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Travels With Carly | Turning my travel dreams into travel reality

Aranui Day 2: Fakarava, Tuamotu Archipelago

Greetings from Fakarava, or as the crew likes to say, Fuuuuuuukarava. You get it, right? It is very handy. I may use it in the future.

Today was our first day ashore, although we had only 2 hours to check things out before the crew was done unloading cargo. Angela, Erke and I attempted a 3 kilometer hike to a light house via the lagoon road, but we ran out of time and walked back along the ocean. A German guy who owns a pearl store on the island was selling black pearls off a card table under a tent near the pier. Very random, but very good prices.

For me, the highlight of the day was the Aranui band. Comprised of crew members, they play every other night from 9 – 10 in YoYo’s bar. They rock it with two ukeleles, one guitar, and one homemade instrument that is basically a plastic bin from Home Depot turned on its head with a heavy rope attached to a stick. You place the stick on top of the bin, pull the chord tight and viola…you have a base. Ingenious.

While the Aranui band played, passengers and crew danced. I hit the floor with Jean (John in English), a very cute cargo guy from the Austral islands – henceforth known as Austral Jean. Austral Jean has been aboard the Aranui for 3 years, and his little brother Gino joined him here 2 months ago. Like everyone (passengers and crew alike) Austral Jean wanted to know if I was married. He said, “You have no husband? You travel alone? You very brave.”

Why thank you Austral Jean, yes I am.

Fisherman's art on Fakarava atoll in the Tuamotu archipelago.

Fisherman's art on Fakarava atoll in the Tuamotu archipelago.

Fisherman's art on Fakarava atoll in the Tuamotu archipelago.

Fisherman's art on Fakarava atoll in the Tuamotu archipelago.

Fakarava, Tuamotu Archipelago

Fakarava, Tuamotu Archipelago

The long road of friendship.  Angela and Erke.  Fakarava atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago.

The long road of friendship. Angela and Erke. Fakarava atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago.

View of the Aranui 3 at Fakarava atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago.

View of the Aranui 3 at Fakarava atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago.

In the age of cell phones it is nice to know you can still call someone from a phone booth on the beach.

In the age of cell phones it is nice to know you can still call someone from a phone booth on the beach.

Angela says the German Pearl Guy is on TV in Germany. Very random, but hey, this is French Polynesia.

Angela says the German Pearl Guy is on TV in Germany. Very random, but hey, this is French Polynesia.

Aranui 3 – Freighter to Paradise: Day 1

Let me start this post by saying that you will get sick of hearing how much I loved the Aranui 3 – the freighter to paradise. I loved the ship, I loved the Marquesas and I especially loved the crew. I loved every single moment on board, so get ready for a love-fest. Can I say love one more time?

I spent my first day aboard the Aranui getting to know the ship and my fellow dorm-mates, Angela and Erke. Angela and Erke have been friends for longer than I’ve been alive, and they are traveling together for two months in the South Pacific. They’d already been to Easter Island before coming to Papeete. They are German and speak perfect English. Since both my last names are German, they adopted me which was fantastic since they didn’t mind speaking English with me. During the cruise I thought of them as my German mothers.

The dorm on the Aranui is the least expensive option for passengers. The Aranui offers suites, deluxe rooms and normal rooms, but I wanted the adventure (and the cost savings) of the dorm. The dorm is divided into two rooms, sleeping 8 people each. We were very lucky that on this voyage the ship had fewer than 100 passengers, so Angela, Erke and I had one of the dorm rooms to ourselves. Plenty of space to move around.

The passengers were a mixture of people from all over the world, but generally they fell into 3 categories: French speaking, German speaking and English speaking. All of the communication was in all three languages. The French generally kept to themselves, so I hung out with Germans, Swiss, Aussies, Kiwis, Brits, Americans, one Serbian, one Scot and one Brazilian.

Before lunch the Aranui treated us to a dance send off from a very talented Tahitian/Marquesan group. Lots of chanting and stomping around, and some of the most impressive tattoos I had ever seen (that is, until I met the crew).

After lunch, the Aranui went through a few hours of steering tests on the Sea of the Moon before we turned and headed off to the Tuamotos. I sat on the back of the ship, near the crew mess, and watched Tahiti fade away into the twilight – once again profoundly grateful that I am on this journey.

