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Entries about scuba

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water

This post is sponsored by Kevin and Lisa!*


View Central America 2021 on cblanc102's travel map.

Yes, I've been waiting forever to use a Jaws (2) tagline for my blog....

So while I made a big deal about 'Doing the Galapagos on the cheap', there were some things I really wanted to do or see.

Firstly, I wanted to see several animals. Sea lions, marine iguanas, giant tortoises and Darwin's finches. I would also have loved to have gone scuba diving, having passed my advance PADI course last year. It was very expensive though. Very fortunately, I have some lovely friends who gave me some money for Christmas / Birthday last year (Thank you so much Kevin and Lisa!! XX) that I was able to use to do just that. Go diving in the Galapagos!

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These plants are like tiny Chinese lanterns, amazing!

I had looked around and decided that I wanted to go to a place called Kicker Rock. It was the place where they said there was the best chance to see hammerhead sharks. I needed no more convincing! I found a place that I liked the look of, went and spoke to them, checked out their equipment (VERY important! All Scuba companies are not the same!) and booked my spot for the next day, which would consist of two dives and an afternoon at a beach in the NW of the Island.

I arrived the next morning, very excited and raring to go. I met my dive partners. An older German guy who works as a photographer and was also once a German Navy Seal!! and a young Israeli guy, fresh out of national service and now travelling the world. We went over our diving plan, signals etc and got our equipment. After a quick dip to check it all out, the boat sped off to Kicker Rock and we were ready to go!

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A pretty happy Chris!

I've only ever dived in Thailand, across eight or nine sites off the island of Koh Tao, but apart from the advance dives (a 30 meter dive with almost zero visibility, a night dive and a shipwreck dive) they were all fairly similar. Teaming with life, great visibility. How did these dives compare? There seemed to be a lot less variety of life, but what they had was amazing!

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You know that thing where you're 20 meters under the surface of the ocean and you look around to see ten hammerhead sharks swim by? No? Well I do now! I have no photos (I'll get some from the pro photographer!) but I took videos with my fake GoPro and made a video, so here's the link!

https://youtu.be/A3V39iV_k58

It was amazing! I saw about 12 or 13 hammerheads in all, 2 black tip sharks, loads and loads of turtles and a sea lion. It was two of the best dives I've done. It really ignited my love of diving too. I love being underwater and I hope to dive again somewhere this trip!

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Oh yeah! There were loads of dolphins too!

The next day I went on a highlands tour. It was arranged by the ladies who owned the house I was staying at. Basically it's a tour run by all the taxi drivers on the island, usually about four hours long and costing around $50 - $60.

At this point, I should mention the taxis on San Cristobal. At least 50% of the vehicles on the road were taxis, these big pick up trucks that drive around honking at anyone walking on the road. It's a marvel that the island survived the pandemic as far as tourism money is concerned as so much of the island's economy rests on it. At one point the island was pretty much running on a barter system. Thankfully Ecuador has a really successful vaccination program running right now!

So my driver came and picked me up and we headed to our three destinations: A lagoon in a volcano, a giant tortoise sanctuary and a beach on the North of the island. We headed first to the volcano, only for the weather to turn suddenly and the visibility was so bad we decided to come back later. Off to the sanctuary!

There's no animal I identify more with the Galapagos than the giant tortoise. I could go on about this for a while, but the differences between these gentle giants across the islands were one of the things that helped nudge Darwin to his Theory of Evolution (which I read again on the flight to the Galapagos! lol). I couldn't wait to see them.

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I can't help it. I see these and have the Baby Elephant song in my head. Wrong animal, I know! I can't help it! Now you have the Baby elephant song in your head too. No? Don't know the song? Google it, I'll wait. Now you have it in your head. Forever

The sanctuary has two parts. An area where you walk around in the hope you'll see some tortoises and a breeding centre filled with tiny baby giants (is that a triple oxymoron?). Often I've been to these places where you walk around for ages trying to spot anything at all, but not here. The tortoises were everywhere!

Only a few of them were big enough for a saddle, but riding the big ones was.... I'm joking!! Don't try to ride the giant tortoises!!

They'll likely bite you I think. I doubt that'll feel great.

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He'll bite you. He'll mess you up

After an hour or so of watching these ancient animals, some well over a hundred years old, we went down to the beach. Not much to see here really. Very nice beach, but no better than the beaches back where I was staying and far more crowded than some along the island, but a nice walk nonetheless. Time to head back to the volcano.

