Two People, Two Rucksacks, Two Regulators
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Our journey has begun. Here we will keep you updated about our experiences. Read our articles below, and don't miss our personal blog posts.
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Bali - The Tulamben Experience
Arriving in Bali
While our stay in Vietnam, we were checking and discussing various options for possible next waypoints on our Tour 11. It soon turned out that we were not exactly free to decide, since half Europe and nearly all of Asia seemed to be on the move. Flights and stays were either fully booked or quite expensive, especially for our favorite destinations Sipadan or Sulawesi. Nevertheless we wanted some serious new diving experience, so we finally decided to head to Bali to see what famous diving in Indonesia is like.
We decided to go to Tulamben in the north eastern part of the island, famous especially for the U.S.A.T. Liberty wreck to be found a few meters off Tulamben's rocky pebble beach. We read some recommendations for Ocean Sun, so we asked them upfront for information on diving and accomodation. Ricardo, the german shop owner, replied lightning fast (hard to find here these days, believe me…) with very useful information and a good choice of stays meeting our budget. Given that it was a no-brainer for us to chose Ric's shop for diving. We also followed his recommendation for Safety Stop Bar & Bungalows, owned by - surprisingly - german Ralf. Ric also made a good offer for airport transfer (a 2,5 hour drive) which we happily accepted. All set we were ready to go!
We arrived in Denpasar at nine in the evening. Our driver was already waiting for us at the negotiated meeting point, holding a big sign saying "Mr Rene" - what a luxury after all those more or less stressy arrivals of the last weeks. The driver (I'm so sad we forgot his name, shame on us) turned out to be a real gem, a very gentle, helpful and friendly local who loved to smile and laugh. His English was great, and we ended up having a delighting and very informative chat during all of the drive. Way after midnight we arrived in Tulamben, feeling already welcomed and at home in lovely Indonesia.
When we arrived at Safety Stop, Ralf was already waiting for us. He showed us our bungalow, which turned out to be great deal - a lot of space, cozy, clean and in top condition with a lovely veranda facing the small garden pool, at a very reasonable rate. But even better, Ralf then asked the magic question: "Wanna join for a beer?". Guess what, he didn't have to ask twice. Bintang, here we come - I was already aware that Indonesia's top beer was a good one. Natty needed a few bottles to build her own opinion, and since drinking alone is reported to cause stinky feet, Ralf and I joined building up experience. Ralf turned out to be a very nice guy with a bunch of stories to tell, and we ended up chatting until three in the morning. By that time, Bintang stocks reportedly raised by 0,3%.
For unknown reasons we did not manage to go diving the next morning. Instead, we started off lazy, with a tasty breakfast prepared by Martin, Ralf's - you guessed it - german cook. He is a fabulous cook and a fabulous guy, as we learned during our stay. He loves cooking and learned it the good old-fashioned way. If you drop by eventually, try his famous beef steaks or the awesome tuna steak, or one of his crazy daily specials - how about some Maultaschen in Indonesia? We very soon came to love not only his food, but also him as a person with whom we had a great time with good chats and lot's of laughing.
Later that day we managed to get a bit familiar with our Location. Tulamben is a sleepy little village, with a reasonable amount of tourism nearly fully related to scuba diving. While Tulamben is a famous Bali dive spot, most operators serve it with daily trips from more developed locations around Bali. The divers staying in Tulamben might be considered more "hard core". Ralf coined the term "Cowboy Diving" which is a good way to put it.
The village is located next to a beautiful black pebble beached bay, which would make up perfectly for any beach lover's photo wallpaper. Nevertheless, beach life is not exactly comfortable here as you would soon find out if you placed your towel here - the pebble stones are a hard bed. Maybe this is another reason why the global tourism industry - luckily - seems to have missed Tulamben as a promoted destination. Good for divers who find fabulous beach diving here and don't have to step on some sun lovers' toes to make their way into the water.
