Namibia – The first impressions

Little I knew about this new country I was visiting… Namibia, especially about all its history of apartheid, the relation ship with South Africa, Germany, Cuba, North Korea… etc. So this was really impressive for me. When we have been looking for information, we couldn’t find lots of tourist info either, everybody on tourist shows and online was recommending us to go to Botswana, South Africa, or somewhere else… weird! we were wondering why…
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Down, down!
When we got there, and I knew a little bit more about its history, everything was more obvious. They have been only independent from South Africa for 28 years, so they have a really recent history of fighting and wars. The trip was turning even more interesting. Our first stop was a refreshment, after being 36 hours travelling, we needed something to eat, relax and drink.
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Town beer
We met with a local taxi driver, who is now trying to reconvert his business into a tour guide, and actually he’s doing it really well. He’s doing actually tours off the beaten track, meaning, he’s a local, he will take you to his home, meet his friends, and show you how some people live in Windhoek, which is very far from what usually tourists see. He pick us up, and first took us to the Independence Memorial Museum. I had no idea about all the history of Namibia, and that they got independence only 28 years ago. That was super close in time, and make people bring out feelings, as they lived that situation. Only 28 years ago, black people were not paid for work, they were only given food and housing in exchange. That’s a huge change on the mentality and the way of living, in just a short period of time.
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On the way to Katutura
As Erik told us, before 1990, black and white people could not live on the same place. There was a “parallel” city for black people, which in Windhoek is called Katutura, in Otjiherero, “Where people don’t want to live”. It’s completely a different world there, with no electricity, no water (you can only get water in two spots in the whole area), no sanitary services, sewers, etc. Houses are made of plywood, corrugated metals or sheets of plastic, with no thermal protection, only one living space which serves as room, living room, kitchen, … and where a family of an average of 8 lives.
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Some of the houses in Katutura
Those are not the only problems there, all natives from Windhoek were moved there, so different tribes occupy the area: 7 to be exact, with the majority of Ovambo and Damara. They don’t talk to each other, they don’t even understand each other, and until a few years ago, they were fighting like hell.
Kids have to walk 10 km to go to school, people have to go to “toilets” in the middle of the mountain, where women can’t go alone, they eat dried meat leftovers from the meat factories all the year round, with pap (a mix of flour and water).
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Drying meat out of the house
That was the true Windhoek, where only around 50.000 people live in the “white area” and 300.000 in the “black area”, according to informal settlements. That was a shock!
It is definitely a country now in full economic growth, trying to overcome the difficulties of the past. The tourism is helping to this, bringing money, and movement to this unknown amazing country, where you can find an infinite number of landscapes and views within it, and with the most lovely people ever.
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Katutura food market
The life of people out of the city is completely different, they try to grow their own food, and I say try because most of the country is just a desert, so green stuff can only grow during the rainy season, it is not surprising that most of their diet is based on meat.
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Community: Education, Conservation, Exploration… GUE

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Cabo de Palos lighthouse

Cabo de Palos, Spain was going to be the host of the second GUE meeting in Spain, this time, just from the preparations, you could feel that it was going to be a huge community event; community, the key point!

One community, three missions… or four?

Education

With more than ten GUE instructors on site from all over the world, it was not a surprise that there would be some GUE fun around. Where’s the mix? fundamentals instructors were students on rebreather classes, candidates were evaluated as new fundamentals instructors, new cave divers were born, as well as new fundamentals divers and more blenders to fill all their tanks! Also welcome a few new friends to be part of the community.

Conservation

With Project Baseline, as the flagship of GUE conservation drive, some attendants ventured out into the Islas Hormigas Project Baseline site, despite the challenging conditions. This project is open to all GUE levels of divers, from Fundamentals (where actually most of the work is) until Rebreather, where one can test their skills with photography, survey and documentation for a specific purpose.  

Exploration

You know it has an exploration component, when before surfacing from a dive, you already have in your mind the plans to come back. This is what happened to all that dove the reefs, shallow and deep wrecks and caves, that are accessible to all those who explore Cabo de Palos.  

