The Galapagos and “finding the words”

I want to write about the way I was M O V E D by the Galapagos.

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever lose that AWE that I have for traveling, if places will start failing to impress me somehow… and maybe that sounds like a silly concern but it’s crossed my mind even though it’s never happened. I was moved in a new way, in a way that felt different yet familiar, in a way that has still left me coming up short at expressing the trip since I’ve returned. My first few days worth of reactions looked like me crying as I told friends how amazing it was. Then, that familiar feeling I get where I try to explain my travels or experiences and I’m unsure how much people want to hear because there always comes a point where I get glazed over looks… usually… people can only hear so much of something they cannot comprehend. “It sounds AMAZING”, they’d say! But you cannot explain it.

How do you explain being surrounded by HUNDREDS of schooling hammerhead sharks? What it’s like as the current rips past you at 3 knots and you’re holding onto rocks and army crawling across the bottom until you find a safe boulder to hide behind, out of the currents grip, just to await a theater styled view of predator sharks coming up from the deep? How do you explain the feeling you get when you look into their eyes as they come within a meter’s reach just to realize you aren’t what they’re looking for? Because I still haven’t found a way to express the way it made me feel even though my primary expression was squealing joy through my regulator. How do you express being humbled by your place in an eco-system and what it’s like to stare into the eyes of something that’s evolutionarily perfect, that hasn’t had to evolve for as long as we’ve known them to exist?

How?

How do I explain what it’s like to hang my feet over the side of the boat while we’re underway and that it’s my favorite place to be onboard? There’s something about dangling your feet while the salty spray mists up at you, with your favorite music in your ears and the sun beating down. That FEELING had almost lost me and I was E M O T I O N A L about it all. Sometimes the grief of a remembrance can be haunting even when it feels so comfortable.

How do I explain what it was like DIVING AGAIN after almost 2 years out of the water? Because it was like a coming home… a voyage back to the part of me that is made of salt water, sun kissed skin, and damp dreads that never dry. The part of me that knows as soon as my head sinks below the surface, I am free. Nothing else has ever mattered to me when I’m underwater except what’s right in front of me… I leave the problems of the surface exactly there, on the surface. The ocean gives me the opportunity to energetically cleanse myself and I feel at HOME with the sound of bubbles in my ears. I’ve logged over 3,000 dives and this trip reaffirmed for me that the ocean has only become a bigger part of me after all this time. But how do I explain this to you if you have NO IDEA the world that awaits you under the water? …and the TIME it takes to spend enough time in that element, and to be able to see so many species, and travel so many places that you could potentially see and experience what I have? Because maybe it suddenly dawned on me… the things I’ve seen that are indescribable! Words fall short for feelings because life is meant to be lived and all these moments leave me awe-struck.

How do I explain the way it felt to reconnect with a friend I met scuba diving when I was 15? We felt like we were young again as we explored, laughed and danced underwater and had our MIND BLOWN with pods of dolphins and killer whales? We coined the phrase, “we live here now” and spoke broken Spanish to the crew and did the Macarena sopping wet on the dive deck after one of our favorite dives. I got to remember where I was then and where I am now and the in between became so clear to me for the first time… all these experiences and MOMENTS are always leading me to my current situation with more knowledge, awareness, and instructions for moving forward. I got to sit with the FULLNESS OF MY LIFE on this trip and it was a perspective I needed.

How do I explain the SISTERHOOD of geeking out about diving with my lifelong friend and a new one who joined us? How do I explain what it’s like to share my passion with other women who share the same one? How do I explain those looks of KNOWING that happen underwater, through a mask, without words but that simple KNOWING of understanding… the, “how the fuck is this our lives right now?” Of it all? How do I explain what it’s like to meet and fall for a new human who matches my experience level and enthusiasm for diving? When I’m polyamorous and am already SO IN LOVE with other humans but still have space to love more? How do I share with you that I fell for our dive guide on the trip, that we shared knowing looks as instructors and guides underwater… and that it lead to writing notes and kissing under a deck of stars? That we geeked out over equipment and technical diving and found our similarities while we talked about dive instructor life and travel? That I got to experience a new connection with a person who knows a HUGE part of me intimately, because we have that in common already, and bonding over it was SOUL FOOD for both of us? How do I explain that to you?

