Green Sea Turtle; Caye Caulker, Belize; 2013

Belize: Home of Caving Expeditions

 

Theme: Central American Adventure Tour

Country: Belize

Locations: Belize City, Caye Caulker, San Ignacio, Belmopan

Year: 2013

Bucket list: Visiting Central America for the first time; Exploring wet and dry caving expeditions

 

ESSENTIAL EXPERIENCES:

 

Belize City:

  • Catching San Pedro express water taxi to Caye Caulker
  • Meeting Major Tom for zip lining adrenaline activity
  • Watching hurricane hit Belize City and blocking all pathways to the ferry services

 

Caye Caulker:

Adrenaline Activities:

  • Snorkeling in Hol Chan Reef Marine Reserve, Shark & Ray Alley, and Ambergis Caye
  • Swimming with green sea turtles, nurse sharks, sting rays, and manatees
  • Being part of a rescue team when a nearby boat sunk - passengers were scattered in the water (in the end, everyone was okay)
  • Fishing for yellowtail snapper, lane snapper, & strawberry grouper (released juveniles)
  • Trolling for greater barracuda
  • Golf carting around the island

 

Sentimental Souvenirs:

  • Purchasing local wooden carvings for wedding presents (Skerponator’s and Matt’s wedding in the states)

 

Restaurants & Pubs:

  • Eating best Belizean food at Bambooze Beach Bar & Grill – chicken tostados for lunch & lobster with mango sauce for dinner
  • Indulging in seafood ceviche at Happy Lobster
  • Drinking best local beers in Belize  - Belikin (Beer of Belize) & Lighthouse Lager
  • Roof top drinking at a reggae pub

 

Favorite Activities:

  • BBQing on the island – tried greater barracuda for the first time
  • Feeling like a local – a lot of honey moon couples, and few solo travelers; the locals made me feel like I belonged there

 

Cayo District:

  • Cave tubing with torches on head
  • Jungle trekking through Belize’s terrain
  • Jumping off 3m cliff into a small deep opening (between several rocks)
  • Zip lining through jungle (wet ride due to heavy rainstorm)

 


Caye Caulker Highlights:

As my week came to an end, I sat there and reflected on my time in Caye Caulker and within the Caribbean Islands off the coast of Belize.

These were the  best highlights:

1) Being introduced to this beautiful country – I will be honest, I did not know much about the surrounding islands off of the mainland of Belize City. I was definitely pleasantly surprised of how amazing and kind the people are here. When speaking with the locals and hearing their Creole language, I can not help to smile and think of how lucky I was to be here at that very moment.

2) Snorkeling with Belize’s most magnificent creatures – green sea turtles, manatees, nurse sharks, white-spotted eagle rays, and greater barracudas. I have never had the opportunity to be as close as I was during my snorkeling trip. On top of this, I learned more about the coral reef species that inhabit this coastal area.

3) Cave tubing & Zip lining – As I was putting together my Central America Adventure Tour, it was evident that a wet adventure would be on the itinerary! Though I was utterly soaked for 12.5 hours from 0630 to 1900, I had a blast! I would not suggest zip lining in the rain, as a dad in my group smashed his knee off the tree (this is how he stopped!); luckily he was okay, but quite sore! As far as the cave tubing, it was brilliant to hear about these mysterious caves embedded in the jungle of Belize. A 3 meter cliff jump ended a great day on the water! 

4) Meeting fun and intelligent travelers – It is always nice to meet other fellow travelers, especially those who are really cool to hang out with and love to travel as much I do. My doctor friends were a prime example of the sweet people that I met on the island – A special thanks to NicolaDawnMarkEmma, George, and Jenna! I hope to see you in Honduras! Also, a kick-ass brother and sister team that made my snorkeling day – A shout out to Craig and Cailan

5) Feeling like a local – After fishing for the day and educating myself on the fish that call Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker, and San Pedro home, I attempted to snag one of the largest barracudas that I have set eyes on! As I was close to reeling a 10lb one in, it got the best of me and I was physically exhausted struggling to bring it onboard. I will have my revenge next time!  Either way, I caught some yellowtail snapper and lane snapper to make up for my loss! A BBQ was created in honour of catching barracudas on our fishing trip! It was the first time on the island when I felt that I blended in and felt “like a local!” The barracuda was delicious, and was the first time that I had it! Most importantly, thank you to Tsunami Adventures and all the crew, especially Heather & Briony for making my time on the island unforgettable! 