My bunk, C14, in the Aranui dorm. Home away from home for 2 weeks.

My bunk, C14, in the Aranui dorm. Home away from home for 2 weeks.

Papeete harbor with Moorea in the background.

Papeete harbor with Moorea in the background.

On the Papeete dock, the Aranui loaded cars, boats and all kinds of crazy stuff  into the holds and onto the deck.

On the Papeete dock, the Aranui loaded cars, boats and all kinds of crazy stuff into the holds and onto the deck.

Loading the drums for our send off.

Loading the drums for our send off.

The Marquesas are known as the Islands of Men.  Um, yeah.  That sounds about right.

The Marquesas are known as the Islands of Men. Um, yeah. That sounds about right.

While waiting for the ship to leave, we were treated to a Polynesian and Marquesan send off.

While wating for the ship to leave, we were treated to a Polynesian and Marquesan send off.

Tattooing is a very important part of Polynesian and Marquesan culture.

Tattooing is a very important part of Polynesian and Marquesan culture.

View from the Star Deck of Moorea as we set sail.

View from the Star Deck of Moorea as we set sail.

View of Tahiti from a porthole on B deck.

View of Tahiti from a porthole on B deck.

Papeete, Tahiti: Parlez-Vous Anglais?

Well after 2 flights, 20 hours in transit and several glasses of Champagne on the plane, I finally made it to Tahiti! Papeete is much more bustling than I anticipated. A riot of scooters, motorcycles and French cars cruising up and down the main road. But the colors, ah the colors. I went on a photo binge all day.

In my original trip preparations I had planned on taking a beginner French class, but I ran out of time. That turned out to be a HUGE mistake. Everyone here thinks I am French, which is very flattering, but not helpful in the communication department. I don’t speak a word of French, and most of the time speaking Spanish with a French accent doesn’t work. They just look at me weird. I always start with a shy smile and “Parlez-Vous Anglais”? and if that fails, move on to pointing and drawing stick figures. My sketching abilities improve by the hour.

The ATM at the airport gave me two 10,000 Pacific Franc bills, which is like walking around with two $100 bills. Not helpful if you want to buy a Coke. So I went to the bank this morning to try and get smaller denominations. I sat in the waiting area for about an hour enjoying the AC and the people watching. There was only one teller, so things moved pretty slow. When it was finally my turn, I went to the desk, showed the teller my 10,000 bills, pointed at myself, said “Americain” and then pantomimed breaking the bills into 5,000 increments. The teller totally got what I was saying. Honestly, just telling her I was an American was probably all she needed to know. We are famous for only speaking English. When you don’t speak the language, it helps to be self-deprecating.

After wandering around central Papeete, the harbor and the market, I stumbled upon a microbrewery. Yeay! Something I understand – BEER! If you are ever in Papeete, I highly recommend Les 3 Brasseurs for a good time. I plopped myself down at a table, ordered an amber ale and a Salade Niçoise and chilled out for several hours. It is HOT here.

People watching in Papeete is fantastic. My hair is considered pretty long by US standards, but it is about 12 inches too short to be fashionable in Tahiti. I’ll have to work on that. Women wear flowers in their hair every day. Everyone sports a least one tattoo. Teenagers kiss in the park. Nannies run after little kids. Old men play chess. Young boys set up a skate boarding park and try to out-trick each other. All on a canvas of green mountains shrouded in mist. Paradise.

Selling produce in Papeete's central market.

Selling produce in Papeete's central market.

Reading the daily news while wating for customers at the market.

Reading the daily news while wating for customers at the market.

Even in Papeete, cell phones are glued to people's ears.

Even in Papeete, cell phones are glued to people's ears.

Mix of Colonial and Polynesian buildings.

Mix of Colonial and Polynesian buildings.

Eating lunch at Les 3 Brasseurs, a microbrewery on Papeete's harbor. Look Mom, I'm eating my veggies!

Eating lunch at Les 3 Brasseurs, a microbrewery on Papeete's harbor. Look Mom, I'm eating my veggies!

Colorful pareos and dresses are all the rage at the Papeete market.

Colorful pareos and dresses are all the rage at the Papeete market.

