Majestic Mexico Venture; a Journey Back Through Time



Chillin’ at the Akumal Beach Club; Akumal, Mexico 06.2008



Caribbean Dream Wedding; Akumal, Mexico 06.2008

After arriving safely in Mexico – “Eagerly Awaiting the Majestic Mexico Venture; Coastal Road Trip,” the next morning was the “big day” for Jess’s best friend from college. I just purchased an Olympus Stylus 850SW, which was waterproof, shockproof, and freezproof. I was stoked to see how this camera worked underwater, as well as out of the water. I was a little suspicious on how the images would turn out, but for a little digital camera I was quite impressed! The wedding was definitely held in an intimate setting – perhaps one of the most romantic locations in the world and perfect for many photography opportunities! The ceremony comprised of about 25-30 people and everyone was in their beach attire. This wedding was a little informal, but most of us wore shorts and a nice shirt. With turquoise waters, white powdery sand, and the hot sun gracing our presence, the wedding day could not have been dreamier! This was quite the romantic getaway and the newly couple did a great job in picking a fabulous location. I never was at a beach wedding and I absolutely adored every single minute of it. Whether it was the humorous written vowels that the couple spoke to each other or the smiles that were on everyone’s face, this was one of the best weddings that I had been to.  This truly was a riveting experience, especially watching a happy couple state their vows barefoot within the white sand. Absolutely gorgeous! Unlike Jess who was on the verge of tears, I was simply taking mental notes for the future of my “big day.” 
 
The Happy Married Couple; Akumal, Mexico 06.2008
Fabulous Photo Opportunities; Akumal, Mexico 06.2008

A Little Mexicana Flavor; Akumal, Mexico 06.2008
One of my highlights of their wedding was that they took photos in the ocean. Kristy had her wedding gown almost completely soaked, while Damien had water dripping from his white button down shirt. His stylish khaki shorts were drenched! Super romantic and who does not love the smell of fresh saltwater in the late afternoon? The beach wedding was a success it complimented the great food, awesome company, romantic moments, excellent weather conditions, and the newly married couple. 
The Cheerful Soaking Wet Married Couple ; Akumal, Mexico 06.2008
Jess and Kristy; Akumal, Mexico 06.2008
Amazing View and Beautiful Weather; Akumal, Mexico 06.2008
The reception was an absolute Mexican fiesta! The event was complete with men in sombreros! It was definitely a nice touch to a beach wedding! After a great day, it was time to get some sleep for the early morning quest to unlock the Mayan civilization nearby. The following day came quick! Jess and I had planned to see some ruins in the area. We thought that the Tulum and Coba ruins were a must see; we both heard how amazing they were and we had to witness this for ourselves. One of the male wedding guests overheard us talking about driving to see the ruins during breakfast. He asked to come with, so we now had a party of three. Lucky for us, he knew the area pretty well, which made Jess and I get out of being the “GPS” for the trip!  
Reception, Mexican Style; Akumal, Mexico 06.2008
  
Visite Los Cocodrilos; Akumal, Mexico 06.2008
Adult Male Crocodile; Coba, Mexico 06.2008
 
As we were getting closer to Coba, there was a medium-sized white sign that read, “Visite Los Cocodrilos” that quickly caught our attention. Maybe it was the Cocoa Cola umbrella that attracted us more? Regardless, we knew what “Cocodrilos” were – Crocodiles! As we dropped by to see the tourist trap alongside the road, we noticed that the price was a bit expensive. This is something that you do once in your life, so we figured why not pay the pesos that were asked. What made me chuckle was the idea that he accepted credit cards; in the picture above do you see a machine that took cards? Me neither! We negotiated a few pesos less than what was originally asked and soon as we knew it there was the feeding of the crocodiles! I enjoyed this “show,” because these crocodiles were not placed out of their natural environment to entertain guests. In fact, this was a large crocodile nesting grounds and there were several bodies of water leading into this lake. The perks for the crocodiles was that there were served free fish. I was baffled how one guy could make his business on a dock, but I guess here in Mexico these individuals need money too. Good thing there are people like us that fall for these tourist traps! 
No Swimming in Crocodile Lake; Coba, Mexico 06.2008

 

Bait Feeding Crocodile; Coba, Mexico 06.2008
Curious Crocodile; Coba, Mexico 06.2008
A little background about Mayan Culture and Architecture that I learned in my “Ancient Civilization” course – The Mayan Civilization was among the original cultures of the New World and spanned more than 3,000 years. The Mayans lived mainly on the Yucatan Peninsula in the eastern one third of Mesoamerica and at its peak had one of the most densely populated and culturally dynamic societies in the world. Mayan culture is known for its spectacular art, impressive architecture, and sophisticated mathematical and astronomical systems which were all way ahead of their time. Mayan architecture spans many thousands of years. While I was gathering information on Mayan architecture before my trip I read that the most dramatic and easily recognizable are the fantastic stepped pyramids in places such as Chichen Itza and Coba to name but a few. A year ago Chichen Itza was named as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site for 20 years. 
Marvelous Wonders; Coba, Mexico 06.2008
 
Awesome Architecture; Coba, Mexico 06.2008

Mayan Huts; Coba, Mexico 06.2008
Once at the archaeological site of Coba, the woman at the front entrance loudly emphasized to “Keep our bearings.”  Apparently, it is very easy to get lost on the maze of dirt roads in the jungle. Our mission for the day was to photograph and possibly climb Nohoch Mul. Not only was Nohoch Mul the tallest pyramid in Coba, but it was also the highest Mayan structure on the Yucatan Peninsula. With just a little over a mile the biggest pyramid awaited us. We instantly noticed that the main routes were on wide, well signed paths, but there were many smaller tracks leading into the jungle, which we did investigate a little bit. While walking down the foliage paths, I wish I would have had my trusty bird and butterfly book! The amount of birds and butterflies were overwhelming, they were everywhere! Especially being there in the hot summer month of June, the heat was intense, but the birds were abundant. As we followed the never-ending pathway, smaller trails seemed to branch off every labeled path.  The smaller trails were representations of the unofficial narrow paths that led into the jungle and were used by locals as shortcuts through the ruins. The same woman at the entrance told us that, “These were good for birding, but be careful to remember the way back!”
Guides on Bicycles Catering People; Coba, Mexico 06.2008
Close-up of Mayan Hut; Coba, Mexico 06.2008