Despite the hurricane weather, cancellation of Blue Hole snorkel/dive trip & Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) archeology caving tour, being “stuck” on the mainland for a night, sniffling uncontrollably, sunburnt aloe vera smelling skin and lips, mosquito bites that trail up and down my arms, legs, stomach, back, and face, one thing is certain – I will come back in non-hurricane weather and soak up the sun on this lovely island again! 

Farewell Belize – I will miss you and your ridiculous weather! 

 

 

Rock Lizard; Port Gentil, Gabon; 2010

Welcome to Africa; Yellow Fever Shot Required

 

 

Theme: Welcome to Africa

Country: Gabon

Locations: Libreville & Port Gentil

Year: 2010

Bucket list: Visiting Africa for the first time

 

ESSENTIAL EXPERIENCES:

 

Libreville:

  • Entering a new world of a French speaking colony, where no one speaks English
  • Running into a massive lit Christmas tree blocking my gate to catch a domestic flight to Port Gentil

 

 

Port Gentil:

  • Learning a hard lesson when it comes to having the required shots before travel
  • Meeting friendly locals, who have now become life-long mates
  • Checking out my first pub, sports bar, disco tech, and restaurant all-in-1 building
  • Hanging out until 0600 when the only beach club in town closes
  • Watching sunrise on the rocky beach

 


African Nightmare: One of the most terrifying experiences was getting interrogated by the Gabon government (i.e. Port Gentil’s security clearance). When Kelsey and I arrived in Libreville, Gabon we were met by an Oil & Gas agent of Total who helped us check our baggage and lead us to our gate.  I had to walk a few minutes around a gigantic Christmas tree in the middle of the walkway where we had to stand in the cue with a lot of people.

We took a puddle jumper and flew to Port Gentil, Gabon. As soon as I arrived at the airport I was stopped by an African security guard because my yellow fever certificate was not within the 10 days of arriving in their country (it was 6 days).

I was already approved with my Gabon visa, had successfully been stamped into the country in Gabon, so this should have not been a major issue. A very polite man smiling quickly turned his grin into a frownless expression glaring down at me. When he decided to grab my arm and quickly guided me through a dark lit alley way, I knew that this would be easy to get out of. My colleagues and good mate, Kels was stunned and did not know where I had gone.

As we approached a mosquito infested building, I was told to throw my luggage on the small bench outside his office. He let go of my arm so that I could put my bags down. Shortly after getting my bearings and observing where I was, he took my arm again and placed me into a small white chair in the corner of his office. Mosquitoes had begun to fill up the room and start biting me left and right. In the mist of all this, I was demanded to pay 300 euros to get my passport back. Meanwhile, the security guard decided to flip through my passport and pretend to write down sections of my passport into a yellow post it note that was on his desk.

A heavier set woman approached the room, and they both started speaking French very fast (too quick for me to understand). I was asked to provide another ID of myself, but with my lack of passport in my hand I refrained. Next thing I hear the agent outside yelling my name, so I answered him back and told him where I was. As soon as I get out the message, the woman shut the door. Fortunately, the agent heard me and tugged open the door. He stood there for a few minutes explaining that I am with him and working for Total.

This method did not seem to be going well, as they both sat there with their arms crossed and an expressionless look on their faces. The agent grew weary of attempting to be nice to get my passport back in my possession, so he reached around the desk and snatched it and the post it note out of the security guard’s hands. The agent glanced at me, and the next thing I knew we were sprinting down a dark alley with security guards screaming French obscenities behind us!

Finally, I found myself back at the airport, and a bus was waiting for me! I jumped in, and the agent proceeded to follow. The bus driver gunned it, and off we went! I looked back to see a very furious man and woman chasing the bus. Luckily for us, we did not have any stop lights on the way to the hotel! The positive outcome was that I did not get malaria and I safely made it to my hotel with my colleagues and Kels!

Island Philosophy; Nassau, Bahamas; 2011

Bahamas: The World’s Clearest Waters

 

Theme: Island Hopping in the Caribbean

Country: The Bahamas

Locations: San Salvador Island, Nassau, Paradise Island, Harbour Island, & Eleuthera Island

Year: 2005 (San Salvador Island) & 2011

Bucket list: Cliff jumping off Eleuthera’s Island coast

 

ESSENTIAL EXPERIENCES:

San Salvador Island:

  • Teaching local children how to snorkel and scuba dive
  • Diving in the world’s richest coral reefs
  • Witnessing a hammerhead shark face to face
  • Exploring the island and sitting on pristine beaches
  • Hanging out with the locals drinking Kalik

