!
Dive dive dive! Nico rockin’ out, about to head down.
Ladies chillin’ up top and hanging off the side.

Screw PADI certifications, I think the fact that I now have a proper Utila “address” is what makes me a officially a diver. Nico is here for at least another month doing his divemaster and one day when talking with him about where he was moving it just clicked that we should get a place. Even if I just stayed for a short time more it made sense financially and logistically. I first signed on for one week, then starting admitting the addiction and saying two, and now even as every day passes I still say “about two weeks”. Stay until it feels time to leave, right? It’s nice that even though we’re not dive buddy-married anymore that we still get to chill so much. “So, how was your day?…” πŸ˜›

Our house is bright aqua blue, cute, on stilts, in the best part of town, and has a dive weight as a door stop. Amazingly easy to obtain, we talked with the landlord and signed up within minutes, moving in that very night. It’s $450 a month for a two bedroom, about the going rate in Utila. It has been a new element to life figuring out how to buy electricity, gas, and water and take care of other household logistics. Set far back from the street, some who have fancy boardwalks at their apartments might call ours “in the ghetto” as we are above the swamp. πŸ˜› I call it elevated waterfront property where the crabs scuttle in the gutters eating our scraps and if we open the windows just right the breeze makes a wind tunnel perfect for hot Utilan nights. It’s Nico’s first apartment, and I realized that the same could be said for me too in a way–it’s my first time having a room all to myself, unless you count the Waltham house back at Brandeis.

Nico waving from the new pad, plus our 2lb dive weight door stop.
My room and our beautiful kitchen.
Ok, so we might be a *little* swamp ghetto.

Our first order of business? Housewarming party! Two days after moving in, our house was filled with our good friends from the dive shop.

Housemates! πŸ˜€

The most repeated pot luck contribution was rum. As our freezer started to fill up, I thought we’d be set later with leftovers. I didn’t give our guests enough credit!!

Pot luck Utila style. Luckily Doug, Richard, and Vero are here to help.

We most definitely had food support too. Set before the gas for our stove was delivered, I made cold apps of mango guacamole and apples with honey-peanut butter. Both went over well and I was surprised the apples apparently gave non-Americans a punch of Americana novelty. Richard’s pasta and curry gave us some much needed substance, and then Danielle topped everything off with a dessert of oreos and m&ms.

Yum! Pot luck spread.
Digging in.

Our Advanced class trio of me, Nico, and Tim gathered together for a photo-op. It was one of Tim’s many “last night”s here in Utila before he finally pried himself away. Miss you lil’ bro!

Advanced team unite! Yeah, I think I’m going to stay out of the nipple pinching though…

So our house is thoroughly warmed and life is good. I have a kitchen, friends, a space of my own, fun to be had, and time. What more can you ask for?

P.S. In preparing this post, I discovered that I am over favoring the “yeah”-mouth-open look in my picture selection and probably need to learn some new camera face poses… I have the same expression in virtually every shot. What is up with that?!

Achievement and passion unlocked: Advanced Open Water

Ecstatic after the wreck dive. AOW is the best!!

My goal in coming to Utila was to gain more experience as a diver. How much? I wasn’t sure. Dives are cheap and at the very least I wanted to increase my dive count up from seven to a respectable double digit. There are many options on who to dive with on Utila; upon arrival, I spent a day scoping out the dive shop scene. I chose Utila Dive Center, the largest diving operation on the island and one with a strong reputation for safety, quality of instruction, being well run, and having a good culture among divers.

I began with a few fun dives; with each dive I felt more in control of my buoyancy and positioning in the water. Then I took the plunge and started a new 3-day course: Advanced Open Water. AOW is the next step in a diver’s education after Open Water and teaches you skills that broaden the situations where you are qualified to go. The course consists of five dives, each with a different focus and special training.

My class was a great group of awesome peeps: my fellow AOW students fun-loving air-burner-and-proud-of-it Tim and my chill-yet-excited perpetual (and, as I discovered in EFR class while practicing the Heimlich maneuverer, ticklish) buddy husband Nico, divemaster-in-training and man of many lives/hidden talents Chris, encouraging instructor-in-training David, and super cool head instructor Maya.