Me in the Jungle; Coba, Mexico 06.2008

During our time in Coba, we were able to see a dozen or so unique Mayan ruins. A little history about Coba – this Mayan city is located in the state of Quintana Roo. The word Coba is defined as “waters stirred by the wind.” This settlement is one of the oldest Mayan cities that are rested on the Yucatan Peninsula. Enveloped in the deep green of the tropical jungle, Coba rose between two lagoons. While I was taking pictures of the sights around me, an older married couple had come up and approached me. Instantly, I could tell they were tourists with their bright “Hawaiian” matching shirts and ridiculously large camera lens. The happy couple asked me to photograph them in front of one of the ruins, which I gracefully accepted. After I took their photograph, the gentleman had begun explaining the history behind Coba. It sounded like he definitely did his homework! Wow, I was totally blown away with all the “fun facts” that he told me. 

I remember a few of them for which he stated, “During its history, Coba had more than 50,000 inhabitants, and scholars believed that it was as important as Tikal in Guatemala, with which it maintained tight cultural ties. Coba exercised economic control over the region through a complex network of elevated stone and plaster roads, known in Maya as sacbe, radiating from the center of Coba to many other Mayan cities. The longest of these ran over 100km and led to the city of Yaxuna. Coba traded extensively with other Mayan communities, particularly the ones further south along the Caribbean coast in what is now Belize and Honduras. It utilized the ports of Xcaret, Xel-Há, Tancah, and Tulum.” After he finished emphasizing a few main points, he expressed that he did thorough research before he came to Mexico and used “Lonely Planet” as a guide. This was really good advice, which I never leave without my “Lonely Planet” guidebook (more on this in future post). 

 
Jess Resting; Coba, Mexico 06.2008

Mayan Architecture; Coba, Mexico 06.2008

Jess and I; Coba, Mexico 06.2008
I did research a little about Coba myself while I was offshore on the Gilavar “6 Humbling Highlights on Gilavar; a Moment of Contentment.” I learned Coba continued to be a significant site in the Post-Classic era. I read that the Mayan archaeology in Coba is truly inspiring and most of it is unexcavated – honestly, I could tell you absolutely amazing this place was, but I would suggest you embrace the experience yourself! I remember reading in my “World Cultures” class that the temples in Coba, both new and old were maintained until at least the 14th century. These temples were still preserved during the late arrival of the Spanish. As I glanced around and saw all these beautifully hand-crafted architectural in front of me, I was memorized by not only the history, but the historical significance in this area. 
Jess and I Posing in Front of Wall; Coba, Mexico 06.2008
Visiting all the Coba ruins took a lot of effort due to the long distances between each landmark, but it was very worthwhile. Astonishing, we trekked a little over a mile to witness one of the most popular and highest attractions, the pyramid of Nohoch Mul. Funny story, I was never truly fond of heights when I was a kid. I had a traumatic accident, which involved me almost plummeting down 2 stories into some shale and trees underneath the rock that I was climbing at the time (more on this in a later post). Nevertheless, it was time to face my fears and “Be a doer, not a thinker!” As I tilted my head back to see this gigantic structure in plain sight, I realized that this was a really large formation, 138 feet of nothing, but stone! My eyes seemed crept further up the structure and soon as I knew it I barely could see the top! The design of this structure was beautifully crafted; the 120 narrow step stairway composed of seven, round-cornered platforms. I knew in my heart that I had to make it to the “top,” regardless of my phobia of heights and the inappropriate footwear on my feet. As I had begun walking up the narrow steps in my flip flops, I noticed there were mothers with a baby latched on their back as they walked and crawled up this structure. I remember thinking, “If mothers with newborns on their backs can climb Nohoch Mul, then so can I!” 

The smaller crevices in between the steps made me a bit uncomfortable as I trekking up Nohoch Mul. When I reached the stone vantage point, I felt a rush of sheer adrenaline overcome my body. I leaned quickly against a rock and caught my breath for a brief second. To my surprise, there was a brilliant view of the treetops of the jungle right in front of my face which spectacled the entire Yucatan Peninsula! The humidity left no air to brush against my sun-burnt face, the birds obnoxiously made loud noises as they flew in the mist of the clouds directly above the treetops, and piles of sweat poured off of cheeks as I stood there examining the jungle that extended to infinity beneath me; however, none of that mattered, because I had defeated my “Acrophobia” (fear of heights) and this moment was blissfully mine.  

