Last of the Vacay Writing

It’s time to catch up with the last several days of the big vacation! I left off with Wednesday’s night snorkel. For those just joining, the Hubby and I spent two weeks in Caye Caulker, Belize with our friends who live on the island, Dave and Noelle.

Thursday, May 9th

On Thursday it was my birthday! I magically turned into a crotchety old lady of 34; the transformation was amazing, I tell ya. To celebrate we went on a full day snorkel at the Hol Chan Marine Reserve with French Angel Snorkeling. I already posted the video of the loggerhead turtles that Noelle and I saw, but we did so much more than that! On the boat ride out we saw seahorses, tarpon and a huge pod of dolphins. After we saw the sea turtles we made our way over to a deeper part of the reef, and that’s where I had the HUGE FUN! The ocean floor was about 30 feet down and I free dove all the way to the bottom! Later there was a coral tunnel that the guide showed us that was about 20 feet down from the surface. The tunnel was only about eight feet long by about four feet in diameter but it was a real thrill (and a bit of a squeeze!). I went through twice and both times there was a school of large grunts hanging out as I went through. It was really magical.


Dolphins! There were at least twelve, including one very curious calf! Continue reading “Last of the Vacay Writing”

Last of the Vacay Writing

Scuba Diving: Esmerelda


I was able to slip into scuba gear on Sunday. Dave and I signed up for the “Esmerelda” tour off of Ambergris Caye. According to the divemaster, Esmerelda is unique for its coral formations and wildlife – there are a bunch of finger-like protrusions that we swam over. During our two dives we were at 70 and 60ft, respectively, but the crevices went down much deeper.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’m a novice recreational diver. Prior to Belize I had nine dives under my belt, and that includes the four certification dives that I took at Square Lake near Stillwater, Minnesota. I did four dives in Cozumel, which was similiar to the conditions I was expecting on Sunday, in terms of depth, visibility and temperature. And I most recently dove in the shallow, murkey, cold water of Rosario Beach in northern Washington State. That dive was in July of 2011, so it had been over a year since the last time I used scuba gear.

To prepare I reviewed my scuba textbook on the morning of the dive: buddy communication, basic breathing advice, air density at pressure, nitrogen narcosis and the bends, equipment, and dive tables. I looked up my old dives to remember how much weight to use on my belt. At 8:30am I gathered my c-card, fins, mask, snorkel and sunscreen, and Dave I rode down to Frenchie’s Dive Shop on Front Street.

We checked in with little fuss; Frenchie’s was thorough and professional in the information they gathered before assigning us gear. We put our BCDs and regulators on the tanks they gave us, tested the air flow and checked tank pressure. Then we boarded the boat and rode for 25 minutes out to the first dive site. About five minutes from our site, the boat stopped and the divemaster went over The Rules – descend with our buddy, meet at the bottom, then follow him. If you start to run low on air, ascend 10-15 feet, but stay with the group until the end of the tour if possible. Never go deeper or in front of him. Don’t touch nothin.

The dive staff helped us into our gear, then we did rolling entries into the water. I situated my mask and regulator, found my buddy and then we started down.

I have no photos for this trip. My underwater camera only has a depth of 23ft, and we were diving 70ft. I didn’t even bring it with. There was also no videographer/photographer with the dive staff, so no photos. Which is a shame because we saw some crazy awesome wildlife. As a concilation prize, I’ve linked to images from wikipedia or other sites that have pictures of the animals I saw.

One of the first things we saw as we descended were a bunch of very large nurse sharks. They were dark-colored and moved through the water with the slow grace that only a shark has. We were surrounded by fish of all sizes, shapes and colors. The reef rose up not too far from where we started. During the descent I felt a calm surround me and the magic of breathing underwater was as brilliant as I remembered from previous dives.

We had a small group – only eight of us altogether – and everyone was diving like the certified open water divers we were – everyone equalized well, there was no hyperventilators or trouble with buoyancy. There were also no braggerts or daredevils, which makes everything easy and happy.

We started by diving between two “fingers” of the reef. A morey eel came out to greet us, and not too long after we saw our first spotted eagle ray. We swam over a wall of the reef and saw a green turtle! We had nurse sharks with us at every turn, and saw huge parrotfish, angelfish and grouper. And then the gem of the dive: We saw Great A’Tuin.

