Philippines, The End

Nudibranchs making love

Nudibranchs making love


Mamie and I spent one day diving in Panglao, which is an island connected by two bridges to the larger island of Bohol.  It was a fabulous and serene adventure.  We were joined and led through the dives by her good friend, Henning, who has lived in Philippines on and off for about five years now.  We dove with the company Valm, a shop that two of Mamie’s other friends Ned and John operate.

Mamie and Henning

Both dives were wall, drift dives, called Black Forest and Divers Heaven.  For those of you who don’t know what that means, we descended down a wall of corals that are vertical from the surface.  If you followed them all the way down you would be very deep underwater.  A drift dive means that there is a current along this wall but instead of fighting it, you actually use the current to drift along like a leaf floating on a breeze as it takes you by extraordinary sites.  

There were so many corals and fish to see that at times the lazy drift just wasn’t slow enough to really gaze at all the miraculous intricacies of each species.  So many colors and textures danced by us, filled with all sorts of fish life inside.  

Flamboyant Cuttlefish

Flamboyant Cuttlefish

The real gems were giant sea turtles just taking naps within the reef nearby, sometimes so camouflaged by the surrounding environment that you almost mistake them for rocks.  Their giant shells and heads were so amazing to see up close and personal.  I don’t think I will ever get used to seeing a turtle lazily swim by me, just as curious with me as I am with them.  

Turtle Panglao

Turtle Panglao

After two glorious dives we were back aboard the boat and headed to shore.  I was excitedly packing my equipment, knowing that this trip was just the beginning of my future Philippines dive adventures.  That night and the next day were spent amongst friends whom I had just met but felt like I had known forever.  We shared a night at Bamboo surrounded by longtime locals Trevor and Reefie listening to some classic rock songs and enjoying San Miguel beer.  It was funny and beautiful and I was happy to be a part of it.

Liquors from around the world

Liquors from around the world

The next day we spent time sampling different liquors….because how in the world can you not have Glayva, from Scotland, in the Philippines.  I about fell off my barstool when I saw the bottle of Glayva on the shelf at this bar/restaurant/resort called Ken’s place in the middle of Philippines, which was a liquor introduced to me by friends in Scotland.  What a large, yet tiny world we live in.  Anyways, I had to have some really foreign liquors and local beers on my last day in the Philippines.  Mamie and I even enjoyed a last meal of Italian food at her favorite restaurant Giuseppe’s before we capped the evening with some games of pool.

IMG_2133.JPG

The next day I set out early to gather all of my equipment, dry it, and do my daily workout before I boarded my last tricycle taxi of the trip to Taglabaran where I caught a flight to Manila.  I went to every terminal before I found the United counter.  Manila airport is not easy to navigate, especially since I’m used to Bangkok which is very well organized.  Once I found my airline and checked in for my flight I headed to the lounge to enjoy some food and drink before my first flight to Guam.

All of my flights back to the United States were smooth and although I had an extra stop, four total, I was comfortable and managed to get some sleep.  I had a whole half day in Jackson of which I used to vote in the primary election and get all of my errands ran before a good night of sleep and flight the next day, you heard that right 18 hour turnaround.

In all, my trip to the Philippines was amazing.  The infrastructure for tourism has a ways to go but the dive community and dive shops were prepared and helpful with all the details.  I would definitely plan for more time to get to each location, dive, and have time to relax.  With such a long flight to and from the Philippines, you really need about three weeks.  Unless you plan to stay and explore just one place.  The map is deceiving when it comes to planning several locations.  We took buses between all the different places to avoid flying and possible decompression sickness.  But what looked close on the map, or what looked like it should take just a few hours, really took a long time by bus.  So just keep in mind for your next Philippines vacation that depending on the time you have to explore, less is more.  We really enjoyed each spot and could have spent at least a week at each one.

Philippines, The Beginning

The beginning of any adventure is hard, but once you take the first step it all falls into place.  