This new location was still to be explored by the community. Cabo de Palos is known by many divers in Spain but it was definitely a new place to be explored by all those who joined us from USA, Norway, Germany, Canada, Italy, Poland, Hungary, Portugal, Holland, Russia, UK, UAE, etc.

And there’s still more, many many plans on those reefs, wrecks and caves were discussed during the weekend.

The magic that makes everything happen: COMMUNITY

As it can’t be different, we hosted a few speakers as well, and had lot of fun during the social events: breakfast, lunch, dinner, tapas, coffee breaks … the way to the dives, the loading and unloading boat time, even on the dives, we had lots of laughs and fun.

All under the sun, outdoors and overlooking the mediterranean sea, with great food and company, what else can you expect?  This time was actually enhanced by the bad weather, since we couldn’t do all the diving we were expecting, what do divers do on these occasions? Talk about diving around a table, with food, drinks and laughs around!

On the evening, we heard about ET life, history, the water origin, WWII wrecks, hypogenic caves, abandoned nets, GUE origins, thermal water, extreme photography, scientific diving, the first Gavin scooter, what turkish caves were somehow the origin of GUE and the future looks like.

All of this, couldn’t have been possible with the effort of our sponsors and hosts:  Islas Hormigas Dive center and Halcyon Dive Systems; without the tireless instructors that made this happen. Also, the MOST IMPORTANT: THE PEOPLE THAT JOINED THE MEETING, those are the real important ones!!

 

Tales of Diving and History, The Solomons: on the history chasing

Why do people like history? My point of view, is that helps you understand some human reactions, that happened in the past and also have some consequences in the present. It helps you understand as well some people’s biases, and how they live as they are, apart from the environmental circumstances.

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Some people walking around the main street

When I first thought about going to the Solomon Islands for holidays, little I knew about their history, my main motivation at that time was diving, and I got a great surprise about all the history related with WWII, specially in Munda, a small settlement in one of the 900 islands in the Solomons.

The Solomons were a strategic location for the Allied, and the Japanese designed a huge campaign to move their influences further.  But I don’t intend to write about WWII here, as this is not a history blog, but to have the insights of the people, the area, and what’s the legacy that left there.

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One of the houses on our walk around

When you start walking around Munda, a little island on the archipelago, you can already have a feeling of how people live, and heritage that the war left there, with old cars that serve as garbage dumps, or for kids to play hide-and-seek.

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We arrived to the museum

With the little resources on the island, to search for war remainings, are the locals on their own who explore in the jungle and on the sea. From this explorations, there is one men who really devoted his life to collect artefacts that are lost around the island. His house is about 30 minutes walking from the airport in Munda, we had to ask a couple of times on the way, and one of the local kids just came with us to show us the way. That really shows how friendly everybody is there, you can expect that they wanted some money in exchange, but not, actually, she was really surprised that we gave her some.

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The mailbox, welcome to the museum
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There were all kind of objects

When we got there, actually to his house, he had built a shed only for the artifacts that he has been collecting over the years, both under and above the water. When you go into his house, the mailbox tells you something about it already, something must be going on on that place. He will tell you the story of how he found everything, all details, and also how people from the island brings him everything that they find.

 

 

On his shed, you can find from syringes to almost melted aircraft motors, bullets from all sizes, old phones, radios, ID plates, coke bottles, grenades, and an endless list of other curiosities and self-repaired machinery.

 

It is definitely worth a visit on your days in Magical Munda!

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Tales of islands exploration: The Solomons, just on island time

Island time…. It’s early now!!!

New holidays approaching, so it was time to decide where to next. Deciding factors: flight cost, diving quality, weather during Christmas and as much different culture as possible with Europe; who’s the winner? The Solomon Islands.

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The Solomons!

Then the next question arises: where in the Solomons? I decided to come to Munda, a remote settlement one hour away flying from the capital, following my gut feeling of not liking cities and trying to be on a place as close to local culture as possible. So… why not?

