Travel to the U.S. or not?

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To fly through the United States ….  hmmmm

I was in a meeting recently when the talk turned to travelling to the United States.

One women, a beauty of Portuguese descent, said she’d cancelled a visit to New York. She’d planned to celebrate her 50th birthday there. Instead, she would visit the Canadian maritimes and “keep the money in Canada.”

Surely this wasn’t all about patriotism and the national economy. Did she fear her olive complexion and brown eyes, I wondered, get her noticed by a border agent? Would it cause her — a Canadian citizen — to be refused entry?

Who knows. This is what makes travelling to the U.S. so unnerving right now. Do you chance it or not?

I’ve often used U.S. airlines to travel to Mexico and central America. With layovers in Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas or Houston. My next trip is a direct flight to Mexico from Vancouver. On a Canadian airline.

Did border uncertainties factor into my airline decision? I can’t say they didn’t enter my mind. But, another motivator was the need to use airline points before I lose them.

I was telling a friend, an American who lives in Canada, about my upcoming travels. “You don’t need to worry,” he said. “You’re whiter than white.” Still, that doesn’t make travelling south any easier. How just is it that I would probably avoid hassle while others don’t?

Going forward, I’m not sure what to do. For now, I’ll probably avoid U.S. carriers and the layovers. Travelling is stressful enough ….

 

 

Galapagos diving nightmare – epilogue

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Me, practicing deploying an SMB. At Whytecliff Park, West Vancouver, B.C. Photo taken by Greg McCracken, Ocean Quest Dive Centre (February 2017)

By now, you know I lived to tell the tale.

The experience spooked me. Even more so after I’d returned home and had a chance to really think about what had occurred. Learning about the deaths of Donna Newton and Eloise Gale frightened me.

Wanna read the entire story, in order of blog postings?
Download the pdf here: tankard-galapagos

I was lucky. I survived. And, I learned a lot:

  • I will never again expect a diving excursion operator to respect the diver buddy system. If I have concerns about the complexity of the dive, I’ll hire my own guide or just not go.
  • I’ve learned the liability waiver a diver signs lets operators off the hook for everything. Even when they’re at fault. You dive at your own risk.
  • I’ve learned that few Galapagos diving mishaps are ever reported. It’s in the industry’s interest to keep these stories out of the media so that divers keep coming. Even if they’re unqualified.
  • Unaccompanied divers — travelling without a friend or loved one who cares if they live or die — are most vulnerable. Both the dead divers, Donna Newton and Eloise Gale, travelled to Galapagos unaccompanied, like me.

Changes I’ve made. None of these would have improved my situation in Galapagos, however:

  • Took additional dive training in February to fine tune things, like kicks, buoyancy, removing mask underwater and emergency situations. I thank Ocean Quest Dive Centre in Burnaby, Canada. Excellent dive shop and training facility.
  • Purchased a space air tank (aka a pony bottle) for warm water travels. A tank I can pack in my suitcase. I already own a larger spare air tank for B.C. waters —its’s too big to pack in a suitcase. Means I don’t have to rely on another diver for air. However, air isn’t the only problem one can have at depth. Nothing replaces a good buddy.
  • Sold some of my equipment and replaced it for better fit and comfort.
  • Will take additional training to become a more self-reliant diver.

Recourse:

  • None. Pay your money and take your chances. Did I complain to the company? No point.

I’ve not named the vessel publicly, but I’m happy to do so privately, if you contact me through WordPress. I’ll never patronize this operator again on any of its diving tours worldwide.

 

Screw you single #scuba #diver

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Divers arriving back to the main boat. I wasn’t able to be with them due to the danger of my situation arising out of the buddy-fiasco.

Within hours of being abandoned underwater by my ‘buddy, non-buddy’ Jose and ignored by Flo’s ‘divemaster, private servant’ Eduardo, I was gearing up again.

Getting back on the horse was crucial. Otherwise, I may not have ever dived again.

After the fiasco, Jose and Reuben went to chat with the captain about my non-buddy situation. The plan they came up with was this.

“Flo has to have a buddy,” they said. “You will be Flo’s buddy.” To review, Flo had fewer than 25 dives at this point and had hired Eduardo to keep her from dying. Flo was also socially challenged, rich, spoiled and a Grade A narcissist. I know this because she was my cabin mate.

Fat chance of Flo providing me with any buddy-assistance underwater. What a joke.

They also told me Eduardo would be my buddy for the next dive. Something he wasn’t required to do because Flo was planning to sit out the dive. Eduardo would be doing me and them a favour.

When I saw the dour look on Eduardo’s face, I knew he’d been ‘volun-told’ to be my buddy. He was pissed to the power of 100.

The dive was uneventful. Eduardo scowled the entire time.

