Saturday, September 11, 2010

Lookout, Cookout!

Saturday's are fairly leisurely, despite the fact that they still count for part of our schooling. We wake up an hour later than usual and have an hour to clean up the Center. I was part of the waterfront crew and FINALLY got to be part of waterfront clean up, something I didnt get to do at camp. After some boat scrubbing and hard core snorkel-cleaning, it was time to head back for our actual snorkel. We went back to Admiral's Aquarium to snorkel recreationally and this time we were allowed to bring cameras. I took a few but the camera died so the ones here are all I have. I'll get more later from Hilarys camera.

Southern Stingray

Chase and I
 The colors underwater are just fabulous and the reef fish are so brilliant in color, its truly like diving in an aquarium.

After snorkeling and lunch, we went to East Bay, a bay just north of us to do some more snorkeling and a bonus ID session for our mangrove ecology. Our small group is rocking the scientific names and the studying comes easy because everyone is in the same situation. We had more time to snorkel around while the staff was preparing a beach cookout for us. Hamburgers and brownies tasted absolutely scrumptous after a long day of snorkeling. East Bay has a small patch reef that I went back to 3 times before dinner so my legs were aching from all the fin kicking. We had a great time at the cookout, made some marshmallow s'mores and compared camp songs and activities to be able to share with the local kids next saturday. Ive worked at boyscout camp, Lizzie and Ben worked at Christian camps and Sarah and Serena worked at nature camps. Surprisingly, almost all of our songs were known by the another student/staff member. But there are a surprising amount of songs that are just nonsense. We all shared our nonsense songs while the van was on its way back to pick us up.

The crew

By the time I got back, most of the other students had already gone out for their Saturday night. I realized just how tired I was and decided not to go out with the rest of the group. The internet finally came back on and so I stayed in updating my blog, reading for this weekend, and I got a lovely phonecall from Nick while everyone was out. At midnight, the whole group got back with some very ridiculous stories of their times. Several girls went dancing with the locals, who happen to be very...involved...dancers and had to get rescued several times by the guys in our group. All in all, I was bummed I didnt go out with all my friends, but it was nice to stay in and relax for the evening, Ive been absolutely exhausted. And the phonecall was nice :) Next saturday I will have to prepare my energy better and not be so tired when 9 o clock comes around.

In other news, the UV here is so strong that it has faded my nailpolish that I've only had on for a week. It used to be a strong pink coral and now its close to light strawberry sherbet. :(

Friday, September 10, 2010

Ridiculatus Taxonomica

Sergeant Abu Definitely drinks Duff when he plays the Saxophone. Lauren is in the CIA and theres a Spy named Raena. Pneumonic devices are the only things getting me through my mangrove identification flash cards for the first exam. Scientific names: The projected bane of my existence for this program. The first ID refers to Abudefduf saxotilis, a Sergeant Major reef fish. The second pneumonic device refers to Laurencia sp. and Sphyraena barracuda. With over 20 different species of algae, fish, and wildlife that we must learn by scientific name, the list of pneumonics is going to pile up quickly. After this set of mangrove ecology identification, we have reef fish, a whopping 85 species to know by name and identification. Other than that, our first class snorkel went off with out a hitch in the mangroves on a nearby island. Our small group of 4 meandered around the tiny island practicing identifying different algaes and marine life, including an amber penshell, a very, very sharp, fragile, lurking bivalve. Our tour led us through 3 different species of mangrove and around the other island to snorkel in the shallows. Schools of curious Schoolmaster Snapper swam right up to our masks and Yellowfin Majorres schools fearfully congregated several feet away from the braver schoolmasters. I just find it spectacular that we hold lectures and exams in the water! Its such a fantastic feeling to be able to say, I'm learning here, I snorkel everyday to contribute to my academic research.

My evening paper was about cultural assumptions and reflections. I realized that I didn't have many observations because I had few interactions with locals over the last week. I decided to go get some first hand observations by going out to Trenchtown Bar with a few students who were either done for the night or researching with me. I played dominos with a few students and a local man named Saul but goes by Smitty, around 50 years of age. He told us fascinating stories about how he is a freediver for lobster and can hold his breath for 5 minutes underwater at 50-60 feet. These stories are similarly repeated by many local freedivers, some of the younger divers shelling out stories of 70-80 feet for the same amount of time. Smitty also said he used to dive 110 feet with Snuba, which is an air tank attached to the boat and an air line coming down to the free diver. The locals are very relaxed, engaged in new people and excited to tell us their stories, since everyone on this small island has heard everyone elses stories too many times. They are also a very verbally aggressive bunch, quickly escalating to arguments between one another, but it rarely ever escalates to physicality, and most people recover very quickly from these little tussles. I was home by 10 to write my paper with some new found stories to tell, and wasn't able to recap this episode's blog, due to the internet being down. I will leave you with a few other pictures from around the center :)

I ended my evening with some fun conversations with Mark about our previous aquarium experiences and passions for the ocean. Some conversation that Im sure I will have with everybody here at some point.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Salt Flats. Or square crystals?

