24 May, 2008

Tulamben Impressions Part II

This is the second installment of a 5-part series of pictures I have taken while diving in Tulamben earlier this month. All pictures are taken by Marco Gorin whom retains their copyrights. They were all taken with an Olympus Miu 795 SW in a PT-035 underwater case and under the expert guide of Dagang, one of the resident guides of Scuba Seraya Resort.

It's a Pain in the..... Ears!!!

About 4 years ago while diving in the Red Sea off the southern coast of Egypt near the Sudanese border I came close to hanging up my diving gloves. It wasn’t because of a scary diving experience, nor was I tired of the sport I started only a year before; it was my ears and the terrible pain I would get after any given repetitive series of dives be it in the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean or the South China Sea.

I must have seen about five or six different “specialists” who could only prescribe me tons of antibiotics as a remedy to get rid of painful and annoying ear infections. One went as far as prescribing a tailor-molded pair of ear plugs to “help” me prevent water getting into my ears while diving. Luckily for me I never followed his expert suggestion or I could have ended up with something worse than a ear infection.

Anyhow, how was determined to find a solution and that came from raking through a copy of the US Navy Divers manual my friend Enrico kindly shared with me. Since then not only have I been able to prevent rather then cure the condition known as Swimmer’s Ears (or more technically known as Otitis Externa) but I also met a hell of a lot of people while diving who complain to me about similar symptoms, pain and frustration.

I am not a doctor so for a more qualified review of the condition take a few minutes to read through Dr. Edward Thalmann, DAN Associate Medical Director, articles and recommendations on the subject.

I started off by using the official US Navy Divers remedy, Otic Domeboro®. However, it proved very difficult to get hold of anywhere outside of the USA where it also requires a medical prescription. Luckily for me I have very caring friends in the USA who did manage to keep my supplies well stocked and, with it, give me the opportunity to perform 100’s of pain-free dives. Since then similar solutions have become more easily available through regular dive outlets. Just make sure you stick to the application routine religiously during all your diving trips. 5 drops for 5 minutes in each ear prior to beginning the day diving and 5 drops for five minutes in each ear at the end of the day diving. If you have been a victim of Otitis Externa you will not regret it.

If you are having problems getting hold of the drops locally, you can always order them on-line from LeisurePro which I have personally tried and tested.

Leisure Pro stocks a version of the drops that unlike Otic Domeboro® do not require medical prescription

Celebrate the Sea 2008

This is an event to be watched…. literally!! Celebrate the Sea Festival will be showcasing some of the best in underwater pictures, documentaries and movies along with some of the top dogs in the field!!! The organizers say that the primary objective of the CTS festival remains; to have the world dedicate a day to remember and celebrate the sea, like a Christmas or a New Years day. Sounds like a perfect party to me!

The venue in itself is alluring at Manila Ocean Park – the Philippines’ first state-of-the-art Oceanarium, open water marine habitat.

The 2008 festival will comprise of imagery presentations and seminars by a panel of world renowned image makers and marine scientists such 5 Emmies Winner Stan Waterman, Leandro Blanco, Peter Scoone, cinematographer of the BBC Blue Planet series, Dr Phil Nyutten, David Doubilet, Jennifer Hayes and Emory Kristof of National Geographic, Dr Carden Wallace, coral scientist, Fred Buyle – four times world free diving champion, Scott Tuason, author and underwater photographer and Daniel Mercier – founder World Underwater Picture Festival will be on site to officiate the festival.

Check out how to attend! The show will be running 13 June - 15 June 2008 10am to 5pm. It is not too late! I am trying to sort out my flights to Manila so if you are heading there as well do let me know! For last minute hotel bookings and great rates check out http://www.ratestogo.com/

18 May, 2008

The Hydro Sapiens Evolution at the Thailand Travel & Dive Expo 2008

The 2008 Thailand Travel and Dive Expo was on in Bangkok between 15 – 18 May. I was there roaming the various stands in search of something new and innovative… What caught my eye on this occasion was not some piece of high-tech or cleverly designed dive gear but some very cool wear with very cool designs by Hydro Sapiens!

Personally I have always had a revulsion for wearing t-shirts bearing logos like “I HAVE BEEN DIVING AT….”. It may be the fact that I am originally from Italy and that, like most Italians, I am obsessed with appearance and style, but until now I had never come across someone who could come up with some diving-related apparel I could comfortably wear even when not on diving outings in the knowledge of being up to scratch with the latest street wear!!

