I Have Not Died From Scuba Yet, But The Week is Still Young

We’ve been in Puerto Rico about three days now (four if you count the travel day) and there’s one thing that’s become evident: waterboarding is a truly excellent form of torture, as those things go.

I can say that because we had our third day of scuba diving today. I probably drank less of the ocean today than I did the first two days, but only moderately less.

Right now, as I sit on my patio at the W, watching (er, actually listening, since my eyes are on the screen here) the ocean come in and out on the beach, I can feel the salt water fighting with the post-dive beer in my stomach.  And my nostrils burn from all the salt water that has made its way forcefully up my nose. But I couldn’t be more content or pleased with myself.

I’m amazed that I am actually attempting something involving large and heavy equipment, and unknown spaces. At my advanced age, no less.

Does this wetsuit make me look thin?

Scuba diving is very interesting. On day three, I can’t say I love it, but there are many reasons for this, my inherent laziness being a very large part of that. Nevertheless, I’m willing to keep going to see if some sort of love develops. I’m hoping at the least that scuba and I can be friends.

It’s true that you see things you probably could not see with snorkeling. Today we saw not one but two lion fish, which are apparently the assholes of the sea. They destroy reefs, but they are so pretty and ethereal and I was beyond thrilled to see them.

The thing holding me back into a full-blown love affair with diving is that you are so busy thinking about a billion other things (Am I neutrally buoyant? Where’s my dive buddy? How much air do I have left? Are my ears plugged? I feel like I just equalized, but my ears don’t feel QUITE clear? Is that water coming into my mask? Is it a tolerable amount of should I clear it? Oh dear, I really, REALLY hate clearing my mask). Basically, I don’t really get to enjoy the fish so much at this point.

Red Beach, Day 1. Our "confined" water dive locale.

And, it seems that, like with soooo many other things,  I’m not really a natural at this. Just like running, I feel like my body isn’t totally made for this and I’m not instinctive. In fact, almost everything we’re doing feels incredibly unnatural to me. But I guess it’s hard for anything to feel natural when you’re encased in 3 millimeters of neoprene and have a 40 pound tank strapped to you.

For example, every time we come up to the surface (which I apparently do far too quickly), our very patient and super awesome dive instructor Arnaud reminds me of a ton of stuff I keep forgetting to do, like, breathe. And, oh yeah, kick. You know, so you can actually propel your body forward in a swimming motion. Apparently just sitting at the bottom of the ocean trying to equalize your ears isn’t called “scuba diving.” I think it’s called being a paper weight. Which, I might add, I’d be very, very good at.

Pirate's Cove. Day 2 locale.

There are many reasons for my uselessness and ineptitude. For one thing, I’ve had it drilled in my head that everything out there in the ocean could possibly, and probably will, hurt you. It’s hard to relish in the beauty of the sea when you’re scared of every single thing in it. I might add, with good cause. XFE got stung by a jelly fish today. He’s fine, but honestly, if that had been me, you would have heard my hissy fit all the way back to DC and probably beyond. The tears, they woulda flowed. And, I probably would have gotten a new pair of heels out of the whole thing.

And this isn’t just the fish, mind you. I’m afraid of the plants too. I’m afraid (a) I’m going to destroy the whole entire ecosystem with one kick of my fin, thereby wiping out an entire strata of endangered plankton, and/or (b) I’m going to brush the .34 square inches of exposed skin on my body against some deeply poisonous fibroid that will paralyze me before I can swim another foot.

 

Mosquito Pier. Day 3 locale. Full of jelly fish. And lion fish.

 

Plus, for some reason, without the gift of vocalization, I’m a bit docile and timid, I’ve discovered. For example, yesterday, we were told we had 3,000 psi of air in our tanks at the start of the dive. Ever Patient Arnaud explained that when we got to 1,500, we should say something. I thought we would all be on the same psi page, so when I saw I was at or near 1,500, I didn’t say anything. When I got to 1,000, I knew I should probably say something. So, I turned to my Jacques Cousteau Wannabe Boyfriend (seriously, he is great at this scuba stuff) XFE and gave him the “WTF??” sign, having expected him to say something to Arnaud. Once we established what my psi was, XFE swam ahead and notified Arnaud. Ladies and gentlemen, I got scolded underwater! Apparently, I’m an air hog, and everybody else was still at a nice normal psi, well above 1,500. So, we had to cut the dive short, because Poe was breathing like a dying whale and draining her tank.

Speaking of XFE, he is, of course, freaking awesome at everything. He completes every single skill on the first try, without frantically clawing through the water and clinging to poor Arnaud with silent, questioning (and bulging) eyes.

But, apparently, we’re doing quite well, according to Arnaud. I think he’s grading on a curve. Plus, he’s French, so I don’t know how trustworthy he is, although he has given us some pretty great dinner recommendations, so there’s that.

I Bet It’s Exactly Like ‘Under the Sea’ – CSI Edition

I’m halfway through my online scuba lessons and I’m becoming very, very worried.

