Oil Spill in North Hollywood Beach

*Written from my iPhone. Please excuse format and/or spelling.

This morning we drove to North Hollywood Beach Park to get away from the South Beach crowd. We really enjoyed ourselves: Seanna loved the waves, the sun wasn’t burning our skin like the day before, it was exactly what we were looking for:

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The beach was clean–or so we thought… After swimming around and playing in the sand I took a closer look at dark spots in the sand and noticed that there were blobs of oil (petroleum). It was sticky and would not come off. I got some stuck on my elbow and feet.

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I inquired with the lifeguard and he told me that the night before, a tanker spilled oil right off the coast. I asked him if he knew if it was safe to be in the water and he responded, nonchalantly, that he didn’t think so. I looked at the kids playing on the beach and then back at him. He read my thoughts. He then proceeded to tell me that the EPA had just arrived and that “someone was going to pay for this”. That didn’t calm my anger. How could they allow anyone at the beach if they knew this could be hazardous, specially to children?!? This was a government tax-payer funded park; not some random beach. We had to pay an admission fee to get in. Someone should have had a sign saying that there was oil on the beach or better yet, close the beach!

Needless to say, we left. But by then we had been there for at least 5 hours, running, playing and bathing. This is so upsetting.

Here’s the link to the video I took. I couldn’t embed it from my iPhone.

Diving with Whale Sharks in the Georgia Aquarium

**I uploaded this from my iPhone, so please excuse the formatting and/or spelling**

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When we got to the aquarium, the first thing we noticed were protestors they were picketing next to the line of people buying the tickets. They were holding signs such as “Georgia Aquarium = Enslavement!”, “You get to go home but they don’t” and “SHAME ON YOU!!!” The aquarium has recently started a dolphin exhibit and acquired beluga whales, which brought out the protestors. If you’ve seen the movie “The Cove”, then you will understand why they were protesting and how the dolphin trade is barbaric. Prior to coming to the aquarium I was wrestling with the thought of supporting an organization that would hold captive these magnificent creatures. After going to their site, I felt a bit less uneasy about it because they stated that the whale shark program helps bring awareness to their plight to survive, as well as research and conservation efforts of the species. They say this aquarium is the biggest in the world, it boasts something like 6.2 million gallons of water. When I read that online I imagined a stadium sized aquarium full of water, A sanctuary, so massive, so enormous, so worthy of being compared to the hoover dam or at least one of the great wonders of the world. Sadly this 6.2 million gallons of water equate to the size of about an olympic sized pool, not a hoover-sized deep dam or even small lake width that I had imagined in mind.

I immediately went and checked in with the dive team, while Monica, Seanna and Richard stayed back in the cafeteria (by the way they don’t serve sushi here). The dive package that I bought included a “behind the scenes” look at the aquarium. this behind the scenes tour was very short and boring, there was really nothing to see. One thing we did notice though, was how the acrylic (glass) distorts the perception of how big the aquarium really is. When you view it from a “normal” point of view you don’t have a clue how little this aquarium is — unless you take the behind the scenes tour.

Once I was ready and all geared up I was the first to jump in the water. My first view was a beautiful Manta Ray with a 15-20 feet wing span that came out to greet me; it swam about 3 inches from my head. Within 30 seconds, I saw them… And oh my goodness! How beautiful! How impressive! How majestic they were! They swam past me within 2-3 feet away. I was in enchanted, I was mesmerized. I was entranced at how close they came to me and how much detail you can tell because of the obvious clarity of the water. Their spots, the movement, their royal presence. I felt my eyes opening wide as my heart pumped adrenalyne as if I was a predator on the hunt, or fleeing prey. I swam next to them before I got called back by our dive master. There were all kinds of fish, thousands of fish… of all kinds, fish that it would take many dive trips to see, along with luck… lots of luck. I saw huge hammerheads, colorful small fish, huge 300 pound groupers. One of my favorites was the leopard spotted ray that made me think of it as the gladiator of the sea, with it’s lance-like 12 feet menacing barb. I also really liked a 12 feet guitar fish (half shark, half sting ray) that look like a miniature prehistoric sea monster.

