Monday, April 30, 2018

BADdies do Roatan

Recently several of us "BADdies" spent a week in Roatan, Honduras diving and enjoying what the south side of that beautiful island had to offer. While not an official club-sponsored trip, all but two of us just happened to be members of Bay Area Divers, hence our BAD moniker. We rented a large beach house for the week, which accommodated all thirteen of us without us feeling cramped. Three of our BADdies stayed in this same place last year and enjoyed it enough to arrange a trip back this year. 

Which way?
photo courtesy of Margaret McPhail

This will be a day-by-day account of what we did, similar to my previous cruise blogs on the Carnival Breeze and the Carnival Vista. Instead of multiple blog posts, though, I'll combine everything into just this one blog. Up front, I want to thank all of my traveling group who were generous enough to share their photos with me, and allow their use on my blog.

Cindy and I have been to Roatan a few times before, but only for the day as a cruise stop. Our diving experience was all on the north side of the island so this trip would provide a totally new adventure for us. I knew it would be fun to get to spend a whole week with my BAD friends, diving, hanging out, eating and enjoying each other's company. 

image from Google search

So, is your passport current? Are you ready to tag along and be a virtual fly on the wall as we spend a week in Roatan? Let's go!

Saturday, April 14:
We flew out of Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), which can easily be an hour or more to drive depending on the traffic. Our flight, UA 1434, was scheduled to depart just before 10 a.m. Since this was an international flight we'd have to check in two hours prior to departure. If you've read any of my previous blogs, you'll know I'm not normally an early riser unless I have to be. We booked a nearby hotel room for Friday night, which included parking for the week. That allowed us to "sleep in" until 6 Saturday morning. Several others of our group did the same thing, so we started our vacation early by enjoying breakfast together before catching the shuttle to the airport.

All of our group soon found their way to the gate, and we settled in to wait for our flight to be called. Two other club members also happened to be traveling to Roatan on the same flight, although they would be going to Anthony's Key Resort for the week. Soon enough we started boarding our plane and made ourselves comfortable for the nearly three-hour flight.

Our ride: N77520 (737-824)
Photo by Joshua McGoun

BADdies getting settled

Seat selfie!

As we got seated, I started looking around at my fellow passengers and had to laugh at how many dive shirts I saw. Then again, I guess there are not too many people who fly to Roatan and not dive. The captain made his usual "welcome aboard" announcement, giving us the current weather in Roatan. He also added the water temperature and visibility ("viz"). Now that was a first! I've heard plenty of weather reports for our destination, but never dive conditions. As if all the dive shirts didn't confirm our destination, the captain's report sure did. 

After a short delay to fix a faulty latch on an overhead bin (which ultimately was taped shut by the mechanic), we were on our way. We departed on runway 33L, taking off around 178 mph. Apparently, there was some pretty rough weather over the Gulf, so we flew south along the Texas coast until just past the US/Mexico border before turning southeast towards RTB. 

I love having my GPS with me

We were making good time, too

Once we got closer to Roatan, the flight attendant started passing out the immigration forms. Oh, yeah, this is an international flight. Lemme dig my passport out of my bag so I can complete this before we land.

View from my seat (27F)

Passing through the cloud layer revealed the brilliant blue Caribbean we all know and love. I enjoyed looking at the reefs in that crystalline water as we made our final approach into RTB. We landed on runway 07 and just a short taxi later we were ready to disembark the plane. It's been a very long time since I've used anything other than a jet bridge to board or exit a commercial airliner. Being such a small airport, RTB was definitely "old school" in that we had portable stairs at both the forward and aft doors to use. That made disembarking faster, though. 

We cleared customs and immigration in just over an hour and piled all of our luggage and bodies into two vans for the hour-long ride to our home for the next week. A planned stop at a local grocery store ensured we'd have plenty to eat and drink when we weren't diving. In typical BAD fashion, we bought wayyyy more than we needed. No surprise there, really. Our rent house was actually on another, smaller island (Oak Ridge Cay) accessed by a small boat. If you look at the photo below, our rent house was at the bottom of the "U" shape, next to the red-roofed building. Just click on the photo (or any photo in this blog) and you'll get a larger format version.

Oak Ridge Cay
image from Google Earth

Actually, one boat took all of our luggage, another boat took all of our groceries and a few people, and a third boat took the rest of us. This rent house is immediately adjacent to the Reef House Lodge, which we used as our dive operator for the week. They graciously gave us access to their facilities, including their Wi-Fi, and allowed us to set up accounts at the bar. I'm liking this place already!

