Saturday, May 20, 2017

Certifying divers in PADI Scuba Diver and Open Water at Nomad Ocean Adventure - Congratulations Niaz Basheer, Léa Morin, and Julia Resnicek

My logged dives #1544-1547
May 19-20, 2017

Nomad Ocean Adventures had me working intensively this weekend in return for free diving, meals, accommodation, and even a few Nomad special super slushies for both Bobbi and I. It was a great weekend; we enjoyed it immensely. Sad to know it's the next to last for our favorite dive center on the east coast UAE and Musandam, Oman. We've had great times and great diving here, and absolutely the best in that area since Dibba Rock got wiped by cyclones and red tide, 

Knackered from a day at work that started for me with 4:30 reveille Thursday and transitioned with a 3 hour drive from Al Ain to Dibba, I went to sleep before my open water student Niaz Basheer arrived at midnight, but I met him at 6 am for briefing and pool work. He had little trouble with the pool modules, and our boat wasn't leaving until 10. As it was just the two of us, we managed to get modules 1-3 done in the pool that morning, get ourselves dockside by maybe 10:30, and we were on our way to Ras Morovi before 11:00. 



My video shows feathertail rays everywhere in the sand at the start of the dive and once Niaz had completed his skills, we rounded the reef on the northbound leg. We had a heck of a current sweeping us over the saddle and around the corner, where we came upon yet another feathertail, and then clownfish, blue wrasse, and an eel as I moved into the grotto, just checking the cave there, but no rays were at home in that spot. 

Next stop was Ras Lima, where we dropped in on a mottled eel in shallow water, then moved down to depth and found a blue crayfish in the deeper wall. An eel emerges nearby but doesn't eat the kind of fish that shares his hole apparently. Bobbi and I ended the dive in the company of an unconcerned turtle.

We spent the evening with Chris and his wife Manesha and their two sons at dinner in a majlis where the old furniture had miraculously re-appeared, with the Nomad special super slushy-maker whirring away on a nearby table. Chris's mom Sylviane was there, so nice to see her again, and Pawlie from Norway, one of the staff, and Léa Morin, an intern from France, who would be my dive student the next day. She had completed all but her last dive and I was to be granted the pleasure of completing her course with her, and also with Julia Resnicek, with whom I had spent till almost 11 pm in the pool. I had just trained Niaz earlier that day, and met Julia, who was transitioning from the SSI system to PADI, and Chris had let me take her on as well, starting from about 6 in the evening, so by the time I sat down to dinner in the Majlis, I was working on autopilot, and ready for some slushies.

Léa had already completed her pool work for her course. For her it was only the last dive to do. Julia would be doing dives #3 and #4 with me to certify as a PADI open water diver on Saturday, May 20. Our dive sites were Octopus Rock, normally an advanced dive site, but today fortunately devoid of current, and Ras Morovi, where the current was present but not like the day before. You can see how it went in the video below.



Our first videos are from Ras Morovi, on Julia's final 4th dive for PADI o/w certification. Chris and Tareq are seen looking for small stuff just at the edge of our normal dive sites, which we're exploring on open water compass exercises with the two lady o/w candidates, Léa and Julia. We are diving with Mike, Julia's buddy, and Bobbi, mine. Our compass work turns up sting rays at the start of the dive, and rounding the corner past the saddle we stumble on yet another one. This is just short of the Grotto, where we come across a puffer, but checking the cave, no rays in there again today.

Next in the video is the start of our dive on Octopus Rock, which we actually did as the first dive of the day, Léa 's 4th and final o/w dive for certification, and Julia's 3rd. It's not long before we come across a number of moray eels, including a large honeycomb one. Trigger fish are everywhere on this dive as usual, and tiny blue wrasse have set up their cleaning stations. First customers are a pair of angel fish. We move into a school of  yellow striped fusiliers, and follow trigger fish and angel fish and parrots who lead us eventually to a batfish clearning station, but I pan out to the schools of jacks so as not to miss them, then back to the batfish getting the backscratch. Fusiliers burst back on the scene. The trigger fish are ever present. We move toward a school of snappers and find a pair of blue crayfish hiding in the rocks. More fusiliers blast by. 

