A couple of dives in Sri Lanka

Wednesday 03 April – Unawatuna.

I was up at the crack of dawn this morning, by 7:00 anyway and was down in the restaurant before they started serving breakfast at 7:30! I wanted to make sure I had a reasonable feed to make up for my lack of dinner last night. I had had a very late lunch! Today was diving day and I wanted breakfast fully digested before I hit the water.

I walked round to the dive shop and arrived on time to the usual dive shop scene of vaguely organised chaos. There were a lot of divers going out today, more than I have seen anywhere else on my travels, and it I think more than the dive shop staff could really cope with. Fortunately we split into three groups and even more fortunately I ended up with a group who were primarily English speakers rather than Russian. Usually I am not so lucky! We had a very hurried dive plan brief, were split into buddy pairs and then got our gear sorted. You can see how close the buildings are to the sea…

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Our first dive was a thirty metre deep wreck dive on the Rangoon. I don’t know anything about the wreck and disappointingly we were not told anything either. I guess I could google it! The dive was OK at best, visibility was rubbish and the dive master was too quick to move round the skeletal remains of the ships infrastructure, we really did not have time to look at much as we were constantly lost. My dive buddy ran low of air early so it was a short dive – though to the dive plan time I guess.

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We started making our way back to the shop to get a second set of tanks when the outboard on the boat stopped dead in the water. It took a while to get started, though there was no need to worry as we were only a kilometre or so from shore and well within cell range. Finally the engine took and we were off again. There were five customers on board and a pretty good group to chat with which was really nice for a change, I have had way to many silent rides on dive boats.

Once we had loaded up with fresh tanks we were off again, I thought we would change boats due to the engine failure but no, same boat and same problem on the way back from this dive. I think it summed up the dive shop for me, shonky!

The second dive was a shallow reef dive. Though there was not a lot of coral or anything much else to see, a few fish and that was about it. Visibility was poor even at ten metres and there was a reasonable wash that made buoyancy awkward and looking into all the small overhangs almost impossible. I was pretty unhappy with it, possibly the worst diving I have had yet, though I was OK, buoyancy and air use were both good, a shame about the dive site.

I was not impressed with the dive shop, as always I don’t name names, it is not their fault the visibility sucked, but I thought our dive master was very average. Having said that, there was a minor incident underwater with one of the other divers and the dive master reacted with utmost professionalism to ensure that diver safety was not compromised. That was at least a good sign.

The other thing I didn’t like was that the staff all smoked in the shop, it is reasonable normal in SE Asia, but I didn’t sit around for a coffee and chat after because the air was thick with stinky smoke. Bad customer service… On the subject of smoking the boat boy threw his cigarette butt into the sea, something I have never seen before, they always put them in a bin on the boat. I think it summed up the shop and probably Unawatuna; little or no respect for the environment that has given them the opportunity to make money.

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I walked back along the beach to my hotel at the far end. I had extended my stay here by a night, and just like the place in Tangalle, I had to change room, so my stuff was all moved while I was out diving. The room is nowhere near as good as the last one and I have the noisiest bed I have ever had the misfortune to sleep on, it didn’t just squeak at every movement, it yowled and screamed, a shame as it was quite comfy.

I had a much needed shower and then went down to the restaurant for a late lunch of pizza and beer. It was the best pizza I have had in Sri Lanka by a million miles, very nice – chilli chicken. It was the first chicken I have eaten as well, I have been sticking to a mainly vegetarian diet with the occasional egg, fish or sea food meal. The food has all been good though, I have not had a bad meal in Sri Lanka and have eaten a lot of the ‘short eat’ snacks, curry roles, curry wrapped in roti etc. I will miss them.

I hung out in the restaurant for a bit after the pizza, got a blog post completed and a few emails done, making the most of the wifi while I have it. I went for a short walk in the afternoon before heading back to the beach bar for another G and T or two on the beach while reading my book. Once it was dark I headed back towards my hotel. It was depressing walking past all the deserted and semi-deserted restaurants. I was not particularly hungry, but if I had found a restaurant with the right atmosphere I would have gone in and found a snack to go with a final, or two, G and T. There just was not one, the thought of being alone or joining the other sad lonely bastard sitting there with his or her book was too much. So I went back to my hotel and became the sad lonely bastard there; sitting over a laptop with a G and T.