Dive 1: Deep Dive
Regular Open Water divers can dive down to a maximum depth of 18 meters/60 feet; Advanced divers learn how to deal with increased pressure and become certified to 30 meters/100 feet. We descended slowly down a reef wall. When Maya hit 100ft, we stopped; I was surprised by the difference between all of our depth gauges–10ft variation! I didn’t feel physically different under another atmosphere of pressure; nitrogen narcosis tends to set in around this depth, but not for me in this case. Some things did change: perception of color on the short end of the light spectrum, increasingly negative buoyancy, and quicker air consumption.

We returned to the boat just in time to be soothed by the sweet sound of Captain Cookie singing lustily along to Michael Bolton ballads.

Maya and Tim chillin’ up top in between dives.

Dive 2: Wreck
Our next Adventure Dive was down to the wreck of the Halliburton, a 100ft-long cargo vessel purposely sunk as a diving attraction in 1998. Additionally, this was a deep dive, with a max depth of 100ft.

The Halliburton wreck. Source: Google Images

We descended down a line, as there is no reef or other shallow natural features nearby to use for depth reference points. Down at the bottom, the wreck appeared. It was encrusted with life, claimed by the sea, and seemed surrounded by mystery. We swam along the main rail line and penetrated the wreck in two places: the lower deck in front under an overhang but with a large entry/exit and a short swim-through the topmost wheelhouse. I loved peering through portholes out into the ocean beyond. If you’re interested in more detail about diving the site, here’s a beautiful description.

This wreck really struck a chord with me. It was spectacular. It’s a whole new genre to explore beyond the reef. The historical possibilities are endless: sunken remnants of the Japanese WWII fleet in the Pacific, wrecks from the time of the Roman Empire in the Mediterranean, and more of all types and time periods all over the world. Excitement! I think wreck diving may be a Specialty of mine in the making.

Down at the wreck, we cracked open an egg to demonstrate the increased pressure at a depth of 100ft. Check it out, along with a surprise ending! I’m the one in the full wetsuit opposite the camera who can’t stop giggling like a Japanese schoolgirl.

Video courtesy of Chris Arial.

Dive 3: Peak Performance Buoyancy
This dive was totally one of my favorites. We worked on techniques to better control our positioning underwater, using primarily just our breath to hover, turn upside down, fine tune our movement, and orient ourselves in all directions. Having an improved level of control is both useful and freeing.

For something a little out of the usual, hoops, handstands, and knocking over a weight with my regulator:

Video courtesy of Chris Arial.

Now, a little upside down action, rather disorienting to actually do without visual references:

Video courtesy of Chris Arial.

We sunk to the bottom and removed our fins. After bouncing around a bit–it felt like walking on the moon!–we raced on the bottom of the sea floor, using our breath to bound forward. Any swimming was grounds for immediate disqualification. I’m second from the left. Harder than it looks, I misstepped at the beginning and finished last but loved it. Fist bumps to Nico and his super stride for the win!

Video courtesy of Chris Arial.

Dive 4: Night Dive
Our next Adventure Dive introduced a whole other condition: diving at night. We were all issued hand lights, turned them on, and entered the deep black sea. Using our lights instead of the diffused sunlight, the colors of the reef were more vibrant, especially brilliant red sea sponges. We saw some sleeping nightlife including a ray,Β  lobster, and parrotfish taking it easy. We sank to a sandy bottom, dimmed the lights by holding the torches to our chests, and waved our hands and fins to activate a bioluminescent life storm all around us.

I found being in the dark a little freaky, especially down at the bottom without our torches lighting the way. It was easier to get disoriented and harder to keep track of who was where. A cool experience with a different energy to be sure, but I prefer the information daytime light affords.

The sun may be going down…
…but we’re all geared up to go diving!

Dive 5: Navigation
In our final dive, on the more strictly practical side, we did some compass work and used underwater topography to track our location. My instructor said that given how I led the group back to the boat I should seriously consider going for Divemaster. A somewhat intriguing thought, perhaps for later…

Whassup boys, ready to go diving!

Many thanks to Chris for taking and sharing his videos from the course with me! It’s a useful thing for any athlete to be able to watch themselves and see how they actually physically perform. I checked out lots more of his footage than is posted here and was pleased with my movement in general; especially given my dive count, I look like a real live scuba diver!

I didn’t expect AOW to impact me so much, but it really did. I loved the course, am THRILLED about diving now, and am so enjoying learning new skills. When the course ended, I really didn’t want it to stop. So I signed up for the next course: Emergency First Responder/Rescue Diver! πŸ˜€ I’m excited to keep developing my abilities and broadening the situations in which I am a capable diver.

