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Shark Beach

 

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The brave diver!

Every once in awhile, someone that I know does something so incredible, inspiring and interesting (all of the i’s) that I am compelled to write about it.  Such is my friend, Laura.  Laura is an avid diver, having been on 350 dives since her certification in 1999.  The underwater adventure that you are about to read about is for very experienced  divers only – please note the number of dives that Laura has been on and the years of that she has been doing this.  Most reputable operations require you to have a certain amount of experience anyway.  In other words, don’t be a dummy – if you have never even put a pair of flippers on before, this isn’t for you.  This post has been double checked by Laura for accuracy.

I’ve known Laura for a number of years, starting off as colleagues, then graduating into friends.   Laura is one of the smartest, most positive people that you will come across.  If you are lucky enough to know her, you already understand the extent of her kindness, good will and zest for life.  She is also a very talented seamstress. Everyday, during the time that I worked with her, I’d have to ask if she made the outfit that she was wearing, that’s how good her frocks are! Seriously, she missed her calling – she could have been the Dolce to Gabbana, the Y to YSL, the Coco to Chanel, the Alice to Alice + Olivia –  I think you get the picture.  She gives her all to everything, including her passion for diving.  Being an avid snorkeler, who one day would like to take the plunge (pun intended) and get my SCUBA diving certificate, I always sit in silent rapture whenever Laura tells stories about one of her around this world diving trips.  I’m also fascinated by, and feel protective towards sharks.  Many species, including the giant hammerhead, are slowly going extinct thanks to people over-hunting them for their fins, for sport or to show what a manly man you are.  When people are attacked by a shark, while it’s very sad, it’s a risk that you accept if you want to swim in the ocean.  We are unwelcome visitors in their home.  If you had someone in your home who was unwelcome and that you perceived as a threat, if you attacked them, you can claim self-defense.  A shark doesn’t have that luxury and are often hunted when someone is attacked.  These aren’t malevolent creatures actively hunting humans, they are important predators in the food chain.

Heading into the water

Heading in!

Back to Laura’s fascinating journey.  This particular trip was in the Bahamas, but was a little more of a once (or twice) in a lifetime experience.  I asked Laura all about it, but was so enraptured that I didn’t take notes.  My first question was the rather juvenile – so could you see the sharks when you were diving into the water????  Her response was an of course.  And she still went in!  She also mentioned that during one ascent, a diver had a curious tiger shark nibbling on his flipper.  The likely, calm, but slightly fearful diver pointed this out to the dive master who shrugged his shoulders, not because he didn’t care, but because there is little that he could do, the shark wasn’t hunting humans and he had likely been through it himself a number of times.  Laura was patient and answered all of my questions starting with:

How did you get into diving?  I met my husband in March 1999.  He told me the most amazing stories about his diving experiences, all over the world.  He offered to take me to Palau in February 2000, on the condition that I get certified here, first.  So, I was certified in September 1999.  I still remember my “check-out dive” – where you basically show the instructor that you understand how to put your gear together, can stay underwater without panicking, and remove your mask underwater, and put it back on while underwater (I had the hardest time with this, but in the end, it all went well).  This was in Parry Sound in late September – it was FREEZING.  I thought if this was diving – I’m not so sure…. Not to mention, the wet suit technology was not like today.  I was wearing a 7mm farmer john (2 pieces – thick neoprene painter pants and a second equally thick top with hood – honestly, out of the water, you could barely move – I was convinced this is what an Italian sausage felt like). Wet suits today are SO much more comfortable – thank goodness.

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Under the sea

What can you tell me about this particular dive?  Can you share the location and tell us a bit about the trip and what you saw?                                                                     Here is a map  http://www.aggressor.com/bahamasTB-divesites.php – you can see the dive sites (diver flag – red with a diagonal white stripe).  The trip is called Tiger Beach – but honestly, we were told there aren’t always a lot of tigers around tiger beach… We were very lucky to have landed in an area where there were MANY tiger sharks, and lemon sharks, so we stayed there for a bit.  Although the dive site info refers to tiger sharks that were 7 feet long – the ones we encountered were well over 10 ft…we think they were around 15 ft long.  Of particular note, there was a pregnant female – which was so interesting, because there was a distinct thickness around her middle.   We (the divers) simply stayed on the sandy bottom of the dive site, not moving around much, and sharks came closer and closer and started to swim all around us.  Even the most seasoned divers were is awe.  They really are beautiful animals.

