The Sun and The Moon

How can one city be so noisy in the morning? Oh wait there’s more than 10 million people here that’s how. In all honesty it didn’t really matter because we had another early morning, rise and shine, wake up call. We had to be on the bus by 8AM to begin our tour of Mexico City.

Getting on the bus this morning was a little different as we were joined by, I believe 22 more tour mates, who all are just starting their tour. As best we could, the original Mexican Contiki family gathered into the very back of the bus. Segregation did occur and we may or not be okay with it, but only in this context. We didn’t want newbies. We liked our original crew but we adjusted quickly to the change, as I knew we would. I was a bit bitter for most of the day because I was leaving and wasn’t in the mood to make new friends, which lasted for about 30 minutes.

We started off our morning, driving through different parts of downtown Mexico City, making our way to the main cathedral and National Palace (government building). As we drove, we learned about the various round-a-bout status and their meaning. None of which I remember. Brain was in full overloaded at this point. When we arrived at the National Palace, we exited the bus and divided into two groups. At this point, we did have two tour guides due to Mexican law, which was a little sad because Ish has been it for us for a whole week, but again we learned to adjust.

Entering the National Palace, after the metal detectors, you walk into this open courtyard with a beautiful fountain. Ish was explaining to us the history behind the fountain and the building itself, which is still used for government purposes today.The main stairwell and the walls of the second floor are covered, ceiling to floor, by grande fresco murals designed and created by Diego Rivera. The murals located on the wall are jointly titled “The Epic of the Mexican People”, created between 1929 and 1935, to demonstrate the various stages of the Mexico culture. The main stairwell mural is a combination of different images that depict the History of Mexico from 1521 to 1930.  In the middle level of the National Palace is another set of 11 panals by Diego that are part of a series depicting the pre-Hispanic era. Due to Diego’s passing, this series was not completed and the walls remain blank. Looking at Diego’s collection of frescos at the National Palace is quite impressive and reminds mea little of Michelangelo and his work at the Vatican. 

After exiting the National Palace, we were off to the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary of Mexico City, commonly referred to as Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral. This main cathedral located right next door to the National Palace is the largest cathedral in the Americas and built in sections between the years 1573 and 1813. The church is designed and built in the Baroque style, common throughout Mexico. Like many popular historical places, the cathedral has suffered some extensive damage over the past century. A fire back in the 1960s destroyed a large portion of the interior requiring restoration that uncovered some important documents and artwork (seeing the positive from a negative situations). Built on soft clay soil, the churches foundation was beginning to create a sinking affect and threading the structural integrity, placing this cathedral on the 100 Most Endangered Sites. Thankfully, following restoration, the Mexico City metropolitan Cathedral was removed in the year 2000.

Before parting ways with the center of Mexico City, we stood outside the cathedral and captured our Mexico Contiki Tour group photo (minus several tour mates who came down with the flu bug).

Once back on the bus, the introductions between the old and the new tour mates began. We had to sit next to one of the newbies to merge the old with the new. I sat next to a young Aussie named Jacob, who reminded me a little of my brother with his long hair. He was quite the surfer boy and was there for a good time. Many of the new tour mates were there to PARTY, after all they are heading to Cancun for 4 days. We did introductions the entire bus ride out to our next included excursion, Teotihuacán.

What is Teotihuacan? Teotihuacan was an ancient pre-Columbia Mesoamerican city located just outside of modern day Mexico City. This place is known to many for it’s extravagant archaeological structures and two grand pyramids. These pyramids are dedicated to two Gods the ancient people of Mexico worshipped. The larger of the two is known as Pyramid of the Sun and the smaller one is known as the Pyramid of the Moon. The Pyramid of the Sun is the third largest pyramid in the world, after the Great Pyramid of Cholula and the Great Pyramid of Giza. Thanks to restoration efforts, both pyramids are able to be climbed by tourists and is the most visited archaeological  in Mexico. This archaeological site was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

Ish began to explain to us, prior to lunch and entrance into the site, that Teotihuacan was one of the sites nominated for becoming one of the New Seven Wonder of the World. However, because not much is truly known about this archaeological site, that it did not end up qualifying for the final seven. I find it fascinating that for as much that is known about Teotihuacan, their is still more unknown about this grand site.

BUT…before we entered into the archaeological site, we made a pit stop at a local craft market/shop to learn a little about tequila and about their acclaimed volcanic rock art pieces. We learned about the process of turning agave, which varies from region to region into tequila. The men who harvest the agave plants, jimadores,  use a tool called a coa, and are taught to be able to identify a plant ready for harvest versus those that are not. They maintain adequate heights of the quoites, which are   high stalks that grows from the center of the plant. Did you know that if the quoites were skinned away from the stalk, the material is actually as strong as paper, and can in fact be written on? I wouldn’t have believed it myself if she didn’t show us.