Now we find another batfish enjoying a complete makeover and descend on him from above as fusiliers partially block our view. At our safety stop we find an eel hiding in the rocks and jacks passing overhead, and trigger fish schooling in the distance. We head toward the jacks as we count down our final three minutes of the dive, fusiliers bursting in from the left. Jacks and fusiliers end our dive, quite beautiful there on Octopus rock here at just 5 meters.

These video clips were taken while certifying PADI divers, diving with Nomad Ocean Adventures on May 19-20, 2017, accompanied by favorite dive buddy Bobbi Stevens

GoPro videography by Vance Stevens
PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor #64181


Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mobula Rays at Ras Morovi while guiding dives in Musandam for Nomad Ocean Adventures

My logged dives #1540-1543
May 12-13, 2017

This weekend I was invited again to guide boats on diving trips for Nomad Ocean Adventures. Bobbi and I went up to Dibba and crossed the border into Oman right after work on Thursday. We checked into our room at the Nomad guesthouse, which the owner Chris calls the 'Vance Special'. We had a nice meal in the majlis and got a good night's sleep. In the morning Friday I helped guide a boat where Chris was on board, but so was his family, wife and two kids, so I relieved him of having to focus on the diving the whole time, and allowed him to take them snorkeling while we did our second dive.


Chris's choice of first dive site was Lima Rock south, one of my favorites. It can be a challenging dive if there is current present, and there was on this day, so we started at the west end of the south side and set to drifting to the east.  About mid way we encountered a back-current and I let it push us back the way we had come, but then I decided we could push through it, it wasn't that strong. So I led us out to the point, where the ropes are in the video above, and there was some resistance there, but not a raging current, so we were able to round to the other side and come up there. We were guiding a diver from Croatia named Tvrtko, and he thought it was a great dive.

The video contains views from our second dive on Ras Sanut as well. The last clip from Lima Rock is the batfish in the orange and blue soft corals at our safety stop, and after that we are diving at Ras Sanut, which we also call Wonder Wall. There were a lot of moray eels there, and in one segment, we found three different kinds in one small rock space. The video ends with me leaving my camera running inadvertently. I edited most of that away, but it gives you an upturned perspective and a closeup of the equipment we carry on our dives.



Next day, I was guiding the advanced divers on our boat on Ras Morovi and Lulu Island. The Ras Morovi dive was ONE OF THE BEST WE HAVE EVER HAD THERE. In particular we saw a flight of MOBULA RAYS right at the start of the dive, and I caught up with 4 of them and got decent video (above). We also saw friendly clownfish and a feathertail ray in the sand of the bay, crayfish, a turtle, various morays, a nudibranch, more rays, pipefish, scorpion fish, and lovely reefs. We were diving again with Tvrtko, and also Roman Kvasnyj from Russia, and another advanced diver named Sandie.


Our last dive Saturday was on Lu'lu' Island (the video above). There are a number of ways to do this dive. When I lead advanced divers I start on the west side of the main island, round it to the north, and then set out east over the sand bottom at around 16 meters. This takes us to the underwater base of an island a little less than ten minutes distant. We round that to its north and then follow it south outside a ring that, if you followed it around to the west and then turn north, would take you back where you started.

We didn't get that far. Our dive ended on a south facing western leg of the reef sadly covered in ghost nets, with fish trapped live in abandoned pots. Cuttlefish were out in force today. We also saw scorpion fish, morays, lionfish, and clowns so lonely they fly in the face of oncoming divers. Brittle stars were out walking around, and my camera captured an interesting orange star. 

On these last dives, Bobbi and I were diving with Sandie, Roman Kvasnyj, and Tvrtko. Tvrtko enjoyed his dives so much that he offered to host us and show us his favorite dive sites in Croatia. We'll have to take him up on that one day.

GoPro videography by Vance Stevens
PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor #64181

For best results, view these videos using highest HD setting on YouTube

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Guiding dive boats for Nomad and fun diving with Greg Raglow, Musandam, Oman

My logged dives #1536-1539
April 28-29, 2017

Guiding dives again at Nomad Oman Adventures, Musandam

It's official, what we have known for some time, that Chris Chellapermal is closing down Nomad Ocean Adventures effective end of May. He has let staff go and this is why he has asked me to act as dive guide the past few weekends. Of course I am trying to make myself free as much as possible in order to help out, and to enjoy the unique atmosphere at Nomad Ocean Adventure for as long as Chris can sustain his business. But he seems happy with his decision to move on to projects that will allow him to spend his time close to his family in Dubai.