Absolutely everything is covered in salt. Its not so noticeable on your clothes, but if you haven't licked your lips in a while, its a mouthful of salt, and I recently discovered actual salt crystals caught in the ridges and face of my watch. I have salt in my eyebrows, belly button, behind my ears, under my fingernails and in the ridges of my shoes. Its a little ridiculous.

On another note, today has been another grueling day of classes. 4 classes and a dive check today, and I am utterly exhausted. I completed several hours of reading and a group project, and after a night dive/bathe, it is somehow 1230 and I can barely keep my eyes open, so this post will be brief.

All my equiptment tastes like plastic, but thats not the worst thing in the world. After we got geared up for our afternoon dive test, we loaded the boat and rolled off the edge into the water. After 20 minutes of "take your regulator out of your mouth and put it back in. take your mask off and put it back on. take your BCD off and put it back on", it was pretty plain to see that I was the most confident and calm diver in my group. Most of the others were flailing but I was solid. That makes me much more comfortable in the water to know Im not way behind the curve of the group, since some of the students intimdate me with the places they've traveled to. Many have already been to the Bahamas, or Cancun, or Bermuda, and its a little nervewracking to know that some of them have been diving for a year or so already. But not to fear, everyone should pick up the learning curve fairly quickly. :)

Took a nap before dinner so I could make it to 10 o clock pm, and woke up to delicious dinner and the most stunning sunset.

Scorpion Fish
Chirstmas Prawn
Giant Anemone

A few hours of reading, and it was time for a night dive. I admit, I was a little freaked out to be diving with only one other person in the dead of night, but it wasnt nearly as horrible as I thought. First of all, our docks are pretty well lit by the lights on the upper buildings. Second, the stars were wonderful and it was really easy to see the cliff face and the opposite dock, our boundary markers. On another note, the milky way seems much closer from here. Its fatter and closer, as if put under a magnifying glass. But I digress. Hilary and I hit the water running (swimming?) and immediately spotted a Southern stingray, attracted to the light of the other snorkelers that just came out. We snorkeled for a good hour, spotting a few beautiful anemones out for the night, a smaller lionfish, an awkward Caribbean sea cucumber, a defensive Christmas prawn and a very large, scary looking lobster. All in all, it was a great dive, and the water feels amazingly refreshing at night. Literally bath water (which is convenient because that's pretty much what we're doing...)

Studying was a little difficult with the raucous music from the local bar, Trenchtown bar, but it adds to the laid back atmosphere of the island, or "Island Time". I am excited to do our first outreach projects or go to the local hotel at night and meet more people, find out their stories. Hilary and I also have a secret snorkel mission planned out for Sunday to scope out a significant find, so more details on that to come ;)

The weather here, though salty, hasn't really fluctuated from the 80 degree marks. Nights feel like Fresno nights: muggy and warm, low 80's and the days are 86-ish. But, if you consult about the temperature here, it is pretty accurate in saying "86, feels like 102". Thats about right. But, I think tonight is the coolest its been so I think I'll sleep pretty well. Goodnight from the tropics!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Lionfish and Tiger Sharks and Barracuda, OH MY!!

Well, not quite a tiger shark, but a nurse shark!

Another beautiful scene to wake up to this morning as I walked out my wooden door: gorgeous shades of blue seeping out across the sea from the sun's reflection's epicenter. Classes were almost unbearable for the beauty of what awaited us outside at every break we got. However, my three classes (Marine Ecology, Resource Management, and Environmental Policy and Socio-Economic Value) were exciting to receive their syllabi. Weekly academic dives and snorkels are in store for us, as well as interview field trips to the local community and to other islands as well. Lunch dragged by as we all waited for our first real snorkel.

