Wednesday, December 28, 2016

My Travel Journal: Christmas at Lago Atitlan

Atitlan Lake is probably the most popular destination in Guatemala. It is a valley between several mountains and two main volcanos in the area, the bluest and clearest I've ever seen in fresh water. You can snorkel, kayak, paddleboard, swim, name it. You can even scuba dive to see the streets and buildings now deep underwater. I heard you can even scuba through a hotel lobby! Plus, the surrounding towns are unique and filled with Mayan culture. Believe it or not, I saw the lake from the top of Acatenango but that's another post...

Our Casa Guatemala volunteer buddies had all planned to meet for a Christmas holiday at the lake town of San Pedro La Laguna. Originally, Angelo and I were meant to stay at CG but once we decided to leave early, it was a no brainer to stop and see them since we planned to visit Atitlan anyhow. We arrived on Christmas Eve and had a quick dinner before setting out for drinks...

Friday, December 23, 2016

Pre-Christmas at Casa Guatemala...

...and thoughts on my volunteer experience
Snow in the jungle
It is traditional in Guatemala to host Christmas parties leading up to the big day called posadas. You can read more about them as they are also common in Mexico and other Latin Americans countries with heavy Catholic influence. Pretty much they are reenacting the story of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus looking for a room at an inn. Except, and this is important, with singing! The guests sing to request entry and the hosts sing to accept. The song goes back and forth maybe 5 versus and ends in a fun chorus. Casa Guatemala had 4 of these posadas and I was able to attend 3. I had actually been to a posada hosted by a Posada previously but didn't realize it. Angelo's uncle Danny hosted one while we were living in San Diego about 5 years ago. We all hated the singing and just wanted to eat but in retrospect I'm really glad I was able to participate. Angelo's family name on his mom's side is Posada. It usually means hotel so Angelo and I always get excited about staying at 'Posada blah blah' during our travels in Spanish speaking countries, but in the case of Christian stories - it's inn. 

Out of the three posadas, the Posada de Casa de las Ninas was my favorite. The girls get really excited leading up to hosting the party. They braid their hair and wear their best outfits. They help cook the food all day for the party. We had empanadas with carne de res (beef) and veggies with a tomato sauce and cabbage slaw. It was my favorite meal out of all my time at CG. We hang blankets over the rod iron gate that serves as the house door so that the guests can't see the hosts and vice versa. They build an elaborate nativity scene using colored sand as the ground around the figurines and crumpled paper as the river or mountains behind. Sometimes there are dinosaurs and gigantic turtles present at the birth of Jesus but....hey!
Jesus wouldn't leave anyone out. We carried all the benches from the comodor (cafeteria) to the girls house so everyone couldn't eat and celebrate in their space. Since the kids eat 3 meals a day for the entire year (especially those that live here) in the comodor, eating somewhere new is a big deal. We brought the big stereo and speakers over from the office and replaced the regular light bulbs with screw in disco lights. Those lights are really cool by the way. Whatever volunteer or other person thought to bring those to the school, great job. They really change everything. We hung up Christmas decorations made by the kids over the last month and a few favorites saved from years past. All it takes is a stapler straight into the wood to hang whatever you want at Casa Guatemala...

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Dive Log: Eel, Eel, Turtle, SEAHORSE and underwater caves!

My first dive crew - Utila, Honduras
Dive: #6
Date: Dec. 13 2016
Site: Teds West, Utila, Honduras
Buddy: Angelo
Type: Fun Dive

Weights: 4 kgs
Wetsuit: 3mm
Temp: 27 c
Visibility: 10m
Air Consumption: Start 3000, Finish 1400

Max Depth: 11.6m
Bottom Time: 42 minutes
Guide: Divemaster Nicki (PADI #384345)

Total Time: 245 minutes (4 hours and 5 minutes)

Description: Our last dive on Utila island in Honduras. We went back and forth on whether to stay for an advanced class. Ultimately, we decided we are on a long travel and spending another $300 on diving (even though that's a great price for Advanced level) just didn't seem smart. Luckily, this dive was incredible! An awesome way to end the week and our descanso from Casa Guatemala. We went down quick which made me feel confident and comfortable. Jump in, descend, get trim, and away we go. The 42 minutes really felt like 42 for the first time. 

