Monday, December 10, 2007

Since my time on the Internet is limited at best, I’ve decided to keep my journal throughout the week and add it to my blog when I get the chance to log on.

As I said before in my earlier abbreviated post, our arrival to Manzanillo went without incident. It is a little frightening to step off of the plane in a foreign country, not knowing for sure if a person that you have never met before will be there waiting at the gate for you. Mariano was there just as we expected and he carried our over packed luggage to a dented blue cargo van aptly named the “Scuba Limo.”

The drive through the outskirts of Manzanillo was a study in contrasts. Modern vehicles shared driveway space with pecking chickens and an occasional goat. Modern clothing hung on clothesline flapped in the breeze. The countryside is beautiful and I felt like such a big tourist gawking and clapping my hands at every new sight. Mariano casually lit his cigarette and turned the radio to Sublime as he drove us towards the heart of Manzanillo and our new home.

When we got to our house, an unassuming two story white stucco structure with wrought iron balconies, we were greeted by a couple of our new roommates who were hanging out in board shorts on the balcony, surveying the fresh meat. We were only able to catch a quick glimpse of cool white tile, built in couches and ceiling fans before Mariano told us that our room had not been cleaned to their standards and that they would be putting us up in a hotel for the night.

After settling in to the hotel, Loren and I set off to exploring our new city. The weather was hot and muggy as we set off in the dusk. The streets are lined with little shops, hawking everything from beer, to tacos, to scooters for rent. Everyone is very nice and answers our greetings in kind as we stroll by. We find our way to an ATM and muddle our way through converting dollars to pesos, since that is what the ATM dispenses. Mariano had recommended a restaurant to us so we stopped in there to have dinner.

We were pleasantly surprised to see Mariano and Erik, who is the IDC instructor from Cancun, having dinner and they asked us to join them. Loren and I looked on in bemusement as they continued a very lively conversation in Spanish. Aside from the occasional dirty word, I had no clue what they were saying. Erik is from Holland and still has an accent when he speaks English, so hearing him speak Spanish is entertaining.

After a delicious dinner of Shrimp in Tequila Sauce and a couple of cold cervezas, Loren and I made our way out of the restaurant and decided to take a walk to the beach.

One thing that we failed to discover before moving here was that the topography is very hilly. You have to breach a small mountain in parts of the town to head to the beach. We discovered this VERY quickly that night. By the time we reached Playa la Audiencia, we had sweat dripping down our bodies and had certainly worked off some of our delicious dinner.

The beach was definitely worth the walk. We walked along the sand that was lit only by the lights from the Tesoro hotel that was behind us. The waves lapped gently along the shore and there were small skiffs that were anchored in the bay. The water was warm and clear, with little bits of bioluminescence that danced around our feet like fallen stars. Walking along through this vision of paradise with the love of my life was a memorable and very welcoming experience for our first night in Mexico.

Day 2 - Monday

We spent Monday morning lounging around our hotel room, relaxing and enjoying the air conditioning. Our ride was supposed to be at the hotel at noon to take us to our house but as noon came and went, we were slowly being taught the lesson of manana time. Everything always happens manana (which usually means in a week!) Mariano arrived about a half hour after twelve and loaded our bags once again into the van and took us to our little house.

This time when we entered the house, we had the time and opportunity to survey our surroundings. There is a common area that contains the small kitchen and a raised living room area that has built in wraparound couches and a coffee table. There is also a built in bookcase that had been used as a place to store shoes (which rapidly changed when I unloaded the twenty some odd books that I brought with me.) The whole house is done in white tile with blue accents. It is all very Mexican.

Since it was Monday, all of our roommates were in class, with the majority of them beginning the rigorous 14 day Instructor Development Course. We share our immediate living space with four other people and there are four more that live above us in another apartment, although we have come to find out that everyone mingles in and out of both houses. Alan and Rachel are the other couple in our apartment. They are an older married couple from northern England. Alan is one of our instructors and Rachel is in the Divemaster course.

Jon and Jason are roommates in the room next to ours. Jon is 19, from Missouri and is about to become an instructor. He is leaving us on the 19th to go to England and join his fiancee, whom he met while in Mexico. Jason is in his early 30’s, is a professional lifeguard and backpacked his way down from his home in Canada to Mexico to become an instructor. We didn’t get a chance to hang out with our roomies because they were working so Loren found out a good snorkeling site from Mariano and we changed into our suits and grabbed our gear, eager to get salty.

As we trekked our way through the heat and humidity, following the directions that Mariano had given us, I started to feel as if we had a joke played on us. Mariano had said that the snorkeling spot was a twenty minute walk away from the shop, which was a twenty minute walk away from our house. He failed to mention that the twenty minute walk was two miles straight up hill. A very steep hill. With red faces and drenched bodies, Loren and I trudged up and up, teased by a slight ocean breeze and a glimpse of the water between adobe and stucco houses.

