A SCUBA Disaster

Hello Dear Readers!

You guys remember how I talked about going to get my SCUBA open water certificate? Remember how excited I was?

Yeahhhhh.

Our third day started all right, as David and I headed out to the dive center in order to begin our certification. After 5 hours of classroom work (sitting and watching videos), we finally managed to get out and get our gear. Every certification class starts with pool dives, to teach you all the basic skills before trying your hand in open water.

It wasn’t so bad, at first. Our instructor made us swim laps and then float around to prove our competency in water (easy), and then we climbed into our wetsuits. We figured out our air tanks, slipped into the water, and then pulled the gear on. Not bad, right?

I have to tell you, the feeling of breathing underwater is pretty unreal. Snorkeling does a decent simulation of it, but nothing prepares you for those first few breaths from a regulator and air tank.

Now, I have claustrophobia, which almost never impacts my life. I simply loosen seat belts, avoid tiny boxes, and otherwise stay out of possibly compromising situations. Do you guys see where this is going? If so, you’re smarter than me, because I didn’t.

I did all right, all the way until we were required to remove our air supplies and throw them away. We then had to find them, put them back in our mouths, and clear them of water. Unfortunately for me, my mask was crappy and ill-fitting, which meant every time I cleared the regulator, my mask popped off my face and filled with water.

This gave me the very real and uncomfortable feeling of drowning.

We had to do this several times, and every time my discomfort grew, until finally I couldn’t take it anymore and popped up out of the water. Dragging my mask off my face, I tried to calm down, while the instructor looked on in concern.

There were only 4 of us total, David and I, who were learning, the instructor, and a guy named Paul who was learning to become a Divemaster. Thus, when I had to pause, everyone surfaced and spent 5 long minutes staring at me. Anyone ever calmed down under pressure? Yeah, I thought not.

I finally managed to catch my breath and get situated again, so back down we went. Our next task was then to purposefully fill our masks with water and sit with them on your face. I did manage to do this, as horrific as it was, but my panic levels were sitting pretty near the surface.

Thus, when the next task came, and the instructor came to take away my air supply, I scrambled away.

It was too much. I surfaced again, and this time I couldn’t calm down enough to try again. The feeling of all that water overhead, with no way out and no way to fix things if something goes wrong…it was not something I could handle. I usually pride myself on being able to take on most anything, but you guys, it takes a certain kind of person to willingly fake drown themselves under 60 feet of water. I am not that person.

David is though! He successfully completed his SCUBA certification, and has provided me with lots of lovely photos for the blog:

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I spent the next two days hanging out with Steve and Deja, which I’ll tell you guys about soon.

-Carissa “Not the Drowned God” Ragland

Hiking Kawah Ijen- The Blue Fire Volcano

Hello Dear Readers!

Have any of you ever had an idea that sounded really good in theory? And then when you went to carry it out, your expectations were nowhere near reality?

Yeah, me too.

Enter Kawah Ijen, the blue fire volcano. Located on the island of Java, it’s one of two places in the world (the other being Iceland) where you can see blue flames burning in the middle of an acid lake.

Which means you have to hike the volcano in the middle of the night, so you can see the lights. It also means you get to see the sunrise from the lip of the volcano, an unparalleled view in a world where raw beauty is rapidly disappearing.

Sounds amazing, right?

Since we were on the island of Bali, we had to make the trek down to the tip of the island, take a ferry, and then drive all the way to the volcano. Our driver picked us up at 7pm, and we got to the volcano at midnight. We were early, so we sat around for an hour before finally beginning the journey.

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Now, I had read reviews of this hike, which called it “easy,” “disappointingly short,” and “not at all difficult.” So I had some pretty simple expectations for the hike. I mean, it was 1am, in the dark, and it was raining. An easy hike was what I was looking for.

I can only assume that the people who wrote those reviews are crossfitting maniacs who enjoy grueling and painful punishment. It took us several hours to get to the top, slipping through the mud and trying to work through calf, quad, and butt cramps.

But the reward was going to be worth it!

The blue flames are actually a result of sulfur gas burning, which means that the air is really toxic. Thus, they give you gas masks in order to get near the flames, which sounds really metal. So we were pretty excited when, after a few hours, we finally crested the top and caught our first glimpse of the flames.

It was unreal.

Aaaaaand that was it.

