Saturday, September 18, 2010

Surfing Magazine

The swells are enormous! I mean, they're nothing compared to a heavy day in California, but for here, where every body of water is flat, flat, flat, they're gigantic. Swells come rolling in from just offshore and crash up against the rocks with full force, sending the spray 50 ft up in the air, past the roof of our dive shed that sits on the cliff.

This morning my room was scheduled to attend to the vehicles for our weekly site cleanup. We washed the cars (thankfully before the heat really hit for the day), vacuumed and washed them. Our dive was cancelled due to the waves so we had some time before our next activity. Several of the guys and myself went down to the docks to swim, but the swell was so large that we were "strongly advised" to not swim. Or at least not without fins. However, for me, it was very clear to see that it was not as big of a problem as they told us. It makes sense that not everyone here is used to waves or current, but bodysurfing in 10 foot waves in Laguna Beach with massive rip-tides has more than prepared me for the itty bitty "surge" that we had. I jumped in with fins and had no problem swimming around, and went back later without fins. It was overcautioned in my opinion. I almost wanted that hard-core Laguna back again, at least it was a workout!

Shortly after that the Center split off into our activities for the Saturday community outreach. My group headed off to an uninhabited bay beach to do 2 hours of beach cleanup. We got to this beautiful outlook above our beach and gazed upon white sand beaches for miles and brilliant blue waters. Down actually on the beach however it was a different story. Just like my beach excursion last weekend, the beach was littered with global trash. It was all sort of piled in a corner where the wave current had just left it, and we all tried to tackle the seemingly infinite number of colored pieces of plastic. Among my bag were buoys, lighters, baby shoes, flip flops of every shape and size, soles of shoes, netting, syringe plungers, cologne sample tubes and a variety of other random colored slabs. However, the waves were absolutely PUMPING. There were actual surfable waves breaking about 1/4 mile out and the irratic waves came in as tiny breakers at the shore. It looked like something out of a surfing magazine. Blue as blue can get with perfect faces. It actually made me miss California's waves. Our small group + professor went body surfing for the next 20 minutes before we made our way back home to the dump and then the Center. Our groups played games for the next few hours until the groups split off again. A trip was organized to the East Bay beach, but I passed, seeing as I had enough sun and sand for one day from beach cleanup. Instead, Mikenna, Savannah, our intern Lizzie and myself went roaming around a small "fashion" store in town. Mikenna grabbed some new jewlery for her new haircut and we considered it a successful trip. Our posse headed back for dinner after grabbing a mountain dew and some candy at Wilson's Variety Store. After dinner, almost all of the students made plans to go out for the evening, as we were not diving on Sunday.

We all decided to get drinks at Roosters and Chicken Bar because it was cheaper than the Hotel that we were eventually headed to. I had a few glasses of wine and we made our way over to the Cox Hotel for some dancing and live music. We made our trek to the hotel past a creepy old mayor's wife's house and through some underbrush but we made it there in one piece. The music was cranking already and we spent the next few hours dancing and swimming in the hotel pool, mingling with the locals occasionally. The group has gotten considerably closer in the last week and its really nice to rely on everyone like family. Its so much more fun to go out and dance or just hang out when everyone is really close. The boys actually dance and the girls had a great time relaxing for the night, before a big day of studying. On the way home before curfew, I stubbed my toe and didn't think anything of it. My shoes were still wet from the pool so when Ben and I got too far ahead of the group, we stopped and I checked out my toe. Apparently my shoe wasn't still wet but covered in blood. I was bleeding all over the place so Ben and I booked it home to take care of it. Once I rinsed it off, the cut was not even bigger than a papercut. Thanks toe, I really appreciate it. A bandaid fixed the problem and I joined the rest of the students who were straggling in for the night. We talked for a few more hours and it was time for bed. I can't wait to sleep in tomorrow!

Friday, September 17, 2010

"I Am James Bond. Pierce Brosnan!"

