Philippines, The Beginning, Part two

Malapascua Island

Malapascua Island

  As I waited in Cebu City for Mamie to show up I only did a little bit of exploring and a lot of reorganizing life.  This trip and the one to follow were fast and furious so this was my time to catch up on the computer among other things.

 

I managed to find a fantastic coffee shop, only steps from my apartment building, where I did some reading and writing.  This was at Coffee Bean $cent, I ordered a croissant and mint mocha.  I am a sucker for mint mochas, and theirs was exceptional. I haven’t been delighting in as many fancy coffees as of late.  Basically becoming obsessed with bulletproof coffee.  For those of you who don’t know what that is, it is coffee with butter and coconut oil.  It sounds awful, and I thought as much at first, but once blended in the blender it is all frothy and super delicious.  It also has all the healthy fats our body desires straight away in the morning and I think helps with my appetite all day.  I bring this up because having fancy coffees now with sugar and milk products really don’t make me feel well.  So this mint mocha had to be good to put up with the inevitable stomach ache later.

 

Once Mamie arrived in the city we had a cool little night out down the street at Cubana.  We shared a pizza and some beers and it was fun to know that the beer of choice in Philippines is San Miguel, which is one of my favorites.  The entertainment was not lacking and we had to sing along with the beautiful Filipino woman who was belting out some Alicia Keys songs.  Sadly, by about ten o clock we were knackered and headed to bed for our long journey north in the morning.

Sunset Malapascua

 Heading to Malapascua in the morning from Cebu City on a bus required us to be up and ready to go early. Thankfully, Mamie was still jet lagged and woke up ready to go.  We took a taxi to the North Bus Terminal and found a bus leaving for the Ferry Port, which is where we needed to be to catch the ferry to the island.  We loaded a big bus with some great seats covered in plastic….you can make your own assumptions here.  It was slow going.  The buses, from what I’ve experienced, rarely go direct.  You have many locals and travelers alike on the same bus routes and it made many many stops.  We made it to the ferry port in roughly five hours, with one or two pit stops for bathrooms and snacks.  The ferry ride was another hour ride and a whole frustrating mess of bartering and trying not to be swindled.  We made it to the new ferry port for the last ferry at 4:30 pm, this is where the Ceres bus dropped us off.  This cute older woman in a stand took 100 pesos for each person and gave us a ticket. After about five minutes with three of us waiting this guy said ‘we “needed” to pay 500 pesos each for the boat to go’.  I looked at him and asked ‘why?’  He said, ‘because there are only three of you’.  I said, ‘so, this is the last ferry doesn’t it go regardless’?  He said ‘well we could go now if we each paid 500 pesos’, the third traveler included a young Filipino girl.  So I asked the girl, ‘do we have to pay 500 pesos’?  She looked confused and looked at the guy like what’s going on.  They talked in Filipino and she started digging for money and looked at me again and I said ‘I’m not paying that’.  She put her money away and the guy said ‘we will wait longer’. A few more people show up. Then he asked for 100 pesos more from each of us.  He even looked at this older woman and said we all have to pay it.  Everyone coughed up 100 pesos more and we were off.  Now this isn’t a typical ferry, or at least the ferries I am used to in Thailand, which are huge and have rows of seats and TVs with crappy movies or music on them.  This ferry is a traditional Bangka, which is boat in Filipino and includes the main boat with the out rigging on the sides.  I was told this type of frame keeps the boat close to the surface to avoid hitting the bottom and reefs.  Anyway, it is small and we leave with about ten passengers.  As we approach Malapascua, after about twelve hours of travel, I am exhausted and relieved we made it.

On the ferry to Malapascua

On the ferry to Malapascua

 Once on the island it became apparent the only vehicles are motorbikes.  Which isn’t a new concept to me, however, my luggage was a rolling mass of scuba gear in a large Stahlsac suitcase.  So we bartered a 50 peso per person bike to our accommodation at Thresher Dive Cove.  I loaded the bike with my luggage between the driver and myself and realized half my ass was hanging off of the back.  Needless to say of all the bike rides I’ve been on as a passenger that was the scariest!! After about ten minutes of hugging my luggage and squeezing my butt cheeks on this bike we made it to the back of the resort.  It has a dirt parking lot and a bunch of shabby old shacks in front of a steep staircase.  We hauled ourselves up the staircase to the security guard booth and told them who we were and immediately were directed to reception.  It was now night on the island and it seemed very quiet but the ladies at the desk greeted us with warmth and asked us about our diving plans for the next day.  

Mango Daquiri at the restaurant at Thresher Cove Dive Resort

Mango Daquiri at the restaurant at Thresher Cove Dive Resort

 Mamie and I filled out paperwork, signed up for diving in the morning, and headed off to unload our luggage and finally have a meal for the day in the resort restaurant.  Prices were reasonable and the food was good. Exhausted, we retreated to our accommodation which was right on the beach and big enough for a somewhat oversize twin bed and our luggage. The bathroom was in a building just fifteen paces from our cabana. I was one of the first to enter this bathroom and to my surprise when I flipped on the light a giant spider scurried from the top of the door to behind the toilet. I screamed, loud! I tried to look for him and make noise to “flush” him out, haha, but alas I never saw him again. So I reluctantly and swiftly went to the bathroom and left in a hurry. I ran to the cabana and asked Mamie if she had heard me scream. Fortunately, she had not, my temporary freak out did not wake up the resort. After the adrenaline rush passed Mamie and I crashed on our tiny bed to rest for the next morning’s adventures.

Spider!!!!

Spider!!!!

 

 

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