NC diving

aeolusthis is just my test post… I’m using Windows Live Writer to work on blog posts even when I’m not online.

I’m starting with NC… the picture to the left is from our dive on the Aeolus.  It’s not my picture because I didn’t take my camera down on this dive.  Instead it’s a picture I lifted off the net.  But basically this is what it looked like on our dive.

And if I make edits… they look like this <—–

A little frustrated with Live Writer right now… I can publish posts.  but I can’t retrieve posts from my blog.   Why!?!

now I’m trying it with xhtml


Diving Again

here’s my dive buddy Glen, motioning to me from behind a school of grunts

After a less than successful trip down to the keys last fall (bad weather cancelled most of the dives), I’m down here again to use up the last bit of my credit with Conch Republic Divers and get a little bottom time in.  On the first day, I get teamed up with Glen who is lucky enough to be within driving distance of the keys.


When I was in school I took shop… these kids are taking underwater navigation and surveying classes.

We also had a high school group on the boat.  Guess what they were doing there?  No… it wasn’t underwater basket weaving… they actually had a class in underwater surveying from their highschool.  I think I hate them.  Where was that class when I was in school????




These little gobies waited in the crevices of a large brain coral until larger fish approach at which time they swarm over the customer fish eating little parasites and leaving the larger fish “clean”.

The highlight from day one was this underwater cleaning station.  This large brain coral was home to scores of gobies who would hide in the little crevices waiting for their customers to show up.





A grouper enjoying the meticulous attention.

We returned to this cleaning station several times to find different fish who had come over to get a free cleaning.

The first time it was a grouper, later a couple of hogfish, and I even saw a large parrotfish.

More photos from day one can be found here.



The Claw! The Claw decides who will stay and who will go…


After a successful day diving, I went to smugglers cove to listen to a blues band, enjoy a nice dinner, and sort through the days photos.  That’s where I saw this.

Yes this is a real game and yes those are real lobsters (albiet small ones).


Arenal Volcano


View from our room. If not for the clouds, you would have a perfect view of the volcano through that window.

It’s sunday morning and we’re enjoying the view from our room.  The volcano is shrouded in clouds but I took a cool little panoramic photo showing the color transition from sunrise to darker sky (currently displayed as the blog header at the top of the page.)

When we were in San Jose we were amazed at how pleasant it was when we waited at the car rental place.  A nice cool breeze blew most of the time.  Up at Arenal Kioro we slept the first night with A/C on but the next morning we opened the window and it felt like there was A/C outside.  Sooooo nice.


Arenal Volcano and some bamboo orchids

We had some coffee in the room and then went out for breakfast.  We needed our rain jackets and grabbed an umbrella on the way out the door.  Apparently dry season should be taken with a grain of salt.  The weather here changes more often and faster than I’ve ever seen.  A dark stormy sky would vanish and become a beautiful sunny day (Sandy has the sunburn to prove it), but then the clouds would strike back, darkening the forest and maybe we’d even get some rain.  Then sunny again.  It was interesting watching the level of cloudliness which shrouded the volcano.  One moment you couldn’t see it at all.  Then the clouds would start burning off and we’d think maybe we’d finally see the peak, but then the clouds came back again.  Eventually we did see the peak in mid-afternoon and it would come and go for the remainder of the day.


Arenal 1968 map

Next we headed out to Arenal 1968 Park which was named because in 1968 it was buried in lava.  The park had two hikes to choose from, the shorter easier hike took you through the lava field (from 1968) and up to a viewing point where you could see the volcano and the lake and had a nice view of the surrounding countryside.  The longer hike took you through the rain forest and around a small lake formed by the eruption.  It was a harder hike, joining up to the lava field hiking at the end, but it gave you a better opportunity of seeing animals.


Our first view of Costa Rican wildlife

We decided on the longer hike and were almost immediately rewarded with…. cows!!!  Actually, not just cows, but egrets too, hanging out with the cows, presumably waiting for the cows to disturb the grasses enough to send insects jumping for the egrets to scoop up.


Just like early explorers, we fight our way through the jungle as we trudge uphill to the summit


Howler monkeys!

