In the last couple weeks, we haven’t done a hell of a lot of sightseeing, we have done a few of the things you would expect when on “holiday” (diving, eating and such), but long term travel means the things you do (well, the things we do anyway) are a little different than a quick 1 month jaunt, and as I’m finding out, not always as much fun when you have the choice not to.
Tulum, Beach life
For example, last week or so, we went to the apparently beautiful beaches of Tulum. Yes, they were beautiful beaches, and yes it was nice to have a holiday from our holiday, but really, I prefer home (home being our studio apartment in Playa Del Carmen). As beautiful as Tulum was, it was also very hard. Sarah managed to get us a free night in a nice little place right on the beach, like literally, our hut was surrounded by sand, and the view out the door was the water about 30m away. As far as idyllic goes, it didn’t get much better than this.
Here is the problem with idyllic what to you might sound like a dream, to me sounds like a lot of sand in a lot of places, salty skin, a crab in the bathroom (try emptying your bowels while being stared at by a wall climbing crab), no air-con and lots of mosquitoes. Lucky for me, it was all these things and more.
It wasn’t all bad of course, like I said it was a beautiful place, and it was free! Well sort of, we still had to get to Tulum ($4 each and an hour in a collectivo), and then to the bungalows (about $4), and then eating at the very sparse beachside restaurants, mucho deniro. We did have a fantastic lunch in Tulum town before going to our hut, and filled our faces with various Mexican treats. The restaurants along the beachfront however, were definitely marketed to posh westerners, charging way too much for food which wasn’t quite as good as the authentic local stuff.
So we swam in quite beautiful ocean, and then? Well and then we struggled to come up with something to do while away from our laptops and T.V. By about 9 pm we were attempting with little reward to sleep, then the rain started, at first it was welcomed as the whole place cooled down, then the roof started leaking and it wasn’t so welcome, a hasty fix of towels on the mosquito netting, a smoke break, and another attempt at sleep, and I had no option but to pull out my phone and watch a couple episodes of “Game of Thrones”. Thank God for technology.
Deciding we had had just about enough of paradise, we were up at about 6 am, had a quick dip in the ocean, and headed the hell out of there, comfort was waiting, and I needed a coffee before I could indulge in the nicotine rush making me a bit squirmy in its absence. We did have a brief look at the ruins in Tulum, a bit surreal for their beach-side location, cool to see, but less enthralling before coffee and smoko.
So it was we found ourselves on a collectivo heading home, a brief stop for lunch, and back to our lovely home, air-con a shower, coffee and a comfy bed perfectly located in front of the telly. Paradise.
Another one of our few outings, and also discounted thanks to Sarah’s Travel blog. I was actually looking forward to Scuba Diving more than I had been our other recent activities (Tulum and Spanish lessons, I’m still having nightmares). So it was we headed out to the dive shop at around 12pm to do our “Discovery Dives”, which is basically a dive for people who aren’t sure if they want to go the whole hog and do their certification, this is me to a tee, as I very rarely do anything more than once or twice, unless its smoking or watching telly.
The dive school looked well set up and professional, a must when you are going to trust them to take you deep into the oceans depths, well, 10 or 12 meters. A quick talk through of what we needed to remember (ironically, the main thing being to breath, schweet, I’ve been doing that for years), and then some other shit I wasn’t really listening to, something about empty tanks, valves and death.
We were early, so before the adventure I got to wander off for smoko, just what you need before scouring the ocean depths for ancient relics, treasure, and fish (again, depths being about 10 meters). Arriving back we were led to the beach, hopped on a boat, and taken about 100 meters off shore, we suited up:
Weight belts (to drag you to the ocean floor), check,
Floaty jacket thing (to stop you from being dragged to the ocean floor), check,
Breathing thingies and mask (to stop you drowning), check.
Sorted, we were ready to dive. Probably one of the coolest parts of the whole thing was falling backwards off the boat, just like in the movies! We did a shallow water test dive. Basically, go down, take the breathing thing out, put it back in, get water in your mask, get it out, oh, and breath, I was great.
Back in the boat and out further for our first proper dive. Backwards flip, hold the rope, and slowly down to the murky depths (uh, 10 meters). I did love the sensation of slowly going down to the ocean floor, there is something very serene about becoming virtually weightless and floating down to the underwater desert that was our immediate surroundings.
Going down slowly making sure to equalize, I was immediately relieved that the head pounding threat of a cranial explosion was absent all the way down to the 10 meter bottom. On a similar test dive in Egypt I had been afflicted with intense pain which marred the experience and left me uncertain as to my future with diving, and indeed my future without permanent brain damage. We did a few OK checks, and began flippering after our instructor.
