Eleven days ago we set off for Bali to kick off another bucket list adventure: a trip to dive with manta rays and see the Komodo dragons, aboard the luxurious vessel, Dewi Nusantara (we sailed round Raja Ampat on the Dewi 18 months ago and loved it so much we vowed to return!) Continue reading
I am gliding over the coral reef, like superwoman. Fan corals stand proud from the reef wall, pink and purple, hiding their pygmy seahorses, while the hard stag corals resonate in blues, oranges and greens, interspersed with waving fronds of anemones, complete with their Nemos, guarding eggs. Butterfly and surgeon fish dart in and out of the intricate fretwork and shoals of fusiliers dart by in a flash of silver before disappearing into the blue.
Have been suffering the proverbial ‘writers’ block’ recently; can’t marshall my creativity into a firm direction. A bit depressing really. The SG50 celebrations did nothing to raise my spirits as it was mainly a wash out – the highlight of the weekend being England winning the Ashes in spectacular fashion. Continue reading
The 10 days in between the two Indonesia trips has passed in a flash and suddenly we are boarding a plane to Bali where we spend two nights. The hotel, the Puri Santrian, is rather tired, décor definitely more 90s than noughties, but the people are friendly. But we hit lucky with the taxi they book to take us to the ancient temple of Uluwatu. Widi speaks good English, but even better Japanese. He tells us he spent four years in Japan working in a factory. When he returned he had enough money to build a house, buy two taxis and start a business, plus educate his four children. Now he wants to go back so he can put them through university. His wife gets up at 3.30 am to go to the market – every day! He is a good guide, and even helps some silly tourists who have their prescription glasses stolen by the notorious temple macaques. We are forewarned and he is forearmed with a big stick!
Two national parks within a week, four days to be precise! From Mana Pools, Zimbabwe to Bunaken island, North Sulawesi, via Joburg and Singapore! I barely had time to unpack before taking advantage of the long Eid el Fitr weekend and setting off to chart new territories. Continue reading
Believe it or not it’s been nine months since we have had a proper holiday (in Malapascua – https://vickygoestravelling.com/2013/08/13/in-which-we-dive-with-thresher-sharks-and-sea-horses/): our last one to Wakotobi was cancelled on the day of departure by my admission to hospital, so we felt we deserved a mini-break to relax and chill. I know many people might think my life is one long holiday, living in the tropics and swimming every day, or tagging along to Ross’s exotic work destinations but, believe me, living with cancer is hard work. Continue reading
Mabuhay! Welcome to the Philippines…here we are for a five day dive break to see the magnificent thresher sharks on Malapasqua island, which is 4 hours drive and boat away from Cebu City, in turn 3.75 hours from Singapore.
The hair-raising drive by local cab, dodging jeepneys (local shared taxis), motor rickshaws heaving with schoolkids, lorries and buses bearing down in all directions as we overtake incessantly and whizz down the wrong side of the road, brings back memories of being a teenager in Manila. In those days Manila was the murder capital of the world, and my Dad, being an unconventional sort of fellow, eschewed living in walled and armed complexes known as villages, instead choosing an old Spanish house in the red light district, Ermita. Closer to work, he said!
Spoilt 15 year old as I was, bored and neglected by my stepmother, and having no one to hang out with, I had a driver at my disposal to take me to get a tan at the nearby Army and Navy Club – a left-over from the American occupation during the 2nd World War – where I met my first serious boyfriend Alfred (yes, his real name!) Gonzalez. He was a heroic sort of guy, local DJ and man about town, always dressed to kill. I giggled to myself as I remembered the time we went on a family trip to Legaspi to climb the volcano and Alfred arrived in winkle-picker boots. My father was beside himself! My English accent was in much demand and soon I was making voiceovers for Alfred ‘s radio station: ‘DZeeRJ plays the MOHST music’. I bought my first bootleg album in Manila – Weird Scenes Inside the Goldmine and so began my third love affair – with Jim Morrison. But that’s another story.
Jolted from my reverie as the car judders to a standstill and we are surrounded by scores of girls in carnival costumes, and big floats with speakers and dudes in leathers looking cool: we have hit the Ati Ati Ham festival in Danao City: Cebu is renowned for its number of religious festivals. The girls wave delightedly, and even the cool men break into a smile.
