Palau was one of the major diving destinations that we hadn't hit yet, so it was time to fix that. We found an 11 day tour on the Siren where a group of Russians booked the boat, but ended up having an unused cabin, which worked great for us (all trips of more than 7 days were otherwise full when I looked). As a special bonus, they wanted to start one day early, so we ended up with an extra day on the boat (11 days instead of 10).
The day prior, we did a kayak/snorkling tour with Sam's Tour.
After the boat, we did a Palau land tour, also with Sam's tour
We were familiar with the boat as it was mostly identical to the siren we took in the Philipines. It's a nice and spacious boat, but has a moronic design where the saloon roof is so low that it's mostly impossible to spend a whole trip without hitting your head badly on it. I did so in the previous trip, and after 9 days of avoiding hitting my head, it happened again on this boat too. If only I could have 2 words with the lovely person who thought it made any sense to build a boat that way...
Anyway, while the boat is not as big or nice as the now defunct Waow, it comes as a close second. The staff was fantastic and the boat amenities were good, Even if we got the smaller cabin #1, it was still bigger than at least a portion of the dive boats out there.
The Siren was a bit unusual in Palau as the seafloor was such that the boat could not anchor close to the dive sites (either it was way too low, or too high for the boat, making it likely to hit coral). This did translate into sometimes long skiff rides (15mn was typical, with a few that were 20 to 25mn). I was not a big fan of that as we spent many hours on those skiffs over the 10 days, but it was unavoidable for that boat and location. On the plus side, some of the skiff rides were scenic and the skiff divers were good:
they were well equipped, better than my handheld garmin I logged all the dives with :)
For diving, I had my trusty RX100M5, but found out with great chagrin that the CCD on the camera had been damaged by lasers in Prague and now had visible purple dots on all my pictures. Because I like to be ready for failures, I had just bought a diving case for my RX100M6, but it was a terrible case with so many problems, and to make things worse, my RX100M6 grew a fault where its lens could not retract anymore without my pushing it. So, I had to turn the camera on on the boat, close the case, and make sure to keep the camera awake so that its 30mn shutdown timeout didn't trigger. If anything went wrong, the camera stopped working for the rest of the dive, so I ended up diving with both cameras with an this self built setup (yeah for zipties). When the camera with a non damaged CCD but damaged retraction mechanism, failed under water, I switched to the 2nd camera that took pictures with some purple artifacts on them (better than no pictures at all):
Anyway, let's look at the diving pictures:
first day was a wreck dive in murky water
Day 2, we stayed in the lagoon, due to bad weather and dived more wrecks:
And finally we were able to navigate to the south/west area where most of the nicer dive sites are located and the water wasn't as murky:
But rain didn't stop and hit us randomly most days, it was the first time I got to see such hard rain on the surface from underwater:
Sires Tunnel was a cool dive, especially as I like caverns:
we found a nice leopard shark down at 45m
While Yap is supposed to be known for mantas, Palau's German channel has mantas, although we only had good conditions one dive, the other dive had horrible visibility:
lots of other fish
red snappers eat plancton just like the mantas
They have a local friendly napoleon fish, called Al:
Other nice fish could be found, and of course plenty of sharks:
beautiful Orang Outang crab
Blue holes had fish swimming upside down in the cave, as they often do
Blue holes also had a huge barracuda
always nice to see an octopus hunting for food
this is how it tastes rocks for good, also amazing to see how stretchy that 'skin', is
I think that was a leopard shark I found sleeping under a rock
German Channel had something I had never seen before: gobis that were looking out for 2 shrimps that worked together:
Another unusual thing we saw was a shark missing its top fin:
The area had lots of holes and caves, and my favourite was likely Virgin Blue Hole:
Jennifer found a fire coral in there
deep holes that you could explore
nice crocodile fish
nice school of humphead parrotfish
Al came back to see us
The last day of diving, we went to Jellyfish Lake for a snorkel (you can't dive there as the water below 15 meters is quite dangerous to living organisms, but it's perfectly safe at the surface. The many jellyfish are non poisonous as they have lost the ability to sting because they have no predators (the lake is separated from the ocean by porous rock, which allows water through, but no organisms). It was super cool to play with the pretty jellyfishes:
we got dropped off
short hike to the lake
and then time to get in the water
that is the 2nd kind of jellies you find in the lake (much less common)
there are a few other fishes in that lake
and I found this single invasive crab
A few videos of fish:
Giant humphead parrotfish:
Back in the Korror lagoon, we did a wreck dive (Ijn Iro), but the water quality was pretty terrible:
Our last dive of the trip was Chandellier Cave, which was 5 different caves you could get to with short dives:
Outside the cave, we found a rare (for the area) sea snake, and nice mandarin fish:
We also did a fair amount of night dives and got lucky on some of them:
lots of plancton
This squid was a lucky find, it stuck with me because it loved my light and used it for hunting:
Normally squids run way like this:
biggest nudis ever
interesting shrimp with long arms
manta shrimp that dug itself in the ground
Basket star, a very interesting organism:
Dmitry who oragnized the trip for the Russian group, nicely lent us discreet blue lights that show off some proteins at night. Very cool to see with that:
lots of baby manta shrimps liked my light
found more squids, but those didn't like my light and swam off
Of course, we did a lot of diving (32 dives out of a possible 34 if we had missed a couple of land excursions), and the main land excursion was Peleliu.
