Today’s travel blogger interviewee changed her life by finding a cheap flight to a place she’d never heard of and knew nothing about. The rest, as they say is history. Please meet Rika of Cubicle Throwdown.
What is your name?
Hi, I’m Rika!
Which country do you come from/call home?
I’m 100% Canadian.
Are you a backpacker/long term traveller/business traveller/live and work abroad?
I live and work abroad. I have done some backpacking trips in the past, but am currently an expat who works in my adopted country.
How do you fund your travel (savings/work whilst travelling/other)?
To fund the current adventure I’m on, first I worked two full time jobs in Canada for six months before leaving the country, which was crazy and I hope I never have to do that again. I arrived here sick and very burnt out. After completing my dive instructor courses, I started working as a dive instructor, then a dive shop manager, and now a dive instructor and social media specialist for my dive shop, which is how I fund my life here these days.
What is the first trip you remember taking and how old were you?
We moved a lot and traveled a lot within Canada while I was growing up, but the first ‘real’ trip I remember was one to Florida when I was 10. All I remember is my parents telling me that they were going to take my little brother and I to Disneyworld, but we ended up going to visit friends in Alabama and then spending 5 days in Pensacola, Florida where the sun never came out and was definitely not Disneyworld!
Have you been anywhere which turned out to be totally different to how you imagined? If so, how?
I went to Nassau last year and I was really surprised. I thought it was going to be more like Mexico with wild parties on the beach. It ended up being very quiet, and only busy during the day when it got overrun with hordes of cruise shippers. I found it to be overpriced as well (a common theme of cruise ship calls) and staff at restaurants and stores seemed irritated to see another gringo… not that I blame them, knowing what they put up with all day, but it was a little disappointing. I don’t think Nassau is the same as some of the other islands in the Bahamas though, so I’d like to try a different island in the future. They are beautiful!
Have you had any bad experiences whilst travelling?
Sure, plenty. I got horrific food poisoning and parasites while backpacking through Peru that nearly ended my trip 3 weeks early. I’ve been robbed and burgled quite a few times here on Roatan. I don’t let these kinds of things bother me too much, I mean, I’ve had my apartment broken into and robbed in Canada too!
Do you have any funny travel stories?
Well, I don’t know how funny this is, but most people who ask me how I got to Roatan (the little Caribbean island I live on) and the honest answer is I asked a cheap flight website to find me something in the Caribbean and Roatan came up. I did a Google image search, saw the beach, and packed my bags for a three week holiday in a place I knew absolutely nothing about, and now I live here!
Which is the worst place you’ve been to and why?
I’ve already forgotten the name of it, but I spent a night in a terrible little town in Peru after a 14 hour bus ride through the Andes. We were unceremoniously dumped out in the town at the ‘end of the line’ for the bus route, and at 9pm we wandered around the entire 3 streets of the town and found every restaurant and hotel closed. We tried knocking on hotel doors and everyone yelled at us. We ended up sleeping on the floor of a bus station with our arms through our bags because people kept trying to take them. It was not my favorite place.
Where is your favourite place in the world?
The inaka (rural countryside) in Japan. Very traditional houses and culture and such friendly people. A nice break from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. Such amazing fresh mountain air, lavender farms and kind people.
Do you have a bucket list? If so what is on it?
Not really… I should make one! One thing I know I want to do for sure is scuba dive in the Galapagos. It looks incredible and the marine life there is out of this world.
Can you imagine life without travel?
Yes, and it seems a little dull. I really like the saying about life being a book and those who do not travel read only one page.
If you were not travelling what would you be doing instead?
I would love to just keep going to school forever – I know that sounds weird, but if I couldn’t travel I would love to learn and engage at school if I couldn’t do it by travelling.
What is the name of your travel blog and the url?
It’s called Cubicle Throwdown – http://www.cubiclethrowdown.com. I used to be a cubicle drone… then I escaped. That’s where the name comes from.
When did you begin your website?
I started it in March 2012, after my first trip to Roatan when I decided I wanted to move there and become a scuba diving instructor.
Why do you write (for money/connecting with people/therapeutic/fun)?
I started writing because I was frustrated at the lack of current information online for people doing what I wanted to do – run away from the corporate grind and move to the Caribbean to become a scuba diving instructor – and the few things that were out there didn’t have any hard numbers that someone else could use as a guideline. So I started my own! Now it’s turned into more of an expat life/Roatan guide as my time here has kept going.
What makes your site so unique and why should people read it?
Writing as a scuba diving instructor expat on a little tropical island is a pretty small niche. There are only a couple of us out there that I’ve found in blog-land. People should definitely read it before considering a similar leap…I had a lot of unfortunate surprises along the way, so I’m hoping others can learn from my mistakes.
