Sunday, November 30, 2014

Meet Ups!!

So, there are these groups on social media called "meet ups" and I have joined a bunch here in Abu Dhabi . AD adventures, AD scuba, escape AD, explore UAE; to name a few .  I haven't done anything with any of these groups yet, I'm just a lurker. But finally I decided to get out there and do something! So yesterday I went to lunch with a group called pocket friendly lunches. The group administrator finds cheap eats all around Abu Dhabi and sets up dates for us to go. Yesterday was Indian and it was awesome.  About 7 of us were there including me and the kid. It was a small restaurant next to Madinat Zayed mall. My taxi driver knew exactly where it was so that's a good sign!
One of the guys who came to lunch was Ahmed.  . .
Here's Ahmed!
And he mentioned that he was going to a Halloween camping party in the desert after he left lunch. I was so excited! I saw this meet up in one of the groups I "lurk" in, So I said to him, I saw that! And he said oh really, in which group? I said I don't know. And he said, would you like to come? And, me being me, I thought about it for about 10 seconds and then said, what would I need to bring?! He said yourself! Maybe something to eat. I thought about it for another half second and then said, YES! Ahmed was so kind. After a great lunch, he took me and the kid home where we grabbed some clothes and mobile chargers (cus who could be without their mobile in the middle of the desert?!), and then we met up with the rest of the group at Carrefour, where I bought 2 sleeping bags, 1 camping chair, a gallon of water, some cookies, and some gummy worms (that was the kid). And off we drove, into the middle of nowhere!
Our google location!
I do have to say that my kid was none too happy about this! She is not very into doing things without a thoroughly thought out plan! I told her, spontaneity is the spice of life, get used to it!

So we drove with Ahmed about half way to Al Ain, driving for about an hour almost. Then we made a left turn onto a paved road, then a left turn onto a dirt "road" and we were in the desert! We totally needed the GPS coordinates for the rest of the trip! We drove for about another maybe hour and a half. Passed several camel farms, a goat farm, so really rickety housing type structures, and then... nothing but sand. We saw the camping spot and there were several cars parked out on the "road". Ahmed said, "hmmmm, there's one car stuck. And another car stuck, but I think we can make it!" So he reeved the engine and we went barreling into the dunes! We passed no less than 3 stuck SUV's! But we made it to the top of a hill without incident! I clapped when we arrived safely! 

1 of the stuck cars!
There was a huge mountain of a sand hill where we were camped. Everyone was climbing to the top to check out the view.  This woman asked me, hey, you going up?! And pride wouldn't let me back down! It was ok at the start, but it quickly became almost more of a challenge than I could handle! But, at last! I made it!

this is the view from the top of the huge, mountain sand hill!

the kid at the top!

There were quite a few people there when we arrived and more arrived over the next hour or so.  It was quite nice. Their were several families there with little kids ranging in age from about 2 to 9. The camp organizers had several kid games planned which I thought was neat. 

In one game the kids had to run to the top of that huge mountain of a sand hill to get bags of candy. Some of the kids ran up like 3 times! Up and down up and down! Then they just kept on running up and down for fun! Sometimes sprinting down, sometimes somersaulting down.

They had the carving of watermelons, because apparently they are much cheaper than pumpkins! And bobbing for apples, musical chairs, eating donuts off a string, making a toilet paper dress. The kids seemed to enjoy it. And I made my kid help out with the festivities to get her out from under me!

Ohhhhh, spooky... watermelons!

Of course since we were in the middle of nowhere, there were no, ummmm, "proper" facilities, if you get my drift! So my first foray into the sandy wilderness was quite interesting.  First, I had to go far enough away from everyone that no one would walk by while I was doing my business! Walking in sand dunes is not very fun! You kind of look like a drunk at Octoberfest, stumbling around and pulling your feet out of the sand! There are a few very scraggly, very branchy, bushes in the desert.  I finally found one and dug a hole. Mission accomplished! It was actually better than I thought it would be! But in the morning, it was horrible because it was full light and everyone could SEE!

That night was fun. We made a bonfire. We made s'mores. We danced around the fire singing at the top of our lungs. Then it was finally, around 3am time for bed! So, this is camping in the UAE. Trying to open a sleeping bag on top of a sand dune with the wind blowing the sand into your eyes, into your pants, and into your sleeping bag that you are so carefully trying to lay out without getting sand into it! Then you get to lay down, inside the sandy sleeping bag, and roll around like a hotdog in boiling water, while trying to smooth out all the lumps of some of the sandest sand ever under your bum! I mean, I think I could have really slept, even with the wind whipping sand into my face all night, and sand crunching underneath my cheek, if it wasn't for the lumps of sand under my bum! And back! And knee cap! I was trying to push them down with my feet, and hands, and elbows! All to no avail!