Though I was not sad or lonely – just alone.

Two great dives – T3 and Sugar wreck

Day 150, Saturday 2 June 2012, Perhentian Kecil

Unsurprisingly after seven beers last night I slept like a baby and woke at 6.50 which seems to be the prime crowing time for the local rooster. This actually suits me well. I woke feeling a wee bit dodgy, not hungover, just jaded I guess. I followed yesterdays example and lazed around till 8.00 then had quick internet catch up and off for breakfast and then to the dive shop for 9.00.

Today we are diving T3 (Awesome), I have heard good things about this site from lots of people and it was on my to do list for the Perhentians. One of things I have really liked about Spice Divers is they do listen to the requests of their customers, they ask what we want to dive and how many days we have to do dive the sites, then try to fit the dives in around customer needs. This was cool, especially as I got to do all the dives I wanted – it pays to be a repeat customer as well 🙂 The schedule was changed a bit so I could do T3 in the morning and re-visit Sugar Wreck on the mid-day dive, that others I had befriended we keen on the same helped I am sure, but I know they bumped some new customers to fit in what I asked to do.

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T3 (three reefs) is about twenty five minutes away by boat, as there was only five of us (Daniel, Jimmy, Catherine, myself and Mike the dive master) diving we took a small boat and had a pretty good run out. The swell is a lot smaller early in the mornings. From the surface T3 is just a couple of rocks sticking out of the water about a hundred metres off shore.

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There are some areas down to 24 metres but as only half of the group were able to dive past 18, the dive plan was to stick around 16 metres – which means a longer dive time anyway. As it turned out, and something that is true of most of the sites here, the visibility is fabbo to around 16-18 metres and then deteriorates quickly, so the good stuff mostly happens at the higher depths anyway. What was really cool here was the thermo clime (difference in temperature – and usually visibility as well) was really marked here, I was able to float in warm water and lower my arms into water that was significantly colder, there was almost no gradient between, cool.

There was not a huge amount of stunningly interesting life at T3, the site is interesting as it is a mass of huge boulders lying on top of each other, there was plenty of fish and some great nudi branches but the fun thing at T3 is the swim throughs. We did four short tunnel dives, a couple were complex in that they were narrow and had turns, so when you entered the tunnel you could not see the exit. On one of the tunnels I got a bit stuck and had to think about how to twist my body to get myself and the tank through.  In a cave on the surface I would freak out, but under water I was quite calm and able to make logical decisions, – it was only a matter of a couple of seconds, there was no threat of harm, but it did interest me that I didn’t get scared – faith in the DM ? but logically I could see I could get through, it was just working out the puzzle. It was fun 🙂 it was one of my favourite dives.

To maximise dive times for all of us the DM took those who got to the low limit on air (50bar) to the surface without taking the whole group through the decompression stops, which meant I was up before the Catherine and Mike, though not the first. So I had Jimmy take a picture of Daniel and I in the water and then I snorkelled down and took some shots of Catherine and Mike below.

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As we got close to the island we were dive bombed by some terns !

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This is how tight some of the swim throughs are – Mike exiting one, shot from the surface.

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After the dive I hung around the shop chatting with the other divers and staff. This seems to be one of the features of the shop, an encouragement to socialise with the other divers, great for us solo travellers. Richard and Blathnaid, my friends from Myanmar, recommended the shop because of this aspect. After the break we were diving Sugar Wreck again, I dived this on my first day but had really bad mask issues so didn’t get to see a lot. I was dead keen to go back as I love a wreck dive !

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We had a larger group for this dive so split into two, I got to dive with Jimmy, Daniel and Mike again along with a new diver. It was a good dive, again, visibility was best above 14 metres, but the ship had lots of places to explore – though of course we were not allowed to enter at all. The ship went down in 2001 and was carrying sugar – obviously. There were a lot of scorpion and dragon fish so care was needed. We did see some awesome little coral cat sharks – these are about a foot long and hide in the smallest spots, just lovely creatures.

And that was it, diving in SE Asia is over; but I did do thirty two dives in four countries – so I cannot complain !