The paths were wide and the inclines/descents were well maintained with concrete pavers.  Can’t really speak to how this is in the wet season, but for us it was a great set up.  Not to say it was easy.  It seemed that you would hike up a small hill for the sole purpose of hiking back down.  We did encounter some mosquitos and had to apply bug spray (we did not encounter any other mosquitos during out entire trip).  As we’re hiking along, I see a palm tree off in the distance moving back and forth. It got my attention because it was moving more than the other trees around it. As I’m focusing on that tree, trying to see if there was an animal, I notice much closer, high up in the trees a troop of howler monkeys.  Sandy and I were very excited, there must have been at least a dozen (include a baby we saw ride around on the back of it’s mother).  We watched for a bit and took some photos before me moved on.


Sandy spotted and orchid as we made out climb

We hiked out to the end of the lake with some short breaks to watch some yellow winged water birds in the lake and a column of leaf cutter ants (okay… only I stopped for the ants and then I had to hustle to catch up with Sandy).  After we worked our way around the end of the lake the hike became a little more challenging.  Instead of having the nice concrete steps that had been worked into the little hills we had been traversing over, now we were scrambling (well… walking slowly and carefully) over volcanic rock.  CostaRica_20130217_0143_Arenal_blog400Some of the rock was loose and Sandy was very happy to have the walking stick that I picked up for here at the beginning although the stick did almost cause her to fall once when it got stuck in a hole (she regained her balance). Portions of this climb were very steep and we had to grab on to ropes that they had strung between the trees to help hikers.  As went higher, we left behind the coolness of the lake below, the sun had started to come out and it was getting hotter.  Sandy used her new catch phrase several times as we hiked, “I think we’re almost there”, and eventually she was right as we broke out of the jungle and reached the summit.


We made it!!


The blue jays chico relatives

The climb back down didn’t take long.  As we got down to the parking lot I thought I spotted a blue jay… but something wasn’t quite right so I moved closer to investigate and found a half dozen birds that must be related to blue jays.  They’re just a little bit bigger and fancier than the ones we have back home.

CostaRica_20130217_0214_Arenal_blog600 CostaRica_20130217_0219_Arenal_blog600It was time to head out and get some lunch.  There was a nice resturant just a few minutes down the road from the park.  We had a couple of cervezas and watched as a coati paced around the perimeter of the restuarant, trying to figure out how to get a free meal out of us.

DIGITAL CAMERAAfterwards we headed back to the hotel to enjoy some time by the pool and as the sun went down we headed again for the hot springs.  The hot springs were a series of perhaps a dozen small pools going down the side of the mountain, water flowing from pool to pool in a series a minature waterfalls.


Going to Costa Rica

Apparently, Sandy doesn’t like how I’m able to wake up early and be in a good mood.  I know this because she told me.  The alarms went off at 4:45am, first Sandy’s and then mine.  We had a long travel day ahead of us and the pep that I started the day with would be drained out of me by the end.


Ugh! Can we go yet???

Our taxi took forever to come.  Apparently everyone was going to the airport at the same time as us.  It did get there eventually though, we breezed through security, boarded one of the smallest planes I’ve ever flown in and crammed ourselves into the tiny little seats.  Then we sat there.  Apparently Philly had an “all stop” for air traffic and we’d be stuck on the tarmac for the next hour waiting for things to open back up.  Of course we don’t just wait at the gate… the plane works it’s way to the end of the runway, to a small parking area for delayed planes, and shuts it’s engines down.  Then I sat there and watched out the window as plane after plane taxied by, working their way into position and launching off into the wild blue yonder while we sat there stuck.

We did eventually get the okay.  The flight was short but because of the delay we had to run to catch our connecting flight in Philly (although another flight from Boston was even later than ours and it had a whole troop of youngsters destined for Costa Rica so it turns out we had plenty of time).


Costa Rica forests below

The flight was uneventful (as all good flights should be).  I had a window seat so I was able to watch the Costa Rican landscape pass beneath us as we approached San Jose.  Lots of forests and rivers as well as some small lakes.  The sun hits the lakes at an angle that really lights them up and gives the water an almost metallic look, like a little pool of mercury.  As we near San Jose I see more fields and the trees become sparser.