The View of the Yucatan Peninsula; Coba, Mexico 06.2008

Me Completely Exhausted; Coba, Mexico 06.2008

Nohoch Mul, the “Climb;” Coba, Mexico 06.2008

Nohoch Mul Mixed with Clouds; Coba, Mexico 06.2008

Narrow Steps on Nobach Mul; Coba, Mexico 06.2008
The walk to visit each landmark was pretty interesting. There were stelae, protected by palapa roofs. Trekking the wide path provided us a chance to observe the jungle life; butterflies, birds and insects abound. There was the option to take a bicycle ride for roughly ten dollars, but since we were already walking everywhere why pay now? As we progressed towards what we thought was the entrance we encountered an area called, “The Ball Court.”  As I analyzed this structure, a younger man stood next to me. I could tell that he wanted to chat, so I asked him if he knew anything about this structure. Shockingly, he also did his homework like the married couple that I met earlier that day. He exclaimed, “The game played in the ball courts by the ancient Mayans was very important to their culture. We can make some assumptions about how the game was played by reviewing the carvings on the walls of the courts around the area. It is believed that because each player is wearing different costumes that players from the surrounding area would represent their tribes. The game was played with a hard ball that would shoot through the stone ring in the court.” Jess added that this was a violent game and some individuals did get killed due to the nature of this sport. 
The “Ball Court;” Coba, Mexico 06.2008
I have to admit as amazing as all of this was to take in, I was getting attacked by monstrous mosquitoes! All of my family members and friends can tell you that I am notorious for getting bit. I can quadruple layer mosquito repellent on my skin, avoid areas of thick brush, sit next to a fire, but still I manage to have dozens of bites! The same scenario happened that day – lots of insects attracted by the moist jungle environment resulted in a massive blood-thirsty feeding on me for the day! This reminded me of the time when I lay on a beach in San Salvador, Bahamas, which was a little before my Scuba Diving session with my professor and college mates – “Follow Your Dreams; Exceed Your Own Expectations.” I woke up to find hundreds of mosquito bites all over my body! Gross, it makes me itch just thinking about this! Long story short, I had to go to the doctors once I arrived back in the states and was stuck in a hospital for 3 days!  I discovered my immune system was weakened and they wanted to tend to the bites as best as they could. Though I did attain my Scuba Diving certification, it was quite the painful experience! Regarding my time in Coba, the mosquitoes were biting hard and I had my fill of excitement of Coba for the day. 
The day was almost complete, but there was one more stop on our list. In my opinion of the greatest places to snorkel was in Akten Chen’s cenote in Akumal; the water felt amazing on my newly formed mosquito bites! Until I went to this cenote, I had only heard the term used once before. You may ask what a cenote is. A cenote or “Sacred Well” is a break in the limestone shelf, which exposes the underground river systems. During my time swimming in the cenote I learned that they are natural geographical features that were found throughout the Yucatan Peninsula. This cenote in particular, was dated at 5 million years old and had an underground crystal clear cenote. A long time ago, dinosaurs roamed the planet and topped the food chain. Humans had not yet come into existence. The form of the continents and the composition of the earth were very different from that of today. Everything was about to change. Many experts feel that the end of the dinosaurs’ reign came about as the result of a major astronomical event. After the impact, incredible global changes occurred including a significant drop in sea level which exposed land masses. The Yucatan’s limestone rock bed, which had been formed from millions of years of sea life and reef growth, now overlooked the sea with great cliffs in place of today’s white sandy beaches.
A little further biological information that I learned from the guide on cenotes was, “Throughout the glacial periods, the ocean level has varied, and this platform found itself submerged by water. When the level of the ocean drops again, the caves begin forming. The heavy rain falling on these formations dissolves through the rock the carbonic acid from the soil and leaves in putrefaction. This carbonic acid mix carved the fragile rock, creating underground passages in which water would find its way back to the ocean. The cenote in return created and became full of impressive stalactites and stalagmites formations. During the last glacial period, the oceans were 100 feet below their actual level. Around 18,000 years ago, the ice started melting and the ocean rose to the level we know now, flooding the passages and generating a wide underground river system like nowhere else on earth!” In other words, the Yucatan Peninsula was primarily made of limestone; since there are no surface rivers in the Yucatan, the rainfall penetrates the porous and honeycombed limestone, which eventually creates an intricate and seemingly infinite maze of underground rivers. The guide also emphasized that, “Not only were the cenotes a fresh water source, but they were also depictions in Mayan civilization. For instance, the cenotes were known as the windows to the “After World” and a key to their afterlife. Thus, ceremonies and rituals were made to the “Underworld Gods.” 
The marine life was absolutely phenomenal! I certainly adored the light effects that shined on the slalom stalagmites and stalactites formations. The water visibility was superb and the Halocline, where the salt water mixed with the fresh water, resembled a large cloud. Snorkeling is one of my favorite pastimes; I could have not selected a better place to snorkel – in the cenote the environment was very peaceful. After a long day at Coba, this was unquestionably needed!
**

There were archaeologically structures separated into 7 different groups and areas:
Grupo Coba Structures Description; Coba, Mexico 06.2008
Lake Macanxoc and the Macanxoc Group: Composed of eight stelae, some of which are protected by palm roofs, and also a few smaller structures.
Frescoes Group: Compiled of twenty structures the best preserved being which is made up of five platforms and a stucco-painted temple at its top. At its base is and has a thatched roof protecting its paintings.
Nohoch Mul Group – Has carved human figures in sky-downward, descending motion most likely depicting Mayan gods. It is thought that a pair of jaguars lived at Nohoch Mul for many years.
Coba Group – Created of several mounds and a large four hundred and ten foot by sixty six foot terrace. This is a difficult site to visit because of the dense jungle vegetation. La Iglesia, a pyramid over 65 ft (20 m) high and the second largest at Cobá, is what you’ll find if you take the path bearing right after the entrance. Walking to it, notice the unexcavated mounds on the left. The steps of La Iglesia are steep and crumbling, and climbing is prohibited.
The Church – The second tallest pyramid in Coba, standing seventy nine feet high and partially restored. Constructed with nine platforms, it was most likely built between 800 and 1,000 A.D. Stella 11 is located at the front of the pyramid. A chamber with a Mayan corbel arch is to the left and to the south is a long, forty nine foot vaulted tunnel.
Other areas – are Lake Coba, the Chumuc Group, the Dzib Mul or Mound of Writing, and the Ball Court.