And how do I explain the grief that simultaneously accompanied my joy? How do I explain that the day I left, I found out my friend was brutally murdered by police in a hospital while seeking mental health help? Because I actually cannot explain this… but I can tell you I cried the whole time I packed and drove to the airport and got my COVID test… the whole flight and in between… I was that girl you look at in an airport and think, “poor thing! Why is she traveling right now?” But what they don’t know is that my autopilot is movement so even though I don’t remember packing, some things are second nature to me! So, I managed to get myself to Ecuador despite a van breakdown on the way to the airport and an emotional breakdown due to the loss of my friend. I managed to get there even when I doubted that I could because I knew I needed to do what I do best. I knew that my SOP is movement and travel and I knew that my best chance for healing was to go remember what it means to be alive! So, I did that. I did it even though I don’t know how I did. But how do I explain what that was like when it was all a blur, until I arrived a few days later and finally saw my friend’s face, and felt the water move underneath me again as the boat pulled out of the harbor? That was the moment that I started to remember again… that was one of them.

How do I explain that being rocked to sleep on a boat is my favorite? That I was conceived on a sailboat and born in the summer and that my father owned a marina so when I wouldn’t stop crying he’d put me in the boat and take me around the lake and I’d finally settle down? How do I explain that I am water and that I feel more grounded and safe in my body below the surface or in the sky than I do on the ground in this world and this society? How do I explain that to you? You- who maybe knows me, or who thinks they know me?

How do I explain that I have SO MANY PARTS OF ME, and environments and places that I thrive in and feel alive in, but yet… there is no one in my life that has fully witnessed me in all of these environments? How do I explain the beauty yet loss that I feel in that? Maybe I write so much because I want you to FEEL what I feel and experience the pieces of me that light me up! I want to share it with you so you can witness me and feel inspired to find the pieces of you that drive you into joy. I’ve always been driven to joy, not duty. I think it is our duty as humans on this earth to make the most of the experiences we are given, to be the authors of our own lives, and to realize our dreams by showing up in the world knowing that what lights us up is where our gifts are.

How do I explain that there are so many layers I have to process for every experience? That sometimes I need to sit with things for months as I re-live it with new lenses to see the full spectrum of my experience? How do I tell you about the grief that I unpack with every goodbye and the way a place changes you, taking a new piece every time but also breaking you open to new love and possibilities? How do I explain that it takes so much out of me to be fully present that I sometimes need to spend days hiding in my van by the water somewhere, writing like crazy, so that I can find the words to express the how and the WHY of it all? How do I explain this to you?

Do you see what I mean? I’m finding that these experiences, these moments, these journeys, are multilayered. I’m finding the beauty and juiciness in trying to express the way I am MOVED by these places. The Galapagos brought me back to myself, a version of myself that I love, that I’ve missed. It brought me back to community and love, and the joy in sharing your passions with people you value. But mostly, this trip brought me back underwater. It GIFTED me back into the water! And I’m proud that I took the risk and made the commitment to make something happen that’s always been a dream of mine. The Galapagos reminded me of who I was, who I am, and who I want to be. I’m sure you can understand that?

So here’s a reminder… to book the trip. To buy the ticket. To not wait until next year or (insert some subjective timeframe in the unscheduled future)! I reconnected with a friend on the west coast a few weeks ago. He echoed to me a journey he felt he needed to take to Guatemala but he also echoed his doubts, the inconvenience of the timing, and other variables I cannot remember now, but I looked at him and told him to “book the ticket”. I said, “all the details and logistics can be figured out afterwards but just.book.the.ticket” because once you have the date and the ticket, everything else will fall into place. But that’s just me! I’m obviously not much for waiting since I believe in living my life now but I learned a valuable lesson lately in the circumstances of my most recent travel- I was reminded the day that I left, how short life can be when I found of my friend’s tragic death. I was reminded of our impermanence, and I was gifted with the perspective of travel and the strength to get myself there, despite the circumstances.