Who's hungry?
photo courtesy of Eric Petersen

We can squeeze a few more in...I think
photo courtesy of Jenna Contenta

Our lodging for the week
photo courtesy of Jenna Contenta

Another view
photo courtesy of Jenna Contenta

How's this for a close dive spot?
photo courtesy of Jenna Contenta

By the time we arrived at the rent house, dusk wasn't too far away. Ummm, wait a minute. Why is it so dark in the house? The power is out? Really? Seriously? Even as we were greeted with a dim house, we were greeted with a wonderful smell of something cooking. Two local ladies, a mother and her daughter, are employed by the house owner and were cooking dinner for us when we arrived. I'm glad we have a gas stove. 

The sun was just kissing the horizon, and Gina and her daughter were lighting candles in the living/dining room for us. I was wondering how we'd sleep with no air conditioning when the power came back on. Oh, yes! All of us breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Dinner was fried grouper with rice, beans, fried plantains and a salad. Most of us had just snacked during our flight, so this was a very welcome meal. All of us had plenty to eat, and we were truly in full vacation mode.

Dinner time!

We knew the weather was forecast to be, pardon the technical jargon here, "iffy" the next couple of days. The next day, Sunday had the best potential, but Monday had thunderstorms predicted throughout the day. The wind started picking up at sunset and was howling all night. Waves broke over the small T-head we would use as an entry point for our shore dives.

No diving this evening
photo courtesy of Jenna Contenta

Between the long travel day, a good meal, crashing surf and the wind, sleep came easily to all of us. Yes, I admit, the air conditioning helped, too. Sometime after midnight or early the next morning, the rain started pounding the roof, adding to the ambient noise of the island.

Sunday, April 15:
I've written before about how I like it dark when I sleep, as in I don't want to see my hand in front of my face with the lights off. I keep a bandanna in my travel bag to use as a sleep mask in case the room isn't dark enough. I figured, wrongly that first night, that I wouldn't need it here. As the sun slowly filtered through the shades, Cindy and I gradually woke up to the natural light. While I felt generally rested, I wasn't quite ready to get out of bed yet. Both Cindy and I could hear a few people talking in the common room just outside our door, so I thought it would be a good time to get up. 

A glance at my watch on the nightstand gave me a shock, though. It was only six freakin thirty! How could I, a confirmed "sleeper-inner," make such a rookie mistake like that? Oh well, I might as well get up. We'll just take a well-deserved nap later today...because we can.

Coffee and a nutritious breakfast of Cap'n Crunch Berries (the Breakfast of Champions) set me up for my first day of vacation. Several BADdies were already talking about doing a shore dive from the T-head. I held off making any decision about anything until I had my second cup of coffee. There was still the matter of that nap to squeeze in during the day. Upon due consideration of all factors, I decided to join the group and make a shore dive with the rest of the bunch. 

We prepped our gear and the first group entered the water and swam towards the reef. Gary, Cindy and I were right behind the main group. Somehow I veered off too far to the south and got separated from both groups as I navigated over the shallow part of the reef and into the deeper water near the wall. I used the compass on my dive computer to guide me back to the wall and after a short search found a stream of bubbles. "Ah, that must be Gary and Cindy," I thought, as I made my way to them. As I got closer, I saw a few more sets of bubbles. "Oh, that's the main group." Figuring Gary and Cindy were with them, I joined the main group and finished the dive with them. Gary and Cindy called the dive early and exited due to some equipment issues. 

Father and daughter enjoying their dive
photo courtesy of Margaret McPhail
We made a somewhat tenuous exit at the T-head, and everyone helped each other out of the water and onto the pier. This was a common occurrence throughout the week when doing shore dives. Everyone helped each other out and ensured nobody got hurt. Warm water, good viz and lots of daylight left made the decision to do a second dive later that day easy. As soon as our tanks were filled, and we had lunch, we'd be ready to do it again. A nice, long surface interval doesn't hurt, either.

And do it we did! Gary and Cindy joined us for the second dive and we had as much fun on that one as we did on the first dive. As the day progressed, the surf calmed significantly, so our entrance and exit went much more smoothly.

BADdies on the reef
photo courtesy of Jenna Contenta

With the completion of our second dive for the day, our thoughts turned to dinner and a few libations to celebrate our day. Of course, we still needed to rinse our gear and prep it for more diving. We helped each other out and made short work of our gear maintenance. During our planning for this trip, several volunteered to cook a group meal for dinner. Donna selected this night as her night to cook.

She made a fantastic spaghetti dinner with Italian sausage and homemade meatballs. My second rookie mistake of the day happened when I failed to take a picture of this scrumptious feast before gobbling it down. How can I call myself a foodie and not take a photo of everything I eat? I'm sure my fellow members of Bay Area Houston Food Lovers will understand and not kick me out of the group. Right, Jennifer?