After the dive I went back to my room and chilled for a while before heading back down to the shop at 7:00 where I hung around chatting till almost 9:00 – when the evening storm passed.  I went for dinner with Daniel and Jimmy and then stopped for a couple of drinks with some of the dive shop guys. I could see they were going to kick on for a biggie so I left at 10:30 and went to bed.

There were some cool fire dancers on the beach !

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I leave the Island in the morning. I really regret not skipping Koh Tao and coming here earlier, once I got into the groove with the shop this has been one of the more enjoyable places to hang out, and the diving has been exceptional. A highlight of the trip.

Diving, photography, beer – almost a perfect day

Day 149, Friday 1 June 2012, Perhentian Kecil

Wow, the year is disappearing so quickly, its June already. A good day today, one average dive, one awesome dive and I am going to catch up with some of the divers I met today for a drink tonight. Not too much as one more diving day tomorrow – and the last dives of the trip. On the way back from the dive today I was wondering how I could extend for one more day, but not possible, I should have come here sooner I think. If you are planning diving in SE Asia, you have to put the Perhentians on your list!

Not as good a sleep as the night before, but still woke at 7.00 and was feeling OK, I think once I get to the UK I will take a couple of days of doing nothing much – if I can, oh apart from getting some running in every day to drop a couple of KG’s before I have to join Mal in Cornwall on the 15th. Heck that is only two weeks away now !

Lessons were learnt from yesterday so did a bit of washing, caught up on FB and some email and then meandered down to breakfast for 8.30, and things were open. There is a lot of mess on the beach this morning, there was a big party last night – which I of course did not go to, so lots of cans and fag ends all over the place. At least an effort is made to clean it early and it will be spotless again soon I imagine.

The first dive of the day was another wreck – Vietnamese – named as the vessel was sunk during the war, it is a deeper dive so only advanced divers can do it, this meant a smaller group which was good.

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What was surprising was there was already four other dive boats when we got to the site !

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We were hoping for clear calm waters but the ride out was a bit choppy and we found from one of the divers who were surfacing when we arrived that there was a strong current and visibility was down to four or five metres at the wreck, bugger !

The descent to the top of the wreck at eighteen metres was awesome though, a warm warm, crystal clear sea. However it all turned to crap at eighteen, I was not wearing a wetsuit and the water was quite cold (not NZ cold of course – Malaysia cold !) and visibility was terrible. Could barely see the wreck even up close, seeing fish was next to impossible. We did do a very cool swim through, the entrance was tight and pitch black, and as I was last diver through there was a lot of sediment in the water, It was quite scary going in and then it is totally dark until you look up a bit to see the torch light, and then suddenly you are in the hull and you could easily stand up. Definitely the high point of that dive. After the swim through we ascended up the mooring line, did the safety stop in the stunning crystal blue and then jumped back into the boat. It was a bummer about the conditions, but at least my mask was good and I could see clearly – just not much to see !

I hung around the dive shop over lunch chatting to some of the other divers as we waited for the second dive of the day to Temple.

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I had been told by Richard and Blathnaid, who I have kept in contact with since we met at Inle Lake in Myanmar, that Temple was AWESOME, one of their two favourite dives. So I was looking forward to this one.

The ride out in the full dive boat was “choppy”.

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And the site had a small swell going but not too bad.

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What can I say about Temple: my gear was good – I could see everything, the visibility down to about 14 metres was awesome, the water was warm, I saw bamboo sharks, eels, porcupine fish plus all the usual suspects. A fantastic site, and a great dive – I loved it, best dive for weeks – way better than anything at Koh Tao or Nha Trang. The only thing wrong with it, was it was too short ! The bamboo sharks are tiny and bottom dwell in small caves, in one tiny opening we saw a school of about five or six sharks, all under a metre long. We also got to swim in, through and with a huge school of trevaly and I got up close and personal with a nice sized snapper as well. Great dive !

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The ride back was fun, bouncing around the swells, luckily no one on the boat had any dry gear as it would not have been that way by the time we got to shore. I booked myself in for two more dives tomorrow and the guys will get me to a site called T3 which R and B also highly recommended – as did everyone who has dived there. These will be last two dives for a while, though I have completed thirty since I left New Zealand, so will not complain a bit ! The day after I leave Perhentians and soon after that SE Asia.

