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:: Going Back to Union Island

So.. for the last couple of months, Amy's been spending a lot of her spare time negotiating another trip for us, back down to Union Island in the Caribbean. Originally, she was working with our Atlanta friends Steve and Tuba to meet up with Tim and Cambria at some island in the Caribbean where we could rent a house for a week. Unfortunately, those plans fell through, partly because Tuba was having a lot of visa problems. On the brighter side of this, the situation motivated Steve to finally ask Tuba if she'd marry him (to which she said yes). You see, even when we have travel problems, good things happen to our travel companions. That's why you should invite us to go somewhere exotic with you (also offering to pay doubles your karma, btw).

A few weeks after our failed travel plans, we heard out of the blue that our DC friend Pete was planning on visiting "Timbria" during his spring break from law school. We promptly asked Pete if he'd mind us tagging along, and upon receiving his casual-as-always approval, Amy got back on the vacation planning path. The end result is that we're spending the week on Union Island at Tim and Cambria's place.

The trip down to union was of course awful. We started our journey at the unPleasanton BART station at 6pm. Approximately 19 hours and three flights later, we were sipping Bitter Lemon drinks with Tim and Cambria at the Union Airport, waiting for Pete to arrive. The trip was your standard lot of annoyances (BART no longer goes direct to the airport, the flights were crowded, the guy next to me smelled bad and kept fighting for my arm rest even though he had an aisle seat, etc). The oddest annoyance happened while waiting in the ticket line at SFO. This lady that was in front of us started complaining because they wouldn't take her positive form of ID, which was... a birth certificate. Lady, they're no picture on that thing, and they're not going to fingerprint you to see if you match. Ok, so I feel bad for that lady- I think she wound up not getting on her flight.


It's just three hops away

Anyways, as the above map shows, the trip was from SFO to JFK (ugh) to Barbados to Union (on a prop plane). Landing in Union is quite an experience. The runway is situated between the ocean and some steep hills, so the pilot has to dive to get to the runway, and then put on the brakes before he goes into the water. As we were coming in, I looked forward and noticed the only thing you could see through the pilot's windows was the blackness of the runway. The pilot did a good job, though, and everything worked out.


The view from under the wing

At Union, Amy and I went through customs only to discover that my bag was missing (the one with all our expensive snorkel gear). The airline assured us it was on the way, so we decided to just sit and have some drinks at a small cantina next to the airport. We were a couple of hours early, but we didn't mind just hanging out because we were still pretty dazed from the flight. Tim and Cambria joined us, and we all waited for Pete's plane to come in. Pete's flight got pushed back, and when it did arrive, he was missing both of his bags. We caught a van (Justin's) back to Tim and Cambria's place, where they fixed us a nice meal with the fresh produce Tim had bought. It didn't take long for us to conk out.

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:: Big Sands

Since Amy and I were still worn out from all the traveling we did yesterday, we decided that today would be a good day to just hang out at Big Sands and take it easy. Big Sands is this nice sandy beach that's just on the other side of the hills from T&C's place. It has nice, calm waters that are good for snorkeling, and there's a fancy-but-tiny hotel there that has good food (Amy and I are going to stay there for the last two nights of this trip). We tossed a water-frisbee around for a while and then split into groups to make do with the equipment we had. Amy, Cambria, and I took the first round with the snorkel gear, while Tim and Pete took off in the hotel's kayaks.

It felt good to be back in the warm Caribbean waters. It was quite a contrast to Monterey, where you needed a full wet suit to stay alive. The snorkeling was pretty good- we swam out to a nearby reef and watched all the colorful, local fish going about their fish business. Cambria managed to spot an octopus, but Amy and I missed it because we were on the other side of the reef. The swimming tired me out pretty fast. The current around the reef was a bit rough. Plus, we didn't have flippers, which I've apparently become dependent on from my scuba class. After the swim, we headed back to the beach, where we had lunch and a few colorful, sissy drinks at the hotel's beach-side restaurant.


