Close Encounters of the Canopy Kind

In the last month, there have been 2 separate incidents of where a couple of very experienced skydivers (in these incidents, Professional Instructors who have been in the sport for double digit years) collided under canopy as they approached the landing area. The tragic result: three fatalities plus a skydiver who remains in serious condition. The harsh reality of our sport … high speed dangers lurk at every corner and crevice, regardless of one’s skill or experience level. I personally feel that my skydive isn’t over until I’m safely tucked away packing my parachute. Remaining alert and vigilant through all aspects of a skydive is paramount to ones survival, and even then, there is no guarantee.

Today was a good example of such a scenario. I was jumping with 5 other skydiving friends, dabbling in a bit of 6 way RW (relative work / belly flying). The jump was fun and we successfully flowed through our planned skydive. At 4,000 feet, our group broke off in a track (aka propelling my body in a high speed fashion to an area of clean airspace, away from my fellow jumpers — for those not familiar with the terminology). After about 3 seconds, I noticed another jumper tracking about 300 feet to my left. A little too close for my comfort so I kept one eye on him, as I initiated my canopy deployment procedures. I wanted to keep him in my sight at all times in case I had to avoid him in a sudden traffic conflict. As I looked up at my opening billowing Spectre 135, I caught sight of another jumper a mere 30 feet to my left (not the man whom I had had my watchful eye on to my right) radically steering himself away from me as we quickly closed distance upon each other with opening canopies. Egads, my heart almost stopped as I jumped on my risers in an attempt to avoid a canopy collision at 2500 feet. Thirty feet can be closed within half a second under fast flying canopies coming at each other. That’s not a whole lot of time to react. Thankfully, the other canopy pilot was flying at a non-converging angle whilst my canopy was opening. Not a whole lot of control with a partially inflated canopy, on my part. And thankfully, my canopy deployed on heading instead of in a turn (which it does 30% of the time). That could have changed the whole ballgame. My senses were on high alert and rattled after this close call. I reran the whole scenario in my head a multitude of times under canopy as I sought clear airspace for a safe landing. I literally kissed the ground when I touched down, shaken and stirred like a bad martini on a Saturday night. What lessons could I walk with from our in-air experience? For me, I came away with the awareness that one can’t be too complacent in one’s focus, especially at deployment altitude. Having eyes scanning in all directions is necessary before safely opening my canopy. I was fixated on another person without an acute awareness of the others on the skydive. My close-call companion was above my level when I opened. In looking for an alternative solution to this, thoughts of doing a barrel roll before deployment, so that I could see in all directions, seemed like a viable option. But as one friend pointed out, if I was not on a perfectly straight heading when attempting a barrel roll, I could be turning right into the person whom I had had in sight. That could potentially create another bad scenario. It seems that having eyes at the back of my head would be a considerable advantage in this sport! Alas, for right now, keeping my head constantly moving, on the lookout for traffic is the best thing for me in hoping to keep alive in this sport. I am totally responsible for my skydive. And how I act / react to stimulus and scenarios will ultimately change the outcome of my skydive.

It’s good to have ones world turned upside down and shaken a bit when the path gets comfortable and easy, especially when it pertains to skydiving. I find myself learning best from the mistakes I make or when the encounters I experience have a steep learning curve. Luckily I was able to walk away without a scratch and only heart palpitations this time. Too many people are getting killed lately under a perfectly good flying canopy. Whether close to the ground or up high, a canopy is a fast-moving vehicle that can do considerable damage at 25 mph. Time to wake up and keep our heads on a swivel, more-so now than ever before.

P.S. I would like to extend Brian Germain kudos here. His canopy flight course is a great educational resource, providing a monumental brush-up of skills for skydivers that want to improve their safety margin whilst also elevating their canopy piloting skills to the next level. Brian has authored some amazing skydiving books, including: The Parachute and its Pilot, Transcending Fear, Vertical Journey and Greenlight Your Life.

As quoted by Brian Germain: “Joy is thrust, fear is drag, ego is weight, and knowledge is lift. Maximize lift and thrust, and you will go far.”

Hangin’ in Houston

Today we decided to go and hang out with the Wernigs in downtown Houston. We visited: Hermann Park, Rothko Chapel with a quick pitstop at the Zoo. Rothko Chapel is considered a sacred non-denominational place of contemplation and worship open to all, 365 days a year, where the experience and understanding of all traditions are encouraged and made available. It feels like late Spring / early Summer here in Texas. So wonderful! But I look forward to returning home to Canada, jubilant in the sharing of Spring, after a long hard Canadian Winter experienced by those who remained North of the border. 