[edit] The rest of the post is written two days later : ) [/edit]

After the dive, a shower, a lie down and some internet time I wandered over the hill to Coral Bay on the other side of the island for the sunset. The path to Coral Bay was a good snap shot of the negative side of island Malaysia, though of course there are some beautiful bits too !

Unfinished construction

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Rubber trees in place of natives,

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and trash.

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When I arrived I could see the storm clouds gathering so raced out to the jetty to grab a few shots before heading back to find the nearest cafe where I had dinner and waited out the downpour.

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Luckily the rain finished and the sky cleared before the sunset so I headed back to the wharf to snap a few shots (quite a few in fact).

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And then down to the beach for some final photos.

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When it was too dark to take photos I headed back over to Long Beach and had a couple of beers with Jimmy who I was diving with today, and then hooked up with some English guys from the first day and had a few more. I wobbled back to my room at 12.30, a bit late considering I was diving the next day. The Tiger beer here is not as good on the head as other places…

A damn good day though ! diving, photography, companionship and beer !

Diving again – it has been too long

Day 110, Monday 23 April 2012, Nha Trang

Up before six this morning, slept very well for a beer sleep ! Got myself organised and went out for breakfast and back again for a five minute snooze before walking down to Angel Divers for my day of diving. I chose Angel as they were competitively priced and had great reviews on the Tripadvisor website. I have been using Tripadvisor a lot lately, more so than the guide book when it comes to checking out accommodation. I think it explains why I am ending up in guest houses that are not full of back packers – which may sound good to some, but is actually a bad thing in some ways as I am isolating myself a bit. When I shift up to Hanoi in a few days I will move in to a proper backpacker hostel and hope to find someone to travel to Laos with.

The day was an odd one, I was a bit frustrated with some initial lack of organisation from Angel, we got to the boat on time and away from the dock, but the gear was all over the show on the boat and it all seemed a wee bit ad hoc.

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However reflecting back over the day, most of the staff were very professional, the gear was in good condition, I have certainly had a lot worse – so I think my first impression was actually the wrong one, though briefing on the first dive was a bit loose…

We motored out to Hon Mun island, about 45 minutes from the mainland, the conditions were perfect for diving, a very gentle, cooling breeze and clear skies. There were ten divers, five on courses or learner dives and five experienced divers. The first dive I was with a group of three Germans (max four per dive master), the dive was Ok. The coral has been destroyed here and there was an Ok amount of small life and we saw all the usual suspects.

In some ways it was a good first dive back, as there was not a huge amount to see I could focus on buoyancy and technique – which set me up well for the second dive.

While we waited for the beginner divers to come back I had a wee play with my little camera Panasonic FT3, it is only rated waterproof to 10 metres so I cannot take it diving, but I jumped into the sea and snapped a few photos.

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The boat from below : )

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The second dive was at Madonna Rocks and I have to say it was fun. It was just me and JC and French Canadian dive master, so I got see a lot more things. The highlights of this dive was three cave swim throughs, the longest was five or six metres. JC swam though so smoothly and I was banging the walls with my legs and my head and felt such a mumpty. I guess if you dive daily then you get good at it ! In the first cave there was a nice size grouper as well which was most cool and the second cave had a large school of shimmering small fish which would have made for a superb shot.

dive spot 2

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and 3

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We motored over to Mushroom Reef for the third and final dive of the day. We had to wait for a while before diving so the Germans and I had a bit of fun diving off the roof of the boat and bombing anyone who was in range. I also went for a brief snorkel and took a few snaps – and got burnt by the sun.

A fish !

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A sea urchin similar to the one I put my hand on while diving in the phillies – wont do that again !

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The third dive started off a bit dull, just rolling along a fairly deserted sandy area, but once we got into the reef it became a lot more interesting, again it was just JC and I and I had my buoyancy pretty dialled on this dive so I could just hang in the water as we looked at some of the things of interest. Highlight of this dive was a good size moray eel that was out of his hole and moving around the coral, very nice to see, and apparently quite rare as JC was really pleased to see it. I am really enjoying just being able to spend time looking closely at the coral and the small life within it, there is an amazing array of small fish, shrimps, crabs etc going about their business, it is quite cool.