First dive Friday, Lima Rock north

Guiding boats means that I can choose the dive sites, but it also means I have to choose the sites responsibly, since I need to make sure that everyone is comfortable in the water. My choice of first dive was Lima Rock but when I entered the water to check the current just after arriving at the south side, I found myself being swept to the east. This was not going to be a good day to dive that side, so I had the boatman take us to the north side and put us in at a more sheltered spot where the current was not so bad. When I give briefings for Lima Rock I always explain about the current and how it can sneak up on you and take you on a one-way ride, not only in the direction of Iran, but also down deeper if you don't watch your depth. Some divers seemed uncomfortable and wanted to dive with Greg and I; e.g. wanted to be guided on the dive. For this reason I took it conservatively. When we entered the water I led to the east, but when I felt the current pick up I turned the dive and moved us up the rock faces back the way we had come. We ended the dive in the same sheltered cove where we had started.

One of the divers on the other Nomad boat, Stewart, went with the current to the point and said afterwards he had never seen so many barracuda. This is the nice thing about Lima Rock in a current. Current attracts big stuff, including whale sharks that like to fin facing into it while filtering plankton in over their gill rakers.


Video here on YouTube: https://youtu.be/HVUA-Ip18xc

This dive was a rather tame one. In the video, we start with a banner fish making a meal of one of the jellyfishes that were stinging some of the divers when they surfaced from their dive. Next an electric torpedo ray is found, and alongside it a pair of nudibranchs that not all our divers notice despite my trying to point them out. Next up, we enjoy a lion fish ballet. Then, a gopie guards a hole where a shrimp is excavating. The shrimp tries to move a load beyond his capabilities, I edge closer to get a better look, the gopie retreats suddenly, and the house of card collapses. A yellow mouthed moray appears amid pretty pink and blue soft corals in a garden terrain. Around a corner a bat fish is enjoying being administered to by cleaner wrasse, and a green moray peeks out from blue soft coral. Pinks and blues adorn these rocks as we move our way shallow, into the natural light. We encounter needle fish, chase yellow snappers into swim-throughs, and toy with clown fish in anemones waving in the current.

Second dive, Lu'lu Island


Video here on YouTube: https://youtu.be/-_h6bukCS2g

We entered the water behind Lu'lu Island to find a fishnet on the reef and a live lobster trapped inside. We tried to free it but decided it wasn't worth the time - a snorkeler who wanted it for dinner probably rescued it after we left. We rounded the rock and kept on an easterly heading over the sand to arrive at more islands a couple hundred meters distant. I brief this part of the dive by telling people there are clown fish there so bored that they rush up from anemones on the bottom to meet approaching divers, which is what you see in the video. We looked for rays in the sand but found only flounders. On the far rocks we found morays and pretty corals tableaux, and Greg and I ended amid schools of reef fish on the south end of the island chain. Unfortunately algae in the water compromised visibility there.

Diving  Saturday April 29, Octopus Rock and Lima Rock


Video here on YouTube: https://youtu.be/vrfQ5llX-GE

Our first dive was on Octopus Rock. I was keeping an eye on Dr. Bob, who was working through some buoyancy issues following recent surgery. As dive guide it was my responsibility to look after him, but Chris had sorted him out nicely the day before, and he was fine while diving with us. We stuck close to Pascal, a.k.a. PQ de Nomad, because he was taking care of open water students and would not go deep, which seemed an appropriate pairing for us. I buddied with Greg Raglow. We filmed moray eels, pretty swim-throughs with schools of blue triggers, a scorpion fish, banner fish, bat fish, cray fish, jacks, and schools near the top of the reef where there was a dead parrot fish caught in a ghost net. Due to uncertainties with this group of divers I didn't follow my normal route, got confounded by the terrain, and ended up mistaking a shallow reef for Octopus Rock, so we ended the dive stranded to the west of the preferred end point.