From Jackson Hole Airport

From Jackson Hole Airport

 

 Getting to the Philippines from the USA is quite a task.  It isn’t hard per say it is just long! I left snowy mountain peaks for sunny sandy ocean shores and I packed as little as possible.  I had the good fortune of snagging a fairly cheap ticket back in July, and the route was my usual, Jackson to Denver to Tokyo/Narita to Manila.  I usually go to Thailand by this same route so this time my last flight just landed me in the Philippines instead, Hooray!  I also booked a local flight on Philippine Airlines to depart approximately two hours after I landed in Manila to Cebu.  This was probably a mistake, but worked out for me regardless.  Between my flight to Manila being about thirty minutes late and it took about thirty minutes to make it through passport control, baggage claim, and customs, I would not have been on time to check in for my Cebu flight.  As luck would have it the flight was delayed and I was transferred from terminal 3 to terminal 2 on a nice shuttle.  I checked in for my flight and waited about an hour and a half for boarding and departure.  

 

Once in Cebu I collected my luggage and followed the signs to the taxis where I read that you should take the white ones because they give you a slip with the taxi information on it where you can contact the government to complain if it was a bad experience. This gives you a little insurance policy on having an easy journey without bartering a price, or being taken on an unsolicited tour of the city.  However, the yellow taxis seemed ok enough and the rates are only slightly different from what the white taxis offer.  This is all stuff I have read so without experience in the yellow taxi I can’t give a 100% view.  

 

Off in my taxi I had a smooth twenty minute ride that cost 250 PP, 5 USD, to the 101 Horizons Condominiums.  I booked this apartment off of booking.com and chose this location for convenience within the city. Getting to a place at almost three in the morning is not the best but it is a relief when you see the host of the apartment, Nica, quietly snoozing on the couch waiting for you at reception.  I will admit I am not good at researching places before I go to them. I tend to book a landing spot sometimes the day before I get there, in this case I had booked this apartment in Cebu one week before departing America.  I would like to think that it is good karma that puts me in places with amazing and thoughtful people. By the time I was in my very own apartment I had been traveling for thirty-two hours.  Even with sleep aids I have a hard time sleeping on planes and buses because the seats for me are so uncomfortable.  So out of those thirty-two hours I think I slept maybe six.   

 

After getting settled and having much needed sleep.  I awoke to a sunny morning with scattered rain showers and knew I needed food.  I made my way down the block to a Mexican taqueria.  I had, once again last minute, read about this place on trip advisor.  I indulged in three carne asada tacos that looked and tasted like they came straight from Mexico at La Lucha Taqueria.  I was so in love that I took a burrito to go for later. The place is a tiny stand that shares almost a hallway with two other food stands in the Mango mall.  It may be hard to find but just go in the mall and look for some food stands on the base floor.  Two young Filipino girls were working, they seemed to be having fun and cooked up some amazing food.  With the airline travel behind me and some food in my belly, I’m looking forward to the next two weeks of journeys and scuba diving.

La Lucha Taqueria, Cebu City, Philippines

La Lucha Taqueria, Cebu City, Philippines

Exciting Trips to Come

Red Sea coral reef fish

Red Sea coral reef fish

 I know I have not been blogging recently, but I have been putting a lot of energy into future dive trips. So many exciting things coming up and here is a brief blog post on where we are going and what we are doing.  Most of these trips are exploratory, if you’re interested in coming along please contact me.

 

The first place I am heading is to the Philippines this October.  It is just around the corner and I am so eager to gain a better understanding of the country and experience the incredible diving. 

Philippines

Philippines

 

Next up is Egypt.  This is a girl’s trip only, and is available to those of you beautiful babes who want to explore this country and underwater habitat.  The plan so far, is to do about a weeklong live aboard in the Red Sea followed by a week or more sightseeing on land.  The live aboard has not been booked but the hope is to have that done by January.  And the land tour may consist of us meandering around to all the pyramids and happening spots.  We may decide to do an organized tour but it would probably only take up a couple of days. This is to take place in May 2019.