Thar's a hurricane a'blowin!!! Igor is full force but it swings wide of TCI. Pretty much all hurricanes do here. But, it is bringing us some much needed patchy rains and some really powerful swell. We were not able to visit the fish processing plant today due to absolutely horrible visibility in the waters. No fishermen even went out to fish because of the stirred up sediment and waves. However, being the Cali girl that I am, the waves are great for body surfing! Normally the ocean is flatter than flat, but alas, here are some waves :) In any case, the hurricane does bring bad news, as it may make our next set of ID exams either late or very difficult, and the news says that Hurricane Julia is close behind, also a Category 4. Should be interesting! Here's a little bit of history: The last hurricane to really come through the TCI was Hurricane Ike in 2008 and it was absolutely devastating to this small island. Many buildings still remain broken, dilapidated, torn, run-down, and useless. The Belongers don't have many resources to rebuild or clean up the mess from 2 years ago, and many either just live in those conditions or moved houses. Several beautiful landmarks were pristine, and were just demolished in the hurricane, such as an old round outdoor building, and the Queen Elizabeth's Regatta pier. The pier now stands like broken toothpicks, the boards completely ripped off the boardwalk and the pilings standing like jagged teeth. That really was the largest hurricane to come through here in decades though, and the most recent forecasted ones are going to pass well around us here at the Center.

Moving on to the day:
Class this morning was a little painful, as we sat through a slideshow of 85 reef fish that we need to know by scientific name by next Friday. However, the ID sessions that we usually get to practice and learn may be thwarted by Igor, we don't know. It certainly was a daunting 2 hours though, as most of the fish look the same and the differences between families are not always very clear or separated. After lunch, we were supposed to visit the local fish processing plant, as we had learned about it in the morning, but as I mentioned, the storm made that impossible. We hung out on the docks for a little bit, napped in the warm sun, played some volleyball and played games until dinnertime.

After dinner we decided to go out on the town. One group was diving tomorrow so some of us couldn't drink any alcohol, but we went out to find the rest of the group anyways just to hang out for the night. We made the rounds to Trenchtown Bar, Chicken Bar, Darryl's, and Bayside Ballers (a round which literally takes 3 minutes to walk the whole thing) but couldn't find the group. We were approached by a local man named James who used to work for the SFS Center from 1991-98. He invited us into the pool hall and were helping us with our fish ID while we played billiards. He was certainly a character! He kept telling us that he was James, James Bond, 007! Within that category, he was also Pierce Brosnan and he kept saying "not stirred, not stirred!" We played 7 harrowing games of team pool, shooting back and forth. I won one of the final games (Dad, you'll be proud) with a very close drop shot around the 8 ball, and a behind the back shot to win the game. We met a very tall local called Yao Ming and played until 11, when it was time to go home. I'm off to watch Monsters Inc. and then sleep a wonderful sleep, as we have an extra hour to sleep in tomorrow.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

But Why is All the Hair Gone?

Wow, what a day!

We had our first exam, in the water this morning. Our instructor pointed out species and we had to write their scientific names down. It wasn't really all that hard, Im sure I aced it. It started to downpour when we were on the water though, beautiful warm rain :) And I KNOW you are all waiting for my pictures and such, but we haven't been able to take our cameras diving too much, we have to get a little better first. I am a fish in the water so I've been dying to take the camera out, I know I can handle it, but other students are still beginners and snorkeling, diving, and marine activities in general.

I took the most lovely nap when I got back until lunchtime, after which we had a small excel worksheet to finish. And by small I mean 2 hours. Luckily, even that went fast because my partner Ben is an engineer and both of us were very familiar with excel and how to calculate those sort of problems. The rest of the evening was fairly leisurely. We played volleyball with a few locals, had dinner and I went to read some of my papers for tomorrow.

