Harold, You Da Man

This week in Curacao was spent with my buddy Harold. We have known each other since high school, roomed together a year in college and have stayed connected ever since. We did a shorter trip like this in the Bahamas 10 years ago.

Harold is extremely organized. He planned out the whole trip. Found the air, the place to stay, had dive sights set up, everything. He also did all the driving and 110% of the navigating around the island. I am a negative 10% contribution to navigation.

Traveling with someone else has the potential to be stressful. Different rhythms to how you like to do things and what you like to do. Except that he hated the time we spent shopping for replacement clothes and I could have shopped longer, we generally agreed, were agreeable and got along well. Not bad for being together almost every moment.

This trip would not have happened as well or even at all without him. Thanks for a fun week. Let’s not wait another 10 years. 

New Record: Man Goes 8 Days Without Celebrity News…And Survives

 

While in Curacao last week I watched no television and never once checked the stock market.  I tried reading the newspaper but it was in Dutch. I was in a state of ignorant bliss.

 

But I came to know what I was not missing the most while in the supermarket check out aisle the day I returned. There I could not help but be overwhelmed with the faces of “celebrities” that I could not care less about. On the covers of People, US, In Touch and all the other rags were Britney (does it affect my world if she has another relapse), JLo ( so she lost 40 pounds after giving birth, big deal, she has so much money she can hire a personal trainer 24/7 to do the exercises for her), and all sorts of beautiful people I did not miss while away (yes you Matthew McConaughey…please put a shirt on). And yet we pay sooo much time fawning over their every move.

 

Instead of celebs I met a woman who drove miles out of her way to lead us to a restaurant we could not find, a young guy from The Netherlands who instead of trying to make all the money he possibly could was having a great time working as a dive master making enough to pay the rent and have some spending cash, and a sweet older woman who had moved to Curacao from Europe 40 years ago and who made sure that we felt welcome at Friday night services (at the oldest, continuous Jewish congregation in the western hemisphere. 257 year old synagogue. 350 year old congregation).

 

Real interactions with real people or celebrity gossip. No contest.

 

 

Thursday Has Become Adventure Day

I am working on how to keep the Adventure Thursday theme alive when I return to the U.S. and my regular life. I will let you know when this conundrum has been solved. For now I have the first Adventure Thursday to share.

Thursday April 10 in Curacao was definitely Adventure Day. It began with a drive to Christofel National Park on the NW side of the island, home to the highest peak on the island. The woman at the visitors center told us the climb would take an hour each way and that it was easy except for the last 15 minutes. She was right about the time but not about the easy part. It was a challenging grade for most of the way, at least for someone as not in shape as I am. (There were some middle school kids going up as we were going down. Three of the boys finished the uphill part and made it down only minutes after we did. Oh to be young again.) The trail was rocky and had some places where you had to navigate where your feet would go. Several times me and my 30 inch inseam had to conquer high steps from on rock to the next.  And then there was the final section. As tough as advertised.

First we had to scramble over some rocks using hands as well as feet. Then there was a vertical section involving finding footholds and rocks or tree limbs for my hands so I could pull myself up. The last 20 yards required squeezing through a very narrow passage, barely wide enough for me to get through, that had a very steep grade. My feet were on the walls to either side of me.

A few cuts and bruises but we made the summit. The views were stunning. I will post pictures when I return. I was admiring my stamina and fortitude just when I realized I would have to go back the way I came. Crap.

The climb down, at least for this first section, was harder than the uphill climb. Face forward going down. Finding places for hands and feet. Needing to jump or drop where you had reached and pulled on the way up. Complicating things were the people coming up sharing the same path. After surviving this first section the downhill was doable. Strenuous but doable. Amazingly it took about the same time down as up. We had thought that given the way gravity works the downhill would have been faster.

Thigh muscles ached by the time I finished. I expect that they may be worse tomorrow. However, Chistofel Mountain was just the beginning of this 4 part adventure day.

Part Two was the dive at Playa Kalki not far from the mountain. We made time to find a nice lunch and spend time on the beach. But then on to diving. We had rented equipment the day before. Unfortunately the entire dive set including air tanks had to be carried down 22 steps. (Also meaning 22 steps up on the way back.) We geared up, did buddy checks, got information about the reef and then jumped off the peer. This was to be only our second unguided dive. Ever.

Nice dive, good coral, interesting fish. Best of all was the freedom. When you go with a dive master and group, you all go where the dive master goes. Too often people bunch up. I have been kicked in the head many times on such a dive. But when you and your buddy are on your own you go where the whim takes you. See something interesting to the right, go check it out. Want to just play in the water like a fish…do it. We made it there and back on our own contributing to my SCUBA confidence level and adding to the legend.