We motored back into port and parked with all the other tourist boats.

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And were all picked up by a van and taken to a local restaurant for a reasonable lunch and then dropped back at the shop around 3.00. the diving was not spectacular, certainly not up to an El Nido or Semporna, but I had fun today, it was a good group and the DM’s were pretty good. I decided that if I could postpone my train ride to Da Nang till the day after tomorrow I would do one more day of diving. I could so I did….

My hotel have been great at arranging trains for me, I am assuming they get some sort of commission for booking tickets, but the receptionist here has just been so nice and simple to deal with, her English is fantastic and nothing is a problem. It makes life so much easier. She arranged for a train ride for the following day and secured me the bunk I originally wanted but didn’t get for tomorrow, its the details that matter sometimes.

I found this little critter outside my window.

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Wall dives and sunsets

Day 58, Wednesday 22 Feb 2012, Malapascua

I will start this post with a minutes silence to remember the earthquake in Christchurch a year ago today. I have a few good friends there and thankfully none were amongst those that died or were injured. Though, all my friends were impacted by the event in a real way, through loss of job, damage to property or serious injury to a close friend. Christchurch – today our thoughts are with you.

It was nice to not have such an early start today, considering the large rum I had just before bed and the very early start I had lousy sleep last night, really hoping this is not a return to normal as I have been enjoying some good sleep.

Breakfast at a leisurely 7.30 and then meandered up to the diver shop for the 8.45 dive briefing, I have not worn shoes or sandals or even jandals for three days it has been great to just be barefoot on the sand!  There were thirteen of us on the boat but my group was a dive instructor, a trainee instructor and one other diver (he had 12 years diving) which really put me in the junior diver position – as well as the oldest diver… That I was the junior became quite obvious as the day went on!

Kids on their way to school as the dive boat is loaded – it must be so much better than walking to Green Bay Primary!

The first dive was about an hour and a half away by boat and from yesterday I learnt to bring some entertainment and secure myself a decent spot on the boat – so once on board I plugged my ears into some sounds and lay down for some faux sleeping.

The dive site at Nunez Shoal is an underwater atoll with a shear wall drop to 220 metres. The current was quite strong as we dropped into the water but the visibility was amazing. We cruised across the atoll and the lead dive master gave the sign to drop as we hit the wall drop and stared into big blue. If you have never gazed into the blue depths off the edge of a reef and looked down into the blue fading into black (I am sure there is a song title there somewhere) you will not understand how awesome it is !

We dropped down the wall to the maximum allowable depth of thirty metres and then just let the current move us along the wall for a while. There was not a HUGE amount of life on the reef, though plenty of things to look at, with some great coral, and lots of things below in the dark…. We slowly drifted up towards the top of the atoll and spotted a good array of nudi branches, moral eels and all the usual tropical fish suspects and all too soon it was over as my tank ran low. Being a noobie to the diving, and deep diving especially I suck air a lot faster than the pro’s, the instructor used half as much air as me, as we talked about the dive he commented on the amount of effort I put into fighting the current ! He also uses the same rig everyday – and for renters it takes a while to get used to even the smallest change in gear.

It was a good dive, stunning visibility  – wished I had the same on the shark dive yesterday!

From Nunez Shoal we motored over to Calangaman Island where we stopped for lunch – and a few photies.

A new definition of outside

The dive on Calangaman was similar to Nunez shoals in that we dropped onto a flat bed around 8-10 metres and then over the edge and down a wall to around 30 metres, though there was far less current on this dive.

This dive was pretty crap ! Someone used my rig from the last dive so I ended up with a tank with less air than I would have liked, given I suck more than others, this was not good. I started with 190bar rather than 220 that was in MY tank. I have also been using a fairly crap weight belt for the past three days and when I hit the water from our “giant stride” entry, the belt came off,  I managed to grab it but a 2kg weight came off and, well dropped like a 2kg weight. I got another couple of weights from the boat and guides but they were placed in the pockets of my BCD (buoyancy compensator) and I was out of whack for the whole dive, I really struggled to get buoyancy sorted and was up and down all over the show, which resulted in fast air consumption and a rough dive. This was a shame as the wall was amazing! Again – great visibility, even at 30 metres, we saw a huge tuna and swam in the biggest school of fish I have ever been in as well as the most beautiful soft coral forest. It  was such a shame to cut it short and surface 😦

The weather really packed in on the hour and a half ride back to Malapascua, with a massive downpour of rain – though no wind ! so the sea was flat calm and the rain drops on the surface looked fabulous – and not captured here at all.  it goes to show how fast the weather can change, from baking sun shine to heavy rain in an hour.

