Saturday, June 21, 2014

Certified Emanuel Jech and Sandra Gorman as PADI Open Water divers at Nomad Ocean Adventure, Musandam, OMAN

Vance certified Emanuel Jech and Sandra Gorman as PADI Open Water divers over a two day weekend Friday June 20 and Saturday June 21, 2014

My logged dives #1296-1299

Another great referral dive weekend, people I'd never met found out about me and booked a course that went wonderfully for all concerned.

Bobbi had her last day at work Thu June 19 so she drove down to Al Ain from Abu Dhabi and we thought we would lag behind Emanuel and Sandra, who left Abu Dhabi (where they live) an hour before we could escape Al Ain. But they got lost so we arrived at the border before they did. But the border was busy with (of all things) hay trucks, dozens of them, loads of hay, and expats trying to get across but turning back for whatever reason due to the real possibility of thorough searching. So we awaited Sandra and Emanuel at the border so we could give them a lift (since their car was not insured for Oman). We left anything we thought might compromise us at the border in their parked car and drove across clean. We arrived at Nomad after 8, dinner was served, so we ate and did paperwork and then went to the equipment room and pool and finally completed module 1 well after midnight.

We were up at 6 for coffee and briefing and we completed the next two modules in the pool before 9:30 next morning and we down at the boat harbor by about 10:00. People were patient with us, no one upset, and by 10:30 we were motoring to Ras Morovi for a nice dive on the north side of the headland. Vis was good and it was a typical first dive with buoyancy issues managed well by the students.

On the second dive we went to Lima headland, north side, where we put in at a bay where a dhow was moored. We set up CESA, controlled emergency swimming ascent, where I was accused by the French instructor accompanying us of breaking coral in this exercise. I was using a sand valley between the coral but the instructor, who came by with his discover scuba students, said later he saw broken coral near where we were, and told me "maybe you kicked it." I was keeping a close eye on my students and on myself, and didn't appreciate being accused of breaking coral in a bay that dhows use for day trippers, and where fishermen had thrown their nets and strung rope all along the bottom, not good for the environment. However, I will follow the advice that in future, for CESA exercises, we steer clear of that area with its exquisite table coral.

On return to the dive center we had just two more pool sessions to complete that part of the course. We were done by dinner time and settled into a twelve hour break, just eating and relaxing and sleeping for eight or nine hours, great!

Saturday morning Emanuel and Sandra did their swim tests in the pool and we were first on the boat for a relaxed departure to Lima Rock. As the video shows, the weather was fine, we were dressed for warm water, there was much to see on our dives. Most importantly, the new divers gained in confidence and buoyancy control (you can see that in the video as well :-) and clearly had a great time, leading to the photo above, which Nomad intends to put in their next newsletter.

Here is an 11 min. video compilation of all 4 of our dives

Congratulations to Emanuel and Sandra, certified June 21, 2014

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Certified Joanne Meads PADI Open Water at Nomad Ocean Adventure, Musandam, OMAN

Vance Certified Joanne Meads as a PADI Open Water diver over a two day weekend
Friday June 6 and Saturday June 4, 2014

My logged dives #1292-1295

Write up may follow, but first the videos

PADI Open Water Dive #1 June 6 at Ras Morovi
Spent some time with a turtle

PADI Open Water Dive #2 June 6 at Ras Sanut
Cow tail stingray cruised the reef (in the first scene in the video
the rest of the video is from our dive next day at Ras Lima)

PADI Open Water Dive #3 June 7 at Lima Rock
Moray eels and schools of jacks

PADI Open Water Dive #4 June 7 at Ras Lima
Several sting rays, including this one which Vance filmed as Bobbi filmed Vance filming

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Certified Sérgio Simões PADI Advanced Open Water at Freestyle Divers, Dibba, UAE

Sunday May 25, 2014 

Vance conducting the last 3 dives in a PADI Advanced Open Water course

for Sérgio Simões,with Bobbi Stevens riding shotgun
My logged dives #1289-1291

Sunday was declared as an Islamic holiday in UAE and this gave us an opportunity to complete the Advanced O/W course I'd started with Sérgio Simões on July 13, 2013. Since he needed three dives to complete the course, we decided to do them in one day. Sérgio lives in Al Ain so we met at my house at 6 a.m. and all rode up together. We were at Lulu's in Dibba by 8:30 so we had time to stop off for breakfast prior  to rolling up at Freestyle Divers at 9 in the morning.

