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!

 

 

 

 

Naharon – Or Cristal? The next favourite cave

Second day of MCEP project week, we were assigned to go to Naharon today! It was the first time I was diving with Yvonne, new dive buddy, I barely knew her before this dive, but as always, being GUE Cave 2 diver, we didn’t need that much of a talk regarding procedures, only about the plan, what did we wanted to do and where we would like to go, basically, where everybody recommended, this is one of the jewels of the GUE community, when a 3 hours dive with decompression, complex navigation and scientific tasks involved, only needs a GUE PLAN and a GUE EDGE on the cenote surface.  

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Cenote Cristal – Entrance to Naharon on the back right side

Our task was fairly simple: have fun, and upon exit from the cave, take some algae and water samples from the cenote, so we could establish a baseline on the cenotes network of how is the status of the water. They wanted to compare both samples and the nutrients concentration on them, including the chemical components and water quality.  We took our twinset with Nitrox 32% and a stage tank (S80) with 32% as well, so we had enough gas to truly enjoy the cave.

Why is it called cristal? the cave actually is not even remotely similar or resembles anything related with a crystal; then I learned, that Cristal is just the cenote from where you entry Naharon cave. It is the same situation with cenote Escondido and Mayan Blue cave, which are connected through one of the tunnels.

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Naharon cave map with our diving path

It was believed to belong to Sistema Naranjal, and then discovered that it is actually part of Ox Bel Ha system, the world’s largest underwater cave. Some local Maya history says that people used to threw their gold on this cenote to avoid being captured by the invading forces during the Caste war (1848 – 1902).

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Cave entry from the inside, the first tie-offs are set up on the wooden sticks

Cenote Cristal, entrance to Naharon, is South of Tulum, on highway 307, on the right hand side as you are coming from town. There is a small parking lot at the entrance for snorkelers, swimmers and basically everyone who is not a diver. To entry you need to pass through the gate and pay the Mx $200 fee for the day. If you’re a diver, you can drive up to the cenote, which has a few papayas with toilets and picnic areas, including tables to gear up comfortably, and some platforms to get in the water.

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STOP sign at the entrance of Naharon
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One of the thousands of columns inside

The cave entry, is just opposite side of where you park, on the right hand side (North), so you need to swim across the cenote to find it. The main line is around 70 m into the cave, after the typical STOP sign, and it is on the right hand wall as you enter (North side), so you need a proper primary reel for it. There are some sticks placed on the entry for secondary tie-off and the rest are easy to place on the left wall. The cave is mainly fresh water, with the halo cline in 18 meters.

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Going through one of the passages
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A detail of the rock formations inside

We went through the main tunnel, taking the first T to the left, continuing through Desconocido Dome, jumping to The Jump Side, and then to the Dutch Connection. We continued towards the west, until we hit turn pressure on our back gas, leaving the stages just before jumping to the Dutch Connection tunnel. The Chac’s Room is an amazing area, bull of huge formations and a really big space, which will blow your mind wth the ceiling stalactites, all dark and pointing towards you. To get to this part, through our path, you will need five jump spools.

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Detail of one of the cascades inside the cave
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It has huge rock formations, all in dark colours
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More speleothems with different rock composition

We took everything back on our return, coming through the same tunnels. It’s amazing how the cave changes with different perspectives. When we got to our stage tanks, we decided to continue on back gas for a little while on the previous line tunnel, as we still had some gas to explore, recalculate and go!

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One of the passages full of stalactites, stalagmites and columns
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Thousands of needles!!!!

Black or dark caves absorb the light tremendously, needing several sources along the way to iluminate the same area as you would do with other caves. Also, if there is too much light, you will have backscattering, due to the particles on the fresh water.

 

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One of the tight passages

The area is more tight (red on the map), but is completely decorated with columns and other speleothems as well, completely incredible to be floating there. You can tell as well that this is not such as transited area, because of the amount of percolation on your way, specially yo can see the mist on the way back.
Our dive profile is shown below, having, where you can see where we turned back because of the symmetries, and also the depth profile of the cave.

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On our exit, we cleaned the primary reel, and went to two different locations on the cenote to collect some algae and water samples.

 

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Me, collecting algae samples
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For each site, one water sample and one algae sample

Clean up, and have lunch at the cenote under the sun!!

And at the end, we had a special visitor from the jungle!!! they are actually really cute 😃

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My new friend from the jungle!!!

 Dive Technicalities

  • Distance travelled: ~1200 meters
  • Upstream time: 53 minutes
  • Downstream time: 98 minutes (including excursion second branch)
  • Total diving time: 151 minutes
  • Maximum depth: 19 meters
  • Average depth: 13.8 meters
  • Gas: Nx 30.2 stage and Nx30.5 back gas
  • Tanks: 2 x S80 + S80
  • Temperature: 25ºC 
  • Dive base: Zero Gravity
  • Team: Yvonne & Belen

Cenote Minotauro – Breathe

Close your eyes, take a breath, and feel the Earth.

