Saturday, October 8, 2011

Diving in Damaniyite Islands with ExtraDivers at Al Sawadi Beach Resort, Oct 8, 2011

My logged dives #1082-1083

Tourist visas in UAE are granted for one month at a time (with a ten-day grace period) and while we are between jobs as it were, Bobbi and I have to exit the country and re-enter every calendar month.  We are in the habit of making this our excuse to regularly dive the Damaniyite Islands in Oman. Someone has to do it!

We decided  to spend most of Friday in the UAE.  Bobbi and I needed to sleep just a little later than usual due to the hectic lives we’ve led since having to vacate our home the past 13 years in All Prints.  In the morning we unpacked a few boxes in our new but temporary 1-br apt in Khaliyfa A, the new township near Abu Dhabi airport while watching BBC news and draining a pot of coffee, and then we loaded the 4 dive bags we keep in our apt, each containing a full kit of Scuba gear, and drove into town to where I’ve been teaching part time and both of us got on the Internet from there. Then Dusty called from the Thai embassy where he and his lady friend Michele were enjoying a Thai food festival, and some of our old Thai friends and their spouses were there, and it was on our way to the highway to Oman, so we dropped by there on our way out of town to have a delicious meal of homemade Thai.

We had pre-arranged to pick up Dusty there, the 3rd of the 4 dive bags were for him (and the other was our spare gear). We were on the road by 3:30 and to make a long drive and border crossing short, we arrived at the Suwaiq motel at the edge of the mountains right off  the Batinah coast about 4 and a half hours later.

The Suwaiq motel used to be a dubious place to stay.  When we slept there once before we didn’t know it had two night clubs, one for Indian and the other for Arabic clients. If you arrive at night they will both be pumping loud music at once, and the only way we could tolerate the rooms into the wee hours was that in addition to the a/c, we also had a fan we could run all night by the head of the bed.   It was tawdry accommodations and the only advantages were it was much cheaper than other hotels, and the loud bars sold beer for just a riyal for a tall can, less than $3.  Another advantage is it’s only about 40 min from Al Sawadi Beach resort, which charges more than 4 times the price of the Suwaiq motel. That includes dinner, but you can get a great meal of dhal, freshly bbq chicken tikka, biriani, masala, purata, and fresh mango juice for just the price of a beer at the Suwaiq Hotel.

Imagine our surprise when we checked in at the Suwaiq hotel, had a look at our room, and found it had been remodeled.  It was tastefully decorated with comfortable new double beds.  The baths had been remodeled. The old mouldy rugs were gone and in their place shiny tiles.  Best of all, the lanais had been enclosed into small TV rooms, with new flat screen TVs with cable vision, and this extra room between the bedroom and the music had been especially designed there to create a buffer between sleep and the music.  And it worked, when we turned on the a/c we could sleep soundly, couldn’t hear the music.  Best of all, there was a new bar there with tasteful decoration and no music.  Smoking had been banned from the public rooms for a long time, but here was a place to enjoy a nightcap without even the annoyance of loud music.  If you’re reading this don’t tell anyone else about this place.  We don’t want it filling up, which at only 200 dirhams a room, it should do.  We’ll definitely stay there again next time we dive the Damaniyites.

Speaking of which we had two dives on Saturday morning.  One was Tina’s Run (not quite its name) on the north side of police island, starting from the east and moving west and the other was the mousetrap, the wall running underwater from Sirah Island to Big Jun.  T-Run was especially good.  I was pushing the edge of the reef, looking over the side down onto the sand, and into caves, looking there for leopard sharks and rays.  These were all at the top of the reef.  Fortunately Bobbi and Dusty found them and got me back up there. The ray was a black bull ray in a cave.  The leopard shark was a small one at rest in a patch of cabbage coral.  He posed there for the dozen divers that came to visit and never moved.  Leopard sharks have not rounded but sculpted bodies, moulded for grace, in my opinion among the most beautiful gentle creatures in the ocean, and when not bothered, among the most imperturbable.

We didn’t see a leopard shark on the second dive. On both of them, some divers saw turtles, there were big sting rays, honeycomb morays and all kinds of other eels, lion fish … Dusty swam into a cave with huge bat fish, creating an interesting tableau.  There were endearingly ugly cuttlefish, wary of intruders, going iridescent and rippling off if we got too close. I shined a light into one hole and found a large purple crab staring back at me. Vis was great, water temperatures were warm above the thermocline at 15 meters, 26 down there.  Not a bad way to turn around a visa if you are in that position in the UAE.

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