Once identified the jimadores carefully cut away the leaves from the piña, the succulent core of the plant. This is when the process of heating, cooking, draining the juice, fermenting and so for begins. After all the processes are complete you’d have tequila, which THEN becomes classified into the 5 commonly known types:

  • Blanco (white) or plata (silver): white spirit, unaged and bottled or stored immediately after distillation, or aged less than two months in stainless steel or neutral oak barrels
  • Joven (young) or oro  (gold): unaged Blanco tequila that is colored and flavored with caramel
  • Reposado (rested): aged a minimum of two months, but less than a year in oak barrels of any size
  • Añejo (aged or vintage): aged a minimum of one year, but less than three years in small oak barrels
  • Extra Añejo (extra aged or ultra aged): aged a minimum of three years in oak barrels, this category was established in March 2006

We also tried our hand at a delicious cactus beverage called pulque. Pulque is an alcoholic beverage made from fermenting the sap of the maguey (agave) plant. It’s a bit milky in color, but tastes delicious.

After our tequila lesson, the guide began walking us through their process of creating volcanic glass sculptures using various minerals and stones located around the region. This particular volcanic glass is known as obsidian. It is a naturally forming glass found within the margins of lava flows where the chemical composition nduces a high viscosity and polymerization degree of the lava, thus creating obsidian. Obsidian is hard and brittle and was highly used throughout the pre-Columbia Mesoamerican culture (click here for further information regarding the uses in Mesoamerica). I had no idea lava could become a natural glass and the designs and sculptures put together at this store were breath-taking.

After our “quick” and educational stop at this shop, we headed towards our lunch destination. We dined at Restaurant McCoy Artesania, which was a buffet style restaurant. It was a little pricy and wasn’t anything spectacular but did has some wide variety of traditional dishes and entertained us with an Aztec style dance. I think at this point in the day, as it’s like 1 o’clock, we were all ready for the pyramids and were happy when it was FINALLY time to enter the site.

When we arrived and exited the bus, we were given a little bit more history about the site, but I was in complete “awe” starring at the centuries old ancient buildings. I don’t even know how to put into words this feeling of utter amazement. Have you ever been somewhere that was so historic and beautiful? This feeling has only happened to me once before in Pompeii and even then I couldn’t formulate words. We walked towards the Pyramid of the Moon, which you are able to climb half way and the steps were so steep you practically had to crawl up them and coming down you had to hold onto a rope. The Moon rises to 140 feet towards the sky, and I estimate that we climbed to approximately 100 feet high (as I have no idea). Not going to lie, I was actually afraid I was going to fall.

Once down, I continued my way through the Plaza of the Moon with John, Mark and Stef and down the Avenue of the Dead towards the Pyramid of the Sun. The Sun rises 246 feet (75meters) and Stef and I climbed ALL THE WAY to the top and the view was astonishing. It was exhausting climbing but worth ever ounce of energy. At the top, Stef and I met up with Jimmy, Amy, Darren and Todd and had some entertaining photo opportunities including many selfies (typical). We weren’t able to spend too much time at the top, but even just the short 15 minutes was enough for a life time.

Back on the bus for our hour long drive back into the city, which I’m pretty sure was spent in semi-silent as many of us, myself included were completely spent. I was planning on grabbing a nap at the hotel in prep for the night’s festivities, but once back at the hotel many of us gathered in Jess and Nick’s room for pre-evening drinking and socializing. I must say, the new tour mates were in party mood and rearing to go. We didn’t have too much time before it was off to dinner.

Dinner tonight was INSANE as we added about 20 more people to the crew. We dined at a restaurant called “El Refugio” fonda where we were served a choice of soup from a selection of three (chicken, chicken and veggies, and veggie) and a combo plate, which included a stuffed chile, a chicken enchilada, and a taco. Talk about selection. Plus, all of this was ended with dessert. I could barely make it though the main plate of food. The best part of dinner was trying to figure out what was going on. There were so many new faces and with the tight quarters it got loud quickly. This was just the beginning of our night as many of us decided we would “party hardy”.

After dinner, Ish directed us to a local bar called Tamaulipas, via taxi, where I jumped in with Mark, John and Jimmy. Let’s just say the night escalated from here in so many great ways. Taking tequila shots with Stef and Amy to start, dancing with the crew, to “ditching” (I say that nicely) the newbies and making our way towards an Irish pub, where we proceeded to dance and talk and laugh. We ended the night screaming at the top of our lungs to our tour song, “Get Lucky”, and I honestly couldn’t think of a better way to end this tour.

I knew then that the next day would be the final goodbyes (which ended up being me completely hungover), but having one last go round was more than I could have asked for. This entire experience, trip and everyone I met on my Mexican Adventure with Contiki was perfect. I have had the time of my life, accomplished something I never thought was possible, met so many amazing people, and learned more about a culture I grew up right next too.