Perfect conditions for starting to dive the next day. We showed up at Ric's shop to make our introduction dives with a sharp-eyed local dive guide. The shop turned out to be a bit confusing at first. We soon learned that they have cultivated an organized way of being kind of unorganized. But if you lean back and let the guys take care of you, everything will be set up soon - just like magic. Ric is not the usual kind of Must-Be-Entertainer, as found in many shops. If you're looking for such entertainement you might be wrong here. But if you want some relaxed dives and easy going, especially when you are an experienced diver, Ocean Sun is a great place to be. But even then you might have to get used to some things not only typical for this shop, such as the porters - mostly women, carrying one or two sets of fully geared up dive equipment (yes, including the tanks) on their head down to the beach. Don't be tempted to play the I-can-well-carry-my-own-stuff kind of guy, since the porters make a living out of this!
Our first guided dive was at the Liberty wreck, early enough to be there before most of the day trip boats. This WW2 wreck is really impressing. Though there is not much to penetrate, it is a magic place with amazing reef life all around. As we have heard, more than thousand different species can be found around just the wreck - enough said? If the visibility is good, the wreck makes up for some really mystical photos. But after a couple of dives one will be tempted to focus on the small things, since there is much to find - such as less common nudi branches and slugs or pygmae seahorses, for example. The morning seems to be a perfect time both for visibility and light. Also late afternoon light is amazing, though visibility might be worse. We did some more dives here on our own the next days, and each was great. Tip: at the end of the wreck, go down to the sandy bottom at around 30m. If you look hard, you might see amazing stuff. But watch your deco time, which you will most likely sum up while looking around.
Our next spot was coral garden, just a few dozend meter besides the wreck. It is a typical coral reef found on black volcanic sandy bottom. The corals might not be as high rising as found in a typical red sea reef, but the combination of corals and sandy muck areas makes it a perfect location for all kinds of crittery creatures. We found strange nudis and slugs, scorpion fishes, leaf scorpion fished and - among many others - the famous and beautiful ribbon eel, both black and blue ones. We did this dive three more times on our own. It is perfect for relaxed though amazing dives. If you are trained to spot small things you should come here as often as possible to find and maybe photograph tons of interesting and unusual stuff.
The third direct accessible beach dive location is called Drop Off. At first the name seems to be a miss, since you start your dive at a sandy slope. Even at around 20 meters one might be wondering what the name is all about. But following the slope even further, all of a sudden - depending on visibility conditions - a massive and beautiful wall reveals to the right. Seeing it the first time is kind of breathtaking, especially seen bottom up. Our favorite dive was to follow the sandy slope to 40 meters (well, and beyond… ) and then go slowly up at the wall to the coral slope around the corner, heading back on the top of the wall. Not only because we saw two dolphins there under water it was our favorite spot at Tulamben. It is a place where it is absolutely worth to go really deep, and if you are trained in decompression dives, do deco dives here. It is also popular among tech divers, since they can go down to 90 m and further, while having a beautiful dive. This spot makes the best example for what "Cowboy Diving" is all about - especially given that there is nobody forcing limits on you if you are experienced enough.
Ralfs place is a gathering point for actual or soon-to-be Expats, as well as for all diving guests. We had really nice evenings there, not to mention it were quite long evenings. Great food, good beer, nice chats and great people. Just to name a few
- Ralf, the Panda Bear and patron. Cares great for his clients and friends, and loves to be his client himself.
- Martin, the Magic Meal Master. See above for details, we had a great time with him.
- Uncle Ben, the tech instructor. While being a really nice guy, he pushes his students hard, even after the diving day - no beer while doing courses!
- Boris, the Seeker - hasn't made the last step to leave his life at home, but seems to be an inventory item in Tulamben. Works hard on improving his experience in billiards, chess, jonglage, philosophy and diving.
- "Mama" Jaqueline - dive instructor, collegue and mentor of Denis, the dive shop manager we met in Cambodia. Diver's world is not bigger than a marble …
- Erich, the rescuer of the regulators - retired from active diving business, now runs Bali's #1 regulator maintainance service. Originated in the Aachen area, where we live. Shows the sense of humour that is typical for our area - dry as a Martini, but hearty.
- Isa, the Queen of Asia - used to be a dive instructor, then started a business kids dream of - orgnizing and operating special tours all over Asia. Came to Tulamben for meeting friends and taking some days off with crazy diving. Arrived just before we had to leave, but we made friends instantly.
