E-mail Update - 2007-02-12

To HELL & back

Ladies, Gentlemen & Children of all ages...

Time for another update from the warmth of the Caribbean (that is especially for those people playing the freezing cold & snow back home)! Well as it was last left I was moving into a new place & going back to working at the Cayman Diving College. In this email I plan to tell you a little more about what I do for work, where I live, what I do in my time off & an update on what the future holds.

Working at the diving college means that I am teaching every day. I don't do "fun" dives in the sense that every dive I do is a training dive. Also we always dive the same site called "The Wreck of the Callie". In the 26 days I have been back at the college I have only been to other sites one day! There is so much more to see out on the fun dives (see attached pictures "03 - Sea Fan" & "03 - Stingray"). Don't get me wrong the Callie is a great site with lots to see & I know it really well, but I could really do the dive there in my sleep already.

I teach 2 type of people for the most part. The ones I train almost every day are resort/DSD (Discover Scuba Diving) course, which is for people who have never dived & who do not have the time or desire to become certified. Let me tell you that it can be an adventure because we will take people right off the cruise ships in the water with nothing more than a 15 minute talk. We also do "learn to dive for free" pool sessions at area hotels, which allow people to try out scuba diving equipment in the pool for free & we teach them how to clear their mask of water & how to recover their regulator (what they breath through) if it comes out. The obvious hook is that once they try it a lot of people love it & we offer a dive for $100 where they can see fish. I have brought a lot of these people back to go diving as well. Again they really know about 5% of what they would need for certification. Although they are better than people from the cruise ships, it is no picnic to take these type of people diving. The first thing that comes to mind is herding cats...underwater :) Luckily there is a limit of 4 people for 1 instructor, anymore would be unsafe. Some people really do take to it naturally & it is easy for them. Other people might struggle or even do ok, but could become decent divers with the proper training. Then you have people like Gummy. This is a guy we nicknamed because he decided that at 70+ years he would go diving & forgot to bring his false teeth. He could not keep the regulator in his mouth so we finally had to give up & take him back to the shore. Doing these DSD courses with some people is ok, but there have been others almost as bad as gummy. This all makes me realize why I had to pay $353 for only 6 months of liability diving insurance. There are some times that I get out of the water after diving with the difficult ones & feel like I just got done running a marathon. Diving is meant to be relaxing & easy, so this says something. In comparison when I have been with really good people I have gotten out of the water feeling more energized than when I went in.

I also do Open Water courses, which is the course the people take who want to become fully certified. After successfully completing this course they can dive with another certified diver, anywhere in the world. These courses are the one that everyone at the shop wants to be doing & the ones that give you real satisfaction. I realize again how much I love teaching people when I get to do these courses. I have been lucky in a sense because I have had up to this point very natural open water students. The Open Water course some places in the world takes 4-5 days to do. Here we do it in 2.5 days! The reason for this is that if we did it slower no one would take the course because they don't want to in a classroom all day while on vacation. This really tests your ability to teach & makes you do things very efficiently. I still enjoy it & love teaching the people in the pool & especially once it gets the open water dives. Lastly we also sometimes do referrals, which means that people have done all the classroom paperwork & pool work, so that when they get here they can just do their open water dives in the warm water. These are fun as well, but I prefer teaching them all the way through so that I can see them grow into becoming a diver. Also when you get referrals sometimes people have been lazy so you have to correct things that should have been done in earlier pool sessions. I try to make things easy & give people ways to remember things. I really love teaching people, when I see student diving comfortably & enjoying themselves at the end of the course it makes me feel like this was a great career choice.

The customers have been great to teach, even the resort course people have been really nice. The only bad experience I had was having to give a ride to this family who were miserable people. The wife was going at the husband most of the way up & then it was quiet the rest of the way. They also complained about things not being included & didn't like the size of one BCD even though when they finally tried it on they saw that I had guessed their size perfectly...hmm guess maybe that is because I had been doing it for a month straight! Other than those people everyone else has been at least decent with a lot of the them being really cool & a pleasure to teach :)

