Going back to Statia

With this never ending winter and fake spring, I am really looking forward my next holidays. I am going back to Statia (like last year in February). Of course, I’ll be diving with the same dive center: Scubaqua since it was so great.

I am going 2 months later than last year, so I hope that I will see more juvenile fish and I also hope to get the chance to see and/or hear whales….

So next post, hopefully this week-end after my first dives!

Diving and birding in Weda

The holidays are over. My first impressions on the quantities and varieties of the first dive are confirmed. More days would be necessary to explore the different portions and different depths of the reef. There is so much to see that you really need to go slowly, to take time to look around, with just a small kick with your fins from time to time. This way, you are also less likely to frighten the fish and so you can sometimes really swim in the middle of them.

I have done 23 dives, many of the (very large) Elmoos reef where there are multiple sites (at least 6). These were surely my favorite dives: a vertical wall with plenty of more or less large cavities. The fauna was very rich with several species of hard corals, soft corals and sponges. And frolicking around, lots of fish. The show was easy to watch, you only had to look at the schools of surgeons, fusiliers, triggerfish, etc passing by.

I had plan to do 3 dives a day, but because we did very long dives, we had time to do only 2. But it was better this way, because we could enjoy more the sites further from the resort which were, in  my opinion, better than the ones closest to the resort.

Another interesting thing about diving in Weda is that it is a new diving area, and several of the sites had been dived only once. So it was a little bit like explorations.

To be continued… and for pictures please see on my blog in French

Weda Resort (Halmahera) – First days – 20 November 2012

This year I went back to Indonesia, but for a change, not in Sulawesi. This time I went on the island of Halmahera, in the Moluccas.carte_indonesie_fr

molluques_grande It takes longer to go there. I left Geneva on Thursday morning and reached first Singapore (via Zurich) early on Friday morning. A couple of hours later there was the flight to Manado, arriving at 13:00. It was too late to take the next plane, and I had to spend the night in Manado. It is not too bad, because it gives you the opportunity to recuperate from the long hours of flight and of the jetlag. So, on Saturday morning, I went back to the airport, in the domestic part this time. We were only 3 Europeans on the flight to Ternate. I think the 2 other guides were working at one of the mines of Halmahera. From this point, I really felt off outside the main touristic tracks. The flight is short (45 minutes). The Ternate airport is small and really close to a conic shaped volcano. From the airport, I was picked-up and driven to the port or rather the jetty where I was transferred to a small boat for the crossing to Halmahera. Samedi17-voyage-008 Samedi17-voyage-005From here, there are 3 hours by car to finally reach Weda Resort. The road first follows the coast and goes through small villages with very simple but tidy houses. There were several bright colored schools, a few churches and mosques and many coconut plantations. Then we left this road and turned inland to cross the island. The island is mountainous and the scenery becomes really beautiful with the road progressively going up in the forest. It is of course a rain forest with tall trees and huge plants. It makes it for a pleasant ride but I am still happy to finally arrive at the Resort. At the end the tarmac disappear for a hard-packed earth, but it is only for the 5-10 last minutes that are a bit bumpy.

The resort is in a small clearing with the forest on one side and the sea on the other side. There are 5 bungalows and a “main house” with a big terrace where we will have our meals and chill out.

Resort-008Linda and Rob are here to welcome me. I know them from Divers Lodge Lembeh that they still own but not run anymore. I really liked the organization there and the atmosphere they set, so when Rob talked about the new resort in Weda, I was really tempted to visit it. So here I was, sipping a fresh coconut juice, straight from the shell, admiring the setting for the 12 next days… A bit later, I settled in my bungalow, put my diving equipment in a plastic basket that would be picked-up and brought to the boat by the diving crew, and as it was already almost time for dinner, went back up to the common area to meet with the other divers. On my arrival, there were 2 Dutch couples, and two Swiss German travelling together but not actually a “couple”. I would dive with them the next day, but in the meantime we had dinner together. As in DLL, everybody sits a the same big table. It is much more convivial. After the meal (lots of delicious food) I did not hang around for a long time and went back to my bungalow to have a good night sleep. Departure for the first dive is set at 7:30 when it is still relatively cool.

So on Sunday morning, after breakfast, I was ready to embark on the small boat that can take easily 8 divers. In the boat there is a space to sit in the shade and a space with the tanks and our equipment. You go in with a back roll entry and you go back using a ladder after giving your tank to the boatmen. There is water and tea to drink, and biscuits and fruits to eat after the dives. In the morning the schedule is two dives separated by at least one hour. Then we go back to the resort for lunch, a short nap and then the 3rd dive.