I have to say the reef was a little bit underwhelming, perhaps a bit dead due to its proximity to the shore and other divers, actual color and fish were a bit sparse, I didn’t mind too much as I spent very little time looking at the fish. Sure there were some cool funny looking creatures down there, and even a few schools of fish which were great fun to swim into. A thousand glassy eyes checked me out as this large uncoordinated fish wannabe flailed towards them. It was like swimming into a fish buffet that darted in the opposite direction just before I could get a fork into them, pretty cool.
I was however, more fixated on the surface world.
I spent a lot of time swimming upside down staring at the ceiling where water meets air, marveling at how my world had been redefined by this more viscous medium, I now existed in a space about 10 meters high, the only difference between this world and that, the perceived solidity of water as opposed to its more vacuous brother. Motion becomes labored and less precise, every breath in sends you “skyward”, and every breath out threatens collision with the salty desert below. To me this was way more exciting than the living buffet going about its business around me, virtually unaware of my awkward foray into their world.
Then the chafing started, I have mentioned my tendency to chafe before, the problem is that I have beautiful skin, soft and silky to the touch, it is more akin to a babies bottom than the leathery texture usually associated with men. It is a cross I bear most graciously, and I find comfort by stroking the soft contours of my exterior (mind out of the gutter) as I drift off to sleep at night.
It does however make for a painful experience when you have a mixture of salty water and heavily-textured-tank-holding-vest to contend with. So it was I freaked Sarah out by swimming with a hand between my silkiness and the vests agitating edges. Sarah assumed the worst, and informed the instructor by hand gestures that I was possibly dying. With a little ingenuity, I managed to let them know I was fine, and although I could not eloquently explain my silky skin to them under water, they got the picture and we continued our dive.
As the tanks ran low we went slowly back up to the surface and clumsily disrobed from the offending gear. Realizing once in the boat that I needed to urinate, I dove back in the ocean and tried to get over my pee shyness, the reason for my foray back into the giant toilet being obvious to all. Luckily the huge amounts of water I had consumed (both salty and fresh) overcame the shyness, and I left behind a little bit of Tyrhone so the fish had something to remember me by.
Dive 2, Return of the Chafe
Our next dive was a little bit deeper, we sank down to the bottom and waited while our instructor did a few lessons with Bob, an American hedge fund semi-retiree who was doing his deep water certificate. Being impatient, I decided to swim off and have a look around, a minute or so later I turned around and realized that I could not see anybody! Whoops. The water clarity had been a bit deceptive and I now found myself questioning which direction to go in. Deciding that one way was as good as another, and briefly contemplating being lost at sea (being lost at ocean doesn’t sound right, and besides, I have no idea which one is which), I started swimming, luckily it was the right way, and I soon had vision of some worried looking divers who I assumed to be my cohorts, animatedly waving in my direction.
We swam around for a bit, heading deeper and towards actual reef, again, some cool looking fish, but the floating was cooler. About half an hour later, the pain in my ears started to return, and the chafing put its best foot forward, which meant I was somewhat relieved when the instructor indicated it was time to head back up. He released a string balloon thingy and we slowly made our way back up to the surface. About half way up my head began to spin, my vision blurred over, and my ears made a weird air escaping kind of noise. I just about blacked out, but stopped heading up and waited for a few seconds before continuing my ascent, no biggy, close only counts in hand grenades.
Back on the surface we went through the ritual of untangling from our gear, urinating (a group activity this time), and climbing back in the boat. There was the usual “yeah that was great, fishes and stuff”, and then we were back at the dive shop, coughing politely at the desired $30 for a DVD of our experience (which we didn’t pay for, which is why no pretty pictures of fishes and stuff in here, but Bob is gonna sort us out, and then you can see me chaff, and fish I suppose), and headed home to wash away the salty memory of our underwater experience.
Activity, ha, what is it good for?
All in all, I loved the feeling of being underwater, I loved sinking to the bottom and staring at the watery ceiling, I liked the funny fish and eels and stuff, and didn’t mind too much the noise of bubbles flowing by my ears every couple of seconds, but in all honesty, I don’t think diving is for me. Maybe every few years I could give it another shot, but it would purely be for the other worldly sensation of water as your medium of existence. If it’s for fish sightseeing, snorkels will do me just fine.
So what have I learned from my recent outings? Well mostly that sometimes the outings you are expected to do, or even want to do, can be boring, uncomfortable, more hassle than they are worth, and less rewarding than a rerun of Scrubs and hazelnut ice cream while lying in bed,
But you don’t know until you try.