A Travellerspoint blog

Cozumel

or, even more diving school

I headed to Cozumel with an excitement and determination that was soon mildly squashed when I was faced with the reality of the place. I was expecting a tropical island paradise, akin to Koh Tao and the white sand of Cancun that I had just left; instead, I was met with an utter dinginess, a run-down part of Mexico that was neither beautiful nor tropical. The house Tommy had somehow been inhabiting for two months was also home to many cockroaches, mosquitos and some of the messiest people I had ever encountered. Upon entering the kitchen and seeing the state that it had been left in, piles of food-encrusted dishes and mouldy, ant-ravaged food everywhere, I found myself almost longing for my wooden bungalow days with the spiders of unusual size. The silver lining was that our time in this dirty house was short and we would soon be moving into the beautiful apartments reserved for PADI IDC students. I braved through the first 8 days and made sure to always cautiously enter dark rooms, as not to startle the cockroaches into running towards me.

When the glorious day of moving finally came, we were delighted at the state of our new, clean apartments, complete with a pool and outdoor barbeque area. Spending most time preparing for the IDC was a lot more enjoyable pool side, and as my presence wasn’t required until the last 5 days of the course (as I was merely “crossing over” from SSI), I spent most afternoons by the pool, Encyclopedia of Recreational Diving in hand, memorizing a silly amount of information about regulator gauges.

When my time to join the IDC finally came, I was well prepared and breezed by with little difficulty, excluding my nightly battles with the physics aspect of it all. Having never been a science-minded sort of person, I generally struggled with keeping straight all the laws that are involved in diving, but in the end I passed that portion of the Instructor Exam (IE) with a 92%.

The IE was similar to the one I had written for SSI – an academics portion consisting of 5 short exams in different topics (three 100%’s and two 92%’s, thank you very much), a confined water skill presentation (full marks!), an open water presentation, and a rescue scenario. Having done the entire water section in one day instead of two, due to scheduling conflicts, Tommy and I finished our exams a day early and were granted the status of PADI Open Water Scuba Instructors. As the rest of the group would finish the next day, there was little celebration that night, but the next morning we were on our way to the airport to catch our flight to Madrid, Spain.

My time in Mexico had been short but productive, and now it was time for a new experience – meeting Tommy’s parents!

Posted by bgriffs 03:52 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Cancun

After 3 months of being back in Edmonton saving up my money to (once again) go traveling, I boarded an early morning flight bound for Cancun, Mexico. I had worked between 50 and 60 hours a week as a server to start this next venture; a summer that left me with heavier pockets and a lessening faith in humanity, but the light at the end of the tunnel was that I’d soon be stepping foot in sunny Mexico.

After 2 layovers and 9 hours, I was greeted by a wall of humidity and the smiling, extremely beardy face of my boyfriend, Tommy. We hadn’t seen each other in two months and we decided that we would spend a few nights in Cancun at an all-inclusive resort before heading back to Cozumel, our final destination. He had been there for two months already doing his Dive Master program, and would be joining me for training to become PADI dive instructors – a qualification I needed in addition to my being an SSI instructor in order to pursue my love of teaching diving. We stayed at the Dreams Cancun Resort, a beautiful place with one major downfall: it housed dolphins in captivity.

I almost long for the days when I didn’t know better, when I was younger and I loved Sea World just because I got to be so close to these beautiful animals. But I do know better, and seeing these dolphins put on shows for ignorant tourists every day broke my heart. Documentaries like The Cove and Black Fish have done so much to educate people on the plight of dolphins and orca whales in captivity, but there is still such a large market for these things, no matter who suffers. I could go on forever about how amazingly clever these animals are and why they absolutely do not belong in captivity, but I strongly urge everyone to watch these documentaries and see for yourself …the original Flipper committed suicide because she was too depressed living in captivity. If that doesn’t tug at the ol’ heartstrings, I don’t know what will.

Dolphin prison aside, the resort was beautiful and accommodating, and we spent most of our days on the beach, reading and enjoying the weather and the water. I’ve never been to an all-inclusive before, and while I enjoyed the endless glasses of champagne, I did feel a slight awkwardness at the level to which we were waited on. In 30 degree weather, waiters in long shirts and pants would trudge through the sand to deliver drinks to patrons too lazy to walk the 15 meters to the bar. My summer of servitude had me empathizing with the staff to the point I felt guilty asking for anything, always preferring to get things myself. I guess the all-inclusive experience is lost on people like me.