Red Sea beach

Red Sea beach

 

Fall 2019 is proving to be full of new places.  Very loose planning has a possible visit to the Maldives before or after we do a week long live aboard in Chuuk or Truk Lagoon, Micronesia.  This live aboard trip is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Chuuk is known for being the largest graveyard of wrecks in the world.  For more information on Chuuk Lagoon click the button below.  

 

I hope a little spontaneity will prompt some unplanned stops but as far as the next year goes this is what is in the works.  If you are interested please let me know as soon as possible.  Some of these trips have already been booked and deposits paid. Space is limited.

June 2017 Diving Catalina Island, CA

Visiting California was the last stop on my whirlwind spring adventures.  After being in Jackson for two days and driving to Big Sky for a few days I was on a flight out of Bozeman, MT. 

Flying into Palm Springs airport and spending the next few days catching up with my friend was amazing.  The best day of my trip to California was diving near the northeast coast of Catalina Island.  

We left Palm Springs at about 3:00 AM and arrived at the pier in San Pedro around 6:30 AM.  Once on The Magician, we readied our equipment and signed all the legal forms, standard boat procedures.  The boat ride to Catalina Island was about two hours, one of which I tried unsuccessfully to nap.  The other hour was spent meeting new people and eating a delicious feast for breakfast. 

As we moored up to the first dive site everyone was putting on his or her gear.  I myself was wearing a Sharkskin Climate Control Top and Sharkskin Paddling Pants underneath a 7mm Henderson wetsuit.  I had to adjust my weight belt for all the extra neoprene.  In addition to the added exposure suit, I was trying out a new Zeagle Zena BCD.  Upon entry, I realized just how much colder the water was, 17C or 63F, from my usual tropical water diving, 28C or 82F. 

The step off of the boat caused my body to go into a natural reaction of hyperventilation.  I quickly opened my wetsuit to let in more chilly water to allow the neoprene to do its job and warm the waters inside the suit.  As I waited for everyone to enter the water I tried unsuccessfully to slow my breath.  As the group was descending I was not only fighting hyperventilation but a cold headache too.  Ouch!!  This new environment and new equipment quickly became a hindrance.  I had to slow my decent from the groups, concentrate on slowing my breathing and focus on the other divers instead of the icy molecules of my brain.  It was 13C or 55F at the bottom of our descent.  I know most scuba instructors will probably never admit difficult situations but I have to say that it happens to all levels of divers.  Engaging a normal breathing pattern calmed me and helped my body relax in the frigid water, which in turn acclimated a short while later and my frozen headache subsided.  I didn’t think California diving would be a challenge to me.  I know now to spend a few extra minutes at the surface to acclimate before I descend.  I also recognize for myself, the need of a hood when diving anything below 20C or 68F.   

Now, once I was breathing naturally and my popsicle head thawed, this beautiful kelp world opened up to me.  According to local divers on the boat, this is the first year in a long time the kelp has been abundant here.  The cause of the copious amounts of kelp is that the water temperatures had stayed cooler which allowed for them to thrive.  Kelp in all its glory is like this fantasy maze that you have to slowly and carefully pick your way through.  My fin strap snagged a few times but it was easy to stop and untangle especially with a helpful dive buddy.  I was happy to see such a picturesque ecosystem and I was able to appreciate a few new sea creatures to add to my list.  

There was a bat ray that was so cute because his face looks like he is smiling at you.  He wasn't very interested in us though and swam off after just a minute or two.  There were tons of Garibaldi, these are part of the damselfish family and are bright orange in color.  On our ride back to the California coast we spotted and spent a few moments with an Elephant Seal, they can reach up to 3 or 4,000 kilograms, that’s up to 8,800 pounds!  His nose was like a short version of an elephant's.  I later read his short trunk is used for very loud roaring noises, and the chambers inside act similar to a rebreather, to collect moisture from exhalations.  Both of these functions are important during the mating season.  It was so cool to see something so different.  I loved California diving and next time I will be better prepared.