Goodbye India - Hello Thailand
Goodbye India - Hello Thailand
Der Flieger setzt auf, jetzt nur noch die Immigration, dann sind wir durch - unser erster Landesübertritt auf der Tour ist getan, willkommen in Bangkok. Früher als geplant, eigentlich wollten wir mindestens volle zwei Wochen in Indien bleiben. Am Ende waren es nur zehn Tage.
Verschiedene Umstände haben dazu geführt, allen voran das Problem mit unsere Spontaneität - wir und Indien sind da nicht ganz kompatibel. Das spontane Entscheiden, das Planen bis zum nächsten oder maximal übernächsten Tag - das funktioniert hier einfach nicht. Inder planen Zugreisen teilweise Monate im voraus, warum sollten sie ausgerechnet für uns zwei Plätze noch irgendwo freigelassen haben?
Bereits die ersten Versuche, aus Delhi heraus in Richtung Rajastan zu kommen, waren ernüchternd bis entmutigend. Zunächst war gar kein Platz zu finden, dann nur einzelne Tickets in der letzten Klasse, von der uns ebenso erfahrene Indienreisende wie auch Inder abgeraten hatten. Dann ein Lichtblick - zwei freie Plätze, einen Tag später als geplant, in der Sleeper's class. Bis zu diesem positiven Fund war uns aber bereits aufgefallen, dass unsere Weiterreisemöglichkeiten auch an den folgenden Tagen und Zielorten sehr beschränkt bis nicht vorhanden sein würden.
Ungünstig wirkte sich leider auch aus, dass es an unserem zweiten Tag in Delhi zwei tragische und folgenschwere Zugunglücke gegeben hatte, eines davon ein Bombenanschlag in einer unruhigen Provinz. Dadurch war der Fahrplan zusätzlich durcheinandergewirbelt worden, und viele Züge wurden storniert. Es gelang uns aber dennoch, einige Reservierungen zu machen und zumindest den Weg über Agra und Jaipur bis nach Ajmer in trockene Tücher zu bringen. Wie es dann aber weiterginge wussten wir nicht, und die Vorzeichen waren alles andere als positiv - und das, obwohl wir schon neun Reisetage vorplanen mussten.
Nichtsdestotrotz traten wir unsere Reise fröhlich pfeifend an, denn bisher war es bei unseren Trips noch immer irgenwie weitergegangen, und auch hier würde sich sicher irgenwie alles richten lassen. Und siehe da, bis auf einige kleinere Zwischenfälle des üblichen Individualtouristenalltags kamen wir entspannt und Agra an und bezogen unsere Residenz - in diesem Falle sehr treffend - vor den Toren des Taj Mahals in Agra.
An den folgenden Tagen genossen wir die Schönheit dieses außergewöhnlichen Bauwerks, ebenso wie andere Sehenswürdig- und unwürdigkeiten in Agra - letzteres vor allen Dingen daher rührend, dass wir uns abends in einem Viertel verlaufen hatten, das normalerweise definitiv nicht von Fremden betreten wird. Nebenbei verwendeten wir reichlich Zeit in der frostklimatisierten Hotellobby, um unsere weiteren Reiseoptionen zu prüfen. Bald wurde uns klar, dass wir auch in den folgenden zwei Wochen keine Route über die von uns avisierten Wegpunkte finden würden, die uns halbwegs gesichert nach Delhi oder Kolkata (Kalkutta) führen würde, um die Reise nach Thailand anzutreten. Und wenn es uns gelänge, so würde das Zugticket in unserer Hand nur dann etwas wert sein, wenn die Züge halbwegs pünktlich wären - was aufgrund der aktuellen Umstände, wie wir bei unserer nächsten geplanten Zugreise noch leidlich feststellen sollten, nur Wunschdenken sein konnte. Mindestens sieben Stunden zu erwartende Verspätung und die Aussicht, eine Nacht auf einem überfüllten indischen Bahnhof verbringen zu müssen, gehören zu den eher weniger angenehmen Reiseerfahrungen.