Our first dive of the day was the deep one, on the Inchcape 2, a wreck that Bobbi and I have dived dozens of times, but is always appealing, and the ideal challenge for an advanced deep or wreck dive. It's a set piece 20 minute 30 meter dive. It has a mooring buoy so is easy to find and descend on. Back in the day there were two resident honeycombed morays living there we used to call Fred and Frederika, so accustomed to divers that we used to stroke them. They disappeared after Gonu struck and were replaced by two small offspring who unfortunately succumbed to the months long red tide, and since then honeycomb sightings have not been common. Sometimes there are rays there, but none today, probably chased off by the crowds of divers on the small wreck. Still, it's a great experience for someone doing his 7th dive ever, and first time to 30 meters. 

Next on our list was the underwater navigation dive, and next on Freestyle's schedule was Dibba Rock. This shallow site can be ideal for navigation unless there is current tugging at the shallows, as there happened to be on this day. We were dropped in at the aquarium and started our navigation at the marker buoy tied off on one of the rocks there. I led from the aquarium 30 meters to the southwest with the reef on our left, except it wasn't a good 30 meters because we were swimming against the westerly current and when Sérgio turned around to lead us back he went past the marker because it was by then only 15 meters away.  We then tried a compass heading to the west and return to the east but again the return leg was much shorter than the way out (that is, 20+ kicks out and only 10 kicks return). Realizing we'd have to factor in a significant current Sérgio and I worked out on the slate that we should try the square 10 kicks to the north and 21 to the west, and so on. This worked except that on the third leg the current pushed us back onto the buoy line, so we ended up doing a triangle, not a square. It wasn't Sérgio's fault, his navigation was good and up to the challenge, so I congratulated him and we went off on a fun dive.

We went looking for sharks, like this one Dro Madery found recently and posted to Facebook. As can be seen in the photos, the sharks like the very shallow water close in to the rock, so we let the current nudge us to the east as we looked into the likely places. We turned up a few barracuda but nothing much else by the time we were in what appeared to me to be the shadow of the rock to our west. On this assumption I went looking for the gap leading to the back side of the rock but kept coming into shallow wall. We were in the shadow of the current as well so now we could push to the west but when we got more resistance in only two meters of water I decided to surface and see where we were. Surprise, we were to the west of the rock, not the east, as I had thought. so we had made a big circle around the front side.

The thing to do now was to head north, which was seriously difficult into the current, but eventually we found the aquarium and with deeper water got some relief from the current. We continued to the back side where we found a few morays at 12 meters depth. The current was pushing us along now so we went with it drift diving until Sérgio got low on air, so we went higher on the reef and burned off our three minute safety stop, with coronet fish serving as entertainment.

For our last dive we had requested the artificial reef that Andy had laid down some years before and which had been attracting animals ever since. For Sérgio it seemed an appropriate place for his underwater naturalist dive and his final dive for certification as a PADI advanced open water diver. Sami Al Haj gave us a briefing that described perfectly how we would follow the artifacts from a set of balls and geodesic structures to a line leading to a submerged boat and a pile of triangles with lots of places for fish to hide. At that place we found a delta ray, the kind that remains immobile even if you wave your hand over them to blow off the sand. There was no current here so I found a corner of the reef where we could do a square pattern. On the second leg Sérgio suddenly stopped and I thought he had become confused but we later found it was because he had seen a huge ray swim by just beyond our field of view. I was focused on the square because we were in sand now, no idea how to get back to where we had started apart from a perfectly executed square. It was a great feeling of accomplishment when we ended the exercise in exactly the place we had intended!

