a photo a day: discovering beautiful lands

Weeks 12 & 13

Location: Cross-country Atlanta, GA to San Luis Obispo, CA

After last bits of laughter and fun with family, dad and I towed the trailer across the country. It was long day through both beautiful and plain country and then we arrived at the ocean and drove north to find my new home in San Luis Obispo. Beautiful. Right now the land is green and full of stunning flowers. The strawberries are fresh and from the local farmer’s stand. I am soaking in the goodness before the season changes to bring brown colors and different fruits. I am blessed.


almost done

My time here in Dar es Salaam is almost done. Tomorrow I leave for Kenya with the parentals. I return on Monday and then begin my trip back to the States by way of Germany on Tuesday. It has been a good time, and I will enjoy it to its last. As I sit writing this I am at the yacht club where the sun is shinning, the sky blue, and the ocean calm.


This evening I went out for a swim. I think I was about 10 minutes out when my arm was stung by something. When my legs were stung I realized it was not the little stings that just go away and turned towards shore. When I got out of the water, I already had welts. Three nice strips across my right quad and a few random other spots on both legs and my left arm. Some treatment (salt water and fresh water rinse, vinegar rinse, and shaving the stung areas) and a couple of hours later the welts are mostly gone and it is more of a tingle than pain. Now I can add jellyfish to the list of creatures that I have not only seen, but also encountered.

an afternoon at the beach

Yesterday afternoon we went to an island just off of the coast of Dar. It has a lovely beach and good snorkeling, so is a delightful way to spend time. The water near the beach was quite nice, but a little ways out, where one would snorkel, there was a strong current and all sorts of things in the water that were more than happy to sting any exposed skin. Not sure what little creature was stinging us, but it was enough to drive us towards the shore. On the upside, much fun was had while floating in the warm water and relaxing in the sun (or really the shade). It was all topped off with fresh fish and chips.

Yesterday I also found out that Bethany (she and her parents are with us for a week) and I share our birthday, though separated by more than a few years. Needless to say, we have become fast friends. However, I have to admit that she wins in the speaking department as her posh English accent is far more fun to listen to than my boring American one.

a beautiful morning

This morning mom and I went to the yacht club to ‘do laps’ in the ocean. Earlier this week the water was so murky that visibility was one or two meters tops. This morning the ocean was calm and the visibility was fantastic. The best gift of it all was the three eels, one of which swam in the open for quite some time. It was a beautiful morning.

an unexpected diving adventure

Diving is always an adventure, but it is generally an expected adventure. If you live near mountains, you might go hiking on or off trails. But the area is known, the equipment is familiar, and the hiking itself second nature. For me, this is diving. I have been diving for nearly 15 years and before I was able to dive, I was watching our boat as dad dove with his friends. Over time my equipment has faded from its original neon yellows and pinks, but remains well loved.

Dad and I thought we knew what we were getting into last weekend when we went on a French live-aboard dive boat. Three dives a day for three days; two of these days were to be around Mafia, where the diving was fantastic just a few weeks prior. Good food, good diving. What we got instead was an unexpected adventure including a reminder to respect the ocean.

Friday evening we boarded the Kairos when it was already dark. As we motored through the night to Mafia Island sleep was evasive as we often felt as if we were going to be tossed from the our bunks thanks to the fantastic waves. The morning brought a rather rocky breakfast and our first dive. I’ve never been sea-sick before, but attempting to quickly down a glass of water before dive one was a mistake. Thankfully I felt great post losing breakfast and was free of such issues the rest of the trip.

Dives one and two were rather murky, but not bad. Highlights include a huge ray swimming, a large turtle swimming fast, and a moray eel swimming between rocks. Returning from dive two was a wild ride as the waves continued to grow all afternoon. With all divers on board we did not even attempt the third dive and instead motored to the back side of the island to drop anchor for the night. The evening brought NITROX training, an alternative to compressed air that allows you to stay deeper for longer. Sleep came fast and the rocking of the boat this night was pleasant.

Sunday brought three dives. The first we fought the current and upon nearly reaching the wall found it to be a sandstorm. The second brought a beautiful school of large fish at 120 feet, and then sand. Then deep diving training after lunch. The third dive included a 2.5 meter shark (either a bull or tiger), a 2+ meter, 150kg+ grouper, several large schools of large fish, including barracudas, and brought my new max diving depth of 145 feet.

After the third dive one of the 12 divers was not doing well, her symptoms aligning perfectly with decompression illness. As there was a recompression chamber on board, one of the few in east Africa, she got in the chamber and I saw both my first recompression chamber and my first recompression chamber in use. She felt better in the chamber, and so we began to motor to our next diver site, just slightly off course for Dar, as she spent seven hours in the chamber. Unfortunately, a hour after getting out of the chamber, she was feeling horrible again, so our destination was changed at 3am to Dar. We arrived at 12:30 on Monday.