For these first dives, visibility is average and with some the current (from a little to a little too much…). The corals are abundant and varied, except on small areas, in very good condition. But what strikes me more is the amount of fish, both in quantities and in “families” (butterflies, anthias, parrotfish, damselfish, surgeons, fusiliers, wrasses, etc). On the smaller scale: nudibranchs, seahorses, shrimps, crabs. And there are also quite a few pelagic, like schools of jacks and so far, two sharks (a white tip and black tip).

On my first day, I did 3 dives. This afternoon dive was closer to the resort than the morning one, and very different since it was a muck dive. It was not as rich as the Lembeh one, but still very interesting if you have good eyes (or a good dive guide, which was the case).

Afterwards, it is back to the resort, for a nice warm shower. And around 5 o’clock, we are brought a snack (banana fritters, pancakes with coconut, etc.).  It is also the time when the local frogs begin to croak. This signals the end of the day and therefore the start of mosquitoes’s attacks.

The resort is not only for diving, but it also receives birdwatchers because there are many rare and/or endemic birds in this area. So during the dinner, we  talk fish and birds. So I really don’t see how I could not enjoy my stay here!

I still have to work on my pictures which are not very good to start with (I do need some sort of light for my small compact camera). In the meantime, see this article from my blog in French (photos straight from the camera…)

Kas (Turkey) for the 4th time – September 2012

So many places to discover, and I keep going back to Kas! Of course it is not among the best locations in the world for diving, but it is a very nice place to spend holidays. It is a pretty small town far enough from an airport not to be too touristy (at least in September). You don’t see the big hotels that spoil the coast from Antalya to Kemer, and most people come here here for a couple of days while visiting the antique sites around, or they are walking (Kas is along the Lycean Way, a long distance hiking trail), or, of course, they come there for diving. It is probably one of the best place in Turkey for diving and it has now a Reserve (no fishing allowed) so it the fauna should increase in future years.

September is a good month to go there. Besides the fact that there are not many tourists, the water is warm and the weather very good.
Like the previous time, I went for 10 days. That means that I could not take a charter flight to Antalya, but instead regular flights via Zurich. Once in Antalya, there is still a 3 hours drive to Kaş if you take a taxi (more you use public transportation). The road becomes very nice from Kumluca when it becomes more mountainous on the right side with a less domesticated coast on the left. Pretty as it was, I was still happy to finally arrive. This year, I stayed at the “White Pension”, a small and pretty pension in the eastern part of the town. The owner did not speak much English (hardly more than I know of Turkish) but they were very friendly and we did manage to communicate.

Kas After settling in my (small) room, I went for a quick swim from one of the sea-side pension’s “platform” which definitely put me on holiday’s mode. Then I went to my dive center Archipel where the welcome was as usual very friendly. I spent a while chatting and then went back in town to see what had changed. My favourite restaurant had changed, but besides this, nothing new.

There are many diving centers in Kas. I have always been diving with Archipel. They exist since 2002 and are opened all year long.  The diving team is not only very friendly but also very serious about security and the well being of divers.  They are also very eco-conscious and hand out to every diver information on the Marine Reserve around Kas with the diving rules that all divers should follow aiming at diving having a minimum impact of the ecosystem of the area.

a-bord-004.jpgOf course, they know the dive sites very well and will adapt to both sea conditions and to the divers experience. Another thing that I like very much about his dive center is that their customers are usually a mixture of divers from different countries, including from Turkey which makes it an even more interesting experience. This is also where I did my PADI rescue training (see here).

They do 2 dives everyday, one in the morning (leaving the harbour at 10:00) and one in the afternoon (leaving at 03:00) except once a week when they go for the day (with a nice lunch organized on board). Their boat is big with plenty of space for both getting ready and resting or discussing.

I did 12 dives during my holidays. There was sometimes a bit of current, but nothing problematic, and the visibility was excellent. All the dives were guided and we had to be back on the boat with 50 bars. So we had to go back for the first person who would reach this limit, but we could stay around the mooring point until we got ourselves to 50 bars.


Funny looking guide, but very good at spotting small stuff, like seahorses

The guides were very good at spotting the local fauna and show you stuff most people would not see by themselves. I did put a lot of entries in my logbook during this week (for example: turtles, barracudas, parrotfish, groupers, flute fish, squirrel fish, octopus, squids, nudibranches, and seahorses).

deve-tasi-003.jpgpina-banko-005.jpgAlso as Kaş was a busy port during the Antiquity, you can still see lots of (protected) amphoras dating of this time at several dive sites.

pina-banko-009.jpgBut for me one asset of the diving there are the rock formation and I found that the diving can be spectacular. In fact, two of Kaş dive sites are among my very favourites: Canyon and Tunnel. We did the 2 of them during both this time, among the 12 dives of my holidays. In both of them, you go down between vertical walls (around 30 meters deep), and for Tunnel, you then swim through a short tunnel. There are very nice tricks of light and I found it very pleasant to glide through these special rock formations.