Soon after the rain stopped we were blessed with a visit by the local dolphin pod ! fantastic, we were all whooping and cheering as the dolphins frolicked –  slightly out of useful camera range !

The once deserted deck became popular again.

Finally getting back to the island for sunset.

All up my seven dives and advanced open water cert cost me about $480 NZD ! I loved diving here, and the sleeping shark was my personal highlight even though the thresher shark dive is the big one and the reason I came here in the first place.

After a good dinner in the resort and a couple of very cheap – and alcoholic cocktails I went back to my room to blog.

Tonight’s musical treat is from the last of the big three post rock bands, Texans – Explosions in the sky. I had the privilege of seeing them live just before I left New Zealand, and was blown away by their show.  I have listened to these guys for a while now and have used them for photographic inspiration a number of times, in fact a few of my old images – back when I bothered to name them, used titles stolen from EITS songs, as they have the most wonderful song titles. I guess being lyric-less the title of the song helps to invoke the image you want the music to portray.

I have been a big post rock fan for a while now, probably the genre I listen to most these days.  Oh, how tastes change, all those years of listening to punk rock and fuzzy pop and sneering at the idea of ten minute instrumental tracks, and here I am relishing a new fifteen minute opus…

Not my favourite track of theirs, but the most appropriate – six days at the bottom of the ocean

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xbe8RKfaIjU

Advanced Open Water cert – day one

Day 56, Monday 20 Feb 2012, Malapascua

Considering the amount of people at the resort who are not diving it was very quiet after dark.  There are lots of Russians and Germans in this particular resort – and listening to people as I walk around, it seems the island is mainly populated with Europeans rather than native English speakers. I slept Ok, not great – tonight I medicate as up at 4.30 or something for the early morning dive to try and see thresher sharks.

I had the morning to read three chapters of the PADI adventure dive book before the review at lunch time and the first dive at two, so I had a leisurely and unexciting, breakfast at the resort – included in the room so I ate a bit. I can tell I am the only backpacker in this particular resort as I am only one who has a deck half covered in washing.

Then again, I guess not many backpackers stay in resorts !  It is great to be static for a few days as I got my sandals and bed liner washed as well as a load of clothes. I bought a small waterproof bag at the dive shop today so tomorrow I can wash my day bag as well as it is pretty feral now.

I spent the morning on my bed studying and listening to music , it was great to be inside and let my peeling back be out of a shirt as well as out of the sun.

Lunch time soon came around so I was off back to the dive shop for my first reading reviews – Peak performance buoyancy and night dives. These are basically rubber stamping exercises and are partly revenue generating tools for someone, I don’t approve really as I didn’t really ‘learn’ much but I got all the answers right…

Bounty Beach – Malapascua.

After the review we hit the water, Jules our German instructor and Moritz (that is how it sounded, and yes I think of ice cream too) a German kid, who was the other pupil. We spent an hour under water doing some basic buoyancy exercises, some of which I was awful at, but we all pass ! I love PADI –  everyone is a winner. At least  I understood the concepts, my old body and complete lack of co-ordination hindered some of the exercises –  that and maybe 1 kilo too much weight on the weightbelt for the depth we were in – 6 metres.  It was fun anyway.

After the buoyancy session is what back to land for a quick break before heading out to the night dive at lighthouse reef – the second of my skill sessions for my advanced open water cert.

One of the “boat guys”, heading out to the night dive. He had to take a dive as the mooring line from another boat got tangles around the prop.

The dive starts at sunset and finishes in the dark. The key feature of this dive is the mating mandarin fish, they are only found in a few locations so this dive was popular.

And by popular I mean chaos  under water – i hated it, far too many divers in a small spot, my lack of co-ordination and fine control just did not work here, trying to slot smoothly into a circle of proficient divers looking at small fish is damn hard ! and not enjoyable.

