Last day’s contemplations

Today I cannot help but to reflect upon my life before, my life now, my wanderlust, my passion for diving and my future.  I am going home to Oslo in five days and it feels natural to spend some time thinking about well, this thing called life.

When my mind gets carried away and I start feeling overwhelmed and restless, it helps to try to somehow structure and organize my thoughts. Today I have done exactly that. I often end up with a lot of lists, tables and numbers, which do not always make sense (to anyone, but sometimes me), but at least it calms my mind down. Another thing that helps is writing, so here I am, writing down my thoughts – at the end of this post, maybe it all makes some (kind of) sense, or maybe (and probably) not.

I have spent the last six months travelling the world, doing what I enjoy the most. There is no way around it, I am fortunate and privileged to be able to do so. Earlier I have written how I do not always feel that I deserve such fortune and privilege, and that I often feel I should invest both my money and time in a different manner. Those thoughts still cross my mind, and I still do not know how I truly feel about it all. Is there a right way? Is there a wrong way? Or is there only my way and your way? The way of the heart and soul? The way of the mind? And which way should we choose?

Besides fortunate and privileged, I am also passionate and determined. I remember saving all my child support (my mum was so kind to give some of the money to me directly!) during high school and spending it all on summer holidays and weekend trips with my friends. When I started diving I spent two years worth of student loan on dive gear and dive trips around Norway, Croatia, South Africa and Australia. Since I finished university and started working as a dietitian in 2007, pretty much all my savings have gone to (first and foremost) dive gear, breathing gas (helium is pretty darn expensive!), dive courses, dive trips, hiking, hiking gear, sports gear, sports related courses, travel gear, plane tickets and so on. Today I actually calculated that I pretty much would have zero mortgage if I had put all the money in the bank instead of travelling the past five years. So, am I passionate and determined, or just plain silly? Sure I am following my heart and soul and living out my dreams and desires, but does this make me sane or insane?

This is my sixth trip off «travelling», meaning that those trips have not been normal vacations you go to when in high school, university or at work. With that in mind, I am not sure what a normal vacation really means; since 2001 I have been either hiking or diving during all, except four of my holidays (although two of those involved a serious amount of walking through New York’s streets and one of them a serious amount of walking through Morocco’s desert). All my six big trips have been unforgettable experiences; my five girls inter-railing through Europe in 1999, my first solo travels through Eastern Europe in 2001, my crazy four back to back liveaboards plus countless boat dives tour around Australia in 2004, my study abroad year in Cape Town in 2005, my insane 17 months long around the world adventure in 2014, and now my 6 months long completely out of this world dive expedition this year. The amount of knowledge and experience I have gained through these trips is irreplaceable. Who would I be without them? On the other hand I sometimes wonder, what I am seeking and looking for? Have I found it yet? Will I ever? Am I searching at all the wrong places for all the wrong things?

I do not seem to have many answers in this post, but here are some of Dijana’s useless fun facts:

  • This trip has yielded exactly 85 dives and almost 200 hours of underwater time. 65 of those dives were done in a cave or a cenote/sink hole. The other 20 have taken place in either a lake (Vinkeveen) or the (Adriatic) sea. All in all we have visited 10 different wrecks (Croatia), 23 cenotes (Mexico) and 5 sink holes (Florida). There are still at least 10 cenotes in Mexico and around 5 sink holes in Florida that are on my «I really want to dive them soon» list. My (diving related) bucket list is somewhat shorter now than a few years ago, but it is by far completed. I love that list, even though it is very paralyzing and preposterous. It contains around 40 dive destinations around the world and it would take me at least a year of daily diving to tick everything off.
  • So far in my life I have been to 38 countries, which is 17 % of the countries in the world. It sure does not sound like many, does it? There are countless places also on my non-diving related bucket list. If I am ever to live out this list, it would take me at least five years of traveling to do so. It would probably cost me only a fraction of the dive trips above (which I by the way will never be able to afford). I am actually pretty sure I can pull this five year plan off if I ever decide to do so (not saying I will, just that I think it is possible). It would add close to another 40 countries to my «I have been there» travel map (and I would probably end up traveling forever!).

