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Travel

I declined a free trip to Scotland to vacation at a retirement community.

A picture of the villages welcoming sign.

OK – before you go, “Zoom, you did what?! Gave up a FREE TRIP TO SCOTLAND?” I know, I know, believe me. When I wrote my thanks-but-no-thanks email I literally said, “I can’t believe I’m saying no to this opportunity, but…..” It was a really tough call guys, I mean really tough call. So, before I lose all credibility with my readers as an adventure guru, let me explain.

The Context

For the last three years, my parents and sister have been vacationing at a retirement community in Florida called “The Villages“. My mom first discovered The Villages when she sought out ‘golf cart communities’ online. My family has a long-time love affair with golf carts. We just love riding them and have owned several over the years. On my 16th birthday, my parents set up a golf-cart relay race for my party – lemme tell you, that was the coolest party in school…..oh, the glory days. 😛

Just as advertised, The Villages is a golf-cart-transit city. I say city because The Villages is its own municipality with a post-office, radio station, school system – the works. With all the fancy golf carts zipping around, it kinda reminds me of Burning Man mutant vehicles. Residents of The Villages have no need to ever leave – anything you could need or want is accessible on a golf cart!

Yes, this a golf cart.

This spring, I graduated with my associates degree in Web Development (thank you, thank you!). To celebrate that, of course I wanted to do some traveling! In a freak occurrence of destiny, my brother also happened to have off the first 10 days of May – clearly a family vacation was being called for. Since Florida is beautiful in May and my brother and I had never been to The Villages, it seemed the obvious choice. We rented a house with a pool and golf cart for [the month of] May and started the Hoffman Vacation Countdown.

The Temptation

Then I got a call – it was my boss.

B: “Would you like to go on an all-expense-paid trip to Scotland? Its from May 9-19, that’s all I know.”

*Shocked silence*

M: “Um… YEAHHHH I’D LIKE TO GO ON THAT!” (~Sorry family~)

B: “Ok, I’ll tell them. Someone should be in touch shortly.”

As excited as I was about what just happened, I dreaded telling my family. They hid their disappointment well and told me I’d be crazy not to go. Even though I knew they were right, something kept gnawing at me. Not many families – especially ones with grown kids living their own lives – get the opportunity to go on vacation and spend that kind of time together.

After the call, all I could do was wait to hear from “someone”. Finally, I was contacted. On the other end of the line was the professor of a geology class that includes a study abroad component. “Scotland is doing amazing things in peat and was chosen for this years destination,” she explains. “We had a young woman who had to drop out because of personal issues, but she’s already paid for the trip – we need someone to replace her.”

The Catch

As the old adage goes: “If something is too good to be true, it is.” As it turns out, there was a lot of strings attached to my offer of ‘free trip to Scotland’. While there would be no expense, I would have to pay the tuition for the class next semester as well as make up all the work that the rest of the students had done.

Additionally, there would be no personal time on the trip. The group had a full itinerary that we would need to be ‘strictly adhered to’. We wouldn’t be having any classroom hours or exams while we were abroad, but everyone was expected to give a presentation recapping what they learned in Scotland and how it related to what they learned in the course (that I would not have taken yet).

Because of my non-traditional path in higher education, I missed out on a lot of everything that younger me was looking forward to experiencing. Living in a dorm, meeting new people who would be my life-long friends, going to house parties, and – most of all – studying abroad.

Time to Choose

The rip of conflict within me was massive. I literally had to phone a friend – make that several friends – to talk it out.

After an intense weekend of talking it out and analyzing the options, I finally decided to pursue my original plan to travel with my family.

Why? Well, I think because I love them and have been realizing over the years just how fast time is going. Some day when I have kids, a vacation like this could probably never happen – but a trip to Scotland still could. Also, its summer and I want to enjoy myself and not be cramped with a bunch of strangers. Not that I can’t make friends, but there’s no need when I have my family…. LOVE YOU HOFFMANS <3 <3

Do I regret it?

With any big decision, regret is always lurking in the corner ready to visit after the choice is made. I knew that no matter what choice I made here, some form of regret would inevitably be my companion – at least for a little while.