Third time I thought I was dying

Next day, I joined my ‘buddy’ Flo and scowling Eduardo for a dive at a very tricky site. The currents were strong. We didn’t last long at depth. Flo wanted to surface. Which meant I had to go too.

The trip to the surface was terrifying, thanks to Eduardo. Grabbing both me and Flo by our arms, he dragged us about 70 feet up the surface – at a rate of about 30 feet a minute. It was torture. My fins were kicking so hard, I was struggling to breathe. At one point, he adjusted my equipment, which made it even harder for me to kick and ascend. I wasn’t able to adjust the equipment back. I thought I might blackout.

Once we’d surfaced, I made a decision. No more diving with these people – at least until the current lessened. It wasn’t safe. And, I told them so.

Next, the captain of the ship was offering to dive with me and be my buddy. I refused. Politely. Reuben pulled a sad face when I explained my decision to him. Others divers gave me WTF looks.

I sat out about six dives. When it was time to go back in the water, my ‘buddy’ Flo had a meltdown. She informed the crew I was NOT ALLOWED to be part of the buddy trio – to share her private divemaster. Not surprisingly, they went along with her wishes.

I was without a buddy again.

Three more days to go on the ship and I was counting down the hours.

To be continued…..

When #scuba guides put your life at risk

floetcSo how did I end up alone, in choppy seas struggling to catch my breath?

The three people in this photo, plus Jose the dive guide, the mastermind behind the dive plan. That’s how.

When Ivan proved to be a dangerous and disastrous dive partner/buddy, I became Jose’s buddy.

Only Jose was busy shooting video. He wasn’t paying attention to me OR the other seven divers in our group, IMHO.

Now, Jose has a ton of experience in the tricky Galapagos waters – he works there. I don’t. Which meant I sucked down the air in my tank a lot quicker than him. Buddies are supposed to surface together, but there was NO WAY Jose was coming up with me.

So, he pointed out Flo and Eduardo (remember he was her private guide) and indicated via hand signals that I should surface with them.

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Jose and his GoPro

Only, Flo and Eduardo didn’t know about Jose’s plan, and when I joined them at a depth of about 15 feet, they completely ignored me. Eduardo couldn’t have cared less about me because he was working for Flo and ONLY Flo.

When it was time for me to go to the surface (I couldn’t stay down any longer because I was low on air) Eduardo and Flo didn’t come with me.

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Panga (aka zodiac)

So, that’s how I ended up alone on the choppy surface. In a current. My panga boat ignoring my calls for help and moving further and further away to pick up other divers.

Buddy separation is how divers die. Perhaps I shouldn’t have gone along with Jose’s plan. That would have meant NOT diving. After I’d paid roughly $10,000 CDN for this bucket list trip, all in.

The dive operator didn’t indicate, when I made my reservation, that a safe and suitable buddy system wouldn’t be provided.

Remember, AT LEAST two women divers on this vessel have drowned since 2009. One was an unaccompanied diver like me. The other, a Chinese national, was travelling with a dive club and buddied up with a useless Ivan-like character, I’ve been told.

Oh, did I mention the operator was expecting a minimum $500USD tip at the end of the week for this crew?

To be continued…..

Left to #die #scuba #diving in #Galapagos?

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The zodiac (panga). The yacht had two. This is how we were taken to/from dive sites.

I’ve never before had the feeling I might not survive a scuba dive. It happened THREE times diving in the Galapagos in December 2016.

The most terrifying was when the inflatable zodiac (aka panga), to which I was assigned, left me bobbing alone in the choppy surface waters after a dive. Took off without me. Jose was my dive guide and was also supposed to be my buddy.

Luckily, a diver on a different zodiac heard me crying out, “help me”, and pointed me out to the skipper. I was hard to see. The waves were incredibly high.

Still, it was many minutes before they attempted to pick me up. Now, I was so close to the rocks, the zodiac risked getting punctured if it ventured closer. So there I was. Bobbing up and down, hardly able to catch my breath. Becoming more fatigued by the second. Realizing they might not be coming for me.

What did Reuben the dive guide do when they finally moved closer? He shouted at me from the safety of the zodiac, “where’s your dive buddy”?

To which I breathlessly replied, “I don’t have a dive buddy – you haven’t given me a buddy.” panga2

Yup, this is what it had come to. Unwilling to provide me with a safe dive buddy, I was on my own. And, in danger.

“You have to swim to us,” Reuben called out. “We can’t come to you.” Reuben, evidently, wasn’t going to swim out to assist me.

It was difficult, but I did make it the 30 or so feet to the zodiac, swallowing water and gasping for air. I clung to the rope on the side. Breathless and terrified. Reuben asked me to remove my fins and buoyancy jacket. I had NO energy for that.