Initial Impressions of Utila

Why go to Utila? For the vast majority of people there is one reason: to dive lots for cheap. This was my goal, and I hoped it would be worth the effort it took to get there. If you don’t dive, or don’t want to learn, you should probably pick a different island. The tourist economy and experience revolves around diving. Certifications for everything from Open Water to Instructor are churned out in astounding quantities by the dozen or so dive shops in down. All the dive shops are linked with hotels or have dorms on site where students/divers get special rates, so divers are essentially split into “colleges” where they live and work/play together within the diving university of Utila.

My initial impression was not great. The vibe among tourists who were out and about reminded me of San Pedro La Laguna–longterm gringos partying too hard for my taste. The diving is indeed cheap (around $30 per fun dive, courses 40% less than Belize) but on my few fun dives I noticed the reef wasn’t at vibrant and clear as Belize. The town wasn’t aesthetically pleasing to me. The streets are narrow and noisy; mopeds, ATVs, tuktuks, and golf carts buzz pedestrians constantly and traffic jams are common. I found it unpleasant to walk anywhere. I wasn’t blown out of the water by the food scene (aside from OMG non-melty Skittles! :-P). On day 2, my flip flops both burst in two within minutes of each other, like they had the exact same mileage or something, leaving me without footwear. The T-shirt industry is healthy here between branded dive shop-wear and trophy shirts from local bars for completing get-you-utterly-smashed drinking challenges. I wondered if this is what it was like to go to a party school on the beach.

So yeah, not enchanted. Yet anytime I told someone I had no definite departure date they responded with confidence that I would stay for the rest of my trip. Hmm… what was I missing? I would soon find out.

Unexpectedly luxurious Roatan

*Heart* Roatan!

WARNING: this post may come across as braggy and contains a far too many pictures of sunsets, tasty food, and me smiling in a bikini. I blame Roatan, because it is pretty awesome.

Roatan, the largest of the Honduran Bay Islands, felt like a holiday from my trip. Serious tourist vibe here, in a good way! I detoured there for a few days before heading to the more backpacking-diver-centric island of Utila. It was sooo nice! Roatan was immediately classy. Walking off the ferry dock, tourists are greeted by manicured palm trees and a fleet of brand new sparkling white taxis. I was surprised how much it reminded me of Hawaii. English is so widely spoken and I never knew whether to attempt my crap Spanish (a month in Belize has made me regress) or not.

Roatan is 37 miles long and filled with resorts and vacation properties. I spent my entire time there on the western tip between the friendly Roatan Backpackers Hostel in Sandy Bay, town in West End, and beach sunsets in West Bay. Transport on the island was easy; taxis can either be hired privately or on a collectivo basis (20 Lm from Sandy Bay to West End) and water taxis are a pleasure to ride to West Bay (60 Lm).

I was accompanied by the perpetually nomadic bibliophile and linguist, Doron. A pleasure to chat with about virtually everything from the get-go, I now have far too many book recommendations (not that there really is such a thing!) to take with me. His literary addiction was infectious. I dropped three books from my pack (Wizard’s First Rule, Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass, and The Short Stories of Vladamir Nabokov) but picked up four (Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut, The More Than Complete Hitchhikers Guide by Douglas Adams, After Dark by Haruki Murakami, and The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver). So many stories ahead of me!

We both had a penchant towards fine dining and splurged on fantastic food. Even though it seemed at times like “hemorrhaging money”, it actually wasn’t that bad: a three course meal with drinks, tax, and tip consistently came in at $20-25USD per person. Totally doable every now and then. Or every day on Roatan. πŸ˜› I just learned a new term for the type of traveler I may be: a flashpacker!

The first night, a search for sushi (which sadly never did come to fruition) instead led to Entre Pisco & Nazc, a Peruvian restaurant where we dined on seafood salad with real green (no iceberg to be found here!), creamy lobster lasagna, and chocolate cheesecake topped with mint and a blackberry. It set the tone for four days of top notch food.

On the first full day we ventured into town and discovered the peacefully perfect Half Moon Bay in West End. We happily split the day between snorkeling the reef, finding the sunken mini-submarine, lounging and reading, eating lobster and shrimp at the Crazy Mango, and playing on the water slide. I had absolutely no hang time and truly attempted not to flash anyone but despite my best efforts cannot claim success.

