E-mail Update - 2007-02-05

Stingrays everywhere!


I feel like I say this every e-mail now, but I am over 50 emails (35+ days behind). I will do my best to catch up soon, I PROMISE!! To all the people who sent me birthday wishes I really appreciate it (yeah still haven't even replied to those December emails yet...). I have been busy settling in, then moving, settling in again, studying so that I have the best classes or dives possible, recovering from long days at work, doing my 2006 taxes & mostly I have been spending time learning PADI specialty courses. These specialty courses will allow me to teach more courses & make me a more attractive perspective employee. I have 4 of these studied & planned for now (Night, Deep, Wreck & Navigation) so I want to take a break & get an update sent out! I still have 2 to present to Ash (my boss) & then I will receive my credentials for teaching them from PADI.

I was a month into my adventure when I started writing this, but now it is more like 7 weeks... A lot has transpired in that time, but I will stick to the first month for this email. For that first month I was here I was living with people from work (Emily & Rosalie, plus her boyfriend Roy). I was living in a closet with a fold up single bed (see My Room picture). I had to go through Emily's bedroom to use the small bathroom. All my luggage stayed in the suitcases in the kitchen area (can be seen in My Bike picture). But I was only paying $450 per month so that was as cheap as it gets here. Plus I had a place to stay for the first few weeks while I got going. It was great of them to let me stay there :) Every day going home I would see the biggest Christmas decoration display I have ever seen (picture called Christmas Decorations which only shows a small part of it). It was a 9 minute bicycle ride (see My Bike picture) each way. The other attached picture (see Sunset) is of a Sunset taken from near where I first lived.

Saturday Jan 20, I moved into a different house. I am still living in this second place & plan to be here for the rest of my time in the Cayman Islands. Now at least I have my own huge room & a nice big bed. I live with a family (Gary & Kristine), their son & another 2 renters, but there are often other people here too. I share all the rooms except for my bedroom which has my own entrance & is HUGE since it used to be a carport. It costs me $600 per month which is the absolutely cheapest place I could find. That is mainly because it includes everything for that cost.
Utilities (especially water) are really expensive here. I have a washer & dryer right by my room which is nice as well as a clothes line out back.

The job has had its ups & downs, but has always been a learning experience. After an 11 day stint with the Divers Down (fun diving part of the operation) I was shipped back to the Cayman Diving College. While at Divers Down I went to Stingray City 3 times. The first day I went I was basically just a tourist which was sweet. Having all those stingrays (see Stingray City picture) around is quite a rush. I was doing staff training on this first day which was learning how to feed, catch & hold stingrays. We feed them by holding the squid under them & they suck it out of your hand like a really powerful vacuum cleaner. As you can see from the picture the Stingray city we were going to is a sandbar which is not even waist deep. We go before the rush at 7:30 in the morning & have a second part which is snorkeling on the barrier reef close by. By the time we leave that reef & come back there will be on a normal day at least 10 boats & hundreds of people on this little area. When we were there around 30 people were on the sandbar & there was only one other boat there.

There is also an afternoon diving trip which is near the sandbar but far enough away to be a dive (even though it is only about 15 feet down). It is really the same concept as the sandbar, except that you have to worry about snapper & other fish which will bite your hands. I got a bite all the way down my right index finger which is only now fully healed (still have scars though). This trip is fun because you get to interact more one on one with the stingrays & you can do more with them. The down side is the snapper & the stingrays there are more aggressive. I got a stingray suction mark on my arm which, even through my rash shirt, gave me a huge bruise & a small scar. I prefer the sandbar trip because it is easier on the body & because I got to catch the stingrays. Actually I only ever caught one, on my final piece of squid on the final day I was there!
Either way it was one of the coolest feelings in the world!

At this point I am sure most if not all of you have though "Catching stingrays is safe...yeah that is what Steve Irwin thought". Here's the deal. The stingrays here have been conditioned to this over phases. It has taken years, but it is all very routine for them now. They are still wild, but they know how the system works. Plus, stingrays have one stinger to use. It doesn't grow back & once they use it they are defenseless so it is really a last resort for them. They are not going to stick it in people who are feeding them, they are smarter than that.
These stingrays are used to being handled & they know the people who do the handling as those same people know the stingrays. We hold them, pass them around to people, give stingray massages & even have people kiss the stingrays. In a way I am a bit torn by doing all this because I prefer to observe underwater only, but in another sense I think it is good, especially now, that people see stingrays for the beautiful non-threatening animals they are. I have been with wild ones in the water on numerous occasions & they always just swim away. Like most animals they avoid confrontation unless people push them into a frightening situation, as was the case in Steve's situation.

At Divers Down, I was also on normal diving purposed boats which meant learning dozens of dive site names & new fish. After several days I got a listing of the sites & had started learning them when I was moved back to the diving college. I also bought a fish identification book which I am still working through, I can identify most of the fish I see here now.
There were several that were similar to Thailand & other previous diving but also some what were quite different. While on the diving boats I was set to be learning how the boats operate. There were a lot of things that kept me from ever learning the diving jobs, but I did successfully run the air truck. The basis of that job was that we used this trailer with large air tanks to fill air tanks for most of the boats on the beach from the road (some days around 150 tanks in total). I ran this job completely on my own & did so without any problems, which was nice. I was happy with the sites I saw, the diving I did & my time there, but wished I would have been able to do more.

Back at the Cayman Diving College it was easy for me to get back into the groove as I had already worked there for several days. I really enjoy teaching people which makes that job very rewarding in the respect & you do still get to dive, but you lack the diversity that fun diving gives you. Since leaving Diver's Down I have only been on the boat one time, but I have dived the wreck of the Callie dozens of times :) That is the site that is right behind the shop where we do all of our open water training. Thankfully it is a really nice site. It has so many different things to see & works great for training. I am still finding new fish & my goal is to perfect the diving route. Almost every time I take people it is their first dive so they would be happy just seeing fish & are usually quite blown away by everything I show them. That is another advantage of taking new divers because you see the look on their faces of sheer joy!

I much prefer days where we are busy, on the slow days I have had to do things like body work on a vehicle, pulling weeds (which did not go over well with my allergies) & belt sanding a floor. I have no time for this kind of work because I have no experience at it, I don't find it interesting & it pushes my body. So I haven't put much an effort into it, which I think has kept me from having to do to much of it after my first week back at the diving College. Hopefully that trend continues :) I don't want to sound too lazy because I do all the other mundane day to day stuff, empty the trash, fill the soft drinks, vacuum the floors, fill air tanks & so on without any complaining & with the proper amount of effort.
I spend hours in a day doing these non-diving things, but they contribute to having a successful dive operation which I understand.

In the next email I will tell you about the Turtle Farm, Rum Cake & going to Hell...plus my new place, more about the diving & what the customers have been like ;)

Love & Peace!