Steph and I took a short drive down to Monterey to do a scuba trip there. The Pier is a fun place to dive as you never know what you’ll find and this time was especially interesting. We saw a crab wearing a beanie hat. The crab was a Sheep Crab or Spider Crab depending on how you want to call it. The hat was decently stuck to it, and it was happy with the hat. The video below is from one of the other groups that was there that day, and we got a screenshot in case the video goes down (like what happened with the urchin smashing).
Steph and I headed to Mexico for a week of cavern diving training. We got to use Steph status from her work trips for probably the last time, but use of the lounge and an upgrade was very nice.
We got to the airport in Cancun and pretty quickly got to the transfer we had booked. We got to the dive shop and Rory was willing to drive us to the grocery store that evening. We got a good amount of food and headed back to the room to crash. The next morning we started the training with a checkout dive in about 7 feet of water. It went decently well as we went through all the drills. We got out of the water and redid a good bit of the gear before debriefing. We were pretty tired so we went straight to the room and relaxed for a bit before calling it a night.
For the first trip with videos click here.
The next day we did a lot of navigation theory, and did dive plans for the Taj Mahal cavern. The dives didn’t go exactly as planned as we were going slower than expected, and I called out the first reference point in my dive incorrectly. We still got through most of the skills with minor hitches. I lost buoyancy pretty badly on the turn of my dive and hit the ceiling. That evening we again just relaxed, and I got some good cuddles from one of the cats that frequents the area, the aptly named Mustacio! He jumped into my lap and started purring, kneading, and drooling.
The next day we went to Cenote Chiken Hal. These dives didn’t go as well, and we had to repeat the first dive, focusing on the command chain: breathing, buoyancy, trip, position. These were really hard for me, and the better I was doing the more uncomfortable I was getting. The correct position had my neck, shoulders, and back hurting.
I decided that I was done with the training at that point.
I did go on a guided dive through a cavern called Dream Gate after that, which was gorgeous, but otherwise I sat at the room/shop. There wasn’t much else to do in that area, and there were limited transportation options.
Steph completed the course and is now certified in Cavern Diving and Intro to Cave Diving.
We then went to Cancun, and had some amazing food. We especially enjoyed the Benazuza restaurant, which is a course based meal. They had some great mixology to start out the dinner and amazing food throughout. It was better than some of the best dining we’ve had in the bay area and I can see why it was ranked in the top 5 in the world on trip advisor.
We went to Chichen Itza and saw most of the city. It was pretty amazing. Tikal was only slightly more impressive.
Steph and I decided to take a trip to Iceland for Chinese New Year since she had that time off. It was pretty easy to book the tickets and get everything set up. The flight was direct from SFO, and rather inexpensive. It wasn’t that bad a flight, and we came prepared with our own food and water. We didn’t end up needing them, but it was good that we had it for the rest of the trip.
The morning before we were going to leave I got a message from the airline, WOW Air, that they will be leaving 30 minutes before scheduled. This made us rush out the door and I forgot my folder with all the printed out tickets, and my morning breakfast mix. We got to the airport with plenty of time to spare. Steph bought some food after security and I filled up my water bottle. We got on the plane and found our seats. The flight was uneventful, and we both got a little bit of sleep.
We got into the airport in Iceland a little before 4am. We got off the plane and took our time to prepare ourselves for the cold. From the view outside we could tell it was very windy, and very cold. The snow was coming down lightly, but the wind was whipping it sideways when it did come down. We weren’t quite awake so we missed the way out of the airport, and wandered around a shopping area for a bit before finding the way out. We eventually got out to where the airport pickup for the off site rental cars were, and found the right place. The shuttle showed up and parked on the far side of the lot from us while a snow plow went around the lot. I walked up to the shuttle and was told to go wait at the bus stop. The shuttle dropped us of at Geysir rental car company and we got the car pretty easily. I had reserved a manual transmission vehicle, since it was cheaper. I wasn’t sure if they would have that specific one or if we would end up with an automatic. Since it was a manual that meant I had chosen to drive the entire trip. We ended up with a white Dacia Duster, which isn’t a half bad car. I, personally, didn’t mind it being manual transmission. The part that grated on me during the trip was the lack of cruise control. One interesting thing that the guy at the Geysir rental car pointed out was a high winds advisory for that day, and the following several days. The main highway in Iceland is a big ring that goes around the island, and this is the one road that they try to keep open always. That this advisory mentioned they could be closing parts of the ring due to high winds spoke a lot to how fast they were expected to go. We never ran across winds over 30 meters per second (67 miles per hour), but we saw mention of winds getting up to 70mps (156 miles per hour).