Oh the bloody volcano. Still no visibility, I went anyway. Got wet, saw little, got bloody muddy, walked back down. I'm sure it's lovely when you can see it. Great, thanks.

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Great

I'd now seen and done everything I needed to see and do. Had it been 'on the cheap'? Well. Considering you need to fly to Ecuador to get where I started, then pay for a £170 flight to get to the island, then another £90 because you're not Ecuadorian, then another £70 Galapagos tax to help the ecology, maybe it can't be done on the cheap. Add to that the £150 I did in tours and you're already at £500 odd.

But when I was there, I mostly cooked my own food, did a lot of hiking and things that were free, I had an amazing time, swam with sea lions, dived with sharks and hand fed giant tortoises. I almost saw a volcano lagoon.

I think it was well worth the price.

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  • This post was of course, not sponsored by anyone, although Kev and Lisa helped pay for the diving! If any of you are interested in using your

hard earned money to pay for me to live out my dreams, it's more than welcome! I've never tried lobster! Chuck me £20 and I'll do that! Another £20 and I'll zip line! I could try any number of things, we could make a game of it, although there's likely a limit, I'll not have sex with anything weird or wear an 'I love Dartford'* T-shirt for cash. there's not enough money in the world for that.

Or I guess you could just spend that money on doing something fun for yourself! But probably giving it to me is a better idea

  • Also, one of my posts here has hit 1000 views! Far more friends than I have on Facebook, Twitter or anywhere really, so maybe I should cut out all the local references for readers who have no idea what I'm going on about. Or it's my responsibility to help hundreds of people around the world realise what a hole Dartford is and help them avoid it.

Posted by cblanc102 05:18 Archived in Ecuador Tagged mountains lakes beaches animals birds boats turtles islands water padi diving wildlife hiking travel hostels island dolphins scuba sharks underwater beauty trails galapagos solo solo_travel hammerheads Comments (0)

Doing the Galapagos Islands on the Cheap

Another Sisyphean task

sunny 26 °C
View Central America 2021 on cblanc102's travel map.

The main reason I had come to Guayaquil was as a stop on the way to the Galapagos Islands. To come all this way and not visit them seemed insane to me, but I have limited money and everyone was telling me how expensive the place is. But as ever, I persisted.

I had found a nice cheap flight for £170 and a room in someone's house for £7 a night. Great start! All this came crashing down around me at the airport.

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That way lies Asia

The process to visit the Galapagos is a bit convoluted. I first went to the counter, to be told I had to do the check in on one of the online machines. This was annoying, as it wouldn't let me do the online check in the night before, so why now? Once this was done, I then had to go get my back checked for banned items. You aren't allowed any non processed food stuffs as they're worried about damaging the eco system. Fair enough. Coffee was allowed though, so I was good. I then had to go pay for some travel card thing, which was another $20 and I was good to go.

But when I went to drop of my rucksack at the counter, I was told that I had bought an 'Ecuadorian flight ticket' and I would have to pay another $130!! I was pretty steamed at this point and if my plane ticket had been refundable I'd have likely cut off my nose to spite my face and told them to stick it up their arses. Fortunately after a couple of conversations with friends and family, saner heads prevailed and I paid up and got on the plane. I didn't buy a coffee in the airport. That will show them!

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They really love Paul Bettany here! - Only one person I know will get that joke

So 185 years, 9 months and 27 days after Charles Darwin arrived in The Beagle, I arrived on a jet plane that landed about a mile from where he did. Darwin thought the island a deserted and isolated place when he initially arrived and my first impressions were pretty similar, but I soon changed my mind (as did he) as I started to explore the island.

For starters, as has been the way in most places I've been this trip, everyone is really nice. The family who own the house where I'm staying are lovely and despite little English being spoken and my continually crap Spanish, we seem to be communicating fine. The room was great, pretty basic, like most of the island, and terrible wifi, but you know, it's a small island in the Pacific Ocean 500 miles away from anywhere, it's a bit of a miracle they have wifi and phone service at all really! The phone service isn't really that bad either, I'm using it right now to uploads the pics on here because the wifi isn't cutting it.

Anyway, after dumping my stuff, I soon took a walk down to the beach to see if I could see any wildlife around. I was in for a bit of a shock.

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Loads of animals everywhere!