But, I’m happy to say that I was wrong about that. This was 100% the correct decision and I am living regret free! Stay tuned to hear about just what is making this trip so great.

In my situation, what choice do you think you would have made? Tell me in a comment!

Travel

Spring Break Reset

This weekend marks the end of my spring break. To any student, that sounds like a sad time – but not for me, not this time. In fact, I’m in the mood to celebrate weekends and all the freedom and joy they bring!

I haven’t felt this way about weekends in a long time – two years to be exact. Until now, weekends meant working at the pizza place, doing my homework, catching up on chores that have been piling up, and other would-rather-be-doing-something-else-type of responsibilities. But hey, sometimes that’s life! I didn’t resent weekends, I just haven’t felt excited for them since I left Chicago – they were just another day for me.

The End Of An Era

March 1st marked the end of a season of my life – my casual college student era. I worked my last shift at the pizza place. Even though I’m excited to move on, the Pizza Dive was a big part of my life for the last few years and there is a definite lacking where it used to fill my time. My boss (and my apparent customer fan club) gave me the sweetest send off on Facebook.

March 1st also rang out the final homestretch of getting my associates degree. Only 8 weeks left and I’ll have finished something I never thought I’d be able to. Catching my breath over spring break, I’ve had a moment to process exactly where I am and how I’d like to proceed forward.

A New Direction

This semester I’ve been teaching at my local college. Note that I say ‘teaching’ loosely. In the strictest definition, I am teaching; but, I feel that calling myself a teacher is disrespectful to the ‘real’ teachers. The teachers who’ve worked so hard to get a degree in education and who, day-after-day, struggle with the pressure of shaping our youth into the next generation.

I, on the other hand, am college-age adults how to be a successful student, citizen, and self-advocate. This modality – called ‘supplemental instruction’ – seems like small peanuts next to that.

Small peanuts or not, I’ve been loving my time as an educator . In fact, dare I say, *begins to whisper* I think this role is going to bubble into something amazing over the next five years.

You might, right now, be reading the blog of the future Director of Supplemental Instruction at Sinclair College. In the upcoming fall semester, I’ll be working closely with faculty to expand the supplemental instruction program from the business department into the computer science department. We’re going to launch at Sinclair’s brand new, shiny campus.

Knowing the road that lay ahead, I’ve decided to invest all my eggs into this basket with the hope they will hatch into something wonderful. Spring break marked the kick off this new investment. This week, lesson plans were made, meetings were had, teaching aids reviewed – I’m actually excited for school to start again so I can jump in full force! But before that…

Celebrate these times, come on!

(^ that was a music reference for you youngies)

I had to celebrate – and I had to do it with the people and places I love. I spent the opening weekend of spring break in Chicago with my BFF who was also celebrating a big accomplishment; her art was accepted and to be displayed in an exhibit! Coordinating with her husband, I surprised her the day before opening night – guys, there were tears! The next two days were a whirlwind weekend of reunion, construction, snow, and sushi.

I admit, coming home from Chicago is always hard. I usually cry. This time though, I had something to look forward to about coming back. My brother and I, who don’t often get much time together, planned to drive down to Lexington, KY to visit a reputable all-you-can-eat sushi place called Happy Sushi (you know, since I didn’t have enough in Chicago). It was a bit of a trek, but man it was worth it! The time together was good, the sushi was great – and it energized me to have visited 4 states in two days!

Unwilling to give up my spring break gusto, my sister and I also made a trip up to Lima to eat at KewPee Hambugers – somewhere I hadn’t been to, or even thought of, in at least 10+ years. Popping into my head, I couldn’t resist another adventure – I have a whole weekend ahead of me before I put my wings away.

The End Grows Near

Two more days then its back to homework and 7:30 AM alarms. Even with the looming feeling of Monday around the corner, I’ve planned to make the most of my time before that. And, honestly, for the first time I’m not dreading the return from a break – I feel surprisingly peaceful. That’s saying something, and I think it says: I’m finally on the right track.