Where am I going with all of this? I actually do not know. Like I wrote in the beginning of this post, I am trying to sum it all up in my mind. To somehow make sense of it all. But maybe making sense is not a necessity. Maybe it cannot make sense just yet, because this is not the end. Even after this trip I still do not feel I have all the answers to life. Funny enough the biggest questions in my mind still remain unanswered. But it is time to go home to Oslo now. I feel it. I have been restless lately. Not unhappy, but not calm and serene enough. I miss my friends, my family and my work. I miss waking up in the same bed, going to the gym, eating foods I am used to eating and in general just settle down my mind a bit more than I have been able to when constantly moving around. It may actually be that the answers I am looking for are not out in the world, but inside of me, and that I need to calm down in order to find them. It may be…I guess I will find out soon enough, and if not, well, the world is out there waiting for me, right?

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Me, smiling, but still searching (courtesy of my brother Matej Alexander Stupar)

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Categories: Thoughts and feelings, Travel | Legg igjen en kommentar

Welcome to the fast (cave) lane!

Ever since I first heard of underwater scooters or diver propulsion vehicles (DPVs), I have somehow feared them. Why? Well, I fear most things I do not know how to handle, and this I really had no clue how to handle, so I feared it. For years I did not want to even try using it! Before 2017, I had around ten dives in total with a DPV (and even that might be an exaggeration).  One of them was back in 2008, one in 2012, one in 2013 and the rest last year in 2016. Every time I used it, I almost had to be talked into it. I only used it when I really had to – or actually only to avoid swimming for several hundred meters at surface or on sand bottom with all my dive gear. I have no clue how I went from completely fearing and avoiding it, to completely loving it. I guess it helped to learn more about it, use it more and most if, relax and have fun with it.

I took my DPV 1 course in December 2016 in Netherlands and my DPV Cave course in February this year in Mexico. I almost canceled the last one, as I felt I was not ready. I actually had bad dreams several times before the course – I kept dreaming I was going to crash both it and myself into cave walls (and cave decorations) or just completely lose control over it. Every time I thought about it, I kept imagining I was going to look like a complete diver novice with a terrible buoyancy and zero situational awareness. Funny enough, the DPV Cave course proved to be one of the most fun courses I have done with GUE (and I have done…well…most of them by now!).

For those of you who are not divers (I do still have some friends who are not!); DVPs were first developed for the use in the military, but with time they found their way into technical diving, cave diving and also recreational diving.  They are used by divers for many reasons: divers can cover bigger distances while using breathing less gas (you do not have to move at all!), DPVs make it easier to dive while carrying more dive gear, they make it easier to dive (you do not have to swim) in the current, they make it possible to dive wrecks in shipping lanes or far away from shore, they make it safer to dive deep (you get less exerted and therefore you have more awareness to deal with potential problems), they make documentation and exploration easier, and of course, once you get comfortable using them, DPVs are probably the most fun you will have under water. But, nevertheless, they make diving more complex. Everything happens three times as fast – normally divers swim 15 meters pr minute; with a DPV you go 45 meters pr minute. While scootering, you can get far away from your dive buddies, shore, your boat and/or cave entrance, which can highly complicate your dive if a problem occurs. During our DPV Cave course we actually made a list of advantages and disadvantages of using a DPV in a cave. There were less than five (real) advantages on this list, and at least twenty disadvantages! It might look like a toy at first glance, but it is more of a tool really (…ah damn it, do I sound very serious now? It is a very very very fun toy tool!)

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Every DPV lover’s dream – SUEX XK1, price tag around 7000 euros 🙂

 

The course lasted for five days, and it consisted of at least three hours of water time every day. We practiced and practiced, and practiced some more (and yes we had fun while practicing). Every day I felt more and more confident, and less scared of the DPV. I was, completely on the contrary of what I excepted, slowly, but surely falling in love with it. The feeling of almost flying through the caves is hard to describe. The water in Mexican caves is so clear that you sometimes forget you are submerged. When you in addition to that do not have to move, but you are being pulled by a DPV, well…I guess that is as close to flying a scuba diver can get. With a DPV you can get far into the caves, where most divers never get to go. During an average cave dive in Mexico most divers swim a distance of between 1000 and 1500 meters (one direction). If you have a DPV you can cover a distance of 3000 meters or more. The caves this far in are so pristine that their beauty can make you cry. The decorations are not broken, the cave floor is untouched, you seldom meet any other divers and it all looks like a distant planet far far away from the Earth. And even though everything moves faster, it feels like the time stops, because you need to be aware of things around you, because everything is so beautiful and because you are so very present in every moment.