After the initial euphoria of coming so close to 4 whale sharks, came the sad realization in which these creatures live. One of them swam so close to me, so slowly, rubbing its fin against the wall. It swam almost robotic like; it seems as if it had dulled senses and lost purpose. It swam against the wall as if looking for a way out, and what a sad sight it was. At that moment, my child like curiosity and excitement waned. I no longer saw them with the excited eyes like that of a child, where everything was just beautiful and everything is happy. I then realized the protestors were right. These animals here are imprisoned. We were able to go around the entire aquarium twice in a figure eight path during the duration of the dive, the sharks themselves would encompass the whole aquarium in less than 2 minutes while swimming slowly and without any effort, again and again they went past me from behind me, in front, my right, my left, above and below. And with each pass I felt more and more the weight of their enclosure. At one point I found myself saying I’m sorry to them, I’m sorry that I contributed to your prison walls… but I did not know… I wanted to believe everything I read on the aquarium’s site, everything the aquarium staff was saying.. that a portion of the proceeds goes to research, awareness and education; but a portion can be anything. It could be 10 dollars of the 350 dollars that I paid. I really wanted to believe that having them in this aquarium was good for the species, because it brought awareness to the general public. But I knew. I knew that it was cruel punishment for these majestic animals that know the depths of the seas, that travel the currents of the oceans from continent to continent and know the secrets of the immense world beneath the surface to be restrained to a pool. And I squirmed. I wanted to reach out my hand to it and comfort it. And hug it. And apologize on behalf of humanity, on behalf of those that were here to see them without knowing the injustice and the cruelty that is bestowed upon them for our curiosity and corporate greed.

After the dive was over we went to the shower room, and there were two types of moods there. Some were still ecstatic and some were somber. The newbies, those that were first time divers or have started in the past year were super happy. On the contrary, those that have been diving for years, the old timers, those that seemed to understand the gravity of the situation, those that appreciate nature were looking at the newbies with that look that said, “you just don’t understand..” or “you’ll learn.” Although it was nice, it was one of the saddest things I have seen while diving.. Had we seen a pack of killer whales attack a humpback whale and her calf, even kill the calf, that would have been natural, but this was not. This was corporate greed and human disregard for the wonders God has left us to be stewards of. The staff offered to sell me a DVD of the dive which showed footage of the whale sharks and the manta rays and all the exotic animals, and although I wanted to keep a record of what I had seen and show it, I decided I didnt want to contribute any more monies to a greedy corporation that masked itself behind as a facility that will benefit these animals.

To all of those that are planning on coming here, please don’t. Please do not support an organization that enslaves the magnificent creatures that belong in the wild, in their natural habitat. Consider this: I found out that last year two whale sharks died in this aquarium. Whale shark live an average of seventy years in the wild. In contrast, here is this heart breaking statistic: it lives an average of four years in captivity!! How heart wrenching is that fact? If you would like to see this creatures, save and take a family trip out to visit them in their natural habitat, there are many countries like Mexico that guarantee you will swim with them and have laws that are enforced to protect them so that they may live a natural life. In the final analysis, if I could go back in time I wouldn’t have contributed one single penny to this corporation. However, I must admit that I do not regret coming because I feel that somehow, someway, somewhere, what I have written above will be read by many that are curious about these beautiful creatures and may have thought about planning a trip to this aquarium; and will change their minds, opting instead to view them in their nature home, not their prison.

And so after drying out and putting my clothes back on, I found Monica, Seanna and Richard. And we left the aquarium. But these creatures stayed behind, doing finite loops within the walls they should have never known, looking for a way out, even if their way out is to be like the two previous ones that died there…

I have uploaded a video Monica shot from her iPhone to Vimeo. You can see these beautiful creatures there. I’ll embed it here when I get to a PC. The link is:

Georgia Aquarium dive with whale sharks from Alex Downs on Vimeo.

