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…

Seanna is going places…

And so it begins…  Her trip into this world.. and eventually out of my arms… out of these arms that long to hold her and carry her for life…  My Seanna.. my sweet Seanna Sofia.. my love, you are growing up too fast.

Today my little lady, my little sweetheart, started to crawl.  And with this, she filled our hearts with aspirations for the places she will be going, of the heights she’ll climb, with us and on her own.  We are happy, elated actually and at the same time aware of that tiny seed of bittersweet sadness that was planted in our hearts and deep in the back of our minds…  Bittersweet because our little lady is growing up and there’s nothing we can do about it.  Soon she’ll be walking, riding her bicycle, going to school and then off to college and into the world… and then one day, one day I’ll be walking her down the aisle.  And perhaps during the reception I’ll be talking about how I remember when she had just started crawling..

Oh my love, my sweet daughter, I pray so much for you.  I pray that God grants us the wisdom to raise you in manner that is pleasing in His eyes.  That we may teach you strength of character.  That we may teach you strong moral values.  And that when tested, because it will come, that you remember us, that you remember that we love you and have the highest of hopes for you.  My sweet Seanna, in you lies the purpose of our lives, the love that we have poured out of us and into you so that you may have all that we didn’t, live as we wished we had, fly higher  and walk farther than we had dared imagine for ourselves.  And may your little feet walk the path of a woman that honors God.  That is my wish for you.   Oh my sweet child, may God give you grace in front of all, bless you abundantly and when the darkness comes in your path, may He light a lamp at your feet and guide you.  Remember that He is in control.  May you, my love child, may you always walk with Him regardless of where you travel…

***If you are viewing this from a phone, click here to view video***

PS –  I always thought that babies would take one little step one day and the another step the next, gradually being able to crawl.  Well, apparently that’s not the case.  Just yesterday I was trying to have her crawl and she wouldn’t.  Then she saw Victor, my little 11 month old nephew crawling and kaboom!  She started crawling a marathon today!