Tag Archives: diving

Little Corn Island

I may have been slightly disappointed by the volcano boarding on Cerro Negro, but as it turned out there’s a far better (and cheaper) way to get a huge adrenaline kick in Nicaragua – by visiting Little Corn Island, a tiny little island just off Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast.

The flight over from Managua takes just over an hour, but drops you on neighbouring Big Corn Island, meaning that to complete our journey we’d need to take a boat. Which is when the fun started – for it turns out that November is one of the windiest months of the year in the Corn Islands. The journey began pretty smoothly as we headed out of the harbour, but as soon as we hit the open water it became clear that we were going to be in for a hell of a bumpy ride. The waves were pretty huge and of course we were riding into them head on. The result was the most fun boat trip I’ve been on – it’s a pretty small boat, and the bow kept being lifted right up out of the water by the waves before smacking hard back into them, showering the inside of the boat with water every time. It was like being in the log flume at a theme park – but more dramatic and a hell of a lot more fun. All the locals had cleverly nabbed the few relatively dry spots in the middle, meaning that by the time we arrived in Little Corn half an hour later all the tourists were soaked to the skin. Definitely one of the surprise highlights of the trip (although I am very glad indeed our backpacks were safely locked away from the water inside the boat.

It turns out we were very lucky indeed to even get there though – apparently the previous few days the weather had been so bad the boat was unable to make the run, meaning we’d have been stuck on Big Corn, which wasn’t quite as appealing. The bad weather had a few further impacts on our visit – unfortunately the most interesting dive sites are on the windward side of the island, and the waves were so big we had to stick to the leeward side, which has less interesting dive sites. When I went out it was OK – a pretty standard coral and fish type site, but it felt more disappointing as I knew on the other side of the island there are some amazing shark-filled caves and underwater canyons you can swim through, as well as another side where you can see Hammerhead sharks, which would’ve been cool. Still, it was nice to be diving again, my first time since Bohol in the Philippines back in February last year.

At least my experience was nice and relaxing – whereas while I was out diving, Adrian went out fishing with Tyler & Cassidy, the American couple we’d met while hiking on Volcan Telica – and in his infinite wisdom the local fisherman took them out on the windy side of the island, with the result that most of the boat got pretty seasick. I’m quite glad I stuck to being under the water rather than on top of it.

Luckily the bad weather mostly just meant wind, waves and the odd cloud – and not the rain that we’d feared. So we had plenty of time to chill out – and Little Corn was the perfect place to do it.

Little Corn Island

The island is pretty tiny – it’s just over one square mile in size, and only has around 1,000 inhabitants, meaning it’s the perfect place to relax. Other than diving or fishing, there’s little to do but lounge around on the beautiful, empty beaches, which is what we did. We stayed in the lovely Casa Iguana – a collection of little wooden cabins right on the edge of the beach on the eastern side of the island. It was fantastic being able to get up in the morning and wander out onto the balcony with a view over the Caribbean. The other thing I loved about the place was the collection of dogs that lived there. The whole island is more or less their playground, and one dog in particular decided to adopt us – he slept outside our cabin, and then when we got up he’d follow us round the island, often sitting under the table when we stopped for a drink somewhere (and then barking if he wasn’t getting enough attention – he was quite a needy dog), before leading us home again in the dark.

Corn Island Dog

The island is definitely not the place to go if you’re inpatient – life moves at a glacially slow pace there, meaning you normally have to wait a loooong time for food to arrive in restaurants, but it’s all worth it if you’re trying the local speciality. Other than tourism, the main industry on the island is lobster fishing – and that means Lobster is ridiculously cheap. On our last night we ate at Miss Bridget’s, a tiny (and easily missed – it looks more like a house from the outside) restaurant that we’d been told was the best on the island, and for $8 I had an amazingly fresh Lobster (we saw the chef’s husband bringing in the lobster he’d just caught on our way into the restaurant) grilled with a fantastic garlic sauce. In retrospect we should have just eaten there every night, it was so good (and so cheap) I could have eaten it again and again.