Eagerly Awaiting the Majestic Mexico Venture; Coastal Road Trip

White Sandy Beach; Akumal, Mexico 06.2008
Finally after 2.5 months offshore I was home sweet home. I had created a few friendships briefly before I left for my last project – most of the girls were surfers and/or adored the beach. I had the chance to chill with some of the girls – eventually some of them met Adrian during the handful of days that I was home. After I unpacked and unwound in Cape Canaveral for a few days, I had spent my time with Adrian traveling between Orlando and Cape Canaveral. Soon as I knew it my “Majestic Mexico” venture was on its way.  Jess – “Excellent First Impressions; a Guide on How to Give Great, Not Just Good Impressions,” had invited me to her best friend’s wedding as her date in Riviera Maya, Mexico situated in the Quintana Roo state. Since I had a short 2 week holiday before my next unknown project how could I have passed this opportunity? Plus, I love traveling for work, but taking some “me” time and booking a personal holiday sounds like a great idea! Besides, I had time for a 5 day holiday in Mexico. 
Welcome to Paradise; Akumal, Mexico 06.2008
I had arrangements when I was on the Gilavar“6 Humbling Highlights on Gilavar; a Moment of Contentment,” to finalize all of my travel details. The plans were to briefly drive through Cancun, visit Playa del Carmen and Tulum, and finally stay in Akumal during our time there. I had flown with Jet Blue (which was surprisingly quite comfortable) and waited for Jess outside of customs in a little wooded area that had a bar and waiting entrance. As I waited for Jess I looked over the tentative itinerary and highlighted which places I wanted to go. My friends will tell you that I am notorious for organizing events; mainly because being active in a sorority you had to balance your academics and your social life. I always made time for both, which in result, has led me to carefully plan my time. Though, I love spontaneity, I do have a few places that I love to visit. I just never knew which days I would get to visit the sights that I wanted to see. Lucky for me, Jess was also very spontaneous, but enjoyed the occasional planning method. Regardless, I finally met up with Jess and we were headed to the rental car location on the other side of the airport. 
Jess and I; Akumal, Mexico 06.2008
I have been on hundreds of road trips throughout high school and college. I absolutely adore the open road! In this case, we were driving down the coast to the Akumal Beach Resort located in the heart of Maya Riviera on Akumal Bay. I will never forget the feeling that I felt as the wind touched against my face, the smell of saltwater in the air overwhelmed my nose, the taste of salt pressed on my lips, the sight of the vast ocean welcoming me along the beautiful coast, and hearing the waves violently crash against the rocks; my personal definition of “sheer bliss.”
Turquoise Water; Akumal, Mexico 06.2008
Once we arrived at the Akumal Beach Resort we were greeted by a gentleman with a glass of champagne. Definitely not a bad way to start this incredible vacation! Life was good; after all we were in paradise! Akumal Beach Resort was all inclusive, drinks and food included – I highly recommend this package as it was worth the extra cash!
Ocean View from Balcony; Akumal, Mexico 06.2008
Frontal View from Inside Our Room; Akumal, Mexico 06.2008
As we settled down for the evening and finished unpacking our bags I reminisce thinking, “As life passes us by, it is important to remember to treasure these little moments in our lives. Especially, when we have the opportunity to travel in a different country and introduce ourselves to a “new cherished memory.”  
Our Building at Night; Akumal, Mexico 06.2008
My Swimsuit Top Matches Our Walls; Akumal, Mexico 06.2008

Love the Mixture of Green and Yellow in Our Restroon; Akumal, Mexico 06.2008


Article in Daily American Newspaper; Personal Accomplishment

Somerset Daily American                                     (Front Page)

 

Jessica Benford (right) stands in the water with a ninth grade student in San Salvador, Bahamas. The photo was taken in 2005 when Benford received her scuba diving certification. Natives from the Bahamas were taught how to swim and snorkel. (Submitted photo)
Degree in marine biology provides adventure for Rockwood native
By TIFFANY WRIGHT
Daily American Staff Writer

March 15, 2008



 

Spending weeks at a time near the ocean and researching marine life is not a typical lifestyle in Somerset County — but it is Rockwood native Jessica Benford’s job.

Benford, 24, Cape Canaveral, Fla., is a marine biologist. Her job is to research and observe major marine species all over the U.S.  She has seen endangered whales, barracudas, sunken ships and vast miles of ocean.

“The three important things in my life are family and friends, the ocean and traveling,” she said. “I love traveling and being adventurous. I like seeing new sites and marine biology is a huge part of that. I’m not just observing from an aquarium I’m actually out there in the water. It’s nice being able to find the next big adventure.”

Benford said her love affair with marine studies started when she was a child and she took her first trip to the beach.

“I just fell in love with the ocean,” she said.

As she got older her parents took her to Sea World, which intensified her interest.

“I started asking the people who worked there about their degrees and what colleges they went to and if they liked their job,” she said.

Benford attended the Pennsylvania State University of Fayette for two years and worked toward her bachelor’s degree in biology. She spent the rest of her collegiate time at Penn State’s main campus. She graduated in the summer of 2007 with a wildlife and fishery science: fishery option degree.

In order to become more acquainted with marine life, Benford learned to scuba dive. She received her certification in the spring of 2005 during a trip to the Bahamas.

Benford’s knowledge of marine biology has allowed her to do something important — travel.

“I traveled to Boston and just got back from a project in the Gulf of Mexico. I’ll be heading back to the gulf on March 24 and there’s a project in Alaska that’s happening this summer,” she said.

In Boston, Benford was a scientific observational researcher for endangered species. One of her most gratifying experiences was seeing an endangered North Atlantic right whale.

In the Gulf of Mexico she studied sperm whales. During that project, large companies on vessels search for oil in the ocean. The marine biologist’s job is to make sure the company follows the correct policy and does not corrupt species in the area.

For those interested in studying marine biology, Benford said it is important to get hands-on experience.

“Hands-on experience is the key thing to get this job,” she said. “If you’re ambitious and adventurous, you’re going to have a great time in this field.”

She said aspiring college students should take advantage of certifications and trips.

“You have to have an intellectual approach to it and really be interested in the animals,” she said.