The water at big sands

Later on, Amy and I gave the kayaks a try. They were single-person boats. which turned out to be a lot easier to manage than the tipsy, dual-person kayaks that we had used in Hawaii (and elsewhere). We were both able to paddle in straight lines and not flip the boats. This was reassuring after the people on our kayak trip in Hawaii looked at us like we were idiots for not being able to control our kayak. We paddled along with a couple of local kids that were taking an old surfboard out to the reef to try a few surfing experiments. I'm not sure what their ultimate surfing goal was with the small waves, but they were all grins, so everything was cool.


Pete said I had the "perm-a-grin" on, the first couple of days

We bummed around the beach for the rest of the day, with Tim making periodic calls to the airport to see if the rest of our luggage had made it in. At the end of the day, we caught Justin's van over to the airport to see if anything arrived on the last flight. Woohoo- my bag at least was there, which meant that Amy and I were in good shape for tomorrow's snorkeling trip. Unfortunately, nothing came for Pete, so he was stuck wearing dirty clothes for another day. Hurrumph. Maybe someone should tell the airline that he's on his way to becoming a big, powerful lawyer. Hopefully they'll show up tomorrow.

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:: Snorkels and Speedboats

Monday. Yes, it's almost certainly Monday. Already it's difficult to remember what day it is, which of course is a good sign when you're on vacation. Anyways, today we got up early and headed down to the Clifton docks to meet a guy named Seymore (aka Redman), who has a speed boat. Tim had arranged to have Redman take us out for the day so we could try some snorkeling at a few different spots. Low and behold, when we got to the dock, Amy and I recognized Redman's boat- it was the same one that had picked us up at Carriacou Island last year on our first trip to Union. (Well, Craig recognized the boat. Amy thinks it is not the same boat at all, because Seymore was having engine problems on that day.) Ahh yes, we have fond memories of that first introduction to Caribbean travel (don't tell Tim though). On that boat ride, the engine conked out every five minutes, and when it did run, it seemed like the boar was going through the waves as much as it was going over them. This time, we were prepared though. In addition to wearing bathing suits and Peace Corps Grade suntan lotion, we had so much snorkel gear, that you'd think we'd tricked ourselves into believing that we could always swim back home if we had to.


Our speedboat waits


Down at the dock

Our first stop was along a reef in the Tobago Cays. Heh heh.. While I was getting ready to go in, I look up and hear Pete say, "So.. is this how we do it?". This was immediately followed by Pete rolling off his side of the boat (at the high end), navy Seal style. Normally, this would be fine if he'd actually had a scuba tank to help break the fall, or had been in more than three feet of water, or if he'd actually been asking someone that question as opposed to using it to tell us what he was doing. Heh heh. He went down with a loud plunging noise that rocked the boat. He came up fine and all, I just thought it was kinda funny. It's becoming obvious that Pete's scuba class was a bit more hardcore than mine. I instead flopped into the water like a lentil-filled tube sock.


A cow fish


No Amy, that goes on your foot

The first snorkel spot was great. It wasn't too deep, but it was far enough away from land that there were plenty of interesting fish out there. Right off the bat, I found the above cow fish (note the horns!), which was cool, because Tim had told me earlier that they aren't all that common. There were lots of other cool fish, but Cambria had the big find for the day. She spotted a good sized sting ray and called out in time for the rest of us to spot it as it swooped by. I was the last person along its path, and was lucky enough to get a picture of him. He was close enough for me to feel like I should just get the hell away from him and let him go about his important fish business. Tim and Pete tried to follow him for a bit, but he lost them by gliding over some shallow spots in the reef. Wow.


Cambria's ray zips by

We eventually swam back to Redman's boat, where we flopped into it like gravy-filled socks. He then took us over to an island, dropped us off, and told us he'd be back in a bit when he'd caught lunch. We were pretty tired, so we mostly just wandered around the beach and rested in the curvy trees. Tim told us that they used this island in Pirates of the Caribbean for the scene where Johnny Depp finds his buried rum. Upon sharing this news, Tim demonstrated a proper pirate face. I practiced my own pirate expressions in front of a small audience of hermit crabs. They didn't seem too terrified of me, but they did have their little claws out, just in case. Aye.


One of the locals

Ugh. Speaking of crustaceans, another boat group camped next to us and had their guide cook them lobsters. What I didn't know about this beforehand was that the way you cook lobsters on a fire is to.. well, take the live lobsters and put them on the fire. I first became aware of the liveness of the lobsters when I started to hear them make clicking noises, like they were calling out or something. It was awful. I don't have a high opinion of lobsters in general, but the clicking really made me aware of their slow, painful deaths. Ugh.