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Since it was raining, we weren’t able to actually go down into the crater. We didn’t need our gas masks, we were stuck on the windy top of the mountain, and it was raining. We had also gotten separated on the way up, which meant we had to wait around for over an hour to get together, at which point dawn was near.

Our guide told us we could hike another half mile up, if we wanted, to go see the acid lake and the sunrise.

So we ran up to the top as quickly as we could in order to catch the sun coming up. We needn’t have worried, of course, as the rain clouds obscured the sun anyways.

But! We did get some really cool photos of the acid lake!

It then took another hour and a half to hike back down, and we ate breakfast at the restaurant at the bottom. All told, we finally left Kawah Ijen at 7am, making it back to our villa at 4pm the next day. Yeah, it was nearly a 24 hour trip. To say we were exhausted would be an understatement.

Although almost everything failed due to the rain and cold, we still had a decent climb going up, and seeing the sulfur lake was pretty awesome. Was it what I was expecting? Not in the slightest. But pretty cool anyways.

Speaking of unmet expectations, just wait until you guys hear about my SCUBA adventures.

-Carissa “Please Let Me Sleep” Ragland

Helpless and Afraid

Hello Dear Readers!

Today I want to talk about a bit of a conflict I had while in Jordan. You all know I like to keep the blog pretty upbeat, and I think I do a decent job of that. However, sometimes bad things happen and we don’t know how to address them.

And I’d like some help on that. Are you ready?

You all know that I frequently extoll the virtues of Airbnb. It’s been my go-to for a long time, and has saved me tons of money. I booked an Airbnb for the first two weeks of my stay in Jordan, at a place that was pet-friendly (since Nala was originally supposed to be with me), and was relatively new. It had just a couple reviews, but they were all very positive.

The apartment itself wasn’t bad. It was a basement, and cold, but the location was good and it had all the necessities. As you know, David was there for the first few weeks, but he ended up leaving and I was staying alone in the Airbnb. Now, obviously the owners were living above us, a pharmacist and a doctor, and they seemed pretty nice. The husband (the pharmacist) even invited us in for lemonade and dropped us off for the minibus ride to the Dead Sea, which was generous of him.

I had two days alone in the Airbnb in Jordan. Now, I enjoy traveling alone, and I’m generally pretty brave, but I’m not stupid. I’m not about to venture around alone in Amman by myself. So I decided to just stay in the apartment until it was time to head to the Dead Sea. I had already arranged for Alaa to come pick me up and drop me off, so I had no worries there.

However, on the day I was due to leave, Alaa was running an hour late. I had already told the owner that I was leaving at 2pm, but then needed to ask for an additional hour to stay. So, I headed upstairs, knocked on the door, and asked him if it was ok. He agreed, then offered me some lemonade.

I hesitated, since I was by myself, but didn’t want to be rude. So I said ok. Keep in mind here that I hadn’t planned on staying upstairs at all, so I was mid-conversation with David and had even left my internet hotspot downstairs. I sat down on his couch, just like David and I had a few days before, before he casually asked if I was alone.

Yes, I was, I said, but only for a few days before I went home to the States. He then informed me that his wife was out of town too. I knew this already, since I had talked to her a few days before. However, he told me with such purpose that I immediately began to feel uncomfortable.

It then dawned on me that I was in a house, alone, in a strange country, with a man I hardly knew. A man who had just informed me that we were quite isolated together. And I had an entire hour before Alaa was going to be there to pick me up.

But I kept casually chatting, bringing up his wife and kids and work- anything- to keep the conversation going. He made some lemonade, then asked me if I was hungry. Obviously, I told him no.

“Ok, I’ll make you some food,” he said. (This is a cultural thing).

So I stood, awkwardly, in his kitchen, while he heated up some Arab food.

Then, he said, “I’ll bring you arroz, ok?”

And, I mean, I like rice. Doesn’t everyone?

He then left the kitchen, and I started reading some Arabic text on the wall, waiting for him to get back and trying to figure out how to politely leave.

He returned a minute later, with a freshly cut red rose in his hand, which he handed to me while swiftly wrapping his arm around me.

A rose. Not arroz.

I moved away from him and put the table between us, laughing nervously and setting the rose down.

Then, he asked, “so why did your partner leave? Did you guys fight?”

“No,” I said, “he had a family emergency.”

He smiled knowingly at this, and shrugged, obviously not believing me. “Don’t worry, I’ll fight with you,” he told me, while I glanced at the world’s slowest toaster oven, which was still heating up the Arab food.