How do you relax & recharge when you get a break? Tell me in the comments – I could use the pro tips!

Travel

Be nice, work hard, travel free

I spent last weekend in Orlando, Florida working at Holiday Matsuri 2018. I learned I like free flights even more than regular flights, and beds in free hotel rooms are 2x as comfy. Free meals taste better, and a job where you get to hang out with nerds playing a very star-trek-esque game is no work at all. Topped off with a hot tub, breezy low 70* weather & a balcony and you’ve got yourself a recipe for one happy, happy Zoom. How did this magical experience come to be? Keep reading. 

Be nice

My mom has always been there for me with advice and direction. More often than not, her words of wisdom have taken me to incredible places – in this case, literally. The first rule ever instilled in me: 

“Be nice to everyone you meet – you never know who will be interviewing you for a job someday.” 

I think being nice comes easily to most people, right? But, when I meet new people, I make a conscious effort to be extra nice….because you never know who will pay for you to work at a comic-con! 

Work Hard

A little over 6 years ago, my best friend got married. Not only was it my first time attending a wedding, but I was the maid of honor to boot. Talk about God-I-Hope-I’m-Doing-This-Right. In sweeping serendipity (read as: luck), all of my duties as maid of honor went off without a hitch – bridesmaids made it to the bachelorette party, seating charts were drawn, centerpieces crafted, and the bride delivered in one piece to the alter (hey, I wasn’t in charge of the ring – don’t look at me for that). 

I have to tell you, this wedding almost killed me. In fact, if it wasn’t for Rick, it very well may have. 

Rick is my BFF’s brother-in-law. Before I knew this, I simply labeled him “awesome-coffee-helper-dude”. Throughout the wedding weekend, he would regularly check in with me and ask what I needed. The response was often a slightly strained “nine iced chai teas with 2 shots of espresso each (also known as a “dirty Oprah”) from Starbucks, stat!”

That weekend, Rick was there for me and my crew. Last weekend, I vowed to be there for him and his crew – as a Bridge Operator. 

Travel Free

Here’s the deal: if I worked 10 hours as a bridge operator at Holiday Matsuri, I would be compensated with:

  • A flight to Florida
  • A hotel room (with balcony) in the hotel the convention is in
  • A staff ticket to the convention – this got me access to all guest areas AND the staff lounge, home of free food and energy drinks
  • A $150 stipend

When asked if I knew anyone else who would be interested, I said “I know just the guy.” Enter Hayden, my previous traveling companion in Central America

If you’ve never heard of Artemis before, it’s a bridge simulation program. Like the bridge of any starship worth its warp, there are various stations to be manned by reliable crew members. Tactical, communications, engineering, science, and helm, are all crucial roles while exploring the galaxy. After viewing a tutorial video, players can choose their station, then collaborate with the other players to zip around the galaxy helping innocent civilians or studying space whales or whatever the captain says. 

Rick is a member of BridgeSimulators –  a business that contracts out the full Artemis experience for conventions, team building exercises, and other parties. Seriously, we had one slick set-up. Each manned station had a touch screen computer for the player, and the main viewer was projected onto a screen for the captain. 

My job was simple: make people want to come back. I helped with sign-ins, training new officers, and even got to play a bunch when someone stopped by but didn’t have a crew of their own (don’t fear going to a con alone, there are people there for you). When I wasn’t working, I was free to do as I pleased.

This is where this post gets hard for me – I could could write a solid novella about the entire weekend. So many amazing stories, people, feelings, costumes – on and on! I just had such a good time. Instead of hitting you with a wall of text, I’ll share my favorites. 

Celebration, Florida – Mickey’s hometown

The first night in Orlando, Hayden and I Ubered to a Golden Corral in a little town called Celebration (this was before we knew of the staff lounge). I rode with the windows down the whole time because, hello, Florida.

At first, it seemed just like any other Golden Corral. Then I noticed the number of dinner guests donning Mickey Mouse ears. I also noticed I was the only one noticing. I imagine in a town where Walt Disney is basically mayor, seeing a few ears here and there is probably totally normal. This is a classic example of why I like traveling – I love the little nuances that manifest themselves in people’s daily lives simply because of where they live.

