Posts Tagged ‘Diving’

Round-the-World Honeymoon Pt.3: Curaçao (23-28 May)

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

After another stopover in Panama, our next destination was Curaçao. This former Dutch colony was really an amazing spot for our honeymoon. Tropical climate with sunshine every day, but due to the trade winds there is always a breeze which means that it felt much less hot than for example in Cuba. Our hotel, the Scuba Lodge, was also an excellent choice, for many reasons: firstly, it was a very nice hotel, located right next to the ocean, with a nice infinity pool overlooking the water, and an outdoor restaurant with sandy floor. Sencondly, the hotel is located in the Pietermaai district of Willemstad (the “capital” / only city on Curaçao). Described by the receptionist as the “up and coming” neighborhood, there were many nice cafes and restaurants around, but without the resort-y and tourist-y vibe of Mambo Beach. The fact that Pietermaai still has a bunch of houses that are empty and deteriorating only adds to the charm.

The last big advantage of the Scuba Lodge was – as the name implies – the fact that there is a dive shop on site, which was very useful for us since Curaçao also has amazing diving. Curaçao sits on a very steep reef, only a few meters out from shore there is a massive drop. This means that in contrast to all other spots we have dived so far, on Curaçao you typically don’t take a boat out, rather, you drive to a dive site and then simply walk in.

We went diving on three days. Sunday, we went to Marie Pampoen carpile and Boka Simon. Carpile is an interesting dive site since there is a lot of scrap metal wreckage in the water, dumped there a long time ago by island inhabitants when it was not prohibited yet. Over the course of the years, nature has run its course, and today, the wreckage is overgrown with coral and makes for an impressive underwater experience. Monday, we did the “dolphin encounter” at Shipwreck Point. The Dolphins are not wild, they belong to the local acquirium and live in a lagoon that is connected to the ocean (so at least as close to their natural habitat as it gets). Our “encounter” was in the open ocean though, a trainer had brought the Dolphins out and they were swimming in between the divers, eyeing us curiously and plying with the reef. On our last day of diving, Tuesday, we went to Director’s Bay (an extremely beautiful coral reef there) and then Tugboat, which features a wreck of a small tugboat. This last dive was really amazing, firstly we dived to the wreck with an incredible amount of fish that were using it as a hiding place. Thereafter, we went under an abandoned ferry that is moored there and through the pillars of the pier that it is docked through. The lack of light there really made for an enchanted or mystical experience, in the pure blue, with the pillars of the pier looking like some kind of forest.

On our last full day, we did another outdoor activity, and took a kitesurfing refresher course. More than three years after either of us had touched a kite, we definitely had to start with the basics again. Fortunately, Curaçao was an ideal spot for this. Kiting on the coast is quite dangerous here, but our course took place on an inland lagoon, with no other kite surfer in sight. The steady trade winds made for perfect conditions. However, there is only so far you can get in a few hours, so we really thought we would have to find some more time to do this again at some point, hopefully before another three years go by.

Another thing worth mentioning was the food: for one thing we enjoyed being able to eat salad again without fearing food poisoning (didn’t seem advisable in Cuba). Also, the Dutch heritage combined with the Carribean location meant that a lot of things we enjoy are part of the cuisine: fish and seafood, but also nice bread and cheese. 

Overall, we really loved it on Curaçao, and decided that this is one of the few places that we could potentially prioritize coming back to over exploring new places. A few pictures follow.

November Holiday Pt. 3: Mexico (14 – 23 November)

Monday, December 9th, 2013

Since our rate of visiting new countries had significantly dropped since we started working again, we concluded that on our November trip we needed to visit a country that neither of us had been to before. Also, since it was going to be my birthday on the last day of our trip, I requested something warm with a beach for that – so we ended up going to the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico.

We flew in to Cancun, but fearing hordes of drunk American teenagers, we didn’t spend any time there other than one night in downtown Cancun close to the bus station. That area is completely untouristy, so that when we wanted to get some tacos for breakfast, our non-existing Spanish was already quite extensively tested… but with pointing and analogies from other Latin languages, we did end up getting some nice and really cheap food.

