Scuba Diving in the Maldives
It is a bit strange. I've been scuba diving for fourteen years now, with many diving trips all around the world, and yet I have never been in the Maldives. In the past I either went very far away (like Southeast Asia, South Pacific, South America) or stayed close (Egypt, Sudan) and so the Maldives have fallen through the cracks.
When I went hunting for a diving trip for this year, the Maldives weren't at the top of my list, but a good diving buddy spent last years vacation on the Carpe Novo Liveaboard in the Maldives and had such a great time that he wanted to return again this year. So I decided to trust his opinion and join him :).
I didn't quite now what to expect, so I just decided to let myself be surprised. And surprised I was.
The Carpe Novo is the most spacious liveaboard I have seen so far. With space for twenty divers there was a large common area, a separate open air dining room and cabins with a lot of space. One reason for this, was that all the dive equipment including the compressors were on a Donghi, a smaller boat which accompanied us and from which we drove to the dive sites.
Our first dives were in the North Malé Atoll and the second dive at Lankan Faru was already a highlight. At this Manta cleaning station up to 8 Manta Rays were hanging around, swimming in formation and passing right over us. So even with mediocre visibility we got a good view :)
We headed North to the Baa Atoll, where the price for the most beautiful dive site goes to Yellow Wall. A wall covered from top to bottom in yellow Soft Coral.
Over night we headed South to North Ari Atoll where we did two dives at Rasdhoo Ridge. The first dive was already pretty good with a couple of Grey Reef Sharks cruising back and forth in front of us. The second dive managed to top that with dozens of Grey Reef Sharks turning up! A fantastic experience :)
The next day we did a dive at Fish Head in the North Ari Atoll. There our guides spotted a Giant Guitarfish sleeping on the bottom. A personal first, I was very happy to finally see a Guitarfish :)
Traveling farther South to the South Ari Atoll we did a dive at Mahchafushi Wreck. A former shipping boat that was purposefully sunk for diving. Now it offers an interesting spot with lots of coral growth and fish life. Which is good, because next to the wreck there is nothing to see. The last El Niño together with a Crown of Thornes invasion left the complete reef dead. Even though there were still some small fishes around it was a depressing sight. :(
One of the reasons why we traveled to South Ari Atoll, was the chance to see Whale Sharks. The next morning during breakfast the captain went on the lookout and pretty soon they spotted one. We all immediately donned our snorkeling gear and hit the water. The Whale Shark wasn't in a hurry and so we could swim along for a bit. After a dive on the outer reef we stayed on the Dhongi and went looking for more and after a long search we found another. Again we had the chance to swim with it for a good while. Another fantastic experience!
A longer cruise to Vaavu Atoll meant we had to skip the third dive in the afternoon, but we got the opportunity to do a night dive at Alimatha Jetty. This place is famous for its "friendly" Nurse Sharks, Rays and Giant Trevallies. And it was as described. The Sharks and Rays showed no reluctance and cruised around us as if we weren't there. Some of them even touched us when they swam by. What a unique experience! The second best night dive of my career (Flashlight Fish in Vanuatu remain the personal highlight).
Since our trip was coming to a close, we headed back North to South Malé Atoll. At Kandooma Thila we had another chance to see many Grey Reef Sharks and a group of five White Spotted Eagle Rays who just hung there in the current.
After ten days our trip came to a close and we used the last afternoon for a short trip to Malé, the capital of the Maldives, which is the ugliest island I had seen in the Maldives ;)
After this experience I can say that a return to the Maldives is definitely an option to consider. And the Carpe Novo very high on the list for liveaboard of choice.
More pictures can be found in my web album.
If you want to know more about the dive sites we visited and what we saw there, you can check out my online dive log.
Labels: diving, pictures, traveling
On my way to the Maldives I had to change planes in Dubai.
This time I decided to add a short stopover to take a look at what Dubai had to offer and to finally log a Geocache in the United Arab Emirates ;).
