Tagged: diving

Alona Beach, Panglao, Philippines

On the ferry to Bohol I sat next to a Filipino man from Cebu who lived on 72nd and West End Ave and worked at Sherry Lehman for eight years in the 1990s. Small world. We shared a tricycle ride to Alona beach on Panglao Island, then went our separate ways.

I scoured the beach for a budget room but was unable to find any on the beach front. I had read online that many of the resorts have budget rooms in the back but I found that not only are these budget rooms usually unavailable but they are also not really budget. I ended up getting a room at Alona Bamboo down a narrow rocky road for 500 pesos ($11.) The room is simple- a small room upstairs in the back with a mattress on the floor, and the bathroom is the public bathroom in the breakfast area. 

The older woman who works behind the desk seemed lovely and answered all my questions about the town. It wasn’t until I stayed a few nights that she showed her true colors and became rather unfriendly. After checking in and talking with her I wandered the beach checking out dive shops. I ended up choosing Valm Dive Shop because they’re the only dive shop that still had space the following day for Balicasag, the reason for diving here. I also lucked out because it’s the cheapest dive shop I could find, 2,300 pesos for two dives including the park fee ($52.)
I then wandered up and around town and down the road parallel to the beach. I was looking for local food because all the restaurants on the beach from are too expensive, approx. $4 for a plate. I ended up finding Dahon Dahon, a local street restaurant that was recommended by the woman at my hotel. It’s a food stand with three small plastic tables with chairs. I particularly liked the turquoise table clothes and colored umbrellas. 

  

I asked the man behind the counter for his speciality and was served the pork steak in black bean sauce, and a banana shake, for $2 total. While I was eating an Swedish woman came by who seemed to be associated with the stand but she also ate as a customer. I began talking to her and it turns out she’s Swedish but has lived in Alona for almost twenty years as a dive instructor. 
Eventually the three of us were talking and the woman and the local invited me to join them for dinner the next night to celebrate Fiesta. Fiesta is a local celebration throughout the town where everyone goes to each other’s houses to eat, non-stop, for a couple of days. Technically it’s a time to celebrate saints, this time was Saint Carlos, but in general more people seem to care about the eating than the religious side.
After my late lunch I walked the beach and had a foot massage. I didn’t realize how exhausted I was but I fell asleep right away when I got home. 

Later on I went back to Dahon Dahon for dinner. There were a few locals already eating there. I grabbed the only remaining table and ordered the chop suey and chicken fried rice ($1.50.) While I was eating a few French boys came and they joined me. They are still in university and are volunteering abroad as part of their major. They were in Bohol just for a few days and we’re eating only white rice and sleeping on the beach to save money. I’m traveling on a tight budget but they bring it to a new level.

The next morning I woke-up, had breakfast at my guesthouse, then walked down the beach to Valm. I got my equipment together and the boat headed out to Balicasag Island at 8:30am. I was the only diver with Valm that day so we joined another company’s boat since and I ended up lucking out twice. First off the other companies boat was huge, and second I had my own dive master for the day, Raffy. 

 The first site we did was Rico’s Wall and I honestly didn’t like it. It was a wall dive but the colors were dull and the sea life and coral were mediocre compared to what I’ve been seeing. In many way it reminded me of a Caribbean dive which is not what I want to see here.

The second dive was at Black Forest, which was better. It was a drift dive  and we split our time between the sand bottom and the wall. Here I saw a massive tornado of jackfish in the blue- Raffy had to pull me back because I was drifting too far off to get closer. I got up close to a turtle, and saw a lot of really cool FAUNA moving with the drift. I love watching fish try to swim against the drift as well. And I especially love this one plant I found which had floral pods that opened and closed non-stop. 

            After diving I stopped at Aquatic for lunch, the cheapest restaurant on the bean. All the local places were closed because of Fiesta. I ordered spaghetti with meat sauce which was risky but it was the cheapest thing on the menu. I got a plate of overcooked spaghetti covered in some type of a ketchup-y sauce with bit of pork meat and sprinkled with Filipino fake cheese. 