We were an hour late landing.  We had rented a car from Alamo because they were at the airport.  Except we discovered this wasn’t really true, they had a desk at the airport but they shuttled you offsite to a facility where you actually did the paperwork and got your car.  Here’s where we learned a trick.  If you rent your car from the airport (including our case where they just picked us up there) you have to pay a 13% airport tax.  For us that amounted to nearly $100.  However if you take a $5 taxi ride from the airport to the car rental facility then you don’t have to pay that airport fee.

The process of renting a car is so painful.  I really wanted to get to our hotel before dark but we were at Alamo for over an hour as the sun slipped closer and closer to the horizon.  After reading lots of horror stories regarding people getting stung by charges for damages from car rental agencies we had decided to get all the insurance when we booked the car (at a cost of $320… almost as much as the car rental itself).  At the dealership though, they managed to find an additional insurance that wasn’t on the website.  Another $80 fee.  Ugh!

View 2013 Costa Rica trip in a larger map

Once we finally managed to extricate ourselves from the rental agency, we had a three hour drive to our first hotel, Arenal Kioro.  Dusk was already falling so the drive was going to be in the dark.  The first hour wasn’t so bad but after that we hit the serious mountain roads.  These roads twisted and they turned and they went up and they went down.  I am certain the roads were less than the width of two cars but that didn’t stop the locals from speeding by as I clutched the steering wheel in terror.  The last half hour of the trip improved.  The roads seemed to straighten out somewhat after we went through the town of La Fortuna.  And finally we reached our destination.  The hotel staff was wonderful and got us checked in and made sure that we got dinner reservations in the hotel restaurant.

Okay… this was the hardest day of the trip.  The rest of my blog entries will be much more fun to read.  I promise!!!


Heading off to the hot springs to relax after a long day


More Maroma


Fire show on the beach

Wednesday night we went out on the beach to watch the fire show.  We’ve seen it before – apparently most of the nightly shows rotate between the different El Dorado resorts.  So if you stay here more than once you’ll probably see repeats of the shows.  We enjoyed it nonetheless.




I think a puffer… only a couple of inches long

Then on Thursday I went diving again, this time to the Caves and Gardens dive sites.


juvenile spotted drum

I saw a cool little – I think it’s a puffer – at the Caves.  And at the gardens I found a small alcove with three juvenille spotted drum which is one of the most graceful fish I’ve ever seen.

I also saw a couple of big green moray eels out swimming in the open which is a little unusual.  I think divers must be feeding them because both times the eels came up to us – one of them came close enough to make me a little nervous!


Moray eel looking for a handout

And I got some more video… I love my new camera!!!


My dad was complaining that I don’t have enough invertebrate pictures… so here’s some sponges, corals, and christmas tree worms (or as Tim likes to call them Spirobranchus giganteus)

I’ve updated my Maroma photo album with some more photos


There’s a ball somewhere up there

After diving, I headed back to the beach where it began to rain.  But it didn’t stop me from playing a little volleyball.  There were only four of us though… only two per side.  That means a lot of running around.


After a while I needed a break so Sandy stepped in to play a little.  Okay… maybe some of the shots are a little bit staged 🙂

Iron fist Sandy is scaring the other players!



Sunrise over the caribbean

Sunrise over the Caribbean

We are enjoying our winter break down in Mexico at El Dorado Maroma.  The weather has been a little cooler than normal… cool enough that I’m wearing jeans in the morning.  And there’s been a little rain.  But I checked the weather back home and it said 27 degrees (that would be farenheit!) so we’re happy to be down here even with the less than perfect weather.


This little raccoon knows the best place to go for a meal!

The resort is beautiful, the beaches are fine white sand, the restaurants are wonderful, and even the varmints are well behaved.  Eating dinner one night we were visited by a little raccoon who alternately begged for food at the side of the table and lay down beside us like a small dog, watching us and hoping for table scraps.


This fella was a regular and had been named Jose de Taco by the staff.


We of course know better than to feed wildlife which is why I will never confess on a public forum to throwing him little pieces of bread or even a little steak.  Yes – never will confess!


And of course I’ve gone diving.  I’ve gotten to try out my new camera for the first time.  Here’s some video…

And a couple of pictures….


