Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sunday... Weekend Recap

Hi everyone, when I had left on Friday several of the students were getting "quarantined" for their food poisoning. Our one student nurse is out of the hospital and doing great. As of today, everyone is feeling wonderful and they all went to the ATM adventure through the jungles and had a blast.
We suspect E. Coli was the source of the troubles and everyone was treated accordingly. I guess it worked! While I didn't end up getting food poisoning like some in the group, I did get the perfect remedy for the adventure bug. Well, where do I begin... it's been a busy couple of days for me. I made my way down to Belize City on the chicken bus on Friday.

On my bus ride down to the coast, I met the coolest guy. His name is Abner. This 23 year old kid grew up in Guatamala and was involved in all kinds of gangs and stuff. He came to a point where he decided he wanted to get his life together and make his mom proud so he left the gangs, the drugs, and the crime and moved to Belize. Of all the people I could have ended up sitting next to on the bus, this guy just happens to work for a tv station out of Belmopan! He's their camera man and takes his job so seriously that its amazing. When the floods came through here, he tied a rope around his waist and waded to the middle of the river for a good shot. He says, "if there's a really good shot from the middle of a pile of mud, then I'm going into the mud because I want the best shot possible." This theme of people taking such pride in the work that they do here is very common. People truly value having a job and work their butts off. I had pictures on my camera of our studio at the station in Duluth and was able to show him. He was amazed and said, "Wow, it's so big!" Abner also volunteered for the Red Cross. He said he often found himself conflicted with his roles whether to document a critical situation or to help offer assistance. I can sure relate to that with my dual role as nursing newslady! I'm also just going to plug this band he's created. He's the oldest in a band called Hawksworthe Field. The drummer is only 13 years old and they are a rock band down here to covers old rock like Guns and Roses and such. They call themselves Hawksworthe because that is the name of the bridge that separates the towns where the band members live, the "Field" part is because that's an open grassy area where they all come together to play ball and jam out and be united. I just thought that was a sweet way to name the band. By the time Abner had to get off, he had told me his whole life story and it was pretty intense. I felt honored to have made this new friend.

Once in Belize City, I had to navigate through the taxi scene to find a driver not wanting to screw me with American pricing to get to the charter airport. Finally, I found an honest driver who charged me what the Belizeans pay. Once at the airport, it was so bizzare. Compared to the rigorous screening checkpoints that we have in the U.S., I didn't even have to show an id to get onboard. I just told them my name and they gave me my boarding pass... literally a laminated piece of colored paper! There's no metal detector or screening either. While I was waiting for my flight, I walked over to the deli and found some taxi drivers playing gin rummy. I lit up a clove cigar and joined them in a hand. I also got to try drinking this strange cola that tastes like health cereal. I can't remember the name, but I don't recommend it. The whole moment with these guys was good fun!

Finally, arriving on the island, I was greeted by warm weather. I took a long walk on the beach, passing resorts filling the air with reggae music, dogs chasing one another, and folks just returning from their long days of diving. I got to see a man and his pet raccoon hanging out on the beach and a giant eagle ray cruising along the shoreline. On my walk I met this man named Steve. He had given up his life in Connecticut to move here and open up a pizza joint called Pirate Pizza. His family had told him he was crazy when he decided to do it, but he says he is now ten times happier than he ever was. Nice guy and nice little pizza placed if your ever in town. I explored through the town and got some freshly caught red snapper for dinner (by the way, so many of the restaurants down here are so expensive it's ridiculous. Bring your own food if you ever come to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, but the atmosphere of most dining spots is pretty splendid. One place I walked into had the feeling of an Olive Garden, but the floors were all made out of sand like a beach... strange). Later, I went to check out some music at a local club, got myself some handmade ice cream, and then found an outdoor game of Bingo going on that I randomly decided to join. What a fun day I had experienced so far. That night, I met a cool young guys Miguel and Ali who captained one of Island Sun's ferries. He and I made plans to go take kayaks out on Sunday and go spear fishing. He said we'd be able to catch some sting rays and lobster and such. Too bad a front rolled in on Saturday afternoon and gave the city record lows... we didn't end up going on Sunday. I cracked myself open an ice cold Fanta and sat on the dock beside 2 awesome dogs just chillin' as we watched the sun trade with the moon.Finally, I headed back to my hotel room. On my way, some guys were cat calling me to come over, and I just politely ignored them and went up to my room that overlooked the main road. I had shut the door and then heard footsteps and heard knocking on my door. One of those creepos had followed me up to my room and was trying to get me to come out. I wasn't really scared, just irritated. I kept telling him, "no, leave me alone, I'm going to bed, goodbye!" He eventually left, but I was still ill at ease because I was staying in the grossest hotel room I believe I have ever stayed in. Nice picture, huh? Thank God it was only 2 nights and thank God it was cheap! If you ever stay at Ruby's Hotel there, make sure you get to see your room before you book it... otherwise you might be sorry. Off to bed I went that night to get ready for my big day of diving that lay ahead.

Saturday morning, I woke up wondering what all the noise was outside and wondered what time it was because my alarm had not gone off yet for me to head to the dive shop. I looked at my watch and the time was 5:54am. I was supposed to be at the dive shop at 5:15am! My alarm had been set but never flipped to on. I jumped out of bed, threw stuff in a bag and went running down the beach to the dock. I made it just on time and everything was okay, but talk about an early morning jolt! They fitted me in my gear and we were all off. I've done all my dive training through to Rescue Diver in Lake Superior. I had never seen a fish (except one that was dead) and never swam in warm water. This was going to be a treat for me! I was headed out to conquer the Great Blue Hole. The near perfect circle is about a 1/4 mile wide and more than 400 feet deep. It's shaped kind of like an urn as you can see here.