Now the fun part. Half of the students including myself went out for our first snorkel to Admiral's Aquarium, a shallow reef halfway between our island and Dove Cay. Anticipation built increasingly as we boated out to the reef where we could see the most brilliant blue water just waiting to be explored. The boat moored and off we went to the unknown. The reef was filled with brilliant colors: purple, yellow, orange and forest green corals, anemones that looked like it was holding hands with itself, bright colorful fish. We came across a nurse shark hiding in a hole about a quarter of the way into the snorkel. It's brown body was jutting out halfway into the open ocean. Halfway in, we discovered several barracudas just watching us silently. The reef was abound with purple and yellow fish, bright blue fish, parrotfish, blue tangs, and flat black fish. Schools of yellow fish would let us swim with them, and diving down to peer into holes was spectacular. Our dive guide said, "ok, do you have any questions?" YES! I DONT KNOW WHAT ANYTHING IS! TELL ME TELL ME TELLLLLMEEEEEE!!!! But a lionfish presented itself, at least one organism that I was familiar with. The seafloor was littered with live conch shells, both moving and just covered in sand. Many parts of the sea floor were rocky until I realized they weren't rocky, but the spiky tips of Queen Conchs. Small coral sat alone in the sand, partially covered, looking like speakers of the Caribbean. I can't wait to start diving to deeper depths and see more, go on recreational dives to collect shells and take pictures and I definitely cannot wait for tomorrow, another breath taking day in the wonderful world that is now my school, my home, my bath, and my lounge.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Days in a Blender

It's day 2 and I already feel like I've been here a week. After waking up every 30 minutes last night due to feeling like a lobster in a boiler in my room, I woke to a beautiful sunrise, lighting up the water more and more with every passing 5 minutes. Apparently there was a storm last night, a real rager, and I somehow didn't catch any of it, despite my incessant waking up. I was the first "student of the day" meaning I woke up earlier than everybody else, helped with breakfast, restocked the fridge and came up with an icebreaker game. Thank god for the R.A. training I already have!

Classes were introductions to the professors and classes, and then a tour of the town. You can find everything that you need within a 5 block radius (blocks meaning about 100 feet). Several churches, 5 bars, and small hole in the wall market stores, some that carry different items every few days. Very ecclectic. The town is paved but everyone travels around by foot, with the exceptions of a few cars that drive on the left side. Izzy, we're in the same boat! We look like chickens with our heads cut off when cars come because we all scurry to the wrong side of the street :) It is custom for the men here to have aliases so they may give you their real name and they may give you an alias, but its always the same alias. Dogs are wild here and they follow you around when walking, but they're docile. There are two hotels here, one small one that hosts Dominican night on Sunday nights when all the other bars close, and another thats in the process of being built but has an operative smaller section.

After delicious burgers by chef Izzy (hahahaha Iz, now i have an Izzy and you have a Kat) for lunch, we had our snorkel/swim test, the first time we were able to get in the ocean to swim. The water is so warm and shallow in the swim area and it is absolutely beautiful, despite the fact that this area is probably the ugliest seafloor we'll see all semester. Another meeting about dive procedures and a lot of free time sent us into the town for an unfruitful search for ice cream. Pineapple soda however, quenched our thirst briefly. I dont think Ive ever sweated this much in the course of one day and I am exhausted. Dinner shift of serving and cleaning in the even hotter kitchen certainly took the energy right out of me. A group of us played a few board games and headed into town (200 feet from the center) to a small bar to meet some of the locals and grab a beer, and again to another bar in town, but back in the center by 10 pm. A separate group of students went night snorkeling, and I have the hankering to do so tomorrow night. Some of the students showed their real colors tonight and were trash talking already, so Im interested to see how the week will pan out and the groups will form. Right now we are all still pretty loosely talking to each other, bonding with each other individual. We are all so diverse! Some are experienced divers and travelers, some haven't been out of the u.s. Some are from public schools, some are from private schools. Some are here for the ecology, some are here for the conservation, but we are all just simply excited :)

The evening finished with a gorgeous lightning storm on the inky black water and horizon and a chat between myself and Hilary, another former R.A. about our residence life nightmares. The day has blended together significantly and the tour seems like it was yesterday already. We are just barely getting syllabi tomorrow in classes and our dive test tomorrow as well. I intend to retreat to my lobster pot of a room and jerry-rig my fan inside my netting tonight instead of last night. I know I will wake up to another surreal sunrise with lizards basking in the sun (NICK.) and the plants lit up by the sunrise.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Seeing is Believing

Believe. Everything. You see. I have always been skeptical of pictures advertising resorts and tropical locations, expecting them to be doctored or photoshopped. However, ladies and gentleman, my new home is every bit as spectacular as the pictures. But, let me start from the beginning:

I left L.A. as it began to get frigid again, the cold front from the ocean bearing down fast, so I was even more glad to be departing. I checked in with 2 bags weighing exactly 50 lbs, a miracle in my opinion, and was informed that my flight was already an hour late due to an attendant missing her connecting flight. 20 minutes later I was checked in and receiving a phone call from the airline telling me it was going to be late. Hmmm...