Cindy and I have been to Roatan a few times before on a cruise stop, and not once have we ever heard of this delectable drink called the Monkey La-La. That's what I love about traveling: I always learn something new. I will definitely ask for this drink the next time I'm on a Carnival cruise ship and see if they can make it. Reef House bartender Ashton kept all of us well supplied with quality drinks during the week.

Ashton serving a Monkey La-La
photo courtesy of Jenna Contenta

We spent the rest of our evening enjoying each other's company and our conversation flowed as freely as the waves outside. It's funny how I've known some of these people for a few years now, but generally only see them at club meetings and events. Spending a whole week together allowed me to get to know some of them even better. As a group, we planned on doing boat dives on Tuesday and Wednesday, and shore dives as we saw fit. With the weather forecast being what it was, Monday was anyone's guess. Gradually our group got smaller as the evening progressed and people drifted off to bed. This time, I would be prepared and used my improvised sleep mask when I got sleepy.

Monday, April 16:
Wow, the weatherman actually got it right! Unfortunately, that meant most of us spent the entire day watching it rain....a LOT. This caused the surf to get rough again, and we even spotted a waterspout form in the distance. Yes, it totally reminded me of Jimmy Buffett's Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season. In fact, I even started humming that tune while watching the waterspout. We took advantage of the downtime, though, and went over to the Reef House to connect to their wi-fi and check in on things at home. One of our more intrepid members wouldn't let a little rain get in the way of her diving. She headed out on the Reef Houses dive boat Henry Morgan and made three dives off of it. Good for her! 

Cathie picked this night to cook the group dinner. She prepared a fabulous meal of fish (grouper) tacos, rice, and freshly-made mango salsa. If I didn't know better, I'd think I was on a cruise ship as much and as well as I was eating.

Taco assembly line

Notice that rack thingy the tacos were sitting in? Cathie bought a dish draining rack to use. Brilliant, Cathie! 

Fresh mango salsa

The finished product

After dinner and cleanup, a few of us played a game called Joking Hazard. Think of it as a  "mutated love-child of Apples to Apples and Cards Against Humanity" and you'll be close enough. I don't know what's worse, the fact that all of us were warped enough to have fun playing it or that Jenna knows my warped mind as well as hers. It's a good thing there were no minors present. Yes, Joking Hazard is now on my Amazon wishlist, as well as a couple of the expansion sets. 

Joking Hazard
photo courtesy of Jenna Contenta

A word to the wise, in case you haven't thought of this. When playing either Joking Hazard or Cards Against Humanity, it might be a good idea to disable any Alexa type devices. No telling what it will hear. Just saying.....

Tuesday, April 17:
Three boat dives today! Eric and Gary cooked breakfast for us so we'd have plenty of fuel for the day's diving. No Cap'n Crunch today. We had eggs, bacon, English muffins and plenty of coffee.

Chef Eric cooking breakfast
photo courtesy of Jenna Contenta

Custom omelets
photo courtesy of Jenna Contenta

We carried our dive gear the short walk from our house to the dive boat and soon got underway for our first site. After such a rainy day yesterday, today was somewhat better. It was still overcast, but no rain was predicted and the breeze was mild. Enthusiasm spread quickly from person to person as we assembled our gear and prepped for the upcoming dive. All of our sites were just a short boat ride away, so we didn't have long to wait until the captain tied us up to the first mooring buoy.

Our first site today was "Church Wall." A glance at the shore revealed the origin of this site's name as we saw a beautiful church nearby. Roberto our divemaster (DM) gave us a good site briefing, then ended with (as he did on each subsequent dive): "The pool is open. Get off my boat!" We all got a good laugh out of that.

Splash! A backroll entry and we were on our way to the sandy bottom to await the other divers. One of our group had an issue with her BC, and the DM had to help her get under. Ultimately, she had to get back on the boat. Bummer. The rest of us stayed in a group near the bottom waiting for the DM. Strictly by accident, I happened to spot someone's wrist mounted dive computer laying in the sand. I swam over to it and saw that the numbers indicated a current dive, so it had to belong to one of us. I grabbed it, and swam to each person, showing it to them. All shook their heads "no," so I just attached it to my BC and figured someone would eventually claim it.

Eric P. points out our DM

As our DM approached us, Eric pointed to him, then his wrist. Ahh, so that's who it belongs to, the DM! I swam over to Roberto and handed his computer to him. Glad to reunite the two, otherwise our dive would've ended right then and right there. What a fun dive! One of our newest drivers, Charles, got some great experience this trip.