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Were you, or any of the other divers at all scared or was there a freak out moment?  No – these were all seasoned divers who had been around sharks before.  Everyone was very calm and just in awe and respectful of the sharks.  Jill note: Interestingly, although tiger sharks are more feared, and are thought to be more aggressive, it was actually the lemon sharks that Laura was more wary of.  She and her husband did a short swim away from the group and returned when they were pursued by two lemon sharks.  Nothing happened, but remember, sharks are wild animals and their behavior cannot be predicted.

Shark!

Unreal

How many days did you dive and did you get used to being in the water with these particular sharks? 5 – after awhile, you were so used to seeing them, it almost became routine.  Oh, another tiger shark!

Sharks

Did they give you anything to protect yourself with?  No – the bubbles coming from your tank are actually a small deterrent – the sharks don’t seem to like them.  A pole, used incorrectly, could just anger the shark.  Really, it comes down to staying calm, and that comes with experience as a diver and other encounters with sharks.  If the shark is angry, and wants to attack, there isn’t a lot you can do, but again, it’s very rare and staying calm comes with experience.

Close

So close!

If someone ever wants to consider diving with tiger sharks, what should they know?  They are amazing, graceful creatures and just enjoy every minute of the dive.
If you have any questions for Laura about this experience, or any of her other dives, just let me know and I can do a follow up piece.


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Happy New Year and Admitting Failure

CharlotteWeb

Yup, I’m a failure.  I failed at my year of challenges by not really doing any, and I failed in my reading challenge by only reading 22 of 35 books.  I can actually tell you why I didn’t finish this – it comes down to three books 1) Outlander – it was long (almost 1000 pages) and it took me 500 pages to get into it, 2) All the Light You Cannot See or as I like to call it All the Books I Didn’t Get to Read Because I Had to Finish This Dud.  I know a lot of pretentious people who are going to judge me for not liking this one, that’s OK, I don’t mind. 3) Wicked or as I call it Wickedly Boring – too long and only about 50 pages were at all enjoyable.  Here is where I netted out:

A book about an animal – Emory’s Gift (a lovely book)
A book based on a fairytale, myth or folklore – Wicked (ugh – see above)
A book based on people from a religious text
A book based on true events
A book considered a ‘classic’ – Oscar Wilde’s Plays
A book considered a ‘modern classic’ – A Thousand Splendid Suns (a truly splendid book)
A book from a series – Top Secret 21 (I read all of the Stephanie Plum books – hilarious and fun)
A book from one of the “Must Read” lists – When Breath Becomes Air (Unforgettable and deeply touching)
A book from Oprah’s book club
A book involving religion
A book involving royalty – a king, queen, prince, princess etc.
A book picked for you by someone else
A book published this year – London Belongs to Me (Memorable, fun and written by a fantastic person – please read this)
A book someone gave you – After You (Well written chick lit but not as good as Me Before You)
A book that a relative or friend loves
A book that everyone is talking about
A book that you can read in a day – Complete – If I Stay
A book that’s less than 300 pages long – Complete – Where She Went
A book with a cover that drew you in – Fear Dat (A must read if you are going to New Orleans)
A book with a creative title – Year of Yes (LOVE – check out my 2017 blog coming up tomorrow or Monday for more details)
A book with a short title – E2 (HOOEY)
A book with a title that describes your life – Rude Bitches Make Me Tired (they really do)
A book with a title that has more than five words – All the Light You Cannot See (See above)
A book written by a politician – Crippled America (in my defence, it was a gift and I was too embarrassed to return it to the bookstore)
A book you borrowed – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Amazing)
A book you could use as a doorstop (ie. 700+ pages) – Outlander (see above)
A book you own but haven’t read
A book you would normally read on holiday – Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married (not bad, but completely forgettable – I don’t remember anything from it)
A book you’re embarrassed to read in public – Coreygraphy (It’s Corey Feldman’s biography – need I say more?)
A book you’re excited about – The Rainbow Comes and Goes (Anderson Cooper – need I say more?????????)
A book you’ve always wanted to read but haven’t
A book you’ve been putting off reading
A classic children’s book – I Love You Forever (if you can read this without crying, you are dead inside)
A humorous book – Why Not Me? (Mindy Kaling is my spirit animal and home girl and this is a fantastic book)
A play by Shakespeare

The Type A in me says that I have to try for 35 books again, so I will.  I’m going to switch some of the categories up since I found some too similar.  Plus, I really want to get rid of more books!  I’ll update you on the challenge for 2017 when I figure out which categories to swap out.