The land tour in Peleliu where US Marines landed to kick out the Japanese that were there. Sadly they were well equipped and fought to the last one, infliciting significant losses to the US. Taking the place over too 74 days instead of the planned 4 days. The island has left over Japanese buildings, tanks, and amphibious vehicles for the beach landing:
found a nice hermit crab on the beach
also, plenty of small ones
runway that the americans wanted to capture
lots of crickets in the caves
thousand man cave was last on our tour
they drunk lots of beer
lots of bats live in there, now
one of the caves' exits
That evening, we also had fun on a nearby island we got dropped off at one evening:
easier to take pictures of the moon when not on a moving boat
One of our last days in the area, we had a nice BBQ on the small island:
Thanks to the nice Russian group that we shared the boat with, it was nice to chat with them and learn more about Russia. They were also all good divers, so it was a great to dive with them:
Truk Lagoon (also called Chuuk), part of Micronesia, is a bit of a pain to fly to, mostly due to the fact that it gets very little air traffic and the 2 planes that fly there using a former Japanese built runway, do so at inconvenient times. It's SFO to HNL, then a long flight from HNL to Guam and one last flight from Guam to Truk. At least all of them use proper jet planes with normal luggage allowance.
The history of the battle that happened in Truk Lagoon is fascinating, but in a nutshell, the Japanese forces were on the retreat and they knew they would be attacked, so they moved out all their big ships, but were not able to move out their smaller ships in time. They were all sunk in shallow waters, creating lots of artificial reefs that can now be dived. It is sobering to see the loss of Japanese life that happened there in all those boats that got sunk. At the same time, it is quite interesting to see this slice of history with bullets, bombs, tanks, parts of airplanes and trucks loaded on those boats, and sunk.
Per recommendation, I booked with the Truk Odyssey, captained by Mike, an American who has dived all those wrecks probably more than anyone else, and did a really good video documentary on them, which we used for our dive briefings.
Our Boat for the week
The Truk Odyssey was a spacious boat with a great crew. The food was adequate but not beyond that, and the service was good but didn't match the Waow or Philippines Siren. That being said, it was more that good enough. A big plus was the knowledge of all the staff on the boat and their catering to people with rebreathers, double tanks, or fancy deco mixes. Their biggest downside IMO is that they only offer 5.5 days of diving while Trukmaster had the option of a 10 day trip instead of 7 days. Getting to Truk and back is a major pain, so doing a longer diving trip can make sense, and 8.5/9 days of diving may be a sweet spot.
Back to Odyssey, we had a great dive guide, Bobo, who knew all the boats like the back of his hand and took us in dark corners we'd never have found or dared going on our own. His knowledge of all those wrecks sure came in handy and he was also quite funny:
trying to fin the boat around to our buoy :)
our dive guides spent deco time doing bubble ring wars, this one could make them with his fin, awesome!