Grass skirts for Tahitian dance classes.

Grass skirts for Tahitian dance classes.

Sailboats in the Papeete harbor.

Sailboats in the Papeete harbor.

A monument to the lives lost and the land destroyed by nuclear testing in the South Pacific.

A monument to the lives lost and the land destroyed by nuclear testing in the South Pacific.

Canoe races are a big deal here in French Polynesia. Kids and their fathers spent the afternoon practicing in the harbor.

Canoe races are a big deal here in French Polynesia. Kids and their fathers spent the afternoon practicing in the harbor.

A view up to the roof structure in a sea-side fale.

A view up to the roof structure in a sea-side fale.

Every Soul Longs to Soar: The First Day of My South Pacific Solojourn

Today I started my trip, bright and early, at 6:30 am in the Cleveland Airport La Quinta. I loaded up my 39 pound backpack, strapped it on, and marched out of the hotel and into my dream. Cleveland to LA. LA to Tahiti. Let the adventure begin.

One thing I noticed right away, when people don’t have to carry their own weight, they overpack. I cannot tell you the number of immense suitcases I saw today, and I felt sorry for the poor baggage handler who had to lift it.

Walking through Cleveland and LAX, carrying my main pack, my day pack and my purse, I knew I could handle the weight, but I was at my max. Between my main pack and my day pack, I am carrying well over 55 pounds all by myself. I am sure over the course of the next six months I’ll shed the extraneous junk, plus the extra mental and physical pounds, and emerge on the other side a more pure, distilled version of myself. Me, but just the core and nothing else. I think of my trip as a six month cleanse, but way more fun and with better food.

Carly - all geared up and ready to go.

Me - all geared up and ready to go.

I love to fly, always have, always will. Call me crazy, but I like airports. I don’t think of them as purgatory. I think of them as a place where adventures begin. If I can, I’ll go early for a flight and wander around the terminal with a big, fat grin on my face, looking at all the destinations – particularly the international flights. I get excited for the people waiting to board for Tokyo or Dubai or Sao Paolo, because they are about to go on an adventure and who knows what will happen.

The international terminal at LAX.

The international terminal at LAX.

I also think flying is a form of magic in an age when we don’t really believe in magic anymore. Think about it. Your average 747 weighs 437 tons. That is 875,000 pounds that gravity is holding to the earth. And yet somehow, a 747 can break the bonds of gravity and fly. A 747 when it is on the ground is ungainly and awkward. As soon as it doing what it was meant to do, it transforms into something graceful and elegant. And that same 747 can take me from Cleveland, Ohio, across the United States and across the Pacific to Tahiti, all in less than one day. A journey that not long ago would have taken months, if not years, is completed in 15 hours. It all seems impossible, and that is what makes it magic.

Now I know physics can explain away the magic. It all has to do with air speed and air pressure. The wing design speeds up airflow over the wing, decreasing its pressure and allowing the slower moving air under the wing to lift the plane into the sky. This is called the Bernoulli principle and you can feel it during every takeoff. It is that moment when the plane breaks free from the Earth and soars up into the heavens. Sometimes it is subtle. Sometimes it is profound. But every time I feel it, I believe in the magic and I whisper “Bernoulli.”

I think the same thing is true of people. When we aren’t doing what we are meant to do, when we turn away from our path, we are pulled back to earth and life becomes a struggle. Most of our energy is consumed by trying to break the bonds that hold us down. But when we are doing what we are meant to do, we feel the magic and we soar.

Several times today I’ve been on the verge of tears, particularly as I was leaving Cleveland. Not because I’ll miss my friends and family (although I will) but because I am so completely overwhelmed with gratitude that I have the chance to go on this journey. To take this chance. To have the adventure I’ve longed for since I was 17. Not everyone gets to live their dream and I feel profoundly thankful that that universe conspired with me to make this happen.

Every soul longs to soar, we just need to find the one thing that lifts us into the sky. For me, it is travel. What is it for you? The magic is inside all of us, you just need to find it. Whisper with me … Bernoulli.

When you board Air Tahiti Nui flights - they welcome you with a Tahitian flower.

When you board Air Tahiti Nui flights - they welcome you with a Tahitian flower.