Okay – it wasn’t A’Tuin (I didn’t see the elephants, that’s how I know), but it was the biggest damn loggerhead turtle that I have ever seen in my life. It was about the same length as me (I’m 5’7″) and its head was bigger than mine. I didn’t even spare us a glance as it glided by and over the reef. We continued on and when we ascended I still had 900 psi left in my tank – not bad for not having dove in over a year!

After the first dive we came into dock at San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, which is just north of Caye Caulker where we’ve been staying. Dave and I had some soda and juice at the Tacklebox bar while the dive staff switched in fresh tanks. After being on the surface for about 30 minutes, everyone lumbered back onto the boat and we rode about five minutes to our next site. It was pretty similar to the first, and not quite as good. We saw a couple more spotted eagle rays and the nurse sharks again, but I found the more interesting thing to be the landscape itself. We were stuck at 60ft for this dive, but the reef was much deeper than that, and I wanted to go down there! I wanted to explore the walls of the reef, and ever since I was a little tot swimming in the pool I’ve had a fascination with touching the bottom, which was not on the menu for this dive *pout*.

On the ride home we had a dolphin encounter! The captain spotted three dolphins and slowed the boat to a crawl. The dolphins started playing in front of the prow and jumping out of the water. Bonus!

I want more! I’ll have to check with Frenchie’s to see what other dives they have going out this week.

Scuba Diving: Esmerelda

Open Water Dives

It’s official – I’m a certified Open Water Scuba Diver!

On Tuesday and Thursday of this past week I did my “open water” dives – meaning, I wasn’t in a pool.  Over two days I had four separate dives from Golden Acres campground in Square Lake (Stillwater, MN).  There were seven people in the class and two instructors.  Below is a picture of lake we were in, and I’ve circled the buoys that mark underwater locations.  There were ropes strung from different underwater platforms, creating paths to and from each area, and several of the exercises required us to swim along the ropes at different depths.

Over four dives we completed the following skills: putting our equipment together, weight checks, descent (on a line and without reference), buoyancy control (hovering), mask clearing, alternate air source breathing, snorkel/regulator exchange, removing and replacing the entire scuba unit in water too deep to stand, removing and replacing our weight belt (juggling 24lbs of weights in eight feet of water – that sucked), tired diver tow, leg cramp removal, surface and underwater compass navigation, safety stop, CESA (controlled emergency swimming ascent – basically – getting your ass to the surface quickly if you run out of air underwater).

I racked up 108 minutes of dive time over four days, and I swam at a depth of up to 20 ft.  The coolest things about the dives were the thermocline (the depth at which the water temperature dropped dramatically), compass navigation (I actually found my way back to where I was supposed to be!) and finally, on the fourth dive, getting comfortable enough to just swim around underwater and being able to look around instead of worrying about my equipment or staying neutrally buoyant.   The most unfortunate part was the sucky visibility – on day 1 we had 4-5ft viz and on day 2 we had 6-8ft viz.  Ah well, that just means I have to plan a trip to somewhere with crystal clear waters to try out my new scuba certification.  Like…maybe, Italy?

This is my equipment that I used – the tank and the weight belt are outside of the picture.


Countdown to Italy: Nine days to departure!

Open Water Dives

More randomness.

I had a lovely dinner with friends last night – London Broil, Yukon Potatoes and Tossed Salad with Bleu Cheese dressing – yummy!  Good food, good company. 


Is your Droid sucking all of your battery up in mere hours?  No!  Bad Droid! 

I installed the Advanced Task Killer for Android on my HTC Incredible.  It’s supposed to save my battery life by closing Apps that aren’t in use.  I’m game.  Currently I have been getting about 5 hours of battery life on my phone (sob!), and the charging cord – for car, computer and wall charging have been constant companions.  Hopefully this will elongate my time between charges.


I signed up for my PADI Open Water Dive!  I’ll be taking my final classes at Golden Acres near Stillwater, MN in early July.  Hopefully the weather and the water will have warmed up a bit by then…grumble, grumble.  After the dives at Golden Acres I’ll be a PADI-certified Open  Water Diver, and just in time for Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast! 