Even better, bubble rings with a fin kick:
Some divers had a lot of heavy gear, so our boat had a nice lift to get you back out of the water:
Truk had ok reefs that went on top of the sunk boats, but the sea life was still on the limited side compared to most places we've been to. Nonetheless, we saw a few nice things anyway:
friendly looking leopard/zebra shark
slipper lobster, cute eyes
lots of nice soft corrals
soft corals of all colors
I was able to spot a humphead parrotfish, rare in that area
During the trip, Jennifer and I did the PADI wreck diving certification. It had some useful concepts, but its limitations made it not useful at all for the kinds of diving we did where we were deep in enclosed spaces (engine rooms) for up to 15mn or more at times. It would have been helpful if Jennifer and I did wreck diving on our own without guides, but it was so much more efficient to go with experienced guides, which we did have on the boat. At least we learned a few concepts like frog kicks to avoid silting out a wreck and making it hard to see. I also got to try a pony bottle, although I couldn't get certified for tech diving and doing deco on 50% or 100% O2.
We did 4 dives per day on most day, with the option of a night dive, of which I did a few, but they were not earth shattering. We found lots of things on those boats, despite their age now, and many things having been eaten away by the seat.
Random eating-ware, bottles, medicine vials, and also gas masks:
lots of beer and sake bottles (sadly the corks failed and they were empty)
Toilets and Japanese baths:
Favourite parts of the ships were telegraphs (to send orders from one part of the boat to the other):
Engine Rooms, lights:
many doors taking us into the insides of the boats
lots of light bulbs somehow survived the water pressure
aptly named R2-D2 compressor
many light switches and plugs, it was tempting to try to turn them on :)
nice set of tools
Gas cartridges, gas tanks, ammunition, bombs:
Then, engines, plane parts, tanks, trucks, and more:
truck engine, V6 maybe?
plane parts, including wings, and fuel barrels
nice propeller blades
airplanes fuel tanks
airplane rotary engine
The outside of the boats was interesting too. Several had huge canons, and others were laying on their side and you could see their prop
Rio de Janeiro, formerly a cruise ship, was laying on its side
We also went to dive one the Betty Bomber, a plane that had crashed and was at the bottom:
Then, there was the San Francisco Maru, the deepest wreck you could dive. Deck is at 50m deep and it goes down to about 65m. We only went down to 55m, which allowed us to see the first level of the cargo hold (the lower ones were not safe for us to reach on our 24% nitrox mix). We prepared for that dive given how deep it was, and on 24% nitrox, we budgeted for only 12 minutes at the bottom. While it might seem like a long time, it sure wasn't, and even less so when I was fairly narc'ed (nitrogen narcosis), which for me caused me to struggle more at simple tasks:
We had a fair amount of technical divers with proper dive gear, including rebreathers
airplane rotary engine
I was deep enough (55m) that my computer gave me a PPO2 warning (oxygen toxicity) instead of my depth
ladder down to even deeper where I couldn't go without trimix
tank #2 and tank #3 on top of it
During the longish way up to deep deco stops on the way, Bobo, our guide, brought back the extra emergency air tanks none of us ended up needing:
And that was it for the Odyssey: 24 dives (out of 27 possible) in 5.5 days of diving. While I wish we could have dived a bit longer and didn't have to wait 36H between our last dive and our flight, we sure got to see a lot during those dives, thanks again to our expert guide, Bobo, who made sure that each and every one of those dives counted.
You can get a bit of a feel of what things looked like inside the boats with those videos:
The last day, due to unfortunate timing of the rare United flight to Truk, we spent the entire day and a few hours of the night at Truk Blue Lagoon Resort for our flight nicely timed at 02:50 (ugh!)
The founder of blue lagoon resort, a micronesian who documented what the Japanese did and started the first diving on those Japanese ships
A nice map of all the dive sites in our area
I got to see mud skippers for real, the coolest fish that can leave the water and hop on land
Lots of ruins left from the Japanese occupation
we went to say hi to the boat staff from a canoe
we're going to die! :)
and after a mere 3H of sleep we had to wake up and go to the airport for TRK -> Guam -> HNL -> SFO. Sucky times.