I strongly recommend that you watch it!

Bahamas Shark Dive

This is Part II of Our 2 year Anniversary vacation to the Bahamas. Read Part I here

On our third dive, we had an awesome experience.  We went diving with sharks.  We witnessed a shark feeding and rubbed shoulder-to-fins with these amazing predators of the deep.  There were no cages, no chain suits, no escape plan, nope, there was some mad courage or just plain craziness, I don’t know which yet, but it was an experience of a lifetime.  I had been looking forward to another shark encounter since the first time I swam with sharks in Little Corn Island, Nicaragua for our honeymoon, but this time I wanted to be overwhelmed, surrounded by them. I wanted them swarming around me, not knowing from where they were going to come, not knowing if I was near a near-death-experience, I wanted the exhilarance and adrenaline high that comes from being so close to this machine-like, silent predator that was like a silver torpedo gracefully gliding through the deep, carefully watching us, studying us as if classifying us as prey or foe.

When the boat set the anchor down, Monica looked at me with fear deep inside her gentle soul.  She was here only because of me and for me.  She did not want to be here.  This was not her idea of fun.  She even had nightmares the night before!  Oh what people do for love… But here she was, scared — and she had not yet seen the sharks, she hadn’t yet seen the 8 foot silhouettes circling the deep blue shades beneath.  I could tell her by her anxious breathing that she was having second thoughts.  But there was no turning back now.  I had my gear on and was ready to jump ship.  It must have been her devotion, her self-imposed duty as my lover, my wife, my best friend, to come along with me, to jump into the abyss with me, and go through this “adventure” and not forsake the man with whom she had exchanged vows with 2 years ago — even though “with sharks or no sharks in the water” was never part of the vows.  (Besides, I also think she came to keep me “tamed” and stop me from doing anything stupid, like getting killed, and thus ensuring that she will have more offspring from this handsome man.)

But here we were.  We checked and double checked our gear, our air.  I put my mask on.  I took an anxious filled deep breath, closed my eyes, then leaped into the warm waters of the Caribbean.  It was an overcast day. As a result visibility was reduced by 50% of what it normally is.  And the water was darker.  I hit the water and immediately surfaced.  I looked for Monica.  She was still on the boat.  Looking at me.  My mask had come loose when it hit the water.  I was quickly trying to fix it.  I wanted to look down as soon as possible.  I needed to see what was beneath me.  I felt as if they were ready for me.  As if they were speeding with jaws open towards my legs.  I fixed my mask and turned my face under the surface.  I saw them. And I could feel my blood rush as reality struck like a hammer to a nail.  I cannot remember what was going through my mind.  I cannot recall the first minute or two after I started my descent, but I vaguely remember seeing them circle around a diver that had already made his way down.  It was an incredible site.  I kept getting lower.  And they kept getting bigger.  Then I looked for Monica, and there she was, rechecking her gauges, her equipment, mustering enough courage to let go of the rope and dive with these silent, almost mythical creatures.  Then she did… and below is our video…

***If you are viewing this from a mobile device/smartphone, click here for video***

Part III coming tomorrow…

Anniversary Vacation Trip to Freeport, Grand Bahama Island

For our 2 year anniversary, we decided to take another trip to the Caribbean.  This time we went to Freeport, Bahamas.  It’s located in Grand Bahama Island.  We chose this destination for two reasons:  its secluded beaches (since most tourists’ destination is Nassau) and its diving activities.  Getting here sucked, we had to take 3 planes!  Three!  With a baby.  We brought Seanna along because we just didn’t have the heart to leave her behind.  And besides, we want her to love the water, so what better place to start her love for the sea than this paradise?  The trip was more than worth it.  This place was absolutely beautiful!  Absolutely. Beautiful.

We stayed at the Our Lucaya Reef Village which is adjacent to its sister resort, The Radisson Our Lucaya, which has the really cool shape of a cruise ship.  The resort was nice with very friendly staff, except for the “Concierge/Tour Information” lady that had a face like she had few friends and was mad at the world — with an attitude to match.  We enjoyed our stay here and would come back again.

