We completed the theory component of our Open Water course this afternoon, with a final class (held by Lucy, another one of the instructors) teaching us about the use of dive tables. When you go diving, your body absorbs a higher-than-usual amount of nitrogen (depending on depth and time); and dive tables are used to calculate how much nitrogen you've absorbed (approximately), and to help you keep within safe nitrogen level limits. Lots of theory about such things as: pressure groups; nitrogen quantity; minimum surface intervals; and total bottom times. Once the class was done, we'd been taught all the required theory for the course, and so we were ready to undertake the final exam.
This afternoon, I commenced the first session of my PADI Open Water diving course. We're a big group: 16 people in all (although 1 person dropped out the following day) — but we're being split into two groups for the actual diving. This afternoon, the course's introduction consisted largely of boring but essential theory information: we had a short lecture from Flav, and then we sat and watched parts I-III of the PADI instructional video series. Not the most boring educational videos I've ever been subjected to in my time: but then again, not far off it. One thing I couldn't help but observe: never before in my life have I been in a classroom with such an amazing view :P.
I'd heard that instead of just giving them money, it's a much better idea to give the kids in hill-tribe villages some stationery that they can use at school. This is similar to the custom for tourists in other parts of the world, such as on the islands of Peru's Lake Titicaca. So before I left Chiang Mai on Tuesday, I bought a few pens, a few pencils, and some blank exercise books. Didn't get a chance to offer these to the kids last night; but I cornered two little boys this morning, and they eagerly accepted the precious educational gifts. I Hope they get put to good use.
Garth is a colleague of my Uncle Paul, who's just started doing a Master's in Economic and Social History at Oxford. Paul was kind enough to let Garth know about me, and Garth was kind enough to take me on a tour around Oxford university today. Garth's a great guy, and he has a lot of ambition — I guess that makes Oxford the perfect place for him to be.
One of Boston's most famous attractions (for tourists and academics alike) is Harvard University, one of the most famous, prestigious, and expensive universities in the world. Harvard is easily the top (as well as the oldest) university in the USA, and it's probably rivalled only by Oxford itself in terms of reputation. Harvard is also the second-richest non-profit, non-government institution in the world, surpassed only by the Roman Catholic Church. Today, my dad and I went on "the unofficial tour of Harvard", one of the guided tours that you can do of the university's main campus. And so, therefore, we can now say that we've been unofficially introduced to the place.
Just finished reading El Principito, and it's the first book that I've read in Spanish! Only took about 2 months — and it's a children's book, of about 130 (small) pages (some of which are illustrations) — but I persisted, and I got through it in the end. Obviously, I had the 'ol dictionary by my side the entire time, and I used it prolifically. After having read the book, I feel a lot more confident in my Spanish grammar, and my vocabulary has increased a fair bit. But I think it's time for a break from Spanish books: El Principito was very hard work; now I need a few nice, rubbishy, no-thinking-required, English-language paperbacks to breeze through.
I learned a lot of Spanish during my time at Amigos, but I still have a huge thirst to learn more. And what better way to continue my learning, than to start reading some Spanish books? So, today I bought my five primeros libros en Español (lit: "first books in Spanish"). At s/10 for the five of them, total bargain. And they should certainly keep me busy for at least the next few weeks, whenever I have spare time to kill on my trip.
It wasn't short. It wasn't cheap. And it was a big chunk eaten out of my travelling and exploration time in South America. But it was definitely worth it. In my four weeks at Amigos, and with the Polar Covarrubias family, I learned a lot of Spanish, I made some great friends, and I got a lot of love (and plenty of food, too!). Plus, during the whole thing I was in Cusco, where I could party at night, explore the area on weekends, get by pretty cheap, and stay fairly safe. All up, a great experience, and one that will surely benefit me in the rest of my travels.
This morning, I had my final three hours of class at Amigos. So, after four intense and incredibly quick weeks, my Spanish classes have come to an end. I've had an amazing time at Amigos, I've made lots of really good friends, and my Spanish has improved tremendously. During the past week, I've had one-on-one classes with Merly, and we've covered heaps of ground in the various types of past tense (in particular). My new found knowledge in this area, and in general all-round vocabulary, has really empowered me to speak a lot more confidently and a lot more fluently.
Delicious, vegetarian dish of beans and potatoes, simmered in a spicy sauce of chili, egg, milk, and onion, and served with rice. This afternoon, for my final cooking lesson with Amigos, our amazing chef Ricardo (of tiradito de pescado and causa rellena fame) showed us how to cook up some kapchi de habas, another spicy dish local to the Cusco area. A great final addition to my Andean cooking repertoire, and another one that I'll have to make again sometime!