Lunching decadently and loving it. *
Lobster slathered in garlic butter. *

After a day of playing in the water and reading on the beach, I was ready to find some night life. And there were rumors flying around about crab races happening that very night. I got the scoop: Bananarama in West Bay was THE place to be. Done and done! We popped on a water taxi and went hunting for action.

The water taxi pulled right up to the shore and let us off. West Bay is an long resorty and relaxed beach; it is land of the sandy boulevard, waterfront lounges, wealthy families on vacation, and the most playful bulldog puppy ever.

Beautiful West End shore near sunset.

I love how on this trip, especially in beachy locals, attending to the sunset becomes an imperative. Back in the states, I rarely ever left my house simply to go view a sunset. In the Caribbean it is a must do event every day. And life is more beautiful for the habit.

Beauty to end the day. *

Bananarama actually was in fact the place to be. It was filled with white people excited about crab races, myself included. Unfortunately, they did little to publicize how to buy a crab because they didn’t need to; they sold out before I could get my hands on one. For the race, they dumped a bucket of tiny crabs in the center of a circle drawn in the sand and the first crab to reach the edge won. It was over remarkably quickly. After, we ate pizza, drank beer, talked, and laughed. We never did hear “Do You Like Pina Coladas?” from the house band… I really should have made that happen. Ah, regrets.

Crab race! And me kissing one plucked from the winner’s circle.

Earlier in the day I had been disappointed when the one ice cream stand in West End was closed, but this was about to be rectified with avengence. So much about this ice cream experience blew my mind. From the square (!!!) ice cream scroop to the confusing pricing structure to the deliciousness, all made it rather mystical. We ended up with six scoops of three flavors in a waffle cone for $2.50. What’s that? I think it’s a cone full of awesome.

Ice cream astonishment!
It’s my birthday and anniversary!

On day two I encountered the biggest bummer of the trip: dealing with identity theft. I spent a downer morning on the phone with multiple financial institutions listening to crappy hold music trying to get everything straight. In the end, it all got sorted but it was unpleasant to feel violated like that.

After that sucky morning, I was walking down the main drag looking for my friends who were already out and about and I passed numerous dive shops. I stepped into one to check the time and instead got the skinny on how easy it was to sign up to dive that day: $40 and I’d be out in the reef within the hour. It is so bizarre to me that now I can, on a whim, say hmm, yes, I believe I would like to spend an hour breathing underwater this afternoon. Diving is so amazing! After finding my peeps (including the newly arrived Hunter and Nikki who I would really enjoy hanging with later), I ditched them for an hour and dove Moonlight. Only 3 minutes by boat from shore, the site was beautiful, a turtle swam right up to my face, and I had my picture taken for the first time underwater.

Checking out the Moonlight reef. Photo courtesy of a My Little Pony riding a Carebear.
Sunset off of West Bay, post my afternoon under the sea. *

I linked back up with the group for dinner and we were deliciously responsible. You may not know this, but the gorgeous and deadly lionfish are a scourge on the reef and there is a effort by environmentalists to encourage local people here to catch and eat them to decrease the population. Let me say, this is a tasty way to help the reef. My lionfish tacos at the Cannibal Cafe were KILLER.

I’ll help take the lionfish down a notch any day.

After discussions of favorite trivia questions with Doron the night before at Bananarama, I had made finding a pub quiz a priority. They really are my favorite! And find one I did: Music trivia Mondays with Scott C at La Buena Vida. All the cool kids in town were there including friends from the hostel and my dive buddies. They formed rival teams and I threatened them all with big talk of our trivia prowess. I found the trivia format very very fun. Our very chill (I’m going to guess Hawaiian) quiz master led us through 42 pop song name and artist identifications. Unfortunately there was no classical music for me to impress everyone with my knowledge of! There were a mix of good songs I knew and could sing along to, puzzlers that drew controversy within the team, and new-to-me stuff I liked including Everclear’s AM Radio which I was still bopping to the next morning. Oh, and did I mention the rum? I did a LOT of sit-dancing.

Never Trust a Lyin’ Fish, #3 in trivia but #1 in fun. *
My contribution to the team was to trash talk and sit-dance lots. It added to the fun factor. *
The boys’ singing made Nikki plug her ears and me giggle. (jk, we were both doing each of those things anyways!)