 

I took a nap after lunch then at 6pm went back to Dahon Dahon to meet up with my new friends to celebrate Fiesta. We walked down the road, and into a local neighborhood to a family members house.
For Fiesta the grandfather went to the nearby town and bought a dead pig the day before. The whole pig then came home and was chopped up. Every part of the pig is used for cooking including the blood. When I arrived at the house the pig leg was in a large round metal pot over fire in the kitchen out back.
I had a great evening and felt incredibly welcome the whole time. 
For food we were served pork belly, sautéed pork, sautéed pork in ginger, pork blood, and a soy/vinegar beef dish. The beef and sautéed pork were delicious. All night we ate, drank and chatted. Randomly different friends and family arrived to eat too.
The next morning I bought beer and went back to the house to celebrate day 2 of Fiesta, and to watch the Pacquiao Mayweather boxing match. Everyone in the Philippines was riled up about the match, so proud that Pacquiao (one of their own) made it all the way. When Pacquiao lost no one was upset and they’re all still just as proud of him. [Manny Pacquiao should have one that fight, he won 8 out of the 12 matches.]

Watching the match on a local Filipino station was amusing. There was a commercial break every few minutes and then the same commercials played every time and in the same order. Of these commercials about a quarter of them had Paquol as a sponsor. But my favorite commercial was for canned chicken called Sexy Chix.

This day lunch was served buffet style indoors. There was pork belly, sautéed pork, sautéed pork with root vegetables, roasted pork, pork blood, pork spring rolls, pork cordon bleu, coleslaw, rice and sweet rolls. I ate twice here just in the early afternoon. The house was crowded with family and friends to watch the match, and to eat and drink.  

Around 3pm we left and went to another house for Fiesta. This home was a friend of the Swedish woman. Again I felt incredibly welcome. Food here was different and more variety. There was fish and eggplant in spicy coconut milk, chicken curry, pork, vegetable spring rolls, and pork balls. I sat outside with a few locals boys and was given a never ending glass of coconut wine, which was surprisingly not sweet.
Around 5pm I headed home with the desperate need to jump in the ocean. It had been incredibly hot all day and I was constantly drenched in sweat, in normal clothes. So I changed and headed to the beach. I laid in the shallow water and admired all the starfish. Then I had an hour body massage on the beach, watched the sunset, and headed home for the night. I had already had five meals and it wasn’t even 7pm yet, so I didn’t need dinner. 

 

The next morning I took a motorbike to the pier in Bohol and bought a ticket for the 10:30am boat to Dumaguette with OceanJet. The ticket cost 700 pesos plus the 15 for terminal fee ($16 total), which seemed very expensive for a 3.5 hour ferry. I got on the ferry and it turns out the woman put me in the last seat upstairs, which was soaking wet from the rain and was the only seat now in the blaring sun. So I waited downstairs for the ferry to board and then I grabbed a open seat in the AC.

Sipidan + Mabul Island, Sabah, Borneo

 

I arrived in Semporna at 2pm. I only had one night there before heading out to Mabul Island in the morning, and after 2 early mornings of sunrise river cruises I needed somewhere to really relax. I checked into Best Bunk Beds, which is newish but had great reviews online. The hostel is one of the nicest I’ve stayed in. The girls dorm is spacious with 8 bunkbeds in a massive room. The attached communal bathroom is modern, and the dorm has floor to ceiling windows facing the water. There’s a communal space and big kitchen with a lot of Asian condiments to choose from, although I didn’t cook there. It cost $13, which is a lot, but other than a really crappy hostel this was the next cheapest. I was the only non-Chinese backpacker staying there but for my night of relaxing that was perfect.

I walked around the town, grabbed lunch at Restoran Bismillah, an Indian spot. I had a roti and a vegetable soup, which were both tasteless. I ended up pouring the roti dipping curry into the soup. 