As I was halfway done with the last one, Mikenna came into the computer room wanting to know who I borrowed clippers from to shave Stephens head. When I asked her why, she told me she wanted me to shave hers! I couldn't believe it but she was dead serious and she didn't change her mind, so we got the supplies together and gathered a substantial crew and went to shave her head in her room. We convinced her that she had a wonderful face for an edgy female-mohawk and I set to work, rather nervously, chopping her hair off in pieces, chunks and stripes. The energy in the room was intense as I worked to make it look good and give her the haircut she wanted. I must say though, it came out FABULOUS. She looks amazing with her faux-hawk/comb-over and I can't believe I pulled that one off! We went into town to celebrate the success of sponteneity and the crew grabbed some beers and chicken. We had an all-around good time bonding; we were only out for an hour, but we met some cool locals, played dominos and got more comforable around each other as a family, not just friends or schoolmates.

Im exhausted, but its been an exciting day and lots to show for it!


AFTER!!! (Stephen, Me, Mikenna, and Alex)

Tyler, Chase, and Alex

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Nemo's Going to the DROP-OFF?!?!?

Diving first thing in the morning is not condusive to maintaining energy for the rest of the day. We headed out to dive at 8 am, into choppier water than we've experienced so far. Between Long Cay and Dove Cay, a channel leads out to the open ocean where the waves get bigger and the water gets bluer. Past "The Grotto" lies "The Plane", where an old drug running plane crashed and left a great wreck to dive near. We descended down after getting seasick trying to put our gear on, into brillian cerulean waters. The reef at 60 feet down was teeming with life! Parrotfish, large groupers, a trumpet fish, damsel fish, and brilliant blueheaded wrasse were scattered about, crunching on some coral and algae. Past the plane SE, was "The Wall". The shelf literally drops from 70 feet to 7000 feet. All you can see is blue. Deep blue. It was exactly the scene from Finding Nemo, where he goes to the drop-off and tries to venture out over the ledge. (Minus the boat of course...). The dive seemed very short though as we had to turn around fairly early. Some of the divers used more air than the rest so we had to cut it a few minutes short. On our way back, we saw the other group just going out. Apparently, one of the O-rings on a tank had blown and they took a long time getting in the water. Our group waited on the boat for another half hour for the diving group to surface, in the meantime getting extremely seasick. Note to self: take Dramamine! I haven't stopped waving around all day, I feel like im still on the water 12 hours later.

Next we went out into the community on a small scavenger hunt for local stories. We found Val, a one armed man that got bitten by a Bull shark and a Tiger shark while fishing. He is a great singer and taught us some valuable lessons about Island time and the slower pace of life. We hunted for some ice cream and talked to several locals along the way. Coming back in, SJ, Mike and I decided to go snorkeling in the swimmers area. Beautiful sea life today! Several lobsters, an odd looking anemone, a Christmas shrimp, some really neat, colorful adult Slippery Dicks (yes, i know, its a fish... >.<), and a few brave damselfish. All in all, a great snorkel. Im very disappointed that I didn't bring my camera though. Nap time and dinner time came next (pizza!!!) and it was a relaxing night, since Im very confident about my test tomorrow.

All the crafts and trades are coming out of the woodworks, like I said, and I did another haircut, Mary-Kate's this time, and Liz traded me a backmassage for a cute hair wrap. Blue and green and orange! We all figure, why not get islandy? We're here! We learned about other peoples crafts and we'll all trade at some point.

In other news, a marine class that I really wanted to take at SCU has now been broken up into two much lamer classes and Stephen and I are extremely disappointed. We both knew that there were only a few marine classes, and they were supposed to supplement our time here. Now we both don't want to take the 2 classes that are offered, they're not as specific and certainly dont sound as fun. It should be interesting to come back to a place that has absolutely nothing to do with my experiences here. Thank god for Stephen!

The end of my evening was spent showing some people how to sent text messages from the internet and they were all thrilled to be able to connect with their loved ones back home a little quicker.  Great night! <3

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Why Are All Baby Animals So Cute??

Sorry guys, this one's going to be a short one.