But the sunrise was worth it!

The mornings sunrise was beautiful! The first time I saw real clouds in the UAE.

And then.... it rained! Like, for real actual rain... in the desert ... in UAE!

For about 5 minutes. Then, sadly it stopped. Welcome to the desert!

So, first time camping, maybe last time?? No! I'd love to go again! Into the desert!

Ciao for now!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Ewww, water!

So, I have just asssssumed that the water at my apartment; the water I wash my body with, the water I brush my teeth with, the water I wash my face with, the water in my toilet; is coming from the many pipes that I can see in the lobby (part of the ceilings missing! don't ask) of my building.  But, low and behold, my co-worker informed me that these humongously old and crumbly trucks

that lumber up and down our little street daily marked with the words "drinking water", the trucks that I had assssumed were carrying water to the scraggly little plants

on the side of the road because, obviously, what else would water that is being shuttled around in a rusty old ancient barrel truck, regardless of the words "drinking water" on the side, be used for?! I mean, come on! But, no, the water inside these trucks (which, is the water just inside the naked metal of the truck so it's rubbing up against the rust, or is it wrapped up in sort of a plastic diaper so it's just getting all stale and plasticky smelling but not rusty? hmmmm) is the SAME said water that I use to wash my body, brush my teeth, wash my face, and is IN MY TOILET! Ewwwwwww! Color me disgusted, folks! I mean, really! That's just so gross!
The adventures continue!
Ciao for now!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Scuba Diving Part Deux! Open Ocean!

So, before we can do our Open Ocean Dive, we have to take a test on all 5 chapters of the thick book we were supposed to read.  Well, I had a pretty stressfully hectic week, so, no time to read thru that book again.  But the first tests we took, our whole group of 6 got to go over our answers together so it was no problem to pass.  I was kinda hoping it would be a similar set up with this test.  Luckily, it was, unluckily, it was just me and the kid and one other girl taking the test that day! Anyway, I finished the test first, I guessed some but didn't think it was too bad.  We had to pass the test with 75%, no problem to get a C right? We go over the results, everyone passed. . . except me! I got 74%! 74%!! I cannot believe this! Even the kid passed! And the instructor said to me, you only missed by 1. Are you sure you got that one wrong?  And like a dummy, I said yes! Sigh...I cannot believe I have to take the written test again! And he wouldn't let me take it again right then because it was 6:30pm and he probably wanted to go home.

Finally Open Ocean Diving! What I have been waiting for my whole life!! Even though I was not enamored of the pool dives, nobody likes those, so I was still encouraged.

We are supposed to do 4 open ocean dives to become certified divers. Me and the kid were scheduled for this weekend, 2 on Friday morning 8am, 2 on Saturday morning 8am. I am so not excited for this! This is something I really wanted to do but I am petrified I will not like it!  So we get to Mina pier and into the boat with about 15 other divers.  Only 6 of us were diving for the first time.  The others were fun divers and could dive alone once at our location.  The boat ride out was actually enjoyable.  Very choppy but I just sat in the middle and rolled with the punches. We went quite far out, about an hours ride. Then the boat stopped in the middle of nowhere mind you, and our instructor, Lucy, said let's get going! I don't know how they distinguished one piece of ocean from the next, but I guess we were there!

Beautiful view of Abu Dhabi!

I was so nervous, guys! The first thing is, I hate doing things backwards! You know all the pictures of people diving off a boat, they roll backwards into the ocean. I decided I would just have to tell Lucy that I had to just step off the boat feet first and it would just have to be OK cus I would not let a simple fear of cracking my head on whatever the heck is behind me ruin my 1st dive!

So Lucy told us the rules and how to put on all the gear. Then I asked if I could just walk off the edge rather then diving, back first off a moving boat with 10 pounds of equipment on in the middle of the Gulf. And her answer,was no. No! She could obviously see the fear on my face because she said sorry, it is impossible to walk over the side of the boat with all the equipment on, and very dangerous. She also said, don't worry,she would push me off if it came to that! Once I had the equipment on, I realized the truth of what she said.  That equipment was heavy!!