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Domestic terminal at Honiara airport

Three flights from Auckland to Munda, with layover in Nandi, in Fiji and Honiara in Solomon Islands. The first two flights went smoothly, no incidents, despite of being in island time (already loving it!). The flight to Honiara landed 10 minutes earlier than expected! That was a bonus, as I only had one hour to catch the domestic flight, that should be plenty of time anyway. Our surprise was when I arrived to the domestic terminal: The flight already left, one hour earlier!!! Apparently, it’s quite common that people don’t show up (really? On an already paid flight?) so the airline decided to leave. We were stuck, yes, in Honiara, for a day (yay!! and this is actually a happy yay!!! 🙂 ).

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Our ride to the hotel

My advice for people taking internal flights in Solomons: always call the airline (Fly Solomons) the day before to confirm your intentions of catching the plane. On this we, you will make sure that they know your intentions of catching the plane, so they won’t sell your ticket to someone else. That’s such a random reason!

On the bright side, it turned out not that bad, with an in-town paid hotel and meals, I got to visit Honiara, which was the first culture shock. It is fair to say that Fly Solomons offered to pay for all of the expenses without me even asking, so that’s what I call an awesome customer service. And to be honest, people were extremely friendly, the Fly Solomons workers, the people waiting on the waiting room…. That actually made the experience so different!! They wanted to talk to us, learn more english, and show us their english as well! They were just hapi 🙂   

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Part of Honiara central market, farmers go to sell their own products there

First culture shock – walking around Honiara

When I booked this trip, I didn’t really know what to expect in general about the country and the people, and to be honest, not much either about the diving, but I just had some great comments about everything there from more than reliable people regarding travelling.  

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Entrance of the central market, setting up

Just when you get off the plane in Honiara, the heat kicks you, combined with the humidity there, which obviously, drives the culture and people’s behaviour. On our drive to the hotel, we had a good look of half of Honiara, as the hotel was on the main street, which starts at the airport. I loved this place! To be honest, people were so friendly and you really get the feeling of what I called “living life on the streets”, which is so typical from warm countries. There is a huge difference between cold weather countries and warm, and is that people stay inside way more or way less respectively. Being a Spanish girl, to be honest, I’d rather be out socialising 🙂

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Farmers selling their own products

After getting to the hotel, and going for a walk around Honiara, one of the first thoughts I got when I got there, was: what are all these red stains on the floor at the streets? I had no idea what was that, until my friend told me: it’s betel nut! A stimulant, the fruit of the areca palm, and has narcotic effects, similar to coffee and nicotine. People chew them, and leave their mouth complete red, as with a tint.

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Betel nut traces on the floor. People spit them after chewing the nut
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Selling betel nut

The hotel was close to the central market so we went to have a look at it the day after as well, before we had to leave again to the airport for our flight to Munda. Island breakfast, and here we go! We wondered around people getting groceries, divided into meat, fish, veggies and fruits…. The market was really colorful! And also a typical market as in South East Asia, very different from Europe, with barely sanity checks (if any), flies around the food, and not so clean environment.

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Tobacco warnings

People were discussing prices, getting bargains, on that loud and noisy environment characteristic from a food market. We found tunas, crays, lots of veggies and fruits… The fish is brought fresh every day from the fishing boats that left early in the morning. They don’t have to go far to fish, as they have sustainable fisheries, and not so many islands around that overfish the sea. As we would see on the next days, they have the most healthy corals I’ve ever seen before.

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Flies! go away!
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Recent caught crabs

I like to sit back on these places and relax, while observing people, and their different behaviour, you can see all the personalities, no matter on which part of the world you are: the curious, the bargain hunter, the skeptical, the “everything is good”… Honiara, by being the capital and the biggest city in the Solomon Islands, concentrate all types of people, as every city.

