Tour Eleven

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.

Safety stop

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.

Tulamben

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.

Ocean Sun

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!

Liberty Wreck

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.

Coral Garden

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.

Drop Off

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.

The Community

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.


Through Cambodia to Sihanoukville

We've really enjoyed our days in SiemReap! What a nice city and friendly people! Traffic goes slow and relaxed, even when streets are crowded with Tuktuks, bikes, cycles etc.. Nevertheless, we need to head on to our next destination: Sihanoukville!

The night bus will take us from SiemReap via Phnom Penh right to the village on the Cambodian Gulf Coast. Departure at 20:00 and arrival scheduled for 06:30. Fortunately got a "sleeper bus". We would have re-considered our booking, if we had known that we (once again) have been forgotten by the traveller's god. We are led to our "berth" in the bus - at the very far end of the bus. Right on the Axle. No plain berths but a kind of "resting seat". Okay for a 1.50m asian guy, but for us European Biggies.. hmpf... We nevertheless manage to get some minutes of sleep just from pothole to pothole (forget your idea of roads, the Cambodian ones are those with some asphalt around the potholes ;-) Time goes slowly during this night. No light in our department, and reading a book is absolutely a no-go as the pages in your hand would jump up and down for some 20cm in high frequency. At 02:38 - as we've just managed to fall somewhat asleep - we wake up again, and find ourselves about 30cms above the berths. In freeflow, like Neil Armstrong, managing to stick our feet in the front row and avoid the hard collision / the flight through the bus. What has happened? Seems like a new, and so far unknown, pothole was found by our speedy busdriver. His last-second try to avoide that the bus will loose his axle resulted in a really hard break. Even though, the hit into the groundless pothole sorted all our bones from upside down.

We arrived Sihanoukville in time at 06:30. To avoid the crowds of tuktuk drivers, we first had a coffee at nearby food stall. But as the tuktuk drivers here are well organized (a cartell), "our" driver (we haven't asked for one, but was directly dictated from one of the seniors) keeps staying and watching at our breakfast table all the time. So the first impression already on arrival shows us: Sihanoukville is different to Siem Reap..

However, managed to get some 30min later to the city. By fixed price of course. No bargaining. As mentioned, it's a well-organized cartell and they have negotianted how to help travellers to get rid of their Dollars. But who cares.. we're here now, first checking in at the dive shop, being lucky to directly do a reservation for the upcoming 2 days and having the fortune to grab one of the last bungalows on the island! Our hotel (booked for just this night) we find right opposite the divestore and is quite ok for 15$. AirCon AND a kind of "warm" water... ! yeah! 

09. August, 07:00 and the day already begins by busy arrangements. We store our main baggage in the diveshop and proceed to the pier, where our boat is waiting for the 2.5h trip to Koh Rong. St. Peter pleases us during our hours on the sea with really rough weather. Storm, Rain, Rain, Storm. LiveJackets were handed out - and I am feeling more comfortable with them than without ;-) Our clothes are soaked to bones, but we're anyway going for diving now. So who cares ;-) At 10:15 we reach the small Island and have a short break to pickup the additional divers. At least the weather gets better now.. then our first journey to the divespot starts.

Diving at Cambodia.. not anyhow comparable to Thailand. But we are still enjoying to have the head back in the water. And we claim our Names correct now with "GreenwaterDiving"! Remembers somewhat of diving in the NorthSea (on one spot even with Blausteinsee on a Saturday afternoon): visibility is between 0.5 - 6m, but the water is definitely warmer. Lots of nudibranches and small stuff can be detected. But for photos the vis is too poor, so upfront already: sorry, no pics from cambodia! 

The island "Koh Rong" itself is a astonishing big island, without any infrastructure. There's the main jetty where the boats leave 1x / day. Some "resorts" have found their way to the beach and are clustered in the lush green jungle along the beachside. But no nightlife, no bars, no internet. No hot water, limited electricity (06:00-22:00). So a really relaxing time we've had on the island. But worth to mention is the beach: even while we hadn't the chance to enjoy a sunbath (rain..), the brilliant white strip of fine sand is really inviting. (the next bay changes completely to a squeaky Orange). Rumours are that an "international" airport is planned, as well as some investors are already to make "eco-friendly luxury vacation resorts", whatever that means. In the end, we somewhat fear that KohRong may become a next KohSamui; at least the sale has already started :-(

2 Nights we've spent on our island bungalow, having met there also two really nice French guys with whom we've had a nice evening with lots of exchange of traveller stories, infos where to go, tips for food and diving etc etc. They're also on travel and gave us really good advises, as they're coming right from the opposite direction than we are. Hope they'll doing fine now and do have a gooood and safe trip! :-)

For our next tour plans, we have to stay another night in Sihanoukville. Supported by nice Teriyaki. 

We've decided to make a "tour arrangement" (3D/2N) for our way to HCMC (HoChiMinhCity = Saigon). Price was reasonable and stuffed with some bonuses (river cruise etc), which we couldn't beat in price by doing our own individual transportation organization. So lets see, how our first "tourist tour" will work out - at least we're released for the upcoming 3 days from travel planning :-)