Us getting ready to dive!
I volunteered to go first so I wouldn't chicken out.  I climbed up on the side of the boat, picture a penguin waddling around a rolling ice berg. Then I sat on the edge.  One hand on my weight belt, one hand on my dive mask and regulator, then back flip off the edge! And I did it! Made it with a splash! It wasn't nearly as scary as I thought, especially sense I had the regulator in because I could still breathe as I tumbled into the water.
This is the edge of the boat!

Me & the kid!
 Ok, so since I was first, I had to wait for everyone else to jump in.  So the minute you hit the water you inflate, inflate, inflate, your bcd (buoyancy vest, remember), and move to your back. So I was bumping around on my back, unable to see, feet sticking up in the air, every wave pushing me around. Ummm, can't say I enjoyed that part.  Equipment too heavy, unable to control my direction, I felt like a cannonball shot out of the cannon.

Finally, everyone else is in the water, and we grab hold of the anchor line and make our way to the bottom of the sea! We were going 6 meters down and I could feel my ears beginning to pop so, I was blowing my nose like crazy, which let a little line of water into my mask.  Right under my nose. So then, every time I inhaled through the breather, a trickle of water was getting into my nose too. Then, for whatever reason, the trickle turned into a flood! Just like at the pool.  My goggles were about 1/2 full with salt water! I kept blinking my eyes, trying to clear my mask to no avail. Ahhh well, I just had to live with it.  (afterwards my eyes were burning something fierce!)

Since I was the first one down, Lucy, directed me to kneel at the bottom and wait for everyone else. Well, the same thing happened as happened before, I couldn't keep still.  I was trying to keep my knees bent behind me but I was just bouncing around the bottom, my feet sticking straight in the air, my butt bumping the bottom of the sea, and then my tank would hit and spin me in a different direction.  And just as I finally got it together and was sitting still on the bottom, someone would arrive and bump into me and send me careening around again!

Finally, everyone was down, and Lucy led the way. So, scuba diving! The ocean as my oyster, open for our eyes only, prepare to be amazed, blah blah blah. What did I see? Some grayish, brownish coral, about 3 tiny fish, and I scratched my knee and my hand on the coral! Coral is sharp! I don't know if you could take everything in the first time.  All I kept thinking was you're ok, you can breathe, keep blowing your nose, keep breathing, keep swimming, you're fine. Like a litany in my head. Finally, Lucy makes the hand motions for us to ascend and I scampered up to the surface like a little mouse running from a hungry cat.

Made it back into the boat, took all the gear off, everyone was complaining that visibility was horrible.  Lucy said there was a sand storm during the week and this churned up the sand in the ocean as well and that's why we couldn't see much.  I looked at the kid and said, I don't know how you feel, but I don't think I'm going on the second dive! :( very disappointed in myself but I just was not that enamored of bobbing around in the ocean with all that gear on! And once I was at the bottom, I was just like, yea, ok, now what?) 

But when it came time for the next dive, I just couldn't sit there. So I loaded myself up with all the gear again and made the backwards plunge to the bottom (very proud of myself for this I must say!). This time it was 9 meters. The kid was behind me at first but when I got to the bottom, I noticed she was not with me. This time I managed to sit at the bottom properly but I was still bobbing around like a cork in a bottle. And the waves were buffeting me right and left. I was tossed upside down as well! I just went with it and remained floating there. Just focusing on my breathing. At least there was no salt water in my mask this time!

Our second dive spot!

Lucy had given us all these instructions about what she was going to do on the dive.  Pretty much we had to do the same training as in the pool. Take our mask off, breathe through our buddies tank, etc. I was swimming right behind Lucy making sure I kept her bright pink fins in sight.  It seemed like I was not moving fast at all, but I managed to stay with her for quite a bit.  Then, when I would get distracted with my breathing or because I started to float up towards the top, I would lose her and have to swim frantically to catch up.

After what seemed a very short time, Lucy made the signal for us to surface. I was surprised because we hadn't done anything! When we got to the top, Lucy said half of our group was missing! They had gotten lost! And we had to surface to try to find everyone.  I was relieved to get back into the boat, get all the heavy gear off, and have something solid under my feet.  We had to wait quite a while for some of the guys so we swam in the ocean.  That part was great! I really like being on top of the water!

So, I did not manage to complete my training course, I still need to pass the test and do 3 more dives. I'm sure I'll get around to it at some point, but not soon!

Ciao for now!