Classes were very lengthy today and I couldn't wait to get snorkeling in the afternoon. We were continuing our seagrass and mangrove identifications (again) and snorkeled off of a small island called Moxybush. Its just a mangrove island, but theres lots of things to see around it. We practiced calling out ridiculous sounding scientific names ("Thalassium testudinum!", "Condylactis gigantea!") and snorkeled around for a while. We saw so many smaller fish, as the mangrove roots are a great fish nursery, but more importantly, we saw some baby barracudas. SO CUTE! They aren't as wary of humans so you can get pretty close and they are just freakin adorable! Im jealous of the other groups though, because they saw at least 5 Lemon sharks at once, something I've wanted to see since we got here. But oh well! We had lots of free time here today because our exam is coming up and tomorrow is a dive/community outreach day. There is no homework until Thursday night and I'm already confident about my ID exam. I took time to play games with people, talk to our on-site dive master, take my first freshwater shower (yay!!!!). It felt so good to shave my legs again, agh! My activities planning board played sardines tonight just to involve everyone and it was fairly successful. After that, I took a walk with Jareb into town on an ice cream hunt, but only ended up finding Yoohoo! in a can. Our walk turned fairly philosophical, and Im very fortunate to have so many new friends that are all passionate, level headed, and enthusiastic. No offense Santa Clara! :D

The evening finished off with me doling out haircuts. I gave Stephen a pretty professional looking mohawk and helped him design more of his tattoo, and Im up for another hair cut tomorrow. It seems everybody has their trade to offer here. Liz is doing hair wraps for all the girls, Leah has made bracelets and anklets, I seem to be cutting hair, and Ruthie is trading back massages. It's become quite the little community of offerings when we dont have luxuries from home anymore. However, we did find out that a whole head of cornroes is only $10 here :) Sometimes I just dont understand the pricing structure on this island!

Now its time for your input! What do you, the readers want to hear more of in this blog? More descriptions? People? Activities? Let me know and I'll adjust what I write about :) Goodnight moon.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Rainy Day Schedule

I blame Nick again. For my tolerance to painful boat seats. But more on that later.

Thunderstorms here on this island are absolutely spectacular. The sky gets dark for miles around because the horizon is so clear here, you can see so far, and there are no buildings to obstruct your view. The sky opens up and downpours torrential rain and then just as quickly lets up, leaving everything bright green and blue. Lightning comes both in bolts and flashes, producing rolling thunder that echoes all around you, through the open space.

I set my dirty laundry out on the line, knowing it was going to be doused in fresh water at some point during class. Sure enough, during a fairly boring recap of our previous nights (obvious) reading, the rain let loose and drenched everything. After a hearty and delicious lunch, we set out again for another mangrove island to continue attempting to ID fish, algae and animals by scientific name. However, we had the wonderful fortune of stumbling upon a squid free floating today, and 2 nurse sharks. One of them swam away as soon as we happened upon it, but we quietly came up on another one, and were able to get pretty close to it. I swam down and was face to face with the shark, about 2 feet between our two heads. The shark was beautiful, small clear dark spots making up its chocolate brown color, amber eyes, and peaceful movements. I was awed by its presence. The rest of the snorkel went off without a hitch, but the second group to go out had to come back early due to the approaching lightning. This is where I blame Nick again. The sea was fairly stormy and we were traveling back to the docks against the current and wind. The waves were about twice as big and wide as the ones on Shaver Lake and I was not sitting on a cushion. No, I was clinging wildly to an orange PFD to prevent myself from slamming into fiberglass seats on the way back. However, I have a specific tolerance to painful boat seats *cough* Aluminum Falcon *cough*. We made it back in one piece, if not pelted by the rain, and we settled in for a nice, warm peanut butter cookie/brownie snack.

2 of us decided to go get some $1 chicken at Chicken Bar (called that for its delectable, ketchup smothered chicken, duh!) but it wasn’t frying up yet, so we trekked to Cham-B’s a local market of sorts. I found a nice can of (cheap!) Kern’s pear juice and an Almond Joy bar, and enjoyed the delights of American foods.

