Lazy day Sundays

Nudibranch

Nudibranch

I was up at 8:30 to get my breakfast before my dive on Shark Point. A good job as it took half an hour before it was delivered (it was only a banana pancake) and I had to check my equipment before we hopped on the boat at 9:30.

Ours was a small group – myself and our diveguide plus a French couple. Plenty to see as well, and the dive was split as the two less experienced divers were sent up (along with an inflatable sausage) while the remaining two of us continued to explore. Nice not to have to pop up when I’ve still got 80-90 bar left.

Sadly, we didn’t see any sharks. Perhaps we needed to be earlier. But we did see lobsters, cuttlefish, sweetlips, trigger fish, angel fish, bat fish, a lion fish, two turtles… Quite a busy dive, though with a bit of a current towards the end. Not bad for $35 and close to the dive shop as well being barely 15 minutes’ ride by boat.

Pretty flowers

Pretty flowers

When I’d got back Leah told me we’d almost snagged an extra night when someone had rung to cancel. Only they rang back to cancel their cancellation. Grr. I’d have told them “tough” but I don’t run a hotel business. And I’m selfish.

One thing we did discover which I was told didn’t exist – there is, in fact, an ATM on Gili Trawangan. We’ve not used it yet as we loaded up on cash before we came out (5 million between us) but I’ve been reliably informed that it doesn’t charge for withdrawals. Quite a few places seem to take Visa though there’s a fee, normally around 3%.

Random diver

Random diver

In the afternoon, we headed for the beach and I went snorkelling for the first time (believe it or not). Both of us returned a vague shade of pink and in the evening opted for a restaurant nearby with an Indian menu.

The food was good, and the little black cat that sat on my lap appreciated the little titbits we fed her. However, Leah’s tummy didn’t seem to appreciate something that night and… well, let’s just say she didn’t get much sleep.

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Delayed diving

I did finally get to go diving today, but not as much as I’d hoped and later than planned. Two of our divers decided to have a lie in so we left Kuta at 9:30 instead of 7am which pushed the rest of the day back and meant it was my turn to be late meeting David. It wasn’t revenge for last night, I promise!

Up at Tulamben we met a honeymooning couple – Putu is taking the hubbie through his Open Water while the wife is already an Instructor with quite a few dives under her belt. To split groups, I was to take her and the two Dutch chaps (father and son) while Putu again concenrated on the student diver.

However, the younger Dutch guy had a slight cold and was bunged up. He opted to give the first dive a try, but had to resurface after barely getting to 3m. He could equalise, but said the pressure behind his eyes was like a knife. A wise decision not to push it. Unfortunately, when I surfaced to make sure he was OK and send him back to the restaurant, I lost contact with the others.

I decided after waiting for five minutes not to chase after them as by that point I’d be pretty much diving solo until I found them. Before checking on the son, I’d made sure the other two had buddied up and they already have a couple of hundred dives between them. They also hooked up with Putu and our student so their dive went well. I’m just peeved at missing out on another chance at the Liberty wreck as it’s a very good dive.

After lunch, I led them around the Drop Off which went well. Plenty of life down there although visibility isn’t what it was back in September last year. Still, there is a lot to lookout for and we saw, amongst other things, plenty of pipe fish, a huge lion fish and an eel trying to hide in the rocks.

As I said, I was late back to meet David so we’ll try and sort something for later in the week. Right now I’m hoping to find a seat at a cheap restaurant for dinner before grabbing a shower then heading up to the airport to meet Leah on her flight in from Perth.

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Final dives in Dili

Due to Andy’s work schedule he won’t be able to take us diving until Friday – and both Katherine and I are effectively out of Dili by then. So it looks like today’s two dives with the Australian family will be my last in East Timor. Unless I change my plans.

At least they were good ones with all three definitely improving with each descent. All the skills tests are passed and they only have their final exam tomorrow. We managed to spot a scorpion fish, the usual crowd of lion fish, a huge box fish and two trigger fish – amongst all the thousands of other more numerous species.