We didn't go to Oahu to dive, but since we were going diving in Micronesia's Truk Lagoon, and we had to fly through Ohahu, it made sense to stop there for a few days and dive a bit while we were there. Ohahu not being a prime diving destination compared to the other islands, it catered to beginner divers more than confirmed ones. It was hard to find a dive shop that would ensure we didn't have crappy dives due to a boat full of beginners.
Our first day, we went with Hawaiian Diving Adventures, met them at 07:15, and were lucky enough to be the only divers that day (just after thanksgiving weekend). Our first dive was the sea tiger, a nice boat sunk on purpose:
Our second dive was "the pipe", minimal life, but a bit more fun with the octopus our guide found:
Two days later, I chose Reef Pirates, because they had a 3 tank dive that was more geared towards experienced divers. Sadly we did not luck out that day as they made us go there by 06:30 (getting up at 05:40), and then left 45mn late while they were sorting out whether they would allow a diver with medical conditions, join us, or not.
Once diving the Coraair plane wreck, they forced us to go back up after barely 10mn down there, even though I still had 12mn of bottom time left on my computer. I'm not impressed by such forced babysitting :(
The next dive was Angler's Reef, where our guide found another reef octopus:
Last was Koko crater, with two underwater Buddhas and lots of turtles (more than 7 different ones, one of which sadly had a piece bitten off, probably by a shark):
And that was it for diving in Oahu, not super impressive, but not terrible either. At least the water was still reasonably warm during the winter (25C or better).
While we were Diving with the Philippines Siren, we had a special dive where we got to see a lot of whale sharks (around 10 or so).
So, the story goes that the local fishermen started feeding the whalesharks to keep them away from where they were fishing, because they were getting in the way. Eventually they grew to like them, and figured it was better to feed them and show them to tourists than to fish.
Snorklers get to wait a long time and spend only 10-15m in the water. Divers however get to spend whatever time they'd like (1h+ for us) and see them underwater for real. I've always been told that whalesharks don't like bubbles (which is true of sharks), but those not only didn't mind, but at least some actually liked our bubbles. One of them followed us away from the food to swim around us and dance in our bubbles.
As for the question of whether this prevents the whales from otherwise eating naturally, they only get fed in the morning, and they do migrate away to live and eat elsewhere, so it doesn't seem to be a real problem. I'm hopeful that it's a net positive, especially if it gets all those people to use the money to live instead of (over-)fishing.
Still, as I found out later, the place remains controversial, at best, more details here: http://dive-bohol.com/conservation/5-reasons-not-go-oslob
I went with a gopro for filming in the left hand, and took pictures with my camera in the right hand. I then took a few screen grabs from the 4K video to supplement the pictures taken by the camera.
So, speaking of pictures:
Here's a 4K video of the encounters:
And more pictures below:
sadly, our friend whale shark had a lot of parasites on it
Half way through the dive, we had to reposition and noticed 2 cuttlefish at the bottom, one was doing a very good weed impression:
don't look at me, I'm a weed
Back to whalesharks:
this one loved bubbles
not just one, but 2, then 3, and up to 7 whalesharks
chasing bubbles again
So that was it, it was a lot of fun and the shalesharks seemed happy enough, at least with us, divers.
All the pictures below are geotagged, so you can click on them to see where they were taken
Arturo, Regis, Jennifer and I went to San Jose, Mexico, the southmost tip of Baja, California, to board a 9 day liveaboard (which really only has 6 days of diving due to the time lost in travel), to Socorro Islands, Mexico's Cocos Island. Socorro Islands just became a national park where fishing is totally prohibited, and likely better enforced than in Cocos.
There were 2 boats that could have gotten us there for 9 days (they advertise 10 but it's really 9): Solmar V and Valentina. We ended up picking up Valentina as it was more reasonably priced and more inclusive. I think the boat and cabins were also a bit larger (although I'm not positive on that).
We arrived the day before to visit San Jose and try some ATV'ing, and the next day, we took a long day tour to LaPaz to go snorkel with whale sharks, and finally got onto our diving boat that evening:
This trip was about diving. Just like Cocos, it's a long way there, over 24H each way, so we had time to read, sort pictures, and pass the time in other ways :) The folks on the boat were all great, so it made the trip much better.