Number Three was only a little bit adventurous but it all counts on Adventure Thursday. We had found a very nice restaurant on our way to Playa Kalki and decided to have an early dinner on our return home. The owner was a card. He came to our table and recited the day’s menu. I wanted to try something I had never eaten but decided against goat brains though they came highly recommended. I opted for the barracuda. It turns out to be a meaty white fish. The food was quite good and the atmosphere outstanding. There are bird feeders on the other side of a half wall next to our table. The birds there were beautiful. Orange and black, yellow and green, small and large. Then as we got up to pay the bill the owner tells us that life is to short to rush and that if we sat in the rocking chairs we could get a surprise. Ice Cream. That was a very pleasant surprise.

Last but not least was the Night Dive. I have done this a few times before. There is an extra bit of adventure, and for me trepidation, in diving when darkness surrounds you. All you have that allows you to see is a flashlight. The beauty of night dives are twofold. You see a few things that you may see during the day but all the colors are different. Even better, the nocturnal hunters are out. We did not encounter as much as I had hoped but we did see some lobster and a baby barracuda. For this journey in the deep we wisely chose to take a guide along.

Four adventures in a single day. Lets see to what extent I can keep up the new tradition of Adventure Thursday.

Male Model Convention

We spent a couple of evenings at the Curacao airport hoping to get our lost luggage off the night flight from Miami. If you are not coming, going or looking for lost luggage there is no apparent reason to be hanging out at this airport. A few airport shops, two fast food joints and a tiny bar are all it has to offer. Except for last Monday night.

I am still not sure why the people we saw were taking in the ambiance of the airport but they were there. My eye was first attracted to a stunning young woman going in and out of the few shops. She seemed to be alone which made no sense to me. But then I spied him. 6 foot 3. Wavy dark hair. Buldging biceps. Sculpted facial features and muscular body. My first thought was that this is Stunning Woman´s boyfriend. Sure enough.

Yet as the two stood and talked, two other great looking guys came over. Next thought. Male Model Convention. Nothing else could explain the bevy of great looking guys at the Curacao airport. Maybe at one of the beautiful topless beaches but not at the airport.  We later saw this gang sitting at a table with even more hunky guys. (It sure is good that I am comfortable with my own manliness to be able to colorfully describe this scene.)

I thought about trying to sneak a picture for the entertainment of my loving and lovely wife. However flash would have been required and I know from my own experience how annoying the paparazzi can be. (Yeah right.)

Just another night at the Curacao airport. The new hot spot for the beautiful people.

SCUBA Spectacular. Watamula

Two fine dives today. We began with the first unassisted (no dive master) dive since early in my 17 year diving career…and I am here to write about it. The navigation required was fairly straightforward. But still, no professional to lead the way or help if something goes wrong. Directions. Swim out past the breakwater to the sea wall and head left and go deep. Once again this could have been a very deep dive but we kept it to no deeper than 60 feet. Out along a good but not great coral reef. A goodly number of fish and other sea creatures. Turn, come back past the point of entry to the right side and then back again. I felt closer to being a real diver having done this on our own.

After a few hours at the beach we boarded a boat headed for Watamula on the northwestern part of the island. I had heard that this is one of the best dive sites on Curacao. That was understated. I wish I had the words to describe what I saw. Spectacular, awesome and fantastic give the order of magnitude but not the visual representation.

The sea life is not what this dive is about…its the coral. Wow. The varieties.  Looked like Giant mushrooms, cactus, brains. And there were sweeping plants waving in the movement of the water. Greens , browns, purples, orange. In some places the shapes were like mountain. In others a fanning circular roof with multiple layers. All shapes and sizes some incedibly large. And it just kept coming. I have never seen so much corral of such variety packed into the same place.

This was a drift dive meaning a current carries you and you just go for the ride. I would shift perspectives. At once moving in to observe the beauty of an individual piece or even a section of a piece. Then I would step back, technically swim back, and take in the majesty of the scene. I wish I had pictures.

We were under for 50 minutes and it took my breath away virtually the entire time. At the end there was the assent to the blue+grey surface. Today from below it looked hard. Hard like the way water feels when you cannonball off a diving board. You move up slowly, slowly, slowly. Then you finally crack the surface of the water. Can you tell, I like this stuff!

Everyone reading this should get down here now. Not sometime in the future, now.

Our thanks to dive staff at Sunset Waters fora great time today.

 

The Low Highs And High Lows of My SCUBA Trip

I have been in Curacao for two days now. My lugguge has not yet made the trip. It is missing some beautiful weather and I am missing my expensive brand new dive mask with the new prescription lens.  This is my low high. The low part is obvious, the high refers to the height of the American Airlines jet that should have brought my clothes and equipment to me. Or maybe it refers to the level of my level of exasperation and frustration.

It has been many years since I scheduled a trip just to dive, I had not been under the water for two years and only a few dives in the years before that. Six potential days to dive. At least three will be without the things that let me see well underwater or even the shoes to go hiking in.  I am not here to lay on a beach. I have been fortunate enough to do that twice already this year.  Ideally I am 60 feet below the surface most of the day and exploring the rest of the day.