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Lots of veggies and trades

The feeling that I had walking around was just “how friendly are these people!” I was impressed, that in the morning, everybody was saying good morning to us, which made us feel really welcome.

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On our way to Magical Munda!

We went back to the hotel to catch a ride to the airport: Munda was waiting for us!!! And on the package, we got a flight to Gizo as well, as it was the first stop on our air taxi!! Scenic flight as well!! Check!!

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The Octopus!

 

 

 

 

Diving for Science – Yax Chen, Venus Moon

A lot of people ask me why did I choose to dive with Global Underwater Explorers. Among many reasons, there is one that is on top of all: their focus on Conservation and underwater projects.
When I became a cave diver, as many of the cave divers out there, was dreaming with exploration, finding new caves, mapping them, and do all these great discoveries, who doesn’t?! But… Why? What for? Why is this helpful? Is it just to fulfil your own ego? Actually, at least on my case, nothing further from there!! Let’s just have some fun!! Also, the exploration of a cave can lead to conservation projects, and to help communities like it happens in Yucatan Peninsula, but we’ll see that later.
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A present from the cenote, to welcome us!
What is parallel to this, and really exciting as well, is actually to study and monitor some aspects of the already explored caves, like the impact of environmental effects, or human behaviour, as well as interaction with external factors.
With this in mind, and my passion for caves, I joined on December 2017 a Science Project run by Mexico Cave Exploration Project group, created by a few GUE divers, CINDAQ (Centro Investigador Del Sistema Acuifera de Quintana Roo) and Mc Master University in Canada. The project has been organised twice per year during the last few years, with results published on the most important environmental journals.
Who would think that Hurricanes Ingrid and Manuel (2013) would have an impact on the water properties in the cenotes up to 2017? Was we can see in the map below, these hurricanes didn’t pass through that area either…. Interesting, right? This is an invaluable data to study climate change in the World! And not only that, but the connection between water sources in the world and the effect on different systems.
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Hurricane Ingrid in 2013
So… what divers can do to contribute to these projects? To place instruments underwater, and specially far inside a cave, you need to be trained accordingly. Most of these scientists don’t have this training, they are not even divers, so the only way that the instruments can be installed are with the aid of divers. Divers also, since they are the ones visiting the caves, they can be the witnesses of the changes on the environment, and alert scientists, and communities, so it is a win-win situation.
On this particular project in Mexico, which I joined, our tasks were from installing infrared cameras on remote cenotes to take water and algae samples on different spots, passing by installing and replacing sediment traps or temperature or flow meters.
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First project meeting
The volunteer teams are organised according to their training level, or the skills that they can put in the project as well as the needs for a specific day. At the beginning of each day, there is a briefing with the activities that need to be accomplished and the teams are assigned. You need to be open as well to fit in any of the teams, you may be diving each day with different buddies! Always, depending on skills and needs.

The first day – Yax Chen, or Ying Yang

Waaaay easier to call it Ying-Yang, at least, I have that in my mind 🙂 Actually, Yax and Chen are two Mayan Zodiac signs that means Venus and Moon, everything is related with Astrology!
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On the first day of the project we had the kick-off meeting, some results from previous years were presented by Ed Reinhardt, and Fred Devos; also a brief on what are the goals for the week, the scientists that will work with us and ourselves.
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Ed Reinhardt doing the pre-dive brief
The main site for the project will be Yax Chen cenote. I’ve never been there, and there were other locations to go as well, but if you haven’t been there before, it’s the day to go. So 90% of the divers went there. It’s located in Tulum, by the beach, on a really beautiful area, mixing with tourists and also some alternative and hippie people. The cenote is managed and run from a lodge, that appear to be super easygoing. You can park the car close to the road, and then walk around 50 meters to get into a huge lake, where you get in the water. The cave entrance is just on the opposite side of the entry.
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Cenote Yax Chen, from the entry, peace!!!
What a beautiful place!! You feel like at home being there, definitely to consider staying for a couple of nights and relax by the water. Yax Chen is really close to the ocean where the underground rivers of caves come to an end and also, some organisms from the sea come in, a similar concept of an estuary, of course, completely different in essence.
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Teams preparing to carry gear
The whole group was divided into smaller teams, depending on diving level, to be able to replace sediment traps along the cave. Cave 1 level divers were replacing the ones closer to the entry, and for example people with DPVs were replacing the furthest. First, a small brief on how to manage the samples, and an explanation of the topography of the cave.
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Come on! let’s go in the water!
So… Let’s have some fun!!
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All our gear ready!!
First teams start to gear up and enter the water, they have a fairly long swim to do, and there starts the up and down of divers carrying gear. We can’t forget about the camera team, of course, everything needs to be documented! Together with the sediment traps, some temperature loggers were collected and renewed, to be monitoring for the next 6 months, until the project gathers again.