There’s nothing more you can ask to a Cenote. Minotauro is a rather dark cave, on the freshwater side, with an halocline that gives way to a bright white cave when you encounter the sea water. It has many jumps and paths that you can follow, fully decorated or not, with restrictions, tight pales, T’s, gaps, and exits to other cenotes.

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Outdoors at Minotauro

It is located at coordinates N 20.481868,  W 87.271091, only a 10 minutes drive from Puerto Aventuras, in Yucatan peninsula. The site is prepared with some picnic tables and entertainment for snorkelers, but the really important area sits behind the cenote: a huge cave system. The entrance to the cenote is Mex$300. The parking spots (if you get there soon enough) are really close to the stairs that take you down the cenote. We geared up and ventured there, on a team of 2 this time. The plan was to close the circuit  on the main line and if we have enough gas, recalculate at the end to check some jumps around.  The site breathes peace.

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First dive distance travelled

For the first dive, we followed the main North line, starting in open water, so there is no need to install a reel now.

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The first jump left is around 15 minutes into the cave, where you closes the loop. We jumped to the left and continued clockwise. Between the halfway mark of the circuit (chase of direction) and the first jump, there is a gap to close. Just half way, on the arrows that mark it, you can jump to Cenote Escalera, we left this for the way back. The halocline starts at 12 meters, and you can start floating on top of the river before and after the change of directions, and enjoy yourself playing with the lighting and different colours. Swimming between waters feels like being between two worlds on the same planet. The salt water is slightly warmer, and  you feel it in your body, just slightly enough for the dive computer not to notice it.  

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Colors on the halocline at Minotauro

We reached TP on the stage almost at the end of the loop, around minute 40 on the dive, completing the circuit in 53 minutes, when we turned back. With the cave going up and down, you can find yourself either in fresh, salt or between waters, where one can play with the densities and light speed changes to see the colours of the cave.

On the way back, at the change of directions, we decided to drop the stages and go with back gas (no hit of TP yet) to cenote Escalera. It is only a 3 meters swim there, and you can see the light coming down, using only 10 bar to go and back, including the switch to and from back gas. On the way back, we picked up the stages and continued with them to the exit.

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Exiting the cave
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Dive profile for the first dive

Upon surfacing, we still had enough gas to do another dive, so why not?!

This time we chose the Eastern line (on the right looking at the cenote). The area of the cave is shallower than before, therefore no thermocline here. That means that most of the passage is highly decorated with dark brown speleothems, stalactites, stalagmites, column, flowstone, needles on the ceiling pointing towards you, and more restrictions and keyholes. It is a very technical fun way to go. The needles give you a feeling of being pointing down ready to pinch, with thousands of years waiting for you.

It is good not to go to this part with an almost empty stage, as one needs to be really careful of not hitting any part of the cave for its delicate formations. This time, you need a reel to connect from the open water to the main line, which starts 10 meters inside the cave part. After our recalculations, and considering we were a team of two, we had 30 bar usable for penetration, the good part is that it is really shallow, so we gifted ourselves another 80 minutes of marvellous cave.  

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Part of the travel on the second dive

The first jump is located 20 meters from the beginning of the mainline, where we turned left. We found another T after 25 minutes, and we ventured through a tiny tunnel, full of stalactites and stalagmites, columns, and keyholes again. It is such a wonderful passage, when you really feel like being part of the Earth.

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One of the keyholes on the North Passage

We encountered a break on the line, which would be a gap, just when we hit TP. On the way back, as we didn’t have enough, on the closest T from the entrance, we recalculated and swam 10 bar into the other side, T to the right!

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Detail of one of the passages

 

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Second dive profile – North mainline

All this part, as it is in fresh water, is covered with dark speleothems, giving you the darkness and mystery of a gloomy area.

Close your eyes, take a breath, and feel the Earth.

  • Dive 1 Technicalities
    • Distance travelled: 700 meters
    • Upstream time: 55 minutes
    • Downstream time: 65 minutes (including excursion to Cenote Escalera)
    • Total diving time: 120 minutes
    • Maximum depth: 15 meters
    • Average depth: 9.2 meters
    • Gas: Nx 31.7 stage and Nx30.1 back gas
    • Tanks: 2 x S80 + S80
    • Temperature: 24ºC (and maybe 24.5ºC in salt water)
    • Dive base: Zero Gravity
    • Team: Britta & Belen

 

  • Dive 2 Technicalities
    • Distance travelled: 400 meters
    • Upstream time: 30 minutes
    • Downstream time: 50 minutes (including 1st jump Right)
    • Total diving time: 80 minutes
    • Maximum depth: 6 meters
    • Average depth: 4.4 meters
    • Gas: Nx30.1 back gas
    • Tanks: 2 x S80
    • Temperature: 24ºC
    • Dive base: Zero Gravity
    • Team: Britta & Belen

 

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!!