When Family Visits the Island(s)

I have waited for this week to come since my family booked their flights nearly 3 months prior. It’s hard to live so far away from family at times but one of the best part is being able to show them a new part of me and a new country.

This wasn’t just a normal family trip however. This was my younger brother’s FIRST EVER time off the continental United States, and it would be his FIRST time receiving a PASSPORT STAMP.  I mean he’s 26 years old and has only ever traveled within the US and Mexico, so this older sister was beyond stoked. Alright, I get that you might not understand why this is a big deal, but I LOVE being able share travel adventures with my favorite people in the world!

I was eager for my parents too, Read more

Time to Dive (Again)

Another full day in Acapulco and another day out on the water. Can you blame us? We are in Acapulco after all. What we did on the water varied depending on what each of us picked from the optional excursion Contiki offered. We were to select from kayaking, snorkeling or diving. As I won this trip because of my fear of the ocean, and I concurred that goal via scuba diving, it was only fitting that I dove. I was originally the only one who selected this option, which kind of bummed me out but Stefani decided after sometime to join in on the fun. What I didn’t know is that regardless of which optional you selected, we were all together for the entire day.

This optional was set up with Acapulco Scuba Center and they provided us with everything we’d need. In total, 15 tour mates opted in this adventure (minus 2 who was unable to join due to the bus-virus); 4 were suppose to kayak (1 opted out once on the boat), 8 snorkeled and I scuba dove solo because poor Stef was one of the 2 who got to bug. It was quite the group and there was plenty of laughs!

We boarded the boat and relaxed a little as our guides prepped all the equipment, including fitting me with a very tight and snug wet suit. It took us nearly 45-60 minutes to actually locate a location to start our water adventure because of the amount of jellyfishes in the water. We attempted 4 different locations around Isla Roquette and each location we went too had so many jellyfishes on the surface it almost looks like the night sky. These jellyfish were about the size of a dollar (if even that big) and although not poisonous, they do pack a punch. At this point, I especially was a bit on the hot side because I’m still wearing the wetsuit (halfway) and was getting bummed that they were going to cancel the dive. Luckily after launching the kayakers and relocating the boat, it was time to get into the water.

To enter the water, we use the giant leap method, which I actually practiced and landed perfectly. Unfortunately, I forgot about my red filter on my GoPro and I turned the entire video red. Lesson learned. On this dive, I was joined by my dive master and another straggler, who was just learning to dive. It was quite frustrating diving with someone who was just learning, but in reality I became in a daze when underwater. It was fun searching for all the creatures, though if it wasn’t for my dive master I probably wouldn’t have seen half of them. The water was a bite muggy but I learned this was pretty typical for this time of year because of the temperature. In total I saw: blowfishes, stingrays, starfish, a sea-horse, a frog fish, eels and various other types of tropical fishes. We surfaced once during our dive because of the other man I was diving with, but in total we were underwater for about an hour. Click for pictures- Can you spot the animals?

Once back on board, I found out that a few of my tour mates became bait for the jellyfish. I felt really bad and they told me they couldn’t really see the fishes because of the clarity of the water. Regardless, everyone appeared to have a wonderful time. We left our dive spot and started to venture around the island in search of the kayakers. We were unable to locate them right away and so we headed out towards the open waters, and their right in front of us were BLUE WHALES. OMGOSH, could this day be any more wonderful. BLUE WHALES. I didn’t bring my big DSLR camera (lesson learned) but I was able to capture a little bit of the whales jumping out of water. We all were in complete excitement. We even saw a wild sea turtle, who kept embracing our presence by peaking its head above the surface. I think in total, we relaxed on the boat staring into the ocean watching the whales for nearly 20 minutes before the captain decided it was time to find the kayakers.

We located them and once they re-boarded the boat and asked us where we were, we headed back to land to continue with our last and final day in Acapulco. As we got back to our hotel fairly early and while some people hit the pool, I took a little nap/transferred photos onto my computer. This didn’t last too long and I was up and ready for dinner. I actually don’t remember what happened for dinner on this night but I do remember the crew gathering for a hotel party. Our tour guide called us “boring” because many of us chose to go to bed vs. heading out on the town. A few of the decided to, but I was very happy with going to bed. Tomorrow was another fun day on the bus heading to a small mining town.  Stay tuned.

