Stingray City

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June 28, 2019

I think every place that has dive or snorkelling sites must have a Stingray City.  Oftentimes the site name refers to things that, at one point, must have frequented the location.  But more often than not, current sightings of whatever the site was named for are far and few in between.

Such is definitely NOT the case here.

Local history credits fishermen over a hundred years ago with inadvertently creating Stingray City when they threw the entrails of fish that were being cleaned overboard at this location.  Over time, stingrays began to gather in larger and larger numbers, and eventually came to associate boats with a free buffet.

Now, dozens and dozens of boats ferry hundreds of people out each day, essentially creating a corresponding boat city there from sunrise to sunset.  The boats that feed the stingrays propagate this expectation of free food and… voila!  Hoards of stingrays are all but guaranteed all day long, every day.  We had heard the stingrays climb all over people, sometimes even leaving massive hickeys on the bodies of the spectators. 

We were more than a bit apprehensive about the feeding aspect of the encounter.

Well… let’s face it… we’re dive snobs.

Our time at Scuba Junkie relentlessly pounded into our DNA the virtues of nonintrusive observation.  Feeding wild animals only contributes to animal dependance and unnatural behaviour.  In some cases it can make animals aggressive, if they begin to associate people with food but are not given that food.  

Likewise, the touching of animals in the wild is solely for the benefit of the people doing the touching.  Unintentional transmission of germs or disease can result in the animal’s death.  Some marine creatures (coral and turtles, for example) are covered with a protective coating on their skin.  Any contact can rub that coating off, exposing the animals to disease.

Grand Cayman’s Stingray City is located at the edge fo the reef in North Bay, about two miles from the location we anchored after returning from the States and departing Barcadere Marina.  It is one of a tiny handful of spots that allows anchoring in the entirety of the Cayman Islands.  

We had been at anchor for nearly a week already, and had been scoping out the location from our boat.  It was easy to see… the spot on the horizon that always had at least a dozen boats congregated.  It became clear that early morning, noon, or late afternoon were the prime times to go if you wanted to miss the biggest crowds.

So we hopped in the dinghy at 7:00am, jetted out to the site (which already had two boats at anchor there), and hopped in the water.

Holy Shit!!!

All skepticism regarding the appropriateness of the name “Stingray City” evaporated instantly.  It truly was a city of stingrays.  

 

We were glad that, though we didn’t have any food with us, the stingrays still were inquisitive enough to check us out, swimming past a few times before continuing on towards one of the other boats that did bring food.

It only took a peek around the stern of one of those boats to witness the carnage that ensued with the promise of food for the stingrays.  Normally graceful and shy, the stingrays were all over the tourists.  Normally ungraceful and obnoxious, the tourists were even more so!

 

We spent nearly an hour there at The Sandbank (as it is also called due to the fact that the depth is only three to ten feet in the whole area).  It was mesmerising to watch what appeared to be three distinct species of stingrays as they passed back and forth.   Sometimes alone, sometimes in pairs or small groups, sometimes in what appeared to be a Stealth Bomber squadron formation.

Another perfect example when the snorkelling was absolutely amazing, and scuba gear was not even necessary.

And then… and then… and then…

Just as the number of other boats that had arrived was beginning to approach “silly”, and we were getting ready to head back to the Mothership, it happened…

I was underwater taking a video of a nearby group of stingrays, when I felt Kris grab me and forcibly turn my head around.

Initially, I thought she was directing me towards another stingray shot… boy, was I wrong.

There… right in front of us… less than ten meters away… a GREAT HAMMERHEAD SHARK!!!!!!!!!

 

In four feet of water… while we were snorkelling… I shit you not.

This was Kris’ second Great Hammerhead sighting ever, but my first.  The previous time, in Australia, was something I had never lived down for missing.

But not this time.  Right in front of us… big as life.  

Of course, the deer in the headlight moment which followed the girl-like squeal I emitted resulted in a less than perfect video of the now departing beauty.

But hey… what the hell… we both saw it this time.  Thanks for that, Kris!

…We Always Find Our Way Back Home

May 20 – June 17, 2019

Back in the Evergreen State… which continues to get greener and greener as the annual revenues to the state from the now-legal cannabis industry must be the fastest growing bubble since Microsoft or Boeing, or both, hit their stride.

After too short of a visit with Kris’ mom in Anacortes, we hopped aboard an Alaska flight for the short hop across to the East side of the state.  

Unlike American Airlines, who nickel and dime you to death (they now charge an additional fee for any checked baggage), Alaska Air seems to be one of the last customer service oriented airlines in the industry.  Even on a flight lasting less than an hour, they still manage to give you a complimentary beer or wine (if you ask politely and they have a bit left, you even get refills!).  

During the next four weeks, we migrated between Spokane, Pullman, and the lake property outside Sandpoint. 

If the sale of the lake property solidified, this would likely be the last time we would be in that neck of the woods.  It had provided a sanctuary away from the grind of everyday life for nearly thirty years and, though my parent’s decision to sell was 100% sensible, we couldn’t ignore that we felt more than a twinge of sadness that it was happening.

Still, we enjoyed every moment we had there, not only relaxing as we had done dozens of times over the years before, but also rummaging through the handful of boxes that we still had stored there (deciding what would survive the additional cut and return to Spokane with us and what would be donated to the Sandpoint Humane Society’s thrift store), as well as helping out with some of the yard work (surprisingly, the lack of grass trimming and weed pulling on Exit’s daily duty roster made the task more nostalgic than mundane).