I then went to my dive shop to pay. I signed up for Sipidan two months ago. Only 120 divers are allowed per day and there’s a long wait list to be able to dive there. I signed up with Billabong, the cheapest company to dive with. I paid $330 total for 3 days/ 2 nights, which included diving, equipment, accommodation and meals. I got 6 dives: 3 Sipidan, 2 Mabul, 1 Kapelai. Billabong was far from horrific; however, it’s definitely a backpacker place and not somewhere I would stay if I was on holiday. It was also full of big groups or Chinese tourists who were loud, and Muslim Malay’s; so that put a damper on the mood.
The one terrible thing about diving in South East Asia is all the Chinese divers. Every single one I came across should never have been given a license. They’re incredibly disrespectful of the nature and of other divers around. I got kicked and pushed repeatedly and more often than not it was so they could take a picture. They also touched and kicked all the coral and sea life, which is a no-no. It’s not safe to have divers like that around and I actually had my first under water panic attack because of it.  
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In the morning I had breakfast in my hostel then headed to the dive shop and then the shuttle ferry. The ride to Mabul Island took an hour. As we approached be island we slowed down and took a mandatory scenic route along the water hotels until we got to ours. Almost all the dive resorts are housed on stilts on the water. The fancy resorts look just like the glamorous pictures we see back home, and the cheap resorts look run down but still pretty incredible in the sense that they’re on the water. Billabong is a lilac color towards one end of the resorts; it was actually a great spot. 

When we arrived at the resort there were local gypsies selling crabs and shrimps on the deck. The crabs came in a chain, 4 for 20 rm (approx. $6,) and the shrimps were extra large in plastic bottles. I got crab with a Malaysian brother and sister who I shared the ferry with. 

I checked into my own private room which had an attached bathroom. The toilet didn’t have a seat and the shower was a mandy shower- a bucket and ladle. I actually like this method because it’s better than a shower than slowly drips water. There were two twin beds and a fan. The electricity on the whole island only works from 6pm-6am so each morning at 6am I woke up sweating from the heat. 

I settled in then headed out for my first dive of the day, which was at Kapelai House Reef off Kapelai Island. The site had bunches of man-made structures that looked like skeletons of houses. They were covered in moss and full of fish. On the dive I saw big turtles, the face of a moray eel hiding under a structure, trumpet fish, hornet fish, lion fish and stone fish, which look like a rock. The dive was 21 meters deep. 

Sometime when I’m diving I kick with my fins together, like a fish, because I can get places faster. During this dive I lost my hair tie and apparently when I did my fish kick I looked like a mermaid. I was then nicknamed the mermaid.
The second dive that day was Panglima Reef off Mabul Island. There was a slight current at the end of the dive and the visibility throughout was bad. Here I saw lion fish, nudibranch, stone fish, trigger fish, and big colorful cuttlefish. The cuttlefish looked like massive colorful caterpillars with black tentacles coming out of one end. The dive was 22 meters deep.
After diving I walked around the island with a few girls who were on holiday from Kuala Lumpur. The entire walk took us about 45 minutes but that’s only because we stopped a few times. There are two really nice resorts, one of which we stopped at for Magnum’s. Then there are some local shops and a big local village area before the cheaper dive resorts start-up again. 

When we got back to the resort I did the initiation and jumped off the resort bridge into the water. For over an hour guests (the non-Chinese,) dive masters and locals jumped and swam around our area. The sun set in the clouds but the colors were still incredible with the water village setting. 

That night was a bunch of people’s last night and we all drank local rum and listened to music on the bridge. I called it an early night because I wanted to be fresh for Sipadan; however, I ended up being wide awake for a few hours in the middle of the night listening to the rats on the ceiling.
In the morning I had breakfast then we left for Sipadan for the day. The boat was me, an English boy, a young unfriendly Russian couple, two Chinese men, and Otto and Oneal, the two dive masters. Since the British boy was only open water Otto was my dive buddy, which was awesome because he regularly took my GoPro and filmed for me.
First we went onto Sipadan Island to register for our permits. The island is incredibly small and while it used to have two resorts now those are gone and all that is there is a registration shack and a wooden shelter with a picnic table for each dive resort. When we arrived there was a big group of Chinese divers ahead of us. They had two flags and were doing karate poses and large group pictures in the check-in area.
Our first dive was at South Point. I saw an eagle ray, barracuda, white tip shark, black tip shark, gray reef shark, and turtles. We went 40 meters here. I had my first panic attack ever on this dive. I had been having trouble with my mask and it was continuously fogged even after cleaning it. We were in the blue at 40 meters and working with a slight current that was pushing me down and out. I was exhausted from continuously kicking, I couldn’t see a thing and all of a sudden one of the Chinese guys kicked me in the head because he wasn’t paying attention. Luckily I have my rescue training and did not completely panic but I did grab my dive master and we went up to 10 meters where I was able to breath again. I knew I’d be fine since I know what to do but it was terrifying being in darkness and not being able to breath in the moment.
I came up from the dive with a terrible headache from the depth and lack of oxygen. I’ve done that depth before but not in years. We relaxed for an hour in between dives and I put myself back together. 