Quoth My Hard Drive, “Nevermore.”

Quoth My Hard Drive,

Quoth My Hard Drive, "Nevermore."

 

A couple of years ago I had a most unpleasant April 15th weekend thanks to a tax software nightmare. Computers are great for doing your taxes, until they decide to gift you with the blue screen of death. After staying up all night in a vain attempt to reconstruct my taxes, I channeled my annoyance into poetry. I think Edgar Allen Poe would have written The Raven a bit differently had he lived today.

 

 

Once upon a tax night dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and confusing volume of senseless tax lore.
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a zapping,
As of some one loudly rapping, rapping at my hard drive’s door.
“‘Tis some glitch,” I muttered, “tapping at my hard drive’s door-
Only this, and nothing more.”

 

Ah, distinctly I recall it was April, bleakest month of all,
And each separate tax deduction wrought receipts upon my lap.
Eagerly I searched for tax reduction;- vainly I had sought the function
From my PC’s algorithmic junctions – answers to the marriage tax –
When suddenly to my dismay the screen turned blue…a frozen app!
So I softly whispered “crap.”

 

Deep into that blue screen peering, long I sat there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreading screens no techie ever dared to see before;
But the silence was unbroken, and my PC gave no token,
Of the problem or component broken deep within my hard drive’s core.
The Help Desk I did implore as my PC weakly beeped once more.
Merely this, and nothing more.

 

Back toward the keyboard turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely it is something in my Windows Setup.”
Help Desk said “Start over…boot up and this mystery explore.”
Let my heart be still a moment as I repeat my prayer of yore…
“’Tis a glitch and nothing more.”

 

Thus I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
Anger at the Help Desk’s depressing diagnosis for my PC’s core.
So I sat there sulking, weeping while my PC fast erasing
All my data long developed, bracing for the final chore.
Raging, swearing and thus preparing to delete my hard drive’s core.
“System failure…nothing more.”

 

So, dear reader, heed this warning, back-up your files…or face mourning,
Wishing, pleading and thus entreating the Help Desk to save the core.
Damn my brain for lack of vision, I had no back-up provision
I had simply not envisioned losing my entire core.
‘Twas not a glitch, as I first thought, and so I threw it out the door.
Quoth my hard drive, “Nevermore.”

 

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Posted in Life by Carly. No Comments

Gramps’ Heaven

I have a secret to tell you. My name isn’t Carly. My grandfather called me Carly from the moment we first met, and to this day my brothers-in-law and nephews call me Carly.

Gramps and I both loved the book Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck. So when the time came to name my blog, I though it fitting to honor Steinbeck AND Gramps with the title Travels with Carly.

Gramps passed away in February and my sisters nominated me to write and delivery the eulogy. I suppose it was only fitting. In the corner of Gramps’ bedroom he hung every poem I ever wrote for him. The good, the bad and the ugly – all framed and nailed to the wall where he could see them from his bed. So after a rough couple of days, filled with tears and smiles and fond memories, I walked up to the lectern at the front of the Church of the Lakes and celebrated Gramps’ life.

Before I created this post, I thought about tweaking the eulogy, making it better than what I could come up with in the days after he died. But then I decided to just post it as I wrote it – a snapshot in time of how I felt about Gramps.

This one’s for you, Gramps. I love you.

 

 

john blemler, alice blemler, carly

Granny and Gramps holding a very young Carly.

 

 

Thank you all for joining us today. It means the world to us that you are here to help us celebrate the life of John Willis Blemler – better known to his family as Gramps.

Gramps was a pretty multi-faceted guy. He was a craftsman. A traveler. A student. But above all else, he loved Granny.

++++++

It was 1945 and Granny threw a New Year’s Eve party. Granny invited her friend Mary Blemler, who brought her two brothers, Don and John.

As soon as Gramps walked in the door, Granny said, “Whoo hoo, who is THAT?” At the time, Gramps was very dapper and used VO5 gel in his hair. He spent the evening playing it cool, sitting on a hassock in the corner of the room, leaning his head against the wall. He unknowingly left a giant grease spot on the wallpaper.

On the car ride home after the party, Gramps told his brother, “I really like that girl. I am going to marry her.” Granny, of course, didn’t know this. So for the next three days every time she passed that grease spot on the wall, she asked it, “Why haven’t you called me?”