Charles G. gets some bottom time in

My basic stats for Church Wall:
Max depth: 78 feet
Bottom time: 61 minutes

Dive number two for today was the much anticipated Calvin's Crack. Several have done this site before and wanted to dive it again. Sounds good to me. We splashed in and headed down to see what we could see. Normally I carry the GoPro, but on occasion, Cindy will ask for it and I'll hand it off to her and let her have a little fun with it. That will let me actually get in some of the photos, too. It's a win-win situation.

Good photo, Cindy!

For this dive, I had the GoPro more than Cindy, and between the two of us, we got some great shots, at least in my very humble opinion. Exiting the actual "crack" portion of the dive, I glanced at my computer and thought it would make a cool photo. It's showing I'm at 84 feet, current bottom time is just over 11 minutes, I'm diving on air, and the water temperature is 79 degrees.

Display from my Shearwater Petrel

Roberto then guided us along the reef, slowly ascending to a shallower depth. As I typically do, I rolled onto my back and glanced up at the surface. I saw some of our divers in silhouette and knew I had to capture this image. Off all the videos and stills I took on this trip, I think this is one of my favorites.

My fellow divers

Not to be outdone, Cindy struck one of her favorite "diving diva" poses and like any smart husband, I made sure to capture it.

Look at me!

We do manage to have lots of fun on these dives. With such beautiful reefs and abundant marine life, it's hard not to enjoy these dives. Towards the end of this dive, Roberto found a Trumpetfish just hanging out. 


My basic stats for Calvin's Crack:
Max depth: 90 feet
Bottom time: 51 minutes

My third and final dive for the day was Crab Wall. Cindy had the GoPro for most of this dive, so she's credited with most of the footage/images from this dive. 


The water seemed a bit cooler on this dive and the viz was definitely less than the other two sites. We still had a fun dive, though, don't get me wrong. As I explored parts of this reef, Cindy got some good shots of our fellow divers.

Debbie M. on the prowl

Gary F. doing his safety stop

My basic stats for Crab Wall:
Max depth: 64 feet
Bottom time: 48 minutes

Back on the dive boat, we all recounted what we saw on the dive and started peeling off our wet dive gear. We had another full diving day planned for Wednesday and were already looking forward to that. Of course, we were also looking forward to dinner and several among us were already anticipating a cold Monkey La-La or two (or three). 

Margaret cooked for us and prepared a delicious "Southwest chicken" dish with rice and salad. In true BAD style, we stuffed ourselves on this feast and the war stories flowed as easily as the drinks. 

Southwest chicken and rice

Chef Margaret presents her creation.
Photo courtesy of Jenna Contenta

A closeup of my plate

For the most part, we all circulated between the back porch, the dining room table and the Reef House bar after dinner. Gary made some of his famous homemade ice cream, while Pete did some maintenance on his dive gear. Conversation ran the gamut from diving to past jobs to favorite movie lines. Despite my best efforts, Cindy and I have been waking up early each day this trip, usually around 7. Yes, that's early for us. By 11, we were ready for bed, so we said our "goodnights" and called it a day.

Wednesday, April 18:
I awoke to the smell of coffee and cooking bacon. Even though it was early, around 6:30, I couldn't stay in bed after smelling such appetizing aromas. A glance outside revealed a beautiful morning. The sun was shining and only a few clouds dotted the sky. Once everyone was up and had breakfast, we headed as a group to the dive boat. Another three-dive day awaited us, along with a special milestone for Cindy and me. 

Our first site today was "Too Tall, Too Small." This ended up being one of my favorite sites of the trip, along with Calvin's Crack yesterday. Roberto gave his dive briefing and we all joined him in "The pool is open, get off my boat!"

With a bright sun and great viz, the reef was especially beautiful today and the colorful fish added to a pleasurable dive. This is the kind of diving we came here to do! 

Dive buddies

Making our way along this reef, I found it hard to focus on any one spot. With the abundance of marine life, no one place was better than another. Since most of us carried some sort of photography equipment, be it still or video camera, I wasn't too worried about missing anything. Someone in our group would manage to capture it on their camera. No worries.


Bluehead wrasse

We tell new divers all the time to maintain good "situational awareness." For the newbies, this can be difficult when diving in such a nice location as this. Not only should they be monitoring their depth, bottom time and gas pressure (air supply in tank), but also take in the view, keep track of their dive buddy and the divemaster. Actually, every diver should be doing this, but it does become somewhat of a second nature to constantly scan your dive computer/console and surroundings. 

I usually alternate between my backup computer on my wrist and my primary computer attached to my first stage regulator. It's an air integrated computer and will monitor my gas pressure along with depth, bottom time, etc. It will display my dive time remaining based on the most "critical" component at the time.