OMG! The quality of these pictures are so much better than my old camera


Untouched picture of queen triggerfish

I use Adobe Lightroom to make some minor adjustments.  Generally this involves adjusting the white balance and the exposure, contrast, whites, and blacks in the photo.  You can see the original picture of the queen triggerfish to the right and my adjusted picture up above.  Lightroom makes it super simple to do these adjustments.  Generally I just do a few clicks and the picture is done.  Of course I am colorblind so maybe I’m doing more harm than good 🙂  You can also see in the adjusted picture above that the sand it a little off.  If I really wanted to do a complete job – I would separate the sand from the fish in the picture and adjust them each separately.  But then I would really never get any of these blog postings done.


Goby on brain coral


Detail of goby

One of the other things I’m very happy with is the resolution.  Above is a picture I took of a little goby.  Now I’m able to zoom in to see much more detail then I could before.

Btw – did you know if you click on the pictures in my blog you can see a bigger image?


Juvenile filefish

Here’s another great example of the resolution.  This juvenile filefish has detail around it’s eyes that I was never aware of.  When I zoomed in on this picture, I was surprised to see all those little blue lines around it’s eyes.


Parrotfish at a cleaning station. I watched as the parrotfish floated there patiently with his mouth wide open and little yellow fish darted in and out picking away at and cleaning his teeth


We saw an eagle ray… very cool!!! Unfortunately it was out there a little ways so despite my best efforts, the picture isn’t very good.

Here’s a link to some more photos



Avast ye maties

BVI_20121114_551_Foxys_webOur final stop for the day was Great Harbor where we planned to go to Foxy’s after dinner to listen to music and dancing. On the way Brandon talked about some of his other trips and how they would have to vary their itinerary when they have kids on board (normally Tradewinds doesn’t allow children on the boat, but if a group rents the entire boat then they are welcome to bring them along).  They would have water balloon fights with the other boats or go on treasure hunts or maybe even do a little pirating!

We hopped in the dingy to head to shore. Coral Dreams was nearby eating dinner and we went and buzzed around them in our dinghy, doing a loop and rocking their boat. Apparently this is how the war started!


Karaoke night at Foxy’s

It was karaoke night at Foxy’s and we sang a little although mostly they just played songs that we danced to.  After a while we were joined by the Coral Dreams group.

But it did take them a little while to get there… why did it take them so long???



Pirates at work

Apparently while we were innocently enjoying pop hits, our sister ship was up to more mischievous deeds.  Our boat was left unguarded and Coral Dreams took advantage of our lax security and boarded.  They pirated away all of our wine and beer, stuffing it in sacks which the loaded onto their dinghy before slipping away into the darkness.


No! Don’t take our wine!!

They then motored on over to Foxy’s to dance with us, not letting on to their roguishness.

It wasn’t until Brandon left early to go back to our boat that he discovered what had happened.  But he reraided their boat, retrieving our stolen goods and upping the anti by stealing their deck cushions and a bottle of amaretto, which apparently was the rogue captains favourite drink.

Later that night, the rest of us learned of what had happened.  Brandon stayed up late to fend off any further attacks.  It’s a good thing he did because they attempted another pirating but were thwarted by our brave captain.  In the spirit of friendship, Brandon did give them back their amaretto.


The much loved Turkey Hat

But this was not the end of it.  We knew we had to get them back… so we devised our own plan of piracy.  The target was their boat mascot, the beloved turkey hat.

I got up the following morning a little before 6am.  Brandon was just finishing up the coffee and we knew it was time for our adventure.  Coral Dreams had been up late the night before and was certainly still sleeping.

We discussed out plan in hushed whispers on the back of our boat and then quickly boarded the dingy. The oars were velcroed to the bottom of the dingy, we unstrapped them and careful placed them in the water – I was very aware of every little splash that happened as we paddled. We reached the back of Coral Dreams and Brandon held on while I stepped off onto their boat – it was all in complete silence, we did not talk or make any unnecessary noise since we left our boat. I stepped into their dining area, the doors to the boat were wide open so I entered easily. I looked to the the right where Brandon said the turkey had should be hanging on a peg — nothing!! I scanned around the lounge and spied the hat on the other side. I grabbed it and slinked back out, stepping back into the dingy to a silently cheering Brandon. We quickly rowed away and were back at our boat in just a few minutes. The entire experience was very exciting.