On day three, the last day, we went used book shopping, got my diving log book signed and stamped (documentation is very important!), and then out to West Bay for snorkeling. It was a beautiful day for a swim and out in the reef there were glorious things to see: large chum right at the shore, a gorgeous reef with tons of fish, a pink sea anemone, a spotted eel, and the biggest lobster I have ever seen.

Happily heading back to West End. *
Finding our perfect snorkel spot. *
My final lovely, lovely Roatan sunset.

To me, there is no better way to cap a trip off than a splendid last meal. This we had in spades: fantastic bruschetta (pronounced with a sharp “sch”, naturally), brie and caramelized onion crepes, Indian shrimp curry, Thai beef noodles, a multitude of desserts, and a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon at Nice n’ Spicy, a place Doron and I had walked by before and been intoxicated by the smell. It lived up to everything we hoped — an amazing meal and end to the visit to Roatan!

Mmm, curry! I got distracted by condiments.
Delectable and ready to dive in. *
After already eating three desserts, the owner sent us free pistachio ice cream crepes. Excellent friends and food–who could ask for more? *

* Photos courtesy of Doron Klemer.Β 

Diving school: Day 2 and 3, Open water

On day two of my dive course I took a choppy one-hour boat ride with ten-foot swells to Turneffe North. The thought of being at depth gave me butterflies. During the ride, I took the opportunity to relax and practice breathing slow deep breaths. I had a new instructor who was an older ex-military Belizian nicknamed “the Legend”, seemingly stern at first but warmed to me over time.

We started with a simple fun dive to a depth of 30 feet. I descended slowly using a rope line, equalizing my air spaces for the very first time by holding my nose and gently blowing. The surface shimmered above me. To be surrounded by and part of the reef was amazing! This dive made me “get it” and taste what a real dive could be. Checking out parrot fish and giant sea sponges is so much more fun than simulating equipment failure!

On the second dive we descended and knelt on a sandy bottom to work through skills. First up, my nemesis, clearing a flooded mask. I found this to be quite scary to do under three stories of water, but it is a very useful, common, and important skill to master. The full flood was the worst. Nervous, at the end I took a little water up my nose and choked. I had the powerful instinct to head for the surface, but my instructor made me stay under and resolve the problem. Learned how to cough it out into a regulator and regain calm.

Day three was the final day of the course: my last two open water dives and taking the written exam. We headed to the nearby Belize Barrier Reef. Finished off my skills at Spanish Bay with a navigation test and full mask removal. At Dolphin Point, we had a victory lap fun dive. The reef is so spectacular. We glided through canyons of coral. My instructor scared up a huge turtle from the sea floor. As she rose, another turtle came out of the deep blue and snapped his massive jaw at her tail. The two began swirling around each other locked in what I thought was a dual but I learned later was probably sex. One of the remora suckerfish riding on her shell was knocked free and followed us around for the rest of the dive.

Happy new diver’s id photo!

While waiting at our final three minute safety stop at 15 feet, my instructor gave me a double high five, a double fist bump, and then shocked me by busting a move. I happy danced along with glee; a great final dive. Back at the dive shop, I took my written test (much like a drivers license exam) and passed. They took the picture for my id card before they finished grading my test. Achievement unlocked: PADI open water diving certification!

Next up, another dive day in the Belize reef. I think I am going to pass for now on the Blue Hole and whale shark diving until I have more experience; I want more normal dives under my belt first. The plan: head to Utila where I can actually afford to dive dive dive.

Dive school: Day 1, Confined water

HQ of Belize Diving Services, my wonderful teachers.

Β Well, I did it. I took that first breath underwater. And then another, and another out in the lagoon under four feet of water with pelicans watching. Even though PADI doesn’t recognize dives under twenty feet as an official dive and our dive computers kept automatically turning on and off because they couldn’t decide if we were going under or not, this one counts in my book.

I ended up being the only one who signed up for the course so am training one-on-one with a private instructor. I thought at first this might put extra pressure on me to perform, but actually it gave me so much freedom to speak my mind and get all the help I needed. One bit of advice he gave me at the very beginning: internalize the Caye Caulker motto and go slow. Move slow, breathe slow, everything slow.

In shallow confined water–similar to swimming pool conditions–I learned and demonstrated basic mask skills, emergency breathing, and stress tests over about 3 hours. There were times I minorly panicked. Apparently this is normal; most people struggle initially with a couple specific skills and take time to get their shit together in the new environment.