The diving was spectacular, especially the first 3 days (out of 6, with a total of 22 dives): Hammerhead sharks, Manta Rays (more than I remember), many friendly and curious dolphins, and then 3 different whale sharks! We also got lucky that the water was much warmer than planned (26 to 29C, mostly 27-28, when it was supposed to be in the 22-26C range).
Ok, I think I must start with Whale Sharks, 3 different ones on 4 different dives. We were so lucky...
even small whale sharks were big
I found a few octopii, although only 3 of them:
Got lucky to find a small octopus that continued hunting after I found it:
We saw some hammerheads:
Plenty of other sharks:
Plenty of sharks at Roca Partida:
Plenty of friendly dolphins:
Look at how many dolphins came to see us:
One site had dolphins that actually came to us and wanted to be pet. We tried to tell them that maybe wasn't maybe legal, but they didn't care, and kept saying "pet me, pet me please", we had to pretend to pet them to appease them :)
So many lobsters, too bad we couldn't help cull them :)
So many manta rays:
Mantas love bubbles
Lots of different Manta Rays at one site:
While at Punta Tosca, a ray followed us during almost our entire dive:
Also mobula rays:
And electric rays we hadn't seen anywhere else:
Plus other rays:
fun to see those swmimming in pairs
It was Xmas early
We picked up a few tired birds on the way:
Other pictures from the boat:
navy base on Socorro Island
It was a middle class liveaboard with reasonable pricing, so it was a good deal in the end. The last days of diving were not as good due to the weather changing, but we had seen so many awesome things in the first days, that it didn't really matter.
It took another 30H or so to get back to San Jose, and the next morning we left soon after sunrise for a private transport to Cabo San Lucas before having to take our flight in the afternoon:
Since we were going to San Jose Del Cabo for our diving boat, after a bit of research, I figured out that La Paz had swim with whale shark tours, and that our time to visit was the right season. Woohoo!
So, we arrived the previous day from our boat departure, got picked up at 06:40 for the 2H+ drive to La Paz, and joined the tour. Sadly, they just introduce a reservation system where only 2 or 3 boats are allowed in the area at a time. While this makes sense since you don't want all the boats dropping people at the same time on top of a few poor whale sharks trying to feed, sadly the current system works by having boats leave the harbour, and then wait in the middle of the water, burning gas, for their turn to enter the area. For us, that was a 1h30 wait before we were allowed to finally enter the area, which was annoying given that we had gotten up at 06:00.
But once we got there, finally, it was great. Several juvenile whale sharks were feeding at surface level, and our boat sent people 3 at a time with a guide just next to a whale shark feeding. Sadly, the first 2 we got dropped by, were way too fast for me to keep up with just the small fins they gave us (apparently bigger fins don't help at the surface). You could barely keep up with them if you swam with your hands, but with a camera with each hand, that was not possible for me, so I had to let them go.
Thankfully they picked a slower one for us for the 3rd and last one, and I was able to keep up with it just with my fins and get some good shots.
Here is a summary video:
And here are some shots:
one had fish attached to its tail
So, while the first 2 times in the water were frustrating, because I couldn't keep up with the whale shark due to the small fins and inability to swim with my hands while holding a camera and a video camera, the last encounter was awesome since we got a slower whale shark and could keep up with it for a long time.
in Australia, Diving, Ozsafari2017
We were 2 days on Hamilton Island as part of our Oz Safari Flying trip, so I figured the best thing we could do was go dive on the great barrier reef. I however didn't realize it was a 4H boat ride away (2H each way) and really for total beginners. The staff kind of asked why we were there when I said we had 500 dives, or why we would even come back a 2nd day; probably not a good sign :)
We went to what we knew as a "sacrificial reef" where all the total beginners go and stomp on everything, but thankfully once our dive guide realized that we were coming up with over 100 bars and we could last more than twice as long as the other people she usually goes with, we ended up going just with her for the last 2 dives, and she took us to the better places in their reef.