I was again fortunate to be taught by one of GUE’s best instructors, Christophe Le Maillot. I do say that about all my instructors, but GUE has quite a lot of good ones, and I have intentionally done my courses with who I perceive is the most knowledgeable one in his field.  I also try to have a different instructor on every course, so that I can expand my knowledge in diving as much as possible. Chris is one of the co-owners of what I can say is one of the best GUE oriented dive centers in the world, Zero Gravity. The center is based in Puerto Aventuras in the state of Quintana Roo in Mexico. It is here that I did my Cave 1 in 2014, my Cave 2 in 2015 and it is here I have been living and diving since end of December 2016. Zero Gravity is therefore practically like another home to me, and for certain a place where I will return as often as I can for many years to come. Chris has been diving for several decades, and I can (g)estimate that he has several thousand cave dives. Many of his dives are so complex that only a few dozen cave divers in the world can ever say that they have done or will do anything remotely similar.  Some people would describe Chris as strict and serious, but they would probably also change their minds after getting to know him a bit. I have never laughed as much during any of my dive courses, while at the same time learning new things and improving my dive skills. Never have I received so much constructive feedback after my dives, and never have I finished a course feeling more inspired and humble. Inspired because there is so much more to see now, and humble both because I am so grateful I can experience it all and because I respect caves and cave diving even more now that I can go further, deeper and faster.

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From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders. He is bolted to earth. But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free (Jacques Yves Cousteau)

 

Categories: Central America, Diving, Travel | Legg igjen en kommentar

Inspirational encounters on the road

There are a lot of things with traveling that make me want to continue doing it. Freedom, excitement, serenity, nature, new places, experiences, people I meet – the list goes on.

Places I see are easy to share with others. I can post pictures on Facebook, Instagram and here. I can write blog posts about my experiences, thoughts and feelings, but I have not often written about the people I meet. This post is dedicated to ten of those people – a small personal act of gratefulness from my side. These people have touched my soul and heart, and made a permanent impact on me. Some of those people, I only knew for a day or two, some of them longer and some of them are still in my life. But the funny thing about souls is that they do not know time, and they do not care about time. Souls only recognize instant and deep connections, and they carry those with them forever.

Dave, I met you on my first long trip away from home many years ago. At that time I did not even know I had a soul, and I for sure did not believe in it. But you made me believe, and I think I made you believe as well. Our friendship means the world to me! No matter how many years go by, my soul is forever grateful.

Cathy, our endless talks and walks in Cape Town really made my year better. We connected instantly, and although I have not talked you in a while, the memories will forever make me smile. I know you are making this world a better place, I just hope you take care of yourself at the same time too.

Sibo, I love how our friendship has developed over the last decade. How we can talk about everything and nothing for hours (over a good bottle of wine!). Even the silence is good with you. You are a true inspiration, and a profound example of how hard work pays off. Really proud of you!

Gio, what a fun it was travelling with you! Such a lovely, kind and sweet boy. I truly enjoyed exploring Laos and Cambodia with you. Keep shining, and I just know we will run into each other one day – we always do, right?

Johanna, my girl! There are no words to describe what you mean to me, and what an impact you have had on my life. Even before we met, I knew you were special. Every day with you was a day filled with love, great conversations and laughter. You rock my world, and this world is a better place because of you!

Justin, you were for sure a great dive buddy, but even more you were a great conversation buddy! Our in-between dive talks on the deck, while gazing over the ocean will stay with me forever. Would be great to run into you one day – if the snowflakes want so!

Maja, you are an intriguing woman. Strong, determined, deep and fun! I hope your find your home away from home, somewhere where you can develop and grow further, while at the same time feel happy and loved.

Ashley, what a woman! I do not think I have ever met someone with a soul as calm and bright as yours. Your energy is divine, and so are you. Be the light!

Anna, I will forever cherish our talks while gazing over the jungle in Guatemala. What a country, hey! I keep following your journey and wish you all the best in life (and love). We will meet again!

Ruth, our encounter was short, but you left a mark in my soul, a deep one. I wish we traveled together for longer. I wish we ate more pancakes together. I wish we could talk more, do more yoga and hike more together. Your story touched me deeply. Your healing journey is amazing and inspiriting. Thank you for sharing it all!

…I said ten people, but I guess it must be eleven…my Vipassana brother Koke! Our meditations mean the world to me. Your honesty, friendship, kindness and love inspire me and give me hope. Metta forever!