Gramps called on Tuesday and they fell madly in love. By February they were engaged and married in August. Lee was born in June of the following year. They were married for 65 years.

++++++

Gramps was an avid woodworker. Each of his granddaughters has several pieces of Gramps’ hand-crafted furniture: a hat rack, an end table and a plant stand. Each piece is adorned with a plaque that reads “Made Especially for You by “Gramps.” The plant stands are copies of the piece that stood in Gramps’ parlor growing up. And on those plant stands, each of us has a piece of a fern that belonged to my great, great Grandma Harvey. That fern represents the growth of six generations, sitting atop a plant stand lovingly carved by Gramps.

As our family grew, the granddaughters started to bring home boys, and Gramps decided that we should have one big table where we could all sit together, boyfriends and all. Gramps built a huge oak table big enough to fit the entire Mann Clan. It is sturdy and strong and will host generations of marriages and children and laughter.

The smell of lumber will always make me think of Gramps. Freshly cut two-by-fours and sawdust make me think of building, and creation and progress. Just like Gramps.

++++++

Gramps really loved to travel and he had a long standing belief that he should see the United States before he saw the rest of the world. However, all that flew out the window when Lee and Hanly moved to Rome, Italy.

Granny and Gramps visited them several times, traveling with them throughout Italy, Germany, Austria, and France. But their most memorable trip happened after I was born.

To hear Mom tell it, I was QUITE the colicky baby, and nothing she did could stop me from crying. Nothing, that is, until Gramps came to visit us in Rome.

Gramps would cradle me against his shoulder and let my feet dangle. He walked for hours throughout the house. From the kitchen, to the living room, through the dining room and back to the kitchen, whispering, “Poor Carly.” I was finally content and mom finally got some rest.

At the airport when Granny and Gramps were leaving to go back to America, Lee cried and cried, saying, “Daddy, you are taking your shoulder with you.”

For Gramps’ 85th birthday, we surprised him with a cruise through the Panama Canal – a lifelong dream of his. He sat on his balcony with his 18-month-old great-grandson, Hayden, marveling at the engineering masterpiece that is the Panama Canal.

From Freeport to Cadiz, Cadiz to Canton, Canton to the Panama Canal, Gramps loved a good adventure. It is one of the traits that he passed on to his daughter and granddaughters.

++++++

Two weeks ago the whole family came back to Canton before Gramps’ surgery. We went over to Granny and Gramps’ house for a visit on a Sunday afternoon. We sat in their living room, and as his great-grandsons, Hayden and Isaac, played on the floor, the rest of the family engaged in a spirited discussion about mohair.

Gramps extolled the virtues of mohair – he was a big fan. And Gramps set me straight when I asked if mohair came from an animal called a Mo.

Mohair does not come from a Mo.

But that’s what I really treasured about Gramps. He loved to learn, no matter the topic. He constantly read books, about anything really. From the Founding Fathers to Harry S. Truman, Gramps was a student of history who never stopped learning. Even when that learning concerned mohair.

+++++++

I live in Chicago and on Thursday as I drove home to Canton I had quite a lot of time to think. I found myself wondering what heaven would look like for Gramps.

Maybe Gramps is
Walking through the silent woods
On a snowy winters day.
A hunting rifle slung over his shoulder
A pack of Springer Spaniels by his side.
Communing with nature in his Chapel in the Woods

But I don’t think that is Gramps’ heaven.

Perhaps Gramps is
Working quietly in his garage.
Painstakingly, methodically,
Planing down a board of cherry wood
Until it is smooth as satin.
Finding peace in life’s small perfections.

But that isn’t quite right either.

I think Gramps’ heaven is
Sitting on the back porch
In the silky summer twilight.
Listening to the buzz
of the late August locusts.
Holding Granny’s hand.

THAT is Gramps’ heaven.

I love you Gramps. We’ll take care of Granny for you.

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Posted in Life by Carly. 2 Comments

2011 is here! Welcome to Paradise.

Scuba dive buddies and dive masters from PADI open water certification day.