Our next dive was at Barracuda Point, ranked one of the top dive sites in the world, and it did not disappoint. It was the best dive of my life. We saw huge Napolean fish, schools of humpheads (large fish,) massive schools of jack fish in tornado form (from the currents,) big turtles, and white tip sharks. Otto took my camera and filmed almost the whole time which gave me the chance to fully enjoy the dive. We went 21 meters but most of the dive was near the surface which also meant the light was amazing. I did the signature Sipadan move and swam inside the tornado of jackfish which was surreal. The fish move if you come near and they will reform around you. Otto shot a great five minute film which captures everything the dive offered. 


  

The most shocking and yet not so shocking part of the dive was seeing all the Chinese divers underwater with their massive cameras. I’m talking huge professional cameras with two large arms for flashing. The divers were standing on the sandy bottom of the water holding their cameras like walking sticks. It was the most ridiculous thing I’ve seen in a long time. 

We were all all smiles after that dive. We had lunch and I rested on the beach and I still couldn’t stop smiling.  For the last dive we went to Hanging Garden, a wall dive. Here we saw gray reef sharks, white tip sharks, big turtles and most amazingly a leopard shark. Otto found it sleeping in an alcove and called me over to come next to it. I was almost there when all of a sudden one of the Chinese guys pushed past me with his huge camera knocking me into the coral. For the first time the dive master took charge and signaled at the Chinese guy to get back and let me through. We were about a foot away when it woke-up and swam around us to escape. Another incredible experience. 

  

I went 40 meters on this dive too and although my breathing was affected I practiced on controlling it. Halfway through the dive I was hit by jellyfish particles and got stung on my legs, arms and face. 

Almost all the guests had left while we were in Sipadan. The only westerners left were me, a British girl who I had become friendly with, and two Danish girls who I kept thinking were Spanish. The British girl and I took a walk around the island. We stopped for chocolate strawberry Magnum’s and ate them on the fancy resort porch. We then went to a local shop so that I could buy a seashell chandelier I had seen the day before- I hope it survives the journey. 

 

It was a quite night of staring at stars on the bridge and listening to a local play the guitar. The next morning I slept in and then went snorkeling at 10:30am with the Brit. I only lasted about five minutes in the water. I was stung by sea-lice and bored; it’s hard to snorkel the day after diving at Sipadan. I relaxed on the boat for the rest of the time and watched all the Chinese snorkel, which was like watching the tv show were Chinese do obstacles and people laugh when they get hurt. 
There were five snorkel boats in the area and me and the Brit were the only non-Chinese and the only ones not wearing bright orange life jackets, or matching striped snorkel wetsuits. They all can’t swim, or at least think they can’t, plus are terrified of the water. Two women on my boat refused to let go of the ladder, and one boy refused to let go of the safety ring even though he also had a jacket on. One family held onto two rings and ropes while they all kicked to the coral area where they then proceeded to stand and walk around on the coral. Some of the them were walking on the coral under the resorts in their snorkel gear. I’m not entirely sure why the workers don’t stop them from doing this but it’s terrible how they are ruining the natural habitat. To top it off on the boat ride back one of the Chinese reached into the water and grabbed a starfish and all of a sudden a bunch of cameras were out. A few of us started screaming for them to drop the fish and they did, however, they did not understand why.
When we got back to the resort I checked out of my room, had lunch, and chilled out until 3pm when the ferry came. Brit and I went down the road to pick-up pastries from a local bakery, a window in her home. We bought four pastries for 50 cent rm each, about $.15. 
The ferry back was an hour, then we took a shuttle to the airport which was another hour and cost 30 rm each. I then waited at the airport for 3 hours until my flight to Kota Kinabalu. The flight was 30 minutes. When I got to the terminal I found a money exchange place to covert my Malaysia ringgit to Philippine Pesos. The lady at the counter asked me what airline I was flying before doing the exchange. After it was done she informs me that the terminal my flight is leaving from is actually a 15 minute (30 ringgit) taxi ride away that is not walkable. Cebu now flys from Terminal 1. I then had to exchange back pesos for ringgit. She tricked me so that I would have to pay the exchange rate and agent fee twice.
When I got to Terminal 1 I went to check-in to my Manila flight and I was told that I needed to show proof of a flight leaving the Philippines. I had not yet booked my flight home and was waiting for early week for prices to drop but now I had no choice. I booked the cheapest flight home, which is a day later than I wanted and over $100 more than it will be in a few days. 
My flight to Palawan left at 7:25am, and landed at 8:30am. I then waited for almost an hour at a restaurant nearby the airport for a shuttle bus to leave for El Nido. It was a 6 hour roller coaster journey north, part of which the driver had a friend sitting on his lap.