 

Nassau:

  • Exploring Junkadoo Beach
  • Grilling fish fry and conch fritters with the locals
  • Partaking in the Senor Frogs tradition with cruise ship members

 

Paradise Island:

  • Gambling in Johnny Depp’s favorite casino, Atlantis
  • Visiting “The Dig” aquarium – learning about the mysterious depths of the ocean

 

Harbour Island:

  • Pub hopping with Golf carts around the island
  • Sinking toes into pink sand during sunset
  • Drinking tequila and rum with locals
  • Taxing to Eleuthera Island on small boat

 

Eleuthera Island:

  • Walking and hitchhiking to Gregory town and checking out the historical little town
  • Hiring a Jeep and driving to the southernmost lighthouse on the island
  • Caving Hatchet Bay Caves, witnessing the ocean trailing in the cave, and exploring sections of the cave known as Birthday Cake, Lord of the Rings, Bat, etc.
  • Visiting UNESCO World Heritage Site Queen’s Bath
  • Cliff jumping in between rocks
  • Snorkeling for lion fish
  • Swimming with green sea turtles
  • Cruising the Caribbean Sea during a sunset cruise
  • Surfing at Surfer’s Paradise

 


*Travel hiccups: The Jeep Cherokee that I had rented was not in the best condition, but since it was a Jeep I thought I would attempt to reach the southernmost lighthouse on the Eleuthera island. Once I reached the beach, I noticed that the signs to the lighthouse were non-existent. I stopped before I started driving in sand, and asked a family of tourists where the lighthouse is. To my surprise, they pointed in the direction of a sand path and a few trees growing on the outskirts of the path. I took their advice and drove through the soft sand. Then my worst nightmare happened, I got stuck! My back left tire was 2 inches deep into the tan light sand and I was left trying to dig myself out of this hole. After realizing that this was hopeless, my passenger Tatjana (a 50 something year old carefree soul longing to find her purpose in life), and myself walked 5 miles down the road to the closest sign of civilization.

A few hours had passed since the incident, and we met a few locals that were willing to help us out, for a small fee.  A boy and 2 male adults gathered us in a truck and took us to where the Jeep was buried in the sand. The boy’s father attached his winch to the back of the Jeep and slowly began pulling us out of the sand and back on to the dirt path. A few smiles were exchanged and a good amount of dollars for their hard work. It was a very eventful day, to say the least. I was thankful that we were able to get back on the road when we did. The night grew darker, and though I still wanted to photograph the southernmost lighthouse on the island, Tatjana and I made our way back to Gregory town to return the Jeep. To this day, I still want to see this beautiful lighthouse, and this time I assure you I will not get stuck!

 

Jessica-Benford-2540-Polar-Sea-252C-Gulf-Of-Mexico-Pics-08-Beautiful-Landscapes-2528401-2529

A Collection of Reflections on the Water; a New Day has Begun

Cotton Candy Sunset; Gulf of Mexico; Polar Sea 07.2008

After the storms had come and went and the darkness had turned to gray, beautiful sunsets were formed. Some of the best daylight skies during my time on the Polar Sea in the Gulf of Mexico– “Embark to the Polar Sea; a Closer Approach to Hurricane Season,” are displayed below.

Sometimes in the darkest times in our lives, a window of light will create the most memorable and inspirational moment in our lives. After the tragedy that struck hundreds of Americans, hope was exactly what they needed. I do not know what is more striking than a vibrant colored sunset overlooking the majestic beauty of mothernature.
I have collaborated my favorite sunsets during the weathering of the storms in the Gulf of Mexico of 2008. In addition, I have added a few shots of the sky before hurricanes consumed the water beneath our feet.
All of these photographs were taken in the Gulf of Mexico and are categorized within the month that I captured them. 
An assortment of my favorite reflections over the summer months:
JULY

AUGUST

SEPTEMBER

August is a representation of a pre-hurricane driven sky. While, September is a display of a rainbow through the Polar Sea.
katrina1