Hand over hand, I shifted myself to the ladder and held on for dear life. I couldn’t climb it. They insisted I move back onto the rope. I refused, not trusting them. So, Reuben and the skipper pried my hands off the ladder and moved me themselves. Then, they hauled me onto the zodiac with all my gear on.

I remember sitting there in a lump. Too fatigued to move. I have no idea how the eight other divers on the zodiac reacted. A couple did approach me afterwards to see if I was okay.

Back on the yacht, Reuben and Jose went to speak with the captain about the incident.

I sat on deck. Crying, and I’m not a girl who cries easily. A few hours later, I prepared to dive again. I knew I had to. But, not before Reuben and Jose had hatched yet another ‘brilliant’ buddy plan. This one involved Flo’s private dive guide/servant, Eduardo, and he WASN’T happy about it.

To be continued…

 

Videography or #scuba diver safety?

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Dive guide Jose and his GoPro video camera

Of three dive guides on the Galapagos yacht, Jose was the most arrogant. Thirty-something guy with a swagger.

Jose led the majority of the safety and dive site briefings. He was easy to dislike. As an ‘older’ woman, I got an inkling early on the feeling was mutual. (He was very fond, however, of the 25-year-old skinny girl – more on this in a future post.)

I recall a particular briefing on the third day. Jose forcefully lectured us on not being annoying to the turtle mamas-to-be who needed to surface from time to time during the mating season. “Stay out of their way”, he said. “Don’t swarm them to take photos.”

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Dive guide Reuben and his GoPro on a stick

So, what does Jose do as soon as we drop in the water? Shoves his GoPro in the face of a turtle. Other divers followed his lead. WTF?

Turtle-abuse aside, I was astounded the dive guides were shooting videos during our dives. A revenue stream, I guess, if they can sell their videos to the divers onboard.

I thought priority one for a dive guide was to keep an eye on the divers. Especially in the dangerous, strong currents of the Galapagos. Video shooting is a distraction.

Remember, AT LEAST two women divers have drowned during dives from this ship –  in 2009 and 2015.

Enough. A wonderful diver on the ship (kind, caring, animal lover) was equally annoyed about the dive guide’s video-shooting and turtle harassment. Together, we decided to have a chat with the captain.

Long story short. The captain reiterated that ‘divers dive at their own risk’ (yeah, we know – the ship isn’t responsible if we die), but agreed to curtail dive guide videography for the duration of this trip.

What was most remarkable – the other diver is my witness – was a comment the captain made. That in his opinion, the dive guide to diver ratio of eight to one (8 divers looked after by 1 guide) was a source of concern considering the challenging diving conditions in the Galapagos.

I was already getting a taste of dive guide inattention and there was more to come, courtesy of swaggering Jose.

To be continued…

Ivan the terrible – worst ever #scuba #dive buddy

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The worst dive buddy ever – enabled by a unsafe dive crew

Imagine paying thousands of dollars for a bucket list scuba trip to one of the most challenging dive sites in the world (the Galapagos). You get there and discover the crew is lax about safety.

On a yacht where AT LEAST two divers have drowned since 2009 after they were abandoned by their dive ‘buddies’.

You’d think the operator would be a wee bit more safety oriented. But no, because when you question safety practices, the operator tells you “divers dive at their own risk”.

Translation: we’ll take your money. We’ll let you dive. Our dive guide may even point out a turtle or two. But you’re responsible for EVERYTHING. Don’t expect any help from us if things go wrong underwater or on the choppy surface.

Diving without safety briefings is NO problem

My assigned dive buddy, Ivan, arrived on the vessel one day late. He missed ALL the key safety briefings pertaining to the way dives are to be conducted on the vessel. The dive crew let him dive anyway and partnered me up with him.

Divers are supposed to stay behind the dive guide and NOT dive any deeper. On our first and only dive together, Ivan was all over the place – but mostly below – at least 15 feet deeper at times. I stayed close to him. He didn’t care where I was.

At one point, I became winded in the strong current. I tried to signal to Ivan that I needed to stop on the rock for a minute, to rest and catch my breath. I was beginning to panic. What did Ivan do? He swam off with another diver who had a fancy camera.

Overexertion kills divers. More than 400 dives under my belt and I’d never been so scared.

Alone, I had no choice but to follow Ivan. The rest of the divers had disappeared. Ivan finally took notice of me and I signalled to abort the dive. To go to the surface. That he agreed to follow me was astounding.

Back on the boat, I reported Ivan to the dive crew. I informed them he wasn’t a safe buddy. I also reminded them Ivan hadn’t been present for ANY of the safety briefings. They scowled.

The remedy they came up was even worse than being buddied with Ivan.

To be continued…..