So on to the high lows. I did dive today. Just one, a typical day is 2 and a great day would be three. It felt phenomenal, eventually. The dive shop we are using is low key and very friendly. The more experienced divers joining us really helped out. I generaly know how to hook up the various pieces of equipment but generally is nowhere good enough for being underwater. One of the others discovered a leak in my octopus, the spare thing that you breath through. I would have lost a lot of air and therefore dive time if that had not been fixed before we left.

Two other divers had not dove for at least a year so the dive master had us practice two basic skills just off the shore before we did the serious diving. First I took the regulator out of my mouth and tossed it over my shoulder. The object was to use the proper technique to recover it before I started breathing ocean.  Check. The second was to allow water into your mask and then clear it. Check again. This gave me a few moments to gain my composure under the water. I needed that.

We swam a ways on the surface until we were above reef a few hundred yards from the beach. Then down. I broke the surface of the water easily which is not always the case with me. It was a good reef. Interesting coral. There seemed to be a large number and a fairly good variety of fish. I was surprised when later the dive master said that there were fewer fish than usual.

I revel in the experience of floating under water communing with the sea life. This reef was long and deep. You could not see the bottom.  We went no deeper than 60 feet.  And yet for me depth plays a siren song. I want to keep exploring further down. Depth is a narcotic.  I am hooked.

The advantage of staying at 40 to 60 feet is that your air lasts a long time. We were down for 45 minutes and I had air to stay longer. However, until I am more experienced I need to stay with the group.

The dive was a definite high, low beneath the surface. More to come both for the highs amd the lows.

Charlton Heston: Multi-Faceted Actor and Man

He was born John Charles Carter in my hometown of Evanston, IL. What comes to mind when you thinkof Charlton Heston?  A man who played strong dynamic characters? Hell, even his stage name exudes strength. Say the words Charton Heston slowly a few times over. This is a man who played Moses and Ben-Hur. He was strong but of good character. He was not an overnight sensation as we see too often these days. He plied his craft at Northwestern University. Took time off for to be in the army. Then to jump start his theatre career he started a playhouse in Ashevill, NC.  So while he eventually acheived the heights of his profession, including an Academy award, he worked hard for what he earned. I loved the roles he played in the great movies though he had his share of stinkers.

What else comes to mind?  Right wing supporter of a number of causes including the NRA and Ronald Reagan? True. He clearly was on the political right in the years of my adulthood. But this is also a man who in the 1950s spoke out against racism and supported the civil rights movement well before it was popular even in Hollywood. He supported Stevenson in 1956 and Kennedy in 1960. He even supported gun control in 1968 after Bobby Kennedy was assasinated.

I guess the point I most want to make is for those of you who remember him, remember the whole man. The man of many facets.

Enjoy the chariot race from Ben Hur. Warning, it goes 9 minutes.

Spring Arrives

April 5th. It is in the mid-60s and beautifully sunny. Spring finally comes to Chicago. Let’s hope it stays awhile.

Of couse I am leaving town for a week. No complaints though. I am bound for Curaçao to SCUBA as much as I can.

It is just that mathematically the level of joy is related to the square of the difference in temperature between where you are and where you left. I will just have to make do.

My Own Private Purgatory

So here I am. First time on a plane all to myself. Well almost all to myself. There is a flight attendant.

She was having a bad day. Due to flight delays she is only on her 3rd instead of her fifth flight. She will get home late. She is mildly upset. She had no one else to talk to.

I must have looked for a moment as if I wanted to chat. I did not. But for the entire 45 minutes of that flight she did. Nonstop.

She complained to me about all the passengers over the past few days that had been complaining to her. She went on to tell me a story of a female passenger that called her over and just started talking about her travel plans. Eventually this woman asked when the plane, which was late would leave. “Well”, my flight companion complained, “doesn’t she understand that there was nothing that I could do.” There was nothing I could do…to make her stop.

She went on to complain to me about others who had had the audacity to complain to her. Obviously the irony of this was lost on her. Not on me, I guarantee.

She managed to take a potentially first class experience for me and made it coach.  regional jet coach.

My Own Private Plane

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Two pilots, a flight attendant and me. Never happened before. I have been on corporate jets a couple of times but always with my clients. This time, just moi.

It was not one of those sleek corporate models but a twin prop Dash 8-300. Seats 50 when full. 49 open seats. On the first leg of my way home from Kingsport, TN headed to Charlotte. The flight I was scheduled to be on had boarded all the passengers but me at the time I arrived at the ticket counter. Mind you this was 25 minutes before the scheduled departure. Well someone decided that there was no reason to wait for me.

What they knew that I did not is that the flight scheduled to arrive 2 hours earlier was about to land. Land it did and 10 minutes later I boarded. The flight attendant kept looking for more people but they never came.

I was told I could sit anywhere. I chose the seat in the first row that seemed to have the most leg room so that all 5’7″ of me could stretch out. The FA looks at me and says ” 50 seats on this plane and you have to sit right in front of me!” I had not realized that the jump seat was directly across from my seat. I sat across the aisle

I got great service on the flight. Thanked the boys in front personally as I deplaned.

Unfortunately the leg from Charlotte to Chicago was packed full. A shame. I had gotten accustomed to flying solo.