We headed into town, but nothing was open at 5:30am when we got there. We parked close to two bakeries that opened really early, and just waited in the car. We had to turn it on and let the heat run for a bit, because it was so cold. It turned out to be just the exact wrong amount of cold, as the precipitation turned to a wintery mix. It was as cold as possible without being solid enough to keep dry. We went to one bakery and got some breakfast and coffee, then I went to a store to get a nice hat. After getting the hat we sat in the car for another hour until the National Museum of Iceland opened. When it did we spent went right over. The winds were going crazy that day and we broke the door to the car as it was wrenched forward upon opening.
We spent a few hours in the museum, and the exhibits were well done. We had a lunch at the cafe downstairs then went to crash at the Airbnb we had rented.
The Airbnb was a nice little basement apartment that was in a pretty central part of town. There was a little house behind the apartment, and the people who lived there walked a little three legged kitty, who was adorable. We ended up going to a place nearby for dinner that day, and then immediately went back to the apartment and crashed.
We got an early breakfast in one of the places that opened early. I then realized that the distance to the dive we had planned to do was three times further than I had thought. We called and it turned out to be ok, even though we were going to be very late. We drove out to the dive site, with high winds, snow, and icy roads much of the way. I also realized just how much the Icelanders love their roundabouts. I found it odd that the main highway had roundabouts instead of onramps and overpasses. I’m not sure what led to that decision, as there were some points that had onramps and overpasses.
We got to the dive site and it was bitterly cold, but beautiful. Silfra is known for being perfectly clear water, and the meeting of the tectonic plates. We did the dive briefing in the van, and suited up there. Once suited up we got out and put on the dive gear. It was a pretty well run production, and our guide Ants was fantastic. We waddled the 300ft to the entry point and got in the water, which was 2C. We were told to keep as much under water as possible, as the air could end up freezing the equipment if we resurfaced after getting it wet. Once in the water both Steph and I got brain freeze, from the cold water being around our heads. That only lasted a few minutes. We then were able to adjust. Steph had her fins pop off from the air inflating her suit to much. I had the issue of my inflator valve on the dry suit being slightly open the whole time. I just held my left shoulder up and dumped constantly to stay under. It was a gorgeous dive, but we only wanted to do it once. On the way out of the water, I grabbed the railing to pull myself along. My glove instantly froze to the railing on contact, and it took a good yank to pull it off. I did it again for kicks and noticed that the glove had frozen into the shape of the railing. We got some hot chocolate and cookies to warm up, but didn’t want to do the same dive again. Ants was nice enough to provide us with the pictures he took on the second dive.
We then decided to complete the golden circle for the rest of the day. We headed up to Geysir and saw them erupt for a bit. Then we grabbed lunch at the pit stop there. After lunch we went to the huge set of waterfalls, Gullfoss. This is what the golden circle was named after, and I have to admit it was pretty impressive. The waterfalls were in two sections, and the lower falls in my opinion were the more impressive. It was harder to get a good view of them. We then continued on our path to the crater lake. It wasn’t that impressive, and we made the full circuit around the rim. We went back to the Airbnb, and then headed out for a nice dinner. The food was fantastic and it was starting to rain again, so we went straight to bed.
We slept in, and that was really nice. We grabbed some food on the way out of town, but really just snacked on peanuts the whole day. We made it to the Secret Lagoon, and spent nearly two hours just hanging out in the hot spring there. The winds were still going strong, and causing waves in the pools. The drive to get there was a little over two hours, and then we had another three hours to get to the hotel on the souther coast. We got in just before sunset, and settled down to a nice dinner, and then sleep. The drive was windy the whole way, and we probably should have pulled off for part of it. There were waterfalls along the way that were being blown away, as in the water instead of going down was going up and sideways. It made the cliffs look like they were smoking or steaming in spots.
We headed to the meeting spot for the ice cave/glacier tour, and got there a bit early. It worked out for us as we were among the first there. We got lucky I think in being the first on the glacier that day. The rain stopped as we got on the glacier, and started up again once we were getting down from the glacier. We also got a bit more time in the non-flooded part of the ice cave than the other groups I’d imagine. Since much of the ice cave was flooded we got a small excursion into the upper ice flows where the chasms started. We didn’t see any deep chasms on the hike we did, but we did get to see some later in the day on another glacier. Steph and I both licked the glacier and got some really good pictures. It was very blue, apparently the rain the day before washed away much of the accumulated dirt.