Congratulations to Sérgio Simões on completion of his PADI Advanced Open Water Dive course, Certification Date May 25, 2014

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Fun diving around Jun Island, Damaniyats, with Extra Divers, Al Sawadi, Oman

Saturday May 17, 2014 

Our team: Just Bobbi and I on a day out south of the border

My logged dives #1287-1288

We invited others to join us but in the end it was just me and Bobbi, my favorite dive buddy.

The Daymaniyat Islands are only slightly distant to us,a mere pop over the border and just three hours driving from Al Ain UAE, so it's fun to slip down there for a day trip, except we leave the day before, after a nice lie in on Friday, catch up on things we need to do at home, and cross the border after dusk. We continue on as far as a town half an hour past Sohar which we only recognize when we reach there where there is a roadside restaurant that serves a tasty and hot! (I burned my fingers on the wok, blisters!) chicken karai. Then we drive another 45 minutes to Suwaiq and the local color motel there, where beer is just a riyal a tall can, and the rooms are quiet and pleasant at 200 dirhams. We leave there at 7 a.m. which gets us to Al Sawadi by 8 a.m. having stopped for samosas and nescafe along the way.

Lately every time we arrive at Al Sawadi we've found ourselves on a boat going to Jun Island, not that there is anything wrong with that, but there are so many places to dive in the island chain. Next time we'll be more particular about our destination and which boat we are on -- we've noticed if you stay at the resort you can sign up for dives and get on the boat you want as the weekend trips are posted in advance, so we'll negotiate beforehand next time we go.

This time the boat went to Doc's Wall first dive and to "Coral Garden" the second. Doc's Wall is the extension from Jun, on the map above, that continues from the larger Jun island to its smaller neighbor to the east, where we end by rounding the smaller island to the south. It can be nice dive. Leopard sharks like to rest beneath the schools of yellow snappers and we often see rays here. Today we didn't see anything that special, but it was still a nice dive. On the second dive we dropped on the north of big Jun and rounded the channel between the two islands. This ends up in a shallow coral garden where the boats moor for the surface interval, so we had just snorkeled the area between dives and observed a turtle several meters down on the reef.

Between the two of us, Bobbi and I made a video compilation of the two dives. We saw a number of honeycomb morays with cleaner wrasse and other fish swimming safely near their articulated jaws. Behind one, Bobbi can be seen leading me to where there is a scorpion fish, and on one of the dives we found a pair of scorpion fish in the sand. We took pictures of some of the schools of fish, the yellow snappers, Bobbi in amongst the blue fusiliers, and a picturesque school of butterfly fish. I followed a coronet fish close over the raspberry reef and Bobbi got some more distant shots, including one of a pair of coronet fish kissing. At one point, I captured a free swimming green moray between lairs. Our footage includes a couple of cuttlefish, always in retreat from divers, and the artificial reef extension to the Coral Gardens where you can see the objects sunk there covered in impressive staghorn corals.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Diving Dibba and Musandam Apr 25-26 to Certify Anand Mantri PADI Advanced Open Water

April 25, 2014 on Dibba Rock, with Freestyle Divers

Our team: Vance, Bobbi, Anand Mantri

My logged dives #1284-1286

One of our gestures toward PADI Shark Fin Awareness

Anand Mantri asked if we could finish his PADI advanced o/w course this weekend and allowed as how he would go with our plan, so I suggested a lie-in Friday and a leisurely drive up to Dibba for a 3 pm dive on Dibba Rock with our old friends at Freestyle Divers.(well, long-time friends, they're not nearly as old as we are:-). After hearing about all the sharks and even Manta Rays (yes, mantas, confirmed by Andy Moore, who'd seen them personally) that had been sighted there lately we dipped in for a pleasant but not so eventful dive on the rock. We like to go there to see how it's doing, and always happy to see that it's gradually bouncing back from its pre-double whammy heyday.