We’re getting super excited for our trip – The Hubby and I spent a couple of hours last Saturday flipping through guide books at Barnes & Noble.  We leave for Italy on 7/18/10.  We’ll fly from Minneapolis to Rome (through Detroit – ah well).  When we arrive in Rome we’ll jump right on a train to Perugia, Umbria, Italy where we’ll meet up with Mom.  We’ll spend 7/19-7/28 romping around Italy.  We’ll spend the last three days of July in Rome.  On the way home we have a “forced” overnight layover in…Amsterdam!  We’ll get into Amsterdam at ~5:30pm and leave for Minneapolis at 2:30pm the next day.  Love it!  I’m excited about taking original photos for this blog, and about being able to write up some of our adventures here.  For now, take a gander at these shots from travelers who have gone before me:


Amalfi Coast – photo source

Sorrento Diving – photo source

Perugia, Umbria – photo source

Roman Forum, Rome – photo source

Amsterdam Downtown, aerial view – photo source

Doesn’t it look like FUN!?

More randomness.

Who needs sleep?

Last weekend was incredible – I’m just starting to recover!  Let me tell you what I did…

On Friday night, I went to the first classroom session of my SCUBA class!  The class took place in a teensy, tiny 9-chair classroom in the basement of the Minneapolis Scuba Center.  The lessons were brief.  They were very much a high level review of the textbook, so it’s a good thing I actually did all of the assigned reading and in-book quizzes and tests. 

After I got back from class at 10pm, the Hubby and I went walking through LynLake and Uptown.  It was an excellent spring evening, and the crowds were out!  The yuppies were dolled up and standing on the sidewalks, waiting to get into Chino Latino and Stella’s.  The slightly hipper yuppies were sitting outside at the Bryant Lake Bowl and Sauce.  We took a ride on an almost-completely-built bike taxi – which was fun and a little scary – and we discovered a new comic store in Uptown, which always makes me happy.   The shop was closed when we walked by, but I snapped a picture of the store and an awesome decal on the front window.


Bright and early on Saturday morning I rode the motorcycle out to Eagan for the last scuba classroom session, the final test and our first water lessons.  I aced the final, which came with the dubious honor of having a minute trimmed off of my 10-minute tread (the water was 88°F – I would have rather stayed in than stood shivering on the pool deck!).  After a 200-meter swim, we set up our equipment for the first time.  We put the BCD on the tank, attached the regulator to all of the right places, turned on the air (important skill, that one) and lowered the whole mess into the water.  Then we all hopped in and helped each other shrug into our gear. 

PADI Certification | Beginning Scuba Diving Lessons | PADI Open Water Diver Certificatioin Class enjoying the heated indoor pool at Scuba Center in Eagan, Minnesota. | PADI Open Water Diver Certification classes are small, limited to a maximum of eight to ten students per PADI Instructor during pool (Confined Water) training, to assure personal attention and fun while learning to Scuba dive. | Certification classes offered in Eagan, Minnesota and Minneapolis, Minnesota

photo source

We mostly stayed in the shallow end on day 1.  We followed a PADI skills list and learned how to communicate and stay with our dive buddy underwater, how to clear water from our masks and regulators, how to detach and re-attach our low-pressure inflator from the BCD, how to breathe from a free-flowing regulator, how to equalize our ears and masks, how to haul our buddy in a “tired swimmer” tank pull and body push, how to ease a leg cramp underwater, and all sorts of other skills. 


Saturday evening, the Hubby and I went to a party at a friend’s house.  There were probably about 30 people who came and went on that night, and we got to meet some new people – always fun!  We went home relatively early because I was exhausted from messing around in a pool for three hours 🙂


I had Sunday morning free, so I decided to head over to Valleyfair.  This was the 2010 season’s opening weekend for the amusement park, and I love me some roller coasters and thrill rides.  See?  I even know that there’s a difference between roller coasters and thrill rides!  The weather was perfect and was kind enough to give me a brilliant blue sky – perfect for pictures!