Stewart wanted to return to Lima Rock to see if he could revisit the barracuda he had seen the day before, but on this day, current was not so pronounced. As we began our dive, a pair of high tech divers passed us with their scooters. Moving more slowly, we found lion fish, a puffer, and arrived at the ropes at the point with Greg and I still had a good hundred bar, half a tank. We decided to explore, and filmed an angel fish on our way down to 24 meters, where circling the rock, we found barracudas off the point. We returned to the ropes and followed them up before letting ourselves go with the current to our safety stop. At 5 meters we drifted through the school of barracudas you can see in my video.

Back on the boat all were accounted for except the divers with the scooters. We found them on the far side of the rock, blabbering about a mola mola they had seen just past where Greg and I had ascended from 24 meters after swimming with the barracudas. I guess you miss the small stuff with your scooters, but you can catch the big game.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Diving on Earth Day weekend: Guiding dives for Nomad Ocean Adventures and for the Earthcasting students at Rye Jr.High New Hampshire USA

My logged dives #1532-1535

Guiding dives at Nomad 


Owner Chris Chellapermal needed help again this weekend at Nomad Ocean Adventures, on the Musandam side of Dibba, just across the border in Oman. He wanted me to guide a boat each day to accommodate those wishing to dive on the long Islamic holiday weekend. It's a non-paid position but it comes with free meals and accommodation and free diving for me for two days, which is what I like to be doing anyway with my weekends.

Earth Day 2017

This weekend was a special occasion. Earth Day was on April 22 this year, http://www.earthday.org/. It's not the first time I have participated in events on the occasion. In 2011 a group of friends and I walked over to Aqabat Talhat in Oman and cleaned up a bunch of Isostar cans left there presumably by soldiers on a military training exercise. See
https://curiousvance.wordpress.com/2011/04/24/earth-day-april-22-2011/

But this year Earth Day proper fell on a Saturday, so Sheila Adams at Rye Jr. High School in Rye, New Hampshire celebrated by streaming her 10th annual Earthcast on Friday, April 21, for five hours from noon to 1700 UTC, when the kids could stream from school. There's more information about that, including links to her recordings, here:
https://learning2gether.net/2017/04/21/sheila-adams-streams-earthcast-2017-the-annual-earthday-webcast-once-again-live-from-rye-jr-high-school/

Sheila asked me if I would participate and I agreed to do what I could. I decided to make a video of our diving on April 21 and dedicate it to the earthcasting students at Rye Jr. High in Rye, New Hampshire, USA. I hope they enjoy this video, showing the state of one part of the planet in great need of protection on the day they were about to start webcasting from another part of the planet half a world away.

April 21, 2017: Diving at Ras Morovi and Ras Sanut




Because they might not be familiar with the animals seen in the video I'll explain a little about what we are doing here. First of all, as guide of the trip I made sure that all divers were in the water and knew where they were going. All buddy teams were diving independently, as they liked, and we were last in the water to begin our dive. As we started out we caught up with the team of Fahad and Yousef, both from Kuwait, Yousef Alwazzan is waiting for me to publish the video on YouTube where they are pictured in the first clip.

The reef we were diving on is called Ras Morovi. It has a beautiful top side just 8 meters deep full of reef fish and colorful blue and orange coral. In the second frame, a trigger fish tries to hide in the rocks. If he finds a hole he can hide in he'll lie hidden, only his blue tail will be sticking out. Enemies fail to notice this apparently. Trigger fish also have another interesting habit. When they lay eggs, they will circle the humps of sand where the eggs are and swim menacingly at any fish, or divers, that come close. The blue triggers are not that aggressive, but the larger titan trigger fish will bite divers (usually they go for the swim fins) and will even remember them on a later occasion and zero in on them if they return to the spot where the eggs are.

In an alcove we encounter a school of batfish. These are interesting fish that like to come around divers in midwater. They come quite close and appear curious about divers ascending or descending. But on reefs they appear shy and can be herded in unison. Here the school escapes over tufts of orange coral. I continue filming as we pass over the reef teeming with blue (red-toothed) triggers, blue angel fish with vertical yellow stripes, yellow, white and black striped sergeant majors, banner fish with arched white top fins sweeping back, large rainbow-colored parrot fishes, yellow snappers, and schools of jacks.

Coming down off the reef to 15 meters or so we find sand and green whip coral, among which we find a flounder, or moses sole. These fish have evolved with both eyes on one lateral surface, so they can crawl across the sand bottom on the other surface. They have also evolved camoflage with the sand, but can easily be spotted if disturbed.