We finally found our way down to Club de Yates, the snorkeling spot. We laughed and groaned aloud when we looked across a natural jetty to see gently bobbing boats and the Tesoro hotel and figured out that we could have easily swam to the beach from the beach we were at the night before, saving ourselves a long and hot walk. We didn’t ponder this for long as we quickly grabbed our gear and jumped in the refreshing water.

All the years of snorkeling and diving in San Diego did not prepare us for what we saw in our first glimpse of the Manzanillo coast. Schools of brightly colored fish surrounded us, darting in and out of the coral. Loren spotted a ray straight away, followed by a couple of dogfaced puffer fish. We saw more different species of fish in the first five minutes than we had in all our time in San Diego. Loren immediately lamented not bringing his camera. After an hour or so in the water, we decided to forgo the long walk home and loaded our clothes into our bag and swam around the point to Playa la Audiencia and walked home from there to fall into bed, exhausted and happy.

Day 3

Grocery shopping in Mexico is an experience in itself. We found our way into Commercial Mexicana, which is a shopping mall that surrounds a grocery store akin to a Super Walmart. There is a Walmart in town but I wanted a true Mexican experience and Loren indulged me. Doing quick conversions in our head, we have discovered that groceries are MUCH less expensive here. That did good to settle our minds since we are on a tight budget. We got through our shopping trip without much problem, especially thanks to the kind clerk at the seafood counter who gave me ½ kilo of shrimp (which is about a pound) instead of the kilo that I requested. I supposed I will get the metric system down soon enough.

We had to go to the Barcelo Karmina Palace in the afternoon to see where we would be working and training for the next six months or so. I was definitely in awe of the gorgeous landscaping and architecture. It is very obviously a high class resort and I feel privileged to be able to work there and hang out by the pool on my breaks.

This was our first opportunity to really talk to the two other new interns that would be training with us, Peter and Kiel. Peter is a tall and lanky twenty something with flaming red hair. He has been diving since he was 13 and decided to cruise on down from Wisconsin to escape the cold for the winter. Kiel is from Maryland and he is a fellow adventure seeker like us. He doesn’t live to work, he works to live, saving up his money to subsidize frequent world traveling. We all seemed to get on rather well, which is good since we will be spending A LOT of time together.

We jumped in the pool to do our swim tests, so Alan could assess where we are as far as stamina goes. I hate to say that I failed miserably but I am happy to say that Loren flew through the water, handily beating the rest of our class. Luckily, the pool opens at 8am, a half hour before I have to kit up for class, so I can train. Loren is training with me since he wants to get top marks and maybe take down a couple of the standing Neptunes swimming records.

That night, we got to grab a couple of $1.50 40 oz Coronas and hang out with the roomies that were taking a break from studying. It was fun just hanging around the house, talking diving, talking about home and getting to know everyone. This is an intense process of being thrown into living and working with people and you tend to get close really quickly. We have taken an immediate liking to most everyone in the house and are having the time of our lives.

Day 4

We began our first official day as interns today. Since I am not particularly a morning person, I surprised myself by jumping out of bed with my alarm, ready to head to the pool for our training swim. We made ourselves a portable breakfast of fruit and yogurt and headed out into the cool morning (Cool being 75 degrees or so…it’s funny how your perspective can change so quickly.)

When Cheryl, our instructor, met us at the wet room she told us that there had been a change in plans since we had a client and that we would be going out on the boat. I am still congested from my cold that I had when I left the States so I wasn’t able to dive and Loren decided to snorkel with me instead of dive. We helped load up the boat and headed out with our client, Kiel, Peter, Will (the five master) and Robert, another intern.

Alfredo, our boat captain, took us out to Roca Elefante (Elephant Rock) which is a nice site to snorkel and dive. Cheryl, Will and the client took off on their dive and the other interns and I just putted around the boat, checking out the fish and the reef. When I got tired, I climbed back into the boat and laid out on the bow, working on my tan. I almost pinched myself as I looked around at the blue skies, bluer water and realized that THIS was my life now. Rob laughed with me when I told him this. He is from the UK and feels the exact same way.

We dove and snorkeled another site that was close to where we were and loaded up and prepared to head back to the resort. Unfortunately, the boat had other ideas and short of sputtering a little bit, refused to budge for us. We all sat around and laughed while debating who was going to have to swim across the inlet to one of the closer hotels to get help since no one bothered to bring a phone. A group of Mexicans locals came out and drove around us, all the girls laughing, screaming and catcalling at the gringo boys while Alfredo let them in on our situation. Our potential rescuers sailed away and Alfredo went to work on the boat, finally managing to pull start it to our whoops of relief.

We headed back to the classroom for a Navigation class (which is review for me) and I had a hard time keeping my eyes open for it. After a quick stop at the store, we headed home, where we got caught in an unexpected thunderstorm. Never have I seen lightning flash through the sky with such brightness and ferocity. It was truly an awesome sight to behold and Loren and I had to stop ourselves from scurrying too fast through the downpour, lest we look too much like tourists compared to the locals who carried on like it was just another normal occurrence in their every day lives.

To be continued...


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