The resort offered a variety of different dining options that we perused to our leisure, including a Japanese restaurant on the water, a buffet, a grill restaurant on the beach and a Mexican restaurant that was “limited seating” and “extremely popular”. On our last night we finally got a reservation at said Mexican restaurant and were thoroughly interested to see what all the fuss was about. Well, in a restaurant of about 50 tables (limited seating, my arse) only 4 were full. We were greeted at the door by a man in a ridiculously fancy suit for a Mexican restaurant, overwhelmed by the Marachi band that roamed around and the waiters that sang along. I spent a good portion of the meal giggling into my wine because I couldn’t figure out why this place was so hard to get a reservation for – the food was good but not extraordinary, and the whole experience was quite a lot to take. It’s hard to enjoy your dinner together when your waiter turns up to pour water and starts belting out some Mexican tune.

After 6 lazy days and nights in Cancun, we hailed a taxi, boarded a bus, and narrowly caught our ferry, starting the journey to the island of Cozumel. I wasn’t sure what was waiting when we got there, but I knew that in a month, I would be a PADI dive instructor and hopefully on my way to my dream job. With that on my mind, I put my earphones in, leaned back in my seat and closed my eyes.

Posted by bgriffs 19:14 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Hometown vs. Home

In the past few years, I’ve found myself in a lot of different cities, in various countries, living in different houses. The Queenstown flat, the Jasper cabins, the bungalow in Thailand – all these and more have been places I have lived, with different people, and at the time, they were completely suitable … although they never really felt like home.

Not home in the sense of where I was born and raised: Edmonton will always be my hometown, the place of my roots, full of my family and loved ones, where I started to become who I am today – but it’s been a long time since I’ve really felt that it’s my home, or to be more accurate, where I belong. I can easily understand why this is – no one who loves to travel as much as I do can ever really feel at rest where they started. Whenever I’m in Edmonton, I’m planning for the next adventure, saving my money, anticipating the next move. With each new place I visit, I change (whether a little or a lot) and it defines me in new ways. But for all the places I’ve been, I never felt that I was somewhere I could be for the rest of my life; everywhere felt temporary. I never felt at home, even in places I adored.

Until I moved to Dublin.

I don’t think I really knew that I was looking for a place to call home until I found it, and I don’t think I can even explain how it has hit me so hard that I feel like I belong here. It might have something to do with my relationship with Tommy – a part of me has found a home within him and the life that we have here. I never knew I could be so happy being so domesticated – I go to work, I clean the house, I play with our budgie Steve – even nights spent at home watching TV together have awarded me with a warm happiness that is hard to explain. For the first time, in a long time, I’m where I’m supposed to be.

In a few days I leave Dublin to return to Canada for the first time in 14 months. While I will miss Dublin immensely, I am really looking forward to seeing my family, walking the old streets, and visiting my friends. However, this will be the first time my family picks me up from the airport and doesn’t bring me to see my Grandpa. I imagine his passing will become more real to me once I’m back – sometimes I find myself thinking he will still be there waiting for me. The loss of my Grandfather will be yet another ghost that haunts the streets of the place I was born and raised, changing and shaping me, just like the city itself. Edmonton may no longer be my home, the place where my heart is most at rest, but it will always be my hometown, and that will always be a part of me.

So... goodbye for now, Dublin. I’ll see you soon.

Posted by bgriffs 18:04 Archived in Ireland Comments (1)

Dublin

January of 2013 had me leaving Thailand, vacationing in Bali, and towards the month’s end, I found myself back in true civilization in Dublin, Ireland. After a grueling flight with plenty of layovers, at approximately 8:00 in the morning on January 29th, I came to Ireland for the first time.

In an effort to stave off the jet lag that would surely be coming for us, we checked into our hotel and spent the day wandering the streets of Dublin. At 2:00 pm we were already in The Quays pub in the infamous Temple Bar area, pints of Guinness and Bulmer’s cider in hand, listening to a live band play classic Irish music.

After a brief search for an apartment, we fell in love with a beautiful, two-bedroom apartment in the suburb of Howth. The landlord opened the door and we were greeted with a beautiful, panoramic view of the harbour. We decided on the spot that we would take it. Howth is a wealthier suburb of Dublin, and it’s close proximity to the coast means that seafood restaurants and markets reign supreme – not ideal for a vegetarian such as myself, but Tommy was in heaven with the selection of fresh seafood available to him. In stormy weather, the harbour wall would overflow with white-capped waves, and sea foam would float over for children to play in as if it were snow. I loved living there; I loved that I could regularly see seals in my front yard, I loved the feeling of going for a run among the harbour wall, I loved that I lived close to the former house of W.B. Yeats. The nearby coastal cliffs were a beautiful and scenic walk, where you would see dolphins swimming in the water below. It was exactly like standing on the very edge of the world.