After getting off the glacier we grabbed a quick lunch and headed up to Iceberg Lagoon and Diamond Beach. The Iceberg Lagoon was neat, but the Diamond Beach was unreal. The icebergs, instead of washing out to sea, get pushed up onto the beach. They then slowly melt, and show off all their colors while sitting on the black sand. It was gorgeous and absolutely lived up to the name. We were given an extra treat as the sun actually showed up for an hour while we were out on the beach.
We headed back to the hotel, and a little past to hike out to a vista point over another glacier. It was a pretty cool one where some of the beyond the wall footage was filmed for Game of Thrones. We got a mediocre dinner at the rest stop across from the hotel and then got ice cream to make up for that at the hotel.
This day was mainly driving. There were high winds again, and we stopped by a waterfall to break up the drive. It was almost windy enough for us to take a break, but luckily the winds were with us. We were driving down the highway and sticking your hand out the window felt like the air wasn’t moving, because the wind was blowing so strongly in the direction we were travelling in.
We made it back to near Reykjavik, to a hotel called Ion Adventure Hotel. We hung out there, and it would have been a great place to see the northern lights had the clouds not continued their ceaseless presence. We spent a little time in the hot tub, but mainly just relaxed for the day. They had a really nice bar facing north that would have been great for watching the northern lights, if there weren’t clouds.
We got up, grabbed some breakfast, and headed to the horse riding. We got there with about an hour of driving. Still high winds, icy gravel roads, and blind hills/turns.
The horses were very cute. I got one that had a redish coat, and Steph was on a dark brown horse. They were a lot smaller than the horses we were used to riding. We headed out for a two hour out and back to the nearby hot springs. We started slow, and then sped up as we became more comfortable with the horses. Eventually we got to a cantor. Along the way we had to go through a big snow bank, and up and down some pretty steep hills. A dog tagged along for the whole ride, and was adorable. At one point a group of young horses were being herded past us, and our horses wanted to join them in the run. Also, Steph lost her reigns at one point and the horse ran off with her. That only lasted a few minutes before Steph got off and the guide went to get her.
After riding we lunched in Selfoss and then headed back to the hotel were we relaxed for the afternoon.
We had breakfast at the Ion Hotel before heading back near Selfoss to go through a lava tube. The Lava Tunnel was the specific name of the lava tube we chose to go to, and it was gorgeous. Lots of ice stalactites and stalagmites. Big snow cones under the skylights. Nice formations in the lava. The only bad thing was Steph dropped her phone and it went down a crack to never be seen again.
We drove through some intense fog to get to Reykjavik, where we checked into Hotel 101. We took a walk to the main church, took a peek inside, had lunch, and walked along the waterfront. We had a nice dinner and went to sleep pretty early.
We got up and had breakfast at the hotel before heading to a small bakery. We grabbed a lot of stuff to eat on the flight, including the famous cinnamon rolls. After that we headed off for the airport. On the way I had to check out one of the gas station hot dogs that I had heard about. It was different, with crispy and fresh onion, but not that amazing. I wonder what the meat was.
Steph and I did an early Sunday dive in Breakwater. We did one really long dive, probably close to an hour underwater, and going from the wall out to the metridium fields. The dive was pretty nice, and not too cold, since we were doing quite a bit of swimming. We saw a sea lion or harbor seal underwater, but it was just a large black object that went by really quickly. It probably had a three foot approach to Steph, but didn’t slow down much. There were also a ton of nudibranchs, but all of them were the white with yellow tips varietal. I also saw a few different types of crab, including a massive sheepshead crab. It wasn’t extended, but I assume it would be around 5 foot span if it did. The metridiums were pretty as always, and we got a little lucky to run across them, as we didn’t hit the pipe first.
After the dive we walked along the waterfront to get crepes. I really enjoyed my pesto, tomato, and cheese crepe. The walk itself was much better than I would have thought, and something I’ll certainly want to do every time we go diving at Breakwater.
Steph and I joined a Diver Dan’s trip to Mexico. There were two locations for the trip: Xcalak, close to Belize, and Puerto Aventuras.