There was one exception to the normally laid back pace of life: because Saturday night on the island is party night. After watching yet another incredible sunset from our table in Cafe Tranquilo, the social hub of the island, the energy picked up with a pub quiz (which we won – and were rewarded with a free bottle of Flor de Caña, the absolutely delicious Nicaraguan rum) and then headed into the interior of the island to the one nightclub on the island. I can’t remember the name of it, but it was packed with locals and tourists dancing away to reggae (the former obviously doing it much better than the latter, a point I was painfully reminded of when two of the local girls tried to dance with Adrian & me. It was rather embarrassing. But luckily not all tourists turned out to be that bad – Cassidy’s dance moves were more than enough to put the locals in their place). After all that dancing we headed outside, where we were surprised to all be given a free plate of noodles. Maybe they’re worried that after all that dancing you’ll have worked up quite an appetite. Whatever the reason it’s not something I’ve ever seen before (and I think it was more appreciated by the dog, who helped us finish off all the leftovers).

Little Corn Island Caribbean sunset

We were only there for three days but I really fell in love with the place, and I’d love to go back some time, not least to experience the diving I missed out on.

The amazing acrobatic kids of Malapascua

After paying virtually no attention to wildlife in the previous 35 years, I’ve been amazed at how much my attitude has changed since I crossed the Pacific. I blame the Koalas. Ever since then I’ve been going more and more out of my way to find unusual things both on land and underwater.

Main street on Malapascua beach, Visayas, Philippines

Malapascua High Street

Seeing the Tarsiers had fulfilled my terrestrial cravings for the moment, but I was soon hungering after a fix of big underwater action – so I headed north, to Malapascua, one of the few places in the world where you can relatively reliably dive with Thresher Sharks. I say reliably, but in fact I’d met a couple of people who’d tried on several occasions and failed. Despite hearing this slightly dispiriting news, I was determined to give it a go – this could be a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Malapascua Beach, Visayas, Philippines

Another lovely beach

When you’ve been traveling for a while, it really feels like everything worth seeing inevitable involves an early morning start. The sharks were no exception – best time to see them is early morning, so I was up at half five to get on the boat at six, for what would turn out to be the most boring dive I’d ever done. There’s one place the sharks hang out, so we descended, sat on the bottom, and waited. And waited. There’s pretty much nothing else to see, and the visibility’s not great. And so we waited for about 40 minutes, and then gave up and came back up. But I wasn’t disheartened. I’d been prewarned that my chances weren’t high, so I remained cautiously hopeful (if not entirely optimistic) for the next day.

Yet again we had a pretty early start, and the dive started very similarly to the previous one. But half way through our luck changed, and a big shark swam right past us – our guide reckoned it was up to 4.5m long (with half of that being the huge, characteristic tail), and we got a good look at it as it slowly went by. That was the only one we saw that day, but that wasn’t it for the show, for a few big devil rays soon turned up and flew around for a while. Not quite as unusual as a thresher, I know, but seeing the devil rays confirmed my view that rays are the most beautiful, graceful creatures in the sea.

Thresher Shark, Malapascua Island, Visayas, Philippines

It's all about the humungous tail

With mission accomplished, I felt like I’d earnt a beach day. And I honestly could not have wanted a better place for that than Malapascua. The island is pretty tiny, and sits off the north coast of Cebu, right in the heart of the Visayas. It’s probably my favourite island so far – in part because it’s the friendliest place in what is already the friendliest country I’ve ever been to. Everyone stops and says hello, everyone wants to help you out, and even the people selling stuff are low-pressure, friendly and chatty, preferring to win you over with charm and humour rather than trying to bludgeon you in to submission.

Climbing a coconut palm, Malapascua, Philippines

It had to be done

So my day on the beach turned out to be great fun, as we chatted to the local beach masseurs, made friends with the local beach dogs, watched the local men pruning the palm trees (can’t have falling coconuts ruining a tourist’s holiday, can you?) but best of all befriending the local kids. The beach kids on Malapascua were absolutely adorable, and they fussed around, wanting to listen to ipods, clamber over you in the sea while you try and cool off, and chase you round the beach (OK, so the day didn’t turn out quite as relaxing as I’d hoped, but was probably all the more fun because of it)

They were saving the best til last though – just before sunrise they put on an amazing acrobatic show for us, backflipping and somersaulting and cartwheeling down the beach, throwing each other up in the air, fearlessly reaching heights I’d be terrified by. It was pretty amazing stuff and reminded me you don’t need to spend forty minutes under water in scuba gear to see cool stuff. After all that hard work, they didn’t need to work hard at all to sell us stuff afterwards – we bought them all sodas, and then parted with more cash for the shells they were selling. Despite now having a bag full of shells I’m not sure what to do with now, it was a small price to pay for such a cool show.