Thank you to the entire Contiki family including Ginny and her team, who worked behind the scenes to set this up; to Claire for making my time in Cancun so wonderful and traveling across the Atlantic to support me as I concurred my fear; to Celine and Capkin for taking time away from your son to help make my No Regrets day possible and the amount of time spent planning and filming this trip; and to Ish and my tour mates for providing me with an amazing tour filled with knowledge, laughter and an all around once-and-a-lifetime experience. Lastly I want to thank my entire support system- God, my family, my friends and my follower for coming along my journey with me and supporting me with everlasting love and faith. I don’t think I could have done any of this without each and every one mentioned. I cannot wait till my next big adventure- transitioning my life into a new city and new job.

Cuernavaca Bound

The morning of the second day, I woke up feeling, well “ugh”.  I cannot believe it. How am I sick already? I didn’t think I drank that much last night. I was good. I stuck to XX Amber and Negro Modelo. There’s no way I’m hung over, which only means this feeling was more than just the bottle-flu. In hopes that getting a few more minutes of sleep would do the trick, I chose to skip breakfast and take a shower. Unfortunately, I still wasn’t feeling up to snuff and barely managed to pack with enough time to walk down stairs and catch the bus.

Once on the bus, I started to feel okay. Sitting was a good option. Today’s journey would take us about 3 hours from Puebla to Cuernavaca though Pueblo Magico of Tepoztlan, a longtime home base among precipitous cliffs and temples of the Nahua people and according to myth, the birthplace of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent-god nearly 1200 years ago.  Unfortunately, in 2009, Tepoztlan title of Pueblo Magico was revoked in 2009 for noncompliance. It didn’t take the town long to fix whatever issue it had and regained the title approximately a year later. This town is famous for two things; 1) remains of a temple built on top of the nearby Tepozteco mountain, and 2) the exotic ice cream flavors prepared by the townspeople. While in Tepoztlan, standing in the zócalo (town center), we were educated regarding the agriculture most commonly grown in this region, maize and a variety of other grains. A very sweet and adorable elderly woman, allowed Ish to use her plethora of grains brought to the market for sale as our classroom. (see pictures here).

At this time, my flu-like, dehydration symptoms were becoming more prominent the longer I stood in the sun and wandering through the market with the very potent perfumes of fish, chili, and raw meat did not aid in my survival of the day. Once through the market, Ish brought us to entry way of Ex Convento Dominico de la Natividad, which looks more like a fortress than a cathedral. The entry way was completely compiled from grains and maize. (see pictures here). This was our second UNESCO World Heritage Site, inducted in 1994. I was struggling to comprehend exactly what Ish was explaining regarding this cathedral, but I believe he mentioned that this was the location where the Spaniards did all but force the local indians to convert to Catholicism. However, I wouldn’t quote me on this fact. My brain could barely function and focus on taking pictures. 

Before our trek back to the bus (as the bus was unable to drive us to the town), we stopped in t Tepoznieves, the ice cream shop for a little taste Mexico or as they say, Nieve de Dioses- Ice Cream of the Gods. This local shop has more than 120 flavors of ice cream and sorbet, ranging from the typical strawberry, chocolate, and bubble gum to beets, maize, and even the exotic tamarind. I selected pistachio (favorite), cappuccino and mango. All three were exceptionally delicious!

We continued our journey onward towards Cuernavaca and at this point I’m fading fast. The ice cream was probably not the most intelligent of decisions, but it’s ice cream and I wasn’t going to say no.

Cuernavaca, located in the state of Morelos, was established by the Olmec over three thousand years ago. It is nicknamed “the city of the eternal spring.” because of its stable, warm climate with abundant vegetation and the nickname delivered. It may have only been 80 degrees but this chick was on her last leg and felt as though I was going to pass out standing in the middle of the city center. Thankfully, we didn’t have a walking tour scheduled as were provided with free time to gather lunch and do a bit of shopping. I joined majority of the crew at a local 100% Natural restaurant and most of the initial portion involved my head face down on the table. I remember hearing Ish say “I think we’ve lost Nicole”. At this point of the day, I was still going off an empty stomach and knew I needed to eat so I chose a bowl of fruit with lemonade for some natural sugar.

Once our free time came to an end, we ventured off to our hotel, which was the brand new Holiday Inn Express and instead of hitting the pool like everyone else, I showered in freezing cold water (my core body temperature was ridiculously high) and PASSED out hard for a solid 2-3 hours. I hate missing out on the fun, especially this early in the trip, but if I couldn’t get rid of this icky feeling, it was only going to make the rest of the tour more unenjoyable.