After watching mandarin fish make out for a while we then spent some time scoping the rest of the reef, again a lot of divers in what was a small space and fairly shallow, so all in all, not my best dive. I did see some nice sea horses which  was most cool.

After the dive it was rush back to the hotel, eat dinner and study three more chapters as up at 4.00 AM to do the deep dive and see some thresher sharks – cannot wait !

Following on from yesterdays post-rock gem from Jakob, I introduce Mono, a Japanese band that have been around for since 1999. They recently played in Auckland and for some reason that I cannot recall now I did not go and see them. I have this album “one more step and you die” on vinyl and it got utterly hammered in my last few days at home. I particularly love this track – Com(?),  ignore the lack of video, turn the volume up and close your eyes  – warning, it does get noisy…

Malapascua

Day 55, Sunday 19 Feb 2012, Cebu – Malapascua.

Today I am off to Malapascua Island, which is about thirty minutes by boat off the northern tip of Cebu Island, so I need to catch a bus to Maya to get the boat. Have heard the road is rough !

Another reasonable sleep, this is almost becoming habit forming ! up at 7.00 and packed ready to go, got a coffee in the hotel restaurant but skipped breakfast as I don’t like to eat and drink too much before a long bus ride, you just never know! I got a cab to the long distance North Terminal and as we approached we saw the Maya bus leaving so I jumped on board, pack and all. For about five minutes I had a seat for the pack too…

I caught one of the local non-air-conned buses, it was only a four ride so I had heaps of time and I knew the bus would stop every few minutes  and it was about time I went local. With all the windows open it was as cool as the air-con busses anyway, except when we were stopped waiting in a bus terminal about half way, then it got really warm! The journey was long, though not too uncomfortable considering I had my pack on my lap the whole way, the scenery was interesting with a good mix of stunning beach views, small villages and hill towns.

The Philippines are a lot cleaner and tidier than Malaysia, though appear to be significantly poorer, you can see where infrastructure had been built  20-30 years ago before the worst of the corruption set in and things stated to decline. The bus arrived at the wharf in Maya just after 12.00 and I was soon joined by a Canadian couple and a couple of Canadians and we waited on the bangka (outrigger boat) for it to fill up before departing to the island.

I had my accommodation booked at Ocean Vida resort for four nights, but none of the others had anything arranged. I got talking to the two Canadian guys, Mike and Matt and Mike is considering Myanmar as well so we are going to catch up later and discuss a possible joint trip. Once checked in I spent a couple of hours wandering around bits of the island and looking for a good deal on dives. The island is (I am led to believe) about four and half kms in circumference, though that doesn’t seem right, feels bigger. On Bounty Beach there are a number of resorts and the place has a diving focus so lots of dive shops. The Island has a large indigenous population as well and I got rather lost wandering around the interior as it is a warren of twisty sand paths. There is a massive contrast between the local village and the resorts that back onto them though and there are a lot of armed guards walking around the resort areas. Then again there are armed guards all over the places I have been in the Philippines – I got searched by an armed guard going into the mall yesterday!

One of the primary dives at Malapascua, and the reason for its popularity, is an early morning (5.00 am !) dive to see thresher sharks, one of the few places in the world to do this. Unfortunately they are generally found around the 25-30 metre depth and my open water cert only allows dives to 18 metres. After some pondering and counting of beans I have decided to do a PADI Advanced Open Water Cert. The course includes five dives, one of which is a deep dive, which can be the thresher shark dive. It costs a bit more than individual dives but means I get my advanced cert and I can pretty much dive anywhere. So tomorrow I do my first dive, which will be visually dull, but probably fun as I learn a bit more about buoyancy. Tonight I have to study !

I caught up with Mike and Matt over an early dinner at my hotel bar, they are staying somewhere else, and then I went and snapped a couple of sunset shots and went to my room to internet, listen to music and study ! Early night and lucky no TV. My room is pretty cool by the way 🙂

Going to start educating you music illiterates, if I remember, each post with some musical awesomeness, mostly from New Zealand, but whatever takes my fancy and likely to be what I am listening too. Will start with a NZ band.

