Sunday, 26 August 2007

Quick remark on the diving

Well, I am currently having my second day off!! Things are going well that way ;)

Work here is hard, meaning I probably won't gain any weight and I won't need a gym subscription after all.

Diving here is good: ridiculously clear blue water, pristine corals and sponges and the fish life is different from Thailand and the Philippines. Not as many different species, but some nice pelagics in addition to the smaller "stuff".

I have some nice and some very nice colleagues. We're having lots of fun in addition to some good team work.

Most of the "old" staff is leaving within the coming weeks, so we are all relatively new - which probably makes it easier to get integrated. Once Travis moves, I'll be moving into our home here: from the outside the house looks absolutely beautiful, with a really nice outdoor area and stunning views. But then again, you have stunning views everywhere on this island.

The new home also features a guest room, which my niece, Bodil and her boyfriend, Jon, will inaugurate end October, when they come to visit :) I really look forward to their visit!

All in all: if I wouldn't miss Simon so much, I'd be having a fantastic time.

A different birthday

Waking up on my 36th birthday, there were good news and bad news: my suitcase had been on the last flight the day before, so we were happily re-united and Saba was on the outskirts of a tropical storm, come hurricane (those were the bad news).

This was the view from my balcony on my first morning here:

And this was the same view today:

Looking a bit further to the right, this is what I see:

Making my Viking ancestors proud, Denise (colleague and neighbour) and I braved the storm and went to The Bottom. For those of you unfamiliar with Saba, The Bottom is the capital. Yes, I kid you not. I needed to get a cell phone card and since nobody could go diving anyway, it seemed like a good idea - for a while anyway…

As a poor person, who does not have a car, there are two means of transportation on this island: walking or hitch-hiking. On a tropical storm day it's narrowed down to the second option. There is not much road traffic here, but everyone is obliged to give you a lift. So after waiting at the roadside for about 15-20 seconds, we got a ride. And what a ride:

Picture this: big pick-up / small lorry from the good old flower-power days, the driver a construction worker, who seems to have smoked something you cannot buy in any old supermarket. On the very bad stereo, Bob Marley gives all he has - what the stereo and loudspeakers lack in quality they most certainly make up for in volume (not necessarily an advantage though). We drive along the road that could not be built (fascinating piece of Saba history), which is quite a bumpy ride on a road as narrow as a good English country road and more sharp curves and turns than a rally track in Southern France. Our driver seems to think, he might defeat gravity and by driving very fast avoiding the holes and bumps. It doesn't work that way. All I can do is hang on to whatever I can grab and enjoy the spectacular scenery - trying not to think of the 300+ meter drops we are literally centimetres away from. Ppppfffffuuuuiiiii.

We made it to The Bottom against all odds and I got my phone card literally the minute before all power on the island was switched off as a security measure - the power station is at the harbour, which was a dangerous place to be thanks to some very powerful waves. We are, after all, in the middle of the Atlantic here.

To make things slightly more challenging, it started raining. Now, when I say raining, I do mean torrential rain! The road was turned into a river within 10 minutes - and there we were: stuck in The Bottom (of all places) 2-3 very long kilometres away from home (Windwardside). Thankfully, Denise knows someone with a car, who actually came to take us home. We stopped at the hospital, the inside looks of which make for very good motivation to stay healthy!

Anyway, back in Windwardside, Debbie, Denise and I didn't have much choice: no power (also means no water), so we had to go to a place with a generator. Unfortunately, one of the only open places was Scout's, one of our competitors. That's not the bad part. The food was ok, but not great. That's not really an issue either. No, the bad part is: Friday night is karaoke night and I hate karaoke. Never mind, hey… The German couple, who owns the place, alternate singing about 80% of the time. They are about as un-talented as they are enthusiastic ;) I discovered that an evening there can actually be quite entertaining as long as you are in good company (which I was, also met some really nice people) and you make sure that the alcohol level stays quite high at all times. It probably won't be the last time I go there either - simply because it's the nightlife highlight of the week here.

Today (Sunday) was supposed to be my first working day, but it's still not safe to go out in small boats, so we're going out tomorrow. My first day is a guest day: I'll be treated like any other guest and just have to go fun diving. What a way to earn money, hey? Work hours are really civilized here: 7:30 - 16:30, any overtime is paid.