My friends who originally sold me on the dive trip were also staying one day and together we visited the Bubbalicious Brunch buffet, probably one of the most decadent Brunches out there. The cheese selection filled a whole room and there were fresh oysters, lobster, tuna, salmon, Sushi, foie gras and much more.
There were so many options, I only tasted a small set of them. And everything was very delicious.
If you happen to visit Dubai on a Friday, then it is worth a consideration. The high price tag is indeed justified.
Afterwards we needed a bit of exercise and headed over to Dubai Mall to get a look at Burj Kalifa, the currently highest building in the world.
Even though it was very impressive, I didn't realize it's full height until we flew out of Dubai past the skyline and I noticed that the Burj Kalifa was twice as high as the next sky scraper!
Since it was almost dark we stayed in the area to wait for the water fountain show. A beautifully orchestrated show of water jets, lights and music. The show is on every 30 minutes once it is dark and it lasts for 2 to 5 minutes. We enjoyed it so much, we decided to stay for a second helping. And the second show was different from the first!
Afterwards we were tired enough to head back to the hotel. On the way we noticed, that Dubai is not designed for pedestrians, with all the construction sites around we had to illegally walk along a street and cross another main road to get where we were headed.
All in all it was an exciting day. But I probably would not want to stay in Dubai for much longer. It's just too big, busy and crowded.
More pictures can be found in my web album.
Labels: city trip, geocaching, pictures, traveling
For this years vacation we planned something new, a long distance walking holiday. Since I hadn't done this before we looked for an easy route to start with and the Coleridge Way in South-West England fit the bill perfectly. Coleridge Way is dedicated to the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge who was a founder of the Romantic Movement in English literature at the beginning of the 19th century and who lived in this area during that time.
We started in the quaint village Nether Stowey, where Coleridge Cottage, the house he lived in at the time and now a museum, is located. Of course we started off with visiting it and we learned a good bit about the poet and about the living conditions at that time. We stayed the night at The Old Cider House where we felt very welcome and had a splendid home cooked dinner and Furmity for breakfast, yummy!
The first day of walking led from Nether Stowey to Williton. On the way we crossed a beautiful hill and spotted a half wild horse family (two horses with a foal).
Williton itself is a bit off the main hiking route, but it was the closest place with accommodation. And the detour was well worth it. On the way we crossed a meadow with hundreds of sheep and in the hedges we spotted dozens of wild rabbits! Unfortunately, they stayed in the shadows and so we couldn't get a good picture.
After settling in at the White House, we headed out towards the railway station to look for a Geocache. A great decision! The station dates back to 1862 and still looks the same. A perfect place for a group of reenactors ;)
The second day was a short stretch to Roadwater where we arrived around 3pm, just in time to check into our room in The Valiant Soldier, a traditional English Inn. Since it was still early we headed onwards to Washford for another old railway station. This one was turned into a museum, which unfortunately was closed when we got there. But the walk there was wonderful with beautiful views of Bristol Channel and Wales.
Day three was another short distance to Wheddon Cross. Since we knew that we could walk more, we made a detour at Kingsbridge up into the Moor to look for a couple of Geocaches, most of which we found :). On top of the hill we spotted a small group of wild ponies in the distance! (Too far away for a picture, but still a beautiful sight)
Back on the trail Coleridge Way led us across Lype Hill, which was a huge meadow with hundreds of sheep. We were definitely blessed with animal encounters :)
Exhausted but happy we arrived at The Rest and Be Thankful, another 19th century inn where we had a great dinner and a good nights sleep.
From the Inn we saw the next days challenge: Dunkery Beacon, with 519 meters the highest point in Exmoor. And even though it was not on the official trail, we added it to our route because this was the real Exmoor and we didn't regret this decision. The views on the hill were stunning. And at the top we were greeted by a large group of wild ponies who weren't bothered by the tourists at all!
At the bottom of the hill we met the trail again and after crossing a small forest we spotted a deer, which quickly fled when it noticed us. The way continued to touristy Porlock and for us a bit further to Porlock Weir, a tiny hamlet and harbor. We couldn't resist to go for a short dip in the channel. Due to the cold water it was only a short experience ;).