People Expressing Themselves

A rule I live by: if it involves a costume, count me in. The Renaissance Festival, Halloween parties, viewing party for Game of Thrones, comic-cons …anything. Fancy dress? Insanely loud outfit? Stare-grabbing top? Yes, please. Basically – an chance to break out of the imposed rules of day-to-day dress. Events that involve costumes provide us a rare chance to express ourselves through dress in a way we can’t normally. This is one of the reasons I love Burning Man so much.

My love for self-expression via funky fashion was probably driving my mates nuts as I admired everyone while muttering “Love her this, love his that, oh my god I just love …” [not so] under my breathe for three days straight – especially coming across guys in drag! They probably don’t get to rock their dresses too often and I was so happy to see them be able to in a safe environment.

Don’t worry, I too had my share of dress up. As a bridge operator, a sweet TOS uniform was a required part of the gig!

SUSHI

Did you really think you’d make it through this post without at least one call out for sushi? Ha! You knew it was coming – here it is.

If you’ve read my other posts, you know I’m a sushi addict. Whenever I go somewhere new, I always try and score a visit to an all-you-can-eat (AYCE) sushi place just to check out the scene. Orlando was no different, but I didn’t think I’d be able to swing it this trip because of schedules and the location of the convention. Then, we’re walking in the hallway and Mia says, “I was thinking maybe for dinner we could go to this AYCE sushi place I found….”.

I legit freaked out a little bit – *grabs Mia in a full body wrap hug* “THIS IS WHY I LOVE YOU, I’VE MISSED YOU OMG OMG!!!”

We went to A-Aki Sushi and it was amazing. The sushi, the appetizers, the dessert and the service – it was all fantastic. The price cramped our wallets a bit, but still, totally worth every cent.

Goodbyes

Nobody likes coming home to the cold, but that wasn’t the worst of it. For me, the hardest part was goodbye – I had such a wonderful time with my crew, my friends, my nerdy family…I can’t wait until we reunite again.

If you were to be offered a trip to work somewhere, where would you want to go, and what would you want to do?

Guatemala, Travel

Guatemala III: The Guatemalan Grind

Zoom hanging laundry on the clothesline
The best view I could use for while scrubbing undies

This is the third and final installment in the Guatemala series (recommended reading: Part 1 & Part 2).

The Routine

We all have our daily grind. Work, errands, chores, friends, school. No matter where I go in the world, the grind is the same. I did all those things in Guatemala, but the adventure is in the way you go about it.

In America, I sometimes feel we are consumed by productivity. How much can I get done, and how can I get it done in as little time as possible? (“Aaaaamen”, right?) When you’re done with one task, you approach the next in the same manner. Bring technology into the mix, and its almost required that you live a life of multitasking just to keep up. Personally, this constant GO-GO-GO mindset makes it hard to shift into ‘relax mode’.

As a kid, I sometimes felt that even vacation was an exercise in American productivity. “How hardcore can we vacation?” On Tuesday we are going to do this, this, and this. Wednesday we have to be here by this time, and out by this time to make it to this place with enough time to see that thing.

Burning Man was my first vacation where I made the plans. Which, as it turned out, the plan was to have no plan. I learned how to reach what us burners like to call “burning”.

“Are you burning yet?”

That blissful moment where the threads to real life snap and, no longer the puppet of the grind, you’re free to ….well, be free! The term doesn’t just apply at Burning Man, you can reach Burning status anywhere. For me, going abroad helps expedite this process because of the radical change in the routine. Yes, I’m still doing the grind, but the delivery of it is anything but routine.

Like doing laundry.

My Guatemalan Grind

No matter where you are in the world, there are things you’ll always need to do – right? We, as humans, have a basic grind we must all adhere to – laundry is the perfect example. For the first leg of the trip, Hayden and I operated out of his Scrubba wash bag. I was a bit adverse to using it…but I was wrong. This thing IS. AWESOME. And it’s fun too, which one doesn’t often get to say about doing laundry! Your put your clothes, water, and detergent in it then set it on the ground and give it a good massage. Voila!