The wildlife here is everywhere and I've only seen 5% of it. From the multitudes of birds, big and small, to the lizards everywhere, you can't walk 100 meters without spotting something, but when I got to the water and visited the closest beach to where I'm staying, I found it filled with sea lions, scores of them! Now you hear people talking about how the animals here don't view humans as predators so don't care about you, but their absolute ambivalence towards you is amazing really. They really could care less about you unless you go near their babies or they want to play with you.

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I'm like Attenborough

And there are very few rules as to being around them. You're told to keep 6 feet away and not to touch them, that's about it and not always possible as they'll come right up to you whenever they please. You're supposed to walk away, but no one does, the result is some lovely close up pics of hundreds of (mostly sleeping) sea lions as I went from beach to beach. I also saw loads of marine iguanas, another of the animals I really wanted to see. All I need do now is pay a taxi to take me to the top of the island to where the giant tortoises live and I'll have seen the three land animals on my tick list!

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Ahhh

The price of things isn't too bad for the most part either, considering everything that's being sold has been shipped over 500 miles to get here. I've found the food is pretty reasonable, especially if you go to one of the many little restaurants that are just really extensions of people's houses, but I had a huge burrito at a restaurant in town for just eight dollars, so that wasn't too bad. I did see a normal sized bottle of Jack Daniels in a supermarket for $80 though!!!

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It was a big old burrito!

I'm mostly just walking / hiking around. This morning I woke up and went swimming in the ocean with the sea lions. I'd call it a once in a lifetime experience if I didn't expect to wake up and do it again tomorrow! It really was amazing sharing the water with them as they checked me out, swimming around me and then showing off some leaping out the water. I've taken some video, so hopefully I can do something with that.

Over the next few days I want to do a couple of scuba dives and also take a tour up to the volcano and down to the tortoises, other than that I just want to discover as much of the island as I can and maybe try out the three for $10 mohitos I saw at the beach!

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Posted by cblanc102 14:23 Archived in Ecuador Tagged landscapes beaches animals birds planes boats islands water diving flying hiking beach travel volcano drink hostels island scuba plane beauty flights trails coffee journey south_america galapagos ecuador solo problems solo_travel Comments (1)

Basically, I'm doing this all wrong

Updates blog #1

So a state of play so to speak.

As I end my 19th day of this trip (it feels a lot longer) and inch ever closer to my sisters' estimates of how long I'd last out here on my own (21 days both, thanks girls! xx) I've already learned some valuable lessons, some painful.

I've been on Koh Tao now for 2 weeks, it's a paradise, filled with backpackers, great food, amazing sunsets and lovely people, but I've been here too long. After a few days here I decided that once a month I should spend a week in one place, and I'm sticking with that. Have a chance to regroup, replan, recharge re other stuff. You need it after travelling a while. But I've been here two weeks now and it's too long.

This isn't a holiday. I told myself this before I left. Some will say I worked hard (they're wrong), so I deserve it (they're right), but staying this long anywhere kinda goes against the whole idea of the trip. I picked two weeks in the first place, because of the scuba diving that would take up 5 days, but it was still too long here on this small island, I've done all I need to do and that with the last 3 days basically being laid up with a blistered back, which brings me to :

Injuries - These are pretty much all self inflicted, but ongoing. I still have 7 or 8 urchin spines in my hand, they look like they're getting close to leaving, but still painful at times. I'm covered with bites and unsure if that's because the repellent I bought was cheap shit or just I keep forgetting to use it. And then my back.

Before I left the UK I spent the last month or so moving boxes of book, bags of crap, bookcases, wardrobes, beds and more to charity shops, my Mum's and the dump. It turns out I'm no longer 25 and it had a pretty disastrous effect on my back. When I was finally ready to leave and i filled my backpack up with a load of stuff that I probably won't end up using, it went as you'd likely imagine, it was painful to stand with it, let alone walk.

I carried it around the airport. I carried it around Bangkok and I carried it here. I am obviously rock hard, but it took it's toll. The first week here I couldn't lay on my left side because if I did I could barely get off the bed. Rock hard maybe. Old and decrepit certainly! After a week of swimming, it was fine when I had to move hotels, I finally felt good again.... Then I went snorkeling.

I snorkeled for an hour, taking videos that turned out to be pretty rubbish because if the currents. It was fine, it didn't feel bad, for about 2 hours. At first my back was just hot, then very hot, then so hot I couldn't seven stand in direct sunlight wearing my t-shirt because it was too painful. The next day it was blistery, but ok, then today the blisters started popping like bubble wrap and it again became a thing. It kinda feels like I've laid in stinging nettles, and tomorrow I have to carry my pack down the road for half an hour to catch a ferry, then a bus. Ode to joy!