A diving David, a Stealth Manta, a Narcosis Beer or a Golfing Frog Man are just some of their cool designs. They told me Hydro Sapiens is the result of a combination of passion for diving and design. They debuted at the Thailand Travel and Dive Show.

Thank you Ken, Lek and Jiw and keep us informed on any news at your end!!

Another good find at the show was with the guys from Pacific Dome Travel Network who are offering some very hot deals for dive packages to East Malaysia:

Mataking - Reef Day

Depart: 6 Jun 08 and Return: 9/10 Jun 08
4 Days and 3 Nights @RM1,700 (Malaysian)
5 Days and 4 Nights @RM2,000 (Malaysian)

Kapalai Dive Resort (Good platform to explore Sipadan as well)

Depart: 14 Nov 08 and Return: 18 Nov 08
5 Days and 4 Nights
RM2,300 Malaysians & Foreign Friends RM2,806

Thank you Alan for the information and keep us up-to-date with other packages and news!! Alan can be contacted directly at alan@divepacificdome.net .

Tulamben Impressions

April in Bali brings the end of the northwest monsoon which marks the wet season. While the southeast monsoon marking the dry season does not start normally until June, running through to September, May is one of my favorite months to be diving there as both weather and water conditions are good yet it will be another while before the start of peak season and the arrival of more divers in the water.

In all fairness, one of the great attractions for me to diving along the northeast coast of Bali is the fact that, no matter when you go there, with the exception of few dive sites like the Liberty wreck, it tends to be what I like to call low-density diving.

Tulamben was a change from the busy live aboard scene in the Similans (Thailand) the week before. I stayed once again at a place that has become like a virtual home for me in Bali, the Scuba Seraya Resort aka SSR.

In a previous post I did mention that one of things that attracts me back to SSR time and time again, apart from its location, is the fact that on every visit I always meet some truly remarkable individuals. On this occasion the title must go to Anna, a 73-year-old Scottish lady who took up diving 4 years ago and whom, traveling solo, was spending a few days in Tulamben before venturing out to Manado. I had the pleasure and the honor of diving with her on a couple of occasions and, while roaming around at the bottom, I was thinking how truly remarkable a person she is. If you read the post Anna I just want to thank you for having taught me something very important!! It is never too late, never stop learning!! Your grandchildren have a VERY COOL granny!!

On this outing I managed to try out a new pair of ScubaPro Twin Jet Max fins. Up until now I had been using a pair of OMS Slip Stream fins which are great in strong currents but which, personally, I always found a bit hard on the legs. The Twin Jet Max were a very pleasant surprise! Provided you follow ScubaPro suggestion of going for a modified flutter kick against the traditional scissor kick, they give you incredible speed and maneuverability while you hardly feel like you are wearing them.

I also managed to try out my new little camera, the Olympus Miu 795SW. I must admit that having had more time to play with it underwater at my own leisure compared to the time in the Similans, produced some satisfactory results. I have always been against missing special underwater moments by getting stuck behind a camera view finder but lately both the creation of this blog and the need for getting into some new underwater activity provided me with the stimulus to have a go at it as long as I could find something very compact which would not become a burden while diving and which would not require a lot of maintenance and care. This little thing packs a solid 7 Mega Pixels (more than my Nikon D70 DSLR!!!!), it survives depth of up to 10 meters without any additional casing and with the addition of an optional casing ( PT-035 ) is rated for a 40-meter depth although on a morning dive at Batu Niti with Patrick I took it at nearly 60-meter depth without a problem.

My guide Degang, one of the resident guides at SSR, was like a hound. Always able to spot the tiniest wonders and allowing me to take some really nice shots of Coleman and Harlequin Shrimps, Boxer Crabs, tiny and giant Frog Fish just to name some. Early morning dives on the Liberty Wreck did not fetch us Mola Molas as we hoped, but brought us close to the large school of resident Giant Trevallies and the large and lonely resident Barracuda. Other early morning dives at Alamanda gave us a chance to see some Black Tip Shark action and also to engage with a 20+ strong school of Hump Head Parrot Fish. While repetitive afternoon and night dives at Seraya Secrets provided plenty of macro action!!

This destination appeared in a previous post titled “Bewitched by Bali”.

All pictures and videos in this post were taken by Marco Gorin whom retains their copyrights.