Once I have Andy’s email address I’ll give him a plug on here. He’s by far and away the cheapest dive option in Dili, but to offset this his schedule is based around his work hours so you’ll have to be prepared to be fluid. Also, as he’s a one-man act (although his wife is also an Instructor) it does limit the size of the groups he can take out.

I have decided to take the bike out tomorrow as Katherine’s now joining another group and renting a 4×4 from Friday onwards. They’re off to circle the island for 4-5 days and I wish they’d come up with this sooner so I could join them! Instead, I’ll try the Baucau run again (second time lucky), and hopefully join Andy and the Australian family again on Friday for two dives at K-41.

As an aside (and I’ll update the earlier post to reflect this) it is possible to get a 60-day visa from the Indonesian embassy for the $45 charge. Simply shout loudly enough and make a fuss. It worked for a Hungarian guy who just moved into our dorm and for two of his friends. Check the Indonesian Visa From Dili post for details.

In other major news, the water is back on at the hostel so the damaged pipe must be fixed. My first shower in three days!

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The rest of the day in Dili

East of Dili at sunset

East of Dili at sunset

After sorting out the visa palaver, I legged it back to the hostel but had already missed Andy. I’d promised I’d help with three first-time divers and wasn’t going to let him down. Fortunately, I knew where the dive was to be so I jumped in a taxi and $3 later I was back at Bali Rock outside the city.

Andy was just giving the dive briefing when I got there so there was no problem with my tardiness. Our group was a dad and his son and daughter who were all fresh from the classroom and doing their skills in a pool – this was their first time diving in open water. Mum had decided to stick to important tasks like providing water and sandwiches.

The first dive was predominantly an orientation. Buddy check, swimming technique, how to sink, basic buoyancy underwater, a chance to feel the need for equalising pressures and so on. On the whole, they did quite well. The kids definitely picked things up faster than their father but that’s really not unusual – try and get a 40 year-old to learn to ride a bike. An 8 year-old will take to it far faster.

We saw some good stuff and the son was definitely in his element, really getting excited about seeing so many things.

After a quick break for water and pressure group relief, we took to the water again and practised again. This time, some basic exercises were completed at 6m – mask removal, regulator recovery and so forth. Back on the surface, weight belts and BCDs were removed and replaced.

A short dive, but more time in the water and a great bit of experience for me. Andy, as I’ve mentioned before, is a good instructor. Very patient, but firm, and knowledgeable. I’ve already told him I’ll help out on Wednesday as well when they do their third and fourth dives.

Now I know I’ll have my passport back on Wednesday, I can get the bus out on Thursday or later. I’ve already checked flight prices and Merpati (the easiest to book within East Timor) are cheapest by far on Sunday.

Outside a park in Dili

Outside a park in Dili

The Merpati office I was told about is inside “Hotel Timor”, the posh place along the main road where the UN staff stay. Enter the main doors, bear left towards the bar, but take a right just before it. It’s down that corridor. [NOTE: this is not the actual Merpati office. See tomorrow’s post for details]

The chap there said he’d check the prices for Saturday and Sunday. Whichever was cheapest, he’d reserve at that price, and send us an email (by “us” I mean myself and the German girl, Kathryn, I was walking around with). He’d be able to hold the price until tomorrow.

My likely plans are diving tomorrow, helping Andy on Wednesday, motorbiking Thursday, bus to Kupang on Friday, whole day in Kupang on Saturday, and fly to Bali on Sunday. I’ll have three days before Leah arrives to perhaps do some more divemastering – and then I’m going to try and get her on a discovery dive or maybe even a full Open Water course.

After the flight check, we walked through a few shops and found a refugee village south of (I think) the Portuguese UN Mission. Basically a lot of houses and a lot of stalls, Kathryn stopped at almost every one to buy part of her shopping – dinner for her and the two guys she’s travelling with. Sweet potatoes here, chillis there, a 1 litre $3 bottle of whisky from somewhere else…

What a smile!