Waiting in the shade

After a long wait, Redman finally came back with the boat and took us over to another island, where our fish-lunch was frying. So what kind of fish did we (the non-vegetarian guys) have? Well, the same kind we were swimming with. It was easy to tell, because well, there it was, skin, lips, and all, looking at you with their cooked eyes. They were tasty, though I have to admit that by this point I was a bit squeamish about eating anything. When Amy asked what the fish looked like, I told her that they looked just like the ones you see in the water, except with a small hole in the side. We finished up, saw an iguana, and stumbled around in the water. The island initially was packed with cruise people, but they all left when their boat people told them their allocated time for enjoying said island was over. I guess we did the same, although Redman let us tell him when we wanted to go.


Where the beach ends


There's our boat..

For the trip back, Redman picked up his brother, who was selling conch shells on the beach to cruise people. His brother was pretty cool on the ride back- he stood the whole way, facing into the wind like men in the Caribbean always seem to do on boats. For dinner, Tim and Pete went down the street and picked up some fried chicken (which was awesome). Like I end all of these rambling posts, we conked out, tired from the sun and the swimming. Tomorrow we're doing our first dive trip, which is enough worrying to keep me from sleeping too soundly.

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:: Our First Day of Dives

Once again, today started out with us getting up early so we could go down to the docks at Clifton. This time however, we were going to meet up with a dive master so we could go do some scuba diving. The Clifton dive shop is really the only place to go on Union if you want to do certified dives. Tim says that there's another place where anyone can just rent tanks (that's all some people want, so they can clean the underside of their boats), but we all agreed that you really want to go diving with someone who knows what he or she is doing. That said, the guy that runs the shop is bipolar, in the sense that one minute he's the nicest dive-advocate you've ever met, the next he's a complete a-ho' that yells at his customers. Things at the dive shop started out with the latter personality- he gave Pete a bit of a hard time because it wasn't clear if Pete's certification papers would work out. Pete still needed to do his open water cert dives (which he planned on doing with this guy), but Mr. Bipolar started acting like the cert dives were impossible due to differences in PADI / NAUI paperwork. In the end, Mr. Bipolar finally understood what Pete was saying and gave him the thumbs up for the trip. We packed up all the gear and nervously piled into the rickety speedboat.

The speedboat ride was something else. Engines roaring, we left the Clifton harbor and started to make our way along Union's coast. As we were leaving the harbor, I noticed that the back of the boat was taking on water at (what I thought was) an alarming rate. The boat drive had a solution to this of course- he whipped out an empty milk jug and started bailing as he drove. Every so often he would sharply turn the boat to the right to make it easier to get at the water. I should also point out that while all of this was going on, the boat driver was busy making a call on his cell phone (I have no idea how he could hear anything over the chainsaw-like noises of the boat's motor). Heh heh.. Just like in skydiving, it sometimes helps you overcome the fear of leaving the vehicle when you're already scared to be in the vehicle.

We eventually wound up in a secluded spot on the other side of Union, where we would make our first dive. The dive master barked out some orders to Pete, explaining that Pete would have to get in first and demonstrate some of his mad diving skillz. Once Pete was done, we'd all follow the anchor line to the bottom and begin the dive. This dive was sort of a drift dive- that's where you get in at one point, swim with the current, and get picked up somewhere else (nice because you don't have to swim back to the boat). Our dive master told us to watch out for a guy who was fishing from a boat further up. Our boat driver said the fisher was either deaf or not all together right. Anyways, they said to watch out for his line.

Diving in the Caribbean is quite a contrast to diving at Monterey. You could see very far, there were plenty of fish, and you didn't need a wetsuit because the water was relatively warm. Given my lackluster dives at Monterey, this first dive was really cool for me. We went along a reef that had a nice drop off on one side, that was covered with coral, fish, and plant life. Cambria pointed out a lobster or two hiding in the rocks. Me, I thought I spotted a cool looking fish that was all shiny, but as I swam closer to it, I realized it was just the fisherman's lure. Whoops. There you have it, I'm no smarter than your average fish.