Next time we go though we'll ask for a drop on the artificial reef Andy planted east of the rock some years ago. The stories about big sharks and rays on that spot were even more enthusiastically related to us than the tall tales of Dibba Rock adventures.  It will make a good excuse to revisit on another afternoon where we drive over on Friday, late afternoon dive with Freestyle, and spend the night at Nomad Ocean Adventure in prep for a day's diving further north Musandam.

April 26 in Musandam with Nomad Ocean Adventure

Which is what we had planned for this weekend. Andy had completed most of his PADI Advance o/w course already and we were piecemealing the remaining dives over our three dive weekend. We did some natural terrain navigation off Dibba Rock and then headed over the border for a boat dive and to complete the navigation on Saturday.

Octopus Rock

There was a group with us that specifically requested Octopus Rock this weekend and as we were flexible with Andy's course we were only too happy to oblige. Octopus, formerly known to BSAC divers as the Stack, is one of my favorite dives hereabouts, but it can also be challenging in a current. Plan A is to start at the south of the rock and fin around it to the north, then head west across the area replete with blue trigger-fish (red tooth, as Shannon calls them) and find the north-south ridge and follow that north and then back around to the south. It's good compass practice to keep track of where you are on that dive. The ridge tops out at about ten meters so if air is good I lead the dive east back to Octopus Rock to finish out on a 5 meter safety stop on the only place in the vicinity where you don't have to do that mid-water.

The current was a little stiff but allowed us to at least follow plan A. Plan B is to hide in the ridges to the east of the rock. They are deep but also interesting, and run generally east to west, so provide some shelter from a powerful current. If current allows, I like to do plan A as it's possible only under certain conditions, so I usually do plan B when I have to.

As can be seen from the video above, on our Plan A dive, we found crayfish, a pair of amorous nudibraches, and panoplies of fishlife including morays, triggerfish, and the ubiquitous batfish.

Ras Sanut (Wonder Wall)

Our last dive was planned as a PADI Underwater Navigation Adventure Dive. We were dropped in the back of the bay at Ras Sanut (south side) to give us shallow water while Shannon took the rest of the divers up to the point to work from deep back to shallow where we were, theoretically to cross in the middle. The depth was just right for navigation, but we were dropped onto a family of cow tail stingrays which seriously distracted our compass work. I managed to follow one who had lost his barb in an encounter with a bigger fish (hence it was safe to swim over the top of him) but I missed one buried in the sand, only cowtail protruding. I saw the tail, but it could have been a palm frond, and went over to investigate. I should have got my camera ready beforehand, because when I determined it was a ray and went for my camera, it took me for one of those bigger fish and in the blink of an eye emerged from the sand and disappeared in a burst of muscle flap, leaving me with only a cloud of sand, which I didn't bother to film.

After completing the navigation we worked our way out toward the point, finding a turtle and morays, but no more rays. We complied with requests to keep our dive time to 50 min though our tanks ranged from 70 to over 100 bar. On our way to the surface we made shark fin and hammerhead signs for the camera, as requested by our dive leader, for PADI Shark Fin Awareness week (find ours in the snaps top and bottom of this page and at the end our our video). On surfacing we discovered we were almost at the point, so it would have been ideal to have had permission to do a 60 min dive ;-)

Congratulations to Anand Mantri on completing his PADI Advanced Open Water certification in the course of a fun weekend.

PADI Aware Shark Fin snaps courtesy of Andy Mantri

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Far North Musandam with Nomad Ocean Adventure, and Lima Rock and Wonder Wall Ras Sanut

April 18-19, 2014 on Dibba Rock, Musandam with Nomad Ocean Adventure

Our team: Vance, Bobbi, Nicki, and Chris G

My logged dives #1280-1283

It was an odd weekend, our first back home after our trip to Indonesia, and one where instinctively we might want to take time to recuperate at home  Given her grandmotherly instincts, Bobbi actually wanted to fly to Doha to help Gwenny celebrate her 5th or 6th birthday, but I had arranged to teach an o/w course the weekend after our return from Pulau Weh, a longstanding arrangement. But the grunge that I had through the months of February and March, a bad bronchitis that prevented both diving and enjoyment of life in that time, is now cropping up in schools around the UAE. One of my students is a teacher and was coming down with it on return from her trip to Nepal while we were in Pulau Weh. So just days ahead of time she and her buddy had to cancel their trip.