We’re taking online scuba certification classes, with plans to do the actual dive portion in Puerto Rico in December. All of this is to prepare us for diving in the Great Barrier Reef next year.

I am, as you may have noticed, a very risk-adverse and worried person. I worry about brain eating amoebas. I worry about sharks, of course. Now, thanks to President Obama and his trip to Australia and a little gift he received from some diplomat, I’m now also worried about crocodiles. (Thanks Australia!)

This shark is probably at least 33% smaller outside of the water.

Look, I have a really great life and I don’t want to jeopardize it. As much as I like pretty fishies, I’d like to keep living. And doing nonsensical things like trying to breathe underwater, seems a bit foolhardy to say the least. (And I’m saying it.)

But I also understand that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Plus, I know other people who scuba dive and they seem to get through it without losing any limbs or anything.

Anyway, since I am so prone to panicking, my scuba-buddy-for-life XFE and I thought that the pace-yourself-approach might work best. We could take the online courses, at the slower Poe pace, reviewing and rewatching the slides until actual learning somehow, miraculously, penetrated the haze of panic and settled into my little brain.

Add the allure of going to Puerto Rico and getting out of DC in the midst of a probably cold December for the in-water portion, and I slowly began to feel a tiny bit better about the whole certain-impending-underwater-death thing.

(By the way, the lessons in Puerto Rico will be private ones. You do not want to see me in a group lesson setting. No bueno. Lots of tears and panic and confusion. I think we all learned our lesson from the Great Copper Mountain Ski Debacle of 2008 [or was it 2009?] Either way, someone had to be rescued off the mountain and out of her group ski class by the nice men on the skimobiles.)

So, with a plan in place, I was starting to feel in control, a bit calmer even, while envisioning myself swimming alongside giant sea turtles and frolicking with Nemo under the sea.

That dog looks as excited as I feel.

Then, I started taking the online PADI classes and Holy Fear Injection. What. The. Hell.

So far, it’s all about stuff I should be worried about. They’ve mentioned things that can go wrong that even I, in my wildest dreams, never considered. For example: the second half of last night’s section discussed what to do if you encounter an “unresponsive diver.” This is not something I’d ever even thought about, but my first reaction is to  say, get yourself out of there, get to the surface and undertake a combination of screaming/swimming/thrashing until help comes along. However, that is not proper scuba procedure. Apparently, you are supposed to help the person to the surface. And, some other stuff I wasn’t really paying attention to.

Also: entanglement. Which can come in all kinds of forms like, plants, fishing lines, loose lines and old nets. Where the hell do they think we’re going to be diving? What kind of underwater “Wipeout” are they planning here?

Then there are all these boating terms to remember, and hand signals (25 of them, which they blew through in about .5 seconds), and procedures for weights and BCDs and alternate inflator regulators, and on and on. I have to know how to use a compass. A compass??!! I have no idea how to use a compass. They didn’t really teach that back in the trailer park. And there’s math. Very important math related to how deep you can go and how much air you have.

Plus, did you know that things like water movement affect your ability to see and not get disoriented? Other things that affect visibility? Oh, just the weather, suspended particles of plankton and algae, and the composition of the bottom of the ocean. How am I supposed to account for that??

Oh, and good luck with that whole seeing thing anyway, since apparently refraction magnifies everything by 33% so everything looks larger and closer. That includes sharks, by the way.

Apparently, sharks are PADI certified as well.

My favorite advice, however, is what to do if there’s an aggressive animal around. That’s right. An aggressive animal. First, there are the list of precautions to keep from being shark dinner:

  1. Treat all animals with respect (CHECK)
  2. Be careful in murky water (again, not really something I can control)
  3. Avoid wearing shiny or dangly jewelry (Hmmm, guess I better not wear my grillz then)
  4. Remove fish you have speared from the water immediately (Not going to be a problem because I’m sticking with point number uno, and spearing fish is NOT very respectful.)
  5. Wear gloves and exposure suit (welp, since we covered the loss of body heat in the water in section 1, I’m pretty sure my wimpy cold butt is going to be covered up. Also: see refraction factoid. I do not want my imperfections—few as they are—to appear 33% larger.)
  6. Maintain neutral buoyancy and stay off the bottom (this one is hilarious and I will point out why in just a minute)
  7. Move slowly and carefully (pretty sure I’m not going to move slowly or carefully if and when I’m confronted by an aggressive animal. Pretty sure that’s not going to happen.)
  8. Watch where you’re going and where you put your hands, feet and knees. (Since I’ll be tucked into a fetal position and crying underwater, I’m sure this won’t be an issue.)
  9. Avoid contact with unfamiliar animals. (They’re ALL unfamiliar to me. I don’t know any of these animals. I’ve never met them before. I’m not going to be playing fetch down there with any of them.)