Tulamben, Bali, Indonesia

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I came to Tulamben to dive. I was told it’s the only thing to do there and people were right. The town is one small strip with dive shops/hotels, a few restaurants and one convenience store. I stayed at Dive Concepts, one of the cheaper dive companies. I had come planning to do 5 dives in 2 days but unfortunately I got a bad cold and was only able to do 2 dives in 1 day, and I shouldn’t have even let myself do that.

Tulamben is famous for having a U.S. Army Cargo shipwreck dive site. The ship was torpedoed in WWI and lay right off the beach but a volcano in the 1960s pushed it a few meters back. The best thing about this site and many others in Tulamben is that you can shore dive aka walk right into the water.

I arrived on a Sunday around noon, checked into the dorm. The room looked like it had never been cleaned. The sheets were dirty, the toilet had no seat, and the shower was a hose, but it was only $4 a night.

After I dropped my bag I walked to the beach, which is non-existent. The shore had no sand, it’s all black pebbles. I took off my flip-flops and slowly walked into the water trying my best not to fall and hurt myself. I knew the shipwreck must be right near me (as crazy as that is) but I had no idea which direction it was in. After my “swim” I walked back and spent the rest of the day bored.

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The owner of Dive Concepts is French, as are all the instructors, as are all the dive masters in training, as are all the guests. I attempted to make conversation with every single person individually and not a single person was friendly back, and some just ignored me (and they all speak English.) It was weird but it felt like everyone was just living there to be around their fellow French-man. No one seemed to care about the guests, although that first day I think I was the only one. [And these people were all real French. I do not think someone who speaks French from another country would have felt welcome either.]

So I read, watched tv on my phone, and went to bed early. The few people sitting around were all watching tv on their laptops; in general the atmosphere was incredibly boring and anti-social.

The next morning at 8am I did the USAT Liberty dive. We packed our gear onto a pick-up truck and headed for the shore. My dive master was a local named Yogi, and an instructor decided to tag along for a fun dive. I had issues clearing because I was congested but eventually I was able to which I was incredibly happy about. We swam about three meters from shore and the ground started to slope but I couldn’t see the boat yet. Then my dive master got my attention and I looked to my left and I was below the bow of a massive ship. The shipwreck was the biggest I’ve ever seen and I only made it through half of it. We swam along the outside and later went through parts of it.

Parts of the boat are scattered around the deck, which is on a slant. The moss and floral growing on the ship is mostly green and periwinkle. We saw a turtle resting on the deck and took photos with it.

[Didn't use a filter. Colors don't appear.]

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I felt like a third wheel on the dive. The instructor brought a camera with her and the entire time my dive master and her were buddy buddy trying to take good photos. I’m the only one that actually paid for the dive and it drove me nuts that I had to stop and wait every time they saw something they really liked, which is usually not what I would have stopped for. My dive master also kept asking for her to take photos of him, which is not professional either.