At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve I was cruising home on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive. My favorite radio station played the Green Day classic, Welcome to Paradise, and I laughed out loud (and yes I get that the song is dark, but the title is the perfect intention for what is to come). Seems fate wanted to assure me that I made the right decision  to island hop through the South Pacific in the latter half of 2011.

But after I finished laughing, I started to panic. OMG – only 5 months left to get ready. My mind fixated on all of the things I haven’t done which I consider critical for my trip. I haven’t started Krav Maga training. I haven’t started French lessons. I haven’t taken a wilderness first aid course. I haven’t. I haven’t. I haven’t. I am very good at focusing on the things left in my to do list and truly terrible at celebrating what I’ve accomplished so far. So instead of dwelling on the things I haven’t done, I am going to remind myself of what I HAVE accomplished in 2010.

First and most importantly, I resolved to go around the world and I am actually going to do it. It sounds like such a simple thing, but really, the decision to leave my home, my friends and my family to travel by myself was a difficult one. Will I get lonely? Will I get hurt? Will I find a job when I get back? There are lots of logical reasons why I shouldn’t go, but I’ve had this dream since I was 17 and I am far more afraid of not taking the chance than all of the unknowns combined. And just to make sure I didn’t chicken out, I told my friends and my family about my plans. Nothing holds you accountable like a dream shared with those you love.

Second, I got my motorcycle license in July, fulfilling yet another dream I’ve had for over 20 years. When I was growing up, the Ohio DMV held beginner motorcycle training every Saturday morning in the high school parking lot. I drove past those brave souls trying to do figure 8s in first gear, and I thought that was the coolest form of transportation I’d ever seen. And just a little bit bad ass. Two decades later I was one of those students doing figure 8s in the DMV parking lot. A little hint. It is MUCH easier to do figure 8s in second gear rather than first. Gives you a smoother ride.

Third, and this is the biggie, I survived scuba diving lessons without drowning and earned my open water PADI certification in August. I consider this my biggest accomplishment simply because it brought up fears I didn’t know I had. I grew up on a lake and am not afraid of water. Nor am I claustrophobic. But the first time I went under the water in full scuba gear I thought I was going to drown right then and there.

I am very proud that I didn’t give up. I battled through countless panic attacks under water. I kept going back to class even when my brain said that was the stupidest thing I could possibly do. I willingly put myself into incredibly uncomfortable situations, and just when it looked like I would bail and shoot to the surface, I reminded myself to breathe. When all else fails, and you don’t know what to do, just breathe.

Looking back on it, 2010 was a pretty good year. I accomplished more than I give myself credit for. My trip around the world has already led me to new friends and new experiences, all without setting foot outside the U.S.A. Flights, freighters and motorcycles here I come! 2011 is finally here. Welcome to paradise.

My First Scuba Diving Lesson

My first scuba diving lesson. The dreaded mask removal skill.

Well that didn’t go as planned.

Tonight was the first time we hit the pool in scuba diving class. We donned wetsuits, BCs (buoyancy control vests) and then strapped lead weights to our hips. Threw on fins, a mask and we were good to go. I felt confident, excited even. My friends Brian and Diane would finally be able to take me diving in East Timor. I was going to be a DIVER.

We got into the water and our dive instructor John explained the first skill. All we had to do was drop to the bottom of the pool (the shallow end, we are talking six feet max) and sit there for one minute. That was it. No skills, no swimming, nothing complicated. Just sit our butts on the bottom of the pool. So we let the air out of our BCs and started to sink. I was fine until the water was half-way up my mask. That’s when it all went to hell in a hand basket. From the first moment we went under I was an anxiety-filled mess. I sat on the bottom of that pool losing my mind, completely convinced I was going to drown then and there. My heart rate spiked through the roof and I sucked down air as fast as the regulator could give it to me, which wasn’t fast enough.

I spent the next two and a half hours calming myself down to various stages of near-panic by just focusing on breathing and nothing else. We would drop under the water and the panic would spike. I would then talk myself off the ledge and do whatever horrible task John set before me. Take the regulator out and put it back in. Clear water from my mask. Signal out of air and use my buddy’s alternative air source. The whole time I kept telling myself, “You are not going to drown. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.”

