Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Wander Day 8 & 9

Day Eight

The Wander


Spirits are on the rise. We took a risk and it worked out for the best. I don’t like relying on chance, I don’t gamble, I don’t usually take stupid risks. Calculated risks are ok. This was a calculated risk; we had a backup plan just in case things didn’t work out. This risk definitely worked out.

We woke up fairly early, just before eight o’clock. The sun was just rising over the town but the air was still cold enough to turn my breath into a billowing icy cloud. The night before we had set up camp; unpacked, showered, and went to the grocery store for supplies. On our way to the store, we passed a patisserie that looked amazing, we managed to find out that they opened at five, so we decided the first thing we needed to do was go there the next morning.

It was a tasty treat if I do say so myself. France is a dangerous place for those trying to stay fit. I would imagine that if I lived here though, the enormous about of bicycle riding I’d be doing would help to offset a croissant in the morning!! I love seeing old men on their road bikes (not motorcycles, just the thinner bicycles) out in the middle of nowhere. We passed this guy on the train while were were going through some mountains; he had to be miles from the nearest town but he looked completely content pedaling away amongst those red rolling hills.

Today did start with the pastry, but it’s been continued by laundry duty. Kate and I found a nice little corner laverie and we’ve been taking turns sitting with the clothes while the other meanders around the city. This serves a dual purpose: One, we getting laundry done that we both desperately needed to do, and Two, it gives us our alone time, time to think, time to wander, time to enjoy all on our own. This place couldn’t have been better to smooth out our increasingly ruffled relations.

I’m really fond of it here and I’ve seen but a fraction of this villa. If I ever have the money, I’d like to be back, and next time, I’d like to be competent enough with French so that I may hold a conversation. For example, we were in a coffee shop last night using it’s free WiFi, when some teenagers, definitely younger than us, came in. They were laughing and smiling, one of them even had a guitar. I wanted desperately to go and say hello, find out more about them, where they’re from, how long she’d been playing guitar, had they ever been to America. But I don’t even know how to say I’m sorry (I think it’s Desole) I don’t know how to ask someone’s name, or where they’re from, and trying to hold a conversation while having my nose in my French Phrase book would be frustrating for me, as well as them I’m sure. Learning from a book is a rubbish way to learn. So, if I could live forever, I would go back to the states and take some French lessons, then come back to Saint Raphael to live for a while, work, make friends, and improve my French. Of that epic dream, the more realistic piece of that I’ve decided to hand onto is the learning French part. I’d like to at least have the ability to speak in French and Spanish fluently enough to hold a conversation.

Moving on, sometimes Kate worries me. I feel like she doesn’t eat. She has like a banana for breakfast and doesn’t eat until late at night. Then again she eats meagerly. It almost seems like she’s starving herself. For instance, I noticed the other day, after eating practically nothing the day before, she was downing bread on the train to Nice. She ate pretty much the entire loaf. She also had this broccoli puree that is meant for babies. It has all of 180 calories in the tub, she devoured it in mere seconds. Scoop after scoop were consumed without even a stop for breath. I’ve told her about my worry, I told her that not eating is not the way. Controlled smaller-meals throughout the day is better for the body. When you starve it, the body tends to store whatever it can instead of efficiently working off any fat it may have. She didn’t want to listen, she didn’t want to hear. I really think it’s a problem.

I bought a rubbish watch today, but at least now I’ll know the time. That reminds me that I’d like to get a better watch when I get to the states, but I’m very picky. I’m thinking I want it to have a thicker leather strap, not flashy, brown leather and simple. As for the watch, I’d like it with silver or bronze for the casing, not gold, that’s too flashy as well. And lastly, for the size, I’d like it a little bigger, with old fashioned numbering, and on the inside I’d like it to say the date as well. I’ve seen some with a barometer and all that. Those things are pretty cool but a bit unnecessary.

After I got the watch, we went for a wander along the beach. The nice lady at the hotel had told us that there was some good hiking just outside of town, and that it was along the beach. So we went! We had to pass a huge marina which was fun, and we also passed a bunch of restaurants that were well over my price range. It was at the end of the marina that the path started.

I mentioned the red cliffs before, but this… this was incredible. These rocks are hard to describe but they’re very jagged, and almost… cubic I guess. They crack on parallel planes, and they form three planes, X, Y, and Z. Just like in geometry. Obviously they don’t form perfect sides, or perfect corners, and they are at the mercy of the sea’s erosion power, but for the most part, they are fairly cubic. Some of them jut out of the see in diagonal angles, some jut out in the opposite direction, some pop straight out, and some lay totally flat. This diversity in rock layout created a very fun place to clamber about.

While there was a path that led us along this beach for nearly 4.8Km, Kate and I went off the path and began rock climbing around, jumping over things, scaling points and taking pictures all the way. We went maybe 1.3km but because of our self generated path, plus time for pictures, it took us nearly an hour. Ha! It was so much fun though. The sun was out and of course my sleeves were rolled up. It was invigorating to go climbing, and such a beautiful day for it.