Do you have any products or services to offer?
Nope, just a healthy dose of sarcasm 🙂
What has been your most successful blog post to date and what was it about?
It is this post about how much to tip your divemaster, it accounts for over 5% of all my traffic. I’m glad people are researching this and I certainly hope they are all taking my advice! (Short version: you need to tip your divemaster, people.)
What has been your favourite article to write either for your blog or another publication?
I love all the articles I write for Women Who Live On Rocks, it’s the only place like I feel like I can really let my snarky side out. Those living on islands, or those who have to deal with idiot tourists all day will understand. It’s not all daiquiris and beachfront tanning for us.
What is your favourite mode of transport? (plane/train/boat/car)
I’ve never traveled by train, I would really like to do that. I get a little carsick and also impatient, so I’m going to say plane…but I did enjoy traveling through the Caribbean on a megayacht J
Do you have any advice or tips for aspiring travellers?
You never need all the stuff you pack the first time. Pack your bag, then take out half.
What has travel taught you?
Patience, an appreciation for what ‘need’ really means in life, and how useful learning a few words in the language of the area you’re traveling in will be.
What’s it really like to be a dive instructor in the tropics?
Something I have a hard time getting across to people is that this life is NOT for everyone. The picture you have in your head of a dive instructor in the Caribbean is probably only about 10% true. Most of us work 10-12 hour days for very little pay (I make less than $2 an hour!) for 6-7 days a week. It’s a lot more work hours than I did at home. There is also the less-glamorous side of the job of lugging tanks, dealing with cranky guests, trying to control groups of terrible divers underwater, and diving when you are sick or tired. It does balance out with all the great things too like meeting people from all over the world, working in beautiful beach resorts, and of course the diving, but there are definitely two sides to it.
How can people follow in your footsteps and become a scuba diving instructor, and what is the cost?
Well, you have to be a diver, first of all. You also need the patience of a saint and a genuine passion for sharing knowledge with people – I see too many dive instructors who are terrible teachers but became instructors because they wanted to work in the diving industry. Just because you are a good/experienced diver does not mean you will be a good teacher. I am a PADI instructor, but there are several training agencies out there. For me, I had to start by becoming a certified diver as an Open Water Diver (4 days), then the Advanced Open Water diver course (3 days), then the Rescue Diver (3 days) and first aid (1 day) courses, and a 6-8 week Divemaster internship. After all that, you can take the 10-14 day Instructor Development Course as long as you have completed your Divemaster course, have 100 logged dives, and have been a certified diver for at least six months. After the instructor course, you take a 2 day Instructor Exam and if you pass all of that, you’re a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor and licensed to teach. Your best bet on getting work is to get a lot of diving experience at the Rescue or Divemaster level first before doing the instructor course… many shops do not want to hire ‘zero-to-hero’ instructors as they have very little real-life dive experience behind them.
The cost depends on where you take your courses, as different dive shops all over the world charge different fees based on what’s included in the course, and their cost for conducting the course. I did all my training on Roatan, and I think from start to finish it cost me around $6,000 – $7,000 not including gratuities for my instructors (if I would have done it at home in Canada, it probably would have been twice the price). I also had to buy a full set of diving gear as nearly every shop expects instructors to have their own gear – this cost me close to $3,000 for everything, and after 2 years of teaching/guiding I’ve already had to replace some of it that has worn out. Diving is not for the faint of heart or wallet!
Where is the best place to travel for scuba diving?
I’ve been diving in the following places: Roatan, Cayos Cochinos, Cozumel, Cancun, Ambergris Cay and Nassau. I think the best diving out of those was in Cozumel or Cayos Cochinos, with Roatan as a close second. I didn’t think Ambergris Cay or Nassau were anything special. I haven’t personally been there, but diving in the Galapagos looks amazing for the big marine life like sharks. Also I’d like to try some places in Australia (I’m a huge fan of finding the tiny little stuff while diving and Australia has some great macro life).
Quick fire questions:-
Favourite airline? JAL (Japan Airlines) – best plane food!
Favourite country? Japan
Favourite city? Kyoto (I think there is a Japan theme here…LOVE that country!)
Favourite beach? Pigeon Cay – tiny island off the end of Roatan, Honduras
Favourite food? Sushi…I even have sushi tattoos to prove my love for it
Favourite language? To listen to: Spanish. To speak: Japanese.
Please provide the following:-
Website url? http://www.cubiclethrowdown.com
Twitter handle? @RikaFromCT
Facebook page? http://www.facebook.com/CubicleThrowdown
Google+ profile/page? http://plus.google.com/u/0/+RikafromCubicleThrowdown