One of the 12 divers on board was a doctor. She had to stitch a crew’s finger up after it port door slammed on it during the high waves on Saturday. In the end, it is likely that other diver did not suffer from decompression illness, but some illness that surfaced with the same symptoms. But it could have been. Diving, particularly diving deep (technically that means past 60 feet), is pushing the balance between safety and potential illnesses including decompression illness, nitrogen narcosis, and oxygen toxicity. At depth these illness are frightening. Nitrogen narcosis—imagine being drunk with over 100 feet of water above you. Oxygen toxicity—think seizures at its worst. Much safer to be drunk or to have seizures on land. On the surface wild waves not only rock a boat but can hide divers from their ride, and currents can pull you towards reefs or out to the open ocean.

Over the weekend I was certified as a deep diver and to use NTIROX. I came to appreciate deep diving for what it is, though my preference remains shallow diving. This weekend was a reminder of the deep respect one must have for the ocean. So this weekend of diving was an unexpected adventure.

mafia island

A few pictures from the Mafia Island trip. We took a small plane to the island; on the way back I got to sit in the co-pilots seat. The hotel had multi-course meals… so easy to gain weight while on vacation.

The dive boat was a dhow, a traditional sailing / fishing boat. We motored out to dive sites and then sailed back. Our diving was done at the Mafia Island Marine Park, and it was absolutely fantastic. Turtles (my first ever to see while diving), sharks, moray eels, sting rays, soft coral, and thousands and thousands of fish of all sizes.

Swimming with the whale sharks was on the last day, an it was outstanding. I first read about whale sharks in National Geographic years ago, and have since wanted to see them. Of course this means being in the right place at the right time. I’ve included two pictures of me swimming with the whale sharks. In the first one you can see the spots on the whale shark. In the second you can see its first dorsal fin.

The smallest of the whale sharks were 2-3 meters in length, and, as our guide said, “Are like human children: fast and impossible to keep up with.” The largest whale sharks were around 10 meters in length, and I could swim next to them for a bit of time. I was swimming right next to the head of a particularly large one and it’s eye kept moving with me. Kind of wild to be watched so closely by such a large creature that is within an arm’s reach. Another time I was watching the full length of a large one slide by and did not quite make it out of the way of its tail…though not sharp, it was hard and I have a bruise on my shin… a bruise that I am not all that disappointed about. If you ever get a chance, do not pass up the opportunity to see these magnificent creatures!

good times

Mafia Island was fantastic. Great diving. Good food. Unbelievable whale sharks. The only two down-sides were that I caught mom’s cold the day we flew to the island and that the reason for the island’s name remains a mystery. More to come later, but for now, a picture of me swimming with a whale shark.


“a hierarchically structured secret organization allegedly engaged in smuggling, racketeering, trafficking in narcotics, and other criminal activities in the U.S., Italy, and elsewhere.”
– dictionary.com

For the last year I have heard about this place—Mafia Island. Of course, the first thoughts that come to mind at every mention of this place are the many movies in which the Italian mafia is featured. My mind begins to imagine an island which is run, not so discretely, by a large Italian family. At which point I wonder if travel to the island requires a gift to the patriarch of the ruling family.

This weekend I shall be traveling to Mafia Island. This trip will include two days of diving and, if everything works out, swimming with whale sharks, a marvelous creature which I have yet to set my eyes on. And, maybe, I will figure out reason for the island’s name.

changing tides

The tide changes approximately every six hours. I say approximately, because if it was exactly six hours, high tide and low tide would be at the same time every day. But they are not. The changing tide is impacted by the position of the sun, the moon, the earth’s rotation, and the shape of the sea floor. You can read more about this on Wikipedia’s tide article if you want.

Here in Dar es Salaam, the timing of the tide changes by 45 min (± 15 min) daily, and height of a high tide can differ by a meter. Thankfully modern science enables the production of tide charts (specific to location); I reference them daily here as at low tide I can walk through the tide pools exactly where I swim during high tide as the sea floor does not drop off at any great rate. Last night this meant that I swam as the sun was low in the sky and I watched the final bit of the sunset as I dried off on the beach. I also saw a jellyfish an arm’s length away, but that is a story for another day.

the ocean

On Friday I realized that it had been two years since I had been in the ocean. That is the longest time for me to be without ocean play since I entered the first grade. I say ocean play because I love it all. I love being at the beach and smelling the ocean in the air. I love the sound of waves crashing on the beach. I love the feel of salty water on my skin. I love to snorkel and to scuba dive. I love sail boats and boats with motors. I love to jump off cliffs that aren’t too high. I love to bob in the rolling waves and body surf onto the beach in the crashing waves. I love ocean sunsets. I will take whatever I can get.

The only thing I don’t love is the reality of how quickly this o-gne-bo burns in the equatorial sun amplified by the reflective ocean. But I will happily accept this problem for ocean play any day of the week.

Since I arrived a week ago, I have swum in the ocean, sailed (only a small war-wound received), scuba dived, and sat on the beach. The beach is all of five minutes from where I live, and it is glorious. I am working hard to make up for two years of no ocean play.