in which our hero, that's me, decides to waste a ton of money on a childhood dream. More below the fold....
Little kids love dinosaurs. Ages ago, as a little kid myself, I was like everyone else in that regard. I had a Styrofoam T-rex skeleton in my room, some toys and a whole bunch of books on the subject.
One of these was a guide to ancient life published by Little Golden books. Like some of my others, it went back to the beginning of the planet, which meant that it had a little bit on the first four billion years of earth’s history and really started in the Cambrian, where the first fossils came from. I really liked this part.. The animals from the Paleozoic were so exotic and weird, especially the invertebrates, which were usually ignored after the Devonian’s fish and amphibians, took the stage and stuff started to look like dinosaurs
But I was fascinated by the invertebrates. I was a trilobite freak. They dominated the seas until the middle of the Paleozoic, and then they petered out, going extinct at the end of the era. But there were others, giant sea scorpions, and echinoderms: starfish, sea urchins, and beautiful and weird stalked things called sea lilies or crinoids.
Ah crinoids!, a minor childhood obsession that stuck in the back of my mind for a lifetime. Crinoids still exist at the bottom of the seas and I dearly wanted to see one in real life.
Sea Lillies dominated the seas of the Paleozoic, they are some of the most common fossils and in the shallow seas of the time and, there were billions of them, covering the ocean floor like sunflowers in Kansas. One tiny group of them managed to survive into the Mesozoic and they flourished again, but after the dinosaurs died out, they retreated into the deep abyss, well out of range for snorkelers like yours truly.
Then, decades after I gave up hope, an opportunity presented itself.
Roatán is the largest of Honduras’ Bay Islands. G Adventures had a month long tour of Central America that was 20% off, and it being cold up here in New York in December, I had decided to take it. Roatain was one of the stops and it was primarily for the beach. One thing I discovered when I got there was that there was this guy named Karl Stanley, who had a submarine and gave tours of the continental shelf all the way down to the bottom of the Caribbean Sea. The eight year old in the back of my mind screamed out: “There’s CRINOIDS down there and I wanna see ‘em!!!” So the middle-aged rest of me decided investigate whether or not it was practicable or not.
There’s lots of dive shops in Half Moon Bay, and they all knew about Stanley’s Roatán Institute for Deepsea Exploration, but unfortunately none of them could get me a reservation. He makes them himself via his website or in person. It’s either Paypal or cash, and at $600 p.p. is out of most people’s league and I didn’t know it was per person at double occupancy.. Still, it was worth a try…
I went to Half Moon Bay’s lone Internet café and sent an email. Then I went to actually find the office. This was a bit harder than I expected, as it was on the second floor of a slightly rundown house surrounded by near identical rundown houses. I found him and introduced myself. He then expained that due to weight distribution on his submarine, it was two passengers or nothing, but there was this woman who wanted a ride. He’d contact here and if she was a go, I was a go. That’s six hundred bucks, IN CASH. Something like Sixteen THOUSAND Honduran Lampiras.
So I went on an expedition to find an ATM that had that much money in it. This required a boat trip to the next town and sneaking into a ritzy resort with guards.
I went back to Half Moon Bay with a huge bulge in my money belt and prayed that I wouldn’t get robbed.