Amazingly, during our time in Spokane we got to repeatedly see a family of coyotes (the mom and five pups) who apparently have a den in the forest just behind my parent’s back yard.  They would stop by and play at the edge of the yard almost daily.  Unbelievable, considering that the house is in the middle of a city populated by over 100,000 people.

As is always the case, we had to make a trip to our old hometown of Pullman, where we spent most of our lives before setting out on a new life trajectory in 2008.  Seeing our old friends that we grew up with and still hold dear always makes the trip more than worthwhile. 

We never seem to be able to offer enough thanks to our parents, as well as our best friends Shannan and Vicki, for all their hospitality, fabulous company, and good will.  

Kris had the added bonus of traveling to Las Vegas with Vicki for three full days (for Vicki’s bowling tournament), which meant the opportunity for her to see the Grand Canyon, in addition to all the “standard” Vegas fare (See Kris’ blog “Las Vegas…Why Not?!?!”)

Overall, an incredibly enjoyable and successful trip back to the States.  We arrived with only carry-on bags and returned to Exit with two additional forty-five pound checked bags full of spare parts and goodies.

It’s impossible to ignore the fact that every time we return to the Palouse we feel a bit more and more detached from the area… more and more like outsiders, less and less like we really belong there as anything but visitors.

Nevertheless, we also can’t deny feeling an unmistakable draw to keep coming back.  As the Andy Grammer song says, “…It don’t matter where we go, we always find our way back home!”

…even if it inevitably results in adding ten percent to my body mass.

Las Vegas…Why not?!?!

June 3-7, 2019

This is my, Kris’, first blog post.  Steve is the writer, not me:). But he can’t write this blog post because I left him in Pullman!

When we decided to go back to Washington State I not only contacted  family members to ensure the timing/dates would work with everyone’s schedule, but our great friends Vicki and Shannan.   The dates worked for the family; great!  And the dates worked for Vicki and Shannan; great! Except that Vicki was going to Las Vegas for a bowling tournament for a week while we’re back in the state.  Hmm…  I’ve never been to Las Vegas.  Hmm…  An opportunity to get a little ‘me’ time.  Hmm…  Vicki said it was okay for me to tag along and share a room.  Hmm…  What the hell, I said, sounds like fun!  See some sights and relax by the pool, a little mini-me vacation.  Use frequent flier miles and boom, I’m going to Las Vegas baby!!!  Steve gets to have some male bonding time with Shannan and I get to hang with my bestie.

I had a great time hanging with Vicki and her Pullman bowling friends!  And as a bonus got to see Vicki’s brother Darren whom I hadn’t seen for years.  Saw a bit of the strip, spent two days at the pool, watched   Vicki bowl (until I was froze and went to the pool to warm up:), and had a great night walking and drinking on Freemont Street.

One thing that I was thinking about was wondering if it was possible to get to the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas … easily.  I figured that, since I was in Las Vegas, I would do some research.   Research I did and I found a company that had an amazing trip itinerary.  The problem was my guilt over the price.  But after much thinking, and talking it over with Vicki, I decided I would go for it.  When will I ever be in Las Vegas again and have this opportunity???

WOW!!!  After all my traveling in different areas of the world it takes a bit more to ‘wow’ me.  Well the Grand Canyon trip did just that!  The trip was all day; 6:15am pick up (I may have still been drunk from the previous night…) and didn’t return to the hotel until 8:00pm.  Very comfortable double decker bus with narrative and a great driver who added comments here and there.  And a helicopter ride!!!!  And a short boat ride on the Colorado river!

We stopped at the Hoover Dam first which is just outside of Las Vegas.  We weren’t able to go on the dam but on an overlook.  And I don’t do well with heights sometimes…this was one of those times.  It was really windy on top of it all.

 

 

We stopped at a few more places on our way to the West Rim of the Grand Canyon.  Passed the Joshua Trees which are really amazing part tree, part cactus trees that apparently, according to the driver, don’t do anything!  Can’t burn the wood, can’t build with the wood, pretty much worthless but cool.

Then we arrived at the Grand Canyon entrance.  Myself and four other people on the bus walked over to the hangar to check into our helicopter flight.  Two guys from India and two women from New Zealand (yay! no ugly Americans).  Because the of the weight distribution I, being the smallest, got to sit in the front seat with the pilot!!!!!  WOW!!!!!  Words cannot even describe what it was like…I had a perma-grin plastered on my face the whole time.

The boat ride was nice.  Hot as hell at the bottom of the canyon; 110+ degrees.  Because it was early in the season the water was brown due to runoff.  Apparently later on the water turns aqua blue.  That’s okay, I’ve seen a lot of nice water.

The helicopter ride brought us back to the top of the rim.  From there we had the option to stop off at 3 other locations via shuttle bus along the West Rim.  I was amazed at the rim and the sheer drop offs!  And, me not liking heights, I didn’t get too close.   I was even more amazed that there are no barriers.  Apparently people die all the time doing selfies or getting hit by a gust of wind and falling over the side…after being there I can see stupid people doing that all the time.

Even though it was expensive it was SOOOOOO worth every penny.  I justified the cost partly because it was half price…meaning if Steve had been with me it would have been double:)   I sure wish he could have been there to experience it with me!  WOW!!!!

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