Note that live-aboard trips are linked below.
UTILLA, THE BAY ISLANDS OF HONDURAS 02/2011
PADI OPEN WATER – This must be the cheapest – and one of the best places in the world – to get diving certificates. Utilla is a dusty little town whose sole purpose is diving. There are 14 dive shops here all competing for business. My company was Utilla Dive Center that for US$300, in addition to the open water course, I had 3 free nights accommodation, free breakfasts, two free dives after and got a T-shirt. The instructors were all top-notch from Denmark, the US, England and Trinidad/Tobago. Unable to swim, it was a real test doing the necessary 200m swim.
TAGNAGA, COLUMBIA 21/11/2011
#8. Latravisia Cpaso del Angel.
These two dives were disappointing – a sketchy guide and dead coral with few fish.
ANDAMAN ISLANDS, INDIA 17-18/12/2012
Scuba Schools International (SSI) Advanced – Andaman Bubbles Dive Center, Havelock Island.
#9. Bayview, Havelock.
#10. Pilot Reef, Havelock.
#11. Dixon Pinnacle. Wall dive with gorgeous pinnacle with good coral. Napoleon Wrasse.
#12. Dixon Pinnacle. Schools blue stripe snapper, Napoleon Wrasse, barracuda.
#13. Muck dive.
#14. Pinnacle, S Ari Atoll. Poor coral and few fish. Worst possible guide who was always 20m behind and paid no attention to me except on ascent.
Murgae Archipelago, Myanmar. Live aboard with 16 dives.
PERHENTIAN ISLANDS, MALAYSIA 20-21/04/2013
#15. Sugar Wreck. Giant pufferfish, blue streaked angelfish, lionfish, boxfish, barracuda
#16. Temple. Long fin bannerfish, six barr wrasse, blue barred and red lipped parrotfish, garfish, white eye moray, window grouper, blue lined grouper, harlequin grouper, titan triggerfish
MERGUI ARCHIPELAGO, South MYANMAR 26-30/11/2013
APO ISLAND, PHILIPPINES 9/2/2014
#29. Cogon. Long drift dive. Huge school bigeye trevally (jacks), banded sea snake, gobi, regal angelfish.
#30. Lagahan. Flying gunnard, snake eels, squid, eastern clownfish, longnose hawkfish.
#31. Chapel. Leaf scorpion fish, banded sea snakes, white eyed eel.
SABAH, MALAYSIA 20-22/2/14
Day 1 – Mabul
#32. Pardise I,II – broad club cuttlefish, reef scorpion fish, flathead crocodile fish, octopus, yellow fin trevally, schooling batfish.
#33. Pana/Lobster Wall – crocodile fish, turtles, nudibranch, firedart gobies, spotted lionfish, morays, hairy hermit crab, blue spotted ray.
#34. Water Bungalow.
Day 2 – Sipadan Island – one of the top 5 places in the world to dive.
#35. Barracuda Point – large school barracuda, white tipped reef sharks, Napoleon wrasse.
#36. South Point – coral +++, white tipped reef sharks.
#37. Drop Off. Scariest dive of my life. Went at end of day with just me and two guides. At 16m had a complete blockage of air (rust particles in tank) that happened when I was right next to guide. Buddy breathed to surface after rest stop. Once horizontal the blockage cleared. Large school bumphead parrot fish
Day 3 – Mabul, Kapalai
#38. Stingray City, Mabul – peacock mantis shrimp, boxer shrimp, morays.
#39. Kapalai – juvenile frogfish, boxer shrimp, leaf fish, nudibranchs (nembrotha, flaggelinas, chromoderis)
#40. Paradise II Mabul.
FLORES and KOMODO ISLAND, INDONESIA 11,13,29/01/2015
The biggest island in the chain, it offers beaches, bay islands, exceptional diving and snorkeling near Labuan Bajo, an interior of perfectly shaped volcanoes, jungle, rice fields and the only access to Komodo National Park and its famous Komodo dragons. The Portuguese named it “Flowers” when they colonized it in the 16th century. Then name stuck as did Catholicism.
Labuan Bajo (pop 15,000)
This town has a particularly unattractive one-way main street separated from the harbor by shacks and a container port. The narrow strip of pavement is flanked by a strips of muddy dirt, an open sewer on one side, piles of dirt, ramshackle guesthouses, restaurants, shops and 32 dive shops.
Fees for visits to Komodo NP: 150,000Rp per visit, Dive permit 225,000Rp per visit, Rinca permit 50,000Rp per visit.
On our first day we took a tour that involved two dives and a visit to Rinca (cost 1,150,000Rp or US$93), one of the two main islands that form Komodo National Park.
#70 Wainilu – slope of coral debris leading down to dull brown soft corals was a mecca for “small things”: cuttlefish, a flying gunnard, tiny striped pipefish, lionfish, and the sweetest harlequin sweetlips (a tiny white fish with brown spots and lobed fins fluttering in a small coral patch).
Rinca is the best place to see komodo dragons as 20 or so animals congregate in the small national park headquarters. The rangers carry a forked stick they can use to fend off an attack from the scary-as-hell small dinosaurs. We saw dragons from baby 18 inch ones to monster 2m long ones. It was then a 1 hour walk past a nest and up a hill for panoramic views of the island. There are two and three-hour walks but I see little need for more than what we did. The rangers are a treasure-trove of information.
#72 name? many giant mantas.
TOGEAN ISLANDS, SULAWESI INDONESIA
With golden beaches, lagoons, lost coves and arguably the best diving in Sulawesi, the Togeans are difficult to get to but supposedly difficult to leave. It is possible to explore all three major reef systems: atoll, barrier and fringing. However I have heard that dynamite fishing has taken its toll on the fish and the diving is only mediocre. There are no big fish, always a marker of a healthy reef. In my determination to do the entire “travelers trail” from Makassa all the way to Manado, I will continue doing it the hard way.
Wakai is not a place to stay so arrange accommodation at any of the resorts listed in the travel facts section.
There are no flights to the Togeans. Ferries leave Ampana to Wakai every morning but Friday at 10am. Buy tickets on the boat. Ongoing ferries from Wakai to Gorontalo leave Monday and Thursdays at 4pm. So I took the ferry on Tuesday, stayed at Blue Marlin Dive Resort on Kadadiri Island and departed on Thursday.
Black Marlin Dive Resort is on Kadadiri Island and they will pick you up at the ferry dock in Wakai. A standard room with a bathroom was 200,000 per night with all meals included. The diving is reasonable at 28euros but everything else is expensive: a large Bingtang is 55,000, an orange juice that normally costs 7,000, is 15,000 and the food is mediocre at best. Water runs from 8-9 and 5-6 and the electricity is on from 5-11pm. The owner has the worst personality in the world and and is a real businessman.
The ferry to Gorontalo leaves on Mondays and Thursdays at 4pm. You can rent an AC cabin, AC business seat or sleep in economy with 2 tiers of mats on the second deck that has open sides that can be covered if it rains (72,000 with a mat called a tatami). Anyone could go into the AC Business and sleep on the floor. I chose the latter and slept alone on the open top deck with great views of all the stars. Although it is advertised to be a 13 hour trip, it took 11 1/2, and we arrived at 3:30am. Significantly, we crossed the equator on the way.
RAJA AMPATS, PAPUA INDONESIA 5-14/01/2015