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December 21, 2014

Dear Reader,

Have you enjoyed The Overpacker and want more? If so, you’re in luck! I’m producing content again, sometimes even writing over at Culture Slash.

Culture Slash is The Overpacker evolved. Mostly, it’ll be home to a podcast about American culture where I’ll take what I learned traveling and apply it to uncovering American culture. The show is distributed via iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, Tumblr, and directly on the Culture Slash website.

I continue to explore what fascinates me most: how people from different cultures relate to each other and how what feels “normal” can be so different from person to person. I hope you’ll visit Culture Slash; I think you’ll like it.

Regardless, I’m grateful you’ve taken time enjoy my work here. A writer without readers is just a loner scratching out marks that mean nothing to no one. Thanks for saving me from that fate!

If I don’t see you at Culture Slash, perhaps I’ll see you elsewhere, and that hopefully soon.

Many thanks,

Mervyn Deganos

Day 244 – A Trip to The Far Side (Motorbiking Cozumel’s Beaches)

June 11, 2011

Location: Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Date: Saturday, June 11, 2011

This morning Belinda–my Aussie travel companion–and I rented a motorbike to explore Cozumel. Under ping pong ball shaped helmets we dodged through traffic on our way out of San Pablo wind in our hair and wheels pointed south.

My fondness for motorbikes is well-documented. They provide the mobility and in-the-wind openness of bicycles, but without all that pedaling crap. The latter is especially useful when navigating tropical heat. It also doesn’t hurt that motorbikes cost less to rent than cars. What can I say? I’m cheap.

A few miles out of town, we stopped at one of the numerous beach clubs that line the western (read: tourist) side of Cozumel. We parked our ride in the crowded parking lot just as a group of college students hopped out of a jeep. They called to each other in the way people do when they’re used to getting what they want. Here, it was pretty clear that what they wanted was a good time. Read more…

Day 243 – Blue Waters, Brown Guides, Green Money (Diving Cozumel)

June 10, 2011

Location: Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Date: Friday, June 10, 2011

You come to Cozumel to dive the phenomenal reefs—reefs so close to shore that if you have your own gear and a well-maintained cardiovascular system, you can suit up on a beach and swim there. My heart and lungs, unfortunately, have been subjected to too many chocolate bananas and other earthly delights–I took a boat.

Belinda–my Aussie travel buddy–and I spent yesterday walking the sun soaked streets of San Miguel, a town built to tourist tastes but whose heart still beats Mexican–the mercado, michoacanas, and posters for upcoming lucha libre made this undeniably Tierra Azteca. As we searched for the right (read: cheapest) dive shop we couldn’t help but notice that most were run by Mexicans.

And so it came to pass that, for the first time, I hired a wholly locally owned and operated dive shop instead of a place run by gringos or farang or any-other-mildly-dismissive-term-for-foreigners. But I’ve been traveling and diving for over a year–how can locally owned dive shops be so rare? Read more…

Day 242 – A Taste of Home (Cozumel)

June 9, 2011

Location: Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Date: Thursday, June 9, 2011

I’ve come to the resort island of Cozumel because I want to relax and scuba dive. I am also here because Harry, a former investment banker who’s driving around the world in a Land Cruiser (seriously), was kind enough to give Belinda and me a ride to Playa del Carmen so we could catch a ferry to Cozumel. On the drive, Harry tells us about sleeping on the roof of his car, using his military-grade, dashboard mounted satellite tracking system to maneuver through unpaved parts of the world, and his weakness for buying cheesy tourist T-Shirts (e.g., Belize it or not!). He started over a year ago in London, drove through Europe, the Middle East, Russia, and Asia, shipping the car whenever he hit an ocean. He gave up corporate life right before the crash, which means he’s a lot like me except with 100x more money. (Big bucks guys like Harry paid guys like me.) It just goes to show that even when it comes to slacking off, there’s always someone doing it better than you. Harry has shown me that I’ve underachieved at laziness.