In the shop right now there is four other people, Ash (manager from Canada), Rob (England), Will (Brazil) & Rosalie (Namibia, Africa). We have a great working vibe. We have also had 2 other Divemaster Trainees (DMTs) who have been around. One DMT is Rob's brother Rex & the other is Joel (from New Zealand), but both finished their courses in the past week. They essentially worked with us, even though technically they are customers who are doing a course. Once they are done they are considered a PADI Divemaster & can guide people on dives & assist with classes. I was sad to see them both finish because they were both really fun to have around & a great help to us. We are teaching them the entire time, but they help us out a lot in & out of the water. Typically I work the most with Rosalie. We are pretty much at the same level & do the same job (mostly resort/DSD courses) & used to rotate each week. Although we just opened a new shop so I have been doing the same thing for well over a week now & it looks like it will be into the immediate future as well. Being the new people Rosalie & I do the most undesirable jobs. We also do the most daily shop tasks like stocking the frig, taking the garbage out, vacuuming the floor & such. It works really nice because we seem to flow very well without having to say much & don't tend to get on each other's nerves. One problem is that this is Rosalie's last week & I am not sure who is next & how that will affect the shop chemistry. I hope I can work with the next person as well as I have with her.

About a week ago PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors) came here to film our shop for a video promoting people going professional to either become divemasters or instructors (this is the same organization I am certified through). Rob & Rosalie were our hand picked stars so they were the people they filmed. It made longer days for me actually because I had to do more things while they were gone, but it was quite interesting to see & they enjoyed it so that was cool. I am pretty sure I will never make the video, but they did actually film me a couple of different times during a Sunday while I was working at the Grand Caymanian. First I have to do a little explaining about the hotel. The hotel is a timeshare which means that people are here for a week only (99% of the time, a few people stay longer). All the people come in on Sunday & leave on Saturday. So on Sunday morning at 9:45 they do a talk for around 150-200 guests with all the services that the hotel offers. Well we have a dive shop in the lobby of the hotel that doubles as a travel agent because we book about everything they could need on the island. This is also where we do the "learn to dive for free" classes right after the talk at around 10:15.

For as long as I have been here Nicole, from our company who is in the dive shop on Sunday, does the talk for our part of it (about 5 minutes), but she was going to have to be gone for a couple of weeks. Since I actually enjoy public speaking I volunteered for this task when it was being talked about since I was there anyway. It was funny to see the other people from the shop show no interest. I was thinking "That’s ok I will do the public speaking you do the belt sanding"!! Either way I started doing the talk on Superbowl Sunday asking about the game & generally feeling pretty confident. That went on for about a minute until I had a camera put into my face. When I was in high school my hand used to shake when we had to do public speaking. However, since I did it quite a bit in college I have never had that problem again...until the camera was there. I kept on going & was told I did ok, but once the camera was on me I tensed up, looking down to see my hand visibly shaking. Once the camera was there it was just something I had to make it through, guess maybe I am not movie star material! Later on in the pool the camera was also on me while I was doing skills, but the people I had were terrible so I doubt that makes the final cut either. Of course if they were filming me doing showing the skills they would realize I got skillz! Either way it will be cool to see the finished video & to know that I was involved even if I am not in it.

I have adjusted quite well to the place I live. I really like the other people who live here, they are all really easy going & always will to chat about pretty much anything. It feels a little like a dorm which I really like. I have really settled into living here & even moved all the furniture around to fit my needs. Plus I decorated the shelves with things from home or stuff I received from friends since getting here.

Probably the hardest thing I have to deal with is the commute. When I started out it was a 30-35 minute bike ride each way. This means that I have to get up at 6am or sometimes a little before if I need to be into work earlier & after some cereal endure the ride in. Also after every day I need to do the ride back, which after working hard out in the sun all day can be quite tiring. On the ride back I stop a lot of nights to pick up some groceries, because I can only take back what can fit in my backpack. It is dangerous here to try to carry anything on the handlebars due to traffic & other factors. After having problems with my bicycle which are fixed now I also realized that the air in the tires was a little low. Now I have the commute down to the 22-30 minute range which is better, but still longer than I like. Either way I am always happy to get home, sit in my nice chair & throw on the AC. I also love my bedroom due to its setup, size & comfortable bed.

You are probably wondering what I do on my time off. Well I get one day off a week. After 6 days of the physical 10-13 hour days we work I have only went site seeing once. The other times I used it to call home, send e-mail (like today), clean, do laundry & most importantly sleep in & recover! Yeah not probably what you were thinking I would say. On the one day, January 29, that I did go sight seeing I had a lot of fun. One thing about where I live at now is that it is really close to some of the main tourist attractions. I had done a run a few days before my big day out to find out where the Turtle Farm & Rum Cake Factory were located.