Dad finally released me from his clutches and I passed through security with smooth sailing, 4 hours ahead of my plane. I finagled a spot by an outlet, another airport miracle, and did not get to talk to the other 2 students from my program due to my overprotection of both electricity and dive equiptment in my carry on bags. An hour later I sweet talked the attendant into giving me exit row seats, was forced to check my carry on bag, flew 5 hours to Miami and caught up with my first friend, Allie at the gate to Provo. Little by litte the other students trickled in and we grew into a raucous group in the terminal. My new found friends were from all over the united states and we were quickly sharing packing nightmares, expectations and surmises.

As we boarded the flight to Providenciales, we quickly compared seat assignments like high school schedules and were roughly seated in the same area. Our eyes grew wider with each passing mile, from teacups into dinner plates, as the water slowly turned more and more turquoise. We had no idea what to expect when we landed and the anticipation was growing with each new shade of unfamiliar blue. As we stepped off the plane we were greeted by sand dunes and scrub brush, crystal blue water, and sticky, sticky heat. My jeans quickly melted to my legs as we walked through the door to many different flamingo logos, marking our arrival to the Turks and Caicos Islands. Customs was a breeze, all 3 bags made it to Provo ok, and we started finding more and more of our group, including our group guides.The small shabby, yet proud building housed us in a small cafe for another hour or so until departing for South Caicos itself. The whole airline was relaxed, as they ordered another plane for us and delayed our flight. It reminded me of North Carolina. (smirk)

Again, we boarded a small yellow plane and were quickly informed that our flight was 12 minutes long. sitting in a plane with only 2 and 1 seats to a row, we all gawked and reminded ourselves of our adventure to come. We expected the water to turn gradually blue and deeper, yet it remained a brilliant, resort hue, only furthering our excitement.

 After finally landing in South Caicos, a very very small airport that was closer to rubble than a building, we boarded a few vans to take us the 2 miles down the road to our home. Many structures on this island were damaged by Hurricane Ike in 2008, not by Hurricane Earl, the most recent. They have not been able to rebuild properly due to limited access to resources. The houses are mainly concrete with shutters and grates on the windows, lots of paneling littering yards, and wild donkeys, horses, and cows (both genders have horns!) populating the yards. We quickly came up to our house, which is a series of one-story cabana bulidings.

The middle of the center is the rec area, which is open to the air and has a spectacular view of the ocean and several surrounding cays, since the center is located on a 30 ft cliff. We eat, meet, and hang out in this gorgeous viewed location, and I am so lucky to be able to enjoy it 24/7. The dormitories split off to the left and right wings, and are 4 people to a room. In the back are the kitchen, classroom, and library, and off to the front and towards the water is the dive house and boat docks for our dives. In later pictures, you will see the cay directly south of us, Long Cay, and in between the cay and the island is one of our dive sites, called Admirals. The center is white concrete walls with wooden beams, red tiled floors and bits of rubble and broken cobblestone in some parts, giving it a very hippy-researchy look to it, yet still remnant of a resort location.

My roommates and I quickly unpacked upon arrival as best as possible and then jumped in our small salt water pool, joined by every other member of our group (32 students). We then went back to the sweltering rooms to set up mosquito netting, claim our drawers and clean in general, which was nearly impossible in the heat. The rooms are almost unbearably stifling, as was the weather outside until you reached an open area with a strong breeze. After a hearty dinner, introductions, safekeeping of belongings and internet connection, we retreated to our rooms to reorganize and settle in for the night. The center closes the pool at 10 pm which is still amazing to me because it got dark at 8. I intend to utilize as many resources as possible, since they are all open late and inviting. Competitive ping pong games ensued and I retreated off to the computer lab to update all my communications channels.

The sunset and stars here are truly spectacular. The water is turquoise blue, literally. The horizon is so far away, you can see many small islands and cays. The salty air is thick and hot, but yet oddly refreshing, if your body is cool enough. It is a living postcard, no lies. The company is bright eyed and bushy tailed and ready to start this experience at 7 am tomorrow morning. Paradise has arrived and I am still pinching myself to remember that it's here for 3 more months.