Anyways, on to the good stuff.  Here’s what we did:

Day 1 — 7.3.2010:

We arrived and did nothing but just hang out.  No pictures or videos.  We literally just hung out by the beach all day and did absolutely nothing, not even eat.  By the time dinner got here, we were starved.  We went to the plaza where all the touristy restaurants and shops are, which is a rock throw distance away.  Man, the food here is super pricey.  Actually make that mad pricey.  A burger runs you about $12-15 bucks, plus a can of soda ($2.50 — no refills), times 2 people, plus tip (15%) — per serving (breakfast, lunch, dinner) = Ca-ching!  If you wanted something better than a burger, you were looking to pay $17 to $32 for an entree plus the extras.   That really adds up.  So, if you’re thinking to visit this area, the all inclusive package should be considered.  We didn’t go that route because we weren’t planning on staying at the resort.

Day 2 — 7.4.2010:

We again stayed at the resort.  There was not much to do but lay at the beach and relax.  Mariana was anxious to do some water activities so Monica went on the Banana boat ride with her.  When they came back I noticed that Mariana was walking very awkward.  Something seemed off about her.  One glimpse at her butt and she had to tell me about the unfortunate events that took place: As she found out, it’s not a good idea to go on the Banana boat ride when you are wet and only wearing a bikini.  At first she thought it was funny that the motion of the rubber boat and the sand rubbing her butt gave her a funny feeling.  “I feel like my butt is exfoliating,” she exclaimed to Monica, laughing, almost with a private joy.  Soon though, as the boat picked up speed, the “exfoliating” turned into “OUCH! My butt feels like it’s being rubbed with sandpaper!”  Which then turned into “AAAaaah!!! It feels like someone is chainsawing my butt!!!”  From the boat you could hear screams of joy, of pain, and what sounded like someone was being gutted by the Texas chainsaw murderer — that was Mari.  Poor Mari.  Her butt was on fire.  It was glowing red — almost.  She had a mad rash.  She needed Neosporin, but we had none.  I tried to convince her to take a picture of it, so I can post it on this blog, but since she said it was “up deep in there”, she declined.  Here at thedownsclan.com we like to be detailed and provide you, our readers, with as much information as possible, sooo… since Mariana did not want a picture of her butt on this post,  in an effort to provide you with a glimpse of what she looked like, here’s an accurate portrayal (except she wasn’t wearing a bow):

After some snorkeling, taking pictures and just laying out doing nothing, we went to plaza to have dinner.  We went back to the hotel and waited for the firework show to start at 10PM.  At 10PM we heard the fireworks go off and so we immediately left our room, got on the elevator, sped down the hall, to the lobby and exited the building.  By this time, the fireworks show was over.  The “Show” lasted approximately 1 minute 30 seconds.  Bummer.  The “Mariana fireworks curse” continues.  If you ever want to see fireworks for the 4th of July, make sure you don’t spend it with Mariana.  She never gets to see them and neither those who are around her.

Here are some pics of our little lady being patriotic (4th of July):

Day 3 — 7.5.2010:

Monica and I got up very early because we had scheduled 2 reef dives and a shark dive.   I had researched for weeks where to best experience sharks in the Bahamas and all sites and reviews let us to UNEXSO.  These guys really run a professional diving organization.  They are well established.  My only complaint about them was that we got outvoted by some rookies that didn’t want to go on the 80-100ft dive to “Theo’s Wreck” (a shipwreck) so we ended up going to a 45 foot dive at a reef instead.  The way I see it, don’t pair up scared noobs with more experienced divers (or at least divers who are up for the challenge).  Scott and Jim were our captains/dive masters and they were very nice and took the time to show you all they had seen underwater.  Below is a quick clip of the first two dives:

After the reef dive, we did a shark dive… and it was awesome…!  I’ll write about this tomorrow…  Part II coming soon…

2009 Year in Review

What a great year! Worthy of being in VH1’s “Best Year Ever” episode. I got promoted at work, bathed in 9 different beaches, become closer with my family, closer with friends, and received the gift of creating life: my little lady, Seanna Sofia.