Diving has always been my first love. I spent 2 years with little scuba diving in my life and I got to finally go do a trip FOR ME! Not for customers, not for my boss, not for work… FOR ME. And I’m still riding the highs of that trip 6 weeks later (as I publish this). I’m still searching for the words in what are only feelings and memories, a mixture of sweet and salty. Physically, I’m in North Carolina. But MENTALLY, I’m still face to face with a Galapagos shark, cheers-ing non alcoholic drinks post dive with my girlfriends, smoking cigarettes in between dives with my scuba lover talking sharks, tech gear, and a shared love of diving. Mentally I’m still dangling my feet over the bow, headphones in my ears, watching dolphins chase the horizon as the boat moves between the islands. The part of me that longs for bare feet, wet bikinis and the hissing sound my scuba tank makes as I turn the tank on… THAT PART of me, is still there. That girl will always be the biggest part of me. That’s what I learned in the Galapagos, THAT’s what I remembered… that I am MANY THINGS, but mostly water.

Trigger Warning: Plastic

As a scuba diver, I’ve gotten to see the devastating effects of plastic first hand. On a dive in Mexico I passed a hawksbill turtle with a plastic bag wrapped around it’s mouth. I tried to get close but the turtles in that area don’t usually approach divers and although it wasn’t too comfortable with me, it seemed to slow down as I neared. When I attempted to put my hand out to free the plastic the turtle panicked and swam away. I was crushed. Unable to breathe at the surface due to the bag, I wasn’t sure how long he’d make it. Turtles can only hold their breath a few hours depending on the level of activity but he had a mission in front of him and a limited amount of time to remove the bag.

This isn’t my only story about plastic in our oceans.

I’ve been unable to surface in normally clear water certain days because as I approach the surface after a dive you can see that it’s lined with floating debris, plastic and other rubbish. It looks like a gruesome film layering the surface of the water. You can see the gasoline sparkling rainbows as you look up and watch your bubbles break apart when they hit the surface.

I cut a fishing net in Indonesia and almost got hit in the head by a weight belt as the the boat captain realized and tried to stop me. My student looked on in horror. I realized in hindsight I shouldn’t meddle in certain things, I know it’s their way of life, but I have a hard time with the way we treat our oceans. How ignorant we become. How things like dynamite fishing are even a thing.

In 2012 I joined hundreds of divers as we set the Guinness Book of World Records for pulling out the most debris from our oceans in one day. It was the biggest organized event they’ve ever had. In Phuket specifically 650 divers, including myself, pulled out 15 tons of rubbish. We were proud of ourselves- we did something great! But I was so sad that something like that was necessary. If we took out 15 tons in one day, imagine how much there is! And setting a world record for the most rubbish collected at a time seemed like something I didn’t want to be competing for.

Once, I watched a seahorse swaying along the bottom with tinfoil sachets that had been thrown into the ocean- bobbing back and forth with the waves and seahorse in unison. It was like looking at one of the cutest, most beautiful tiny things in the world, next to something that was slowly integrating in where it didn’t belong, where it never belonged. The plastic can’t go anywhere except back into the environment as a microplastic, this is now our cycle… That’s when I realized where we were going if we didn’t stop, what our world would look like… and it scared the shit out of me!

I jumped first during season opener with my group of divers on a liveaboard in the Similan Islands in Thailand one year. We had arrived at Richeleu Rock, the most famous dive site in Thailand, to find that it had been covered with a fishing net. The whole thing! We spent 2 dives cutting away the invisible fishing line with plastic bottles attached as surface markers and fishing hooks scattered throughout the lines underwater. This area was a “protected marine park” but it closes 7 months a year and when it’s closed the fisherman know there is no one out there patrolling, and they don’t care.

I broke apart a fish cage with my hands and dive knife on a familiar dive site in Thailand once to free the 8-10 fish that were trapped inside. I know it was small and they probably just wanted to feed their family but something happens to me and I become protective of the water I spend so much time in. I feel the need to speak for it. But first I have to educate myself about the seafood industry, fishing practices, local customs and ways of life, the environmental effects and other aspects of what I’m doing. Sometimes our actions come from a good place but we might have misguided intentions.