What a smile!

Every time we stopped, we drew a small crowd of local children who all smiled and looked cute. There’s a photo up here of a little girl carrying water bottles who just broke my heart. Absolutely gorgeous and with the most amazing smile. Everyone was ridiculously friendly and helpful, partly I’m sure because Kathryn knows how to ask for prices in the local lingo.

And thence back to the hostel where I went for a shower… then gave up when I found there was no water. Grr. By the time the tanks refill it’ll be night-time and the water will be cold!

Matt (@Vanalli from Twitter) popped over for the beer I owed him. Always good – as ever – to put a face to an email address, or a Twitter account.

There’s a good group here now and I think we’ll be sharing that whisky around after dinner. Andy’s due some time to sort out arrangements for tomorrow and I will try to wash at some point.

Probably.

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First dives in East Timor

Everyone's a critic

Everyone's a critic

I found a local bakery doing brightly-coloured cakes and picked up a couple for breakfast. Maybe not healthy, but I’m on holiday so I don’t care. Andrew was waiting for me when I got back and we had a short chat then jumped into the car with Krystal and Catherine (I think – apologies as ever for my pathetic memory for names), two sisters from Brisbane.

They’re here doing voluntary work up in the hills and usually only make it down at the weekends. They’ve been taking their Open Water with Andrew and the group seemed to get along well. Andy’s an easy chap to talk to with a wealth of experience. Hailing from South Africa, he’s doing contract work out here and diving around it predominantly on the weekends.

As I was partly assisting, I didn’t get to spend as much time looking at the scenery as I’d normally hope. However, I worked my way up to Divemaster for a few reasons and one of them was so I could help out with things like this and I really enjoyed it. The girls have much better eyesight than Andy or I, so in between practise exercises and working on buoyancy they spotted some excellent examples of aquatic life.

Lionfish

Lionfish

Pick of the bunch was probably the school of lion fish. Usually you see one or two of these at most. If  you’re lucky. We found a group of five. Also in the area are scorpion fish, stone fish and many other types that don’t actually hurt if you touch them. Krystal also spotted a ray buried under the sand.

Including a surface break for refreshments and de-toxing, we were out until early afternoon. The girls were very receptive to criticism and pointers and had visibly improved from the first dive to the second. As with many starting divers, their main issue was one of buoyancy. Hopefully the advice I gave will help them and they’ll keep the hobby up. Living in Brisbane, they’re only a short hop away from some excellent sites back home.

On the way back, Andy mentioned he had a group on Monday – a father and two 15-year old boys – and would I like to help out? No charge, obviously. Pope. Poop. Woods. This is why I did the Divemaster course! So that’s Monday morning sorted.

Stone fish

Stone fish

The girls were supposed to reappear to collect some of the photos, but I’ve been sat here for two hours now so I guess they changed their minds. No worries – ladies, you have my email. Drop me a line and I’ll post the pics somewhere you can get the full-resolution versions from! [Update – they passed by quickly on their way to Mass – hope you weren’t too late!]

My plan currently is to spend Sunday around the surrounding area on a motorbike ($25 including fuel from the hostel). Monday for the dives and in the afternoon I’ll pop my passport in for a new Indonesian visa. I’ve calculated it’s far cheaper to do the reverse trip than to fly directly back to Bali. It’s more of a pain to sort, but it’ll save me around $150. It’s not like I don’t have the time!

Scorpion fish

Scorpion fish

I may head off into the countryside on Tuesday and Wednesday, just for the change. With luck, my visa should be collectable by Wednesday or Thursday and then I can sort out my return bus and a flight from Kupang to Bali.

All I need now is a non-ANZ ATM so I don’t get screwed for $2 with every withdrawal. ANZ – you’re evil. If I ever move to Oz, rest assured I’m not banking with you. Oh, and a cybercafe with a working printer. I have to have a printout of my flight tickets for my visa application. More details on the visa farce shortly. Seriously, they make it like drawing teeth.

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