I rallied awake and got ready for dinner, which included my glasses. If there is one thing you need to know about me, I NEVER wear my glasses in public unless absolutely necessary. This shows how icky I truly felt.

Dinner was included tonight and was a delicious spread of salad, veggies, chicken mole and a select few beverages. Some of my fellow travelers enjoyed their very first Squirt and tequila. If you are unfamiliar with Squirt, let me educate you. Squirt is a grapefruit flavored beer and is delicious both solo or when combined with tequila. Once dinner was completed, it was back to the hotel for a room party and more laughs and stories than I’m allowed to share. I mean we went from “Heads or Tails” to “Never have I ever” and well you get the picture. It was all fun and games until security was called and off to bed we went. Tomorrow’s adventures included jetting off to the beach resort town of Acapulco.

Pictures of my sick filled day two here

From Cancun to Mexico City

When I woke up the next day, I was still in complete shock from my #NoRegrets Day adventure in the open waters.

Did I really just face my fear and concur it?

Was yesterday just a dream?

How did I get to be someone so lucky to live out a day like yesterday?

I can remember laying in bed for a good solid 30 minutes reflecting back and thanking the Lord for not only the experience and chance of a lifetime, but for helping me concur something that has held me back in the past.

I knew the morning would go fast, I still had to pack and the rest of the crew was setting out early on an expedition to visit and learn about Gaby and Miguel’s restoration program (the one that Contiki is in collaborations with): Acropora Palmata Restoration Program (National Park Reefs of Xcalak).

Gaby and Miguel are the directors of this program initiated by Oceanus, A.C that began in late 2011. They currently have over 300 new coral colonies planted throughout Xcalak including Elkhorn coral a.k.a. Acropora palmata, which is the main species that dominate the reef crest and is one of the most important coral reef builders. The basis for the installment of this project was due to a massive disease suffrage that resulted in major mortality of this species. From the information provided to me by Gaby, I learned that this project is one of the first of its kind in Mexico.

While at breakfast, Gaby and Miguel educated myself and the others about the current state of their project. Most of the communication occurred between Gaby and Celine and in Spanish, which made it hard to follow, but I did learn quite a bit about the sensitivity of coral and the damage too much rainfall can cause. They explained to us that last year, one specific region, had so much rainfall that it actually whipped out an entire year’s worth of growth. I knew coral was being damaged but I really didn’t understand to what extent. I am grateful for Gaby and Miguel’s love and passion towards this project and towards our ocean and all their hard work.

After breakfast, it was time for our last goodbyes and it was difficulty to hold back tears. I know I just met these people but everything they’ve done for me during my time in Cancun, made me feel like I’ve known them for years. I didn’t want to part ways with Claire, Celine or Capkin, Gaby or Miguel, or Matteo or Luis, but I knew my Mexican Adventure was only just beginning.

I didn’t give myself much time to pack between saying goodbye and my shuttle pick up, which isn’t like me at all, but in Mexico, time seems to escape me. When I arrived at the airport, Journey Mexico had one of their employees, Alex, waiting to assist me through the airport to ensure I was set and ready to jet off to Mexico City. What I wasn’t expecting after I checked in, was the fact that I was in Premier seating (a.k.a. FIRST CLASS). That’s right, I sat in first-class on the two-hour AeroMexico flight from Cancun to Mexico City and this included free beer! Can you say spoiled brat 🙂

The flight and journey to the hotel were pretty uneventful, well except for the part where my driver drove me to Best Buy and then another camera store to purchase a new camera body. I might have left out this bit of information in my last post because I wanted that post to be about happy memories and not depressing ones. Unfortunately, I made a grave mistake and took my DSLR camera on the boat with me and the sea decided to punish me but getting it wet. I am usually very cautious with my baby and it was heartbreaking to lose something I’ve cherished for nearly three years. Thankfully, my driver was exceptionally understanding and could see my joy in holding a new DSLR camera. I never thought I’d be so attached to an electronic item before and thought I could get by, but it was barely 12 hours and I wanted to crawl into a corner and cry without one.

I arrived at the hotel with an hour to spare. The journey between the airport, the camera stores and the hotel took FOREVER because landing at 4:30 PM on a Friday in the largest city in the world meant rush hour traffic or in Mexico City’s terminology, daily traffic since nearly 22-24 MILLION people live or commute into the city daily. I can no longer complain about the horridness of traffic here in Seattle when comparing it to Mexico City. Good thing I wasn’t driving!

By 7 o’clock, I was up at the rooftop bar meeting, greeting and hanging out with my newest Contiki family (some missing) including our tour guide, Ish. Ish is the only Contiki Mexico tour guide and has been doing these tours for about a year and a half. Impressive huh?! We were missing a few at this meet-up but it didn’t matter to us. We were all so excited to be starting our Contiki tour.