Ultimately, Benford wants to research great white sharks, but for now, she said, she is happy to see new places.

“I’ve been taking a lot of videos and pictures. It gives me something to collect the memories so I know I was out there,” she said. “It’s nice because I’m traveling all the time and I get to see the world.”

**

Thanks to my mom she asked me to write a little bit about myself and my new position. She submitted this to my High School and the local newspaper. I had an interview via telephone with a journalist right after the Viking Vision project. Surprisingly, I had come home to seeing my picture in the local newspaper that my mom sent me. What an amazing publication! This was my solid evidence that I was reaching closer to my ultimate goal – “Last Destination Florida; the Road Trip down the Chosen Path.”

 
My aunt Shir’s review on my passion: “My niece Jessica’s article was run in the Somerset Daily American Saturday.  She has been crazy about the ocean ever since she started visiting me in Ocean City when she was 3-4 years old.  As soon as she discovered what a marine biologist was (at the age of 7) that’s all she ever wanted to do.  My family has watched her go through many changes over the years but this particular desire never changed.  It’s been a great experience to watch her grow up into such a talented, kind, and enthusiastic young woman.  Jess is fearless in her love of life and always has a smile for everyone she meets.  She’s worked hard to achieve this particular dream and I’m so proud of her.”

6 Humbling Highlights on Gilavar; a Moment of Contentment

Gilavar Blended with Clouds; Gulf of Mexico: Gilavar 05.2008
FRC Lifted out of Water; Gulf of Mexico: Gilavar 05.2008

Instantly the Gilavar was in sight; the blue, red, and white exterior seemed to sparkle against the sun’s rays as we approached closer.  When we drove alongside the ship a large hook was lowered towards the FRC. One of the gentlemen grabbed this hook and attached it to the latch. The next thing I knew the water was beneath us and we were lifted onto the Gilavar. I was happily greeted by the Filipino abs; they took my bags to my room almost immediately after my arrival.
Gilavar Front View; Gulf of Mexico: Gilavar 05.2008
I introduced myself to the Norwegian Captain Gunther who enthusiastically talked to me about his new found love for Brazil. I also met the bridge officers or mates; both of their names were Khaled – one was a Chief Officer from Tunisia, while the other was a 3rd Officer originally from Syria, but now lived in New Zealand. I never heard of the Captain’s or the mate’s names, but I memorized their names pretty easy since I always had the ability to catch on pretty quickly remembering names. I worked at my grandfather’s’ restaurant as a hostess and bartender for many years; I tend to be really good at recalling the names of the locals and even first time visitors, in fact, they were surprised that I had that good of memory. Which leaves us until now, I was notorious for committing names to memory; if you remember a crew member’s name, it is a form of respect (regardless of his position) – sometimes you meet 10-15 people daily and a lot of names are thrown at you. I have a few helpful techniques on how to remember names better – “Excellent First Impressions; a Guide on How to Give Great, Not Just Good Impressions.” I tend to meet several individuals who express that their highest weakness is not remembering names. It is astonishing how a few tricks can make a difference.

On Top of the World; Alaska: Gilavar 07.2007
My best moment that morning was when I pulled out my Norwegian skills that I was taught – “Embracing Norwegian Culture; Hyggelig å møte deg.” I had a full fledge 20 minute conversation with the Captain and was quite pleased with myself, as he was too. While onboard the Geco Snapper I had made it a priority to keep teaching myself more Norwegian phrases and words.  Though I only had 2 weeks onboard the Gilavar I had an amazing time during my short time there.
Captain Gunther; Gulf of Mexico: Gilavar 05.2008
6 Humbling Highlights on Gilavar
1.  Being part of the crew:

I engaged in daily morning Norwegian conversations with the Captain. He educated me in the pronunciations of the harder words in the Norwegian language. He also taught me the basics for the marine life that we viewed in the early mornings. While we were conversing in Norwegian outside the Chief Officer Khaled was inside navigating the ship. After the Captain left to work on paperwork in the late morning, I would talk to Khaled a few times before lunch. Khaled discussed his previous international projects and the countries that he had recently visited, which forced the travel bug to bit me; this time it was excruciating. It so intense that it encouraged me to start making travel arrangements with Jess from the Viking Vision“5 Most Fabulous Recollections of Viking Vision; those would be the Best Memories.” Alas, my third out of the country experience was born (more on this in future post). I enjoyed talking to 3rd Officer Khaled in the afternoons and listening to his stories that he excitedly emphasized. One of the great things about Khaled was that he stayed positive even though he was going through some difficult personal issues at home. It was nice to have the mates to talk to each day – both of their lives were equally interesting.
Chief Officer Khaled – One of My Favorite Pictures; Gulf of Mexico: Gilavar 07.2007
The coolest girl that I met on the ship was Marilu. This beautiful Venezuelan worked in the seismic department and was so full of life; I remember many fabulous “girl talks” with her. After the Geco Snapper I craved this! Overall she was really fun, outgoing, and had a charismatic personality. Between the bridge officers (including the Captain) and Marilu I felt really comfortable onboard. My two weeks on the new ship were excellent. I remember thinking, “I hope that the project will extend so that I could have a few more weeks onboard.” Even though I was secretly missing Adrian, I would have loved to stay if it meant that I could spend just another day with this crew. It is funny how close you can become with a few colleagues after only knowing them for a few days – “Excellent First Impressions; a Guide on How to Give Great, Not Just Good Impressions.” My time onboard was great, even if that meant that I had to leave the Geco Snapper crew. I realized that in order to make new friends and have incredible experiences, it took spontaneity to push me in that direction.
Marliu and the Posse of Boys; Gulf of Mexico: Gilavar 05.2008
2.  Listening to a friend:

One of the mates that I became super close with was Khaled. He was your typical “Syrian” gentleman; he was good-looking, charming, goal-driven, and in general a nice guy. When we had first met he instantly keep smiling, of course smiles are contagious! I recall thinking how genuinely kind-hearted he was. Once Khaled and I started daily chatting, he had begun to quickly trust me and tell me things that he said he normally did not tell anyone. On the second day onboard I discovered that had just got married before he came onboard and now he resided in New Zealand with his wife. Unfortunately, his circumstances were a little different from mine and yours – he had an arranged marriage forced by his parents.
Gilavar Crew Working Hard with Black n White Effect; Gulf of Mexico: Gilavar 05.2008
A few days after conversing with Khaled several times a day, he pulled me aside and told me that he was not having a really good day. My friends will tell you that I have a very caring personality and sometimes place friend’s needs in front of own. In this particular situation, Khaled desired someone to talk – I happened to be chosen as that candidate. I have read about arranged marriages, but I never knew anyone personally going through this or being forced into this way of life. I could not seem to grasp the idea that he did not marry for love, which made me realize how lucky I was to have the ability to “choose” who I wanted to marry. In various cultures this is not a considerable option, and unfortunately Khaled was faced with this decision to remain married to a woman who he had only met once before his marriage was arranged.
Golden Sunset; Gulf of Mexico: Gilavar 05.2008
I was really interested in what arranged marriages were so I had gathered some information on this particular ritual. The concept of arranged marriage may sound impractical to the Western world, but in India, it is a usual norm. No matter how westernized India may have become, arranged marriages are still viewed as the most preferred choice in the Indian families. I have recently watched a movie, “Eat, Pray, Love” and I honestly can say that the movie was phenomenal. I absolutely loved the story line – yes, I cried and laughed throughout the entire film. I noticed in this movie starring Julia Roberts and Billy Crudup that they portrayed a young Indian girl having her marriage arranged by the hands of her parents. In reality, the little girl wanted nothing more than to marry for love, but she abided by her parent’s wishes and went through with her destiny. Regarding the research that I discovered while talking to Khaled, I discovered that this specific marriage has its roots laid to the time, when the ritual of child marriage prevailed in the country. Child marriage was essentially performed, so as to restrict the children from marrying outside their community and social status. The practice was essentially a way of uniting and maintaining the difference between the rich upper class society and the poor lower class society. This practice of caste system gave rise to the concept of arranged marriages.
Now since we have an idea where arranged marriages evolved from let us dive into the positive and negative aspects of this tradition. One of the positive aspects about arranged marriages is that it gives the parents utmost control over family matters and members. Since they are the ones who would decide on the prospective bride and groom, they would get someone, who is the best for their beloved son/daughter. On the other side, arranged marriages are seen as a medium to promote racism and class system. Also, they have proved to be the best medium to take dowry. Over the years, arranged marriages have posed to be more like a trade than a social custom. People find it an easy medium to make money.
While the above negative aspects can still be dealt with, one of the most crucial drawbacks of arranged marriage is that the boy and the girl do not know each other. Two unknown people get married without knowing and understanding each other, as according to the concept, it is not important to know your partner before marriage. As such, chances of not gelling well with the partner are very high. If either of them thinks absolutely contradictorily to what the other believes in, there would hardly be a mutual level of understanding between the two and life would be merely a compromise for the two. The only way an arranged marriage can succeed is through acceptance. One has to accept the other the way he/she is and look for striking a mutual level of understanding.
Idamina Always Grinning; Gulf of Mexico: Gilavar 05.2008
Once I was able to comprehend the idea of an arranged marriage, I felt that I was able to understand his views more. Khaled had many restless nights onboard and he was pretty upset about the circumstances that he faced at home. This was his first taste of an arranged marriage and he would tell you that he was not fully happy by any means. I recall a few nights that he would want to talk – not necessarily about anything special, but just to have someone listen to him. I became the perfect candidate for the job. Khaled was able to sort his thoughts out by stating them out loud, while I had developed how to have better effective listening skills. Mainly the most important to the conversations that we were having was that I showed my support and that I truthfully cared about his current situation. In the end, we had become really good friends and a minor high-school crush on his end was formed. Looking back if I could have said one thing to his new wife that would have been, “Even if you do not know each other well, always make sure that both of you listen to one another.” Like communication, I felt that listening was one of the best attributes that you can have in any relationship.

Cool Shot of a Crew Member Working; Gulf of Mexico: Gilavar 05.2008

3.  Refreshing Norwegian:

I have to admit after working with an American crew it was nice to have had the opportunity to refresh my Norwegian that I had learned. As my love for the Norwegian language grew I was able to understand the culture a little better as well. The Captain would tell me stories about where he grew up, the difficulties that he faced, and his undying love for Norway. Again, his endless conversations about Norway had developed this passionate craving inside of me to travel. As he spoke longer phrases in Norwegian, I had asked him to teach me a motivational phrase before my departure. I had practiced this phrase regularly – I thought that if I said it enough times in a different language besides English, then it would eventually come true! The phrase was continually stuck in my head and still is to this day: Mitt ultimate mål er å bli anerkjent som en vellykket og respektabel marinbiolog.” Simple translation, “My ultimate goal is to be recognized as a successful and respectable Marine Biologist.” Whether you want to learn Norwegian or another language, I would encourage you to do so – the reward is far greater than you expected.