I’ve used a shovel to pick up and throw away huge blankets of oil that had covered the beach in the morning, melting in the hot sun and getting harder to move by the minute. I’ve joined environmental groups while I traveled, organized beach clean ups through my dive shop, and been a part of more Debris related activities than I’d like because unfortunately as a diver we get to see it daily. It makes us sad to watch dive sites disappear and change so greatly within a few years. Before it used to take a lifetime to notice these differences, now they’re happening in a matter of years.

Regardless, I’m not on a pedestal but something I will get hot and bothered about is plastic! I’ve walked down beaches in some of the most beautiful places in the world (YES EVEN IN THE US)  and seen them littered with plastic lighters, chip bags, plastic straws, sachets, styrofoam and so many other pieces of microplastics you wouldn’t believe your eyes! I don’t even know if you believe me, you probably think I’ve seen this once or twice, here and there; I’m here to tell you I have seen this everywhere, in all different parts of the world! Although it’s more certainly on display in third world countries, it still exists in the United States, we’ve just gotten better at “recycling” it and stashing it out of the way. We don’t have to look at it and be reminded of the pounds of plastic we throw out in the trash every day, it isn’t our problem. Out of sight out of mind!

Although somehow, if someone dumped that rubbish right out in our yards every day, we might start realizing how much unnecessary plastic and packaging we consume. I’m not saying you need to go out and be a damn warrior but start somewhere! At least become AWARE of the amount of plastic you use and if there’s a better way. Bring a reusable bag, avoid products with palm oil, tell the waiter you don’t need a straw, ANYTHING will help!

Oh, and please don’t get me started on single use plastic because I don’t know how we can even justify using a piece of plastic once and throwing it away! Look, no one is perfect. But if we all just did a little bit better, it would make such a huge difference! I worry constantly about the future of our oceans, about how to teach the next generation to be better than we are, to create products with less environmental impact, I worry about how to reduce my carbon footprint. But I also have certain habits that contribute to the consumption of plastic and I recognize that none of us are perfect! I think it’s necessary to look at our lives and see the ways we could improve. Not only how we can improve by purchasing less and being aware of different kinds of plastic, but on how we educate our children and the ways in which we normalize plastic’s use.

I’d like to be able to continue sharing my passion for diving for years to come. If our ocean’s continue at this rate I might not have fish or coral left to show people. Our favorite sites that used to be considered the most beautiful dives in the world will be covered in plastic fishing nets and rubbish littering the surface and the bottom! Divers are natural ambassadors for the underwater environment because they get to see the effects first hand and share what they see with others. You get to see all my beautiful dive photos and travel photos, I don’t show you the way that I’ve adjusted the camera frame to exclude a bit of rubbish or the way the surface of the water shines as the trash dances up and down in the sun. I don’t share the ways in which we’ve had to educate our boat crew to not flick their cigarettes in the water or throw their rubbish overboard.

I’ve realized that I wanted to share all of this because I’m in a position to do it. This isn’t your usual inspiring post because sometimes it’s important to talk about the hard stuff. It’s important we stop pretending like these things aren’t problems because they don’t affect us “enough”. I think it’s time we stop making up excuses.

 

The Caribbean’s Hidden Gem

Imagine waking up on a tiny island where there are no cars or scooters at all, only foot paths with the occasional bicycle. Delivery produce only arrives from the larger island once a week and sends the small ferry dock into a frenzy with people from all over the island setting up stands and selling the week’s supply of food. Larger items need to be transported by push cart through the jungle pathways weaving a half an hour to the opposite end, sometimes taking as many as 6 men to complete the job. Electricity shuts off daily from 6 AM to 1 PM to allow the sun to recharge the generators for the day. When the fans stop humming in the morning it pushes everyone outside to begin their day. I don’t think there is any air conditioning on the island so the fan is what allows you to sleep. The first thing you smell every morning is fresh baked coconut bread flavored with ginger or cheddar and the locals speak a mixture of Spanish, English and Creole. Sometimes you’re unsure which one is more prevalent. The people are friendly and the pace of life is slow, untouched from the rush of the rest of the world.