Acrobatic kids, Malapascua, Philippines

Getting ready for liftoff


Acrobatic kids, Malapascua, Philippines

Airborne


Acrobat at sunset, Malapascua, Philippines

Soaring over the sun


Malapascua kids, Philippines

The stars of the show

You can see all of my photos of Malapascua here.

Next up: The final stop on my wildlife-spotting tour of the Philippines – chasing after Whale Sharks in Donsol.

The adorable little Tarsier

You may have noticed that this blog has become increasingly monkey-obsessed of late, what with posts on the cheeky macaques of Bali, the amazing orang-utans of Sumatra, and the naughty Small Monkey in Palawan. If you’re not a fan, you’re going to have bear with me a little while longer, as travelling from Palawan to Bohol gave me the chance to see a rather unusual relative – the world’s smallest primate, the Philippine Tarsier.

View of Alona Beach, Panglao Island, Bohol, Philippines

Room with a view

Getting to Bohol is pretty easy – a short flight to Cebu City, two hours on a fast ferry and half an hour on a motorised tricycle and I was swiftly at home in a beautiful little room right on the beach, above the Genesis dive shop. Wreck diving in Coron had been fun, but I was looking forward to getting back to a more traditional coral and fish environment, and the reefs of nearby Balicasag island didn’t disappoint.

My second dive in particular was stunning – we came across a huge school of jackfish, swimming in very tight formation. As I swam in towards the school it parted around me and started swimming in a tight funnel with me in the middle. It was absolutely beautiful, and for a moment it felt like I was in a scene from the Blue Planet. The different experiences I have almost every time I go diving are incredible – deciding to learn as part of my trip is one of the best decisions I made.

School of Jackfish seen diving near Balicasag, Panglao Island, Bohol, Philippines

Getting close to a school of Jackfish

With the diving out of the way (sadly, on a budget, I have to restrict my diving only to places that are supposed to be fantastic, and no more than two dives per location), I was free to explore the island a bit more. So with a few friends from the dive shop, we hired a driver and set off round the island.

Tarsier at the Tarsier Research Centre, Bohol, Philippines

If it was legal I would have stuffed my backpack full of the little darlings and taken them home

It all started pretty well, as our first stop was the Tarsier Research Centre, the easiest place to see (protected) Tarsiers in the semi-wild. Round the back of the centre is a fenced-off part of the forest. They are pretty damn tiny, but luckily the centre provides a guide who knows where the little critters like to hang out, and within a couple of minutes we came across the first one – and they really are tiny – about the size of a fist – and absolutely adorable. They sit there, gripping tightly onto tree twigs with their cute little fingers (proper big branches would be way too big for them) and staring at you with their enormous eyes – proportionate to their body size they are apparently about 150 times bigger than human ones, and take up most of the Tarsier’s head. They don’t do much, admittedly (being largely nocturnal) but hey, when you are quite that lovable then you can get away with it.

Things started to go a little bit downhill after that. We stopped off at a little restaurant / backpackers place nearby called Nuts Huts, planning to a little walk through the jungle down to some falls, but unfortunately the heavens opened and we were stuck inside for a while. The rain eased off for a short while, allowing us to run back to the car and on to the next spot, the famous chocolate hills. Someone at the national tourist board must have decided that the hills are the country’s most beautiful asset, as I’d seen them countless times on posters and postcards since being in the country. And they sure do look good in the pictures. Unfortunately I am unable to confirm how good they look in real life – as the whole area was covered in thick cloud, so instead of seeing a landscape of dozens of odd little green hills, tightly packed together, all we could see was the two directly in front of us. While we got soaked.

Chocolate Hills, Bohol, Philippines

Rather soggy chocolate hills

After sheltering some more in the cafe, we were soon on our way to the last attraction of the day – the oldest church in the Philippines. Unfortunately some faffing about on our part in the morning, along with the intervention of the weather, meant that we’d overrun our schedule quite a bit, and got there only to find it was closed. And getting dark. So we gave up and headed back to the beach.

The Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Baclayon, the oldest church in the Philippines, on Bohol island

The Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Baclayon - oldest in the country

It could have been quite a disappointing day – but luckily my newfound monkey-love meant that seeing a few Tarsiers made it all worthwhile. All I have to worry about now is how to feed my addiction when I get back home.

Just before sunrise, Alona Beach, Panglao Island, Bohol, Philippines

For a change, rather than a nice sunset photo, here's lovely Alona Beach just before sunrise

You can see all of my photos from Bohol here.

Next stop: Malapascua, and attempting to dive with Thresher Sharks.

£14 to fly to Paradise

I was going to fly straight to El Nido in Palawan, but 6,000 pesos was a little steep – and then someone pointed out that it was only 995 pesos (about 15 quid) to fly to the island of Busuanga, just to the north of Palawan, and that made the decision for me.

I hadn’t planned to stop in Busuanga, but with flights so cheap it made sense, especially as it gave me the chance to try out some of the finest wreck diving in the world. For on one night in 1944, the US Air Force sank a huge fleet of Japanese ships that were sheltering in and around Coron Bay. Sixty years later, many of them are in relatively shallow, diveable water, and they’re the main attraction for those visiting the island.

Coron Town

Coron Town

Some other people I’d met told me that Coron Town was a bit of a dump – but I loved it. It’s certainly not going to win any architectural awards, but I loved its sleepy, ramshackle nature, and in particular the line of wooden shacks on stilts that jut out from the land into the bay. Quite a few of these operate as cheap hotels, and so I found myself sleeping in a hut right over the beautiful bay – for a mere 4 quid a night. Which is a bit of a bargain when you think how much that sort of thing would cost in somewhere like Tahiti (although admittedly with probably a tad more luxury).

The path to my hut

The path to my hut

The morning after arriving I was up early to head out on a boat to dive two of the wrecks, the East Tangat wreck and the Olympia Maru, both of which were Japanese support ships, in around thirty metres of water. I’d already tried out wreck diving at the USS Liberty in Tulamben, Bali, but the reason I was so excited about these dives was the chance to actually penetrate the interior of the ships themselves.

On going in I was suddenly worried I wouldn’t get to see anything after all – I had a slight cold, and for the first time ever I had difficulty equalising the pressure in my ears – which would rule out going any deeper. For a few minutes I had to hover at around three metres while I tried and tried again, and then finally, luckily, I managed it. Panic over and I soon joined the others on the bottom as we headed towards the wrecks.

The outside of the wrecks were OK – there were a fair few fishes around, and lots of sponges and fans – but it was going inside that was the real fun. It was certainly the trickiest diving I’d ever done, as some of the entrances were pretty narrow, and it’s crucial to maintain good buoyancy control to ensure you don’t end up catching yourself on the edges. This is doubly hard because it’s quite difficult to perceive how much higher the tanks on your back extend – as well as to keep your legs level to stop them from catching at the back. I did OK, although a couple of times I got a little stuck, and I ended up scratching my legs a little on one of the narrower entrances. Luckily there were no deadly sharks in the area as I was slightly worried at the effect even a small amount of blood could have on any in the neighbourhood!

Difficulty aside, it was great fun, a bit like being in an underwater assault course, and it was cool getting to see things like the propeller shafts and the huge old engines. I can’t see myself ever becoming an obsessive wreck diver – I prefer the colours of the reefs and the large numbers of fish, as well as the freedom of movement – but I’m glad I did it and would recommend it to any divers traveling in the Philippines (especially as I understand the only place with a bigger collection of diveable wrecks is Truk in Micronesia, which is much harder to get to.
I would have loved to have spent a little more time in Busuanga, particularly to give the island hopping a go (which is supposed to be pretty spectacular), but sadly the boat schedule to El Nido meant we needed to leave the next day, or risk being stranded for quite a while longer.

Are you bored of my sunset pictures yet?

The most beautiful creature in the ocean

As if having Komodo dragons wasn’t enough of an attraction, the Komodo-Rinca National Park also turns out to be one of the best diving spots in the world. All those powerful currents in the relatively narrow Komodo Strait mix warmer and colder water from the Flores Sea to the north and the Sunda Sea & Indian Ocean to the south, and that produces a huge diversity in marine life.