2016 wasn’t all about failure, I did get to travel a lot which you’ll hear more about, I enjoyed my city a bit more and I did get a few things off of my bucket list.  It also had it’s challenges, and no, it’s not about Princess Leia, Prince and George Michael dying, although that’s very sad.  The one ability that I have is to know when to pull up my big girl pants and make a decision, even if it’s a tough one.  I think that sometimes knowing what path that you need to take is half the battle.  I was told that 2017 was going to be a year of change for me, and I welcome it!  I hope that you all have a Happy New Year’s Eve and challenge yourself in 2017.


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Barcelona for Dummies and Type As Parte Tres

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A little Gaudi – Casa Mila

I screwed up – and I’m totally owning it.  I promised you the first 5 places in my top ten in the last entry and I only put 4.  I tried to edit it, but it only fixed my mistake here.  I’d say sue me, but some of you may take me up on it and I’m not paid to blog.  I’m giving you places 5-10 in this blog, promise and you are even getting a bonus Barcelona entry after I write a very exciting series on an up and coming Toronto based author!    Without further ado, here are the rest of my Barcelona faves!

5. Casa Milà- see above for photo!  This amazing piece of Gaudi architecture is a UNESCO World Heritage Site!  Before you get too excited, like I did, everything in Europe is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Even a Starbucks that I went into mostly for the free Wi-Fi qualified (just kidding).  But truly, there are a lot of underwhelming places that qualify for this distinction, but this isn’t one of them.  It’s one of the most creative pieces of architecture that I’ve ever seen.  It looks like it’s bones in motion, melted wax or all of the above.  My only regret is that I’ve been to Barcelona twice and have never gone in.

6.  Passeig de Gracia – I call this fancy street.  It houses a lot of the high end stores and the REALLY SUPER EXPENSIVE hotels that we can all only aspire too.  Staying walking distance from this elegant street made me feel like one of the hoity-toity’s.  The best part of this street though is not the shopping or the lovely restaurants, it’s the architecture.  The lovely Casa Milà is located here (I wasn’t cheating, it’s my favourite building so it got an entry of it’s own).  Gaudi’s Casa Batlló AKA my second favourite building is located here.  The roof looks like a dragon’s back and the facing has the mosaic tiles that Gaudi is known for.  As an aside, I felt really artsy writing that sentence.  If Gaudi isn’t your thing, which makes you a weirdo in my books, then Casa Amatller by Puig is right next store.  Each building on this street is a bit of a marvel.  Stroll it and enjoy one of the loveliest places in Barcelona.

7.  Las Ramblas (AKA La Rambla) – this isn’t just a lovely street to walk along, it also serves as the entry way to the Barri Gotic (the Gothic Quarter) and El Mercat (the Market that I wrote about).  The best part of Las Ramblas – it’s a pedestrian mall which means no pesky traffic to interrupt you.  The draw back is that it’s teeming with tourists.  That’s ok though – that’s what you are, so embrace and enjoy the crowds.  If you are looking for tacky souvenirs, this is the place for you.  It’s also a great place to stop and smell the flowers – literally.  There are flower vendors here with pretty sweet posies, so look around and enjoy them.  As busy as it is, it’s worth an hour or two, at least, of your time.  Look up at the buildings – they have the best little touches from Juliet balconies to the umbrellas that you see in my less than professional photo above.

8. The beach/waterfront – confession time, this is from November 2011.  I didn’t have a chance to go this time around.  I loved the waterfront.  The statues were fun – who doesn’t love a smiling lobster?  The scenery was great and the Mediterranean was a little rough so if you closed your eyes, the sounds made you feel like you were at an all-inclusive.  I couldn’t keep them closed for long though – too many things to trip over.  If we have more than two days to spend, I really, really recommend spending some time here.