See some Giant Trevally action at the Liberty Wreck in the video below:

15 May, 2008

Bottom Dwellers

I lived and dived in Hong Kong for about three years and, whenever I mentioned that to people I met on dive trips outside of Hong Kong they always asked me with a hint of irony :"Diving in Hong Kong??".

Ok, I will admit, diving in Hong Kong is not like diving in the Red Sea, Andaman Sea or in the Maldives! Shallow waters, mostly poor visibility is what most people would tend to say... but wait!!! That is not entirely fair!

Hong Kong has some hidden treasures and some diving thrills to offer. A dive in near zero visibility at 23m is far more challenging and exciting to me, from a pure technique perspective, than a dive to 40m in crystal-clear waters. In spite of relentless drag-net fishing there are hidden corners in Hong Kong waters with much to offer in terms of marine creatures action. To date Hong Kong is the only place where I have ever come across a Cow Fish, free divers have also had some very close encounters with pods of dolphins while at depth.

But diving in Hong Kong, to me, is not just about the dive sites. It is also about the people as every diving outing never failed to turn into a social event permeated by good humor, well meaning banter all followed by good food and drinks.

I was able to catch up over dinner with part of the Sandy Bottom Divers gang during a quick visit to Hong Kong in the first week of May. Unfortunately for me not long enough to go out diving again!

So the next time you are passing by Hong Kong consider going out for a dive or two. You won't regret it!

14 May, 2008

Last Men Out

While Cyclone Nargis was hitting the Surin islands forcing the Thai navy to rescue some 300 visitors who had remained stranded by the high seas and strong winds before it went on to wreck Myanmar, Martin and I were diving from a live aboard around the Similan Islands about 90Km south.

The Similans are located about 100 Km NW of Phuket and are composed of nine granite islands covered by tropical jungle. Their name derives from the Malay word Sembilan which means 9 and the underwater scape is made up of a combination of large granite boulder formations and the more familiar fringe reefs. From early May until November harsh south-westerly monsoons hit the islands and we did get in just in time before the diving season was officially declared over.

We met at Phuket airport on 30th April with near military precision, Martin flying in from Hong Kong and I from Bangkok. Him waiting for me at the domestic arrivals and me waiting for him at the international arrivals….

We arranged for a 3-day, 2-night live aboard package through Megumi at Phuket Pro Dive whom I rely on every time I go diving out in Phuket or to the Similans but we spent 2 nights around the lively heart of Patong Beach (one night on the way in and one night on the way out) in very satisfactory accommodation at the Lamai Apartments and at the Phuttasa Residence, both very central, for only approximately USD25 per room per night inclusive of breakfast!!! Both were booked via http://www.ratestogo.com/ a last-minute hotel booking site where you can always snap up some very good deals.

It must be said that liveaboards are not everyone’s cup of tea especially if you are accustomed to diving with only one or maximum two others. From a live aboard the underwater scene can get crowded. I was on the same boat operated by South Siam Divers last year in February (peak season in the Similans) and being there again now (end of season) it did not feel as busy with over a dozen divers on board although I must admit I did welcome the news of another group of divers being unable to join the boat a day after we set off from port due to high seas and the operators inability to launch their speedboats!!

To me liveaboards are similar to the TV series Big Brother where personalities and egos tend to come to the surface, for better or for worse. An interesting experience whichever way you look at it. Martin and I teamed up with Kevin a really interesting Canadian based out in Kuwait. Among ourselves we had plenty of interesting stories to share.

Due to time constraints this time we did not venture out to Koh Bon and Richelieu Rock further north where last year I saw some nice manta and whale shark action. Given the weather situation probably it wasn’t a bad thing that we remained around the Similans Islands #7, 8 and 9.

Of the 7 dives we did the memorable ones were the ones at the Chinese Wreck, a Chinese fishing boat caught fishing illegally in the marine park and sunk down to about 40m by the Thai Coast Guards. The same dive culminated at an underwater 2004 Tsunami memorial garden. The dive at East of Eden where we caught some nice white tip shark action on video (posted here) and, finally, the dive at Beacon Point where we found ourselves finning uselessly against a strong current, changing course, being redirected by the guides against the current and ending with an exit in pretty high seas care of Cyclone Nargis’ activities further north.

The speedboats could not be launched on our last day as well so we were put aboard of another boat and taken back to land when the diving season in the Similans was officially declared over.

All pictures / videos shown were taken by Marco Gorin whom retains their copyrights.
White Tip Shark Action (Video Below)