For the second dive we went to Drop-Off. I had heard good things about this dive; however, I was slightly disappointed. The site is a wall but to reach the wall we first had to swim down long slopping dirt for a while. Again my dive master and the instructor were being frustrating. They were super slow looking for tiny critters in the dirt to take photos of, but I really wanted to spend more time on the wall since I had never been. When we did reach the wall it was incredible. We saw a minuscule seahorse, an eel sleeping, a leaf scorpion fish, a large starfish, massive clam that looked like a multi-petal tie-dyed flower. In the dirt in the way back I saw a nudibranch, a neon sea caterpillar.

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After the second dive my right ear was clogged and stayed that way for the rest of the day. I cancelled my night dive which I was upset about because the shipwreck at night was supposed to be incredible. However, to be honest I was okay with the fact that I wasn’t giving the dive company anymore of my money.

I had lunch and dinner at Mayan Restaurant and spent a while talking to the local waiters who worked there. One of them offered to motorbike me to my next destination (Lovina) because buses weren’t an option and renting a private car was too expensive. I took him up on his offer and I’m happy I did. The bike ride was along the coastline. For two hours I saw the ocean to my right, and temples, markets and villages meshed into the greenery on my left.

Komodo, Flores Island, Indonesia

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I was picked-up at the Labuan Bajo airport by a local (a friend’s friend) who I had been talking to for the last week. He drove me into the port town to his office and I booked a trip to Komodo island, and a scuba trip. I then checked into Hotel Matahari, a single room for 80,000 rp. I spent the entire day in bed resting then went out for a quick local dinner at Blue Corner. I was exhausted from all the early mornings and traveling.

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The next morning I boarded a small wooden boat for a 2 day- 1 night trip. The group was me, two Argentina girls, an American couple, a German man with his Balinese wife, and her brother. There were also two local captains. We headed first to Rican— island, part of Komodo National Park. The mountains of land jet out all over the ocean. The grass covers the land like a golf course- smooth with random Palm trees. I’ve never seen anything like it.

At Rijan Island we paid the park entrance fee of 228,000 rp ($17 per day,) and we did the medium hike which was a little over an hour through both jungle and open land. We saw a bunch of lazy resting Komodo dragons, which look like large lizards with crocodile skin. There were three random water buffalos and a lot of buffalo poop. A few monkeys and jungle turkeys. We didn’t see any snakes or deer.

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After the hike we had lunch on the boat then drove for two hours towards Komodo island. The weather turned but it only drizzled for a bit before the sun came out again.

We got to Komodo Island to find deer lounging on the beach. At the gate we were told we had to pay again for tour guides and a hiking fee, another hidden cost that they opt to not tell you about. All seven of us decided we didn’t want to pay again especially because there was nothing different on this island. So we boarded the boat again and headed to Phuket island to go swimming. Here and our next stop locals arrived on long wooden boats to sell pearl necklaces and Komodo dragon wood figurines.

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We then drove a little farther and docked for the night. I sipped whiskey with the German and his local brother in law while the sun set. We then had a feast, this time with fried calamari. The locals played western music and a nearby boat lit fireworks randomly throughout the night. I slept on top of the boat on foam mats covered with a wooden awning.

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In the morning we were up with the sun and started off for Pink Beach at 7am. The beach did not appear pink from the ocean but once on it I could see the tint of pink along the shoreline caused by broken up pink coral. The snorkeling before the shore was amazing with pink and purple corals.

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After we drove to Manta Ray Point to snorkel. The manta ray’s look like giant sting rays, one we saw was 3 meters long. They swam to the surface so we could see them from the boat, but it was much more exciting to swim with them. As cool as it was though it only made me want to dive to actually swim deep with them. To our surprise there was a lot of trash in the water.

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After a few manta ray spots we went to a small beach. We had lunch then snorkeled around. Snorkeling I saw brown coral with blue tops, and there was one 5″ pink fluorescent fish that kept running into my googles with wide eyes, backing away, then doing it again. That made my day.

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I lounged on top of the boat taking in too much sun as we drove back to Labuan Bajo. I went back to the same hotel but got a dorm this time, then relaxed for the night. Unfortunately it rained throughout the night and I had to walk outside to get to the shared bathroom.