 

#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.

Learning to Dive

I cannot believe my Mexican Adventure #NOREGRETS Fulfillment Day Trip is less than 5 days away. I feel like all I’ve been doing in the last 6 weeks was prepare for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. With that being said, part of the preparations required me to become PADI certified…A.K.A becoming an Open Water Diver.

The reasoning I was selected as the winner was because of my twitter post that basically said I’m terrified of the ocean and I’d face that fear. There is really no way around become PADI certified and not go into the ocean.

I took my course(s) from a local dive shop called Seattle Scuba School located off of Lake Union, north of downtown. They break their course down into three separate parts- a home program, a pool class, and the open water class(es). The home program consists of reading a PADI Open Water Diver manual and taking 5 quizzes regarding various aspects of diving; the science and underwater world (buoyancy, visibility, currents, etc), the gear (BCD, regulator, weight belt, etc), the buddy system and communication, dive planning and problem management, health and breathing, and the dive table/dive computer/compass. Sounds intense, huh? It is. There’s no sugar coating this one. This book is about 260 pages and I read every last page, with highlighting (I geeked out). I’m going to be honest here. While reading certain parts of this book, I almost started crying and practically gave myself a panic attack/anxiety attack because of the information I was reading. I’m terrified of the ocean, so reading about things that could go wrong wasn’t the most comforting aspect of this journey. I had NO IDEA diving was so technical and so much science and math went into scuba diving and this was the easy part of the program.

Up next was the pool course. This nighttime course was an introductory lesson about the gear, safety features and entering/exiting the water. This course took place both on land and in the pool. For the first hour or so, we stood in the dive center handling the tanks, the BCD (vest), the regulatory (breathing mouthpiece) and the weight belts. I think we put together and took apart the actual scuba gear 5, if not more, times during this section. Once in the water, we were taught how to breath underwater, how to fix our gear underwater, how to safely descend and surface safely, how to use your buddy, and how to safely exit and enter the water. It was a very new experience sitting at the bottom of the pool breathing and if you’ve never scuba dived than it’s hard to explain. I am a pretty quick learning so I felt comfortable after this class. Well, I thought I was.

The time came this past weekend for me to take the open water dive portion of this course. I WAS ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIED, FREAKED OUT AND A BIG BALL OF SCARED both the days leading up to the dives and on my way to and from the dives (yes I was still scared after diving). One of challenges of this portion (besides fear) was the fact that these dives took place in the Puget Sound with a water temperature averaging about 44 degrees Fahrenheit and it didn’t matter that we had full wetsuits (hoods, booties and gloves). This course was broken down similar to the pool portion- started at the dive center and tried on all the gear to make sure the wetsuits were the proper fitting and checked the scuba unit before heading down to the dive location.

The actual dive location was called Seacreast Beach Park Cove #1, which according to my dive instructor, is well known throughout the diving community.At this point in the day was good and dandy and stayed that way until the first descend. Brace yourself. I GOT LOST. Yup, my worst nightmare came true. I hardly moved 5 feet and I lost the entire 7 other people in my course. Can you believe it. I’m having a full blown panic attack including screaming and crying, at the bottom of this cove only 15-20 feet under and 15-20 feet off the shore. The visibility was horrendous, and since we were learning to control our buoyancy, my classmates and I kept stirring up the ocean bottom.

Thankfully, I was able to pull myself together and I ended up sticking it out for the remainder of the day, which included 2 dives and freezing finger and toes. I actually started getting the hang of things and began to open up to the experience. I even went back the next day to finish out the additional 2 dives to become fully certified as an Open Water Diver.

The main focus of these open water dives, is to put you in more real life situations and to provide more functional training and learning. There is a huge differences between an enclosed pool vs open water and I’m glad I went back for day 2 of the open water dives. I know Mexico is going to be 1000x better than my class and not just because the water will be clear and warm, but because of the adventure itself.

How many people get to say they got to dive ALONE with Celine Cousteau and her husband? I mean seriously this is a real-life Mapless Adventures. Stay tuned for more!

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