The days following diving were spent mostly around a pool and celebrating yet another birthday!  I left my friend and our pool days quite sadly.  I returned to Bozeman then Big Sky for just a night and said farewell to everyone on my way back to Jackson Wyoming to start the summer season.

 

Girabaldi Damselfish
Kelp, Girabaldi, Diver
Kelp Forest

May 2017 Thailand Part I

Thailand Part I

I had to break this entry into two parts because it was overflowing with information.

After Hawaii on the spring tour, was a swing through Jackson, WY to pick up Beth on our way to Thailand.  This trip has been one of her lifelong dreams.  

After about 27 hours of travel, we spent a few days in Bangkok to adjust to the time and meet some of my divers.  When we arrived in Bangkok we headed to The Grand President Hotel.  To be in a foreign place so far away and feel like you've arrived home is the reason I frequently stay at Grand President.  When we weren’t lounging by the pool we were touring the big city.  We ate marvelous meals, went shopping for souvenirs, and leisurely boated down the river.  

My first errand generally starts with MBK Shopping Center.  I like it because it is conveniently located on the BTS light rail at the National Stadium stop.  MBK is known for its wide array of offerings and cheaper prices.  I always come here for cell phone issues and purchases, custom-made business cards, and souvenirs.  If you need or want anything you will probably find it there.  Once the errands were done we took a river tour.  

To get to this particular company we took the BTS to Saphan Thaksin stop (Thaksin Bridge) near Mandarin Oriental and Peninsula Hotel.  Then you can walk, 20 minutes, or taxi/grabcar, 10 minutes, to Jacks Bar.  We had some great spicy Thai food and a beer on the dock next to the boats.  We departed from Jack’s Bar on a low-key river tour.  We took pictures and stopped at one of the temples.  If you prefer to make more stops and view more of the temples and attractions just let them know.

Besides Jacks Bar and the great breakfast at the hotel, we enjoyed two meals in particular within walking distance of Grand President on Soi 11.  One was at Pizzeria Limoncello and the other at Oskar Bistro.  Pizzeria Limoncello offers wonderful Italian food with a decent wine selection and of course homemade limoncello.  This was the first place outside of Italy that I actually enjoyed the limoncello.  Oskar Bistro is more of a social gathering spot with great food, wine selection, and surprising craft cocktails. Well-made drinks are not always easy to find in Thailand.  I always enjoy my favorite signature cocktail, the Spicipirinha, it's a caipirinha with spicy Thai chilies.  After a few well-spent days and meals we headed south to Koh Tao.  

Considering the luggage we had and the adventure I wanted to show everyone, we took the train south overnight and then the ferry in the morning.  The train, although timeworn, is one of my favorite things to show people on a budget.  I have been on trains in other countries and this one is very old school.  It can be cheaper than flying especially with luggage but please do not “save money” and buy a 3rd class ticket.  Get a 2nd or 1st class AC sleeper ticket.  This way you will have a good night sleep on your travel south.  Like I said, the trains in operation right now are not new; do not expect a luxury sleeper.  I think they are comfortable but they are definitely showing their age.  

Koh Tao was hot as usual and had beautiful weather when we arrived.  The following day Beth enjoyed some beach time as I went diving with clients.  The highlight over the next few days of diving was seeing the Whale shark.  These animals are filter feeders and are so big and amazing to watch underwater.  The dive experiences everyone had were great and some fears were left behind.  Another water day spent around the island was snorkeling off of Aow Leuk beach.   The water here is a turquoise color.  On this particular day, visibility was good, and the corals and fish were bright and abundant.  Days of diving, eating amazing food, seeing a Whale shark, and snorkeling on beautiful reefs fulfilled everyone's desires.  After Koh Tao my group of divers travelled to the Andaman coast while Beth and I went north.  