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Cave Diving in the Yucatan

I finally finished my full cave diving course with IANTD (The International Association of Nitrox and Technical Diving). Cave diving is part of the reason I came to Mexico a year ago and it took me awhile, and a bit of money, to finish this course. It is my first step into technical diving and now means that I can guide the caverns here as a guide to recreational scuba divers. What I do already, as a PADI IDC Staff Instructor, allows me to teach all levels of recreational scuba diving from Open Water, Advanced, Rescue, Divemaster, Assistant Instructor, Specialities and training new PADI Instructors under a Course Director. As much as I love working as a PADI Instructor, cave diving was something I did for me. I started diving when I was 12 years old and have somewhere around 3,500 dives. I’ve always wanted to cave dive and have seen technical diving as a new challenge. It was a way to fall in love with diving all over again.

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cave diving, sky diving, and diving in head first.

I haven’t written in a few months. I’ve had lots of moments I wanted to share with you and put to words for my own sanity, but I’ve been too busy stumbling around this town called Playa del Carmen, trying to find my feet again. I spent the first few months getting into the groove of things and partying way too much, as you do when you first move somewhere new and feel as though you’re still on holiday. I made some mistakes, made some good friends, and eventually made my own way.

Being reconnected with diving the last few months has absolutely swept me off my feet again and put me over the moon… or should I say “under the ocean”. After spending nearly 2 years recovering from 2 separate knee surgeries and almost losing my sense of self amongst my own anguish and inability to do the things I love, I stumbled lost into Playa (as the locals call it) and tripped and fell back into the Lauryn that I’d almost lost touch with completely. Last February’s silent meditation retreat put me back on track in a way I hadn’t felt in over a year, but the return back to Minnesota for another knee surgery and another summer without following my passion made me feel angry at the universe and my own bad luck.

I thought that I wasn’t, and it really took me until recently to realize how angry I had/have been and that I’m not entirely sure why I’m still carrying all of this negative energy around. But I am. Here I am. Exhale. So a week ago after another spell of bad luck I decided that there was something inside of me that was hurting. There is something that I haven’t resolved within myself, some anger, and my continuous distraction keeps being manifested in my own reality. I’m essentially putting this energy out into the universe and the universe is responding with the very frequency that I’m sending. Bad things happen, thus is life, but I am acting out in various ways because I’m not dealing with something.

I am getting closer to realizing the answer through lots of meditation, music, non-distraction, honest conversations with people that care about me, and self love. I don’t need to find out what it is right now, but I do need to listen to myself more. How did I not realize this? How have I not connected my behaviors from the last year to more than trivial mishaps? How have I not taken responsibility for my actions? I don’t know why it took me so long but I do know with intense clarity that lots of things are about to change for me, and in a BIG way. I don’t know if this change is spiritual or physical, my job, my location… but I do know that I am aware of this negative energy now because I am able to receive the information and the lesson.

Playa has definitely been a trip and I’m so glad that my journey led me here. I’m beginning to see what my reason for being here now is and with that I plan on taking the next step with just as much faith in the process. Lots of firsts, but definitely not lasts.

The last 4 months have been lots of silly stumbles, miscommunications and learning experiences. I started my cave course a month ago which has made me fall in love with diving all over again, and I will be finishing my full cave portion with IANTD (International Association of Nitrox and Technical Divers) at the end of the month when work slows down. These Cenotes and cave systems here in Mexico are unlike anything in the world. I am so blessed to be challenged in this type of environment; it’s breathtaking. I have also decided I’m going to bite the bullet and take advantage of the new sky diving school that opened here in Playa, called SkyDiveMex. I did my first tandem jump a few years ago in Hawaii and have never felt such a rush of adrenaline in my life! I literally landed and started crying because I was so happy. I knew then and there that I wanted to jump solo. I’ve always loved heights and the rush of skydiving felt like nothing before. I already know I’m a mermaid, but I may just be a bird as well! Here’s to new adventures. Life looks like it’ll find me sailing around the Caribbean this summer so keep your eyes peeled for more rambling mermaid escapades.