At the beach there were leftovers of what looked like a bunker from the second World War, but it definitely had seen better days ;)
After another relaxing night at The Bottom Ship we started what turned out to be the most strenuous day to Brendon. On the one hand because the sun was shining brightly today, making it the hottest day so far and on the other hand because of two steep inclines which were in the open. In addition we added a scenic detour which added another couple of hundred of difference in altitude.
Completely exhausted we arrived at Millslade Country House where we received a very warm welcome with fresh lemonade, which was perfect for this day. After another delicious dinner, a relaxing night and a brilliant breakfast (pancakes with berries), we sadly departed. We wouldn't have minded staying a couple of days more.
And so we started our last day towards Lynmouth, which is another tourist hotspot. This we noticed soon, because the number of hikers and day guests increased dramatically. Whereas we had been walking for several hours without meeting someone, we crossed paths with others now every fifteen minutes. Nevertheless, it was a nice stretch through the wood and in the afternoon we finally arrived at the end of Coleridge Way, which was marked by a statue of Coleridge.
Since it wasn't too late, we did another extension and walked to Poets Corner which offered stunning views of the Valley of Rocks.
On the way back we even spotted a couple of wild goats on the cliff!
In summary, we were sad that it ended. We had a fantastic time and were very lucky with the good weather. On the other hand we were glad for a day of rest. All the walking did leave its marks with very tired limbs. But plans for the next walking holiday are already brewing in the back of our minds :).
We arranged this trip with the help of Encounter Walking Holidays, who were very friendly and did a great job in supplying us with all needed information (including gpx-track for my new GPS-device) as well as organizing all accommodation on the way.
Labels: Europe, geocaching, hiking, pictures, traveling
Geocaching the Emmenuferweg: 102 Caches in two days
A Geocaching Powertrail brought us to the canton of Lucerne to follow the Emmenuferweg.
We started Saturday morning 09:03am from the bus stop Sörenberg Rothornbahn. From there we hiked upwards to the Emmensprung, a fascinating place where water bubbles up out of the earth to form the river Emme.
From there we followed the Emme downriver, picking up all the Geocaches we found on the way. After walking downhill for a bit we heard a large ruckus from the other side of the valley. After looking around for a while we spotted a group of cows being led downhill. As luck would have it we crossed the group on the road and were able to observe the spectacle up close. Especially fascinating were the bikers who got caught in the middle of it.
Once we reached Sörenberg we did a small detour, taking the aerial cableway up to Rossweid where we walked along the Sonnentauweg, solving a multi cache. After a short lunch break we headed downhill again, with 11 Caches to break the monotony ;).
At 6pm we reached our destination for the day: Flühli. Where we rested our legs for a bit before heading out for a well deserved dinner. Since it was still early afterwards we went for a short stroll to PaK, a Cache located next to a small pond. We enjoyed the quiet and the lightness of traveling without a backpack :). This brought the total of Caches for the day to 43.
On Sunday, we started 8:55am after a hearty breakfast, hoping to find 57 Caches to break the magical 100 for the weekend.
We weren't the only ones up that early. Suddenly our way was blocked by a meadow and a group of cows watched us very interested.
On the way we encountered three wooden bridges with Geocaches on them. And every time we spent quite a bit of time until we finally had the prize in hand.
The way followed the Emme, sometimes closer, sometimes a bit farther away, but it regularly surprised us with stunning spots of nature, showing the river in a wide meandering way and then again in a thunderous tumult. However, we were so busy with just keeping going and looking for the Caches that we didn't find the time to take too many pictures.
Shortly after 5pm I reached a first milestone: 1500 Caches found! :)
At 6:29pm we reached the last Cache of the trail, number 1, since we were doing the trail in reverse order.
A short sprint later we just caught the bus which brought us back to civilisation.
On the second day we found 53 Caches, bringing the total for the weekend up to 102!
I had a fantastic time and can highly recommend this trail to everyone who is fit enough. We estimate the distance covered (including walking around looking for the Caches) to be close to 50 kilometers!