 

Safety Day for the Sport of Skydiving

Once every year, around this time, when the winter weather starts to mellow and skydivers are ready to brush off the cobwebs of a winter (for many jumpers north of California) where many are ready to rev up their skydiving libido for a new season of jumping out of aircraft. A tradition of our sport is to have an annual safety day that helps to prepare us for the potentialities of a busy skydiving season, touching on issues of safety and protocol so necessary to survival in the airplane, in freefall, under canopy, touching back to earth and even stationary on the ground.

Back-uP a-gO-gO

Okay, I’m a self-admitted pack-rat. Not just in real life, but digitally as well. My computer is bursting at the seams with information overload, and I am finding the need to organize, sort, categorize, purge and back-up. But where does one start? We bought a 1 terabyte Western Digital external portable drive recently. My intention: with the drive being so small, maybe it’ll be more convenient to consistently backup. That’s the plan. Interesting however, in trying to copy all of our trip media files from the older 12” MAC powerbook (comparatively slow and 8 years old) to the external, I’m encountering all types of errors. Fingers crossed that we don’t lose any of the photos or GoPro video from Belize!

Grounded in Gratitude

After 3 weeks in Belize, I am feeling completely recharged and rejuvenated. I have been under an extremely powerful intoxicating spell of traveller’s limbo, where I am still the same person I was at home but the setting has been totally different and I have followed my heart on this journey, exploring the potential of where it would lead me / uS, in the blend of both foreign and familiar. Part of venturing to new lands inevitably involves change of some sort. I had to wonder upon our return, what would have changed in my view of Airstream living and the mobile home life that we have so loved and adored? What might have changed with me? In all honesty, I can’t emphatically say that I am thrilled about or ready to return to our Airstream in the USA just quite yet after such a big and life-changing adventure. Don’t get me wrong. We truly have a blessed life and lifestyle in this stage of our life, travelling on the road in our silver tube, partial only to the whims of our imaginations. But leaving a literal paradise was difficult and a challenge. Part of me is undeniably sad. I’ve never been one to become attached to a vacation destination, in all the years that I’ve travelled. I’ve certainly acquired favourites (Iceland for its prolific beauty, New Zealand for its understated worldliness of natural grandeur, South Africa for its wild and eccentric raw splendour). But the memories we created in Belize whilst reawakening our spirits to new heights were incredible. This to the point of literal breathtaking expansiveness. An escapade of epic proportions, jam packed full of excitement, magnificence, love and lessons. Not a day went by that I didn’t appreciate the ocean, the sand, the sun, the people and the country itself. Sea-duced by life on San Pedro and in Belize itself, fully connecting and being in the moment with where I was at. The purity of the salty sea air, the tropical grandeur and living with just the basic necessities of our current existence breathed new life in to my inner being and soul. At times, the teachings of our adventure were challenging. But we pulled through, engaging, learning, living and loving.

And return we did, with smiles as young and light as the air beneath our step. Coming home: a reawakening of sorts. To be honest, after 3 weeks away from our regulate routine and diet, I am all the more appreciative of a familiar and regular balanced diet based on inexpensive, readily available fruits and veg (something not available to us living in a hotel room with no prep facilities, utensils or containers). In Belize, refrigeration was a premium necessity to combat all the tropical guests (ants, wasps, flies, etc) and spoilage. On the Island, we had access, but on a very small scale basis. Hence, no fruit and lettuce salads for us. This injection of new appreciation for all that I often take for granted in everyday living is a necessity to the grounding of my presence in life as I know it. Gratitude fills my heart for all that I have experienced and currently have. Life is abundant, bountiful and filled with many blessings. I had the same sort of response and begetting of mindfulness when returning from 5 months in India and 2 months in Guatemala. Wherever we might lay our hat, we are blessed. And tuning in to that sense of inner paradise is a magnificent skill which I hope to keep coming back to. Perhaps that’s why I rely so diligently on photographs? The priceless essence of a life well-lived, loved and momentarily captured.

 

Return from Paradise



Both slaDE~ and I were excited about waking at the crack of dawn to watch the sun crest the ocean horizon. Unfortunately, what has become a common occurrence here on holiday, I awoke at 3am fully alert, twiddling my thumbs, random mundane thoughts rampant in my brain, tumbling like a dryer full of static electricity. Part of me is truly sad to leave this paradise behind. Opportunities such as we had during the past 3 weeks don’t come around very often, and our jump in to the Blue Hole was a once-in-a-lifetime magical experience that leaves me feeling awe-inspired by the spirituality, beauty and enchantment of this country.