 

The day was a success, only one of the traps was not installed!!

Dive Technicalities

  • Distance travelled: ~200 meters
  • Upstream time: 32 minutes
  • Downstream time: 36 minutes 
  • Total diving time: 68 minutes
  • Maximum depth: 9 meters
  • Average depth: 7 meters
  • Gas:  Nx30.3 back gas
  • Tanks: 2 x S80
  • Temperature: 25ºC 
  • Dive base: Zero Gravity
  • Team: Rene & Andre & Belen
 More info:

BOOT show: let’s have superpowers

Superpowers!? What for? Well…. To see all the show in just three days, you will need to walk A LOT!!! It was my first time on this show. Everybody that I talk about it with said one thing: it’s MASSIVE! And yes, they were right.

My visit to BOOT was for three entire days, which I spent most of them in the diving Hall, number 3. This is the floor plan for BOOT, and for you to have an idea, takes 20 minutes to walk from Hall 3 to Hall 8a. Looking to the amount of stands on Hall 3, maybe it would have been wise to stay a couple more days, but well… Let’s make the most of it!!!

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Welcome to BOOT!

Hall 3 – Let’s get submerged

Actually, not only in Hall 3 was the diving, it started to occupy also part of Hall 4, with the photography section, or at least part of it, and with one of the scenarios: Water Pixel World, dedicated only to talks about Underwater Media.

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A warm welcome with music in the morning, while checking how can we help to clean the ocean!

There were two main scenarios: the Dive Center, with two freshwater pools and a scenario and the Water Pixel World, with simultaneous talks during the entire time of the show every day.

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John Kendall presenting 3D photogrametry, impressive!!! put on your 3D glasses!!

On the Dive Center, there were project presentations, like Battle of Egadi, from Global Underwater Explorers and Project Baseline, and at the same time on one of the pools, demo of the basic skills from the agency, like S-drills, buoyancy or kicks. There were as well countries presentations, and some news about equipment brands, free diving, etc.

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Battle of Egadi, while demonstrating on the pool some basic GUE skills!!

I was surprised that the entire dive community was mostly dive gear, for the pleasure of freaks of gadgets, and there were some countries as well, representing their dive destinations, together with dive centers. Some of the main certification agencies had representation.

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Time for some fun as well!!

All the main brands are there, you need to be there as it is the showcase for Europe!! It is true that there are more shows around, but this is by far, the biggest one, and where everybody wants to present their new products, as well as in DEMA, in the US.

Another thing that impressed me is that the show runs for 9 entire days, a whole week with two weekends, allowing to maximize the visitors, general public during the weekends, and industry professionals during the week. The conversations that you have, specially with equipment manufacturers are on completely different levels during these days.

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Of course, I found the Haribo stand….

And the great surprise… There is a party everyday!!! Who said that Europeans doesn’t know how to party? All big brands have their party on the stand one day during the weekdays: Santi & Halcyon, BTS, Egypt…. Etc, which is great as well for socialising, a really important part of the diving!! A good component of the show is to hang out with dive buddies, and see again lots of them, with whom is sometimes difficult to run into when you dive.