Looking back up Canyon

Looking back up Canyon


On topside, I did not do much… Between the 2 dives, I would go for a salad at Baba Noël, a café that also serves snacks and has a good view on the harbour. In the evening, I would update my blog in French (this one had to wait until I was back in France, me being too lazy to work on two blogs…) and then go back in town to go the dive center office and see if there was someone to chat with (i.e. if there was someone speaking English). Then dinner time and sleeping time. I did not, as I had planned to, do any other activity that are possible in Kaş. You can for example do a sea-kayak trip to the ancient city of Kekova (which I did on first holidays) Kayak trip to Kekovaor go hiking in the mountains, visit antiques sites, etc…

Kas amphitheater

Kas amphitheater

So even with a very quiet schedule (not to say a lazy one…), these holidays went very quickly, and too soon, it was time to go back home.

A little more about Statia

Or what I forgot to tell:

During every dive, we saw lots of fish, the most usual suspects being: surgeons, butterflies, angelfishes, squirrels, groupers, parrots, damsels, grunts, snappers, wrasses, boxfishes, filefishes, triggerishes, trumpet fishes… There were also a lot of lobsters, some of them very big. Some of them I had never seen before like the honeycomb cowfish or the whitespotted filefish. Other like the fairy basset, I found out about them, like they swim upside down when they are under an overhanging rock.

Most of the island is protected (the national park exists since 1996), so the underwater life is plentiful and healthy.

Once I saw the “shadow” of a shark, away in the blue, but I did see clearly a nurse shark sleeping in a little cave like shelter. The picture I took is not good because the visibility was bad (that was the only day). And and, during one dive (Gibralatar, in the north of the island), we heard a whale! Honestly, I did not identify this sound as coming from a whale, but Carol, our guide, told us afterwards and I was thrilled!

Water was 26◦C and visibility was from good to excellent, except for one dive when it was more limited because there had been a lot of surge the previous day. While I was there, there was no or very little current, except for one dive at the northen tip of the island (but it was still OK).

Above water… well I did not get (or made) time to see much of it. Statia is very quiet and peaceful. People say hello to each other, and I always felt safe. Besides diving, there are several walks to be done, among them going up the Quill (the volcano) and look for flowers and birds. Talking about birds, there were a lot of a sort of dove, and also spectacular red and green parrots. Next year, I’ll have to bring binoculars! In the town of Oranjestat, there is a small but interesting museum about the history of Statia. It gives a lot of information, and shows a lot of documents, maps and artefacts. But if you need to know more on Statia, you better look on the web, because I don’t remember much… One more reason to go back there.

15 dives… that’s not enough!

I dove every day, except one day when the surge was too big. Scubaqua has two boats, which allow for flexibility and small groups. The organisation was very good. We would meet at the diver center and transfer our equipement (except for our wetsuit that we put on halfway) from their individual boxes to the truck that will take us to the harbour. The briefing takes place at the center. Then it is a few minutes drive to the boat. The boats are small but big enough for the number of divers. Most of the dive sites are really close and even the more distant ones are not very far (15 minutes?). Except one one occasion, the boat is not anchored but tied to a mooring ball. Before we go in, the guides check the current and change the plan if necessary. There is always one of the guide who stay on board for security (the captain of the day..). We would normally descent and ascent along the mooring line. The dive profile is usually square and I found out that it would have been better for me to use Nitrox (provided at no extra cost). The dives last until you reach 50 bars: once you signal to the guide you have reach this limit, he/she would take you to the mooring line, so that you can go up and do your safety stop while the rest of the group continue diving.

Safety stop in the Caribbean blue

The choice of the dive sites was excellent and I enjoyed every one of them. Some I would re-do again and again. So I’ll have to go back, and also to discover the many sites we did not dive then.

So, my favorite dives were:

Double Wreck: actually named after the ballast of ancient wrecks. It is very interesting to dive with areas covered with sponges and corals and sandy areas. So it is varied and rich, and you need to keep your eyes and look everywhere.

Sting Ray



Surrounded by a school of “sardines”


Chien Tong: I usually don’t like much wrecks, but this one is an exception. It is old enough to be covered with corals and sponge, attracting a lot of life, and recent enough to be in good state, making interesting the exploration of the structures.

Spotted Drum fish

Chien Tong by night: the first night dive I actually enjoyed! As usual,  I was a bit reluctant to do a night dive, partly because I find them a bit scary. Here, the promise of seeing at least 6 turtles and the fact that we would be only two with Mike (the guide) conviced me to give it a try. Well, I am really glad I did it! There were 11 turtles, most of them HUGE, very big stingray and also much smaller stuff but very beautiful like some “psychadelic” anemone and cryptic crab that was a marvel to see. Diving around and INSIDE the wreck was great too (and a bit spooky too…).