We discussed our success with the rest of our boat as we enjoyed coffee around the breakfast table.  Coral Dreams didn’t even realize their beloved mascot was missing, but regardless, they were not done with us and quietly crossed the harbor, bravely boarding the front of our boat while we ate.  We didn’t even know they’d hit us until they were back in the dinghy, cheering their victory as they escaped with three of our lounging mats.


Coral Dreams pirates approach and board Turqouise Dreams before making off with our deck cushions


Brandon gobbling and showing them that we know how to pirate too

We quickly realized what had happened.  Brandon grabbed the turkey hat, running onto the front of the boat, gobbling, and showing off that we had a hostage.  Three of our deck cushions were missing, but Brandon had taken two of theirs the night before and he pulled them out of the deck storage area to show them what we had.  In the end we still had three mats and an empty space where the fourth mat should have been for the rest of our voyage.


The crew of Turquoise Dreams watches as the pirates retreat with their ill-gotten booty. I think Brandon looks a little defeated, realizing he failed to protect our boat from being plundered.

Later that day at cocktail hour we poured ourselves some glasses of wine.  But something was just a little bit off… we quickly found that they had dumped out several bottles of wine and replaced the contents with seawater and soy sauce!

Darn you Coral Dreams!!!!



View BVI Tradewinds 2012 in a larger map

Sandy hooks the mooring line.

Sandy hooks the mooring line.

After our success at Great Dog, we continued our journey across the sea to Beef Island.  Brandon and Monica knew of a fun little resturaunt in Trellis Bay.

It looks closed from the outside - but fun! fun! fun! on the inside!

It looks closed from the outside – but fun! fun! fun! on the inside!

We moored near the resturaunt and enjoyed our evening cocktail hour on the boat.  Then we cleaned up, I put on one of the two collared shirts I’d brought on this trip (note to self: bring an extra shirt or two next time!)  and we took a short dinghy ride across the bay to the resturaunt.

The Last Resort resturaunt

The Last Resort resturaunt

The Last Resort is a great little resturaunt on it’s own little island near the local airport… too near apparently – we were told the resturaunt will be shut down in the next few years to make room for the airport expansion 🙁

It appears that the resturaunt cat gets lots of attention from the patrons

It appears that the resturaunt cat gets lots of attention from the patrons

We enjoyed a nice dinner, took turns petting the resturaunt’s cat, and were entertained by a brilliant british entertainer who did a one man show playing songs and making jokes… and drinking tequila!!

Answer a question win a shot of tequila.  Request a song - win a shot of tequila.  Wear a hibiscus shirt - win a shot of tequila.  Yes the bottle was pretty much empty at the end of the night.

Answer a question win a shot of tequila. Request a song – win a shot of tequila. Wear a hibiscus shirt – win a shot of tequila. Yes the bottle was pretty much empty at the end of the night.

A bottle of Jose Cuervo sat on a tray surrounded by eight or nine plastic shot glasses.  The guy did a name that song game, and the winner was invited up to have a shot of tequila.  He also did a newlywed game, complete with shots for the participants and himself of course!  At one point he said anyone with a hibiscus shirt should come up and have a shot… that was me!!!

The crew from our sister ship, Coral Dreams, was there.  They had a turkey hat on which apparently is the ship’s mascot.  At one point the whole lot of them gobbled out loud towards the stage which caught the singer off guard.  The show was brilliantly funny and by the end of his act the bottle of tequila was nearly done.

After the show they played music and we danced until around 11.  Brandon ferried us back to the boat in small groups as we finished up for the night.

A school of five squid that I followed around for a while

A school of five squid that I followed around for a while

A whitespotted filefish

A whitespotted filefish

Wednesday morning we headed over to Monkey Point to do a little more snorkeling.  We swam around for about an hour and a half.  I continued my search for octopus (I never did find any on this trip) and ran into a cool little school of squid that I followed around for a while.

This large fella was hanging out below our boat.  I think it's a grouper?

This large fella was hanging out below our boat. I think it’s a grouper?

There was a big fish (a grouper maybe?) that was hanging around below our boat.  I swam down to get a better look but he shyly moved away whenever I got close.

a school of sergeant majors

a school of sergeant majors








This little island was called Sandy Spit (no relation to my Sandy!)

We made a couple of stops in the afternoon.  One was at Sandy Spit which was a tiny little island with just enough sand to support some scrub brush and a couple of palm trees.