With my advanced diving certificate newly under my belt, I was dead keen to brave the currents and see how much I’d improved, so along with Victor and two of the others from the Komodo cruise, we popped into one of the dive shops in Labuanbajo (the main western port in Flores, and jumping off point for all boats into the National Park) and asked about diving the next day.

“Do you want to see big stuff or small stuff?” was the first thing he asked, and we all knew exactly what we wanted to see: big stuff, and in particular Manta Rays, which we’d heard were frequently seen around Komodo. So he promised to try his best to find us some big stuff, so the next morning we woke up for the last time on our boat, started saying our goodbyes to all our new friends, and prepared to head off to meet up with our dive boat.

Except there was one small problem we hadn’t factored in: the tide had gone out and the boat was too low down for us to reach the dock. After a few minutes trying to come up with an alternative, it soon became clear there was only one – we had to hop into the boat’s tiny canoe and be paddled out to the shore by one of the boat’s crew. Now these things aren’t the most stable at the best of times, but add in two huge backpacks and we were terrified we’d capsize, with all our luggage before we even reached land. Turned out that was the least of our worries – as the only place we could land was on a mudflat. So we had to get out of the canoe, put our backpacks on, and struggle across thick, calf-deep, slimy mud without falling. That was followed up by a scramble up the very sharp rocks that made up the edge of the harbour.

With that little mission out-of-the-way, we were soon on the dive boat and heading out into the Komodo Strait. The dive master had decided to save the Mantas til last, but he promised us we wouldn’t be disappointed by the sights on offer at the first dive site, and he wasn’t wrong. Within seconds of getting into the water we’d already come face to face with a black-tipped reef shark, and that set the scene for the rest of the dive – we saw loads of them prowling around along the coral wall. I’d only managed to see one previously in Honduras, and none on the Gili Islands, so seeing that many at once was incredible. If that wasn’t enough, we saw three big hawksbill turtles too. I’d seen turtles before, but only ever on the edge of the reef; this was the first time I’d seen them swimming freely in open water, and I was amazed to see how graceful they are compared to their awkwardness on land.

Amazing sights apart, the dive was a bit of a shock to the system for all of us – none of us were all that experienced and the currents were way stronger than anything we’d experienced before, which made the diving harder work, plus with their unpredictable nature we all found it much harder to control our buoyancy and keep a constant level. We could see properly why when we got back to the surface to wait for the other group – the dive site was around a little islet, and as the currents hit it, they swirled all around it creating ferocious torrents and whirlpools. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Dive number two took us to a site called Manta Point – named for obvious reasons – although he was keen to remind us that nothing could be guaranteed on a dive. After seeing some in the water from the boat while we suited up, we laughed this off – but soon realised he’d been right to damp down our expectations, as the dive was incredibly frustrating.

The dive site itself was easily the dullest I’ve been to, with very little live coral, and not many fish either. Furthermore, the current was even stronger than the previous one, so there wasn’t much to see and even that was hard work. From time to time we’d catch a glimpse of a ray in the distance, but nothing like I’d hoped for. With the time ticking on, and air running gradually lower, I was starting to resign myself to missing out.

Manta Ray - by Jon Hanson @ Flickr

And then, right towards the end, we suddenly came across a group of four not far away. We all swam over to a nearby rock, clung on for dear life (the current would have swept us in the opposite direction otherwise) and sat and watched, just a couple of metres away. It was worth all the wait, for they are truly stunning creatures. The biggest was huge – about 4m across – and they are so incredibly graceful. They were hovering on the spot in the current, gently flapping their wings up and down to keep them steady, while at the same time groups of tiny, colourful fish danced away right underneath them. We just sat and watched until it was time to head up for our safety stop. We only spent maybe ten to fifteen minutes of the dive with them, but it was a moment I’ll never forget. The Komodo Dragons may get all the fame (for obvious reasons), but for me my fondest memory of the national park will be those ten minutes I spent with the Manta Rays, they really are the most beautiful and graceful animals I have ever seen.

Learning to Dive

For some reason diving was never something that appealed to me, even though I have friends back home who do it and love it. I suppose I never really gave it all that much thought. It wasn’t until I tried skiing two years ago (another activity that I’d had zero interest in before) and loved it that I started to think that maybe there were other fun things I’d been missing out on that I should try, and that a year of travelling would be the perfect opportunity to give it a go.