Grand Canyon: the deeper dive of my holidays, you glide down between 2 walls covered with black gorgones. It is impressive and I wanted to enjoy really enjoy it, and I left my camera switched off. Luckily, diving with us was Solomon, super photograph and Blue Caribbean magazine editor, who very kindly let me put this picture in this blog.

Grand CanyonThe Humps: another site that I liked because of the quantities of the fish but mostly because I saw there for the first time in my life two Eagle Rays. They were magnificent!

Box fish – The Humps

Eagle ray – The Humps

– Aquarium: this site is in the northen part of the island (contrary to most of the dives we went to which are in the south). The landscape is a bit rockier and darker and is really exciting to search. During the briefing, Caro had told us we might see Nudibranches, and (of course) she found 3. They were small and too slender for me to take a good picture. On the other, I did find one myself!

Easier to spot and to photograph:

Flamingo tongue

There were also the usual fish and turtles.

Charles Brown: it is the wreck of a “cable boat” that was sunk in 2003. It is interesting to dive around because there is a lot to see, but being relatively new, I find it lacks a bit of life on it, but as if to compensate, there is usually a very large school of big-eye jack swimming by.

Charles L Brown wreck

Big-Eye jacks

Anchor and Hangover: 2 typical dive sites which are very rich in coral, sponges, fish and which are really interesting to explore because there are plenty of rock formation to inspect and bits of sand to scrutinize.

Spotted moray eel – Anchor

Barracuda – Hangover

Underwater garden – Hangover

To be continued (I have yet to see a Caribbean frogfish and seahorse!!!)

Statia – Februay 2012 – first days…

Statia – February 2012

So this winter, I did not go either in Indonesia or in the Philippines but in the Caribbean. One of the advantages of diving is to discover different environments. Beneath the surface of the water, there are all kinds of blues, landscapes, flora and fauna.
In deciding to go in this corner of the world, I looked for a place with good diving course, but also quiet, with no crowds of tourists, no big hotel resorts, etc … Well, Statia fits perfectly these requirements!

Departure on Thursday, during an Air France strike, but, luckily, none of my two flights has been canceled. In St. Martin, we change air company and type of aircraft. Just before embarking in a very small plane with only 15 seats, barely bigger than a mini-bus, I meet Laetitia who was also travelling from Geneva and will also go diving with Scubaqua. The flight to Statia is only 20 minutes long.

Winair flight to Statia

Statia airport is tiny, and passport control and baggage claim go quickly. The welcoming committee consists of Caroline and Menno, two Scubaqua guides, who take us to our respective hotels. Everything is going fine, I now feel really on vacation!

Bagage claim…

At my hotel “The Golden Era”, I unpack my non-diving stuff, put on some sandals, and then Caroline takes me to Scubaqua  to drop off my equipment. The dive center is next to a very good restaurant, the Blue Bead, where I will eat tonight and several other nights. But right now, I just ate quickly as it’s been almost 20 hours I got up and I am starting to feel sleepy. For the next day, I have decided to rest and explore the surrounding area. I begin to dive on Saturday.

Friday is an adaptation day: it is close to 40 ° C higher than in Geneva. So I won’t do much. A short tour in “town” where most houses are made of wood. The ones in stone are dating from the Dutch colonial era. There is a historical museum that I’ll visit next week, a few restaurants and supermarkets where I shop for my picnic lunch: it will be Chinese noodles every day!

Saturday, I finally go diving! We all meet at the dive center, put on (partly) our wetsuit, get the briefing and go by pick-up truck for two/three-minute journey to the port which is a free zone. For this reason, we must get down of the pickup to walk through the gate that marks the boundary of the harbor! It’s a little weird and funny, but that’s the rule and we have to follow it. Then we boarded on the diving boat where there is room for a dozen divers. A short trip to the dive site, and we are ready to go! The sea is a little choppy and once with water, I’m a bit “shaken”. I only think of keeping my regulator in my mouth after swallowing a bit of water twice… Then I go down, or at least I try to…, but I need some help to start my descent. I’ll have to put a little more weight in my pockets. At the bottom, there is a turtle greeting us! Thank you turtle! And the diving can begin. The landscape is fairly flat with lava flows which are covered by corals, sponges and gorgones.

There are plenty of fish; some of them are of the same family than those found in Asia and other more local, like this pretty French Angel Fish.

I am delighted with this dive and so glad to be here! 50 minutes later, I have to go back to the boat as I already have only 50bars left in my tank. There are still a lot of waves, a little too much for my taste and I start to feel a bit seasick … Back on land and after a Coke and crackers, I still don’t really feel better, so I decide to cancel my dive of the afternoon.

The following day, I am starting to get my sea legs (and the waves get smaller…), so from now on, I will be able to do my daily two dives.