Scrubba wash bag
Scrubba wash bag

Then there’s the administrative things. Online banking, emails, the self-imposed blogging. There’s even video-game-esque aspects such as inventory management – living out of a backpack can be hard, ya’ll. Along with constant vigilance about your personal space, and bombarding over-stimulation, together these compose the ‘traveler’s grind’.

Once we moved into an apartment, I was burning. I developed a ‘vacation grind’ easily. My grind started with grounds – local ground coffee, that is. I wasn’t a coffee-addict before working at a hip start-up in Chicago which offered free coffee. As much as you wanted, whenever you wanted. Now I have it almost every morning, thanks Chicago! *shakes fist*

In Guatemala, it got dark around 6:30 – 7 pm with the sun rising around 5 am. A sleep schedule of 9:30-6 somehow became perfectly normal. Honestly, I loved it and kind of miss it. We were so far up the side of the mountain that all you could hear was the soft “bzzzzzz” of boat engines and the regular “Pana!” signaling the docked boat was leaving for the main city, Panajachel. With virtually no light pollution, the stars were always gleaming and beautifully visible.

After coffee came breakfast, which Hayden made most of the time. French toast, fresh fruit, freakin’ crepes! Sometimes we kept it simple (like on scuba class days), eating cereal with the strange 3% Guatemalan milk. I hope someday I get to eat another breakfast with such a breathtaking view.

The view from the kitchen of my apartment in Guatemala

After breakfast, it was time for the activity of the day.

Activities

  • Grocery shopping
  • Hiking
  • Media entertainment (games/movies)
  • Scuba Diving
  • Chores/cleaning
  • Exploring nearby villages
  • Dining
  • Cooking class

”Video game” was the activity of choice more than I care to admit for being in a place so wondrous. I told myself that it wasn’t so shameful to be wasting my break doing something I could do at home because I was playing Tropico. The world of Tropico has a lot of parallels with Guatemala. The bright colors, the architecture, the export industries – even the flora is similar. And look, my avatar is there!

Can you pick out which photos are from the video game?

Looks pretty similar right?! Even though I played through two Tropico campaigns, I still made time for plenty of other non-grind activities.

The Dry Time in the Rainy Season

Our trip took place during Central America’s rainy season (invierno). Mexico City lived up to exactly what we expected for the whole trip – being soaked the whole time we were there. Guatemala pleasantly surprised us. We found ourselves in the middle of a phenomenon called “canícula” – the dry time in the rainy season. The canícula is a few weeks in July or August where the weather is just splendid. Taking advantage of it, one day Hayden and I decided we would try to go find “the waterfall” using not much more than a hand drawn map.

We didn’t find the waterfall LOL! Still, we had a great time hiking in the jungle. There were a few uncomfortable parts – like spotting a pack of kids with machetes and a potentially topless woman – but overall we came home with a free workout, some ant bites, and a bit of a sunburn.

Me walking through the jungle around Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan is home to several native villages settled on the shorelines of the lake. Only two of them are accessible by car (Panajachel and San Pedro). The others are accessed via water taxis. Each village has its own vibe. We didn’t visit all of them, but enjoyed the ones we did. San Marcos is very ‘third eye aware’. Lots of yoga, meditation, chakra energies, tarot readings and other metaphysical mysteries.

San Pedro was more of a backpacker’s area. Lots of fellow tourists and vagabonds. Typically windy Guatemalan roads lined with shops selling western food, trinkets, produce or fabrics.

Our favorite village though was our little Santa Cruz. <3

After the morning activity, it was time for a power nap and more administrative things. Since it got dark so early, dinner was usually around 6pm sharp. Rounding out the evening with several hands of cards (P.S Card decks in Mexico don’t include queens) and a few episodes of Archer, or a movie. The perfect ending to endless perfect days – my kind of grind.

Even though I’m settling back into my classic state-side grind, I’m already dreaming up the next adventure. Continental road trip, anyone?