The morning sunrise was full of metaphors for us, this our last day in Belize. The skyline was laden with giant puffy clouds that masked the sun, a fine drop shadow rimming the edge aglow. Patiently we sat, cross legged in mindful meditation, exhilarated by the stunning force of the salty wind which whipped against our bodies with playful abandon. Very different from yesterday morning’s experience. The clouds obscured the sun for the longest time, shape-shifting massive columns of cotton balls that at times seemed dull and grey, spontaneously bursting with fiery brilliance on a whim that passed as quickly as the drizzling rain. After a while, we were a bit miffed that the clouds were marring our ‘perfect’ sunrise, and then realized that we had no control in changing the organic flow of nature and life’s force. Instead I could breath sweetly alongside the imperfection of my narrow and limited vision, embracing the reality of the universe’s course. In life exists this lesson in parallel …. by letting go of my need to control and steer our course on a set path, I can more fully enjoy the moment for what evolves, breath by breath. If I melt in to the imperfect ever-changing moments and wait for the clouds to clear for the ultimate emerging of another day, I will be blessed with life’s glory and end-prize, even if a masked veil of darkness hides in front of life’s brilliance.

Leaving San Pedro …. I felt quite sad to bid farewell to this simplistic but beautiful lifestyle we found in Belize. But an early morning start to meditate on sunrise and kickstart our day off beautifully helped ease any anxiousness that comes with leaving paradise.

Our flight to the mainland is a mere 35 miles to Belize City from San Pedro. A puddle jumper indeed. Today as our plane soared through the scenic puffy clouds, we could make put several small islands, including Caye Chapel (site of Belize’s only 18-hole golf course — a private run resort that would make for an excellent future Boogie site if we found a $75 million  private investor!). As our Caravan flew low over the multi-blue and turquoise hued transparent water, I could see mangrove and sand–edged islands, coral heads, the sand and sea grass bottom, and fishing boats intermixed with the shadows of cotton-ball clouds. A gorgeous send-off from 3 heavenly weeks vacation in Belize. The flight to El Salvador actually took us south along the Belize coast, leaving us with a final distant visual of the Blue Hole and Lighthouse Atoll expanse. That was worth the rerouting of our flight (instead of a straight forward connection right through to Houston). Tears of happiness sealed the perfect ending to a trip of near perfection in paradise. Sweet memories indeed!

Reality hit hard when making our way through customs. Our flight arrival was late at night as it was, but with the incessant petulant questioning of our custom’s agent, we were the very last people to close the immigration enclosure down. An hour of perplexing questions, photographs and fingerprints. Egads, we’re friendly easy-going vacationing Canadians wanting to spend money in the grand ole USA (neighbours to the USA, in fact, eh! Free trade and all, right?), who didn’t deserve to be interrogated like criminals. Big sigh of relief. Texas is our RV home for another month, and then back home to Canada we go! Yay, I miss my family and friends, and winter is coming to en end.

Yoga Poses with a Unique Partner

Capturing the beautiful early morning light of sunrise, slaDE~ and I took some fun photos recreating yoga poses where the railing was used as a prop / ‘partner’. I used creative influence with some of the stretches suggested by Kirsten in yesterday’s yoga class (Ak’Bol Yoga Retreat, Belize), fully envisioning a future partner yoga / yogaFLIGHT class intertwined with these poses. I wanted the photos as reminders of the beauty and potential of said asanas, while also perhaps providing inspired ideas to those Yogis out there who read my blog :).

If you find this useful, please let me know! Or if you come up with additional ideas for partner stretches, I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

Yoga by the Beach

Early morning sunrise was so beautiful and worth waking for at 5:30am. The ocean sat quietly still with hardly a breeze to blow away the clouds embracing the sunrise. The mosquitoes were out in full force with only the light Caribbean breeze hugging our skin. A test of patience to sit in peace and quiet with the buzzing sounds from the flapping wings of our pesky blood-sucking intruders.

At times like great beauty such as now, when travelling, I find it difficult to decide which digital camera lens is best for photographing a momentous experience. Carrying both around is a challenge at best and a trial of my juggling capabilities. So in making the best of what I have, I choose one or the other lens, hoping to capture the essence of the scene. This morning, a 18-200mm lens would have been perfect. The 50-300mm lens which I opted to use in photographing the sunrise was just too long for my liking. Although I make do with what tools I am blessed to have, I sometimes miss ‘the perfect shot’. Yet I am grateful to now have a SLR to experiment and play with. I am super excited at having such opportunities of vast beauty and opportunity. Tell me what you think of my morning photo shoot?!