Dies und zwei weitere Gründe bewogen uns dann letztendlich, unsere Indienreise abzukürzen und über Jaipur und Kolkata nach Bangkok zu reisen. Der eine dieser Gründe war der Stress, der in den urbanen Regionen Indiens unumgänglich zu sein scheint. Der Straßenverkehr ist die Hölle - laut, dreckig und atemraubend. Als Fremder bleibt man dazu keine Sekunde unbehelligt, und unsere persönliche Quote von schlichtweg aufgeschlossenen oder hilfreichen Menschen zu freundlich wirken wollenden Geschäftemachern lag bei ca. 1:50. Nach zwanzigfacher "where are you from?"- und "where are you going?"-Fragestunde und stereotypen Antworten, abgeschlossen durch mindestens dreifache Versicherung unsererseits, nicht am jeweiligen Angebot interessiert zu sein, hat man irgenwann das dringende Bedürfnis, eine Tür hinter sich zu schliessen und diese auch einige Zeit lang nicht wieder zu öffen. Hatten wir nicht eigentlich auch etwas Entpannung gesucht, vom Stress des Alltags zuhause?
Der letzte Grund für die Änderung unserer Reisepläne war jedoch ein ganz anderer, aber keineswegs unwichtiger: wir wollten endlich tauchen! Die letzten Tage, durch Erkältung - zugezogen in besagter frostklimatisierten Hotellobby - und ungewohnte Umstellungschwierigkeiten unseres Metabolismus weitgehend in Hotelzimmern verbracht, verstärkten das ohnehin schon vorhandene Gefühl, dass uns das Wasser fehlt und wir endlich den Kopf hineinstecken wollen. Dies führte auch dazu, dass wir einen spontanen Abstecher nach Koh Tao beschlossen haben. Und würde nicht bald auch der Leser zu Recht fragen, warum wir unsere Seite "Greenwaterdivers" und nicht "Overlandtravellers" genannt haben?
Nun sind wir also hier in Bangkok. Wir durchschreiten das imposante neue Gebäude des Suvarnabhumi Airport. Alles ist weitläufig und entspannt. Nach wenigen Minuten sind wir erfolgreich immigriert. Aus dem Untergeschoss fährt der Airport-Express in 16 Minuten in die Stadtmitte. Eine weitere Station mit der MRT-Bahn, dann steigen wir fast direkt bei unserem Hotel aus. Wir wollen uns kurz orientieren, da spricht uns eine junge Dame an und fragt wo wir hinwollen. Sie zeigt uns den Weg und begleitet uns ein Stück. Wir gehen die Treppen hinunter zur Strasse - es ist geschäftig, viele Autos und Tuktuks fahren vorbei, aber niemand hupt. Wir entdecken auf den 300 Metern zum Hotel bereits dutzende einladende Food-Stalls, die in den nächsten Tagen systematisch ausprobiert werden wollen. Wir erinnern uns an unser erstes Mal in Bangkok - wir waren geradezu erschlagen von der Geschäftigkeit, dem Verkehr, dem Leben auf der Straße. Jetzt, nach Delhi, Agra, Jaipur und Kolkata kommt es uns vor wie eine Insel der Ruhe. Selbst die Kao San Road, in der wir später in Bier nehmen, kommt uns fast vor wie ein langer, ruhiger Fluss.
Article: Helsinki Spa
Helsinki Airport: Enjoy your Time!
Usually, when doing a long distance flight, there is a good chance that there is no direct connection. While in most cases this means burning time (and often money) senselessly at some airport, Helsinki airport can offer a different experience.
Placed in the international part of the terminal, Finnair invites you to relax in their Airport Spa, and if you have to wait more than say 2 hours for your next flight, don't hesitate to take this offer.
The Spa offers some usual stuff, like whirlpool, relax area and various treatments. But it gets really cool when it comes to what Finland is, among others, famous for: Sauna.
You like turkish steam bath? You get it. Loving the original hot and dry finish sauna experience? Go ahead and enjoy. You ever wondered what a Stone Bath Sauna is like? Open the door and step in.
But our favorites were others. First off, the Brechelbath. This is a type of dry wood based sauna similar to original finish one, but not as hot. Additionally, the floor is covered with spruce branches. This gives the air a wonderful aroma, and your feet some pleasant stings.
Our second favorite was the Rasul. You have a private room for two - you better bring your partner or a good friend - which is basically a steam bath. You have a choice of various aromatic oils to get mixed with a paste to be put all over your body. The small room has two "thrones" facing each other, to sit comfortably and have a chat if you will. When the treatment begins, the room slowly fills up with herbs flavored steam, while only some star-like mini lights shine from the ceiling.
