So to catch up on our time in the ocean (which is ALL the time), we have had 2 dives and so many many snorkels so far. Sundays and Wednesdays are dive days, and other days during the week are snorkeling both recreationally and for marine ecology. For these first three weeks, we spend Monday and Tuesday afternoons snorkeling for 2 hours identifying various marine organisms; Thursdays are the ID tests where we bring our dive slates and identify certain species by scientific name and/or phylum.
So the first dive, which many of you know I was freaking out about.... went absolutely fine. We had to do all of our skills as a refresher in the pool (e.g. taking off our mask... my fav) so we were checked off to dive, but still most of us had nerves last Saturday before we went out. The dive groups go in 2 shifts, two groups at 8am and 2 groups at 10am, to different dive sites so there are smaller numbers of divers. I was at 10 and my group was going to Fishbowl... a 10 minute boat ride on glassy calm water to a spot in the middle of the ocean. Here--since all dives are off boats--we do backroll water entrances, which means after gearing up, everyone sits on the edges of the boat (3 on one side, 3 on the other) and the intern driving the boat counts us in.."6 divers going in: 3, 2, ..1" and then we all backroll off the sides of the boat. Which is actually a TON of fun because your tank pretty much pulls you over and since we have BCs on, you immediately pop back up to the surface. Then we swim to the mooring buoy and all start the descent together. This is probably some of the best water I will ever see: 50 ft visibility on a "not so good" day, and so many fish and colors you can't even imagine! The reefs are absolutely gorgeous and schools of fish literally swim past our fin tips. Barracuda are always watching or swimming near us, and on one of the snorkels we saw a hawksbill turtle! Manta and eagle rays are always cool to see, and one of these days I'm going to see a nurse or reef shark!! (Other groups have seen them already). Anyway, the dive was a ton of fun and not scary at all because the water was so clear...we could always see the surface (even when we were 60 ft down).
On our way back to the center, we had to stop at another dive site so the interns could fix a mooring line that had come off its anchor at the bottom. We had James, our Scottish dive instructor with us, and he had the interns jump in snorkeling to see if they could find the mooring bar on the ocean floor (clearly it is shallow because you can swim in 50+ ft water and scan the bottom!). After 5 minutes we offered to join them (who wouldn't want to??) so we got to snorkel around as well, and someone actually found the line. We got another 20 minutes of water time while the interns donned scuba gear and went down to fix the line... what an awesome deal ;). And the best part... we are only diving in booties and rash guards... no wetsuit! Of course this means we are all quickly getting "bootie lines".. the term around here for the awkward tan lines around our ankles from wearing dive booties. (And farmers tan lines from short-sleeve rash guards).
Snorkeling has been amazing, even when it is for class. In the pictures, I am with my ID group when we go out to various marine environments to practice identifying the organisms on our lists. This first week was organisms in seagrass & mangrove environment, so now I can tell you that Gerres cinereus is a yellowfin mojarra and Thalassia testudinum is turtle grass (and 31 others). In the mangrove areas, water gets super shallow so we are literally floating in 2 feet of water. It looks so cool to see us, way out in the ocean, walking in knee-deep water across the horizon.... unreal!
Our second dive, this past Wednesday, was a little less fun. My group was diving at 8am, right after breakfast (probably the first negative), but more importantly the ocean had returned to its normal, more choppy waves (we have been spoiled with mirror calm waters so far). The boat dipped and bounced across swells all the way out to the dive site--which was a ton of fun at first, it was like a ride (but one we could fall out of). But when we moored and started gearing up, still rocking crazily in the waves, I started to feel queasy and not good at all. As soon as we got in the water and descended I felt better, but to make a perfect storm, my mask fogged up. So this is actually a bigger deal than you think: for various reasons, you have to spit in your mask before every dive so it won't fog; however I have learned that my spit isn't acidic enough for this to work (weird, I know). So I toothpaste the inside of my mask before I go, and that usually works.. just not this time;(. So since my mask fogged, I had to spend most of the dive focused on filling up my mask with water and then clearing it, which clears the lens for a couple minutes tops. ;(. And of course during one of my mask clears--- I was about to take it all the way off, that's how bad it was, I inhaled some water and started coughing into my reg... one of my worst fears. But I coughed it out and didn't die, so it was all good. And kept breathing. Yay. So this dive was at The Arch, which is a natural arch in the reef made out of stone that you can actually swim under, and it is surrounded by schools of fish and tons of coral. The dive was actually beautiful, I was just a bit distracted.
One we surfaced though, we started getting tossed around in the waves and I did NOT feel good. I had all of my group get on board first and I kept my face in the water on snorkel until the last possible minute. The ride back was tolerable and I was SO GLAD to be on solid land again. Once we met up with the other dive group, we heard they had 5 people who didn't feel good and 1 person who threw up... so it wasn't just me! We were all a bit bummed about our reaction to the "normal" waves, but prepared to take Dramamine next time! The other bummer was that I felt like I was on a rocking boat seriously until 10 pm that night ;(. Oh well, the tradeoffs of ocean adventures ;).
The other really awesome water outing we had this week was a night snorkel! We all went out in boats--my group went to Shark Alley--and with our dive lights, swam around to spot things. We saw huge eagle rays, octopus, weird marine worms, lobster, and tons of fish (no sharks though). And when we turned our lights off and moved our fins, you could see bioluminescence in the water! Leah and I did a repeat of this tonight (we went snorkeling in the swim zone), and there was a whole school of tiny neon fish attracted to her dive light. We spent about 10 minutes trying to catch them and finally (with a few screams), I got one with my hands! What a ton of fun! The ocean is kind of creepy when you can't see around you, but it is pretty cool in the same way.
After we got back tonight, a group of us played Sardines around the center/campus, which is actually a huge territory when you don't know it well and it is almost pitch black. We let Brent, the ROTC guy, hide first (smart, I know), and we spent 45 MINUTES trying to find him! We even teamed up at the end and had covered the entire campus multiple times and everyone was thinking he hiding 20 ft underwater or covered in black paint and leaves or some other crazy-army-type thing. We finally gave up and started playing BananaGrams after calling his name for AGES, and yes he did come out. After hiding in a ridiculously hard spot by the front compost pile... who knew??! Haha it was a blast. It felt great to finally take a night off because we had our first ID test yesterday and then today spent 4 hours in class in the morning, and then another 4 hours sitting IN THE SAME ROOM working on some complicated equations and graphing for resource management. The assignment didn't seem like it would be so involved, but I have huge spreadsheets of calculations and at least 15 graphs to show for it. It was pretty great to be back in the math world though..I admit I kind of miss that part of my life since I haven't had to take math since high school.
It was a pretty great day. Even had a little taste of home because throughout our math work and lectures, the ocean was foggy and the sky downpoured. Not quite like home because it was still warm and the rain was more like a monsoon (seriously after running 20 feet we were SOAKED), but still, it was great because I've been missing Oregon fall weather. Plus you can tell we live in a tropical island because at the sight of rain we all ran to put out water basins so we could have fresh water to do laundry in;).
I'm a twenty-something from the Pacific NW making home in new places as I follow where God leads.
My intent is to show Christ's love to the world and use business to solve some of the social problems we face: hunger, illiteracy, healthcare, economic hardship. For now, I'm in a stage of learning. A little adventuring, a few books, some good friends, and a whole lot of prayer and life runs on.