Obviously, I cannot say anything about the diving yet, but it's definitely a very interesting place…

Lotsa xxx

Sunday, 19 August 2007

The wonderful world of travelling

Ok, so now I am on Saba "The Unspoiled Queen" in the Caribbean. I've been here 18 hours and am currently in the outskirts of a tropical storm. Fantastic. So far, it's not as bad as the typhoon last December in the Philippines, but then again the worst is yet to come…..

My new adventure had a rather bad start. Getting a coach at 1:35 in the morning simply cannot be a good start. People who have known me a bit longer will be startled to hear that I decided to arrive at the airport quite early - mainly because Air France had advised me to check in no later than 2 hours before departure due to the extensive security checks. And since my flight was leaving at 6:40, I found myself at the airport already at 4:10 (it was either that or 5:40).

I had weighed my suitcases to being approx. 45 kg in total, which coincided with my maximum baggage allowance and had double-checked that I could bring my laptop case in addition to my daypack as hand luggage and packed my BO repellent and tooth paste in a separate 1-liter re-sealable transparent plastic bag from Tesco's, so I was actually quite optimistic. At least for a little while….

See, what Air France failed to mention were two important issues that were to have some consequences:

a) They do not actually open the check-in counters until 1,5 hours before the flight
b) THEY may allow two pieces of hand luggage, but British airports don't allow more than one handbag through security check

Issue a) meant that I passed through security check just as speakers announced my gate was closing - so my brilliant plan to buy shampoo, flip flops and some good books, before going to this tiny island where you cannot really buy anything except groceries and local rum, went down the drain (so to speak). I was still left with 1,5 hours in Paris CdG (my least favourite airport in the whole world), which kept my optimism going. Right until the point when the captain announced a 1-hour delay due to heavy air traffic. Fantastic: rather than a relaxed shopping spree I'd now have to rush to make it to my terminal, which was of course the one at the exact opposite end of the airport.

Issue b) meant that I had to re-pack in the airport: my two over-filled suitcases got a bit more stuffed with everything that didn't fit in my daypack - including my rather sturdy (thus heavy) laptop bag. And the girl at baggage drop, who was definitely a closet blonde, got all confused about the extra allowance for dive gear, which I had booked and just needed to pay for. Oh, and of course my baggage was now above 45 kg, so I needed to pay overweight charges (8 GBP per kilo!!!!) - and I had to go to the end of Heathrow airport, the second-worst airport in the world, to hand my dive suitcase in, because it was now 28 kg and thus one kilo too heavy to be handled in the normal way. And then my flight was already boarding and I still had to go through security check and and and….

What do we learn? I was spot-on with my old habits: it doesn't pay off to be early and when I'm late I at least anticipate a lot of stress and am not caught emotionally unprepared for it ;)

To those of you, who start singing "things can only get better, can only get better…..", just wait a little: one of my suitcases didn't make it - the one with all the dive gear and power cable for my laptop and cell phone charger etc. Normally, it would arrive the next day, but of course a storm like this prevents airplanes to land on a little strip of quite flat land with water on three sides and a mountain on the fourth, optimistically named a runway. So nobody knows when I can get my things…..

I don't miss my dive gear yet, because all boats have been brought to St. Maarten where they are safer and there is no diving going on here. But alas I'll soon not be able to email or text anyone.

To make sure there is a bit of a happy end to this tragically entertaining true story, I can at least tell you that I got both shampoo and flip flops in St Maarten airport, because the plane to Saba was conveniently delayed. And that I have a very big apartment with a fantastic view here. End September (just before Simon joins me here), I am moving into a house with a little garden and phone (thus internet). Luxury, hey?

I had a great dinner with one of the owners, Lynn: fantastic food and good company. Two colleagues joined us for a drink later, both really nice "girls" (are women in their thirties still girls??). Everyone seems very keen on helping and making me feel at home here.

Nature here is absolutely stunning; I cannot wait to start hiking. Impressive, dramatic topography thanks to the hills / mountains and everything covered in lush green. Hopefully, the weather clears a bit the coming days so that I can have a couple of walks before I start working - which will be Monday-ish depending on the waves.

So I'll leave you now to go and try to post this and then of course I'll come back with many more details on diving, hiking and living here….

Take care you all