She’s so beautiful. So adorable. So gentle. Tender and sweet. Just like the flesh that made her and carried her in her womb. I love how she smiles in her sleep, how she opens her mouth wide and closes her eyes when she yawns, how she makes sounds like a kitten when she cries — But I’m getting ahead of myself.

So let me start with the first day, January 1, 2009. Man, what a party! What a crazy youth-spirited reckless night! What loss of control, what disregard for the norm of society. It was fun. To be careless one last time. To sing along songs, out loud; to dance like a high schooler, raising a glass of champagne to love and life, and bring in the new year one last time without second thoughts, toasting along friends and my beloved Monica. Aniceto and Jose, Primo Productions, you are to blame for such madness. And that was it. No more partying like a rockstar. We felt that it was not for us anymore.

As far as getting the new year started, Bianca, Monica and I went snowboarding and man it was about 75% torture and 25% fun. We ended up on the ground so many times that I felt I had bursted an instestine. We hit the ground so hard so many times that even though we had gotten the “All Day” pass until 10PM, by 5PM we couldn’t get up anymore. When we fell, it took us a good 5 minutes of just laying there, motionless, groaning, gathering strength to get back up. The problem was that when we went, even though it was cold, it wasn’t snowing. Instead of snow, there was ice on the slopes. It was basically trying to snowboard on frozen concrete. Looking back, I don’t think it was the determination to master the bunny slope that kept us there, it was plain masochism. This was just plain painful. I wish we could have made it to the regular “grown up” slope though, but we’ll shamefully admit that the Bunny Slope punished us so bad we got scared. After we left, Bianca looked like she had gotten in bar brawl, Monica looked like she had married a wifebeater, and I, well, I still looked good.

In February, we visited our good friends Yazmine and JP in Puerto Rico. We really enjoyed our stay with them and got to visit different parts of the island. I had many times seen the sun at sunset, but never actually sat down to contemplate it and enjoy it. When we visited Dorado, we did exactly that. And it was beautiful. It was an orange reddish circle with a soothing glow, slowly being swallowed by the dark sea and the endless dance of the waves. I wrote about this beautiful experience here. We also got to visit hidden coastlines and experience Puerto Rico underwater; we went Scuba diving in La Parguera, a diving spot where you can supposedly spot whale sharks during their migration. Unfortunately, we were a day late. The guides said they had seen a 40 foot whale shark the day before. What a disappointment 🙁 Puerto Rico was a lot of fun and its waters hold a special place in our heart since that’s where Seanna’s nickname “Sirena” came from. I was going to write about our scuba diving experience but didn’t get to it because Monica surprised me with the news that she was with child. I won’t be able to finish the second half of our Puerto Rico experience, but below are some videos and pictures we took of our dive trip. Although it was nice and full of corals, we were disappointed that there were very little fish. Weird.

Video of Scuba diving. From getting into the water, diving to bottom, seeing the “wall of corals”, to getting back on boat:

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Valentine’s Day Getaway in Puerto Rico – Part I