Oceanic ProPlus 2.1

For my non-diver readers, it is displaying my current depth (68 feet), my tank pressure (2410 psi), and how much dive time I have left if I stay at that depth (29 minutes). I can scroll through a couple of other displays, but this gives me all the info I need at a single glance. Cindy took the GoPro and I captured a couple of stills from her footage. 



My basic stats for Too Tall, Too Small:
Max depth: 79 feet
Bottom time: 56 minutes

Our next dive was a milestone for me. Drum roll, please...

Dive # 100! 

Cindy was one dive behind me so her 100th dive would be next. Our site for this dive was Tortuga Reef.

Befitting such a milestone, I got to see some truly beautiful fish and reefs. BADdies accompanying me on this dive were Cindy (naturally), Cathie, Margaret, Tacey, Eric, and Gary. 

Here we go!

Divemaster Roberto

Most that know me know that I'm a lifelong Cowboys fan. As we explored Tortuga Reef, I spotted an Indigo hamlet, which at depth looks like it has the classic blue and silver of my Dallas Cowboys. Yeah, the stripes are more white when viewed with a light source, but in natural light, the stripes look silver. 

Indigo hamlet (and GO Cowboys!)

And since I mentioned football teams, I spotted a Queen angelfish that, coincidentally, has the colors of my high school: blue and gold. Well, more like yellow than gold, but close enough.

Queen angelfish

This dive just keeps getting better and better. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a flounder moving from one spot on the reef to another spot. As soon as it settled, it became invisible. If I wouldn't have seen it move, I would've never noticed it hiding in plain sight.

Can you find the flounder?

It's easier if you watch the video that I grabbed these stills from. In the video, you can see its eyes moving around, watching us. Remember, clicking on any photo will show you a larger version in a new window. Go ahead and give it a try.

What about now?

Even knowing where and what to look for, it's difficult to find. Just in case you still can't see it, I've circled it in red below.

Oh, there it is!

Thinking I had seen plenty of pretty cool stuff, Tacey started waving to me and pointing under some coral. I swam over to her to see what she was pointing at. Whoa, look at that! A scorpion fish! Cool! I settled onto the sandy bottom and inched my way forward, extending my arm with the GoPro to get a closeup shot. Thanks, Tacey!

Scorpion fish

A milestone dive with tons of good memories. I wanted this milestone dive to be special, and it exceeded my best expectations. What will the next hundred bring?

My basic stats for Tortuga Reef:
Max depth: 71 feet
Bottom time: 61 minutes

For Cindy's 100th dive, Roberto selected Lucy Point. The whole group participated in this dive, and I'm glad Cindy got to have everyone present. As with all dives, not everything went perfectly, but what in life does? 

BADdies doing what BADdies love to do

Once our group got settled on the sandy bottom, Roberto led us off to explore the reef. Similar to our last dive yesterday, several of us felt a bit chilly. I find that odd how a dive site relatively close to a previous site has such different water temps. It wasn't too cold, but enough where we could tell the difference. 

I kept the camera for all of this dive, as I wanted Cindy to just have fun and enjoy her milestone dive without having to worry about getting the perfect shot. She was happy to let me take care of the photography and made the most of it.

Milestone girl!

Our group leaders blowing bubbles

What did you see, Margaret?

This dive, like the majority of our dives, went by so quickly and all too soon we needed to start thinking about surfacing. As we approached the mooring line, I signaled to Cindy to see if she was ready to ascend. She shook her head no, and pointed to her computer, then held up three fingers. I glanced at my own computer and figured out she wanted to stay down another three minutes to ensure at least an hour's dive time. I nodded that I understood, and we just hung out on the bottom for the next few minutes.

Everyone else was already on the dive boat, except for us and Pete. He swam down to us and asked if we were OK via signal. I was able to let him know what we were doing so he nodded and made his own way to the surface. 

My basic stats for Lucy Point:
Max depth: 72 feet
Bottom time: 62 minutes

That was the last of our boat diving for this trip, but I figured we'd still be able to get in a couple of shore dives. Once we got back on the boat, everyone congratulated Cindy on her milestone and we were soon underway back to the dock. 

Dinner tonight would be barbecued ribs at the Reef House. No cooking or cleaning for us this evening. We all helped each other rinse and clean our dive gear and after showering were ready to eat. 

As a group, we walked the short distance to the Reef House and the smell of barbecue smoke heightened our already sharp appetites. BBQ ribs, corn, mashed potatoes and veggies awaited us, and we planned to make a celebration of the evening. 