We saw a spotted eel in a cave. Got pulled away to see a turtle. He was a pretty small turtle (compared to the ones we saw snorkeling in Playa del Carmen a few years ago) but he was super adorable. He was just swimming his little way up the reef nice and slow. And all on his own. Then...and you're not going to believe this one...we saw a seahorse. Ohhh man was that little dude cute. He was red so down there he looked kind of brown/maroon and his bottom spiral was wrapped around a piece of coral. He was bobbing up and down with the current, basically cruising down the street in my 64 with that head nod. Then we saw an awesome lobster. It was blue with big long antenna coming out. He just poked his head out from the cave. After that we actually swam through underwater caves. So cool. I came out first and turned around to see Angelo behind me. It would have made the coolest photograph. I love to watch him in the water. He's just as interesting as the fish blowing all those bubbles and swimming around weightless like a moon walker. 

Then just as I knew we were about to make our ascent, we saw another eel. A big one this time who was green and mean looking. I absolutely thought of the eels in the Little Mermaid. I got in close to him and he opened his mouth at me. Such an awesome dive to end on. I can't wait to get back in the water!

Dive Log: Big trumpet fish and snapping at the anemones

Dive: #5
Date: Dec. 13 2016
Site: Radar Reef, Utila, Honduras
Buddy: Angelo
Type: Fun Dive

Weights: 4 kgs
Wetsuit: 3mm
Temp: 27 c
Visibility: 10-15m
Current: Mild

Max Depth: 17.8m
Bottom Time: 42 minutes
Guide: Divemaster Nicki (PADI #384345)

Total Time: 203 minutes

Description: My second fun dive and my first time with a new guide. Angelo and I did well as buddies. We are still figuring out how to dive together. He likes to move along slowly and see as he swims but I want to linger and watch a fish for a while or really see how the coral moves over a few minutes. From now on we are going to decide who between the two of us is going to 'lead' our dive. I think I'll forever have trouble with guides going too fast though. I really like to observe everything down there and that takes longer than a few seconds. 

Nicki taught us how to snap our fingers near the anemones and make them bounce back in. So cute. She has a little waterproof book full of aquatic life in the area so I was able to identify several fish - including the trumpet fish which Angelo and I had seen before on our 3rd dive. There was a really big one at Radar Reef. They actually look a bit scary underwater.

Dive Log: Sea fans and parrotfish

Dive: #3
Date: Dec. 12 2016
Site: Aquarium, Utila, Honduras
Buddy: Angelo
Type: Training Dive

Weights: 4 kgs
Wetsuit: 3mm

Max Depth: 13m
Bottom Time: 45 minutes
Guide: Instructor Sam (PADI #310521) and Divemaster Oliver

Total Time: 121 minutes

Description: We saw sea fans swaying gently in the current. As we were on our knees doing some more skill training, the current was swaying everyone back and forth. Apparently this wasn't even a strong current! We had a 10-15 minute swim around. It felt a bit worrisome when I could no longer see the line coming down from our dive buoy. But I trusted our guide Oliver so it was all good. I saw my first parrotfish. They are absolutely beautiful! The little dude was just munching on some for the munch and back out, in for the munch. So cute. The parrotfish is absolutely stunning underwater. Not only does it have beautiful coloring and an almost translucent appearance but its big enough you can see its little facial expressions (well, at least I think I can). Google it! You won't regret it.