After giving up on the lure, I noticed that our dive master was busily yanking on this white box thing that was attached to a line going to the fishing boat. Turns out, the boater was using an old car battery as an anchor. Hmm.. That can't be good for the environment. In any case, the rest of the dive went smoothly. I saw my first eel, poking his terrifying head out of the rocks (I was psyched because I'd never seen an eel in the wild before. Creepy looking bastards..). The boat met us downstream, where we had a hell of a time getting back into the boat (no ladder and no helpful instructions on how to get back in from the dive master).

The next dive spot was further down the coast. Our dive master said this was a good starting point, because the telephone company had dumped a number of telephone switches down there, which the fish loved. This must have been true, as just as soon as we reached the bottom, Tim spotted a nurse shark sleeping under the rocks. Pretty cool- everyone always talks about nurse sharks, but this was the first one I'd seen. This guy reminded me of how I feel when I sleep on an airplane- he was bent at a right angle in the middle, and angrily trying to sleep (based on the nurse sharks I saw later on in the trip, this seems to be a common theme).

The rest of the second dive was really awesome. Our dive master took us along the coastline, which had a sharp drop off and lots of aquatic life. Amy spotted a couple of eels that were hanging out- one was even out of his hole, zipping about like something awful. The best part was that we went through this deep valley of rocks for a bit. As you passed over the crack, you could look down and see tons of Sergeant Majors (striped fish) swimming along. On the other side of the pass, there was a sea turtle hanging out at the bottom. He eventually got spooked, and gracefully swooped out of there. Cool.

After the dive, we went back to the dive shop and swapped fish stories over lunch. Lunch moved over to the neighboring bar, where we went through a round or two of girlie drinks (I might add, that we were relieved to find out that Pete had secretly arranged to pay for the bill, and was not in fact just winking and nodding at the waitress to get her attention). Yep.. anyways, the diving was well worth it. Hopefully, we'll have as much luck with the dives we're doing tomorrow.

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:: Our Second Day of Dives

Today, we did another pair of dives with the same dive outfit that we went with yesterday. This time, we had one more diver on the trip- a lady from San Francisco who was visiting the Caribbean for some medical/doctor exchange program (she was an anesthetist). Sigh.. Must be nice being in a profession where island countries will ask you to visit and pay for your stay. Ain't nobody asking a computer engineer to come to their island to fix a timing problem in their cluster computer's message layer. And if such a situation existed, I'm not sure I'd want to volunteer to help fix the problem.


It's always good to see that Amy's still breathing

In any case, we all wound up sitting at a cafe for a while before going out, because the weather didn't look so good. Amy and I griped a good bit to the anesthetist about rotten housing prices in the bay area, and the pains of living in the suburbs. We finally got word that it was safe to take the boat out, so we hopped in and zipped over to a reef in the Tobago Cays. The rough winds made it difficult to stay dry on the ride over, and we were glad to finally get our gear on and get into the water. Unlike yesterday, we put into the water a good ways away from land. The water was choppy on the surface, and I took on a mouthful or two of sea water before getting everything ready for the dive. Fortunately, we found that the water was nice and smooth once we got a few feet down.


Fishtropolis

Being so far away from land made it feel like there was a lot more room to maneuver about. We followed the dive master along the reef for some time, gradually moving deeper and deeper. The diving was pretty good- we saw a couple of nurse sharks (sleeping on the job, as usual), and some pretty big schools of fish. I like the big schools, it makes you feel like you've gotten far enough away that they're not used to seeing people all that much. Anyways, it was some pretty cool diving. It made me wish I had brought the underwater camera along.


Blue guy, moving fast

Just as I was thinking we had seen just about all we were going to see on the first dive, our dive master started waving his hands and pointing off in the distance. We all sprinted over to where he was, just in time to see four large, spotted eagle rays that were starting to gallop away. These guys were huge (maybe about 6 feet wide?), and they really glided along pretty fast. I was only able to keep up with them for a little while (we were at 70 feet, and I was burning up air faster than I wanted). Amy chased them longer, and was rewarded when she peeled off pursuit- she caught a glimpse of a decent sized blacktip shark, swimming nearby. The shark got spooked though, before the rest of us caught up with her. Wow..