I learned that although I was only doing the 9-day Mexican Fiesta tour, others were continuing on to the Yucatan portion, which is the 13-day Mexican Grande tour. It didn’t take long before we were off to dinner, asking the typical “introductory” questions. Who are you? Where are you from? How old are you? Where have you traveled? What’s the purpose of your trip? Etc. etc. etc. This has to be my favorite part of traveling: learning about other people and their journeys in life. Traveling links you to one another. It’s a bond that you can easily share and Contiki tours are a great way to travel solo and meet people!

By the time dinner ended, I was exhausted and decided to call it an early night, but I was still alone in my room. I was a bit surprised because it was nearly 9PM before my roommate arrived at my room because there was a mix up at the front desk. For the night, I roomed with Aimee, a 27-year-old from New South Wales, Australia! She had not arrived at the hotel prior to us heading to dinner and after learning a bit more about each other, we headed off to sleep as the next morning was an early one. Even though today was full of travel, it was still jammed pack with excitement. Until next adventure…

#NoRegrets Day

This day has finally arrived. It’s been a long and crazy three months since finding out I was the winner of this contest and cannot believe that my #NoRegrets Day is finally here. Let’s break this day down into 5 parts.

Part 1: Prepping Phase

The day before (April 2), we all noticed that the wind was picking up pretty intensely and although I don’t know much about the ocean, I do know that this isn’t the greatest news. Matteo, who is our diver contact with Journey Mexico and one of our dive masters, has been in contact with Celine regarding the closure of the port and the possible changes to our dives. He was up by 7am to figure out our plan for the day: diving the ocean or diving the cenotes. I’m not going to lie, upon hearing this news I was sad because I’m not afraid of freshwater caves, I’m terrified of the ocean and open water. I knew I didn’t have an option as Mother Nature can’t be controlled, but I still was sad. Good news did come the morning of the dive and Matteo informed us that although the port here in town was closed, we were able to dive off the coast of Isla Mujeres at two locations; Bandera Reef and the underwater sculpture museum by the artist Jason de Caires Taylor.

Part 2: Transportation and Arrival

It was 8:30 am when I finally made my way down to the lobby to meet up with the team. The team consisted of myself, Celine, her fiancé Çapkin (the videographer/photographer), Gaby and Miguel (who are partnering with Contiki on a conservation project), Luis (dive master) and Matteo. At this point of the day, my mind was going a mile a minute. I was still in shock that this was actually going to happen. I stayed pretty quite during the drive (which is abnormal for me) mostly because I was really holding back fear and tears. Celine also wanted our first time really talking to be during the interview. During portions of the drive, Çapkin was asking me to do a variety of things for the camera and it was odd being on the other side of the lens but Çapkin and Celine made it very comfortable for me.

We arrived at the port just north of Cancun and then the fun began! Çapkin was running the show and directing everyone on where to go and what to do. Once the van was in place, I was sized for my wetsuit and provided with flippers. I prepped all my own gear (mask and snorkel) and my bags were pack. Once the gear was ready, I sat down with Celine (Çapkin filming, microphones and everything) for our 1×1 interview. I didn’t really know what she was going to ask me and I was pretty nervous, after all this is Celine Cousteau were talking about here. She’s done so much for our ocean world and comes from a pretty well-known family. She made the interview process so comforting and asked me everything from “where my fear stems from” to “how my family has reacted to this experience”. It was so humbling being able to talk about my family and how supportive each and every one of the them including my grandma and grandpa have been during this journey. (You’ll have to wait and see the video for more of the interview). Once we concluded the interview, it was off the ocean floor.

Part 3: Dive 1

The boat ride from the dock to dive 1 only took about 30-40 minutes and I was okay with the length. The water down in Cancun/Isla Mujeres was so colorful and so many shades of blue. If you know me at all then you’ll understand why I was in heaven at this point. The water kept changing from turquoise, to bright aqua, to royal blue, to navy blue and back to bright aqua. The pictures don’t do the coloring justice. At this point, I was just following directions from Çapkin and listening to Luis and Matteo and they explained portions of the dive. I was able to capture a few images with my waterproof camera, though with the wind blowing we were getting sprayed on by the salt water the majority of the boat ride.

Once in place, with the current drifting use side to side (the current was pretty intense), it was time to fully gear up and descend. This is where my nervous kicked in. I don’t think I showed it to the crew as much as they knew, but I got really, really quiet (which is abnormal for me) and that’s how I knew I was more terrified then I thought I’d be.

For these dives, we did what we call a backwards roll entrance. Meaning, we sat on the edge of the boat and did a backwards roll into the ocean. This was my first time doing this style of entrance and as nervous as I was I had Celine directly across from me entering at the same time. I remember sitting on the edge of the boat holding on to the pole and Luis telling me to let go. At this point I knew I was going to enter the water myself and that’s when felt a pull on my scuba tank yanking me into the water.