Kirsten’s yoga class at 9am was a true delight. 16 morning practitioners (some trying yoga for the first time!) revelled in the gentle breeze which swayed with our bodies, fluid as the breath and waves which engulfed our every sense. The railings of the pier yoga studio were an awesome tool in furthering one’s balance, stretch and alignment. It truly was magical, at times hearing the ocean beat a cadence of delight when the rain pelted out a spontaneous tune that ended as abruptly as it began. In Savasana, I fell in to a deeply entranced state of stillness, out of body in both physicality and mind. I was flying with the wind, in tune with the universe. It was a surreal timeless moment, connecting with Mother Earth and the ocean floor beneath me, the stilts of the studio swaying in lovely unison with my breath.

We ended up our gorgeous luxurious day, of reflection and sun, chatting with Kirsten about the possibility of holding a yogaFLIGHT retreat here in the Caribbean. We learned a bit more about Kirsten and her family. Kirsten originally visited Belize 15 years ago (originating from Chicago, Illinois). She instantly fell in love with the Island of Ambergris Caye, and much of her time and effort went into getting back to Belize as often as she could, eventually creating the magical Ak’bol Yoga Retreat with her husband and two children, 5 years ago.

Now I’m curious, would anybody be interested in a week-long escape of yoga, yogaFLIGHT, scuba diving, drumming, and meditation at Ak’bol?

 

Nesting and Settling

slaDE and I joined our friends David and Kelly from KittyHawk North Carolina for breakfast, after we packed up our belongings. Today was our departure day from Pedro’s Inn after a lovely 2.5 week stay. We feel very blessed that we were gifted with such inexpensive accommodation (the equivalent of our months rent in Calgary) … Peter, the owner, gave us a really good rate for the duration of our stay and we had a blast! And now, we were looking forward to a couple days of solitude and Caribbean tranquility by the sea at the Ak’bol Yoga Retreat.

After saying goodbye to our friends (and dropping off our big bags at the Sunbreeze hotel, ready for our departure on Tuesday), we started the walk to the North side of San Pedro. After crossing the bridge, I was able to hitchhike us a ride to the retreat thankfully. It was another 2 miles in hot sticky weather with no ocean breeze to alleviate the mugginess.

We were staying in the Yoga Barracks over the next few days. The Barracks are an affordable option to experiencing the Retreat, if the Cabanas aren’t in one’s budget ($50US/night+tax). A clean simple attractive room with a queen size Captain’s podium bed, plenty of storage and a lockable area under the bed, ceiling fan and shuttered / screened windows. I was grateful that we were on the second level, allowing for a sea breeze to keep us cool in the evenings. We were well spoiled with air conditioning at Pedro’s Inn! It’s good to shift things around and shake oneself from the ‘comfort zone’. And really, we didn’t need anything fancy as we weren’t planning to spend a whole lot of time in the room. This was a time for us to explore the community areas and the sea, revel and unwind with Oceanside yoga, to bird watch and lounge on the beach and by the pool. Basically, a way to savour, unplug and get in tune with the peaceful rhythm of the island for our last few days. A way to relax, strengthen, centre and empower ourselves. You can also find them on Facebook here if interested.

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This is the owner’s (Kirsten) formal description of the Barracks:

Picture an earth toned, maya ruin-inspired three-story structure positioned on the lagoon looking out to the backside of the island … a serene setting … extraordinary sunsets … bird watching  … mangroves … peaceful … quiet nights … Winding pathways through a natural garden of palm trees, seagrapes and colorful flowers lead to the central grand entrance of the Yoga Barracks … up the stairs leads you directly into our spacious locker rooms … well ventilated, naturally lit, shared bath & shower locker room areas for men and women or co-ed … you’ll stay on island time as you gaze into the wooden sinks carved by local Rastas,  faucets made of conch shells from the sea and the rain-showers are covered with bamboo. … all private with plantain shuttered doors … plenty of toilets … changing areas … your own lockers for toiletries and drinking water available.  To the right and left of the locker rooms, wing out a total of 14 single rooms … and on the second floor a total of 16 single rooms with great view of the sea and lagoon with awesome breezes.

At the waterfront is their casually hip, people-friendly, laid back bar called Shade (freshly squeezed organic juices, tropical smoothies, herbal spritzers, teas or extensive bar menu favourites like the ‘Mi Chelada’, ‘Dirty Banana’ or ‘Stingaritas’) and with an ‘island diner-esque’ restaurant named Bean. The food is really spectacular. Healthy and especially yummy with traditional local favourites offered from breakfast right through to dinner. I wish however that the hours from 7am to 5pm were extended. We were used to eating later in the evening. Because of this, we discovered that the local selection for food was almost non-existent, unless one takes a land or water taxi in to San Pedro. We went without dinner on our first night :(, it being Sunday and all the local restaurants closed. Going with the flow, Island-style.