Speaking of, one of the biggest regrets of my life happened on this dive. Right behind me during the skill training: I saw it. A perfect sand dollar just floating around on top of the sand. It had the most beautiful shape and no imperfections. I wish I would have snagged it and stuck it in my vest. But you're not supposed to touch anything! Much less lift anything up and take it with you...damnit. I should have just broke the rules. Now I'm thinking I might get myself a sand dollar tattoo in honor of this sand dollar and of my experience scuba diving. Then I never have to worry about finding another one and I'll always have that one with me. We'll see :)

Dive Log: My first dive and swimming with Freddy the whale shark

Dive: #1
Date: Dec. 11 2016
Site: Moon Hole, Utila, Honduras
Buddy: Angelo
Type: Training Dive

Weights: 4 kgs
Wetsuit: 3mm
Temp: 27 c
Visibility: 15m

Max Depth: 12m
Bottom Time: 36 minutes
Guide: Instructor Sam (PADI #310521)

Total Time: 36 minutes

Description: My very first dive in open water. We swam near the coral and I worried about my buoyancy but I did better than I expected. Angelo and I practiced our hand signals and we did some skills with the instructor. I was surprised by the stillness underwater and how quiet it is. During the confined dives I didn't notice because I was preoccupied with the course. We had more wait time and even a little swim around. I saw some beautiful fish but mostly just interesting coral. I remember thinking the world looked so odd without red in it. 

After we left the first dive, we were back on the boat to do some whale shark searching. Our captain (holla Capt'n Cookie) found us two whale sharks and I swam with them BOTH. I named the big one Freddy. He swam right at me, right underneath me, and then I chased him for a while. I felt like he was interested in me and lingered just to freak me out. I accidentally touched his back fin with my fin. We basically had a moment together. His pattern was just incredible...and his size. So massive! It's seriously one of the coolest things that I've ever experienced. I never had swimming with sharks on my life list (mostly because that sounds scary AF) but if all sharks were like Freddy, I'd swim with them every single day <3

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Travel Journal: PADI Open Water Certification Course

I was a little nervous about checking out scuba diving. Angelo has been excited about it for years. It seems like something everyone should experience. Breathing underwater! Super nuts. Utila Honduras is one of the least expensive places in the whole world to learn. And, it seems very safe (compared to some other even cheaper places which maybe don't take the education as seriously). We picked Utila Dive Center because it was a great price and had excellent reviews.

Our first day we checked in, met our group, and went through what the class would entail. Over the course of 3 days, we watched a lot of education videos and took a few exams on the material while also doing some confined (in shallow water over a tarp right by the dock) dives. The class portion is mostly about how to calculate the max depth you should descend to considering the mixture of oxygen and nitrogen you're breathing using the machine. It also provides a lot of information on the equipment and how it works. I found the most important parts to be the hand signals you use to communicate underwater and, of course, what to do in emergency situations.

By far the biggest challenge for me was flooding or removing and then replacing the mask underwater...

Thursday, December 8, 2016

In Guatemala: My First IV

Up until this point, I've yet to be hospitalized. No IV, no emergency rooms, no medical panic. I'm a lucky heathy girl. What are the odds of having a crazy illness during a long term travel? Pretty likely. Almost everyone I've met has had one or two of those crazy medical experiences. "That time I got dengue in Mexico", "food poisoning in India", I mean, my best friend had a parasite in Senegal. It was really only a matter of time before I became a victim. 

I swam in the river...

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Travel Journal: Giving Up and Our Friend Jerry

Morning View
I really want to give up. I'm just so frustrated. I finally got stuck with the girls alone for 12 hours. After the 12 hours, they were late getting ready for school so I had to yell at them and work another 15 minutes. I kinda got angry with them when it wasn't really their fault. Due to some other craziness in their schedule, they were late to start getting ready. But, I had still been 'on shift' with them for already 12 hours and I don't care if a hurricane made them late, I was going to be angry about it. I felt bad I wasn't more patient but I also know I'm only myself and I can only talk myself into being patient for so long. Especially in the morning. Especially before coffee and shower. Especially before seeing Angelo and making sure he's alright as he was sick the night before. It all felt like a lot and too much. 
Now, I'm just starting to wind down and think about showering and getting ready. Annnnd I have a class in 20 minutes. I'm not sure I'm going to give up. I just know right now I want to.

Maybe I need to be like our wolf spider friend Jerry who stays in his spot behind my clothes all day. Even when I attempt to sho him off. Even when I move things around and make him uncomfortable. Jerry sticks to his commitment and stays put.

Wish me luck,
Evening View