Our first “real” stop then was Chichén Itza, the Mayan ruins of which have been named one of the “new seven wonders of the world”. We arrived there in the afternoon, and hadn’t planned to go into the archeological zone that day yet, so instead we hunted down something to eat. Most of the places in Piste, which is the small town closest to the ruins, are really touristy and mostly cater for big tour groups. We were still very early and thus got some food alone in a pretty big restaurant. When we were about to leave, it started pouring, so we had to stay somewhat longer, and witnessed the big tour groups arriving (and a dance performance for them by the restaurant staff). Thankfully, the rain didn’t last very long and we were able to take a taxi to our hotel. The hotel was located at the back entrance of the ruins, and was a really nice place – and also very convenient to be the first one at the ruins in the morning (at 8am). Getting up relatively early then clearly showed the difference between Mexico and the places we’ve traveled to in Asia with similar tropical climate: Whereas in Asia everyone is up early to avoid the heat, in Mexico there was hardly anyone out on the streets even at 8am. For us, that was a good thing: Not only were there only very few other tourists with us in the ruins, but also hardly any vendors, and those that were there, were still busy setting up their stalls. So less harassment for us.

The ruins were quite impressive. The first eye catcher was of course the big pyramid in the center, but other sites that I found very memorable were the big ball court, with rings that players were meant to somehow put the ball through probably four meters above ground, and the platform of skulls which was decorated on all sides with hundreds of skulls carved out of the stones.

We spent a couple of hours at the ruins, and left just before the first tour groups arrived. We had some time to freshen up and pack our stuff, before we left in the afternoon for Tulum.

We spent the night in Tulum and got up relatively early again the next day to be at the Tulum ruins when they opened. The ruins here were Mayan too, but quite different – whereas the ones in Chichén Itza are basically enclosed by thick jungle, the ones in Tulum are located on a cliff over the ocean and surrounded by city walls on three sides. The individual buildings in Tulum are not as impressive as in Chichén Itza, but the location even more so – palm trees, cliffs, small beaches, and turquoise Caribbean water. It must have been good to live here as a Mayan (except for the ever-present risk of being sacrificed, which seems to have been quite the hobby of the Mayans).

Since it was still early when we got back from the ruins, and we weren’t planning to leave Tulum until the afternoon, we decided to go swim in a cenote. These cenotes are round holes in the limestone ground which are partly filled with water and often connect to systems of caves. We went to the Grand Cenote close to Tulum for a swim – you can also dive down the caves if you want to. The water was quite cold, but you got used to it after a while, and there were fishes and turtles swimming alongside the bathers and divers.

Later that day, we left for the island of Cozumel. We had to get off the bus and board a ferry in Playa del Carmen for that purpose, and were glad that Playa was one of the places that we hadn’t put on our itinerary — this town again seemed to be more of a place to be drunk on the beach than anything else. Cozumel itself has a little bit of a schizophrenic character: Since on any given day, 3 or 4 cruise ships dock here, it becomes quite busy during the day with lots of tourist traps (one jewellery store next to the other on the water front). Overnight, when the ships are gone, it is much more quiet. However, our main plan on Cozumel was not checking out the island itself, but rather to go diving – J did her Open Water Diver certificate, and I just went diving for three days (the last day we could go together). The coral reef around Cozumel is actually the second biggest after the Great Barrier Reef, and the diving was really amazing. The corals were extremely pretty and had very interesting shapes, and we got to do a lot of swim-throughs, were you dive through arches or tunnels in the coral. Also, I went much deeper than I had before, up to 30m. There was lots of marine life to see as well, including as the highlight a nurse shark that was sleeping on the ocean floor.