There are my two favorite photos from the park:



Cut to early afternoon:  Back to Eagan for the last day of pool scuba lessons.  The instructor made us put our equipment together and take it apart four times in a row.  Damn, that’s a lot of equipment!  But I’m glad he made us do it – I should be able to remember how to set up for the Open Water dive class next month.  At one point we were sitting at the bottom of the 12-foot pool for 45-minutes straight!  We did a few buoyancy exercises, but that’s a skill I know I’ll need to work on.  It’s really hard to sit in one place in the water and not float to the surface or sink to the bottom!  Swimming or moving at a certain depth – no problem.  Hovering was a little harder.  But in the end we all passed the pool portion of the scuba lessons!


Back in Minneapolis, later that afternoon, the Hubby and I went down to the LynLake block party.  The shops between 31st and Lake Street were open, a few Art Cars were parked in the center of the block, and a stage was set up by the intersection of 31st and Lyndale. 

This dude thought maybe one more cup would fit….some people’s kids, I tell ya.  I watched this garbage can for about three minutes, and people just kept tossing garbage in the general direction of the overflowing trash bin.  Either that, or they’d shove something in from one direction, and three pieces would fall out another side.  Seriously?

We walked a block up from the block party to Pizza Luce!  Yummy gluten-free appetizers and pizza.  Thank you Pizza Luce in South Minneapolis for finally adopting the full-time gluten-free menu!



Phew.  And then I collapsed for a few hours!

Who needs sleep?


Ever since I learned about scuba diving, I’ve wanted to do it.  I love being underwater.  I love the way that the physics I experience on ground is turned on its ear – Underwater I’m weightless, and plants, animals and detris flow in the invisible currents.  Sandy bottoms disperse and reform with the slightest encouragement.  Light defracts differently than on land.  Movement is fluid and graceful.  Temperature shifts in inches.  In wild environments,   I love the foreign critters and plant life.  And breathing underwater is such a triumph – a conquering of a foreign environment that still today holds so many mysteries!

So far I haven’t been certified in scuba for two reasons:  Money and Necessity.  Getting certified in scuba can be pricey, averaging ~$300 for training and certification, figure another ~$100 for the open water dive course, pricey equipment if you decide to invest in owning, and also pricey if you rent.  As for necessity: I was raised and currently live in the Midwest, and there’s not a lot of easily accessible diving around here, although Minnesota has more opportunity for freshwater diving that the suburbs of Chicago!   Also, I don’t know a lot of people who are scuba-certified, and thus I had no diving buddies. 

But I’ve finally decided to do it.  I realized that if I died tomorrow, one of my big regrets would be that I never experienced scuba diving, and as easy as it is to get certified…well, that’s a silly thing to regret.  Sadly, getting my scuba certification is not without sacrifice – I’m passing on the iPhone that I was planning on getting in May when my Verizon contract comes to an end.  I’ll be hanging on to my three separate devices (camera, phone, iPod Touch) for a while longer.  Fare well, iPhone, I never knew thee!

I’m getting my certification from the descriptively named Scuba Center in Minneapolis on May 14-16th.  I have a Friday night class, and then two classes on Saturday, followed by a pool class on Sunday afternoon.  Wham Bam!  After that I’ve got six months to do my open water dive. 

When I signed up, the store employee went through about 300 forms, which I have laid out on my kitchen table in the picture below.  I had to sign my name a couple dozen times, and then finally the swiping of the debit card.  It’s official! 

Aside from the new diver magazines, class offering descriptions and glossy equipment sales catalogues, I received a two-DVD set and two course books that I have to finish before the first class on May 14th.

The blue text book has five chapters and end-of-chapter quizzes, and is meant to be completed in conjunction with the 3 hours of video training.  The Use and Choose Dive Computers manual contains two additional chapters of homework. 

Along with all of this, Scuba Center requires students to supply their own mask, fins and snorkel for both hygiene and fit purposes.  The scuba mask has to be made of tempered glass and has to fit my face, the fins have to be scuba fins (sturdier, broader from what I understand) and the snorkel is nothing special, but they just want you to use your own.  They of course offer excellent deals on their own inventory for new students 🙂

And lastly, I also have a dive buddy!  I know of at least one good friend who lives in the area and loves to dive.

Looks like I’m all set.