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My favorites on the road

This trip is very different from my last one. On my last trip I visited five continents over 17 months. This time, I will «only» be visiting two over the course of six months. Still I am travelling with pretty much the same clothes (well…I had to throw away some of my favorites away unfortunately, but I did manage to find good replacements!), gear and gadgets. These are my definite favorites while on the road:

Travel bags

  • Osprey Shuttle 130 liters – an amazing bag that is home to my dive gear. I did not have this bag the last time, but so far I am really happy with it.
  • Osprey Porter 46 liters – the same bag as last time. I still love it!!! It is perfect as cabin luggage and perfect for backpacking around the world. Farpoint 40 is a really good bag as well, but for me it would probably be a bit too small.
  • Sea to Summit Dry Day Pack 22 liters – I had a similar one last time, and not a day went by that I did not use it. It was probably the most used present I have ever received (thanks Siggy!). The poor thing had to be replaced  as it just had too many holes.

When travelling with an airplane I put all my heavy dive gear in my 46 liter backpack. I am not even going to write how heavy that can get (my dive friends might have an idea…!). I put the rest of what I have in my 130 liters roller bag, which ends up weighing 25 kg. My passport, phone, camera and other important gadgets, documents and valuables, I pack down in my 22 liters bag (it does not get full) and OFF I GO.

Shoes

  • Nike Lunarglide 8 running shoes I traveled with two pairs of running shoes the last time, and found out quickly that two pairs was one pair too many (it took up waaaay much space in my bag!). Before leaving Norway this time, I ordered eight pairs of running shoes online and visited probably ten sports stores in Oslo until I finally decided which ones to go for. Come to think of it, I bought two pairs this time as well, but I left my Salomon Vario GTX behind me in Croatia for later this year, since I will not be needing them here in Central America.
  • Chaco Classic Sandals I left these behind in Norway the last time, something I regretted already after arriving to Croatia. Although I did manage to cover many many kilometers in my Havaianas® last time, I must admit that the sandals I have now are a lot more comfortable and I am really happy I packed them down.

Running/hiking/sports clothes

Last time I had around 120 runs, 66 weight sessions at the gym and 50 hikes. My running and hiking clothes were used a lot, and so will they be this time as well. I traveled with Kari Traa wool baselayer last time, but since we are not doing any serious hiking here in Central America I left them behind in Croatia for hopefully some nice hiking trips in April and May.  I also loved traveling with my waterproof gear the last time. This time I am travelling with a new Norrøna Trollveggen jacket and Norrøna Trollveggen fleece since I have lost both my jacket and fleece from last trip. I will probably not use them a lot in Central America, but I know I will use them a lot in Europe – I cannot imagine backpacking without them. Since it felt a bit too much to bring my waterproof pants, I am travelling with my windproof and water-resistant Odlo cross country skiing pants. They work surprisingly well for hiking, running and actually also as undergarments for diving here in Mexico!!! Last, but not least I adore my Bergans wool beanie and Smartwool liner gloves – perfect for hiking, running and after dive in a bit colder climate than Mexico…(spring/autumn in Europe).

«Normal» clothes (not hiking and running related!) 

I do not have a lot of «normal» clothes with me, but I for sure love my baggy pants, t-shirts, long armed sweater and cardigan. They are all super comfortable, something I really need my clothes to be when I travel. This time I also packed my long beach dress, something I truly missed having on my last trip. It is perfect for walks on the beach, hammock chilling, dinners and dates. Another favorite is my light short skirt and shorts for those nights out or for when I want to wear something else but sports clothes (it does not occur often, but it is nice from time to time).

Gadgets

  • HP Pavillon 14 al082no . I traveled with my iPod mini the last time. I really missed having a laptop, and therefore I bought a new one just a few weeks before leaving home. Really happy with it so far. It makes managing pictures and writing a lot easier. Since it does have a pretty small hard drive, I have a Toshiba 1 TB external hard drive with me (great for backing things up as well!).
  • I mostly use my Huawai P8 phone camera, but I do have an «old» Panasonic DMC-LX3 with me as well. Both take good enough pictures for my needs.
  • Spork!!! I have used it so many times. Such a simple, but useful little thing.

Dive gear

Do I even have to mention my dive gear? I could have not made the memories I have without it. My best companion by far!  Last time I had 183 dives in total, while I think I might log around 80 this time around. Most of the dives this time will be in Mexico, but some also in Florida and Croatia (and hopefully also Hungary and Germany!). My dive gear probably weighs around 30-35 kg, but it is worth every kilogram and more. Dive gear is not very typical for a backpacker to travel with, but for me there is no way around it!