The Turtle Farm was my first stop of the day. When the island was originally discovered it was practically covered in turtles. Ever since people got here the turtle's numbers have been declining due to their hunting for shell collection, food & other uses. In recent years they finally figured out that there were less turtles all the time, so this farm was started. It now provides much of the turtle shells & meat that were previously hunted. According to a friend of mine, 90% of the turtles are killed to go to the local industry, which is sad, but 10% are also released. With that 90% going to the people who would otherwise hunt you can hopefully prevent extinction. I loved seeing all the turtles (see attached picture - "03 - Turtle Farm") but soon saw a really disturbing pattern, all of the turtles are around the outside of the pools always trying to escape. It was actually a little depressing towards the end of the turtle part. When I got to the last of the tanks I saw that blue wrist bands could pass. At this point I was able to figure out why I had a blue wrist band while all the bus loads of cruise ship tourists were wearing green bands. They only let them see the turtles then they have to leave, I am guessing because they have a tight schedule. What makes it even better was that when I told them I was working on Grand Cayman after proving it by answering some questions I got my blue "backstage" pass for free! With it I was also able to see:

(1) The nature trail which had indigenous trees, birds & butterflies on it & was a nice little walk
(2) The bird sanctuary
(3) Green and the endangered Blue Iguanas
(4) The predator tank (but this wasn't open yet)
(5) Just walk around to see the operation even though a lot was still hidden in buildings.

After spending about 2 hours at the turtle farm I went to visit the Tortuga Rum Cake Factory. I was too late to see the rum cakes getting made, but I was able to sample all the different types & buy a small original rum cake for myself. They are quite unhealthy but I got the smallest one possible. After that I biked to subway to get some lunch (yeah they have most all of the fast food restaurants here). After a nice relaxing lunch I biked around for a little while exploring the area around where I lived. Eventually I ended up in hell!! Actually this is really quite a tourist trap (see attached picture "03 - Hell") & in all I would say I was there less than 10 minutes. It is only some rocks that one person said looked "hellish" & the name stuck. There are about 3 shops & a post office all or which are so blatantly touristy, but hey I stopped so it works even though I didn't buy anything. The funniest thing was actually the guy in the main shop, who is dressed like the devil, says "How the hell are you?" when you walk in & "Have a hell of a night!" when you leave in this really low voice. After that I biked the 2 minutes to my place. When I did this I realized that it was shorter to go through hell to get to work, so that is now the route that I take every day.

After work most all of the people from the diving college go to Rackum's the ocean side bar right next to us. I do this some nights but typically only stay for one drink. It does have really nice views of the sunset which gets me to stay some nights. Other than that the only place I have went for fun is on the Jolly Roger, also know as the booze cruise. You pay $25 to go on this pirate ship which sails up the west coast at night & then back to the original port. The reason people do it is that it is all inclusive for the alcohol. For Rex the DMTs last night we did the booze cruise (even though he ended up staying a few more nights because he missed his flight). I earned all $25 that is for sure! Afterwards we were going to the "Next Level" one of the local dance clubs. Before that though Rex & Rosalie ended up in the water with a little help from Ash. It was quite funny but a little expensive for Rex as his camera was in his pocket & Rosalie's because her expensive shoes were ruined. They ended up going to the club soaking wet & we partied into the night. All in all it was quite a night, I actually stayed in my old room at Rosalie's apartment, since taxi's are VERY expensive & the rest of the group was going the opposite way. I also didn't want to have to ride my bike back home at 3am, only to come back 3 hours later.

Well that tells you about what has been going on in the last month, but I want to end with the future. My 3 month working visa is up on March 14. They have asked me to stay on for another year, but I am not going to do that. I have been considering my options a lot lately. I really like the people I work with & Ash does right by us trying to let us leave early if possible & in other areas. It is a well run company & has a lot of good points. The main problems are that I am losing money being here, I am not doing any site seeing & I am doing the same thing most every day. I also am not a big fan of the island, it lacks character that Bali, Fiji & Koh Phi Phi all had. They will have to give me a lot more in terms of compensation, time off & in other areas than I suspect they will want to for me to stay here. When I know the plan for sure I will let everyone know :)

Love & Peace!