The real inconvenience was that they had been going to borrow a car and we had been hoping they could give Nicki and Bobbi a lift and I could meet them at Nomad in Dibba, driving there directly from Al Ain. Meanwhile Nicki's friend Chris wanted to join as well, neither had cars, and as we had told Nomad to expect a party of four, Bobbi and I decided to do what we could to deliver on our original commitment. Plus, not having students meant we could get in on a 3-dive trip to the “far north” Musandam, past the Lima Rock area, to where we rarely dive. But to do this I had to drive into Abu Dhabi from Al Ain to collect Bobbi and Nicki when Bobbi got off work and from there go to get Chris on our way out of town heading toward Dubai. To make a long story short, it took me a couple of extra hours to get there and out of Abu Dhabi, but we all arrived in Dibba by time for dinner, the only hiccup being a more assiduous than usual inspection at the border of a bag and cool box in our car, but the rest were overlooked, we passed muster, and arrived at Nomad without incident.

The following day we had a trio of cold currenty dives. Actually our first dive off what Hassan the boatman said he thought was Fanaku, we managed to pick a side of the island that was sheltered from the current and have a nice dive where we could see sand ledges going down well past 30 meters and a long a wall going from about 15 meters to the sand, a pleasant dive (see the video above :-).

On the second dive (above) we cruised the south side of Musandam Island and put in at a random place we now call the washing machine. We had been spotting currents on the trip out and we knew there would be no escaping them, we had been lucky on the first dive. On this one I got in the water and found myself getting washed in toward the island, a strange feeling since I expected to be swept along the reef one way or the other. At the bottom we got into a current where we had to use reef hooks to slow down but this soon led us into a spiral some distance further on and we spent the last part of the dive drifting in a wide spin like divers caught in a black hole event horizon, moving around with it as we ascended.

The last dive we did at Temple Rock, a tiny stack where it you were looking for current, that is where you would find it. As we kitted up, the boat got pushed a bit south so when we entered the water we had a swim to get back to the rock, and we knew what would happen when we went down. The only way to go was upcurrent to the north, to try and get around the rock and maybe ride it back down the other side. It wasn't that bad, nothing dangerous, and I had to pull myself along using my reef hook, but the worst part was consuming air in the effort. Chris had decided to sit it out on the boat, and Nicki and Bobbi were decidedly uncomfortable by the time we reached the point where we could finally turn to the west to get some relief as the current dissipated itself on the island before splitting off on the west side to carry divers south again. At least current brings animals. At one point I popped over a rock and found myself in company with an eagle ray who was flashing his white underside at me. It took me a moment to fumble out my camera and catch him at about the time he became aware of me, so I have a good film of an eagle ray close at hand, and then nothing but a contrail as the powerful ray willed himself to disappear in an awsome display of muscle.

Our best dive was the one on Lima Rock the next morning. It was cold there, 23 degrees C, but visibility was incredible, 15 or 20 meters perhaps. We were swimming along the wall at 15 meters with great views out into the sand when Bobbi higher on the reef found a scorpion fish and banged her tank. This caused me to look around and notice a sting ray cruising the bottom, not what she had intended to tell me about, but at the time it was what I thought she was calling my attention to, and I went after it. The ray didn't seem to mind my coming alongside, and the video shows that it tolerated me nearby nicely.

We were diving the north side of Lima because the south side was showing ripples of current swirling along its length and heading out to sea off the eastern point, but as we rounded that point we found calm water on the other side and that's where we had put in. But we were now working our way back to the eastern point and finding interesting nudibranchs and another sheltering sting ray. We were just going into the down side of 100 bar when I saw we were at the point. I saw that the ghost fish net was still in place there and used it to crawl out along the rock to where I could feel the current sweeping in from the other side. And there in that current were the barracuda.