The Manifestation of Hurricane Katrina; the Killing Machine

Hurricane Katrina En Route in Louisiana; 08.2005
I want to dedicate this post to a city that is truly loved and will never be forgotten.  The spirit of what we perceive as New Orleans lives in the hearts of the people, in the music, art, history, and within the memories of those who have passed due to Hurricane Katrina’s destruction. The hope and faith that New Orleans needs will be restored. Future generations will always maintain the savoir-faire of the City of New Orleans. The present is just another page in New Orleans’s history. New Orleaners will each carry the sights and scenes and music of the city as they knew it.
Military Official Overlooking Flooded New Orleans at Sunset; Hurricane Katrina 08.2005
The summer of 2008 in the Gulf of Mexico was a long period of hurricanes and tropical storms. I remember on the Polar Sea that several of the crew members and I had a discussion about Hurricane Katrina.  After surviving a hodgepodge of natural disasters, I had time to reflect on those that had lost their lives and suffered a loss greater than I could have ever imagined – “Independence Day; Hurricane Season Galvanized.”
After 2005 when Hurricane Katrina had hit, I discovered on all of my projects working in the Gulf of Mexico, that the topic “Hurricane Katrina” lingered on everyone’s tongues. Whether I met some gentlemen from Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, and even Florida; this horrific event was still on everyone’s mind. I recall some in-depth conversations with a few of my colleagues working on the Geco Snapper – “5 Best Flashbacks on the Geco Snapper; a Dedication to a Late Friend.”

I decided to complete a little further research on this hurricane and shine some light on the events of Hurricane Katrina.

Helicopter Pilots Searching for Bodies; Hurricane Katrina 08.2005
My Emotional Response to the Reconstruction of the Beautiful City of New Orleans:

New Orleans, throughout her illustrious history, has withstood hurricanes, fire, and plague. She is a city with a warm and open heart; that heart, her courage, her endurance, her vitality, and her importance to this nation are still there always will be there. All you need to do is visit and you will view her inner beauty, just as I have. I felt the warmness of the residents of New Orleans during my last visit there, few years after Hurricane Katrina had hit.

I felt the city’s vivacity through her life, the music, the food, and the soul of the city; which in result have helped the residents and New Orleans lovers unearth the necessary healing that is needed both externally and internally.


Hurricane Katrina Created:

Hurricane Katrina was caused by the intervention of a dissipating storm south of the Bahamas known as Tropical Depression Ten and another tropical wave.  This reaction created a tropical storm on August 23, 2005.
Flooding in Louisiana; Hurricane Katrina 08.2005
Timeline of Hurricane Katrina:
Hurricane Katrina’s Peak Intensity; 08.2005
On Tuesday, August 23, 2005 a storm located near the south of the Bahamas called Tropical Depression Ten reacted with a tropical wave creating an intense tropical storm. Hurricane Katrina formed as Tropical Depression Twelve over the southeastern Bahamas.

On Wednesday, August 24, 2005, a tropical storm rising in the Caribbean was named Katrina. The system was upgraded to tropical storm status on the morning of August 24th and at this point, the storm was given the name Katrina. The tropical storm continued to move towards Florida, and became a hurricane only two hours before it made landfall between Hallandale Beach and Aventura, Florida on the morning of August 25th. The storm weakened over land, but it regained hurricane status about one hour after entering the Gulf of Mexico.
Hurricane Katrina’s Path; 08.2005

On Thursday, August 25th, a day later, the tropical storm grew to the size of a hurricane.  Later that day, Katrina made the shore of the east coast of Florida killing four people and leaving about 1,000,000 Floridians without power.

The storm was expected to hit the Florida panhandle next, while it was traveling at tremendous speed through the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The storm rapidly intensified after entering the Gulf, growing from a Category 3 hurricane to a Category 5 hurricane in just nine hours. This rapid growth was due to the storm’s movement over the “unusually warm” waters of the Loop Current, which increased wind speeds.

On Friday, August 26th, Katrina had grown from a category 1 hurricane (the least intense) to a category 2, and it had doubled in size from Wednesday. Later that day, the next projected landfall of Katrina was to the left of the Florida panhandle, planning to hit Mississippi and Alabama.
Residents Scurrying through Water; Hurricane Katrina 08.2005
On Saturday, August 27th, Katrina grew to a category 3 hurricane in the middle of the night.  The path of the hurricane switched and was projected to hit New Orleans. The storm reached Category 3 intensity on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, becoming the third major hurricane of the season.

An eye wall replacement cycle disrupted the intensification, but caused the storm to nearly double in size. Katrina again rapidly intensified, attaining Category 5 status on the morning of August 28 and reached its peak strength at 1:00 p.m. CDT that day, with maximum sustained winds of 175 mph (280 km/h) and a minimum central pressure of 902 mbar.


The pressure measurement made Katrina the fourth most intense Atlantic hurricane on record at the time, only to be surpassed by Hurricanes Rita and Wilma later in the season; it was also the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Gulf of Mexico at the time (a record also later broken by Rita).