More storming throughout the day and some intense reading on reef fishes later, it was time for some fun and games for the night. Catchphrase wrapped up the evening with raucous laughter and loud awkward attempts at charades, and it is time to hit the hay. I find myself particularly exhausted, even when we barely do anything because of rain, like today. Whew.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Too Far North

I blame Nick. >:( I like seaglass a little too much, and so does Hilary. So we decided that on our day off, we 2 would trek to find the beach that did frequently have good seaglass specimens. The geography goes as follows. SFS is on the southernmost point of the island, and there is a large expanse of shoreline here heading north east. The next bay is East Bay, with a beautiful, 20 years-in-the-making-but-not-really-going-anywhere hotel overlooking the ocean, where we cooked out last night. Continuing north, Shark Bay follows, then Highlands Bay, then Robert Todd Bay, then Valley Bay/Long Beach, which takes you almost all the way to the northernmost tip of the island on a peninsula. Our destination was Shark Bay, where Lizzie our intern had recommended we go, not too much farther than the walk the second group took to East Bay last night. Hilary woke up at 7, ate some breakfast, slathered on an uncomfortable amount of sunscreen, grabbed an obscene amount of water and set out for Shark Bay.

We were joined by a local black dog who seemed to be along for the journey for nothing more than some company. Our trek led us through the salinas where we took pictures of some flamingos, but were fairly unbothered by locals or wildlife. The road turned to dirt and we continued on past the hotel at East Bay, looking for our turn off to cut out towards the coast. With the navigational help of the dog, we found a few trails that led us past an old water well, through some scrub brush and up towards a small house on the hill. To the right of the hill, we headed up to the southern tip of what was supposedly Shark Bay, and it was. It looked just like the map. However, it was high tide, and the beach of Shark Bay was nonexistant. The breakers were also fairly strong on the east side of the island, so we decided to take a path along the cliffs to the next part of Shark Bay to look for a no avail. However, we did stumble upon a cool flat paved area with a carved piece of driftwood, that we stopped to take pictures with. 1.5 hours in and the dog was still with us, so we lovingly nicknamed him Trooper.

All along the east side of the island, global trash washes ashore. There were many nets, shoes, plastic bottles and broken buoys, lighter casings, and coconut husks, along with a variety of other odd objects like tires and baseballs. Ever wonder where the balls go when they fly out of ATT park in the San Fran Bay? Here apparently. We kept walking along the shore which was increasingly unavailable and rocky, as the rugged terrain kept getting steeper. We passed the house at Shark Bay, apparently past the Highland House, and all the way into the Robert Todd baybefore we found beach. 2 hours had passed and we finally were able to kick our socks and shoes off and jump in the water. An hour of searching produced many cool colors of sea glass, several curious fish friends, and Trooper waiting patiently at the beach, even though we hadn't so much as touched him. We took a quick nap break at 1 and headed back into the salty beast to collect more. The best glass was within 3 feet of the surface, so we were getting pummeled by the breakers like beached dolphins just to collect. As 245 approached, the tide was bringing too much algae to see or keep from being dizzy by the wave motion, so we got out and napped on the beach. Nobody was around and no boats came by; only us, Trooper, and 2 airplanes shared the beautiful white-sanded beach.

At 330, it was time to go home and we found the road a little quicker this time, although we were exhaused so it took longer to actually walk. Just as we found the main road, the skies got dark and downpoured on us. Luckily all we had with us were snorkel gear, swim attire, and 2 waterproof cameras. I consider that drench to be my freshwater shower for the day, and Ill push back my real freshwater shower til tomorrow. I only get one a week so I have to make it count. The other "showers" (baths?) are in the ocean with the biodegradable soap and shampoo I brought with me. We accidentally took a longer road to get back to town than before so even though we knew the way, the walk was still 2 hours back. Hilary and I had hit it off from the very start so we filled our two hours with stories or sagas from home, chatting about the Center and various other chit chat topics. We finally made it back in with Trooper, drenching wet, thouroughly exhaused, sandy from head to toe (the white sand here is quite sticky) and looking like all hell had broke loose. Hilary and I looked at the map to see exactly where we had gone, cleaned ourselves up to look like civilized people, and scarfed down a hefty snack.

Dinner was light for me and I went off to bed to nap before finishing reading the articles for tomorrow. Besides finding a giant cockroach on the counter where my toothbrush and toilletries are, the evening was pretty good. A few more hilarious recaps from the previous night and I am ready for bed.