I had my backpack with me that whole time because I’m paranoid about leaving it anywhere now. So not only were we hiking and climbing, but I was doing it with a laptop on my back plus some books, a water canteen, a jacket, and some other random things. I’d say that all in all, my bag probably added another 40 pounds. I’m not joking. By the time we stopped for a rest and an orange, I was soaked.

We found this little point where we could see the beaches that lay at our disposal, as well as the beach we had just traversed. It was there that we rested and basked in the sun on the red rocks. We talked about many things at that point, though I think movies took the precedence. It was exceedingly relaxing. However, the day was waning and so we decided to go back.

Back in town we contacted the tourism office and set up the coolest excursion to tomorrow! We booked a scuba lesson! Yeah, it could have been horseback riding, it could have been rock climbing, but no, we wanted to scuba, and so we shall! After that, we found a really cheap place to eat then hit up the Magaya coffee shop again for the free wifi. We ended up booking our flight from Glasgow to cork, our train from Bristol to Edinburgh, and booking out accommodation for Rome. Pretty much, the rest of our trip is set in stone. We could still alter Venice and we have a lot of leeway for what we do in Scotland, but for the most part, I know where we’ll be and when we’ll be there. That’s a good feeling, and a big relief for myself.

I’m totally beat and I think I’ll sleep well tonight. Scuba in the morning! Bright and early, nine am!

Day Nine

The Wander


OH MY GOSH! I JUST WENT SCUBA DIVING IN THE MEDITERRANEAN!!! The entire thing is actually kind of a blur come to think of it. I just sat down and there are so many emotions and memories that it’s hard to separate them all. I suppose the one common emotion was excitement.

Last night, I dreamt about scuba diving. All my dreams took place underwater; it was warm, and the water was practically transparent, the sun shone down from the crest of the sea and fish swam in schools around me. Then I woke up and almost all of it came true.

We went down to the marina about ten minutes before nine and no one was there yet! We were set to go at nine, so it was a bit of a surprise to see no one around. Though, people began to show up shortly thereafter and we were on our way! I know it was stupid, but I only wore a t-shirt. Even the south of France is subject to the seasons, and needless to say, I was a bit cold, however, it was nothing unmanageable. That was my only regret from the whole thing, as I’m still pretty cold right now.

I thought that it being a Sunday morning and all that there wouldn’t be many others who would join up for this Scuba adventure. I was wrong. There was only one other person who signed up through the tourism office. She was a nurse from Paris. I never caught her name but she was a sweet little lady. There was an entire group that showed up as well; apparently they were part of a scuba club in Frejus, a town right next door to Saint Raphael. We met a man named Crylle from that group; he was probably the closest to our age. He was 22, grew up mostly in Paris and moved 4 years ago to Saint Raphael. Though still so young, a little over a year ago her was married to the daughter of the scuba club director. He’s been a manager for a few different restaurants in the South of France but now he’s going back to university to get a bachelors degree. He was basically our main translator and source of conversation throughout the experience.

We left the dock at a little past nine to go to a place called the Pyramid. It was about a half hour boat trip to the dive spot, but it was a beautiful morning, a bit cloudy, but beautiful. There was a stiff breeze coming off the coast which made me dwell momentarily on the Adventuress. A breeze like this one would have let us sail right off the dock, no motor necessary. On a day like this one, the breeze would have had us keeling way over. But I had to bring myself back to the boat, I couldn’t have my mind wandering if I was going to be scuba diving.

When we got to the spot, the group that had come along were all ready to go; they had prepared during the trip. They all jumped in and the boat was ours. This swiss lady now living in St. Raphael was our instructor. She took us through it all step by step, told us the bare bone basics and basically said that she’s be right by us the entire time regulating all our equipment etc. She also told us some underwater signs. Thumbs up means “I want to go up” and thumbs down means “I want to go down”. Simple enough. Rocking your hand from side to side means there’s something wrong, that would get her to come over and check on us. Making an O with your pointer and thumb meant “OK”, and lastly, rubbing your arms meant you were cold, and it was time to go up.

Since we were borrowing equipment, we didn’t have everything to keep us warm. For example, we didn’t have scuba slippers, so it was our bare feet in the fins which was a very cold situation. Also, Crylle was telling us that our suits were a little bit thinner and colder than the ones his scuba club were using. To him, the amount of time they spent down there was nothing and when he surfaced finally, he seemed to be warm and chipper while I was shaking like leaf in a storm.

It was no matter; I might remember the cold in years to come, but I could never forget the sights. Oh my God what an experience it was. After I was suited up, finned up, tanked up, and goggled up, I got to jump off the back of the boat, just like I’ve seen them do in movies a hundred times. “Hold your goggles, look at the horizon, and jump!” So I did. Sinking down into the water with a weight belt on and a heavy tank doesn’t do well on your nerves, and I had a mini panic in my head. It was nothing huge, I just noticed my breathing quickened and my senses went to their extreme setting. I suppose jumping into cold water isn’t something natural for your body.

In my head I kept telling myself, calm down, breathe slowly, in and out, in and out. I pushed through the nervousness fairly quickly, and to help calm my nerves I had a helping hand through my entire journey. I never got his name, but he had a wise and jolly face. His smile was big, his skin was tan, and the wrinkles around his eyes gave the impression that this man loved his life. After clearing my goggles he led me to the front of the boat, there was a line to take us down to The Pyramid.