RV and Houses Submerged in Water; Hurricane Katrina 08.2005



On Sunday, August 28th, Katrina was upgraded to a category 4 hurricane during the night, with winds that exceeding 145 mph. That morning Katrina grew to a category 5, which is the most catastrophic of all hurricanes.

On Monday, August 29, 2005 Katrina made landfall in Mississippi and Louisiana where levees were being breached and the city began to flood. Category 3 hurricane with sustained winds of 125 mph (205 km/h) near Buras-Triumph, Louisiana.

At landfall, hurricane-force winds extended outward 120 miles (190 km) from the center and the storm’s central pressure was 920 mbar. After moving over southeastern Louisiana and Breton Sound, it made its third landfall near the Louisiana/Mississippi border with 120mph (195 km/h) sustained winds, still at Category 3 intensity.


Flooded City Streets; Hurricane Katrina 08.2005



Katrina maintained strength well into Mississippi, finally losing hurricane strength more than 150 miles (240 km) inland near Meridian, Mississippi. It was downgraded to a tropical depression near Clarksville, Tennessee, but its remnants were last distinguishable in the eastern Great Lakes region on August 31st, when it was absorbed by a frontal boundary. The resulting extra tropical storm moved rapidly to the northeast and affected eastern Canada.

Hurricane Katrina was the costliest and one of the five deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States. It was the sixth-strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded and the third-strongest hurricane on record that made landfall in the United States.


Katrina formed on August 23rd during the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season and caused devastation along much of the north-central Gulf Coast. The most severe loss of life and property damage occurred in New Orleans, Louisiana, which flooded as the levee system catastrophically failed; in many cases hours after the storm had moved inland. 

Rescuers to Assist on Rooftop; Hurricane Katrina 08.2005

Broken Records:


The hurricane caused severe destruction across the entire Mississippi coast and into Alabama, as far as 100 miles (160 km) from the storm’s center. In the 2005 Atlantic season, Katrina was the eleventh tropical storm, fifth hurricane, third major hurricane, and second Category 5 hurricane.


Hurricane Katrina … was the costliest hurricane, as well as one of the five deadliest, in the history of the United States. Among recorded Atlantic hurricanes, it was the sixth strongest overall.


Katrina was the costliest storm in United States history – with amounts over $81.2 billion.  The death toll was over 1,836.
Military Official Frowing upon Flooded City; Hurricane Katrina 08.2005

   
Emotional Impact on a Family:
After reviewing previous articles on Hurricane Katrina, I believe that this one family summed up this horrific event perfectly:
“There are no words for the shock felt when walking back to your dream home or what you have given your entire life for – to see it washed away and devastated wind and water of a deadly storm.  Power so great makes you feel so small and so helpless … yet the strength of a people to start over just to survive … one family at a time.”

Writing for Help on Rooftops; Hurricane Katrina 08.2005



Physical Damage (My Personal Encounter):
While en route to mobilizing on the Viking Vision – “Helicopter Ride to Viking Vision; the Quest for Sperm Whales,” I had the opportunity to explore New Orleans, Louisiana for a few days. As I made my way to the usual Margarita joint that I visited every time I came to New Orleans, I noticed a large bump in the middle of the street.
This was not your typical bump caused by a small event, but this was evidence of the most recent Hurricane that took the South by surprise – Hurricane Katrina. As I glanced around the crossroads, I noticed several large bumps strategically placed in the middle of the streets.
As I crossed the street to the Margarita place, I felt the rigidness of the road squishing beneath my flip flops. This was truly uncomfortable to walk on; several large patches of road seemed to intertwine with the oncoming traffic lane.



Boats on Bridge; Hurricane Katrina 08.2005



One thing was for sure; the wrath of Hurricane Katrina was still left behind and created an uncomfortable zone of traffic flow.
The surface rock indentations on the road proved that a greater power than we could have ever imagined crossing our paths took this particular ‘party’ city by one large horrific storm. The storm may have passed, but the damage still lingers. Hurricane Katrina left her footprints all over New Orleans!
Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast, destroying lives, leveling homes, and leaving thousands of survivors with the same story: We lost everything.

Inspiration Corner:
“A Momma’s Love: One woman’s journey through hell to find her son” – http://edition.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2005/katrina/green.family/separated/index.html
“Hurricane Katrina: Story from a Survivor” –
****
Photographs were collaborated from different websites and all were taken by CNN reporters







Dead End; Hurricane Katrina 08.2005





Dream. Explore. Live.

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