 

Resources, Travel, Trip Planning

My first book, 10+ Free Things You Can Do Anywhere

Traveling, especially on the globetrotting scale, is intimidating. And that’s not from lack of information regarding know-how and logistics – there is so. much. information out there! Dare I say, there may be an overwhelming amount of information (that’s another book series I’d like to start, “Zoom’s abridged travel guides”, but I digress).

It’s not just the endless amount of info to sift & parse that can make travel seem insurmountable, though. The biggest objection/question that I get regarding travel is all about dem dollars baby.

 “How much did that cost you?” “I could never afford to travel”. “That’s got to be expensive.”

Travel can be expensive – especially through westernized cultures. We get so used to our day to day cost of living that its hard for us to envision travel (with all the eating out, excursions and extra fun) being cheaper than our daily lives…but really, it’s easier to do than you think! As part of my missive to bring the joy of adventure to everyone, I’ve put together a little book for you.

Book Cover

Now, I’ll be upfront with you: some of these activities are not for everybody (e.g CouchSurfing). Additionally, you get what you pay for – there is nothing glamorous in this book. However, being broke on the road….there is something almost romantic about it and the challenge a budget presents you with. While sleeping on strangers couches might not be for you, I think the majority of things in this book can be enjoyed by anyone with an attitude of wanting to enjoy them.

If you’re not really into travel, I hope that this book might help you find adventure in your own backyard. It’s easy to become disenchanted with our hometowns when really there might be a whole other side we just haven’t discovered yet.

Here’s a sneak peek of one of my favorite activities I’ve done all over the globe:

#15 in the book, Check Out The Archetechture
I said 10 +++++++ didn’t I?

Getting a copy of 10+ Free Things You Can Do Anywhere is super easy, all you need to do is subscribe to my email list & confirm your email address (sorry about the confirmation step, there was a period where I was getting like 100 subscriptions a day from random Russian emails so I have to add this step). Then, you’ll get a welcome email with a copy of the book as an attachment. Easy peasy! If you’re already subscribed, you automatically get a copy. 🙂

Once you subscribe, it’s a double win because then you’ll get email notifications when I publish a new post (and ONLY when I publish a new post! I enjoy my spam in a can), which often includes tips and ideas for making adventure accessible to everybody. Also, you’ll finally be out of excuses for why you can’t afford to travel! 😉

Have more ideas for free things to do or ways to cut costs? Leave a comment! Share the wealth [of knowledge].

Guatemala, Travel

Scorpions and Scuba Diving – A lesson in Fear

Entire scuba class underwater

Scorpions and Scuba Diving

I promise that Guatemala: The Guatemalan Grind (part 3) is coming. But first, this has been my life the last week and feels more prevalent right now. And, you guys are involved in this one!

One of the things – nay, my favorite thing – about traveling is the accompanying personal growth. Every adventure, every change of the routine; it pushes you outside your comfort zone a little. Only outside of this bubble, when exposed to new stimuli, do we learn about ourselves. Even when you ‘fail’. Especially when you fail.

I once saw an “ask me anything” on Reddit featuring Ron Pearlman. He says, “Make failure your friend. Once you do that, you can’t lose. If you regard every failure as a victory, all you will ever know is victory.”

Fear, my old friend.

Fear is a companion we all live with. Fear tells you to quit, that you aren’t good enough, to just give up. He is the negative that holds us back. Personified as ‘mean brain’, ‘anxiety’ and ‘self-doubt’, all the way to the whisper of basic biological instincts: ‘if you aren’t above water, you’ll die’. In any form, fear is something we all must conquer daily, or it holds us back. Therefore, fear (and the conquering of) is the biggest driver of personal growth.

After the incidents in Mexico City, fear told me to quit, to just go home. It would be easy, and I would be back to where I was comfortable. And Fear wouldn’t be tapping on my shoulder [as much]. Conquered with the help of my mother, I found myself in Guatemala. As expected, plenty of fear here too – but not the kind we have back home.