Now, 4 months later, I can say that Dublin has become my favourite city I’ve ever been to. The whole country is wonderfully beautiful, so green even on the greyest, rainiest days. The old buildings contribute to the feeling of history and a certain quaintness absent in most major cities. When you walk down Grafton or Henry Street, there are numerous artists selling prints and paintings, many musicians playing instruments and singing to enthralled crowds. That is easily one of my favourite things about Dublin – it’s always so musical. It’s as if the city has its very own heartbeat.

Posted by bgriffs 07:44 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Bali

My initial decision to leave Koh Tao was greatly influenced by my inability to continue diving. After falling in love with the sport – enough to become an instructor – I found an old injury putting a dent in my life-as-a-beach-bum plans. Back when I first arrived in Thailand, I was in a motorbike accident that ended in a sprained foot, a severely scraped face and a separated shoulder – the latter of which had come back to haunt me. It appeared that after an insufficient recovery period from the original injury, constantly lifting tanks, heavy crates, and dive equipment, the weakened muscle of my left shoulder had again separated from my clavicle. It got to the point where I had DMTs throwing my equipment into the water before I could put it on, but eventually even wearing my BC and tank was too much for my shoulder to handle, and it would ache for days. Unable to dive, work, and keep myself entertained, I slowly started to come down with island fever. When the opportunity to go to Bali - and eventually Ireland - to meet Tommy came up, I packed my bags and left Thailand behind.

Bali was much different than I had expected – I was thinking I was going to be visiting another small, laid-back island like Koh Tao, but Bali was much, much bigger, busier and more overwhelming. The streets are packed with motorbikes and cars, causing many traffic jams, and the sidewalks are swarmed with tourists, keen to enjoy Bali’s cheap culture and beautiful beaches. Easily the most irritating thing about the island is the shopping vendors – don’t you dare glance at their wares unless you want to be harassed for several minutes, even as you walk away disinterested. I started to tire of the shopkeeps very quickly, often forgetting my Canadian manners and just employing an easier method of ignoring them.

Bali was beautiful – our hotel was in the busy district but still tucked out of the way, with multiple pools and luxurious rooms – but unfortunately, my first few days there were marred by an onset of extreme dehydration. The constant, excruciating leg cramps, the headaches, the dizziness, and the fainting spells followed by mild seizures didn’t exactly make for a restful few days in my new paradise. I would find myself on the ground with no recollection of falling or losing consciousness, Tommy holding onto me to stop me hurting myself. After being hospitalized twice and tested for every possible disease, I was given painkillers, sleeping pills, muscle relaxants and the doctor’s orders to drink a lot of water and a lot of electrolytes. Being in the sun accelerated the dehydration so I spent most of the first few days in bed, afraid to stray too far in case I fainted again. I constantly saw lights in one of my eyes – a strange little side effect that took weeks to fully recede. A few months later, when I was filing for my insurance to cover my medical costs, I found out that the hospital had diagnosed me with Dengue Fever – a dangerous, mosquito-transmitted disease rampant on Koh Tao as I was leaving – and I was never told about it.

Luckily, after about 4 days I started to return to normal, and was able to enjoy the sunshine, poolside, listening to my favorite music on my newly repaired iPod. As I basked in the sunshine, I contemplated just how very lucky I am to be doing what I am doing, what I have done, and what I will do in the future. I may have had to take a break from my amazing new job, but I knew it wouldn’t be long before I was giant striding back into the ocean.

10 days in Bali passed by incredibly quickly, having spent the entire time (after my illness passed) by the pool, enjoying the sun and each other’s company. Soon enough it was time to re-pack our suitcases and head to the airport. We were leaving behind the sunshine and heat of Thailand and Bali to relocate to the clouds and rain of Dublin, Ireland, a city I’ve always wanted to visit. We said goodbye to Bali, and 25 hours later, after a three hour break in Kuala Lumpur, where we enjoyed unlimited glasses of wine, and a short stop in Abu Dhabi, we stepped off the plane and into our new life.

Posted by bgriffs 07:34 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

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