9. Barri Gòtic AKA The Gothic Quarter is also a favourite.  Seriously, I loved every place on this list equally, but in different ways.  You need time in The Gothic Quarter – time to get lost, time to wander and time to appreciate the gargoyles.  Every little street leads into a square.  You’ll find City Hall in one of these squares.  Another street will lead you to the Jewish Quarter and another to the Barcelona Cathedral.  Before your eyes roll and you say ANOTHER CHURCH, this is also worth a look.  For one thing, it’s Gothic and who doesn’t love a cuddly little gargoyle.  For another, it’s spectacular outside and in.  C’mon, just put it on your list of must dos.  My favourite time to walk this area is at night.  It just lends itself to that eerie, spooky vibe that night time brings.  Watch out for pick pockets in this area – where there are tourists, there are thieves.  We were warned all over Barcelona to keep an eye on our purses and wallets, so be smart and only bring the necessities.

10.  Fundació Joan Miró – really just an art gallery with a lot of Miró’s art.  I’m including this on my list so you’ll think I’m cultured.  And also because the statue in front reminded me of Disney’s Wall-E.  Tell me I’m wrong….go ahead. The paintings aren’t my thing, but the fact that they are hung in the middle of the room with no walls – genius.  I saw this during my 2011 trip.  It was fun saying to my friend “I could totally paint this” and listening to her each time say – “But you didn’t”.  That’s always been my issue with modern art – I’m not talented in the least, but I feel like I could totally splat over a page and tell people it represents passion and progress and get $50million out of the deal.  I’d also get those pretentious people nodding their heads with a very serious look on their faces as I reveal a new project – a blank canvas that represents the smallness of life and how life is…a blank canvas.  If you are into modern art – it’s worth a look.  Give yourself an hour here, tops.

 

 

 

 


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Atlanta for Dummies and Type As (Part 1)

 

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Taken at CNN

No…I didn’t get to see Anderson Cooper – he works out of CNN’s New York studio, but I did get to do a lot of cool things.  And no, I’m not calling you dummies, I just couldn’t figure out something fun and clever to use as a title.  You may ask me why did my friend and I decide on Atlanta.  I say, why not Atlanta?  I know it’s not at the top of everyone’s travel list, but if you have 3 days, and want to visit a city that has a little something for everyone, Atlanta is a great destination.  It’s also one of the cleanest cities that I’ve ever visited.  My bucket list also includes visits to all 50 States (and all of the countries in Europe) so this helped me tick one off.

Where To Stay

I was lucky enough to experience two lovely hotels in mid-town Atlanta (my friend and I went to Savannah in between) – The Artmore Hotel and The Georgian Terrace.  Both were lovely. The  Artmore had a really cool courtyard pictured above and was a little more cool – it reminded me a bit of the Opus Hotel in Yaletown  (Vancouver, BC).  The Georgian Terrace is part of the historic hotels group.  Out of the two, it was my favourite.  The Artmore is a little more out of the way – my friend and I had to walk further to get to the plentiful restaurants that mid-town had to offer.  It also was just more impressive with a beautiful lobby, a historic bar frequented by locals and was right across from the Fox Theatre – a plus if you are doing the food walking tour.  Both are close to MARTA stations (Atlanta’s subway and public transit system).  I wasn’t disappointed with either hotel, but if you want to be more in the heart of things, go Georgian Terrace.

Getting Around:

Use the MARTA – it’s really easy and relatively cheap.  The one caveat, it’s not like many big city subway systems where the stop is right in the middle of things – you have to walk quite a ways to get to where you want to go.

The Weather:

I can only speak for early March, and it was perfect.  Warm enough that I didn’t need a jacket during the day, but not so hot that I felt sweaty and dehydrated.  It is very changeable and it can get cool from what I understand, so use your weather app and bring a few “just in case” clothes.

The People

The people are very nice, very polite, and the city was more refreshingly multi-cultural than I expected.  The one thing that I did notice was a reserve that I wasn’t expecting – it was really more like a big city versus the true southern experience that I was hoping for.

What to do:

Check back this week for everything that you need to do when you head to HOTLANTA!