Back in the boat, there were some mixed reactions to the eagle rays. Our gang was really psyched about seeing them (our dive master said it was rare to see so many together). Unfortunately, the lady that came with us didn't see them because she was in the back of the group with her head down. What's even more unfortunate was that our dive master's sunny personality came out, and he started to angrily lecture her about how everyone needs to keep an eye on their dive master at all times. What a jerk. It's bad enough to miss something big, it's ten times worse when someone keeps giving you a hard time about it. Especially when you're the one paying for the dive.


It's easier to just take pictures of the divers

Next, we motored on over to the "pirates of the Caribbean" island we visited on Monday to do some diving along the nearby reefs. We did our mandatory surface interval time (to prevent the bends), while snacking and watching two guys that were being pulled around on modified surf boards by small parachute/kite things. The skies were a little cloudy, but the water was still good for diving. On this dive, I brought the camera along and shot a few pictures of things along the way. I found an underwater sea snake (it's a kind of eel), which was pretty cool. We had to double back on this dive, but there was plenty of vertical space on the reef to check out, since it dropped off a good bit into the water.


That spotted looking thing is a sea snake

The rest of the day was.. pretty odd. Our dive master said that he had a resort dive class that he was doing on a private island called Petite St. Vincent (PSV), and that we were welcome to come hang out there for the rest of the afternoon. Given that boat rides can be pretty expensive, we all took him up on the offer. Ms. Anesthesia, Cambria, Amy, and I hopped off on the private island, while Tim and Pete went with the other manly men to scrounge for food on a different island. PSV was pretty bizarre- it was well maintained, like some gigantic golf course with secluded little huts. A guy in a golf cart came by and kindly gave us a lift to a bar that was on top of a hill. We ordered some tasty sissy drinks and proceeded to wait. Unfortunately, my drink was really strong, and after the day's activities, I was pretty hammered half-way through it. Tim and Pete eventually showed up with lunch (various roti sandwiches), and we waited the day out swapping fish stories until our dive master returned to pick us up. Definitely, not a bad day.

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:: Moving Over to Big Sands

When we woke up this morning, we didn't have too much planned for the day. The main thing was that Mr. Bipolar wanted Pete to come down to the dive shop to do a few cert dives. The rest of us were happy to take it easy for the day, since the last few days had been pretty action packed.


Pete crams by reading Tim's diving magazines


"NO! I say pink form goes LAST"

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, Amy and I reserved a room at the Big Sands hotel for the last two days of our stay. It's not that Tim and Cambria's place wasn't great, we just wanted to check out the hotel to see if it was as cool as it looked. Plus, the thought of taking a hot shower the morning before our long flight home made it tough to pass up. Anyways, the five of us caught a van over to the hotel this morning. We figured that we might as well make the most of the hotel's amenities today. We pretty much spent most of the morning lounging about on the porch, watching the island birds choke down the leftover table scraps we fed them.


Each room has its own patio


Nice couches, too


And friendly neighbors..

When it was mid-afternoon, Pete headed back over to the dive shop so he could complete his SCUBA certification lessons. When we met up with him later, he told us that the lessons seemed to be stuff the dive master was making up on the spot. Sure he did the normal things they ask you to do (i.e., clear your mask, practice your emergency ascent), but then there were a few odd things. Like "ok, swim as far as you can underwater, holding your breath, and I'll tell you if it's far enough". The best was that the guy told Pete with a straight face, "ok, I want you to swim over to that guy's boat over there, unscrew his propeller, and bring it back to me." Pete wanted to know what his cut of the action would be.

Since the previous dives had gone pretty well, our gang tossed around the idea of trying out a night dive. The concept of diving at night is pretty scary- in addition to worrying about all the normal problems (like breathing underwater), you have the added problem of not being able to easily see what's around you. Sure you bring a light along with you, but the light only goes in the direction you point it. Plus what about all those creepy things that live in the water and only come out at night?

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:: A Night Dive

So, to continue where I left off in the last post, tonight we did a night dive. I think all of us were at least somewhat nervous when we showed up at the dock at dusk. I think Amy had the worst case of the nerves. That's always a bad sign, because she is a very logical person by nature, and is almost always right about these kinds of things (don't tell her I said that, though). Anyways, she decided to go through with it, partly for the sake of trying it out, and partly to humor me (which I feel bad about). We loaded our gear into the deluxe speedboat, which happened to have a real ladder on this side of it, and racks to hold the diving tanks. The stars were just starting to come out as we left the safety of Clifton's harbor, and headed out to the dive spot, which was a good ways away from land. It would have been something cool in itself, if it hadn't churned up my stomach, which was already upset from the worrying.