Last dive of the day, Ras Sanut, cold and visibility not so good, but not a waste of time, if the video is of any interest.

Bobbi took a couple of snaps of me taking these pictures :-)


Bobbi and I chill for a week on Pulau Weh, Indonesia, with Lumba Lumba Divers

April 6-9, 2014 PULAU WEH, Indonesia, with Lumba Lumba Divers

My logged dives #1273-1279

Bobbi and I had a holiday in April, and this was a good time to see hammerheads in Layang Layang, or Sparrow Island, in the Spratley's north of Borneo. It was complicated to arrange. There is just one dive resort on the tiny atoll in a dropoff in the Sulu Sea. We managed to get a booking but then we had to pay them in advance. They would only accept bank transfers, and we had no idea where we were sending the money, but at some inconvenience we managed to get our bank to transfer the money only to find from their side they still needed a payment slip. Even when they acknowledged that the money had been deposited to their bank they still needed this document to satisfy their accounting office. It defied reason but we gamely played along, sent the money in two installments, requested travel documents from their side, and meanwhile noticed that friends on Facebook were having their trips the week before ours cancelled. We figured, or hoped, it was the weather (cyclones in the area in the news saying how weather was slowing the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines jet under way at the time). 

Some time later we discovered that the problem was with the missing Malaysian airliner, but not so much the weather. The search effort was taking all available military materiel including the plane that does a periodic test flight on Layang Layang runway to certify its continued use for Malaysia Air Wing jets, This plane was re-prioritized to the search and as a result the runway did not get an overdue inpection. Meanwhile Layang Layang resort was taking money from customers and then telling everyone there was a problem with the runway, but without any details what the problem was. 

Our cancellation notice came a week before we were due to depart. Initial reaction was sheer disappointment, followed by what about the money, and that quickly overtaken in a scramble to find an alternative destination. By now we had purchased tickets to Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu, so we focused on two places on Borneo on short notice. Both promised to send details, neither did, though the one in Malbul eventually sent word we could still go there on the day we were set to depart (alas, way too late). These options were of interest mainly because we could have used our tickets to Kota Kinabalu, but in the end we blew off that portion and flew instead from KL to Banda Aceh on the north tip of Sumatra and then caught a boat to Pulau Wei, where friends at Nomad Ocean Adventure had worked and could not recommend the place highly enough.

I used to dive a lot around Abu Dhabi and I can tell you that there are barracuda, turtles, many kinds of sting rays, sharks, sea snakes, eels, cuttlefish, batfish, grouper, and much more living there, but on a typical dive, if you are expecting to see any of those you are likely to be disappointed. The diving is nice, and chance of interesting animals exists, but it's that way anywhere, if you work there you see everything, but when visiting a few days, you are lucky to catch a glimpse of a fraction of what is there in the water around you. Some visit in good conditions, great visibility, and hit it lucky. Some get poor vis, rough seas or debilitating currents, and see almost nothing.

We had smooth flying to Banda Aceh, got a taxi to the harbor using the dispatcher at the airport, caught the ferry, easily got a cab from there at what we found later was the standard price, and on arrival in Lumba Lumba after 24 hours of travel, found a well run and relaxing dive center. Lumba Lumba means dolphin in Bahasa (and we did see a pod or two from the boat). The owners Marjan and Ton have built up a loyal clientele over the years, and we dived with many of these satisfied customers there on return visits who told us this place was worth coming back to over and over. Our own experience, jaded divers that we are, was less sanguine, but still quite pleasant, no complaints. 

We had one great dive where we saw sharks and a flotilla of devil rays overhead. On all dives we saw octopus, a treat, and off the house reef we found one just sitting in the sand trying to ignore us, but preening there for as long as we stayed and aimed my GoPro camera at him (and another one, when I scratched the sand outside his lair, twice blew a jet of water at me, in a go away gesture – second time I got the hint and left him alone). 