Captain Sunbathing while Teaching More Norwegian Phrases; Gulf of Mexico: Gilavar 05.2008

4.  Experimenting with new foods:
Learning a new language comes with experimenting new foods. Precisely in this case, on the Gilavar we had a Norwegian mixed with Polish galley crew and they loved to fix oxtail. What is oxtail you may ask? An oxtail is exactly what it sounds like: the tail of an ox. Oxtails are officially classified as offal, along with an assortment of organ meats, and like other offal, the oxtail has a long and illustrious culinary history. You can find oxtails at boutique butchers and sometimes at a butcher’s counter in a large market, depending on the regional taste for oxtail. Once purchased, it may be used immediately or frozen for future use. Oxtail was served once a week while I was onboard – everyone seemed to have a unique craving for it. 
I on the other hand, had never seen it let alone tried it! I was feeling extremely adventurous one fine sunny afternoon. Since it was suggested an excessive amount of times to try this “delicious” source of iron-rich bone marrow, I finally took that plunge! It was not your typical taste like “chicken” – did you ever notice that new foods we sample, we tend to say “it tastes like chicken?” Once I heard a good friend tell me that trying snake tasted like chicken – very interesting indeed! This was exceptionally different from anything I had ever savored. As I took another bite of oxtail, I had a few of the crew, including the Captain explain to me what exactly I was eating. I realized that the terminology surrounding the oxtail was a bit complex. It was explained to me that, “Traditionally, oxtail came from oxen, neutered adult cattle used as dray animals. Over time, however, oxtails had been harvested from any sort of cattle, including steers and veal cows. Some people felt that traditional oxtail had the most flavors, because the longer a cow lives, the more muscle developed in the oxtail, and as a result the flavor in a true oxtail tended to be stronger and more complex.” A braised beef rib with twice the original flavor is my best description of what oxtail tasted like. 
After I finished eating the last few bites of oxtail I had spoke with the galley about this delicacy they had just served. I was intrigued to learn that in order to prepare oxtails, butchers removed the tail of a cow while it was butchered and skinned. The oxtail was typically cut into segments, making it easier to handle – this was how the oxtails came in the provisions that were sent onboard. Within the selection of meats, oxtail was included as part of the meats that were originally ordered. The galley crew emphasized that the oxtail was extremely bony and also was very muscular. One of the girls zealously described to me that the best way to use oxtail was as the base for a stew, soup, or beef stock, because it benefited from long gentle braising. I later learned that oxtail also made a great soup, which tasted a bit gelatinous, as it released a great deal of collagen during the cooking process.
Chief Officer Khaled and Marilu on Christmas Day; Gulf of Mexico: Gilavar 12.2007
That night while I was reviewing my Norwegian lessons, I made the decision to look up more information on the culture of eating oxtail. I was fascinated to uncover that as with other offal, the taste for oxtail probably arose from necessity. Many cultures have had a long tradition of trying to use every part of every animal butchered, with the offal typically ending up in the pots of the lower classes, since they could not afford the more prized cuts of meat from the animal. Innovative cooks developed all sorts of interesting ways to use offal, and while it was once a lower class food, offal was now included on the recipes of many gourmet restaurants, especially those which offer traditional European cuisine. Who said trying new foods could not be fun? Not only did I introduce a new regional food to my taste buds, but I also educated myself on the culture behind this well-liked dish.
According to Life 123, the best recipe for oxtail stew is demonstrated in “Tender Oxtail Stew Recipes.”


5.  Barbecuing on weekends: 

If you were a vegetarian you would miss out one of the greatest events onboard – a traditional BBQ. There were few vegetables to choose from, but the main portions consisted of an assortment of meats – filet mignons, porterhouses, ribs, hamburgers, chicken, and even your “American” hot dogs.  On the Gilavar, barbecues were a time when most of the crew would mingle, have a non-alcoholic (sometimes 5% alcohol) beverage, relax, take in some sun’s rays, and enjoy a smorgasbord of grilled foods, complete with cold dishes. My preferred cold dishes were macaroni salad, red-skinned potato salad, and coleslaw. This makes my mouth-water just thinking about the foods that we indulged in! Honestly, I was given the opportunity during this mealtime to really get to know the other crew that I did not get to see on a daily basis. Since everyone had a different shift onboard, it was rare for me to see everyone during the day when I worked. For instance, a few of my friends/colleagues would work 18:00 (6pm) to 6:00 (6am) – rarely did I see them twice a week!
Fire Fighter to the Rescue; Gulf of Mexico: Gilavar 05.2008
Gilavar’s barbecues were definitely the topic on the boat and all of us could not wait till this fabulous weekend event! Even though I was not able to be at home with Adrian and friends in Cape Canaveral during the weekend, I still had 2 incredible weekends onboard. Truthfully, barbecuing was the highlight of my week, along with everyone else’s! I cannot wait for the next barbecue offshore!
Gilavar Combined with Clouds; Gulf of Mexico: Gilavar 05.2008



6.  Fixating over Heroes:



During my downtime as we made our way into Mobile, Alabama to crew change off the boat, a “Heroes marathon” was introduced into my routine onboard. We were not conducting watches or researching cetaceans because our transit was mostly in darkness in the late night. Therefore, we had exactly 1.5 days to do whatever we pleased in the last few hours onboard. Since Khaled and I had become really close, we determined that we would start a Heroes marathon. I had never heard of “Heroes” and certainly had never seen an episode. I recall watching the very first episode and like “Dexter” – “5 Most Fabulous Recollections of Viking Vision; those would be the Best Memories,” I was hooked! What is Heroes you may ask?  “Heroes” is similar to Marvel’s “X-Men,” in that its characters discover they have latent extraordinary powers. But where “X-Men” is driven more by action and plot, “Heroes” is more character-driven. Khaled was infatuated with “X-Men” and other action movies; I think this is why he had become fond of this TV show. 

Speaking of the TV show, it focused on an ensemble of eight characters, each of whom had a different power. Claire Bennett was a high school cheerleader with the power of spontaneous regeneration, DL Hawkins had the power to phase through matter, Isaac Mendez was a brilliant artist who can paint the future, Hiro Nakamura was the office worker who can bend and travel through space-time, LAPD Officer Matt Parkman had the power of telepathy, Nathan Petrelli was the ambitious politician who could fly, his brother Peter was an in-home nurse with the ability to absorb others’ powers when he was near them, and Niki Sanders had super strength. Quite the collection of super powers to have! If I had a super power it would be to instantly “fix” a bad situation. Whether that would be used in the cleaning up of an oil spill while magically flying over the affected area, undo a horrible car accident by seeing the future and preventing the incident, or wiping away bruises from a domestic violence battered woman by a simple touch, etc – all of these would be a selfless act in helping others in a very positive way.  

