Beneath the Surface…

Every year we travel to Roatan for a week of SCUBA diving at CoCoView Diving Resort.  Rustic and simple, you couldn’t ask for a better dive setup.  The dive boat captains are on top of your every need, and the resort is mapped out for simplicity.  Accessed only by boat, it is also a quiet place to hang out.  There are no phones, and no television.  All the entertainment is beneath the surface of the ocean that is right at your doorstep.

I became SCUBA certified in 1992 when we lived in New Orleans.  We went to Mexico where I did my certification dive, and I had the opportunity to marvel at the amazing coral and sea life that was Palancar Reef.  Six months later, my husband and I obtained our advanced SCUBA certification where the check out dives were done off the coast of Florida.  This was my first experience with sea sickness, as well as the night dive that not only heralded SCUBA divers, but spear fishing participants.  Following a day of semi unconsciousness from the effects of dramamine, there was a dip in a naturally fed spring where the temperature was 53 degrees and we were required to stay down for 45 minutes.  So far, my perceived value of obtaining an advanced certification was roughly nil.

Shortly after, we moved to Virginia where I promptly gave birth to three adorable little boys in eleven months, and the wonderful memories of Palancar reef and the amazing sea life were relegated to the distant past.  Then in 2001 my husband was introduced to a gentleman that taught SCUBA diving as well as organized SCUBA trips, and suddenly life beneath the surface became forefront for us again.  It was another two years before we took another trip to SCUBA dive, this time to Roatan to dive with the group from Holladay SCUBA.

It wasn’t love at first sight with me.  My biggest complaint then is still my biggest complaint now.  The water around Roatan, and CoCoView Resort are fairly rough, and it’s a struggle for me to enjoy getting on a boat because of this.  I’ve tried every seasick remedy known to man, finally settling on Scope Patches.  They aren’t perfect, but the best resource for me.  This first trip after a hiatus of roughly 10 years was like starting all over, and I didn’t enjoy it.  For some reason, we saw little sea life, I was uncomfortable, and I left not only wondering what I had ever enjoyed about it to begin with, but also thinking it wasn’t something I wanted to do again.

Then a curious thing happened.  Our oldest, when he was 14, expressed an interested in SCUBA diving.  He took lessons, and my husband took him to Roatan.  I secretly thought is would be a disaster, because of my recollection that there just wasn’t a lot to see there.  But when they returned, they had pictures from a simple point and shoot underwater camera that my husband had invested in that showed a variety of sea life I simply couldn’t believe.  Eventually, his twin brothers became certified, and we’ve taken all of them to Bonaire and to Roatan.  The oldest accompanied my husband to Indonesia for ten days on a live aboard (seeing that I don’t do boats very well), which turned out to be the trip of a lifetime.

I enjoyed Bonaire the most, simply because of the water factor.  Smooth and easy, I did every dive and never got sick.  The downside is, it’s fairly expensive, whereas Roatan is more reasonable.  There is one dive site in Roatan that provides a fairly smooth ride and that is French Cay Cut.  Located  between the reef and shore, this is a muck dive; the boat drops divers in a sandy muck bottom–teeming with micro life, but little else.  You can make your way however, through the cut and along the wall of the reef for an excellent exploration of larger sea life–even a turtle or two, but be prepared for fairly large surge on top of the coral.

So I made my return to SCUBA diving in 2010.  Only this time my hobby of photography coalesced with SCUBA diving, and an entirely new horizon opened up before me.  A horizon of maddening moments, sheer frustration, and epic failure that only hardened my resolve to prove to myself that I wasn’t really as stupid as I felt with a camera in my hand below the surface.  In my extremely humble opinion, underwater photography is not only the most difficult photography to practice, but it seems to contradict so many rules of land based photography.  It is it’s own world.

So without going on too much longer, here are the first of three years of underwater photos that I’ve felt halfway decent about.  If you would like to see some of the top photographers in this realm, check out these links:  Todd Winner or Scott Geitler.  You won’t be disappointed.

Picture the World – Scotland

When I went to Scotland, I took over a thousand pictures, and that wasn’t nearly enough to convey the beauty of this country.  There is something so pleasing and soothing to the eyes in the lush green of their countryside.  However, it isn’t only the visual interest of the Scottish Countryside that I found appealing.  Scottish history is intriguing, complex, often violent and tremendously fascinating.  So when I learned from Madhu over at The Urge to Wander about the Picture the World Project on The Departure Board website,  I thought I’d have a look.

Since Scotland still seemed to be open, decided to send a picture for entry.

There are many things that are visually strong representatives of Scotland.  But my favorite is the Leanach Cottage on Culloden Moor.  This farmhouse stands on the edge of the site of the last battle of Scotland’s bid for independence that occurred on April 16, 1745.  The roof is simple thatched heather, the walls are stone and the floor is dirt.  There is a glimpse of the battlefield behind it where Bonnie Prince Charlie’s troops made their stand on a bitterly cold day and a moor sodden with rain.  A sobering experience to stand on this field, and imagine that day.

I nominate Travel Photography by Dmetrii Lezine for his wonderful photos of just about anywhere, and The Ego Tripper for the same reason.  Both well traveled, and great photos.  If you are interested in filling in some of the world pictures, just go to the link on the Departure Board in the first paragraph of this blog.