I figured I could make my exit immediately after eating.

What does ‘fighting’ with someone even mean?

I was trying desperately to give him the benefit of the doubt here, you guys. I really was.

Then, since the conversation died again, he offered to show me around his house. I figured that was a pretty safe topic, so I agreed, and he began walking me through.

“This,” he said, opening a door with a flourish, “is a guest room. We can fight in here.” He gestured at the bed.

Then he led me upstairs, showing me two more bedrooms where we could fight together, before finally getting to the master bedroom and bathroom.

“The bathroom has a jacuzzi tub, it’s really nice.” He pointed to the tub. “You can take a bath in here after we fight.”

Is this making you guys uncomfortable? I feel uncomfortable just writing this. Walking back through it, I see a thousand ways I could have run out, but in the moment I was too afraid to do anything. I mean, all my stuff was downstairs, still in his house, and Alaa wasn’t due to arrive for another 30 minutes.

Then he turned on the tv upstairs, sitting down and gesturing for me to sit with him. I told him I’d rather be downstairs, so down we went, to the sitting room.

I perched on the edge of the couch, ready to run at any second. He noticed, as he sank down beside me, and said, “don’t worry, this is nothing to be ashamed of. You can sit back and relax.”

How do you respond to that?

I should also mention that he tried to get me to cancel my hotel at the Dead Sea, insisting that I should stay with him for the rest of my time in the country. When I continued to decline, he then tried to get me to cancel my ride, offering his car instead. He even offered me money for my time in Jordan, telling me that he could take care of me. Again, I declined, several times. Finally, he shrugged, giving up, and said, smiling, “See? We’re already fighting.”

Then he told me he liked that I had spirit, because his own wife was too quiet and passive.

In desperation, I asked him about his work. He told me that he imported different creams and such, and stood up, returning with a small tub of cream in his hand. He then took the liberty of opening it, putting a dollop on my hand, and rubbing it in.

Can you feel the panic yet?

I stood up quickly, saying that I thought the food was probably ready. It was lukewarm at best, but I let him pile my plate and vacuumed it down, making sure my chair was nowhere near his.

He smiled indulgently at my appetite, then asked me if I wanted dessert. I declined, to which he replied:

“Ok, I’ll make you some.” (Seriously cultural)

He then rummaged around in his fridge while I went to go wash my hands, checking the clock as I went. Forty minutes had passed, and I only had twenty left before my ride was due to arrive. I ran into him as he came out of the kitchen with a box of sweets, which I hurriedly shoved in my mouth before leaving to wash my hands again.

I then very obviously and very pointedly looked at the clock, before telling him I had to go finish packing.

He was clearly extremely disappointed, and asked me again if I would stay. I told him no, but then, cheering up, he remembered that I was due to return to Amman in a few days.

“You’ll stay with me, won’t you?” He asked hopefully, handing me the rose as I strode quickly to the front door.

“Yeah, sure, of course. I’ll message you.” I told him, literally closing the door in his face as I rushed to get out.

I made it back downstairs, locked the doors, drew the curtains, and video called David, so there would be a witness in case anything happened.

He could tell I was upset, and was obviously very angry. But what do you do? I couldn’t just leave the apartment, and I absolutely wasn’t going to walk outside without Alaa already there waiting in case the guy tried anything.

In the end, Alaa showed up, and the guy hung outside his door, calling to me as I went, “I’ll be here waiting for you!”

I threw my stuff into Alaa’s car, climbed into his front seat, and let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding.

So.

I don’t know what to do about this. I haven’t reported it yet, because some part of me thinks he wasn’t trying to be the world’s most sleazy and awful person, and instead was simply trying to find himself another wife.

Which is very likely.

On the other hand, his actions were completely inappropriate and I wouldn’t want him to pull this shit on anyone else. I made it out ok, but if I hadn’t already had a ride scheduled and an obstinate desire to stick to my plans, I think he would have tried a lot harder to fight with me, right then and there.

I’m conflicted on this. What would you guys do?

-Carissa

Perfect Petra

Hello All!

I visited Petra! (Again!). I had an amazing time, but I’m going to let the pictures speak for themeslves.¬†Most of these photos are courtesy of Besnik (in the blue shirt) and Yahya, who I adventured with all day. It was hot, exhausting, and tons of fun!

-Carissa “Nour” Rawson