As I am a bit of an electronics and robots freak, I also spent some time looking for these gadgets, where were a couple of robots that follows you underwater: by ultrasounds and some artificial intelligence vision, it can follow a diver and record his/her dive from the angle that you program on each moment from your remote. It was also other applications, like marine surveying with a pre-programmed route, etc.

What I found as well is a super tiny ROV which has a camera installed on it, and that can rotate 360º as well, from Power Vision, a really promising company which designs everything for underwater imagery.  

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Something to watch out for!

Another highlight for the show was a new dive computer that will show you your 3D path underwater, and that can compensate for currents. It senses the movements of the diver by an algorithm that is taught how the diver swim underwater. They are as well in the process of developing scooters integration and some new features.

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Latest….? technology
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Let’s dive!!!!

If you need some gear, or want to be fancy showing new flash accessories, all brands have usually some specials during the show. Halcyon, as well, has released some of the customized products, such as the pink SMB (love it!) and the customized wings, with any colour that you want!!!

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Halcyon / GUE stand

Some other freaks around

As not only divers are freaks, but boat owners, surfers and basically, everyone that has had a taste of the ocean in any way, the BOOT has a space for everyone!!

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THE wave, on stand 8a

A giant wave inside Hall 8a, where you can surf as much as you want!!! Or massive super

yatchs and sailing boats!! I’m not sure which one should I buy… XD

 

My personal highlights

My personal view of BOOT was mainly for the Global Underwater Explorers booth, since I am becoming a GUE instructor, I spent a lot of time there talking with old and new friends.

And as it can’t be on another way, a meet up of Girls That Scuba, pushing visibility and influence of woman on this industry!!!   

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Part of the Girls that Scuba Headquarters meeting!!!! yay!!!!!

Chasing numbers – O Camiño

What a better way of coming back to your own country by doing the same as you did when you left?

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Some of the Camiños

I decided to do the Santiago Pilgrim’s way, O Camiño de Santiago, in Galician; is one of the most popular walks in Europe, and also all over the world, because of its history, landscapes and people hospitality. For spiritual reasons, millions of people from all over the world do it every year, coming some times thousands of kilometers walking or biking (mainly walking), for different reasons: religious, self-conscience, history, etc.

The main reasons to do it for me was the meaning of it and Galicia, my mother region, my home, where I’m safe. The idea to walk towards that place, just motivates me and makes me feel like at home. To enjoy the journey and the people around.

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This time it was special as well. The way has been highly refurbished and it was very different from last time, specially the markers or mojones along the way. One of the things I noticed, are the numbers. I do have that thing with numbers, when they are funny and special. The mojones are located on every path crossing, to mark the right way, or in unsuspected places, that you look and think: well… I don’t really need a mojon here.

It’s highly likely that it is a special mojon. I found lots of prime numbers, or funny of them, here are some below. To the excitement of the Camiño itself, for me, this time, had a special incentive, to find the next special number!! They mark the distance to Plaza d’Obradoiro, where Santiago Cathedral is located, and is the end of your way.

They all mean something, or maybe… you can find meaning on everything!

Always follow the shell…

The first one I saw was the pint 137,138 km, this is when I realized there was something going on. Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of it.

There are some numbers below that I haven’t identified yet, but hope you can help me! I think they are hiding something…. Post in the comments!!!

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Undentified yet, but it has a 14 and a 69
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Unidentified
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Maybe too many 9’s… 19 is prime!
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2s and 7s!!!
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30 – 400!!!!
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Sounds weird to me…
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30 30!!!
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There must be something…
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PRIME NUMBER!!!!!
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PRIME NUMBER!!!!!
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Why do you look special…. ?
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6… 3… 2… 3×2=6
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6!!! 7!!!!
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8… 9… 0…
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8… 7… 0… let’s play with 0’s it’s the joker
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You must have something….
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84 84!
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Everybody can be special
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hummm….
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102,101 !!!!!
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Sphere!
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124,124!!!

 

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And I also found some other geometrical forms on the way!!