Once I landed, I realized my mask wasn’t cooperating very well and was fogging up like crazy. So, here I am floating in the ocean (which I haven’t done in 10+ years) having to take off my mask to change it out. I have contacts and my eyes have caused me issues since moving to the state of Washington and the last thing I wanted was for one of them to pop out. Luckily, Celine was next to me talking as Luis swam back to the boat to grab another pair. Once the google situation was taken care of, it was finally time to descend.

For those of you who know scuba diving this next part will come naturally to you. For those of you who don’t, let me talk to you about something called “Buoyancy”. With many dive locations, staying off the ocean floor is a huge MUST and you must be able to control the amount of air in your vest (aka BCD) to maintain proper “buoyancy” just about the ocean floor. If too much air, the higher you swim. The higher you swim the further away from the ocean life you see. Too little of air causes you to plummet (exaggeration) to the ocean floor, disrupting the ocean life and stirring up all the sand. Both options are horrible for a good experience. Luckily, I am a science brain and I was able to control my buoyancy fairly well throughout this first dive with occasional assist from Luis.

This first dive was a reef dive , meaning we’d been since many different types of fish and ocean creatures and at most 45 feet below. Much of the dive (as directed by Ç “do this”, “swim together, over the camera”, you get the picture) was spent with Celine and I swimming alongside each other and she, Luis and our other dive master (who was monitoring location and air) pointed out a variety of different sea creatures; from fish, to blowfish, to spiny lobster. The amount of fish along this reef was unbelievable and I really had no idea the amount of species lived in one area. (remember the part about hating the ocean; this also lead to my ill-knowledge of the ocean). It was quite a sight to see and having Celine, Luis and the rest of the crew alongside me pointing things out (later explaining things) was more than I could have asked for. The reef was so peaceful and really meditative. It calmed by breathing down tremendously from the first few dives I did here in Seattle (I used 1000 PSI of air in 20 minutes my first dive; where this dive I used 1200 PSI). We stayed underwater for a good 50-60 minutes swimming between reefs, alongside reefs, and in movement of the current.

The worst/greatest part of this first dive was being dragged off by Luis to an open area where swimming less than 10-ish feet from my face was a barracuda. This thing was huge (in my eyes) and all I could picture was this thing attacking me leaving me helpless (terrifying). But it did the complete opposite. It swam stared us in the eyes (not sure exactly who) and then turned around and swam away like we weren’t even there. Did you know that barracudas acted this way? I sure in hell didn’t. I really pictured this evil creature attacking anything and everything that got in its way. Mind Blown!

After a bit longer of a swim and before out ascend, Luis and our other dive master (I forgot his name) communicated back and forth using the turtle sign. I looked at Luis and would have jumped for joy if I was on land, because this was one sign I knew. There must have been a sea turtle somewhere near us, and sure enough their 20-25 feet ahead of us was a sea turtle swimming away. At this point, I was smiling so big, under my regulator that nothing could take it off my face.

Once ascended and near the boat, I was walked through the steps to remove the gear and climb aboard (which is way easier than putting the gear together/on). Back on the boat felt abnormal and took roughly 5-10 minutes to get back to a normal groove, during which we were refueling with fruit and water. Celine and I chatted about what just happened and it’s all a blur to me now. Still hard to believe this was real and just our first dive.

Part 4: Dive 2

While eating, our captain drove us to our second location (Scuplture Museum), while the dive master (I feel really bad for forgetting his name) and the first mate changed out all the air tanks in prep for dive 2.

We weren’t on board for very long (at most 20-30 minutes) as this second dive was shallower at 35 feet. There’s this huge graph/calculation that goes with diving to monitor the oxygen/nitrogen levels to prevent “the bends” but at this point if they said jump off a cliff, I would have done it. So, when the dive masters say dive…you dive.

The first dive, Çapkin was actually in the water below the boat filming as we splashed, where this time he remained on board to capture the boat side splash. I’m not sure how all the footage will come together be he sure does know his stuff. He even directed me to film myself (with my GoPro) on the first dive and Celine the second dive. I’m really eager to see the footage captured by Çapkin because his skill is uncanny and easy to follow.

Underwater, the view of this second dive is night and day different from the first dive. There were fish but not to the scale of the first dive. This second dive was so unique in nature because no other place in the world has these specialized sculptures made out of this special material that enhances and supports coral growth. 100s of makeshift human sculptures rest on the ocean floor included a VW bug. Yes, VW bug rests on the bottom of the ocean with fish living inside it.

Unlike the first dive, we weren’t the only people at this dive sight and at times we had to stop swimming because these people were getting in our way. But we had to go with the flow. Swimming alongside these sculptures, popping in-between sets of them and swimming on top of them was quite entertaining. Luis gave me a bit more freedom this second dive and I stuck with Celine for most of this second dive.