When we arrived at the dive spot, it was dark except for the thousands of stars that were in the Caribbean sky, and the distant lights of the island homes. As soon as we stopped, we all went through the panic of getting our gear assembled so we can drop in. The darkness made it hard to work in, especially since some of the dive crew people would occasionally flash a dive flashlight in your face accidentally, while you were getting ready. Our bipolar dive master barked out orders, few of which made all that much sense to me. One by one, we plopped into the water, and followed a slimey buoy line down.

What it looks like underwater at night without your light

Wait, that sounds way too organized. For me, there was a lot more fumbling around ("is this thing really on?", "this flashlight's switch does NOT operate like that, and won't turn on"). I plunked into the water, hit my head on the boat a few times, stabilized myself, and checked to see if my equipment was really working. I realized at this point that it's hard to know things like whether your mask is fogged up when it's too dark to see anything. I got my act together, and was able to get far enough away underwater to safely watch Cambria jump in. Someone had told us to watch the other divers jump in, because the motion stirs up the phosphorescence in the water. I saw it when Cambria got in, which partly helped take my mind off the things that were making me nervous. Following the buoy line down was rotten. It was nasty, but if you let go of it, it was hard to tell just how fast you were falling. The last thing I wanted was to come crashing down on the sea floor. This became even more important the deeper I went, because I realized that everyone in my group was congregating around the anchor point at the bottom. It was a bit of a pile-up, and being the third to last diver to get there, it felt crowded.

Now the thing that I haven't told you about this night dive is that was also a wreck dive. The wreck was some old WWII ship that went too shallow and sank without killing anyone. However, it was a big old pile of rusted metal, with sharp edges and occasional mast poles that pointed in random directions. Oh, and our dive master warned us that there was a current. Argh. I'm told that usually, you go to one of these sites during the day before you do a night dive there, due to all the hazards. This would have been a good idea for safety sake, if not to just cut down on the creepy factor.

When everyone was down at the meeting point, we started to move up along one side of the wreck. For me, this was a mess because everyone was staying together in a pack and I was at the back of the group. So in addition to having to watch out for random wreck edges, I had to keep an eye out for other people's flippers. I started to feel a bit closterphobic in the pack so I dropped back some, but as soon as I did that, I started to feel really isolated, as if I was leaving the safety of community light. Amy was feeling the same way and moved away from the wreck with me, which made me feel a whole lot better. We gave up trying to stay at the front of the pack, where they seemed to be discovering all the cool things that were darting away.

The wreck really was a hot spot of activity. The first thing I saw were some lobster eyes (they reflect light like a dog's eyes do). The cool thing about the lobsters was that they were out walking around (in the day they just hang out under rocks). The most active things though were the sting rays. During the dive we saw about 10 of them moving about around the wreck. They were incredibly cool, and didn't seem to mind us too much. Heh heh.. I watched Pete move in to pet one. He mis-estimated the distance, and from my point of view, it looked like he landed a solid punch in on the ray's back. The ray didn't look like he enjoyed this, and for a moment I thought the ray was going to whip his tail around and show Pete why they call them sting rays. Fortunately, the ray just swam off, leaving Pete with this expression on his face of "oh, hey sorry man". Later on, we found a pair of giant puffer fish (maybe about four feet long?). I think Pete tried punching one of these guys as well, to see if he'd puff up. Aye. That's my buddy Pete, the fish puncher.

It was hard to get over the creepy factor for the dive. You could only see in the direction that your flashlight was pointing. This was a problem on the wreck because you'd be watching something, and then all the sudden realize that you were drifting to this rusty pole that was only a few feet away from your face. Probably the worst scene was when our dive master herded us together to look at the phosphorescence. He had us cover up our lights and flail our arms so that we'd stir up the stuff. It was creepy to be in almost complete darkness, but cool to see the creatures light up at the same time. However, when we turned our lights back on, we saw that Cambria was in a panic, because her mask had been knocked off. Amazingly, she was able to catch it before it got away from her. I would have freaked out and surfaced, myself.