After about 25 minutes it's guaranteed that you have come to a point of deep relaxation. This is where it begins to "rain" from everywhere, giving you the chance both to have a feeling of a refreshing warm summer rain as well as to wash of your skin paste. There is only one possible reason for not feeling deeply satisfied, which is - wanting more of that!
Believe me - I never ever enjoyed an airport stay as much as this. We already had some nice days in Finland some time ago, now we can add some fantastic hours in Finland to the record.
Life and Dive in Koh Tao - A Summary
We had a great stay in Koh Tao, and - as we've already mentioned - had some wonderful diving. So let me sum up a bit how our days went there.
As we arrived with the ferry, we had only a rough picture of where to stay and what dive shop to pick. Koh Tao is a basically a dive resort of the size of an island, with more dive operators than palm trees (at least kind of ...). We had already invested a couple of hours of internet investigation, but we still weren't sure. On the one hand we always look for small operators, which are definitely hard to find there. On the other hand, we were looking for some serious beach- and night-life, so we wanted to stay in the Hat Sairee area. And guess where all the big operators are ...
We found out that Big Blue Diving might be worth a try, since they offered trips to Sail Rock (a must!) and had some nice looking accommodation pictures on their web site. Nevertheless we were sceptical because of it's size, and of course because we have learned to never ever trust those nice looking pictures unless you've seen it with your own eyes.
That said, we got on a taxi (which is kind of a rip off on Koh Tao) and made our way from the jetty to Big Blue. The first contact was promising - although situated at the beach front, there was a lot of green and a first cozy feeling about the location, even with dozens of guest around. The shop office turned out to be really small when we entered it, which made sense after a couple of minutes - we were told to deposit our rucksacks, take a seat in the restaurant and everything, including the paperwork will be done there. That was exactly what we wanted to hear.
A coffee and some water later, we had sold our soul to the dark forces of PADI paperwork, arranged first dive trips (after the explanation that we were both certified divers, and what this fancy CMAS *** certification is all about - no one of the staff seemed to have seen it so far ...) and were ready to check the beds in our simple but clean hut, a 1 minute walk away from the beach. The accommodation was not overwhelmingly charming, but paying 200 Bath on a dive day (5 €) and double if not diving was well worth it. And seriously, after our travel the beds felt like heaven!
Being lazy after traveling, we checked out Big Blue Restaurant for dinner that evening, after we had our very first beach beer at a bar just a few meters away. The prices were reasonable, the food was good, the cocktails as well - perfect preparation for our following dive day.
The next day we got on the boat to our first trip. Due to choppy sea, the original - highly recommended - destination Chumpon was cancelled. We didn't worry so far, since we hadn't seen any dive spot round Koh Tao. Before getting on the Long Tails for the commute to the actual trip boat, we were assigned to our dive master, which made it very easy to learn and follow the highly organized procedures from getting your equipment together over having a safe commute to how and when to setup your stuff on the boat.
Our divemaster was Tibo, a young French guy who accidentally knew what our certification was about. He seemed to be kind of impressed with the number dives we had logged. During a short chat we were told that it is very rare to have obviously experienced divers as clients around here, which surprised us a bit. He promised us to do his best to guide us appropriately, which we found both a bit funny and very nice.
The dives itself (Himong (???) and Ligthhouse) weren't exactly spectacular, which of course had nothing to do with Tibo's perfect guidance (just the three of us!). The sites had a rather bad visibility, not much coral and only a reasonable amount of the usual suspects of reef fish. When we came back we were wondering if four days of diving here - as planned so far - would be really worth it. Yet since were booked for the Sail Rock full day trip the next day, we assured ourseves that at least this trip would be great - as mentioned in an earlier post, it was our very first dive spot when we did our Discover Scuba course years ago, and although this sounds like it has to be a beginners dive site, we can assure that there is serious, advanced and beautiful diving!
The next day started great. We had a new Divemaster assiged: Ferry a cool and handsome guy, which surprisingly turned out to be Dutch - thus he's originated right around the corner from where we live. During his very good briefing it became clear to us that we would be diving in a larger group, with some Open Water Divers in the group which was supposed to limit our depth and our dive time. This would not have been a catastrophe, but we gave it a try and asked whether threre was a slight chance to dive on our own, given that we are doing this usually and our certification permits this easily.