The countryside when we see it as we cross the spine of the mountainous Cebu island is lush and volcanic; there are paddies and huge industrial sized cane plantations as we drop down the other side. Churches everywhere, with sponsored posters and walls emblazoned with families’ names, denoting that the Philippines the Church is big business as well as religion.
We finally arrive at the boat jetty after our white knuckle ride along roads of strip development: people sitting on chairs outside makeshift shops, dogs everywhere, little markets in small towns heaving with mangoes, pineapples and crisps, fighting cocks for sale on poles lining the road – and pawnbrokers abound. This is a poor country, but every one is spick and span in clean clothes, even if walking through rubbish and mud. And Catholic, so babies and small children everywhere.
And so to Malapasqua itself, after a bumpy ride in a local fishing boat, narrow-hulled with outriggers on either side. The dive boats share this construction, and prove to be difficult to get in and out of as well as rather unstable in bad weather as we shall discover on our return journey, the morning after the biggest typhoon in the world this year, which devastated parts of main island, Luzon.
The Exotic Island Dive and Beach resort (good dive centre and confortable hotel with OK restaurant, good cocktails and San Mig – all you need really) is set at the end of a strip of white sand, lined with small hotels and restaurants. Seven years ago, there was nothing, and in seven years I reckon the whole place will have been destroyed by dynamiting and over-diving.
The thresher shark diving business is almost industrial in its execution: 4.45 am the first boats leave for the Monad Shoal and you disappear into the plankton-filled gloomy depths where you grab on to a line at 25 meters, like a little row of solders going into battle, and wait for the threshers to come to their cleaning station.
While horrified by the large numbers of people – at least a dozen boats with 20 divers on each – the sharks themselves who had obviously been paid to appear – are breathtakingly beautiful with their long whip like tails which they use to lash their prey into submission. They pass surprisingly close and fix me with a beady eye. I love sharks. Devil rays float by too, also availing themselves of the abluting services.
As for the rest, apart from some good seahorse and frog fish sightings and some lovely coral gardens, it was perfectly pleasant, but some of the dives were simply rubble and new soft corals and anemones struggled to get a grip. Fishes there were none larger than 10 cms – all blasted into extinction – so we became experts in spotting critters: tiny shrimps, crabs, worms and nudibranchs, some no bigger than half a finger nail. Lucky I had my new lenses put into my mask so I could actually see! Not forgetting the sea-snakes as Gato Island is a sanctuary (haha, no guards and plenty of people fishing with impunity in the sanctuary boundaries). Check Ross’s website for proper photos of the fishes http://
So I surmise all the seafood on the menus is imported and frozen. Stick to chicken and pork. We at least saw those, including a whole pig being feasted on at a family picnic on Kalanggaman Islet, where we stopped for a rather poor BBQ lunch in-between dives.
Our buddies were truly cosmopolitan though biased towards Singapore as it was the Singapore holidays. Lots of jolly, noisy Chinese; more taciturn Koreans and Japanese; Spaniards, French, American, Swedish, Ozzies, Brits, and even a lone Chilean!
I thought it a long way to come for many; for us a quick flit from Singapore (is 11 hours quick I ask myself?) makes it a worth-while mini break, but after 4 days’ diving I was ready to come back; and in fact due to the typhoon the dives were cancelled the day we left, so we timed it well!
Oh and Mao’s Revenge morphed into Marcos’s Revenge: if sight-seeing with clenched buttocks is hard, then try diving and all those pressure changes. Wah!
This picture is my image of Bali: calm, tranquil and peaceful…but it was not like that at all!
Bravely I decided to go on my own as Husband was off to Zurich on business. I contacted my daughter Louise’s friend Charley, who is living there, and she put me on to a local dive operation as the plan was to spend a couple of days in the south and then do a couple of days diving in the North East of the island.
At the Singapore Dive Show, I checked out Tulamben Wreck Divers and Tony reassured me that ‘the most dangerous thing in Bali is drunken Ozzies not the Balinese’. HA!