A couple of additional pictures can be found in my web album.
Labels: geocaching, hiking, pictures, Switzerland
Lembeh Strait: Muck Diving at its best!
I first heard about diving in Lembeh Strait ten years ago. Since then I spoke to many enthusiastic divers. From their descriptions I expected to find sandy patches covered in trash and in the middle of the trash all sorts of strange creatures. So it was a bit of a surprise, when I started diving how unpolluted the dive sites actually were. Of course there was a bit of trash here and there but no way the amount I expected. It took a couple of days of diving until I managed to snap a picture which represented my expectations ;)
Knowing what was possible to see at Lembeh, I arrived with a short list of creatures I'd like to encounter. On the very first dive we met two of them: A Flamboyant Cuttlefish and a Hairy Frogfish!
A couple of days later we encountered another Hairy Frogfish that wasn't just sitting around, but walking across the sand shaking its lure in hopes of attracting prey.
Some creatures were so abundant that we encountered them on most dives. I especially enjoyed seeing the Banggai Cardinalfish over and over again. They have such a peculiar shape and had formed a habit of living in Anemones, where strangely enough the Anemonefish tolerate them. On the other hand, when I got too close to take a picture an Anemonefish bit me in the finger!
One fish that I always enjoyed looking at in Fish Identification Guides was the Juvenile Many-Spotted Sweetlips, with its big white dots and it's bright coloring it looked so different from the adults. So I was extremely happy to encounter them in all sizes, from tiny (less than 1 centimeter) up to almost adult (15 centimeters).
The smaller ones were very difficult to photograph because they always moved around in a shaking pattern, probably trying to mimic a poisonous flatworm. After a dozen tries I managed to get one picture with the juvenile in focus :)
Night dives were a special highlight, there was even more going on than during the day. And on one night dive I encountered one of the strangest creatures I met so far, a pair of Dragon Sea Moths
The dive guides had excellent eyes and spotted the interesting creatures often from afar. Some of the creatures I had seen previously during this trip were present in Lembeh as well, but in much bigger variations, such as this Emperor Shrimp:
Or these two Harlequin Shrimps
Even though most crabs only came out during the night time, I spotted this strange looking Sea Urchin Carry Crab during an afternoon dive.
During my time at Blue Bay Divers two Bluering Octopi were seen, unfortunately for me I was always in the wrong spot. So I told my dive guide that I'd like to see a Bluering Octopus here. Two times we headed to dive sites where Bluerings normally were seen. The second time we got lucky :)
To round off a perfect Octopus day, we spotted a Poison Ocellate Octopus
and a Starry Night Octopus, which walked along the ocean floor in a very laid-back manner ;)
Another instance where we noticed that some critters just were bigger at Lembeh than elsewhere was when we did a dive at Police Pier, where we spotted very big Mandarinfish darting around the reef.
Or on another day when we spotted this Tryon's Risbecia
One day we were very lucky to spot a Wonderpus Octopus at the end of the dive. Since it was relaxed we ended up spending ten minutes with him :)
This meant that only one Octopus from my list was still missing. The Mimic Octopus. And so we went to a specific dive site to take a look. One of the groups spotted it early in the dive and tried to alert us. While I heard nothing I noticed our dive guide heading very directly back to where we started the dive and so we also got a good luck. Unfortunately, the Mimic Octopus was in a hurry and so we managed to snap only a few pictures.
Another creature we had many encounters with was the Mantis Shrimp. Two of those encounters stood out. One day our dive guide spotted a Peacock Mantis which had a large number of eggs under its belly
and during the last dive we encountered the beautiful Golden Mantis :)
To round up the Octopus Sextet we again had many encounters with Coconut Octopi. From one of those my favorite picture emerged
All in all my one-week stay at Lembeh was a phenomenal success and I can highly recommend it to divers who enjoy muck dives (even if it means staring at sand for ten minutes, without seeing anything) and want to see special creatures. If I get back to Indonesia, then I'll definitely try to dive in Lembeh Strait again :).
Labels: diving, pictures, traveling, vacation