For Valentine’s Day weekend, we went to the enchanted island once again.  We had previously visited back in 2005 when Monica and I had just started going out.  We now returned as a married couple.  On our first trip we visited Old San Juan, El Yunque and the beautiful island of Culebra where we did some serious snorkeling. This time, we went to visit our good friends Yazmine and JP (Juan Pablo) and visit the west side of the island. We were very happy to see them both again. We hadn’t seen them since our wedding, 7 months back. Yazmine and I have been friends for many years and when she moved back we promised her that we would go visit her. It took a few years, but we finally made it and we were very excited! When we arrived, the first thing we did was to go see her at her workplace after JP picked up us from the airport. We wanted to know about everything that went on when she audition for American Idol and made it to Hollywood. After a brief catching up, we went to get some typical Puerto Rican food, Chuleta Can-Can (Fried Pork Chop) but I was disappointed I didn’t see Arroz con Gandules, a typical Puerto Rican cuisine, on the menu. The pork chop was a vicious meal, I was stuffed to the core.  So after this serious meal, we went to the Yaz-JP Hotel and met the rest of the family, their four dogs.   When Yazmine got home from work she got ready for us to go to Old San Juan and have dinner. This is when I realized that while JP has been in PR for years, I, a native of Nicaragua, living in the US, had to introduce him to one of PR’s best liquors: Passoa! Passoa is a passion fruit drink that is very tropical and an exotic taste. Women love it because it doesn’t really taste like alcohol, men love it because women get drunk without knowing and then get wild. So after a drink, we went to DragonFly a chic restaurant to get some sushi. After dinner we returned home and passed out.

JP Yaz and Alex
JP Yaz and Alex

The next day we woke up early and made the hour trip to Crash Boat beach. We drove out early in morning, about 7 or so, to Crash Boat, a beach west of San Juan. First we searched for a bakery to eat some good typical Puerto Rican breakfast but we couldn’t find any. We drove on the expressway but got back on the local roads because Monica wanted to pass out from hunger, but nothing. After an hour, we decided to stop by a McDonalds and get some boring American breakfast platter. There we asked for directions to get to Crash Boat. It turns out that giving directions in Puerto Rico is just like they give directions in my native Nicaragua. No one knows the actual road names, instead the use landmarks and estimates of distance to make a turn. For example, the lady at the McDonald’s gave us the following directions: “You go the right at the corner, then you’re going to go for another 40 minutes and pass three McDonalds and then make a right, then you’ll go to a church and make a left, then when you see a big tree, you take the next left.” I am not exaggerating. When I asked what the name of the roads are, they didn’t know. When I used my iPhone and named the roads (302, 28, etc), they didn’t know even though it was the road in front of them. But, the directions worked.

We made it to the vicinity but got lost after the third Mickey Ds. So, I asked for directions yet again, but to my luck, the guy I asked was a mute. He was mumbling something but we didn’t understand. We felt bad for him because he was trying help, but we had to ask someone else right next to him. And what do you know, he gave us the following directions: “Make a U, go to the church, make a right, continue until you pass a big white house, make a left and continue until you see a small blue sign.” Perfect directions.

As soon as we go there, we parked and ordered some Pinchos from some street vendors. Here you could order pork, beef or chicken on a stick, lathered with BBQ, and topped with a Tostone with garlic. Yummy and cheap! I had been to Crash Boat back in 2003 with my boys (Pato, Bori, Daniel and some Chinese guy) and it was a great time. The beach back then was full of life, it had a diverse group of people, locals, tourists, couples, singles, etc. This time however, it was one HUGE sausage fest. It was like College Spring Break without the chicks. Ok, it had some chicks, but they were jailbait. Not that I was looking for chicks, but I couldn’t help but notice how there were 30 guys to every girl. And there were all young. I guess it must have been either High School skip day or some freshmen college hang out day.

Anyways, I decided to go and do some snorkeling. There was absolutely nothing but white sand. There was an occasional unremarkable fish that followed me around, but that was about it. I ran into some scuba divers that must have been some real amateurs because they were occupying themselves with some small fishes. I guess they were learning. The diving at Crash Boat is just terrible, anyone who thinks it’s great has obviously not fully experience anything other than snorkeling. After about 15 minutes, once I made it to the pier, I made my way back. My uneventful snorkeling was disrupted when two guys jumped from the pier into the water and then started making out next to me. Yeah, awkward. After I made it back to land, we took some pictures but had to move to a more obscure location because the guys were just foaming at the mouth and the young chicks were hating on the hot woman with the hot bikini. Below are some pictures:

The hot wife with the pier in the background
The hot wife with the pier in the background

monica-downs

The hot wife striking a pose

The hot wife striking a pose

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