Off we set on the first night, me pillion to Kyle, Charley’s partner, she close behind. Traffic is mayhem in Bali, scooters all sides and all directions, but even so I was slightly unnerved when a bike drew abreast on our inside and I found myself looking into a pair of penetrating evil eyes as I simultaneously felt my bag being yanked from my shoulders with an almighty ping as the strap gave way; before I could even utter a swear word, the scooter was gone and my bag was missing. With it was Rupiah 5million ($550) for my diving and hotel; credit cards, passport, two phones – and my pride. But Charley to the rescue, her shouting had scared the would-be thief off, and the bag was lying abandoned in the road…
At dinner a rat scuttled round our feet! Welcome to Bali!
Charley and Kyle were great hosts and we whizzed around on the scooters getting soaked, visiting temples, surfers’ beaches and a Japanese restaurant with a local Jazz band, whose singer thought she was Janis Joplin! We shared a table with Indonesia’s runner up to its version of The Voice. There is no escape from popular ‘culture’.
Two days later and I was picked up by the dive resort’s vehicle and we made our way through the countryside up to the NE corner, to Tulamben, home to Bali’s best dive site, the Liberty wreck, a US supply ship that was sunk by the Japanese in the war.
En route we passed paddy fields nestling under the Mt Agung, the largest volcano which last erupted in 1963. Pretty but not post-card…
Upgraded to a beach villa (see photo of pool) after a quick lunch of satay, I did my first dive. Disappointed that there were so many other divers and that my eyesight is now so bad that, without a prescription mask, I completely failed to see the three miniature sea-horses my guide proudly showed me! But I was proud of myself for my intrepid diving skills, donning weight belt and tanks (having walked or scooted to the beach in my wetsuit and bootees – what a sight!) before entering the sea via an excruciatingly rocky shore. Day 2 I actually did THREE dives…the first at 6.30 am to see a school of HUGE bump-head parrot fish.
The downside of being on one’s own in a remote place is that – apart from eating on my own – there is no-one to drink with, so had to resort to buying a quarter bottle of gin and a couple of tonics that I eked out over my two-night stay! Two nights was quite enough, however, as I had exhausted the novelty of diving in Bali by then and, as I agreed with a Spanish Dive Master I met, it was disappointing on an international scale. No complaints about the professionalism of Tulamben Wreck Divers, however, who were charming and helpful to a lone British woman!
Still feeling disappointed in Bali so far – Kuta and Seminyak were just one long strip of tawdry shops, bars and restaurants, and I had not seen a single grain of white sand, only black volcanic rocks – I decided to take the scenic route to the airport.
Chauffeured by my Britney&Bieber-loving driver, we went first to Tirti Ganga, the Royal Baths which were both beautiful and tranquil, luscious greens with calming water features (see top photo); as it was Full Moon, there were even more ceremonial offerings being laid at the ubiquitous shrines outside every home. From there we moved on to the most sacred temple, Pura Besakih, teeming with supplicants and gangs of giggling girls and boys having a great day out with their teachers. Forced to don a Bob Marley sarong, I looked a sight for sore eyes.
Annoyingly I began to notice a new trait in the Balinese – an avariciousness totally out of traditional character: I was stopped everywhere by uniformed men demanding tourist tax, parking fees, and tips, and vendors as far as the eye can see, all with charming good nature of course. Even lunch, later at the Bangli overlooking the volcano caldera, was a rip-off: an uninspiring buffet for $10 each excluding drinks, which were exorbitant.
Nevertheless I loved the graceful women and the cheeky kids at the temple. Whatever else about Bali that disappoints, the people are delightful, polite and friendly.
Finally from Mt Batur down to Ubud – another huge disappointment as this is the hippy sanctuary of yore, famed for arts and culture, now reduced to yet another high street of mediocrity – via a coffee estate, where I tried delicious Luwak coffee. This is made from beans that have been eaten by civet cats and passed out as poo. I saw it being roasted and dried, so my squeamishness was banished!
So ended my first foray in what I now call my ‘grown-up gap year’ – a time when I will be going off on my own as and when I am able, or forced to by circumstance, in order to take advantage of this amazing opporutnity to travel the Far East for the next couple of years.
Next week I am off to Hyderabad (with Husband) and then to Mumbai (alone) but to stay with friends…Watch this space!