So here’s the advice they give you if all the above precautions don’t work and somehow, you, in your skimpy bathing suit decorated with dangling sequins and bugle beads and carrying a line of speared and unfamiliar fish in the murky water behind you somehow managed to attract the attention of an “aggressive” animal.

This girl appears to be breaking multiple precautionary rules. I'm pretty sure she's gonna get eaten. That one on the left looks hungry.

Advice:

  1. Remain still and calm at the bottom. (WAIT. You told me to stay off the bottom in precautionary point 6. Now I’m totally confused. What am I supposed to do??)
  2. Do not swim toward it. (No. Problem. You can’t swim if you are actively in the process of soiling your wet suit.)
  3. Watch what it does. (Also known as, ‘push your scuba buddy towards the nice fishie’).
  4. If it stays, calmly swim along the bottom and out of the way. (As if I’d have the presence of mind to do any of these things.)

There better be some really awesome and friendly fish down there. I’m bringing a gun, just in case.

The Armadillos Are Coming: I’ll Make the Chimichangas (and Anthony Bourdain is NOT Invited)

My favorite Texas State Mammal (often mistaken for a reptile, but no, it’s a mammal) is making its way to DC, thanks to global warming (ummm, can we get some of that global warming stuff in my office? And by office, I mean prison cube.)

But back to the exciting news:

“It may sound absurd, but new reports show that the leathery, armored mammal from Texas is on the move and could soon take up residence in the Washington area.

Climate change is the culprit, reports the Daily Climate Web site, citing biologists’ claims that the armadillo’s northward expansion can be attributed to a warming atmosphere.”

Oh, hey, just a heads up my little armadillo friends: DC is cold as hell in the winter time. Like, butt tons of snow cold. You might want to bring some little tiny armadillo snow boots with you.

“The Museum of Life and Science in North Carolina adds that the armadillo’s lack of natural predators and Americans’ reluctance to hunt and eat them are also contributing factors.”

Ummm, again, a tiny heads up: Anthony Bourdain will definitely eat you. On the half shell. And your little friends, the guinea pigs too. So let’s just go ahead put a check in the box next to “natural predators” and an “x” in the box “Americans’ reluctance to hunt and eat them.” Lazy work, Museum of Life and Science. Geeze. Watch an episode of No Reservations once in a while, will ya?

10 Fun Armadillo Facts (plus one about me):

1) Their name is Spanish for “little armored one.”

2) They have poor vision but large eyes. Well, that’s not going to help when Anthony Bourdain sneaks up on them to eat them.

 3) Despite popular belief, most armadillo species cannot roll up because they have too many armor plates.

 4) Armadillos can remain underwater for as long as six minutes.

 5) BUT because of the density of its armor, an armadillo will sink in water unless it inflates its stomach and intestines with air, which often doubles its size and allows it to swim across narrow bodies of water. Dang. That would be so handy when your boyfriend makes you learn to scuba dive in Puerto Rico and Australia. *Just kidding, baby. I’m sure I’ll love sinking to the bottom of the ocean with a bahzillion pounds of metal and oxygen on my back and depending on a tube for air. Should come totally naturally to one as clumsy as myself.

 6) Armadillos are often used in the study of leprosy since they are among the few known non-human animal species that can contract the disease systemically, mostly because of their unusually low body temperature.

7) And, unfortunately, they can pass the disease on to humans. Which is a fact I actually DID know, and which bums me out. I can’t count the number of times I’ve wanted to pick up a wild armadillo, only to have someone buzzkill me with, “You know they carry leprosy, DON’T YOU?” As if I’m the crazy one.

Why does this dude get to hold an armadillo and I don't?

)8) Also, (and I’m looking at you Anthony Bourdain) leprosy can be contracted from eating armadillos. Sooooo….you should cut that out. Seriously, if I’m not allowed to manhandle them, you’re not allowed to eat them.

Hmmm, I'll take a side of leprosy and a heaping helping of Anthony Bourdain, please.

9) Armadillo shells had traditionally been used to make the back of some Andean lute instrument called the charango. Not to be confused with the delicious and non-leprosy-carrying chimichanga.

No leprosy here, but I can't account for the tortilla chips. They look like they've got something wrong with them.

10) OK, this one isn’t an armadillo fact, it’s more about me: One of my favorite books is “A Prayer for Owen Meany” (amazing, awesome book) where a stuffed armadillo plays a very significant role. Made me want a stuffed armadillo pretty badly.

11) And according to the Daily Climate Web site, armadillos are highly reproductive little critters.

“The female will give birth to 4 young at a time and they are all identical to each other.  The quadruplets come from one fertilized egg which splits into 4 separate embryos which then develop alongside each other and result in a litter of 4 which will nurse from their mother for approximately 3 months and stay with her for between 6 months to a year.  They can breed at one year old, and every year thereafter for the rest of their 12-15 year lifespan.  One female can give birth to over 50 young, which is why their population is growing so quickly.”

Blowing. My. Mind. That’s like, Octomom territory.  

So welcome, my little Texan friends. Come to my house for delicious chimichangas.