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio means Old Bridge.  The original bridge was built by the Romans around 996 to cross the Arno River at it’s narrowest point, but was swept away in a flood nearly 100 years later.   It was rebuilt of stone and swept away in another flood in 1333, and rebuilt again in 1345.  The Upper portion was built in 1565 and is known today as the Vasariano Corridor which connects the Ufizzi Gallery and the Pitti Palace.

Bridge in Florence behind the Ponte Vecchio

Italian Countryside and Olive Oil

The Countryside of Florence is so very beautiful.  We drove from San Gimingnano to this little place that made Fattoria Olive Oil in San Donato where we had lunch, and got to taste Grappa.  It’s a good thing we weren’t driving.

San Gimignano, Italy


San Gimignano, Italy became a town in the 10th century.  It was named after the poet Folgore da San Gimignano who was born there in 1270.  It boasts five museums and nine monuments and is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.  We had a great afternoon wandering through the town and through the shops.  Many shops sell sketches of the Italian countryside done by local artists that are quite good.

Courtesy of Google Maps

The Temple of the Italian Glories

The Basilica di Santa Croce, also known as the Temple of the Italian Glories because of the number of famous Italians entombed there is located on the Piazza di Santa Croce 800 meters south of the Duomo.  It is the principle Franciscan Church in Florence, has 16 chapels, and was probably started in 1294.  There are a total of 16 tombs and monuments of famous Italians such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Dante, and Rossini.  The neo-gothic façade dates 1857-1863 however, and the campanile 1842.  Some 19 artists have contributed to the artwork.

Duomo is Dome in middle of photo


Galileo

Machiavelli

Undergoing restoration…

Michelangelo

The Catacombs of Saint Callixtus


Built in the 2nd century, the Catacombs of Saint Callixtus contain dozens of martyrs, sixteen popes, and countless Christians over a 33 acres within 5 levels of 12 miles of tunnels.

We took a cab from the Spanish Steps which was about a 20-25 minute ride.  There is a walking tour of the grounds, and another tour of the catacombs, or you can combine the two.

There is no photography allowed in the crypts, however more information can be found here, with photos.

Below are the grounds at Saint Callixtus.

Arch of Constantine and the Colosseum


This is the Arch of Constantine.  It sits between the Colosseum and Palatine Hill.  It was built in the early 4th century to commemorate Constantine’s victory over Maxentius in the Battle of the Milvian Bridge.

From here we walked to the Colosseum.

This guy was taking a break from his acting duties.  It was pretty cool seeing people dressed up as though it were ancient times.

The North Wall of the Colosseum is the only remaining original wall.

In the bottom is a series of tunnels referred to as Hypogeum.  The ground floor is closed to tourists, but can be seen from above.

The Colosseum was started between 70-72AD by Emperor Vespasian.  It was finished in 80AD by Emperor Titus, the older son of Vespasian.  His younger son, Domitian added the hypogeum or tunnels to the bottom for slaves and animals.  There were dumbwaiter systems that would raise the captives through holes in the floor above.  The original Colosseum was three stories, but a top gallery was added later.  The small square hole at the top right was one of many along the top that was utilized for a framing system to hold awnings to keep the sun off of the Emperors.

You can see a reconstruction of the floor in the bottom left of this photo.  It was a wooden floor that they covered with sand for the games.  You can also see a reconstruction of the seating on the right just above the flooring.

The Hypogeum from the first level.

The Virginia Countryside

There is peace in the beauty of the countryside.  The storms of spring produce amazing cloud formations that roll and stretch across the sky.  It is quite a spectacular display.  I’m always in awe when I see this, no matter how many times I’ve seen it before.  The countryside of Virginia seems different to me then the countryside in other states.  Whenever I look out at this expanse I somehow imagine life before cars, computers, telephones and paved roads–a colonial lifestyle when life was much simpler.

Moving Photography

The last difficulty with photography is movement.  The water is moving, you are moving, the fish are moving.  How on earth can you get a photograph that is worth anything if EVERYTHING is moving?  Persistence.

I’m sure the longer you do it the easier it gets.  The simplest things such as breathing can cause you to move up and down a foot or two.  Inhale, rise.  Exhale, drop.  And you really shouldn’t hold your breath underwater, lest you get a lung injury, which can happen with as little as two feet of ascent while holding your breath, depending on your depth.  Having had a pulmonary embolism once in my life, I wasn’t keen on another lung injury.  But the overwhelming urge to hang still found me trying to hold my breath just to get that illusive photo.  It’s more difficult closer to the surface where neutral buoyancy is a little more difficult and the surge is greater.  Not to mention that the fish don’t really like to pose, although admittedly there are some who don’t shy away as easily as others.

The male Stoplight Parrot Fish is one that just does not stop swimming.  He is really hard to get a photo of, and I followed him for 15 minutes or so, and snapped about as many photos.

The angel fish is equally illusive.  He never stops swimming, and rarely swam in my direction.

These little guys tended to be curious, and head-on shots were a little easier with them.

Then there are the Sand Divers who lay on the bottom and blend in, hoping not to be seen.  Photo courtesy of DH, as mine did not come out well.

These little guys are about an inch long, and cover the bright orange coral.  I found them difficult to photograph because of their size and movement of the surge while using macro required tweaking of shutter speed and f stop.

This last guy is less than an inch in length, so I think the fact that I got him was probably nothing more than dumb luck.