Categories: Planning, Travel | 2 kommentarer

Are numbers and maps fun?

Anyone who knows me a bit, will know that my answer is «YES, BOTH ARE FUN!»I have always loved them (and anything else that can help me organize this world into something to remember and memorize!)

I can stare at a map for hours trying to figure out what to do, where to go and how to get there. When I am travelling or hiking I frequently pull the map out (or these days my phone!) just for fun. I mark where I have been, and save them for later trips or just as a nice memory.

Although I have held and owned many maps in my life, I have never made a map myself, and for sure not a underwater cave map. I was therefore immediately attracted to a GUE course called Underwater Cave Survey, where you among many other things also learn how to make an underwater cave map. Fun written all over it if you ask me!

My curiosity for underwater cave survey was further awaken after my GUE Cave 2 Course in Mexico two years ago. During that class students need to make a simple underwater cave map, and since our team head a great time doing it, I wanted to learn more about it. After doing my GUE Documentation Diver Course cave version in Sardinia in June last year, my passion for documenting and sharing the information about the underwater cave world increased. Since I was going to spend eight weeks cave diving in Mexico this year, I decided to sign up for a underwater cave survey class at the beginning of January.

There is only one GUE instructor in the world teaching this course – Fred Devos. His passion for exploring, surveying and diving shines through every little bit of the course, and really adds that perfect touch to the it. It is amazing and  very inspiring to see how someone who has been diving and teaching for more than two decades still can look like a three year old child opening his presents on Christmas Eve after surfacing from a cave never surveyed before. Every time I do a GUE course I am beyond grateful to be able to learn from some of the very best this community has to offer.

These are the course outcomes as written on the GUE web page:

GUE’s Underwater Cave Survey Course is designed to introduce experienced cave divers to the important skill of surveying underwater caves. Among the course’s intended outcomes are: introducing divers to the basic principles of underwater cave survey, the implementation of a defined team approach to underwater survey data collection, preparing an experienced cave diver to assist productively in a coordinated cave project, and introducing divers to cartography methods.

The class has only two students and lasts for five days. There is a bit of theory and some homework to be done, but the course is mostly practical involving both field drills and diving. We had a pleasure of surveying and mapping a cave that has never been surveyed and mapped before. Our instructor had actually never even dove it before! On our first field drill we learned how to perform a cave underwater survey in a safe manner as a team. The next few days we practiced this skill under water for several hours each day: checking depths, measuring distances, counting knots and taking azimuths for all the stations on the line. It may not sound like fun, but it makes you look at a cave in a whole different way. It can be compared to learning the anatomy of a human body compared to just looking at it as a whole. Swimming far off the line is not something we normally do on a regular dive, but now this was part of the job. And when you swim off the line, you notice things you normally do not. Bottom formations, type of rock, size of the cave, decorations, side tunnels, flow directions and so on. We learned how to sketch underwater on the next last day of the course, which added to the complexity of our map. This also forced us to move from the details to a bigger picture. It makes you think what parts of the cave are really important to see, remember and know about in order to make a map that can help other divers, people and/or scientists.

The weekend after the course  we finalized our map using paper, color pencils and markers. We started off with a bunch of tables, numbers and lines, and ended up with, if I can say it myself, a pretty cool underwater cave map!

 

The drawing of maps is not normally done by hand in big projects, but  I really liked learning how it used to be done before computers took over. It made us understand the whole process a lot more than if we had just plotted the numbers into a program, having the map  «pop up».

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Although I did read the outcomes of the course before signing up, I  was not completely sure how the course would be, and if I would actually like it or not. At the end of the course, we both agreed that we had enjoyed it a lot more than expected and I can highly recommend it to anyone who is considering doing it. The week after the course we actually went back to «our» cave to survey another two jumps/tunnels that we did not have a chance to finish during the course (it takes a lot of time in the beginning). There is no way we would do this if we truly did not enjoy it.

Diving for me has for many years been about more than what I see while diving. Yes, I like the fish and I love the decorations and formations but my big motivation is also to provide data that can encourage conservation, add to research and enhance awareness about the underwater world (in this case caves). Of course, diving is also about having fun, sharing experiences with my team members and working together as a unified team. Surveying presents you with all of this and more!

Caves never stop to amaze me – there are filled with an endless amount of beauty, mystery and new details to discover. I know my cave survey certification will only increase my love for them, and hopefully contribute to letting them stay the way they are for many years to come!

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