To our great surprise, our boat leader Greg allowed us to dive on our own as a buddy team. He gave us another great briefing and provided us with a surface marker boye, which both we asked for and he liked us to take with us. We were more than happy and thankful to get this opportunity, since you have to understand that this is totally unusual around Koh Tao, which is supposed to be a famous "start your diving career here"-destination. As we learned later, we were the very first divers at Big Blue Diving to get this permission, and we really have to say: Thank you guys, you really made our days! Our recommendation to our readers: if you are good and safe divers, experienced enough not only with diving as such but also with guidance and being self sufficient as buddy team even in rough conditions, don't hesitate to ask those guys for diving on your own. But don't come with the expectation to be allowed to, since Greg, Ant, Steve and the other guides in charge will base their judgement on what they actually see of your diving and soft skills, not on your log book or your certification card alone - which is just the way as it should be!
That said, we had two fabulous dives at Sail Rock, first - a bit accidentally - to the hidden pinnacle, which Ferry found as we dove the first minutes together with his group. The second dive was a looooong exploration of the main pinnacle, including the nice camin reaching from 18 to 6 meters, which we managed to enter without any other diver around. When we came back, the moronic grin on our faces ensured the other divers on the boat that we had a really great time.
After a tasty lunch and a longer boat ride we got to our third dive site of the day, Laem Thien Bay. Again we got a great briefing, both by Ferry and Greg, which made it easy for us to enjoy a cozy, yet wonderful dive with much to see and a great underwater landscape with lots of pinnacles. Coming back, we felt like having deserved both a big beer or two and a great BBQ. Great day, would things get worse now?
Actually - no. Although the trip at the next day was originally aiming at famous Chumpong site, which was - again - cancelled due to choppy conditions, we had two wondeful dives (again on our own) at Hin Wong Pinnacles - a really misterious and unique underwater landscape - and Mango Bay. At the latter site we even managed to find the juvenile Sweet Lips (a must see!) and the tiny black Sea Horse in the middle of nowhere on a sandy area. Great day, crowned again by some beers and sss... sssss... ssssssome cocktails in the evening.
By that time we already had agreed to extend our stay and do five dive days, as we found our expectations regarding both the dive sites and the shop highly exceeded. We had a nice fourth day at Laem Thiem Caves, with great swimthroughs which might have been hard to find without the help of our dive guide Tibo this time. The second dive from Red Rock to Japanese Garden we survived as well, given that a totally gone mad Titan Trigger first attacked Tibo and later managed to bite one of the Divemaster trainees that accompanied us - luckily without serious injuries. Beer, tasty food - nice day, again.
Our last day diving was a hightlight again. This time we were planned to not go to Chumpon, which was actually switched when the trip started. Our boat leader Steve asked if we would mind to see his two favourite Koh Tao dive sites, and surprisingly we refrained from throwing in our veto. And oh well - it was fabulous! Chumpon showed all it's beauty with the best visibility we have had so far, revealing loads of fish in a setting of massive pinnacles. Some say it is better than Sail Rock, and although we would not to favour one over the other, it is definitely as much a top site, which is surprisingly not as famous.
The last dive was at Green Rock, and oh boy, we soon came to know why this was Steve's favourite. Loads of pinnacles and rocks with holes, swimthroughs and all the like - a huge and beautiful kid's playground, with much small stuff to find and enjoy. Actually the highlight was a snake we found in a crack, giving a show just for the two of us, right before our masks. Again we were allowed to dive on our own, and since our boat was the only one around, we managed to see no other divers until the very end of the dive!
Every dive has to end, and so has every stay with a diver's location. We really had a great time at Koh Tao, and we have to thank the guys at Big Blue - Greg, Ant, Steve, Tibo, Ferry and Heather, just to name a few - for giving us the long leash and successfully managing to create a personal and cozy, yet professional and well organized environment not to expect in combination at a shop of this size.
Wanna dive in Koh Tao? Go ahead, we can recommend. Not sure for the Dive Shop? Big Blue gave us some great days, you might want to check them out. Remember, we've seen a freakin' lot of dive shops so far, this is not the usual "I made my OWD here, it's the best dive shop in the world"-recommendation :)