Jakob, from Napier. One of the worlds best instrumental post-rock bands, they have been around for just over 10 years but do not release a lot of material, recording a much anticipated new album at the moment. This track “I’m on your side” is off the wonderful subset of sets album – my favourite Jakob recording.

El Nido – Diving !

Day 50, Wednesday 15 Feb, El Nidoc- Diving !

After the island hopping tours, diving is the number one activity in El Nido. With numerous limestone islands and white sand beaches scattered around the bay there are a vast number of wall, reef and beach dives to be done – and are a number of companies willing to take your money and get you diving. For no specific reason I chose Palawan Divers.

I overslept a little, so up at 7.30 and no breakfast after yesterdays near debacle, grabbed a bottle of water on the way out the door as a bit dehydrated from last night, though not feeling hungover. I got to the dive shop on time for 8 and hung round for thirty pointless minutes before gathering that they had not written my booking up on the board. Luckily there was only a couple of people going today, or I would have been left dry and  furious !

Fortunately that was the only dodgy part to the day and the rest of the organisation and dive management practises were good, and the dive masters were fun too. We had three dives scheduled for the day at three different sites, but for good reason we only ended up diving in two of those places.

The first dive was at a place called Populcan forest , as you can see from the location photo it is right near a vertical cliff face, so it was a boat entry. In Borneo we dived off proper dive boats, but here we were diving off the traditional bangka outrigger, which introduced a new set of challenges as they are quite narrow – and there is a lot of gear !

Once in the water we dropped down the wall to the bottom at around 20 metres, slightly deeper than my licence “allowed”, but the sea doesn’t always obey PADI rules! The forest is a reef dive through some interesting coral, the visibility was OK, a lot of plankton in the water – which proved to be an awesome thing ! There was a reasonable amount of sea life, not a huge amount and the coral was Ok.

I was thinking that this was no where near as good as the diving we did in Borneo when AJ our lead dive master started banging on his tank with a metal rod (used for pointing out things of interest) I was right behind him and looked to where he was pointing and approaching us in the gloom was a massive whale shark !! I don’t think awesome can describe how exciting this was – fortunately I knew whale sharks are very safe only eating plankton. The shark passed about 7-8 metres from us and we followed it for as long as we could keep up. It was a real wow moment – and another trip highlight.

The whale sharks can grow up to 20 metres long, so this one, at around 5 metres was a juvenile. They are common in Feb / March in some locations in the Philippines but apparently quite rare in El Nido waters, AJ has logged over 1000 dives here and has never seen one, so we were all extraordinary lucky – and got some major cudos back in the shop at the end of the day !

We carried on with our dive and were heading back to the boat when I spotted the shark coming back our way, I grabbed AJ’s flipper and we all stopped and watched it pass by again. After a few under water hi-fives we surfaced to much excitement and got back on the boat for a very animated hour between dives

The crew proposed we flag dive site two and do the second dive here, but dive the wall rather than the forest, with the hope of seeing the whale shark again, us customers were very happy with this option. After an hours break we donned gear and dived the wall, staying around 10-15 metres where we saw the shark the last time. Alas, though it was a great dive we did not see the shark again.

We motored over to Dilumucad Island (well the dive was called that, no idea what the island was called, assuming the same !) and had a nice lunch on the white sand beach. The sun was so bright I could not see the screen on the back of the camera so missing the front of the boat – I should have brought the GF1 with the view finder! But you get the picture – its pretty nice here !

The dive site was at the end of this point, yeah I know – doing it tough 🙂

After the required number of hours break (and no – I didn’t work it out myself – fun dives with professional dive masters – are supposed to be fun!) we dived a sloping reef. This was definitely the best dive site of the day, some great coral and lots and lots of small fish life, tropical fish tank stuff, but lots of it and all around you !  We had quite a bit of sun on this dive so visibility was very good –  and I found a decent size turtle, which we followed for a while.

I think of all the dives I have done I was the best in the water on this dive, my buoyancy was about right for the whole dive – this is quite hard to achieve !!! I also used very little air as well, which meant I moved efficiently in the water, so very pleased. It is so much easier underwater when you have the basics right!

El  Nido from the sea

After the dives it was back to the shop to do log books (great thing with tour dives is they clean the gear !) and then to the hostel for beer, dinner and an early night.

Another good day !