Orange cake for dessert

We BADdies never do anything halfway, especially when it comes to food. Don't believe me? Come to our next potluck event and you'll see exactly what I'm talking about. After we finished dinner, the Contentas presented Cindy and me with a "100 dives" patch. Wow, thank you! The thought was very much appreciated by both of us and just shows how tight our group is.

100 Dives
photo courtesy of Jenna Contenta

After such a nice presentation, I wanted to honor one of our late club member's memory. Had he still been alive, I'm confident he would've been on this trip with us.

Here's to YOU, Harry!
photo courtesy of Jenna Contenta

I can't speak for everyone, but I think most of us waddled back to the rental house for "second dessert." Hobbits may have first and second breakfast, but we have first and second dessert. Cathie had originally planned to serve a dessert with her fish tacos, but we had homemade ice cream instead. So naturally, we just had her dessert tonight. This dessert was fantastic, and some even had it for breakfast the next morning.

Cathie's chocolate trifle

What do you think? Are we a diving club that likes to eat, or an eating club that likes to dive? That's a tough question. Maybe we are a little of both. I can live with that. 

Another long day and bed was calling my name. I managed to read a little bit on my Kindle before I started nodding off, so Wednesday came to an end for me.

Thursday, April 19:
Another beautiful day greeted me when I awoke. Well, that and the smell of coffee and breakfast. Eric made his version of the "Egg McMuffin" which was most satisfying. With no boat dives planned today, at least for Cindy and me, I had an even more leisurely breakfast, enjoying several cups of coffee while chatting with the rest of our group. A few still had more boat diving to do, so they grabbed their gear and headed out the door. 

Good morning, Roatan!

Pete, Jenna, Margaret and I decided to do a shore dive from the T-head, so we grabbed our gear and headed out. Cindy, Donna, and Nikki opted to hang out and relax in the natural pool by the Reef House. I might have heard something about them reuniting with their old friend Monkey La-La, but I'll let them elaborate. 

This shore dive, like the others we did, was along the Reef House Wall. I didn't take my GoPro this time, as I did on the boat dives. With the tenuous entry and exit, and some of the shallow reef we have to cross, I didn't want to chance damaging my camera or the reef. Besides, Pete and Jenna both had their cameras with them so it wouldn't hurt leaving mine at the house. Eric was there to provide "shore support" for us, helping us down those slippery steps into the water and then helping us back out at the end of the dive. 

As I made this dive, I figured it would probably be my last dive in Roatan, since the next day, Friday, would be a cleanup and pack day. With the time of our flight back on Saturday, I could make a morning dive on Friday but would need to get up and get going if I wanted a full 24 hours between last dive and flying. 

Even though this was the third time diving the same reef, it was almost like diving a new location. With the different fish and ever-changing light conditions, there was always something new to see. 

photo courtesy of Jenna Contenta

Sea anemone (more about this in a bit)
photo courtesy of Jenna Contenta

My basic stats for Reef House Wall:
Max depth: 82 feet
Bottom time: 34 minutes (we started with partially full tanks)

We made our exit (Thanks for the help, Eric!), and I thought just how fortunate we all were, to be able to spend a week with friends, diving in the Caribbean and having such a fun and stress-free time. No one argued or exhibited petty behavior, and everyone seemed to truly enjoy each other's company without that awkwardness that so often mars an otherwise pleasurable gathering.

As we rinsed our dive gear and set it in the sun to dry, Pete and I decided to join the ladies in the natural pool. Wait, didn't I just get out of the water? Well, yes, but this was different. Here we would just relax and pass the time. As is common in the Caribbean, we watched a rain squall pass by and wondered how the diving was going on the dive boat. From our vantage point, we could see the Henry Morgan tied to a mooring buoy in the distance. We all hoped the divers were in the water already, instead of getting rained on. Yeah, I know, they would be getting wet anyway, but that's beside the point. Trust me on this.

We hung out for a while in the pool then decided to grab some lunch at the house. I thought briefly about taking a nap, well, because I could, but abandoned that idea when Pete mentioned going snorkeling in the nearby cove to see what was there.

Let's go!

With my mask and fins barely dry from the morning's dive, I grabbed our snorkel and off we went. I was happy to see that the ecosystem appeared quite healthy. We saw a lot of young sea anemone just beginning to (sprout?) form. I noted several places where coral was starting to spawn as well. Yay!

We swam out close to the boat channel, and as we headed back, Pete and I spotted a cownose ray just sitting there in the sand. The water was only about four feet deep here, so we were surprised to see this type of ray in such shallow water. As we approached, it took off before Pete or Jenna could photograph it.