Which brings me back to travel planning and the Coronavirus.

It's still my plan to leave Thailand by the end of next week. As far as I know I can still get a one month Visa and enter the country with just a health check. That's today though. People warned me about coming here because of the virus spreading, but now ironically it's the Asians that are worried about catching it from me. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I still have options, which is good. They all seem to be in even hotter countries, which isn't great, but I chose to turn up in South East Asia in the hot season, so screw me.

Meanwhile everywhere else in the world is going to hell in a handcart. Italy is closed, Spain pretty much too. Austria is banning gatherings of more than 5 people, that's a good number for the Dartford Festival but terrible for anywhere else! I have friends travelling to Vegas in two months who don't know if they're still going. The US has banned all flights from the UK and no one is saying how long it will last. It's the same everywhere. Then there's the stockpiling of goods, mostly non essential to the virus, just stuff that the shops have told people they can only buy a few of. There's no need for it. They should tell people that there's a shortage of Rolexes and see how well they sell. Then what happens when we run out of toilet paper? Use kitchen roll? Normal paper? Sod that, just make sure you have a fluffy pet.

Right, I should go to bed. It's 12:30 and I still need to pack ready for the morning. It's made a little easier by the fact I keep throwing stuff away or losing it. So far I've:

Lost my water bottle
Broken my glasses
Thrown away a hoodie, pair of shorts and a compression packing cube (I was able to do this because I threw away the other clothes and can now fit all my clothes into one cube).

It's making packing and carrying a bit easier!

Stay safe everyone, please share and leave a comment

Chris

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I felt bad about having no photos to add as I've been laid out like an invalid for two days, so here's a picture I just took of a lizard running around my light eating insects. Enjoy!

Posted by cblanc102 08:57 Archived in Thailand Tagged travel thailand vietnam island scuba visa asia koh khao sok tao coronavirus Comments (2)

Ever deeper

Scuba diving isn't just about being in the water

The diving had been fantastic, I'd passed my Open Water certificate and was now allowed to pretty much dive anywhere, but I would also be losing the people I had dived with.

Of the four of us that started the course, only three continued, but all four of us had been out together every night since day one along with the boyfriends of two of the girls and often another couple that dived with Sairee Cottage. We'd also just run into people we knew as we went along. It's a small island.

I had my first bucket with them, for the uninitiated, this is usually about a mug full of some spirit (in this case Vodka) tipped into a small bucket and topped up with coke at a ridiculously cheap price. We sat together at a bar's beach party watching fire jugglers toss their flaming sticks 40 feet to each other over everyone's heads. We played pool and beer pong (how was this my first time? What did I do at Uni? ) we drank and we ate, it was great.

And now they were leaving.

One couple were off to another island, another off to Cambodia to Koh Rong where Klau and I visited a few years back. The last member of our group was going home.

This almost arbitrary friendship between people with almost nothing in common takes some getting used to. I've obviously travelled solo a fair amount, but usually I keep to myself, speaking to very few people and only rarely seeing them more than a day or two. No need to get attached. I got friendly with a group at the hostel in Bangkok, most of whom I only spent an evening with, but this was different because we went through a lot together, we were reliant on each other to get through the day and we chose to spend our time together in the evenings. It meant more. And then you share social media accounts and leave, maybe never seeing each other again.

I'm sure that as this trip progresses, I'll meet many more people, some of who I'll stay in touch with forever, but at the beginning of this experience, it feels a little sadder. Before I left, I was a little wary of hostels, thinking I'd always go for a hotel if it was cheap enough, but now I'm thinking hostels are the way to go. There's a much better chance to meet people there than in a hotel room where I tend to keep myself to myself.

I saw most of them again the next day as I started the advanced course and they were waiting for ferries to take them back to the mainland, it was nice, we wished each other safe journeys and went on with our lives. I'm following their Instagram, they seem to be having a fine time...

I continued my course, diving 5 times over 2 days in some of the greatest visibility (being able to see 15 - 20 meters underwater is incredible) and worst visibility (diving at 30 meters but only being able to see for 3 or 4 meters is scary as hell) I had experienced so far. I dived at night, which was incredible and scary all at once and I explored a wreck, probably the highlight of all the dives. Tired, but happy, it was time for me to move on. I said goodbye to Sairee Beach, Sairee Cottage Diving and the people there I had become friends with, but I promised to come back one day this week and share a beer or two.