The best moment of the entire trip was this one very territorial fish, who for easily 10 minutes, kept attacking Celine’s GoPro, biting at the silver dots around the lens. I couldn’t stop laughing (which isn’t good for my oxygen levels, but I didn’t care). It wouldn’t stop. Biting at the lens, turning away, and attacking the camera again. (You’ll see it in the video- once it’s done).

While we swam and before ascend, we started to have a little fun with our videographer, Çapkin. As a group, we sat at the bottom of the ocean floor taking pictures, trying to time our breathing patterns with each other so bubbles are surrounding our faces. I really can’t even describe how fun/funny this act was. Can’t you picture it 7 or 8 adults swaying back and forth sitting on the ocean floor with full scuba gear taking pictures. Unreal.

Çapkin also had me do some paired swimming with Celine, individual swims and ascending movements in front of the camera. I was able to get more comfortable being the center of attention during this second dive vs. the first. It’s a very strange feeling having someone film you and you basically are supposed to “sort-of” ignore them. If you’ve never had it happen before, picture someone reading over your shoulder. It’s the same feeling.

Part 5: The Journey Home

Once back on the boat and undressed, the conversations took off. We/they couldn’t control their excitement for me, my abilities to scuba dive and my new-found love with the ocean. I was having a hard time with coming up with words at this point because it was still so surreal.

Before returning to the main lands, we docked at a local restaurant on Isla Mujeres for some refreshments and some food and the post-scuba interview. Celine ordered a “michelada” (no idea) and I got one too. I didn’t know what the guidelines were for post-scuba refreshments, but everybody else was drinking beer so why not. A michelada is a mexican cerveza beverage prepared with assorted hot sauces/spices/peppers served with a salt rimmed glass, lime juice and your choice of beer. Here in America, we pretty much just use calmato juice (not nearly as good).

The interview lasted quite a while and consistent of Celine and I chatting about my experience, me asking Celine some questions about her relationship/partnership with Contiki, and Claire asking some questions and guiding me to say a few words to the camera.

It wasn’t long before the day had come to a close (mind you it’s only 4:30) and we were back on the main land, driving home to the resort. Though the day wasn’t quite over yet and the conversations continued to flow. The entire boat ride back consisted of Claire, myself, Celine and Çapkin talking anywhere from love to life to futures and it continued during dinner after we all showered and regained strength. I don’t think I could really express my gratitude towards Celine and Çapkin, towards Claire and the entire Contiki family, or towards the rest of the crew who made today one of the greatest days of my life. Words blended together in sentences don’t really show my hearts true feelings and I don’t know of anything that would be able to do it justice. Living this experience is something that nobody could take away from me and I can truly and deeply say that my fear (mostly) of the ocean is gone.

I am still terrified of sharks and will, at one point, have to face that fear and shark dive, but for now I’m not afraid of jumping head first into the open waters and swim freely among the fishes. Contiki made this possible and without them, I’d still be living with my one true regret…Fear. I know to some of you these are just words on a blog and you might not really understand what I mean when I say “living in fear is a regret of mine”, but to me these words controlled many moments of my life. I didn’t allow myself to join in with friends who were taking a midnight dip in the Pacific Ocean, or taking an afternoon refresher in the Ligurian Sea off the coast of Italy. I stayed on the side lines watching. No one should live in fear of anything and for many people we do let fear control parts of our lives and in some cases cause us to miss out on something beautiful. If it were for Contiki, I wouldn’t have this new-found passion and love for the ocean. I wouldn’t be trying to figure out how I can do my part in saving the ocean (one plastic bottle at a time). Nor would I be contemplating my next big adventure and whether or not it’s going to include diving.

This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and one that will go down in my history as “One of the Best Days of my Life”. Thank you again to everyone involved; whether physically diving with me, on the boat watching over me, or back home supporting me with love and encouragement. Each of you hold a special place in my heart and will never be forgotten.

Jungle Maya Adventure

I’ve been in Mexico for less than a day and Contiki is already pulling out the big guns! Not only am I staying at an all-inclusive resort (Now Jade) over looking the ocean, I get to spend the entire day with Claire (the Contiki rep) at an adventure park on Mayan land. The Jungle Maya Expedition is ran by Alltournative Tours and is an Me Time optional on both Contiki’s Mexican Grande and Yucatan Highlights tours.

I knew about this excursion before my departure but I didn’t do much research about what it was, mostly because I didn’t want to. I liked the unknowingness about this entire adventure. All I knew is that it was an adventure park consisting of repelling, zip-lining, and snorkeling!