The second biggest coral reef system in the world (after the Great Barrier Reef) runs down the Caribbean coasts of Mexico, Belize, and Honduras. Mexico & Belize are probably the most famous places to see it, but the reef is just as good in Honduras, and even better (from a relatively budget traveller point of view) is that it’s one of the cheapest places in the world to learn, especially as all the dive shops include two free fun dives after the course, and free accommodation, in the package.

The diving on Honduras is based around the Bay Islands, just off the north coast, and Utila is the backpackers’ mecca, famous for cheap diving and good partying – so that’s where I headed.

Pointing the way to Altons

Pointing the way to Alton's

One of the great things about travelling like this is you really don’t need a guidebook – just talking to other travellers heading in the opposite direction will normally give you all the advice you need, and so on on arrival I ignored the hoards of people trying to persuade me to come to their dive shop, and headed straight for the people from Alton’s, which had been recommended to me as one of the best places to learn, as well as having a very social atmosphere and rooms right on the waterfront, which sounded like the perfect combination.

I had planned to do the PADI open water course, purely because that’s the most famous organisation worldwide, and figured that I’d probably need that to dive elsewhere. But on the drive from the ferry terminal down to Alton’s, an instructor called Lauren talked me into doing the NAUI open water course, which she’d be teaching, instead.

I’d never heard of NAUI before but it’s another organisation like PADI that offers dive training. Apparently the reason they are much less famous is that the organisation is a not for profit that plows all the money back in to training and environmental programmes, rather on marketing like PADI. But unlike my Spanish lessons I didn’t choose to go with NAUI for right-on reasons – no, I went with NAUI because the time in the classroom is less and the time in water more. With two weeks of intensive classroom time fresh in the memory from Xela, it was an easy sell for me.

It turned out to be a great decision. With PADI you spend the first day watching videos in a classroom. We started out straight away in the shallow water at the end of the dock, first with some simple swimming and floating exercises, and then moving on to using all the diving equipment apart from the regulator (which you breathe through) and oxygen tanks – which are the mask and snorkel, weights (to help you get down to the bottom more easily) and the BC (bouyancy compensator – a jacket which you can fill with air to adjust your bouyancy levels).

After explaining how they all worked, we then went out on the boat to get our first experience of the reef skin diving (i.e. snorkelling but with weights & the BC). The great thing about this way of learning is that you get familiar with everything else first without having to worry about the regulator and tanks, meaning the next day on our first dive, there would be less new stuff to take in. It was also nice to know that while we were already out getting to see the spectacular reef while the PADI students were still stuck back in the classroom.

The nest morning we spent time with Lauren, our instructor, going through all the science bits face to face (explaining how bouyancy works, and the effects of pressure on air and the body), which I much preferred to having to watch a video, and then in the afternoon we got our first experience of diving, again in the shallow water off the dock. This was our first opportunity to try out the skills I was most worried about – taking the regulator out underwater, and most scary, taking the mask off and putting it back on again, and then clearing the mask of water.

I was amazed to find that breathing underwater was far easier and felt far more natural than I’d worried, and I felt comfortable straight away. Taking the regulator out and putting it back in again was similarly easy. Even taking the mask off was much easier than I’d feared – I got a bit panicy at first and managed to inhale a bit of water through my nose, which had me frantically coughing through my regulator, but I soon managed to get a hold of myself and remember everything Lauren had taught me, so I relaxed, slowed my breathing down and soon I was fine (although it did take me several attempts to clear the mask). I must give a lot of credit to Lauren – she is an amazing instructor, explaining everything slowly and clearly, checking at every step of the way that we were OK, and making sure she congratulated us with an underwater fist bump after completing every step. I felt in very safe hands, which makes a huge difference at helping you relax in such an unnatural situation.

With all the skills mastered, the next step would be our first proper dive the following afternoon. I felt pretty confident about it, which is probably why I made the mistake of going out that night. Wednesday night is the biggest party night of the week in Utila, and with such a friendly crowd, before I knew it I’d made it up the Bar in the Bush, the one place that opens really late, playing drinking games with a group of mad French Canadians. Whoops. Staggering home at 3.30am it suddenly hit me that getting way more drunk than I had done on any night since I left England the night before my first dive was not the best idea in the world.