The very first skill tripped me: partially flooding your mask and clearing it with a strong puff of air through your nose. I hate hate HATE water in my mask. And I am neither a yogi nor a wind player, so breathing control isn’t my strength. I flooded my mask, floundered, and surfaced. This is apparently a common skill to freak on initially. After some deep breaths at the surface and calm words by my instructor, we went back down and completed other skills first (taking the regulator–the breathing apparatus–out of your mouth and putting it back in, breathing from secondary air sources, losing and recovering your regulator). With a little time, I became more comfortable. The next try, we practiced clearing an empty mask first. That buffeted my confidence and, after a deep breath, I succeeded with a partially flooded mask. Now I clear my mask all the time and it’s awesome! It really helps to know that I can now solve a common problem that I used to dread.

One of the more interesting skills to me is adjusting buoyancy. There are many tools at your disposal: your BCD (inflating/deflating vest), lead weight belt, and very importantly your lungs. I was amazed at how much breathing control and lung capacity impacted my position in the water and had fun playing with it. My instructor said I was a champ at these skills. We also practiced taking gear on and off, simulating running out of air, breathing out of a malfunctioning regulator, taking the mask fully off and breathing with it off (I hated this one too), clearing a fully flooded mask, and simulating emergency ascents.

I feel like I accomplished a bunch of new things today and overcame initial hurdles. The few moments we spent cruising around looking at baby barracudas were pretty cool, so I look forward to doing more of that (you know, the diving part) and fewer stress tests. My confined water training is done, and I head out on a proper open water dive tomorrow. I am a bit nervous. Instead of a depth of four feet in confined water where the surface is right there (I did utilize this option today!), we could go down as low as forty. I have already done the most brutal skills and am more confident in my ability; just have to replicate some of them at greater depth. I have both proven to myself that I do have beginners nerves but also I can overcome them, stay underwater, calm down, and get it done. There is no easy exit down there tomorrow, so no panicking allowed. Practicing my Zen breathing tonight.

PADI propaganda

These PADI instructional videos certainly make some self-aggrandizing statements… All the divers I meet really do seem like extra awesome people, but PADI’s nonstop boasting makes it sounds like they mock outsiders and only stick to their own kind. Geeze, get over yourself.

“Fact: scuba divers have more fun than regular people.”

The decision to dive

Diving was not something I thought I would do. Not on this trip, maybe not ever. Previously, I found the idea of going deep underwater somewhat scary, was under the impression it was an expensive hobby, and just didn’t feel the urge. Snorkeling was something I discovered a love of two years ago and I was satisfied with that being my window into the water. That is, until I saw those divers in Dos Ojos. Add in my increasing attraction to adventure and a longstanding interest in marine biology, and me diving now actually makes perfect sense.

Since Tulum, my curiosity and interest has grown steadily as I met divers and saw diving in action. Each time, I became more inspired and warmed to the idea, to the point of boiling over in fact. The mix of excitement, challenge, and tranquility are intriguing. As a traveler, I know throughout my life I will continue to find myself in places where diving provides another dimension of this planet to explore. Not to mix my Disney metaphores and go all reverse-Little Mermaid on you all but it really does seem like a whole new world. Learning to dive is also a very concrete accomplishment, a skill I would be proud to acquire on this trip especially. It feels part of taking risks to become and be the person I want to be. Symbolic of what I choose and can achieve on my own.

Two days ago I made the decision to do it. I weighed my options for when and how. The big question: to do it here in Belize or go to Utila in Honduras, a dive mecca with rock bottom prices. Nearly everyone on the backpacker beat seems to recommend Utila with an eye to its cheapness. However, when you factor in the money, time, and effort of traveling to Honduras and the fact that Honduras makes me nervous, spending $200 more to just do it here in the convenience and safety of Caye Caulker actually seemed smarter.

Yesterday morning I took the plunge and signed up for an open water course with Belize Diving Services. The price is $450USD, which is more expensive than most places but they have a great reputation and I think it will be money well-spent. I already have my workbook and instructional dvds that I will be studying over the next two days on my hostel’s beach-front porch, then I move into confined and open water training. In less than a week I will be a certified bubble maker, able to go places and do things! I am so very excited. πŸ™‚

UPDATE: I thought Belize Diving Services did a great job. Seems like a well-run shop doing things right. I’ve heard sketchy things about some other diver’s more casual open water education; I like that mine was serious and thorough. Their boats, gear, and lunch aboard were all great. I’d recommend them to any diver headed to Caye Caulker.