Oddly enough “Heroes” with its unique flaws in each character still managed to be one of the greatest shows that I watched – you really start to feel a connection to each character, while looking into their remarkable abilities to live in this world with “average” humans. My favorite character was Claire, because she could never physically get hurt – she reminded me of a younger version of myself with her quirky attitude, “Nothing can get in my way!” I felt this way growing up in a small-town, with my goal-driven outlook on becoming a Marine Biologist.

The Incredible Claire Bennett

  

What was the objective in the show you may ask? Well as ordinary people had begun discovering their extraordinary superhuman powers and abilities they were drawn together to save the world from destruction. This comic book-style adventure with plotting and characters as rich and layered any graphic novel or drama series. Why I really liked the show? Add to this mix a terrific handsome villain – Zachary Quinto’s Sylar, who hunts and kills people with extraordinary powers like our heroes – and viewers have a riveting series that exhibits an almost-perfect balance of cliffhanger thrills (the action and special effects are truly impressive for a network program) and genuine drama that sets the show apart from most speculative fiction.



**
You never know what types of people you will meet or the life circumstances that they face. Everyone has a unique story to tell – no two people are the same. When embracing other cultures, you tend to come across people that help shape your lives. I never dreamt that I would have been subjected to listen and understand about arranged marriages. I never expected to make really “good” friends with a cool Syrian, Tunisian gentleman, and a sweet Venezuelan girl. I certainly never thought that I would have had the opportunity to try oxtail for the first time. In reality, I did all of these things and because of these experiences I have projected a deeper appreciation for not only cultures, but for the people that live within this society. 
I have always told my friends in high school and even expressed this during my high school graduation speech: “Whether we notice this or not the people that we meet throughout our lives, either negatively or positively affects us; sometimes both. It is those positive influences that we need in our daily lives and should look for in our friendships. These are the individuals who will help mold us into the person that we want to become.” Having the ability to interact with various cultures has given me the gift to see the world in a different light, welcome an assortment of nationalities as my friends, and have the desire to create additional goals for myself. One of the newest goals added to my plans are to travel the world, while visiting each of my friends, and embracing a society different from my own.
A Really Sweet Shot of the Gilavar at Shipyard during Night; 07.2007

First FRC Adventure; Departure to the Gilavar

FRC in Calm Waters; Gulf of Mexico: Geco Snapper 05.2008
Suddenly my bags were all packed and I was about to be welcomed with a new venture. With my most recent time on the Geco Snapper“5 Best Flashbacks on the Geco Snapper; a Dedication to a Late Friend;” one thing was evident I was not quite ready to leave yet. Instead of a personnel basket transfer and a chaseboat – “Thanks for the Memories; My Recollections of the Boston, Massachusetts Project,” I was transported by a Fast Rescue Craft (FRC). What is a FRC you may ask? FRC’s are designed for life-saving and working purposes within the shipping and offshore industries. Modern concepts combined with the basic ideas of traditional boat-building principles have given these rescue boats the stability, strength, and excellent seagoing qualities required under maritime conditions.

FRC Being Lowered; Gulf of Mexico: Geco Snapper 05.2008
The rule is that a Marine Biologist, like me for example, may never drive this watercraft without proper training (shocking news in international future post). The FRC was a bright orange coloration and had remnants of saltwater all over the exterior. I was overly excited before my departure to the Gilavar, because this was my first time on a FRC. As we proceeded away from the vessel I glanced back one more time to say my final goodbye. It was then I realized that this particular crew I have grown to deeply care about and treat in a way like my own family. I have younger brothers who I absolutely adore and have a lot of respect for (I know they will do great in life and pursue their dreams like I have), but I have to admit it was refreshing to have a group of older guys to talk “grown up” topics with for a change. I saw the same group of guys for a solid month and I was rather used to waking up to their smiling faces and talking about their families and personal lives. Needless to say, we became really close. 
Crew in FRC; Gulf of Mexico: Geco Snapper 05.2008
As great memories filled my head, I remember thinking, “How fortunate was I in this situation to not only have worked on this project, but to have had the remarkable opportunity to work on the ocean?” My first Rough-toothed dolphin sighting was awesomely unexpected “The Unexpected Surprise; First Encounter with Rough-toothed Dolphins.” The laughter that was all shared on a daily basis, complete with our endless supply of inside jokes – “Swept to the Geco Snapper; A Spark of Insanity” and  “How to Cope with Steamy Situations; Helpful Hints to Improve Your Breathing,” all remained close to my heart. Not to mention the amazing oceanscapes that were viewed, some of which no one else in the world was able to see at that particular moment – “5 Best Flashbacks on the Geco Snapper; a Dedication to a Late Friend.” What are oceanscapes you may ask? My definition, complete with unbelievable breath-taking photographs was one of my highlights of working offshore – “A Compilation of Cool Oceanscapes on the Water; a Glimpse into an Effervescent World.”
My Final Sunset Viewed onboard the Geco Snapper; Gulf of Mexico: Geco Snapper 05.2008

 
The wind violently pressed up against my yellow helmet slightly bobbing it back and forth, the saltwater filled the bottom of my blue jeans, and a strong smell of diesel fuel overwhelmed my senses were all clear representations that in this second I was one step closer to achieving my ultimate goal: To be recognized as a successful and respectable Marine Biologist“Last Destination Florida; the Road Trip down the Chosen Path.” I could not wait to get off the FRC and see what adventures greeted me next.
Birthday Photograph on the Geco Snapperin; Gulf of Mexico: Geco Snapper 05.2008