The long octopus encounter is in the video above. That octopus was on the house reef, where the video below was taken.

more videos forthcoming

We saw the lovely panoply of usual reef fish and some large trevaly and plenty of small animals like cleaner shrimp and tiny crabs living on anenome. There were a lot of moray eels of all kinds (including one shy black and white blotchy one) lots of scorpion fish, macro life everywhere, amazing creatures down to the size of a grain of rice, nudibranchs, colorful slugs the dive guides pointed out as nudibranchs though they were not, banded shrimp, tiny pipefish, razorfish dancing upright, garden eels slipping into the sand whenever approached, blue spotted rays, titan, blue, and clown triggerfish, creatures everywhere, all to be seen in a relaxing place at a very economical price for diving (made more economical with a generous instructor discount), but in our short stay though we were consistently treated to pleasant, challenging, and interesting dives, apart perhaps from the devil rays, we saw nothing amazingly phenomenal.

Which is to say no mantas, leapord sharks, wrasse, turtles, whale sharks, or megamouth, all of which are supposed to live here (on our last dive at the Canyon Marjan's group saw a Napoleon, just as they were surfacing, but it eluded Bobbi and I, who surfaced just before). 

It's not surprising that we didn't see all the creatures we wanted to, or that not every dive was a wow dive, on just a 4-day stay. There were tricky currents, a bane of this place preventing our entry into some of the best parts of the best dive sites, guides being conservative, favoring diver safety over adrenaline rushes, and maybe they were protecting us from ourselves. It's great to be on home turf, where you know the sites and know the currents and can judge if you just push through this one you'll hit nirvana on the other side. We were turned back at the door of Nirvana time after time, or maybe we were saved from death by drowning, we'll never know. We weren't there long enough to get to know the guides or for them to know us, so we dived conservatively, and saw quite a lot, but not as much as we imagined we likely would have seen if we had been able to fulfill our dream of diving Layang Layang.

Would we come back? If given the opportunity yes, but infrastructure in the area is limited, food choices are limited, there is no alcohol except Bintang available at the dive center (nor wifi except that available at the dive center, open 8 a.m. To 8 pm,but free for divers) Given the local culture, the dive center was a great oasis, and locals were tolerant to the point of overlooking cans of take-away Bintang consumed at local warungs, but for those seeking a sybaritic life between dives, Aceh might be a little Spartan or just the cure you need, all good for you of course, and I hope I've weighted the scales fairly here.

Overall we enjoyed it. Nice diving, nice people, competent dive facility, world class diving, a little remote and lacking in on-shore variety, but if you like to sleep :-)) and prefer to get to know local cultures, and support one in need after the calamity on Christmas eve 2004, you'll find a tolerant and welcoming one here. The diving is great for families and those learning to dive. It's also good for experienced divers, so I'm trying to be informative here, not at all complaining.

The dive center has accommodation It was full when we were there, but they kindly found us a house on the hillside behind the center with great ocean views on the veranda, just $15 a night, owned by a fellow names Mus whose house was ajacent to his rental unit. Mus arranged for a cab to come pick us up from the dive center our last morning of diving there. We were flying the following morning and overnighting at Freddies, a place in Sebang whose South African owner assiduously answers email, which is how we were able to arrange to stay there. So for $15 we got driven to Freddie's which is a beautifully situated and delightfully laid back place, passing for fancy in those parts, with bungaloes build into a hillside overlooking a beach. There was a bar there and decent food, and while you are enjoying what you like the staff there arrange for a car to come get you next morning bright and early, hand you your ferry ticket before bed, serve a great buffet breakfast and send you on your way for a bill for all just mentioned including accommodation of about $65. And the driver who took us to the ferry pier used his mobile to arrange a taxi from the Banda Aceh harbor to the airport at the normal published price. We texted our names and when we arrived off the boat there was man on the other side bearing a sign with our names, to take us there no problem. So it seems complicated with the boat and plane transfers, but on the ground we found the people made it easy for us and detected no attempt at ripoff.

And it was a beautiful day out as well, and when we arrived in Kuala Lumpur we got to meet with Fizzy, recently with Nomad in UAE, and one of the people who convinced us to give Pulau Weh a try.