New Kinds of Fear

Guatemala has presented me with unique obstacles I’ve never encountered in the states [or in my travels]. To date, the scariest incident of my life was my near-kidnapping in Vietnam. It took several days of not leaving the house to shake the jitters that almost brought me home. Without the safety offered by my host family, I most likely would have come running back to my mother. Here though, I struggle against the environment, and against myself.

Scorpions – fear at home

Home is where you’re safe. Home is security, where the heart is, and all that cliché craft-fair stuff, right? We’re not supposed to be afraid at home. Guatemala has offered me a first-time experience in this area. As you know, Hayden and I have rented an apartment here. An apartment, unbeknownst to us, to also be home to several scorpions.

Generally, I try to leave wildlife alone. Spiders are a perfect example – they’re just on the job, people! Let them do their civic duty, they aren’t hunting you. Back home, the spiders and I, we have an accord. I am not going to bother them unless they are in my way. If I need to shower, I’ll start the water and give them a chance to make themselves hidden. If they don’t, well, then I sick Girl Baby on them and they become cat lunch. Mostly though, we live in harmony. Scorpions, however, that’s a different sting. (See what I did there? Hehe)

The Highland Scorpion 

A dead highland scorpion
He deeeeead!

Guatemala is home to the Highland Scorpion. While not the biggest or deadliest of the world’s scorpions, a scorpion is still a scorpion – meaning I only like them fried, seasoned and skewered in Thailand. I’m told that a scorpion sting is comparable to a bee sting, but I don’t care to find out for myself.

Hayden and I spotted a few scorpions within the first few days of staying here but tried to simply deter them from wanting to be our roommates. It was fine…until they broke our pact. Scorpion #1 died after being forcefully flung from my arm and slammed into the dresser.

Central America boasts a rich cultural heritage of the legendary Mayan people. Its colorful presence and mystics surround you like an aura wherever you go. There is a saying that it’s bad luck to kill a scorpion and that if you do, two more will take its place. Well, the voodoo is strong here and, sure enough, after killing the first one we quickly encountered another [bigger] one. These little suckers are fast, so we opted for a quick smoosh from a shoe rather than trying to capture it to put it outside.

Hopefully, his buddies will see his crushed body and won’t come around…. either that or we’ve angered the Gods and are going to be stung to death in our sleep.

Assuming we get any. Every brush of fabric on my skin is a scorpion.

Scuba Diving – fighting your own biology

Me scuba diving in lake antitlan throwing the peace symbol
Despite the hand signal, I did not feel ‘at peace’!

The point of this post is, we’ve all been in situations where we need to conquer ourselves – we are what is holding us back. I’m very familiar with this dance with myself and often “go Spock on it”, using logic to overcome whatever wall I’m hitting.

 It takes more than logic to fight biology.

Here at Lake Atitlan, Hayden and I planned to complete our PADI open water dive (OWD) certification. The certification consists of various parts:

  • Confined (pool) water dives & skills test
  • Swimming fitness test (10 minutes treading water, 200m swim)
  • Classroom instruction with quizzes and final exam
  • Open water dives & skills test

Back home, Hayden had already completed the confined water and classroom portions of the course. For him to retake the course here with me would be the same as simply completing the open water dive for the certification back home.

You may have seen on Facebook, but O.M.G is it a struggle.

Day 1

Our instructor told us this, but it took my head being 10 ft under to believe him – the brain tends to freak out a bit when underwater. Everything you [think you] know bubbles right up and out of your brain with every exhale. Humans are not underwater creatures (though there is some debate about that).

We [humans] like to be breathing through our noses and our mouths while being upright. In scuba, none of that happens. You are not standing. “Up” is subjective, and air comes from one (ONE) single place.

We started our confined water dives in a shallow part of the lake. About 3 minutes in, I was ready to quit. I felt panicked, air-starved and scared.

Mind you: This is after we’ve spent the last 20 minutes huffing and puffing our way into our 7mm wetsuits. Here in the lake, a wetsuit is not an optional luxury but a requirement. It was the first time I’d put one on, and like everything in scuba, it was way harder than I thought it would be.