After quick goodbyes, Belinda and I hopped the next boat to Cozumel, an island that’s secretly gone a bit Filipino. There are Filipino divemasters, Filipino workers, and even a Filipino restaurant. A restaurant! Compare that to San Francisco which has tons of Filipinos but has hardly any Filipino restaurants to its name (you have to trek south to the less expensive Daly City to get your Fil-food fix). The question is: what are a bunch of Filipinos doing on an island in Mexico? Read more…

Day 241 – Life’s A Beach (Tulum Ruins)

June 8, 2011

Location: Tulum Ruins, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Date: Wednesday, June 8, 2011

As I walked the long, shadeless path to the ancient walled city of Tulum, paid my entrance to the site, weaved through the throngs of tour groups, and picked past the mundane ruins, there was nothing to suggest Tulum was special. The ruins are not well-preserved nor are they impressive. The buildings and temples are not architecturally significant nor are they religious icons that merit pilgrimage. It does not have a climbing, feathered serpent during the equinox nor does it boast a towering pyramid to the gods. Once I reached the cliffs, though, I discovered that what Tulum does have are the mystical three “L’s”: location, location, location.

If these ruins were in the middle of the jungle, no one would visit. However, here, on the shores of an electric turquoise ocean, Tulum is special. A description of the site read like a real estate ad. “The former City of the Dawn is a beachfront, Caribbean fixer-upper. Only two hours south of Cancun. Original stone counters, walls, and foundation. Custom sculptures and murals throughout. Unimpeded views of sunrise. Includes two private, cliff-bound beaches!” Read more…

Day 240 – Into the Heart of Darkness (Diving Mexico’s Cenotes)

June 7, 2011

Location: Cenotes Calavara and Dos Ojos outside of Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Date: Tuesday, June 7 2011

We are following a madman and we have paid him to lead. He is Charlie, our Polish guide, and he brings scuba divers through cenotes, the water filled underground caves that dot the Yucatan peninsula.

“This cenote is Calavera. It means ‘skull.’ Iz because the entrance has three holes, a big one like a mouth and two small ones like eyes. Iz amazing,” Charlie says snuffing out a last minute cigarette. “Iz vehry vehry cooool,” he adds, rolling the “R’s” and clipping the end of the “L.”

I know it’s cool. I’ve been told. I also know that it’s vehry vehry dangerous. The backpackers that enthusiastically recommended this dive didn’t call it Calavera, though. They called it by its gringo name: Temple of Doom.

We are standing in a dirt parking lot, squinting in the tropical glare off Charlie’s beat up SUV. I wriggle into my wetsuit, shoulder 50 pounds (23 kilos) of tank, hoses, and fins and start to walk down the jungle path towards the cenote entrance. The full body neoprene pulls on my already sweaty skin. The humidity isn’t doing me any favors. At least the suit protects me from the mosquitoes.

Charlie continues, hands in a flurry. “I do not always take people here. Sometimes the cave is too much. Deep in the cave they freak out,” nodding in the direction of The Skull. “Also, to enter, you must jump 5 meters (15 feet) to the water. Don’t worry, though. You will be fine. You are rescue diver. You dive good.” He’s right. I am and I do. And I will not freak out. I think. Read more…

Day 234 – 239 – The Making of a Rescue Diver (Mahahual)

June 1, 2011

Location: Mahahual, Mexico

Date: Wednesday, June 1 through Monday, June 6, 2011

“I’m an Emergency Responder. Would you like me to help you?”

According to Emergency Response guidelines, the preceding is what you’re supposed to say to a victim before you render aid.

I blame America. Or the American legal system. Or, to co-opt the “Guns don’t kill people. . .” argument—the humans who use the American legal system. The point is, nowadays, you can’t just help someone without wondering if they’ll sue you. Thus, you must recite the disclaimer.

There are, however, exceptions. In a water emergency, for example, the conversation usually goes one of two ways. The Rescuer, swimming towards the troubled scuba diver and asks, “Troubled Diver, are you in trouble? Would you like me to. . .”

Whereupon the victim responds, either:

Victim: [screaming, thrashing] “Gurrggle. . .*coough*. . .*gag*”


Victim: . . . [face down in water]

No need for the full disclaimer there.  The lawyers say that in those cases the victim has given “implied consent” and thus has fulfilled the Slimy Douchebag Rule of “She didn’t say, ‘No,’ so I took it as a, ‘Yes.’” Read more…