Meanwhile Nicki has come upon an unusual spotted eel with orange whiskers on white snout. Later I find a pair of them. She is also filmed poking a clump of anenomes to expose the tiny anemome shrimp hiding there.

In the whip coral I find a green moray, much more common than the spotted ones. Moray eels try to look menacing, but if they aren't provoked, they are not dangerous to divers.

Later I film a pair of lion fish under a ledge, causing an invertebrate that was feeding on the opposite rock to shorten his straw and pull in his feeding head. I'm not sure what this invertebrate is called. If you can identify it for me I would appreciate it.

Our last film from this dive is Nicki finding some spiny crayfish under a rock. Some people call them lobsters, but these ones don't have claws, so I think they are crayfish.

The next frame is from our second dive of the day on Ras Sanut, which we also call Wonder Wall. Here we find a pair of pipe fish, distant relatives of sea horses but much more common. Leaving the pipe fish, I chase a blue wrasse manning his cleaning station. Bigger fish come where these wrasse hang out to get parasites removed, a symbiotic relationship that benefits both the big fish and the tiny wrasse.

We begin to move among picturesque schools of snappers. Kelly waves in passing. We follow the snappers into an alcove and notice a huge marble ray on the reef above. He reappears from around an undersea bolder and leads us along the reef. He is faster than we are and can easily move away. He isn't afraid of us, and as he's lost his tail in a prior encounter with something he should have been afraid of, he isn't dangerous to us. Actually nothing in the water is particularly dangerous as long as you respect it's space and don't provoke it.

April 22, 2017: Diving at Octopus Rock and Lima Rock South

The next video was taken Apr 22, 2017 on a dive on Octopus Rock in Musandam Oman. I was diving with Nicki Blower, Kelly Harris, and my favorite dive buddy Bobbi Stevens.


We started to the east down to almost 30 meters looking for sea horses, found none but worked our way up to the base of the rock at 18 meters, crossed to and rounded the next rock over..There we came up through schools of blue triggers to find jacks, fusiliers, barracudas, and preening bat fish in the shallower parts of the ridge and on our return to the rock proper.



The final video from this Earth Day weekend shows our dive on Lima Rock South. It was a nice dive, starting with a cleaning station at 25 meters, with a lone fish being administered to near a big boulder with blue coral and green whip. Bobbi and I went ahead but Nicki caught up to us carrying a dancing flatworm in its little rock home, which we then set in motion. In the same video segment I pan to a lion fish, and then to a feathertail ray in one single video segment. Suddenly we were caught in a current that nudged us onwards but would not let us return where we'd come from. We were careful with it, but passed several honeycomb morays. Deco was becoming an issue as well and we were soon caught in a box no deeper than 10-12 meters and with an envelope of only one direction. But soon we were gingerly rounding the point to the north side of Lima Rock, where we surfaced amid jacks. It was a tricky dive because I didn't know everyone in our group, and my ladies in general don't like strong currents, but this one turned out to be relatively mild in the end.

I was diving with Nicki Blower, Kelly Harris, Ihab and Karim from Egypt, and my favorite dive buddy Bobbi Stevens

In these videos, GoPro videography is by me, Vance Stevens
PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor #64181

For best results, view these videos using highest HD setting on YouTube




Sunday, April 9, 2017

Certifying Harleen Kaur and Patricia Azevedo Bagas as PADI O/W Divers, Musandam, Oman

My logged dives #1528-1531



These videos were taken Apr 7-8, 2017 in the course of certifying diving Harleen Kaur and Patricia Azevedo Bagas as PADI Open Water SCUBA Divers - Nomad Ocean Adventure, Musandam, Oman

The videos show schooling jacks and a turtle at Ras Morovi and a scorpion fish on Lima Headland on April 7. Patricia joined us on Saturday, April 8 and we saw a grey moray eel at Lu'lu Island and a sting ray on Lima Rock (North).

The Lima Rock dive ended in considerable current that swept us past the rock and into deep green water, where we encountered the school of huge barracudas that hangs out there, visible only to passers-by too busy battling down currents to engage their GoPros.

Congratulations to the newly certified divers Harleen Kaur and Patricia Azevedo Bagas

GoPro videography by Vance Stevens
PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor #64181

For more scuba diving videos
like this one, see

http://VancesDivebLogs.blogspot.com

For best results, view these videos using highest HD setting on YouTube

Friday, December 30, 2016

A quick dive off Dibba Rock with sidemounted Kyle Schoonraad

My logged dive #1527

On our return from the Philippines, Malaysia, and Doha, Bobbi and I brought our 8-year old granddaughter Gwenny home with us from Doha on our last plane ride and enjoyed her company in Al Ain for a few days. We had the crazy idea she might like to learn how to snorkel so we booked a room at Sandy Beach Motel on the east coast UAE, which has an island you can walk to at low tide and where you can snorkel and see sharks if you are lucky. Gwenny seemed keen to learn (we didn't mention the sharks), and Bobbi went out and bought her a small mask and snorkel. We managed to get a room before the new year's weekend rush for a reasonable weekday price. The hotel is built in such a way that you can't get on the beach where you can walk to the island unless you stay at the hotel, so we were all looking forward to the getaway.

As it turned out, Gwenny is still a little small for the equipment we got her and she wasn't able to get her head in the water and mouth around the snorkel. Plus the water temperature had just dropped to 23 degrees, and it was too chilly in the water for sustained practice, so we gave up on that idea for a couple of years. We'll send the snorkel and fins home with her when she goes in hopes that she'll get some practice in swimming pools in Doha, and when she's ready we can show her some real fish, and even teach her diving when she wants to learn.

Meanwhile as long as I was in the neighborhood, I got in touch with Nomad, Fujairah and arranged to come down Thursday and dive Dibba Rock. They had some technical divers coming in the morning so they scheduled me for an afternoon dive, but later that morning they got back to me and said the technical divers weren't coming because of the fog on the road around Dubai, and the boat was waiting there just for me.

I was the only diver booked in that day. Bobbi would be hanging out on the beach with Gwenny, so I didn't even have a buddy. So Kyle Schoonraad (he and his lady Jessica are the pros there) offered to accompany me on the  dive.



It was a real treat having Kyle to show me the rock from his experienced perspective. He did it about the way I would have, starting at the Aquarium, which was teeming with jacks and snappers, and moving deeper to the sand at 10-12 meters, where there were more jacks and a big school of barracuda. On the way there, at 55 seconds into the video I was taking, we passed over a torpedo ray which both of us missed. It was interesting coming on that in the video, like huh? rewind ... yep that was a torpedo ray right there, and we both headed right over it.

Within minutes of passing the barracudas Kyle excitedly pointed up and started finning madly for the surface. He looked back at me and made pointy horn signs either side of his head, obviously meaning devil rays. He indicated there were 9 or a dozen of them. I couldn't see them, vis was too poor. Happens; so many times I have seen sharks around there, pointed ahead, and people just behind me couldn't see them, because the sharks vanished quickly, vis was poor, and the divers were just that critical two meters further back.

We continued along the back of the rock to the gap where Kyle queried me through his bubbles which way we should go. I wanted to see his choice, so I bubbled him back to go ahead. He led up the gap, where there was fortunately no current, so we could follow the top crest into a nice long wedge and come out on the drop off to the sand where the rays were.

You can see the rest in the video. We found two rays and got decent video. About that time Kyle went into another state where he was raving about devil rays and pointing up ahead, so this time I took video the way he was pointing so I could show him later there was nothing there, all in his head :-)

Back on the surface, the boatman told us the rays had been jumping out of the water while he was waiting for us, so I guess he was imagining them as well.

Anyway, great dive, and great diving with Kyle as his only diver on that day.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Diving off Port Barton, Palawan, Philippines

My logged dives #1524-1526


We had heard Internet would be dodgy in El Nido, so we were glad to see that there was free wifi almost everywhere. However we soon found out that wifi rarely worked. The problem was with the Internet provider for the whole area. So once you are in El Nido, if you've been playing things by ear to get that far, it's hard to plan a way out unless your time is flexible.

The way I would like to have gone would have been to get the boat from El Nido to the island of Coron further north. There was a fast boat leaving at 6 a.m. most days and another slower boat that departed occasionally, but not every day. These boats tended to be booked out for next day travel, so you had to plan a day or two in advance to make the trip. Then once in Coron you would have to back-track the journey or get the boat onwards to Manila. That was an overnight boat which sailed perhaps three times a week. I would like to have done that if I had a week to spare. But given tight timings and inability to get on Internet and book our flights from Manila to Kuala Lumpur (so we'd have to do that in Manila).

There are airports in El Nido and Coron, though it was doubtful we'd have been able to get on a flight at that time of year, Christmas holidays bringing so many people to Palaway. It seemed best to plan a Coron trip for a later time when we could book round trip air travel to and from Manila and make a dive plan, perhaps a liveaboard, to see the wrecks there, do it properly, not with just two days to spend in Coron.

So as an alternative, we heard that some travelers were going to Port Barton, on the way back to Puerto Princesa more or less, and in a rare moment of connectivity I came on a Wikitravel article that led us to come here: http://wikitravel.org/en/Port_Barton

The article mentions " 'Aquaholics' run by Keith Dudley and located in the middle of the beach next to Summer Homes. This diving center has a highly recommended diving instructor named Martyn who has been diving for more than 33 years and is also a level one qualified SSI Free Diving Instructor and swimming teacher +639199916282(Smart). Martyn can teach you to dive and take you through speciality courses such as Wreck and Deep diving. ... For fun diving and diving courses Port Barton is superb, with great coral and marine life, not to mention some wrecks, within easy striking distance."

We've learned to be wary of glowing recommendations from people just learning to dive, not the most discriminating of customers. But it was time to go somewhere, and the weather had turned in El Nido. It rained all night the day before we left, and it rained all through the van ride from El Nido toward Puerto Princesa. It was still raining when we left the main road at Rojas and took the road to Port Barton, which is under construction. The parts that had not been developed were in quagmire in the rain, with the van slipping toward the edge, and raising some doubts about getting out of there on the uphill leg.

Accommodation in El Nido is laid back but simple and hard to find when we arrived. The van ran as far as the beach and dropped us at the beach-front Jambalaya restaurant where we de-camped Bobbi who waited with the bags while I went out scouting for accommodation (they were having happy hour so we enjoyed that and ate there when I returned later with a room key). I walked up the beach as far as the dive center where I found Keith, an old retiree who said he had learned to dive when he was 50 and had found himself a niche in paradise where he could live easy and support his retirement. He had spaces for us next day (only had another couple of divers, one of them on a beginner's course) and he outlined a program of diving starting with the shallow wreck and then working our way back to a couple of reefs on the trip home. It didn't sound all that exciting and it wasn't really; Keith disclosed later that diving was declining there due to overfishing and the local habit of channeling waste disposal to the bay..

As for diving at Port Barton, we embarked on a banca outrigger boat for the day trip starting with the Albaguen Wreck, 26 meters, which you can read about here:

Aquaholics Dive Center description of diving off Port Barton
http://www.divepalawan.net/port-barton/




As wrecks go, it as a mediocre one, and we saw with fish, glass shrimp in the hold, a scorpion fish hidden in plain sight on top, a common slug, and blue flatworms in the sand.

I didn't get the names of the reefs we dived next but they were similar. Dive 2 was on a reef on our way home, where we saw slugs, a turtle with a remora, a humphead wrasse, batfish, nudibranchs, clownfish, a camouflaged crocodile fish, and more flatworms.


Dive 3 was on a reef near grass flats where Martyn said they sometimes see manatees, or dugongs. Here we saw more slugs, clownfish, nudibranchs, lion fish, more flatworms, another camouflaged crocodile fish, schools of razorfish, and a fish with alien eyes peeping our of a hole in a rock.



We had planned to spend two diving days there but in the end did only one. Accommodation in El Nido our first night was rudimentary. Electricity went off at midnight, except at the discos, which had generators, so the bass-beat started at midnight and thumped down the quiet beach into the wee hours. Roaming dogs barked and chickens crowed until the motorcycles took over at dawn. Our second night I managed to get us a pleasant room at Summer Homes (24 hour electricity) in a beach view room. It was quieter there (less street noise reaching our room) and the restaurant had excellent Thai food. I booked and a van from there to Puerto Princesa the following day, where we decided to take a travel break in rooms with more standard amenities and indulge in rectifying our pent-up Intenet latency