Swimming towards land

Sandy and Jamie out swimming towards Sandy Spit

Sandy, Galli, Sam, and I swam out and everyone else followed in the boat (and they brought cocktails!)  We hung about in the water for a bit enjoying the day before we headed back to the boat.

Monica was the perfect hostess, greeting us with tropical drinks as soon as we emerged from the surf onto the island

Soggy Dollar

Soggy Dollar bar – where the pain killer was invented

Next we sailed to White Bay where we went to the Soggy Dollar to have a pain killer!  This is the bar where the pain killer was invented – although Brandon said they must have lost the original recipe because it was a little different each time he had one.


Soggy Dollars

Hanging the money up to dry

Behind the bar was a line with clothes pins where the pinned up the wet soggy money from people who had swum to shore.

Our sister ship, Coral Dreams was there and we met up with them.

We barhopped to Gertrudes just down the beach and had bushwhackers.  There was writing all over the poles and roof… I borrowed a marker and left my own message…



BVI_20121114_533_Great_Harbor_webThe sun was starting to fade and it was time for us to move on so we boarded Turquoise Dreams and headed around the point to Great Harbor to settle in for a night of dancing and great mischief… but that’s another story…


The Mission at Great Dog

Snorkelers depart

Monica takes Sandy, Jamie, Sam, and Donna out to a nice snorkeling spot

After we left Virgin Gorda we motored across to Great Dog.  The seas were a little rough but after a little searching we found a nice spot on the far side of the island.  Sandy, Jamie, Sam, and Donna were going to go snorkeling.  They loaded up in the dinghy and Monica took them across to a snorkeling spot.

Galli, Brandon, and I had our own mission.  It was the second dive of our trip and somewhere out there was a sunken airplane waiting for us.

View BVI Tradewinds 2012 in a larger map

Brandon knew the general area where the plane was supposed to be (40′ deep in a sandy area) but had never seen it himself.  He went out in the dinghy to scout but the viz wasn’t good enough to see down.

I think this is the only picture I have of Brandon with no smile.  He's directing Monica to where we will start our search for the plane.

I think this is the only picture I have of Brandon with no smile. He’s directing Monica to where we will start our search for the plane.

We decide to have Monica take us out and drop us abut where we thought it would be.  Galli, Brandon, and I loaded our gear onto the dinghy and Monica took us out.  We discussed the plan – go down and head out from land, then begin a grid search pattern.  Putting tanks on in the boat was a bit of a challenge – but Brandon helped and soon I did a rear rollover entry.  Before long we began our descent and search.

I saw several of these giant hermit crabs which inhabit conch shells

I saw several of these giant hermit crabs which inhabit conch shells

The three of us swam side by side with Brandon in the middle and Galli and I on the flanks.  We spread out some to maximize the area we could cover – Galli on the far end was just at the limit of what I could see.  We swam out and down to around 60′ – after a few minutes, Brandon had us turn.

We searched in a grid pattern, back and forth until this silhouette appeared.

We searched in a grid pattern, back and forth until this silhouette appeared.

I’m glad he knew where we were going because I quickly lost track of which direction land was.  We turned again and then a third time.  Then as we were swimming along I looked over at Brandon to see him excitedly cheering – looking ahead I could see the vague outline of the cockpit appearing from out of the haze.  Success!!


Here I am doing a swim through with a curious jack

Here I am doing a swim through with a curious jack




No worries… Just watching the world go by


Galli enjoying some time to himself

Brandon taught us a new word on our trip.  Chilaxing.

Of course it was more than just a word.  It’s a state of mind.  And there is no better way to chilax than kicking back on the open seas and watching the clouds go by.  No bills.  No traffic.  The only noise is the sound of the waves splashing against the hull of the boat and the sails flapping in the wind.


Sandy visiting with Chester. Much to her disappointment, Chester was not allowed to chilax on the open seas with us. But he was happy to great us when we got back!

I was surprised how little I thought of my previous life as I enjoyed this trip.



Is there any better way to chilax than floating with your friends sipping tropical drinks?


No, this wasn’t a mutiny. Sandy didn’t hijack the boat with thoughts of exploring the entire caribbean one island at a time. Okay… maybe the thoughts were there… and maybe that’s why she was so interested in taking some sailing lessons from Brandon…