It took us about 2.5 hours to get to the site. I slept the whole way there, so did most everybody else. Finally, with the help of some coffee, we geared up took the plunge and rapidly descended to down into the abyss. After a sandy bottom, you go deeper to the cave like area of massive limestone stalactites and stalagmites. Apparently, they are some of the largest stalagtites in the world. We also get to see at least 11 sharks. We saw Bull Sharks, Reef Sharks, Black Tip Sharks, and in a later dive a nurse shark. These sharks were huge... at least about 7 feet long! Once I got to around 140 feet deep, I started getting "narc-ed out" a bit. Nitrogen narcosis happens at extreme depths and you lose your judgement a bit and get feeling similar to the gas at the doctor's office. I remember thinking, "oh, pretty shark" and swimming towards it, while the part of my mind not narc-ed out was saying, "bad idea, leave the shark alone, bad idea." One girl didn't even remember the divemaster playfully coming over and grabbing her around the neck. It's things like that that make diving with a buddy so important. Anyhow, the dive was phenomenal and breathtaking. I'd recommed it to anyone.

The second dive of the day was at another pristine reef known as the "Half Moon Caye Wall". There are huge verticle walls and beautiful colors and wildlife. Here, I got to see a massive eagle ray below me about the size of a small car. It's amazing how beautiful things can be underwater. God was definitely feeling creative the day he made the oceans. I think he was playing with his paintbox as well. It was this dive that I ended up getting burned all up my arm from fire coral. That stuff hurts! All the sudden your skin will start burning and feel like its on fire. At 60 feet deep, there's not much you can do except try and distract your mind. My arm is all red and welted now, but at least I didn't have a worse reaction as some do. We didn't have any vinegar onboard, so one guy was going to pee on it! Gross! But, I wanted to try and wait to see if the pain faded before that and it did.

Following that dive, we visited the island of Half Moon Caye for a big chicken lunch. A bunch of us hiked over through a jungled area to the Red Footed White Faced Boobie Bird sanctuary established by the Audubon Society. We could see hundreds of these crazy looking birds who look like they're carrying around red balloons.

Finally, we did another wall dive called the Aquarium. The water for all these dives must have been at about 50 feet of visibility. This dive is located off the coast of Long Caye. It was here where we got to see our last shark... very appropriately named, a nurse shark! I was most excited about this guy than anything. Upon resurfacing, we saw that there was a storm coming in. The water had already started to get rough making getting into the boat a bit of a challenge.

As we started our charter back to Ambergris Caye to call it a day, the front came in even worse. While it was nice getting to see dolphins flip and twist their way out of the water because they like to ride the waves, it was very unsettling for many people's stomachs. We were in the middle of this front in completely open water where you can't see land anywere around you. The waves were cresting at about 10 feet and the boat was just getting tossed. Two guys had to start puking over the side of the boat, everything had to be secured down after a dive tank went flying, and several of us were on the floor of the boat holding on to each other as not to go flying. It was fun at first... kinda like a big ride at the fair, but after 4.5 hours of it, I was miserable. We were all soaked and cold and our stomach's were churning. Other than the ride back, it was a great day of diving and it was also nice meeting new friends.

We finally made it back, and I was able to take a hot shower and warm myself up. I got bundled up and went off to find a hot cappacino and internet access. Once my core felt like it wasn't going to freeze anymore, I found a hot meal as well. I met up with some of my dive buddies later that night. We spun around town in the golf cart they had rented and looked for a place to go do some dancing, but no one was out yet and I was too exhausted from my adventure day to really care. That's when I headed back and hit the sack.Sunday morning, I was able to sleep in! That alone felt so good. I went over to an oldskool Roman Catholic Church for mass. It was interesting hearing some people speaking in spanish for it and others in English. The reading stunned me... it was all about giving sight to the blind (an calling regarding the blind woman I talked about earlier). This was very reaffirming. After mass, I ventured out to find some breakfast and settled at a place where all the locals go. It's tough sometimes in a foreign country because you have all of these local options for food to choose from, but then something American based that offers comfort and familiarity. However, we get to eat American food everyday, so challenging yourself to at least try something new is important. It's also scary worrying about getting sick from something you eat that wasn't fully cooked, etc.

My day ended with swinging back by the dive shop to check out the pictures from the previous day's adventure and heading to the airstrip for my return back to San Ignacio. I got on the plane and found out that... get this... I got to sit in the co-pilot's seat! After we got in the air, we had to land at a few other airports to pick others up. On our final route into Belize City, I tapped on the pilot's shoulder, looked at him with a grin, and pointed to the "steering wheel". I asked him if I could put my hands on it and he said, "I don't care, here you can do all the flying yourself!" Suddenly, I found myself in control of the airplane and flying it on my own... the best part... there were passengers! Can you imagine that ever happening on Delta?! It was the highlight of my day. Three of the guys from the day before's dive were also aboard, including my golden shower guy, I think they got a kick out of it too. Back in Belize City, we all took a taxi back to the terminal, hopped on the chicken bus, and I returned to our resort. It has been a wonderful and memorable weekend!

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