Cownose ray
image from Google search

About halfway back to the shore, Pete stood up and let us know he had just accidentally kneeled on one of those young anemones. We were wearing only swim trunks and t-shirts, so he got a pretty bad sting from that anemone. Of all the diving we did over this past week, he gets stung while snorkeling. I'm happy to report that we were able to treat it locally and his symptoms gradually diminished over time. 

Our boat diving members got back around this time and stated that the afternoon dive was canceled in lieu of a night dive. Both Cindy and I thought it would be fun until.....

I noticed how my arms and shoulders felt kind of.....warm.

Oh, crap!

I peeled off my shirt and found that familiar red "glow" I get when sunburned. Now before you ask, yes, I did apply sunscreen before hitting the natural pool. SPF 70 in fact. I guess I should've reapplied it after getting out, though. 

Not relishing the thought of heavy scuba gear and straps rubbing on my already sore shoulders, I waved off from the night dive. I'm glad Cindy went, though, as she excitedly told me all about it when they got back. 

photo courtesy of Debbie Muir

photo courtesy of Debbie Muir

photo courtesy of Debbie Muir

I'm glad those who made the night dive had a safe and fun time. I really wish I would've been more careful and not have gotten sunburned like I did. That would have been a fantastic dive to finish our trip. That just gives me a great excuse to come back though. 

Dinner tonight was a sumptuous feast of tacos, rice and homemade queso prepared by Jenna. I fixed a plate full of food and squeezed past two other people to find a spot at the table. And realized my phone was charging in our bedroom. Dammit! Not again. That's the second meal now that I've failed to get a photo of. Sorry, Jenna, your creation deserved a picture.

All of the ladies, except one, made plans for a shopping trip at the west end of the island for Friday. The other one, no surprise if you know her, would make one more dive in the morning. Charles agreed to go with them as a sort of escort and bag porter. The rest of us would stay at the house and clean gear, pack and get ready to leave early Saturday morning.

Friday, April 20:
I realize some people consider this a sort of "holiday." That's great for those who do, but it's not something I concern myself with....not my culture or my thing. That being said, Eric and I decided to head over to the Hole in the Wall Bar to hang out and watch the owner fire a cannon at 4:20 pm. Those who did this trip last year experienced this unique place and encouraged us to check it out. Eric arranged to have George, the groundskeeper, take us over there in his boat. We got there a little after two and met the owner, a colorful character that would fit right in with the swashbuckling pirates of yore. 

No question where we are

First round's on me


Cool place

The bar

The place was pretty quiet when Eric and I first got there. That would change in about an hour when the bar was suddenly packed with people awaiting 4:20. T-shirts from dive clubs all over the world adorned the ceiling, and I had fun discovering where they were from, and reading the comments written on them. Each table had a supply of markers to use for your own message if you so wanted. 

Hey, that shirt looks familiar!

Eric and I added our own message to this BAD shirt and looked up to see Debbie and a few from the Reef House show up. Debbie added her own message to the shirt and the three of us decided a snack was in order. Being the BADdies we are, we ordered TWO plates of nachos for the three of us.

Yummy nachos

More and more people started showing up, and about that time we noticed the unmistakable smell of today's focus. Looking around I could see that many in this bar fully embraced today's celebration. Wow.

Once the owner fired his cannon, Eric, Debbie and I headed back to the house. You can watch a YouTube video of the cannon firing here. This is NOT my video, by the way, but since it was on the Hole in the Wall page I figured it would be OK to include the link.

Arrgh! Let's bring the thunder!
Photo courtesy of Eric Petersen

We got back before the ladies returned from their outing and I packed all of Cindy's and my dive gear. That's one thing less we'd have to do later, and since I had some downtime, why not? 

Our ladies returned laden with shopping bags and stories of food, fun, and frivolity. A little alliteration is good for the soul, right? Go ahead and groan; it won't hurt my feelings. They had lunch at the Cannibal Cafe. I didn't think to ask who owned it, though, as long as it wasn't someone named Hannibal. 

Cannibal Cafe
photo courtesy of Jenna Contenta

Happy BADdies
photo courtesy of Jenna Contenta

I'm glad everyone had fun on the west end. We all found our own way to finish our Roatan vacation with something unique. Our final dinner would be just like our first dinner in Roatan. Our local ladies prepared a similar meal to what we had that first night and it was every bit as tasty as the first time. And we didn't have to cook. Or clean.

Saturday, April 21:
Fittingly, our departure from Roatan was much like our arrival. Shortly after we woke up, we lost power. It remained off until we started getting on George's boat to take us off Oak Ridge Cay. I could only laugh as I saw the lights come on as the boat left the dock. 

Until next time
Photo courtesy of Jenna Contenta

Margaret, Tacey, Cindy and I were on the second of two flights to IAH, while the rest of our happy band were on the first flight. We met up with Jackie and Carole returning from Anthony's Key Resort and listened to their tales of adventure. 