When we finally did start to ascend, it was a huge mess. The rope was still slimey, and had sharp fibers in it. The dive people had told us not to bump into it, because the rough spots on the rope have a tendency to scrape you up. The whole way up, I thought about getting an infected cut from the rope, especially since the current kept knocking me into the rope. Ugh. Things got worse when we got to our decompression stop, because everyone piled up around the rope. The wait brought back my claustrophobic feelings. I was relieved when we finally got the ok to surface.

Getting back into the boat was a nightmare in itself. The boat guys wanted us to take off just about all of our gear in the water, which again was hard because it was dark and we were tired. Bi-polar dive guy yelled at me a bit because I brute-forced my way onto the boat (ie, I left some of my gear on). His comments annoyed me, but I was thinking more about my banged-up shins to really say anything back to him. When Amy got out, he started bitching at her for something else as well, which is completely the wrong thing to do to someone who's just finished a nerve-racking dive. She said some things back to him to let him know that she was dealing with other problems at the moment, to get him off her back. Being an ahole, the bi-polar dive master barked out some more crap to make Amy feel worse. All of this turned Amy's dive from a nerve-racking experience to a bad experience. What a jackass.

Anyways, the dive was interesting, although I think I would have preferred diving at night under less risky circumstances, and with a dive master who wasn't a jerk. We caught a ride back to Big Sands, where we all took quick hot showers and had big dinners. Amy and I should have slept like caterpillars, but the remains of the night's tension and the light from a lamp outside kept us up for most of the night.

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:: Cap'n Yannis and Janti's Island

Ough. The lack of sleep last night is not what I needed for this morning, as we had to get up early to get to Clifton for a yacht ride with Captain Yannis. Captain Yannis has really done pretty well for himself since the last time we saw him. He's up to three yachts now, which all seemed to be on their way to sea today. We paid up front (Cambria was free, due to all the business they've brought) and hopped on one of the large catamarans. The weather wasn't looking that great, but there were only about ten other people taking the trip. In any case, it wasn't costing us much, and we knew it would be a full day with sailing, snorkeling, food, and booze.


Island snipers


One of the other Yannis boats beat us to the beach

Our first stop was a beach that Amy and I hadn't been to on Mayreau. This was another one of those islands that the massive cruise ships dump tourists off at for the day, but fortunately they were somewhere else today. Amy and Cambria hung out on the cruise ship's beach chairs, while Tim, Pete, and I did some snorkeling. For me, the snorkeling went pretty well. I was happy to spot a very colorful eel hiding in some rocks not too far from the beach, as well as the usual assortment of trumpet fish and sea urchins. We also spotted a large needle-nose fish hanging out near the surface, watching us. I think he was pretending to be a barracuda. Anyways, it felt good to be out swimming around, without all the scuba gear. Sure, it's nice to breath underwater, but the weights and everything kind of slow you down.


Tim and Pete taking care of the first round

Another cool thing about our time at Mayreau was that they anchored our boat in the harbor, not too far from where Tim, Pete, and I were snorkeling. When Tim got bored with chasing the fish, he turned to me and asked if it was time to get some rum punches from the boat yet. I agreed and we swam over to our floating bar. I doubt that I can properly explain my fascination with that concept. It's just that usually when I see a boat in the water more than two feet away from dry land, I think, "damn, there's no way I can get there from here". For this, we just had to swim a bit in deep water to get there. And there was booze waiting for us there when we made it. Pete saw the beauty of the situation and soon joined us. Yep.. Buzzed from the first round, I swam with Tim and Pete back to the beach, to hang out with Amy and Cambria, until it was time to get back on the boat and head over to the next island- which turned out to be the nice spot in the Tobago Cays we went last year


Tim leads the beach invasion, drink in hand


Observing that it's a big island, Pete arrives prepared


Making sure the beverages aren't wasted

Like last year, we stumbled along a path through the island to a beach on the other side, where the snorkeling is better. We finished up our drinks and planned out what to do next. Tim and I decided to hike up a hill to get a better view of the water, while the rest of the gang hit the water.