I actually saw two of them later that same night as I was eating. Like I said before, small Island

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Beer Pong at it's finest

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A blurry picture of drunk people on a beach at night having a time

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As I former fire safety officer, I should have been more wary, less drunk, when around these

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Getting ready for our night dive

Posted by cblanc102 08:49 Archived in Thailand Tagged islands food diving beach drink hostels scuba underwater friendship alcohol solo_travel Comments (2)

Darling it's better, Down where it's wetter, Take it from me

How to learn scuba diving from a beginner

My choice to visit Koh Tao was to learn to scuba dive. Granted, the place looked (and is) beautiful and I like being around water, but Koh Tao has the reputation as being one of the best places in the world to learn. It certifies more divers than anywhere in the world apart from Cairns Australia.

My start began by picking a diving school. There are some 70 or so schools on the island, I think most of them are on Sairee Beach where I was staying and they all charge the same since they decided on prices a couple of years ago. There was a school some 50m from my room, which would have been nice, but it was SSI (you can do PADI or SSI, they're mostly the same) and they wanted an extra £25 for online books so I ended up going with Sairee Cottage Diving, mostly by reputation and centrality.

I arrived the next day to find that there were 4 of us in our group, myself and 3 young women from Essex, Belgium and Australia. The first day was a morning of watching some pretty dull videos followed by some tests, then into the pool for 10 mins of treading water and a 200 meter swim. Tiring!

We then got to the good stuff!

As you can imagine, scuba is a pretty equipment intensive pastime, The last thing you want 50 feet below the surface is to suddenly lose air, so we went over every piece of equipment, every hose, gauge, attachment, tool many times, getting used to it all, learning how it all operates and what to do if any of it fails. There are a lot of solutions to any eventuality and a lot of skills tests from taking off masks, which seems pretty easy, but not so much at the bottom of the sea, to what to do if you lose your air, sharing supplies, using back ups etc. Our instructor James gave us more skills tests than were required and it was a long first day, but as a result I felt completely safe hitting the ocean the next day.

Day 2 starts with another morning of theory (yay!) before you can get in the sea for your first two dives. We were going to be diving sites called Twins and White Rock. Two of the girls on our course had boyfriends who were already divers and came with us for fun dives, which was great as they took some photos and videos. Until we failed on one of the big tests after only half an hour or so!

Scuba relies on a buddy system. You never dive without your buddy and if you lose them you're supposed to search for them for one minute, then make your way to the surface to regroup. We were at 12 meters and something had happened to one of our group. She went to the surface with James and we waited at the bottom, for at least 5 mins. I think most of us were thinking that we were with our buddies, as well as the 2 advanced divers, so we were ok. I was happy as a clam (pun intended) just pottering around the bottom looking at a Gobi fish and shrimp that lived together, the Gobi on lookout while the mostly blind shrimp built their hole. It was cool.

As we surfaced we were told off for basically being idiots, and we got back on the boat to get ready for dive number 2.

Unfortunately, pretty soon in, one of the group decided that she couldn't continue. It's a very mental thing, very unnatural to breathe underwater and while we're down there we take of our masks, remove our breathers, completely remove our equipment before putting it back on. I've known people in the past who's brains won't even let them snorkel. Good swimmers too, they just couldn't do it.

It was horrible for that to happen, and she was heartbroken. She finished her exams and has passed that half of the course. Fingers crossed she can finish completely one day xx

Day 3 was exciting for everyone. We were going to Sail Rock, the best dive site in Thailand and the visibility had been pretty terrible there for a good while, but was now great.

Oo! There's a lizard! You would think I would be less excited to see them now, they're all over the place. You would be wrong. They walk funny.

So off to Sail rock we go. It was amazing! So much life! But this blog is going on ages, so I'll just tell you how I was a dumbass who got too close to the cliff, freaked out a bit, tried to push away and shoved my hand straight into a sea urchin. It hurt like hell for about 2 days! It's still sore here and there, as the tips are still in my hand! Dumbass.

Still we had two spectacular dives to 18 meters and we had passed our Open Water PADI! Congats to us!

But I wasn't done yet. We'll get to the advanced course next time as this is long enough....

Finally though, to anyone who get's all the way to the end. Please give me your thoughts on these blogs. Is there anything you'd like to hear about? Anything I'm missing? Doing wrong? Let me know in the comments below, Thanks!

When this is your classroom, everything is great
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Posted by cblanc102 03:17 Archived in Thailand Tagged islands diving beach scuba underwater solo_travel Comments (2)

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