Honduran breakfast

Honduran breakfast

When I woke up the next morning I felt like death. Hangovers are even worse when you haven’t had one for a while, so I spent the morning guzzling gallons of water and coffee, and topping up my sugar levels via several cinnamon buns (which are a bit of an island speciality) and drinking Tropical (a Honduran speciality, a ridiculously sweet, bright yellow banana flavoured fizzy drink). It was touch and go, but by the time the boat left at lunchtime, I was just about feeling human. Thank god I was in the only group in the school that was diving in the afternoon that day, as I think I’d probably have drowned if I’d gone out in the morning.

In the end it all went fantastically – practising the mask removal skills underwater was much easier this time, and then after that we got to swim around marvelling at the reef. It’s absolutely beautiful, and so peaceful down there. Diving itself is actually a very unenergetic activity, once you have your bouyancy levels right you just float around, with minimal effort from the legs, just taking in all the colours and the sights underwater. The different types of coral are stunning, and it’s such an amazing experience to have big schools of fish swimming right round you. Aquariums will never be the same. As well as all the fish and coral, we saw rays, lobsters (looking much happier than they do in tanks in restaurants, funnily enough), crabs, starfish, seahorses and some pretty cool eels. Only major disappointment for me was that we’d just missed the whale shark season, as they are supposed to be pretty spectacular.

Happy diver, cheesy grin

Happy diver, cheesy grin

Four dives and an exam later and we’d passed the course, meaning we
were able to spend our fun dives spending more time seeing the reef, and taking underwater pictures (which turned out to be the toughest of the skills I’d tried – managing to stay totally still to get the best picture takes a bit of practice, especially as your natural tendency is to hold your breath to stop bubbles getting in the way, and holding your breath makes you more bouyant, so before you know it you’re half way to the surface). All in all it was better than I could have hoped, and I definitely plan to do my advanced course when I get to Asia (especially if I can find a NAUI shop there, as you get to dive down to 40m on the NAUI advanced course as opposed to 30m with PADI).

Travel blogging inspiration

A large part of the planning process for my trip has been reading other travel blogs. They’ve been a great way to inspire me, as well as help me pass the time (and daydream) over the 15 month long planning process. Here are some great recent posts that have helped me along the way…

Latin American itineraries

Almost Fearless will be spending six months traveling through Latin America, starting, like me, in Mexico. Really looking forward to following how she goes, as I’ll be following a similar path in March.

One Giant Step will be spending three months in South America from June 2009 – meaning they’ll hit Peru just before I get there.

Colombia

Colombia was the last country to get added to my plan – and after reading these two reports on Bogota, it’s now one of the bits I’m most excited about:

Lollopoleeza on Bogota

On Our Own Path reckon Bogota is completely different to what you think

Hiking

Aside from Colombia, doing some serious hiking in the Andes is another thing I can’t wait for. Here’s where some of my inspiration comes from:

Best Hike blog on the Ausangate circuit in Peru

Sam and Will have just done the Torres del Paine circuit in Chile. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to fit it in, but it sounds so great I might have to try and find a way.

Diving

I’m hoping to learn to dive in Honduras, which will enable me to dive in Indonesia & the Philippines. Globestompers have a great report on Sipadan in Indonesia.

Photography

I’ve mentioned him before ages ago, but Gallo Moa’s photography continues to amaze me. He’s really come into his own with his portraits of people in India, but the whole blog is worth a read, as he’s traveled through some more unusual destinations, including Armenia, Iran, and Georgia (unfortunately it all kicked off while he was there), taking great photos everywhere along the way. He’s also obsessed with photographing bicycles, which is pretty cool.

London

Last but by no means least my friend Adrian has been showing that you really don’t need to go away to be a traveller, especially when you live in London – firstly through the brilliant shop name geography, where he explores the visible influence of London’s immigrant communities by way of shop names, and enjoying football with Norwegian fans, the latest in a series of posts where he enjoys football matches with expat communities in the city.

Oh – and I’ve updated my blogroll too, so go check out any you haven’t yet, there’s so much good writing and photography there to be discovered —————>