In Saint Raphael, there are these red jagged rocks all around. They jut out of the sea in rather cubic formations. The cracks are always parallel to each other, and all the breaks seem to be on parallel planes. That description is kind of poor, maybe I’ll rework it later, but it was the cubic properties of these red rocks that created the pyramid; an underwater tower that starts at a point, and spreads down in four directions. I pulled my way down a blue rope to the top of the pyramid and there we began our journey around it. I was only allowed to go something like six metres down unfortunately. After a while, I got the hang of things and wanted to go deeper. However, six metres would do for the first time rather nicely.

I had jumped off the boat first so I had got a head start on Katie. I ended up making an entire trip around the pyramid before meeting up with her. She had her own guide as well of course. But on my first trip, my guide was so caring for me. He was always checking to make sure I was ok, and then he was always searching with his flashlight for something cool to look at! The first thing we came across (besides schools of fish) was an eel. It was tucked back in a crack and when I got close it darted out a bit and snapped his jaw. It was a little startling but SO COOL!

The pyramid was covered in all sorts of plants, ranging from a dull brown colour to vibrant reds and oranges. There were also so different types of fish. There were the schooling fish, and the fish that stayed in an amongst the plant life, there were fish that blended in and fish that stood way out. There was so much to see, and had I been warmer, I would have stayed down there for hours.

I remember when I passed the first corner of the pyramid; I was still adjusting to the environment, and getting a feel for moving myself around. When I went over that first corner though, all that lay in front of me was hazy blue water and a school of fish. I stopped there for a moment and just floated. It felt like I was in outer space, the fish were just hovering in mid water, suspended, it seemed, in time. The sun was behind them, so the rays of light danced and played around them, but at the same time it caused their forms to become silky silhouettes. That moment will stay with me for the rest of my life.

We continued on and, like I said, we stayed pretty close to the surface, but that didn’t stop me from looking further down. As we stayed close to the pyramid I peered out into the vanishing visibility and saw bubbles. The club of divers that had been with us at the beginning had made their way down to the base of the pyramid and I had just come upon them. I looked out and saw maybe twelve different chimneys of bubbles rising up to the surface. The bubbles grew as they ascended and eventually mixed to become one big plum of exhausted air. There were so many divers in one place that it immediately reminded me of Thunderball. Good old Sean Connery.

When I had made my way around the pyramid for the first time, we went to say Hi to Katie. Her woman was showing her that if she scrubbed the rocks that had plant life on them, it was draw in the fish to feed. So I gave it a shot too, and sure enough, the fish came to me. They were so cute I wanted to pet them but that… well that’s just ridiculous!

We ended up passing Katie and her guide and going back around one more time. I saw starfish and more fish, but the crowning achievement of the dive was the octopus. My guide found one and pointed it out to me! I was elated. However, I was surprised when he just reached down and plucked it up! It began to jettison its ink and it had an amazing amount of ink to spill! He held it gently, never squeezing, just sort of cupping it in his hands. I reached in to touch it, it was spongy. It then began an epic struggle with his hands, wrapping around them, trying to pull free, sadly, this also reminded me of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, only the tides had been turned on my little eight-legged friend! Eventually he got away. With a kick from all eight legs, he darted off to safety. For some reason, the thought going through my mind just then was, “Wow, people eat you!” Haha. He was so cool. Or maybe it was a she. Either way, it was cool and by far the happiest part of my trip. I want an octopus some day. And a turtle. Wow that’s random.

After about the second and a half time around, I told my guide that I was getting cold. That was a huge understatement. I was freezing before I jumped in, but I didn’t want it to end so I toughed it out. It was when I couldn’t hold my hand out without it shaking uncontrollably that I knew I had to return to the surface. That was the saddest part of the trip. However, what that means to me is that I have to do it again. I have that list of life goals and well, learning to Scuba Dive is on there. While I cannot say that experience counts as learning to scuba dive properly, but I can say that it was a great introduction, and perhaps the beginning of a lifelong passion.

To finish off this post, I'll say that I'd love to start diving with my Daddy Dan, so i'm going to be trying to convince him to get re-certified. And second I'll say that nothing but moseying happened for the rest of the day. A bit of sunday market strolling, and the sunset was increadible. Tomorrow is our last day and we're taking a night train into Roma! Exciting!!

To my family and friends. I'm really enjoying my time but my heart aches for you all. It's hard for me to be so far from my support, those smiling faces, those hugs and kisses, the laughing and crying. I miss you my family back in Seattle, and I miss you my friends in Bristol and Seattle. If anyone is reading this, I miss you and Love you.



tvhoward said...

I think your written description communicates the appeal of diving far more than simple video of such.

Also, you really used the word "rubbish." Nice.

Anonymous said...

Hey Zach, this is Dieter, I was on the Adventuress while you were this summer. Looks like you are having a great time overseas. These stories are great, you should take up writing. Anyways I sent you a friend request on your MySpace. Hopefully you'll get it and we can catch up.