The next morning I was at Manta Rhei Dive shop at 7am for a full-day three tank dive. The Manta Rhei wooden boat was much nicer than the previous boat I was on; it was clean and new looking with big colorful bean bag chairs on the top. They served grain bread and donuts for breakfast, cookies and oranges in between dives, a nice lunch including a salad with avocado (my first salad in months,) and pound cake and watermelon after our last dive.

[I bought a red filter for my GoPro which is needed for diving, which I learned in Thailand when all my photos came out dark green. However, this time all my photos came out yellow and red. I'm not sure why but I'll figure it out before my next dive. For now here are some abstract photos of the bluest water I've ever seen.]

The American couple from my snorkel trip were also on the boat. My dive group was a dive master from the shop, a dive master in training from the shop, an instructor from Mexico fun diving, a dive master from Bali fun diving, and an open water diver who dives at home frequently. This was the first dive boat I’ve been on where you enter the water by falling backwards. I smacked the back of my knees all three times on the ledge even though I thought I straightened my legs- three days later it still hurts.

The first dive we went to was Mini Wall. The water temperature was cold, at 25 Celsius. I was chilly in a wetsuit, which I did not expect considering I was diving in Thailand without a wetsuit and was fine. I ran out of air faster than everyone else, and faster than I ever have before (because I was freezing,) so for the next two dives the dive master in training became my buddy so we could go back to the surface early without dragging everyone else back with me. [All the other divers were wearing multiple wetsuit layer which they brought from home- my dive buddy was wearing 2 wetsuit tops underneath his normal wetsuit.]

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The second dive we went to was Makassan Reef (Manta Point.) This was my first Drift dive and would have been very exciting if I knew how to handle it. The current was insanely strong and we moved so quickly, like a high-speed conveyer belt above the coral. The other divers in my group were relaxed but I had never done a drift before and didn’t know how to control my body from slamming into the ground or floating too high up, so in the end I probably looked like a maniac flapping away. The black and grey reef manta ray’s were incredible, ranging from 3-4 meters. We saw about 10 of them during the dive. At one point my dive buddy grabbed me and we stayed low while a manta swam directly above us.

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The third dive was at Batu Bolong. This is known as being the best dive site in Komodo for having the largest animals- sharks, large fish, octopus, etc. However, I did not get to experience the site as it should be. It was the coldest dive at 24 Celsius, and there was also intense currents. We were constantly battling the drift one way then it would shift and we were fighting to get back the other direction. It was a non-stop workout and I ran out of air the fastest here at just 33 minutes. I did manage to see a few white rip reef sharks, a lion fish, and a turtle, but nothing I hadn’t seen before.

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When we got back onto the boat we saw how intense the water looked from above. The area we emerged from looked like a toilet flushing. It was difficult to move around and get the other divers, and the ride home was a mess. It started to rain, then pour, and the waves were rough. The captain was unable to turn the boat towards the mainland without almost tipping, so we went out of the way for a while. The boat didn’t have sides so the rain was soaking the boat. I attempted to hide in the captain’s quarters but when the local crew jumped out to wipe the windshield and guide the boat I also got the splash of the rain. It took almost four hours instead of two to get back.

I decided I needed a massage when I got back to shore, and a hot shower. My knees were incredibly sore from working them so hard in the freezing water, and my back (which is always sore from poor beds and non-stop travel) was in even more pain from sitting awkwardly on a wooden shelf for the past few hours. I’m sunburnt from the live aboard so as good as the cream felt on my skin it also burned when she grabbed me. Throughout the night after the massage I was in more pain. I think I pulled a muscle in my neck, and my chest felt funny.

My dive buddy runs the Manta Rhei homestay and he let me stay the night for free, even though technically you need to do two days of diving with them to stay there. We went out to a local restaurant for dinner and once again I shocked locals with the amount of chili I can eat (I put two servings worth in my soup.) We split two Bintang’s and picked up another for home. We chatted for a while before going to bed.

The next morning he drove me to town at 8am. I had breakfast at a chic hippie Greek restaurant on the main road. I then picked up my laundry and grabbed a motorbike off the main road to take me to the airport. I flew to Bali, then to Lombok with Wings Air.