After a few minutes of sitting underwater learning to trust the regulator, I managed to push through it – and I’m glad I did. We performed basic drills: taking your mask off then putting it back on and clearing the water from it, removing your gear and putting it back on, etc. etc.

Slipping out of our suits without the grace of the penguins we resembled, we spent that afternoon watching 3 straight hours of PADI video classroom footage. It was a real treat to use a TV!

Day 2 – kick it up a notch

Day 2 started with the wetsuit jig, followed by swimming skills. I was relieved to find out I could pass the physical fitness part of the test. We practice a few more skills in the shallows, then hopped on a boat and zipped out to “Aguas Caliente” (“hot water”, geothermal springs) for our first open water dive.

Zach took us along the floor of the lake and pointed to areas where we could stick our hands in the mud and feel the hot water coming through. It was an enjoyable dive, but I was so focused on not sinking nor ascending, breathing, and making sure to stay near everyone that it was edged with anxiety.

After about 30 minutes, it was time to make our safety stop and ascend to the surface. I won’t go into detail about the ensuing humiliation of getting back into the boat! LOL

Day 3 – 3rd time’s the last time

You guys seriously pulled me out of bed for day 3.

A screenshot from Facebook showing a selfie and all the supportive comments from blog followers
P.S THANK YOU GUYS FOR ALL THE SUPPORT <3 I was so touched by the outpour of encouraging comments and messages – I’m not sure I could have gotten back in the water without you <3

Despite your encouragement, I knew day 3 was going to be a hard one for me. A culmination of soreness, anxiety, a pulled back muscle, and exhaustion from the ever-choppy lake water, all spiraled into resenting scuba.

The day began as usual – the wetsuit jig, equipment checks, hauling our crap down to the dock to get into the boat. We make it to the dive site, Casa Del Mundo (locally known as the Underwater Hotel as it used to be above water before the lake rose) and assume the position on the boat to fall back into the water. 3…2…1…Drop.

At this point, we inflate our vests to keep us at the surface. I reach for the control device and it isn’t there. A gasping “Help!” brings Zach over and he manages to grab, inflate it and then chew the rest of my team out for not checking me. Later reviewed footage shows that the control device was in place, so the impact of the water when we fell in must have dislodged it.

I signal to him that I’m okay to descend, but I’m still a bit shaken. I spend the next hour puking a little in my mouth and using 90% of my brain power to breathe and make sure I don’t float the surface. We practiced drills more – taking all our gear off and putting it back on. Taking our mask off, swimming 30m and then putting it back on and clearing it (that one was super scary, talk about trust in your divemaster). We even learned to breathe from a free-flowing regulator (constant air). All at 50 ft. underwater.

By the time we got back in the boat, I was done. Something I struggle with personally is that when I hit the “done” wall, that’s it, I’m done. When I got out of the boat on shore, I was done. I wasn’t the only one who was shaken – Hayden was feeling a little psyched from the endless depths of the lake, so instead of completing another dive, we called it a day. We would do the final dive on Tuesday.

I am not a mermaid…but I am Scuba certified!

Hayden and I set out to complete our Open Water certification. This would allow us to go to any PADI shop worldwide, rent scuba equipment and go dive somewhere up to 60 ft down. When Tuesday rolled around, and it was time to complete the last dive of the course, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Big time kudos to Hayden for reaching his goal.

Zach was wonderful in addressing my concerns and finding a solution that better suited me. He was able to certify me at the Scuba level vs. the Open Water level. The difference is that I can only dive to 40 ft. and I must be accompanied by a divemaster. I am never, ever, ever planning to dive alone so that’s just fine!

While I didn’t get my Open Water certification, I’m happy with my Scuba level certification. If, if, if (okay maybe that’s too harsh…when) I go diving again, it will be with a divemaster somewhere tropical, calm and free of 7mm wetsuits. I’ll love all the coral and the fish. I’ll love the clear movie-blue of the water and I’ll feel compelled to upgrade my certification.

When that time comes, I’ll be ready to jump into the deep end – past 60 ft.

Thanks for reading, and being with me every breath.  <3

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