With no breakfast at the house, I'm glad the departure area had a sandwich shop. Donna mentioned how good the sandwiches were, and judging from the constantly long line there was no doubt about it. 

Time for a sammich
Photo courtesy of Jenna Contenta

What looks good?
Photo courtesy of Jenna Contenta

I ordered the traditional club, and enjoyed every single bite. It was a huge sandwich, so the bag of Doritos I got to go with it went in my carryon for a mid-flight snack. And yes, the Monkey La-La was available for those who wanted it. 

You may remember earlier in this blog where I mentioned that most of us have been friends for a few years and see each other at our monthly club meetings, board meetings, and organized events. Judging by the way we all hugged each other goodbye, though, you'd think we weren't going to see each other for an extended time. Actually, it would be a mere four days for the majority of us.

The first flight was called and the four of us got comfortable for the next couple of hours, catching up on e-mail, social media and reading from our Kindles. With all of that, our wait seemed quite short and before we knew it our time had come to board the plane for home.

UA 1411 RTB to IAH
Photo by Carlos Lopez

Boarding was quick and efficient and we settled into our seats for the flight back to IAH. We were on N66897, a 737-900ER. Nothing beats an on-time departure, and we were happy to push back a few minutes early. 

View from my seat (29F)

Just as we arrived, we departed on runway 07, rotating around 158 mph. Surprisingly, there were several empty seats on this flight. I guess everyone else going to Houston got on the earlier flight. 

Naturally, I kept my nose pressed to the window to take in a final view of that sparkling Caribbean water. We flew over the Carnival cruise terminal at Mahogany Bay and eventually turned northwest towards IAH. Our route took us right over Cozumel, another favorite dive location of mine. 

Buenas dias, Cozumel!

From warm, sunny Honduras to cool, cloudy Houston. About the time we got within 50 miles of the Texas coast, the clouds started building up and there was nothing of the ground to see. I kept track of our location with the GPS and noted we took a wide loop to the west of Houston before our final and landing on runway 08R. Immigrations went quickly, thanks to an automated system and once we claimed our bags our Uber driver was just a few minutes away to take us back to the hotel. We grabbed our car and made our way home, stopping at Kroger for a few quick essentials.

We had a blast this whole trip, and I'm so thankful the Contentas invited us along. Both Cindy and I are looking forward to doing it again next year.

A final note to those who were on the trip: You'll be happy to know that pineapple juice is readily available at Kroger. Just sayin'.....

Yes, life is good.

I thought long and hard about including this next bit in my blog. After discussing it with Jenna, I decided to go ahead and do so. Thanks for your insight, Jenna. It helped.....a LOT. For the record, I still think this is Jenna's story to tell, but I'm thankful she entrusted it to me to put into words. 

The first time the Contentas visited Roatan last year, they met this special-needs child named Angelina. She lives with her grandmother near the rent house, and while she can understand English, she cannot speak, at least with words. Best guess is she's about 8 years old but is mentally around 6 or so. When we had a planning meeting for this year's trip, Jenna asked if we would consider bringing Angelina some coloring or activity books, or something of that nature. Of course we would! All of us on this year's trip brought something for this sweet and loving child. Angelina's eyes are soooo expressive and she is quick to give out hugs. All of us were glad to have at least something for her and were equally happy that she could join us that last night for dinner. 

Angelina gets some goodies
Photo courtesy of Jenna Contenta

Happiness all around
Photo courtesy of Jenna Contenta

High-fives for Nicki
Photo courtesy of Jenna Contenta

Eric's newest friend
Photo courtesy of Jenna Contenta

Let's not forget Charles
Photo courtesy of Jenna Contenta

Cathie gets a hug
Photo courtesy of Jenna Contenta

And so does Jenna
Photo courtesy of Nicki Goertz

I hope when (not "if") we go back next year Angelina will remember us and how much fun we had bringing her gifts. I'm confident whatever mix of BADdies happens to go she'll get a whole new set of gifts to light up her face. One thing's for sure: She definitely liked Gary's homemade ice cream.

So, my wonderful readers, what did you think? For the non-divers here, did the pictures make you at least consider taking a scuba course? Even snorkeling in the Caribbean is fun and the amount of sea life you can see is simply breathtaking. 

Coming up in future blogs, I will interview local chef Chris Ansted and start a new series on "living history" museums.

I'd love to see what you think. Please leave a comment in the comments section below. ALL comments, good or bad, are always appreciated, and I read every one of them. 

Until next time.....

carpe cerevisi

You can find my previous blog here