Xcalak was a really nice beach area, and the dive shop was pretty, but we got there at the same time as a group of new interns. The DM’s were trying to get everything ready and teach the interns at the same time. We had a great guide Mathias, and he was able to keep things going mostly smoothly for us. The first day Steph got sick after the first dive and we went back in. The second day we did a nice first dive, then tried to exit the barrier reef. During the exit the boat was hit by a massive wave that washed over the deck. Most people were knocked from their seats, and much of the boat gear was knocked overboard. Steph and I were hit hard by the wave, and we kept our seats, but to our detriment. Steph got cuts on her hand from holding hard to the bench, and I got cuts on my leg from hitting against the same bench. We circled back to pick up the first aid kit from the waves, and got a bit patched up. Steph went diving with a rubber glove on, filled with antiseptic. I stayed on the boat and helped pull things out of the water. Steph’s dive computer was gone for good, but its depth sensor had just broken anyway. Not a huge loss.
The place we stayed, Casa Paraiso, was really nice. I liked the view, and they had clearly put a lot of effort into making it really nice, despite not being able to get all the best materials.
We then trecked up to Puerto Aventuras and got situated. The next day we got to start the cavern diving with Under the Jungle. Our guide was the owner Natalie. This was the real reason Steph and I had come, and it was amazing. The first day we didn’t get the good light effects, since it was cloudy. We did get nice light effects for a few days we were there. During the cavern dives we were paired with Pej, the 6’5″ guy and his wife Lili. They were a fun couple to talk to, and Pej might listen to more audiobooks than I do.
We had a great time on the beach, and found a swim up bar. I love swim up bars, disproportionate to how fun they actually are. We ended up there two nights of the time we were in Puerto Aventuras.
I did a surprise birthday weekend for Steph, we left early on Friday morning, and made it our first stop around 10am. The guy we were meeting was about 30 minutes late, but it wasn’t a big deal. We went horseback riding at Salinas River State Beach. It was an amazing ride. There were some whales right off the coast that we noticed because of all the whale watching boats around them. They were tail slapping which was cool to see. We rode through the dunes for the first third of it, then up and down the beach for the rest.
After that we went to a little restaurant in Pacific Grove called Julia’s. The food there was absolutely amazing. They had a garlic, red onion, and blue cheese pizza. It was probably the best pizza I’ve had. The strong flavors worked really well together.
We then went to the Lone Oak Lodge to check in and Steph got a good nap. We then went to the Bamboo Reef because Steph had forgotten her thermals, and she rented some there. We took a short walk to the next planned stop, which was Monterey Day Spa. We got an amazing couples massage there. We wandered along Cannery Row until we got to our next stop, Bistro Moulin. This is one of Steph’s favorite restaurants, especially for the gnocchi. It was tasty as ever, and the duck I got was phenomenal.
We then dropped down to Breakwater and went on a fun night dive. It was pretty obvious that we were both a bit rusty. The dive went really well though with a bunch of octopi out and about. There were also a lot of huge sheep’s head crabs actually active since it was night. We also saw some purple crabs that looked like they were hugging (probably mating) and another one that had a huge clutch of eggs.
We retired for the night after that, since we didn’t get back to the hotel until around 11pm. In the morning we went to the last stop, Point Lobos. This was a great dive as well. There was a juvenile harbor seal that was following us around, and was playing with Steph’s legs (although she didn’t realize it). There were also a lot of jellyfish on that dive, of several different types. We walked around a little, since we hadn’t seen the park above the water before.
The night dive was my favorite dive in Belize. We went to the protected area Hol Chan, and saw a lot of things. There were a ton of rays, an eel, a massive hermit crab in a conch shell, an octopus, and a lot of fish following us for food. The red snapper was eating other fish that we shined our lights on. There were a bunch of fish following us that were interested in the worms congregating around the lights. I stayed behind and played with the group of smaller fish by trying to stay really still and watch them eat the worms. I got one worm in my ear, and it wriggled around for about 15 seconds before leaving, it felt really strange.
We took a day trip to the Lighthouse reefs, which includes the Blue Hole. We did one dive in the Blue hole and two dives on the reefs nearby. There was a nice break for lunch at one of the nearby islands, which was a habitat for the red footed boobies. The video below is a summary of the three dives, about 2 hours, taken down to about 6 minutes. The dives on the lighthouse reef were nicer than the dives close to San Pedro, with more fish, and more interesting formations.
The island for lunch with the red footed boobies had a few giant iguanas, frigate birds, and massive hermit crabs. The hermit crabs weren’t as big as the one we saw on the night dive, but still about the size of a baseball.
We had a great time diving near San Pedro. Steph did a total of 7 dives around the reefs there for day dives that are compiled into the video below. We picked out all the good parts, so from the 7 45 minute dives we have about 10 minutes of video. I didn’t do all the dives because I had headaches for one, and ear issues for another.