That worked through most of our underwater skills until the final one. We had to take our masks off, breathe in through the regulator, out through our noses, put the mask back on and clear the water from it. When my turn came I repeated my BREATHE mantra, took a deep breath, and removed my mask.

Maybe it was the exhaustion. Maybe it was claustrophobia. Maybe I had reached my limit and couldn’t take it anymore. No matter what it was, I freaked and swallowed half the pool in a desperate attempt to get my head out of the water. For reasons I don’t fully understand I spit out my regulator (that would be my air source), didn’t inflate my BC, and tried to tread water with a metal tank and lead weights strapped to my body. Can I swim? Yes. Can I defy the laws of physics? No. I sank like a stone.

My instructor saved me. As I flailed at the bottom of the pool, he reached down, grabbed the back of my BC and hauled me out the water. It was like being saved by the hand of God, no lie (and I am not a religious person). He threw my sorry ass over to the pool ladder. I grabbed hold and held on to it for dear life. John asked if I was ok. I stared at him with huge eyes, paused and said, “I’m gonna need a minute.”

So my friends, here is what I need to know. Is this reaction normal for first-time divers? Has this happen to you or anyone you know? If I keep at it, will I eventually get comfortable underwater or is this symptomatic of a phobia I didn’t know I had? If I can get past this, do you have any advice on how to combat panic while under water? I really want to learn scuba diving, but not if it means I’ll drown in the process.

Several hours and several Guinnesses later…

After much thought I’ve decided that I will not give up. I am going back to scuba class on Tuesday, but I plan on discussing my concerns with my instructor so that we can come up with a signal that says, “I am borderline freaking out, but I am working through it, so give me a moment before you make me do anything.” I am just worried that I will be a danger to myself and others. We’ll see how it goes.

NEVER GIVE UP! NEVER SURRENDER! (If you don’t know what movie I just referenced, then ignore that line. It isn’t funny.)

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: International Travel Vaccinations

A few weeks ago I was in my home town of Canton, Ohio, catching up with my high school girl friends Stephanie, Christy and Julie. We all reconnected a few years ago thanks to the miracle of Facebook. While we sipped tea and knoshed on finger sandwiches and pastries at the First Ladies Tea Room, I updated my friends on my travel plans. As luck would have it, two of them are nurses.

Now, you need to be careful when discussing adventure travel with medical professionals because they always tell you the most fascinating stories. Actually, fascinating might be too euphemistic an adjective. Nasty or disturbing or outright grotesque might be more appropriate. At one point Christy chuckled. “Don’t worry. We can fix whatever you come back with. There is a tube for every orifice.”

A tube for every orifice? Eeeewwww. That’s one travel experience I can do without. So as soon as I got back to Chicago, I made an appointment to get my vaccinations in order.

Today I went to get shot up against everything I could possibly think of.  I wanted to start the vaccinations now so that my body had time to kick-in the immune response prior to my trip.  The fantastic RN Tim Doyle at the Northwestern Travel Clinic guided me through a computer program where we listed out all of my travel destinations and the computer spit back the shots required.  After reviewing all of my current vaccinations, Tim shot me up with:


  • Meningocacal vaccine
  • Typhoid vaccine
  • Yellow fever vaccine
  • H1N1 flu vaccine
  • A year supply of malaria pills




Plus Tim thoughtfully provided me with enough documentation about really freaky third world diseases to write a script for Fringe.  Did you know there is a food-born toxin called Ciguatera poisoning that can cause symptoms mimicking multiple sclerosis?  As a bonus, symptoms can last for up to 20 years.  No need to engage in high risk behavior for that particular disease. All you have to do is eat white fish in Australia and the South Pacific, particularly Grouper and Snapper.  WHITE FISH.  The RSTL&E of the seafood world.

Apparently in Northern Australia the locals look for signs that a fish is toxic.  Method 1, flies won’t land on the fish.  Method 2, cats will get sick after eating the fish.  Method 3 (and my personal favorite), put a silver coin under the fish scales and the coin will turn black.  Comforting, but at least the cat doesn’t die in that scenario.

Despite the fact that Tim scared the bejesus out of me, he thought my trip was a great idea.  Turns out he is seeing a lot of people who got laid off and figured now was the time to travel.  It is all about turning lemons into lemonade my friends. Lemons into lemonade.