River Tour
The King on a building
Train

April 2017 Hawaii

I never realized how much I wanted to travel until I started doing it.  This last spring I explored many things.  I love the beauty of nature and being in Hawaii in April was by far one of the more stunning places.  It was so amazing to see a young volcanic island with such a diverse array of flora and fauna.

We stayed on the Big Island of Hawaii and explored the volcanoes, had a submarine tour and visited many beaches for snorkeling and surfing.  Hawaii is gorgeous and I can't wait to explore other islands in this incredible archipelago. 

We flew into Kona, which is on the west coast of the Big Island.  We stayed at a timeshare in the Waikoloa Resort, a thirty-minute drive north from Kona airport.  This resort, in particular, had it’s own golf courses, shopping centers, and grocery store.  Everything you need is on site.  We stayed in a two-bedroom apartment.  It was very nice and right on the ground level close to the communal barbecue and hot tub for that complex.  The only downfall of this particular room and on this particular level is that the residents above us decided every night to throw food down to the feral cats.  How Rude!  

Anyway, over the next few days, we checked out some snorkeling beaches and signed my nephew up for surfing.  He went for two days with Kona Mike's Surf Adventures and had so much fun.  I highly recommend this company everyone was very enthusiastic, professional, and safe.  Snorkeling was good pretty much everywhere we went.  My sister, however, loved Kahalu'u Beach Park.  This spot was convenient because the surfers were off to the right practicing and to the left was an easy entry snorkeling area.  It was full of beautiful fish and corals.  This area was great for snorkelers because of its gradual depth change.  Once out of the water there were places to shower off and buy food and refreshments.    

I originally came to Hawaii with grandiose dreams of scuba diving, but the universe had other plans.  I had a bad sinus infection most of the trip and equalizing was not going to happen.  So we did the next best thing and everyone was able to participate!  We signed up for the Atlantis Submarine Tour in Kona.  This tour was so much fun and so easy for everyone.  The submarine had two rows of bench seats facing either side of the submarine.   There were many windows, perfect for everyone to get a good view.   We went about 100 feet deep and toured around about 25 acres of coral reef and saw all sorts of sea creatures.  We also saw a wreck.  I would never substitute this for scuba diving.  However, if you have a member of your group that doesn't want to dive this is a great alternative.

Now, for those of you who love jewelry beware!  Sharing the same office space as Atlantis Submarines was Maui Divers Jewelry.  They had beautiful black coral pieces set in gold and silver.  They also had you fish for an oyster and find your special pearl.  The ladies working the counter were very friendly and very good at their jobs.  

The last day of our trip, in retrospect, wasn’t planned very well.  The Big Island has five volcanoes two of which are active volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea.  The best way to see the island and its volcanoes are by helicopter.  There are many helicopter company locations around the island so you can easily book and leave from close to where you are staying.  We missed our chance on the helicopter tour because we decided too late and the bookings were full. Since we couldn’t do the helicopter tour, we took a long scenic drive.  Our first stop was in Hilo, which is very green and lush, compared to the Kona side, which is rougher with lots of volcanic rock.  We then dipped south toward the Kilauea volcano in Volcanoes National Park. When entering the park you can stop at Kilauea Visitor Center for information and history.  They also have a little theatre that shows videos of different eruptions and lava flows throughout the years.  After our stop at the visitor center, we rushed to a few observation areas.  I loved being able to actually see the crater of the volcano, the layers from the old lava lakes, and even the steam coming out of an active vent.  Kilauea volcano is such a different and amazing landscape from other places I’ve been.  The Volcanoes National Park is fairly large and definitely a full day or two days trip if you really want to hike and explore all the observation areas and different ecosystems.  Our visit was short and sweet as our flight was that night and we had to get back to Kona.  With so many things to do and so little time, I was off on another adventure.  I can’t wait to come back and explore more.

   

lava ecosystem
Submarine Tour

Submarine Tour

Volcanoes National Park