Looking from above


And to the right

After the climb, Tim and I joined the others in the water. I made my way over to Amy, who had found this big puffer fish hiding out in this little rock alcove. Cool.. His eyes were giant, maybe the size of my palm (no, Pete didn't get a chance to punch him). Tim and Cambria pointed out a pair of squid that I watched for a long time. Squid are just amazing. I wonder why you don't see them in aquariums so much.


Glamorous Amy


Yep..

Anyways, when our time was starting to wind down, we woke Pete up (he had found a nice hammock after the swim), and walked back to the boat, where lunch was being prepared. From there, we sailed over to the palm island we visited last year (ie, the one where we were all drunk and making a scene in front of the snooty people who were staying at the island's private resort). We swam around in the water, but there wasn't anything to use the snorkels for.


Pete's on deck

When we got back to Clifton, we hung out at a hotel bar for a while. Tim spotted one of the guys that had been working for our bipolar dive master and called him over for a drink. As it turns out, he had pissed off the dive master that day for something trivial, and was told to go home. After telling us some more of the details, he explained that he was sick of Mr. Bipolar, and that he wasn't going back. The whole thing sucks, because Tim says he's a good kid and the job paid well. However, you can't blame him for not being able to stand bipolar dude. It almost makes me want to pay to train the kid as a dive master, so he can start his own dive shop and put bp out of business.

Later on, Tim, Pete, Amy, and I caught a boat over to Janti's island so we could have a few drinks at what is one of the most inconvenient bars I know of. You'll recall from last year that Janti's is a small man-made island that's at the inlet part of the Clifton harbor. For yachters, it's great because you can just take your dingy over to it (and not have to deal with those pesky, un-rich locals). For us, we had to arrange a pickup/drop-off schedule with a water taxi guy. Hmm.. maybe it's just me, but I find it hard to truly relax at a bar where there's a slight chance that at the end of the night, you'll have to swim back to get home.


Pete, Janti, and Tim

It's starting to get dark..

Janti has upgraded the place since we were here last year. He's now got some wind generators to provide power, and he's built up the bar's shelter a little more. Plus, I think he's got a pit for holding/cooking lobsters. This disturbs me tremendously now, after Monday's gasping-lobsters episode. In any case, the bar and the drinks were pretty good. The shelter came in handy, as a 5-minute shower swept over the island during our visit. When it came time to leave, people from another boat offered us a ride. Just as we were starting to pull away from the island, our water taxi guy showed up with this look on his face like we'd stabbed him in the back. We made quick with the money we owed him though (plus a tip), and he was back to his smiley island self.

We finished the night by joining Cambria over at a yachter's restaurant. I forget the name, but it's the one that's bounded by the pool full of nurse sharks. It was a little odd to see a shark fin glide by in the pool every so often. We had some super-girlie drinks, listened to some live music (T & C knew some of the band people), and talked for quite a while. I fed a scraggly cat bits of my fish, trying to recall which blues song had that line "I'm like a one-eyed cat, peeping in a seafood store" (it's Shake-Rattle-and-Roll, btw).

When we left, the stars were all bright and poking through the night, just like I remembered from last year. We caught a van for the ride home, which took us by dance halls where reggae music was being extruded through every open door and window. Not for us, though, as a quiet sleep-filled night was calling us.

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:: Heading Home

Well, that about does it for the visit to Union (Now I'm only about two months behind in writing these stupid things). Saturday, we packed up and went back to Union's tiny little airport. Pete, Amy, and I waved goodbye to Tim and Cambria from the plane, and then we were on our way. Here are a couple of pictures from the way out.


Big Sands in the morning


Big Pete in the Plane


A big empty beach


Check out that island's runway

The trip back was a nightmarish blur. In Barbados we had to leave the airport, wait in a long line, and come back in. We bought an outrageous amount of junk food, and a $9 newspaper (er, Amy clarifies that Craig is the one that bought the newspaper). In Miami we cleared customs without any inspections, and then devoured nasty stuff from pizza hut. I don't even remember what happened at SFO. Somehow we made it back here, though.


Tim and Cambria wave goodbye

Anyways, if you haven't seen them, I've put some of the better pictures from the trip in the foto section. And for those of you who are wondering, yes, the water really is that color. Now, back to our regularly scheduled dull lives.

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