After three days on Cozumel, we left for our last stop – Isla Mujeres. To get there, we had to take the ferry back to Playa, a bus to Cancun, and then another ferry. In contrast to Cozumel, our only plan for Mujeres was to relax. The main town of Mujeres is located on the northern tip of the island, which also has the most beautiful beach – an absolutely stunning tropical paradise with white sand, turquoise-blue water and palm trees. One day, we rented a scooter to go down to the south point of the island and visit a turtle farm which is about half way – but all of that could be easily done in half a day since the island is so small. And while it was certainly a touristy place, it felt much more relaxed and less stressful than Cozumel. Our hotel was also pretty amazing, with a balcony that had a hammock and overlooked the ocean. In addition, the food was amazing on Mujeres – our favorite place was a tiny little hole in the wall three minutes walk from our hotel, which made the most amazing Tacos and other Mexican delicacies (and had J’s favorite ‘salsa muy picante’).

The last day of our stay in Mujeres was also my thirtieth birthday – which we spent swimming, eating, and idling. The perfect birthday 🙂 The next day, we unfortunately had to leave again – with another long flight from Cancun via Atlanta back to Johannesburg. Since we only arrived on Sunday afternoon, I was super jetlagged my first few days back at work – but it had been so worth it.

Some pictures follow.

Diving trip to Pulau Dayang

Saturday, April 7th, 2012

Two weeks ago, I went for a diving trip over the weekend to Pulau Dayang in Malaysia. The trip was organized by the INSEAD Diving Club, one of the multiple sports clubs that are offered for students to join. The main purpose of the trip for me and roughly 30 other students was to get the PADI Open Water Diver certification, which will in the future allow me to rent diving gear and go on diving trips individually.

Prior to the trip, we had to take theory lessons (conveniently offered in one of the amphis at INSEAD by the diving school and trip operator) and also conduct two pool sessions in a swimming pool of a school here in Singapore. During the theory and pool sessions, we learned the basic skills required to dive, such as how all the gear is handled and also things like how to clear your mask from water underwater, how to breathe from another persons air supply in case your own runs out, or how to do an emergency ascent.

The trip itself started on Friday night after all participants had finished their classes. The trip to Pulau Dayang, which is a tiny island off the Malaysian east cost, took about seven hours – first by bus, then by boat – so we arrived on the island in the middle of the night. The accommodation was really basic (double bunk beds) but we were on the island for diving and not for luxury after all.

Saturday started in the morning with breakfast and some obligatory announcements, and then we headed out with a boat for the dives. We did three dives on Saturday, returning to the island to eat (and allow the nitrogen in the blood which increases when diving to slowly decrease again) in between each dive. The first two dives were again mostly about demonstrating the skills that we had learned during theory and pool sessions: mask clearing, regulator recovery, regulator clearing, alternate air source, fin pivot (neutral buoyancy), hovering in the water, CESA (controlled emergency swimming ascent) and finally finning around. The third dive was more about moving around underwater and discovering the marine life in the area: we saw a huge turtle, and also some cuttlefish.

We spent the evening on the beach, quite exhausted from the whole day of diving, and went to bed early to be fit for the second diving day. Sunday brought two more dives, the first one being more of a leisure dive going down to 18 meters, which is the maximum debt for which Open Water Divers are certified (there is a more advanced course which allows for deeper depths), and the last one also comprising a demonstration of navigation skills using a compass underwater. On the last two dives, we also saw some amazing marine life including another turtle, cuttlefish, lionfish, barracudas, clownfish and parrotfish.

After lunch, we still had some time to relax on the island because the tide didn’t allow us to leave immediately, so we worked a bit on our tan and enjoyed the provided food. After another seven hour trip back to Singapore, I finally arrived at home shortly past midnight.

All in all, it was an amazing and interesting weekend, and I am definitely planning to do more diving during my time here in Singapore, most likely also doing the Advanced Open Water Diver certification.

Some pictures follow, unfortunately I do not have any of me in the gear or any underwater pictures. However, the beauty of the island and the clarity of the surrounding ocean is quite obvious from the pictures.

© 2012 – 2018 JF Goetzmann — Impress