We started our morning VERY early, as in we had to be in the lobby at 6:55am, and it took approximately 75-90 minutes to arrive at The Jungle Maya. During the drive, our driver/tour guide, Emilio, gave us an overview of our day including a brief history about the Mayan family, who continue to reside at the Rancho San Felipe ranch and are the keepers of the Nohoch Nah Chiich cave. This cave is the entrance to the Sac-Actun underground freshwater river system; the longest in the world at 137 miles.

Here is a brief history of cenotes obtained from the Yucatan-Holidays Website: “Cenote comes from the Mayan word “dzonot” or “ts’onot” which means sacred well. Cenotes were the main source of fresh water for the ancient Mayan civilization. Mayans believed the cenotes contained curative elements and considered many of them to be sacred. They also believed cenotes to be portals to the underworld and a way to communicate with the gods.” (

By the time we arrived, Claire and I were eager to get started and couldn’t wait to take our dive into the cenote. Before we started our off-track adventure, we participated in a traditional Maya purification ceremony lead by a medicine man. A main aspect of the Mayan culture is the worship to the elements- water, earth, air and fire. All elements which were included in this purification ceremony. I really don’t have words to describe this ceremony. I remember learning about the Mayan culture when I was in 5th grade (like 11 years old) sitting in Mr. B’s class and it was a bit surreal participating in this ceremony. It brought me back to many good memories at Lagos.

After I came back to reality, we were off to rappel 40 feet down a hole into a breathtaking beautiful cenote and swim in Yaxmuul. Yaxmuul is a natural underground pool of pristine water and rock formations. This was my first ever time rappelling and it was quite the experience. I’ve done a little rock climbing (at a gym) in the past and could understand the basics, but it really is a whole new experience rappelling down a hole in the ground laughing the entire time. Prior to our decent, Emilio informed us that the water was a tad chilly and the lady before us was squealing upon touching the water so we were a bit terrified about the actual water temperature. I remember slowing down before splashing into the water but to be honest the water was very refreshing. It was the perfect temperature after standing outside in the Mexican sunshine and swimming in this fresh water pool was unreal.

Upon exiting, we took a little hike to the original Mercedes Benz Unimogs, the major 4×4 vehicle in the world, waiting for us to take us through the jungle to the zip-lining course. If I were to describe this ride, bumpy would be a complete understatement. Shaking, bouncing, rocking, and bumping up and down, side to side for 10 minutes are just words. Watch the video below to see just a glimpse of the reality of this ride.

The zip-line course consisted of 3 lines sailing over the jungle’s foliage. This first one sends you backwards, as they have a sling-style stop, meaning it stops for you versus manually having to stop. The second one is normal and sends you flying forwards or in my case sends me twisting during the entire line. The last line is the most exciting of them all as it sends you flying at a downward angle landing you in a cenote. Aside from losing my bikini bottom for a slight second, this experience was incredible and full of laughter.

Once the entire group (a total of 6) was finished with the zip-line course, it was off to the cenote snorkeling experience in the Nohoch Nah Chilich Cavern. This cavern is part of the Sac-Actun cenote system and is recommended by National Geographic Snorkeler specialized cave divers. While in this cavern we were surrounded by rock formations and millenary stalactites and stalagmites, which are still growing and an incredible sight. I’ve only been snorkeling once (in which scarred me for life) and cave snorkeling was not in my adventure guide but this trip was about new experiences.

By this time in the day, Claire and I were famished and ready for our authentic Mayan lunch. Here at the ranch, they continue to serve food grown and cook over coal stoves. Our spread included chietas (a potato patty with herbs), empanadas, frijoles (beans), rice and vegetable soup topped of with ridiculously spicy salsa. For refreshers, we enjoyed delicious jamaica (ha-my-ka), which is a hibiscus flower based tea, and tamarind juice. Both were unbelievably delicious!

Once lunch was completed, we hiked our way through the jungle to return to the starting point, where we gathered our belongings and enjoyed a well needed tamarind margarita (sin tequila) while our photographs were being gathered. I didn’t mention this earlier, but part of the Jungle Maya expedition included local photographers who captured our entire adventure. Not to shabby of an experience huh and the best part was that this was all before 3pm!

As it was still daylight when Claire and I arrived back at the resort, we didn’t waist too much time before heading down to the beach for a relaxing afternoon. I was able to catch some ZZZs by the ocean but by 5pm, Claire had to go on a conference call and I headed up to my room to enjoy a nice jacuzzi bath. We reconvened for dinner and following dinner we headed to the lobby to inquire about Celine’s arrival and sure enough there she was! I was in a bit of celebrity shock and she was so kind and honestly reminded me a lot of my own mother. We ended up talking for quite sometime before we all called it a night. At this point, I was more ready and prepared for my #NoRegrets Day. Stay tuned for my summary of my once-in-a-lifetime day of scuba diving!!