glass bottom boat
they even had helicopter flights, which felt like not worth it at all
they had a big barge that was attached to the reef and that the boat took us to, it had a glass bottom too
they were setup for volume
All in all, it ended up not being so bad. Not the best GBR diving we've done obviously, but still 4 nice enough dives (never mind the 8H of boating total we had to do to get to them):
All the pictures below are geotagged, so you can click on them to see where they were taken
This was our 3rd trip with Waow, this time we boarded in Maumere and the boat took us to some dive spots on the way until we arrived in Komodo where we dived for a week, including South Komodo (with colder water) to see the Manta Rays, and boy did we get lucky with those dives, we saw plenty of huge mantas. Sadly, I have to mention that some motherfucker in Maumere Airport managed to steal my travel pouch with my wallet, passport, international drivers license and all my travel documents while I was waiting for my luggage. Worse, the low life son of a bitch didn't even have the decency to ditch my papers somewhere that lost and found would find them. Not counting the money lost, losing almost all my credit cards, passport, and more, sucked big time. Bali is a fine place to visit (pretty safe, people genuinely nice, great food). The rest of Indonesia not as much as far as I'm concerned.
Anyway back to diving, we really lucked out. 10 days, 34 dives, and many were between great an epic. The amount of things we saw in those dives was only equalled by a prior Waow trip, gems of alone through the banda sea.
The water was unseasonably warm, usually around 30C, and it went as high as 33C (!), although that's actually bad for coral which can bleach and die when it gets too hot, and we saw some traces of that in one dive site.
We did a few land excursions during the trip, the main one of course was to go to an Island to see Komodo Dragons:
Komodos will eat monkeys if they can get their hands on one
Another day, we happened to spot them on a beach when we were on the boat, so we took a dinghy to go see them:
And a few days later, we went on an Island to climb its peak and have some snacks and drinks on the beach as the sun set:
We lucked out this time, the boat was not very busy, and we got upgraded to the master cabin, which was ridiculously roomy :)
But anyway, we were there for diving, so let's focus on that. A few pictures of us:
We saw many scorpionfish:
A fair amount of octopuses, more than I had seen in a single trip, including 2 big ones not shy to be out during the day and making nice colors and shapes for us:
This octopus is worth watching. First it made some displays for us and tried to stand tall to look impressive, and then it went hunting:
And we got so lucky with cuttlefish, from babies to pygmy to 9 full size ones that got together dazlle one another with colors and mate:
this little guy was learning to hunt. It wasn't very good, but a lot of fun to watch
it changed to yellow before going to pounce on little fish
it tries to dazzle them
While this video of the little guy is a full 5 minutes, it's so much fun to watch to see what it does, that I recommend it:
Then, we got the incredible chance to stumble on 9 cuttlefish that clearly were in the same place because they meant business of some kind :)
And more mantis shrimp than I had ever seen:
A few sharks:
A few turtles:
Plenty of triggerfish and clown triggerfish:
A few nice Napoleon and Humphead wrasse:
A few crabs of varying sizes:
orang outang crab
Most of the night dives were incredible:
hairy frogfish, awesome
we saw a pygmy seahorse
and one big one
nice colorful crab
this cuttlefish kept running into my camera and was trying to slide under it
I chased a squid to take pictures, it wasn't happy :)
a somewhat rare cat shark
On the 6th day, we went south of Komodo to Manta Alley. Water was a comfortable enough 24-25C when it can drop to 19-20C, and we got super lucky with many mantas, some came to swim around me to check me out when I surfaced. They came close enough that I could have touched the tip of their wing, but they skillfully bent it just enough so that it was slightly out of reach :)
we got some huge black mantas
Not counting Mantas, some other rays:
a single eagle ray
A rare torpedo ray?
nice spotted ray
By the 9th day, we had left Komodo and started sailing towards Bali. We stopped by a volcanic island and had two dives there. On one, we could see the methane coming out of the ground:
Lots of nice shrimp:
pretty sea urchin with 2 small shrimp
nice cleaning shrimp
Gobi and digging shrimp
I always like sea snakes, fun to watch when they go around hunting while totally ignoring you :)
one of our dive guides :)
a few fish :)
batfish are often quite tame and curious, they kept swimming around us
on one of our 2 manta dives we were also rewarded with huge humphead parrotfish
Pictures from the boat:
our partners in crime
Our last day, we had a nice BBQ, and the crew celebrated their upcoming month off after 5 months of work: