Sunday, December 29, 2013

Diving Seychelles Mahe and La Digue, Dec 2013

Dec 26-27 on Maha; 28-30 on La Digue, 2013

My logged dives #1264-1269

The Seychelles has long been on my bucket list, since it was one of my backtracker travel options in 1974. From Mombassa I could have hitch-hiked to South Africa or headed east 3rd class or worse on a boat to Bombay that called in to the Indian Ocean isles.  I ended up heading west as far as Ghana, but reflecting on this, I'm sitting on the Lanai at Belle Amie guest house in La Digue, a place I highly recommend if you are diving Seychelles (clean and comfortable, nice family running it, can arrange your meals but near a delicious take-away, 10 min walk into town, the cheapest place I managed to find in Seychelles at 40 euros a night, and right across from the dive center). I arrived here yesterday on the boat that costs nearly $100 from Mahe, at dusk, in the rain. I was expecting to find few cars but there were taxis at the jetty and I got one to Belle Amie. They lent me an umbrella at the guest house so I could go out and get something to eat. Traffic in the cobbled streets outside splashed through the puddles, most of it bicycles with riders carrying umbrellas, a happy improvement over Mahe, where you really have to watch out for incessant traffic when walking or running on the poorly lit country roads.

At my guest house, they recommended the Gala take-away with meals for $5 but, when I got there I found there were ten meals ahead of me (someone with a big order) it came in styrofoam and was not what I felt like having at the moment. I hadn't eaten all day because I never bothered to stock my self-catered apt on Mahe, I'd been diving all morning my last day on Mahe, run into town to get a boat ticket, returned to Beau Vallon and retrieved my gear from the dive shop, got a taxi to take me home to Belle Ombre and wait while I packed, got taken to the harbor, and ended up in La Digue with nothing in my stomach all day apart from coffee on the dive boat. So when the rain slackened a bit I walked toward town and ended up in a popular creole restaurant, great octopus salad, and decent fish curry, washed down with overpriced SeyBrew. Later I worked out that beer in supermarkets is half what you pay in restaurants, so a pleasant sundown routine was to get a couple of bottles, take them to a rock on a beach with a sunset view, open them the way the locals do, and, well, sundown, go figgah. And tasty creole-curry takeaway meals were half price as those in restaurants, as good or better, and just as filling, so rather than sit alone and wait for service and pretentious bills at the end, I preferred the option favored by many local people.

Beer at the restaurant was 50 rupees for small 33 cl bottles, a little less than $5. Here on the lanai I am drinking from the corner shop for half that. I'd been planning all day to go to the big hotel across the road and pay what ever it cost me for beer in order to use free wifi, but when I got there I found wifi no working, because of de wind! No telling what beer with wifi costs, but this morning I had a coffee there (next to the dive shop) and shelled out $6 for that. Somewhat outrageous. Where I'm staying after tomorrow, beer is $5 and wifi is $5 for an hour. If beer at the fancy hotel is less than $10 then it's the best bargain because it comes with unlimited wifi, in theory. In practice there is no wifi. This is Seychelles, mon.

La Digue, Ave Maria

The diving on La Digue was pretty good compared to Mahe. Here they have animals. The dive guide Michel led us to a place where there was an octopus only he could see. He started scratching in the sand in front of its lair and some tentacles emerged. Cool, and we saw another octopus later in the dive. But before that a shark meandered across our path, white tip. We saw a number of them. I followed one around with my GoPro for almost a minute. At one point I saw a turtle and went for it. The turtle was in no way fazed by divers poking GoPros at its beak. He was more interested in things that resembled food that came within reach. Divers seemed to be neither here nor there. I got good videos of this one.

I wrote this in an email to my wife: from Mahe

I think Seychelles is a bit over-rated from what I've seen here. It looks like a lot of places we've been and lived (like Hawaii). I did two dives today on Mahe. The first one was to a wreck. They forgot the GPS, but took us in the water anyway, couldn't find the wreck, put us back on the boat, went back to harbor, got the GPS, and then we did 12 min on the wreck before 2nd dive deco started to kick in, two dives to 35 meters just an hour or two apart. It was like a double size Inchcape (a deep wreck in UAE), nothing phenomenal. The afternoon dive on a coral reef was silty, nothing there to write home about.

One thing though, the people here are phenomenally friendly. The place I stay, La Cachette in Belle Ombre, the owners Paul and Agnela are being really good to me, gave me too much scotch last night (Christmas) and cooking birthday dinner for me tonight. The way I ended up here was also through making a booking on, for a place that was in fact full, but once you get in the network, kekua kicks in and they figure something out for you.

Diving Mahe

The dive the next day off Mahe was better, but not up to expectations, unless one's expectations had taken the weather into consideration. We were told of a destination the day before that sounded super! But when we got in the boat we were told we were going to a wreck. Waves were roller coaster right outside the harbor and the wreck turned out to be one not far from the one we had visited the day before. This one was a little shallower and had a mooring line on it, so they could find it without GPS. It was also near the reef so when the Canadian couple I was buddied with went low on air we headed there and ended up with a 40 min dive, me just south of 100 bar. It was pretty silty. We headed into port to change tanks in calmer waters and have our coffee and then headed out to our second dive called Grand Bazaar, just south of the place where were told we were going originally that day. Here the vis was better, and we had the fortune to see an eagle ray which I got some shots of. First time it went into flight and I followed fast and I think I was being blamed for chasing it, though these things always power on when they become aware of divers. But we saw it again, or at least I did, and this time I was very quiet and got some pictures of it as is rooted under a rock. I tapped my tank twice and when it finally decided to move, I don't think many others saw it, though the dive guide went into spear position when it finally made a run for blue ocean.

Another day dawns in La Digue, the rains from yesterday are supplanted by grey cloud cover, eventually by bright sun. Sleep was interrupted by a car stopping outside with loud bass boom box at 3 a.m but it moved on. I was getting up at 6 to try and be at the park entry at 7:00 where the big turtles were on La Digue, on L'Union Estate, which charged an entry of 100 rupees, or 10 euros (worth 150 rupees; or $15, i.e. three dollars more than 100 rupees). My preferred mode of transport at that hour was jogging. I had made a jog to the park entrance the day before, late afternoon, but was told I would be best off to come next day, because the entry was for a day pass and the turtles were more active in the morning. So I turned up right when they told me the day before they opened at 7:00 but found the gate closed but for a small pedestrian entry, and was told by the gate-man that the park didn't really open till 7:30. But he didn't prevent my entry, he told me I could go “there” and I could pay “there”. “There” however, was not straightforward. I jogged into the park and headed for the beaches but there was no one about and no turtles around. I started to take in the interesting rock formations in the park as I jogged and eventually up a sand track found a signpost for Anse Source d'Argent so I took that path, the only one signposted. Down a sandy footpath lined with vendor booths (no vendors at this hour) I finally came out on a postcard sized beach that I recognized from actual postcards as being a popular and ridiculously crowded one during the day. I had my GoPro so I could film the turtles I had come to see and I switched it on and took a panorama of this archetypal Seychelles beach, with no one on it.

Back up the footpath I found a vendor just setting up who told me the turtles were back the way I had come so I tried all the beaches I could find, but still no turtles. Eventually I arrived back at the gate where the man who had known little English had been replaced by a lady who knew more but still could hardly explain where 'there' was. I asked if she had a map. She said I was the first person ever to come here and not see the turtles. As we argued over my stupidity and their lack of signage, I came to realize that the turtles were in a pen near the big rock in the middle of the park. So they were zoo turtles, not at all on the beach, and I decided I didn't need to pay significant money to see them and ran back to get supermarket food before reporting for diving at 8:30.

La Digue, Marianne

That was the first thing to go wrong that morning. The second thing was on our first dive when we were put in a foursome where the guy with the camera and his girlfriend totally ignored the rest of us and refused to keep up or make any attempt to contact Lana, the divemaster, so a lot of our dive was spent twiddling our thumbs waiting for them, and Lana at times having to go back and see where they were. The next thing was, when sharks started to appear, and I thought I would like to video them, it occurred to me to wonder if I had shut the GoPro off after my beach shot. Of course I hadn't so I had no battery to speak of. This wasn't so bad on the first dive. I saw two sharks, one that came in front of me but turned tail quickly, and another in amongst the jacks in the grey blue yonder. Neither was easily video'd so I didn't feel the loss. At some point our dive guide Lana pointed up and my buddy saw the flight of eagle rays but I didn't, nada, niete, and again no lost video. We saw a giant tuna pass overhead, but again, not really ripe for a closeup.

It was on the second dive that I really missed the GoPro. This dive was super. Both dives were in the Marianne part of the park. The first thing we saw was a turtle, but I had turtle video from the day before, so ma'alesh. Then we came across a meter long hulking barracuda, ok, he was photogenic, but I didn't feel that concerned. Next we saw in a school of unicorn fish a humphead parrotfish, still a little murky. Then in the sand there appeared a guitar shark, or in fact, I think it was one of those odd creatures Bobbi and I saw in Mozambique in 2009. This time I settled alongside and pulled out my camera and got a few blinks out of it before it switched off, just as the animal was leaving. You'd think this was enough for one dive but then a shark appeared and I swam up to it just in time to catch it grazing the top of a reef. Andrea, the Azzurra dive center owner or manager, was leading a superb dive but he was about to show us more. He beckoned us upward and around a rock where we found a couple of sharks swimming to and fro. Then there were was a napoleon wrasse there as well. Then a turtle swam into view. Then sharks started swimming about as humphead parrotfish came into the fish soup. Again I managed to get a few beeps out of my GoPro but nothing that would capture that moment. Slap forehead (and enjoy)!

La Digue, Three Sisters

Next day we dived at Three Sisters in poor vis, and a poor way to end the holiday, as the following day would be spent on a boat to Mahe and a New Years Eve street party there, flying next day back home to UAE (flying on Christmas and New Year's days made the flights surprisingly affordable).  Here's the video from the last day:

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

FUN diving Daymaniyats with Extra Divers from Al Sawadi Beach Resort, Oman

East Jun (north side) and Sira Island (south and north) Bobbi and I with Anna and Steve Elwood

Dec 15, 2013

My logged dives #1262-1263

Seasons holidays are here and Bobbi and I stumbled home from work Thursday in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain (respectively) and slept soundly and late, then spent Friday getting our act together before going camping Friday night with good friends in the dunes near Al Khazna, Steve Elwood on guitar. When we awoke we drove home and then on to Oman Saturday and checked in at the Suwaiq Motel.  Then we drove Sunday morning to Al Sawadi beach on the new coastal road to Muscat from the Millennium Hotel.  At the moment, the road is only open in splotches, and most of the driving is along the coast line on roads replete with speed bumps and mobile phone numbers sprayed on beach huts that serve as shelters for fishing boats.  It's very earthy and reminiscent of old Oman, but the bridges are being built marking the promise of a new super highway.

The weather was sunny and cool.  Water temperatures were perfect for 5 mm wetsuits.  The vis was poor, a little brown in the water, but we could still see plenty of animals. Our first dive was the north side of little Jun to the east of big Jun. This was where we saw the leopard shark last time we were here, in the far east corner. Roshan, same dive guide as we had before, gives excellent briefings.  In this one he told us (among other things) if we saw snapper fish, there we should look for leopard sharks.

This prospect kept Bobbi and I down in the sand at 15 meters peering into the rubble for rays and sharks.  We found several honeycomb morays, including one out in the open who impressed us with his ripple-swimming skills as he looked about for shelter (from us, whom he regarded us as neither dangerous enemies nor food). We started coming on snappers about the time Steve ran low on air, so he and Anna went to more shallow diving while Bobbi and I stayed in the sand.  The snappers were running riot, till at one point, I remember orange from the swirling snappers and their color impinging on the sand, as suddenly the rocks had become sparse.  I had the impression of orange tornado to heighten expectations of the leopard shark that suddenly materialized before us.  Time for GoPro!

The second dive was on Sira Island, starting at the south slightly into the current, but in the aquarium area that is so beautiful in clear seas. Rounding to the north to head east with the current we saw a small ray, a crayfish, a cuttlefish, a turtle, pipefish, some yellow mouthed morays, and a nudibranch right at the end of the dive.  Nice diving.  Only 4 hours from Al Ain, we'll be back.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

FUN diving with Nomad Ocean Adventure Musandam, just Bobbi and I and Nomad's customers and dive team

Dec 6-7, 2013

My logged dives #1258-1261

We were out diving with Nomad Ocean Adventure this weekend.  They were doing a 3-dive trip north of Lima Rock on Friday, so we hopped aboard.  On that day trip we saw turtles, green morays and honeycomb morays, a cowtail ray, an eagle ray, lots of barracuda, great fun.

Here's an eagle ray we saw on Temple Rock on this day

Next day we went to Lima Rock and Ras Sanut (Wonder Wall).  We dropped in near the east corner of Lima Rock.  Current was slack for getting to the corner, but at the corner there was a stiff current that we had to clip into using the ghost fishnets there.  We found schools of barracuda there, hulking in the current.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Fun Diving with Extra Divers: Daymaniyat Islands

Dec 1, 2013

My logged dives #1256-1257

Leopard shark

The Daymaniyat Islands have one of the most consistently good set of dive sites in the region.  We used to see leopard sharks there every weekend we dived there. Sometimes it would be on the last of 4 dives on the weekend, but it was almost guaranteed we'd see at least one, and this prospect has got us coming back for more.  Sea conditions are also often excellent with swimming pool visibility, but sometimes not so good, and our diving this past weekend was at the mediocre end for visibility.  The sites had a cloudy brown tinge to them.

But on our second and last dive there, as we approached the Doc's Wall corner of Walid Junn, we came on an area of wall that was scattered about the sand at 13-14 meters, and the rubble there looked like it might provide just the camouflage that leopard sharks would find appealing.  I felt so positive about this that I headed off the coral and into rock-strewn terrain thinking this might be it, and saw Bobbi doing the same, drawn to this otherwise, nondescript area, for the substrate it might provide rays or leopard sharks.

And there it was, replete with two remoras and a panoply of yellow fishies like butterflies on its nose.  Characteristically docile, it tolerated my swimming alongside but was less forgiving of my moving across its bow, at which point he lifted off and almost swam into Bobbi, who finned to avoid collision. What a great way to end a day of diving in Daymaniyats.

The diving

I got this map of Western Daymaniyats from (hope it's ok to upload it here; if anyone objects, will remove it and point to its direct link:

On this day we dived the Mousetrap our first dive, easterly from Sira Island, and easterly along the back of Walid Junn the second.  Vis was disappointing though the diving was not. The poor vis prevented us from spotting creatures out to sea, but we found sting rays and big honeycomb morays in alcoves along the wall, as well as a pair of Nudibranchs.  Here's a video compilation.

The back story

National Day in UAE is upon us again.  To celebrate we went down to Oman ostensibly to take advantage of the long weekend. In actual fact, it's not much longer for us in Al Ain to reach Extra Divers at Al Sawadi Beach Resort than it is to reach Dibba and then pop across the border from UAE.  Either can be done in a day trip, though report time at Sawadi is 8 a.m. as opposed to 9 a.m. at Nomad Ocean Adventure.  Because we'd need to be on our way 4 hours earlier to reach either destination on time, we headed down to Oman on a leisurely drive the evening before to Suwaiq, where we often stay at the Suwaiq Motel (tel: 26862240).

What we had found most appealing about the Suwaiq motel is its Feliniesque juxtaposition of excess in a part of the world known for high standards of morality, but it is operating now as a shadow of its formal self.  We arrived during a band break in a place that used to have two or three loud night clubs going all at once, and when we asked about the unaccustomed silence the Indian employee showing us our room said that things had fallen off due to community reaction to a business that was causing fathers to sleep away from home and spend scarce money on beer and give the rest to the girls there so the children at home were going hungry. There were still a few dozen customers but only one Arabic singer competently manipulating an electronic synthesizer where it was hard to tell what was him and what was memorex, impressive nonetheless. Due to the new economies of lighter scale, beer prices had increased 50% and rooms were now 20 riyals, about a 20% increase from last time. Neither the bargain nor the show it once was, Suwaiq motel is still a comfortable place to sleep, more economical than the competition, only 3 hours from Al Ain, and only an hour from Al Sawadi.

And to get to Al Sawadi from Sohar, either take a left at the Musannah roundabout, the one past the double boat roundabout at Wudum, and then turn sharp right and go up the slip road 10 km further on (to the Makkah Hypermarket) where they are building new bridges over the highway, perhaps to allow you to exit the main highway to reach Al Sawadi (after having blocked the left turn off the highway to reach there directly) OR just a couple roundabouts past Suwaiq find the signs pointing to the Millenium Hotel where the cupola roundabout is (you'll recognize it) and then use the highway near the coast marked Muscat to the right.  We've come the other way on the new highway marked Sohar from Al Sawadi and come out on the road connecting from the old highway to the new coastal one, but we'll try the one to Muscat next time we're there, and it must connect with Al Sawadi.

The alternative to following these seemingly complicated directions is to proceed down Highway 1 direction Muscat, and if there is no way over the highway to allow you to go north to Al Sawadi (bridges are under construction at this writing) then you must go a further 10 km to Barkah and u-turn there direction Sohar, and re-coup your 10 km so you can exit the highway north to Al Sawadi (but from the north side of the highway this time :-)