And so we bring to conclusion another fun and successful trip! Today we did two dives to round out the week of diving, and believe it or not these were some of the best dives of the week. We headed out to the west end of Roatan where the water was calmer, and did the first dive where we saw two turtles, lots of lobsters and some very healthy coral reef formations.
Today was a huge day for things underwater….including at least one free swimming green moay eel on every dive, three turtles on the second morning dive, lots of lobsters on the night dive, and the highlight of the day/night was a huge toadfish sighting! Plus we go to dive the wreck of the Odyssey, a frieghter in about 100 feet of water.
What a day of fun and great dives! During each of the two morning dives, we again spotted large green moray eels freely swimming over the reef. Other sightings included a scorpionfish, a few lionfish (more on that later) and tons of healthy barrel, tube and vase sponges. Our new divers are really “getting their feet wet” with all the gear assemblies, diving and disassemblies….heck, they're starting to look like old pros!
Today found our group somewhat splintered…at least for the first morning dive. Part of our group decided to take part in the shark dive that is done on the south side of the island at a dive site called Cara y Cara, or Face to Face. This dive is an optional one that many of the dive operators on Roatan utilize not only to bring some additional excitement to each week, but also to prove to those who think that sharks are some man hunting animals that they are wrong, and dharks are some of the nost beautiful animal in the sea. Everyone who went on the shark dive today came back very excited, and many were anxious to see what video and still shots they had captured. Read more
Forgive me for not getting started on this trip report sooner…..but we've been having too much fun and great dives to stop and jot down a few thoughts!
So, let's get started. We left Milwaukee on Saturday, the 1st, with bitter cold and snow left behind. After a one hour delay for aircraft computer problems and plane de-icing, we finally left and made our way to Houston. Upon arrival in Houston, we found out the flight from Houston to Roatan was also delayed, due to a maintenance issue. So, we left Houston about 90 minutes late and arrived in Roatan well after our scheduled time. No matter, since we were on holiday and we certainly welcomed the 80 plus degree temperature difference between Milwaukee and Roatan!
After checking in and completing all our documents for the resort, we all headed to our rooms to unpack and freshen up a bit before heading to the bar and dinner. Needless to say we all went to bed rather early.
Sunday morning started with picking up our weights and getting a briefing on how to use the resort's nitrox analyzer, as well as getting briefed on boat procedures. After that we were all required to jump off the back of the boat while moored to the dock in full gear to check weights and do a couple of basic skills for the divemaster, just to ensure we were comfortable. Once everyone was set for weights and skills, we headed out for the first dives of the week. Water temperature was in the upper 70's, with visibility around 50 feet.
Since we had a group of 19 divers, we were assigned one of the 48 foot boats, with lots of room for gear and divers, plus these boats are very stable in the water. The crew consisted of one captain and two divemasters. All were very helpful in getting divers into and out of the water, with lots of good natured banter between us and them.
The dive schedule is normally three per day: 8:30am, 11am, and 2:15pm departures, with two night dies per week, generally on Tuesday and Thursday. After each dive the boat comes back to the resort, so you can skip a dive and not lose out on subsequent ones. Today we were scheduled for a morning boat dive on the El Aguila wreck, followed by the second dive on the south side of the island then a buffet lunch at the resort's other facility on the south side called Maya Key, then a third dive on the way back to the resort.
The second dive today was at Roatan's signature dive site called “Mary's Place” which is a labrynth of swim throughs and passages through the coral wall that would make any diver giddy. Healthy reef tops, and schools of fish complete the experience at this dive site.
Today's third dive was done on the way back to the resort at a site called “West End Wall”. During this dive we had a huge green moray eel swim with us for a bit, and some of the photographers captured some stunning images and video clips.
So, there's a recap of today's dives…more to follow, so be sure to watch this space! Also be sure to subscribe to our blog so you won't mss any updates!
First off, let me preface this report by saying this was our second trip to Wakatobi, the first being in October, 2009. I'll try to describe some of the differences from four years ago compared to the recent trip and give the reader some idea of what to expect when they travel to this fantastic place….
I had booked this trip in the fall of 2011 at our annual trade show. This is pretty much the norm for Wakatobi, as the resort gets booked up quite quickly, especially for groups. We had 12 in our group, which turned out to be a really good number, as you will see later.
Our itinerary was planned so that everyone in our group met in Los Angeles the day before we left, simply because of flight schedules, and to ensure all baggage made it. We flew from LAX to Singapore via Singapore Airlines on the new Airbus A380 double decker planes, with a stop in Tokyo. The LAX to Tokyo leg was a little over 11 hours, then from Tokyo to Singapore was about 7 hours. We landed in Singapore about 2am, and had reservations at one of the airport transit hotels, a welcome chance to sleep horizontally for a few hours and get cleaned up after the long flights. Our next flight from Singapore to Bali left about 930am, and was only about 3 hours flying time. Now is where the trip really begins!
Upon arrival in Bali, we were met by representatives from Wakatobi, who collected our passports and visa fees, then proceeded to whisk us past all immigration and customs lines at the arrival hall. A nice service, considering we had been in airplanes for way too long at this point! Once we were through customs and immigration, we retrieved our bags, and were again met by more representatives from Wakatobi, who had arranged porters to help us get our bags to our waiting prearranged transfer van to the hotel in Bali. Wakatobi requires everyone to arrive at least one day before going to the resort, to ensure all passengers and bags arrive. We had arranged for an evening at the Kartika Plaza hotel, located right on the beach in Kuta, a major tourist area. The Kartika is beautiful and with all the amenities one would expect in a higher end business class hotel.
After one night's stay in Bali, we were transported back to the airport by the same van and driver from the day before. This time, however, we were taken to the domestic departure area of the airport, where once again, representatives from Wakatobi were waiting outside the terminal to give us entry passes to the airport, and to help coordinate our bags with the porters. Once inside, we were led to the domestic counter, where we were given special luggage tags with our names already printed on them to attach to our bags. The Wakatobi staff also zip-tied all our bags' zippers for extra security. After we had done all the baggage tasks, we were led to a private departure lounge where we witied until the time came to board the private charter flight from Bali to the airstrip on Tomia, a neighboring island near Wakatobi.
The private charter flight takes about 2.5 to 3 hours, depending on weather, and flies over some very picturesque areas of Indonesia. The airplane used was a smaller jet, large enough to take all the passengers plus all their bags with room to spare. In 2009 the plane was a prop style, and was quite small, but roomy enough for passengers.
Upon landing, we disembarked the plane and of course, representatives from Wakatobi were present to greet all the passengers and lead them to the waiting vehicles for transportation to the marina where the boats were waiting to take us to the resort. If you haven't guessed by now, everything ran smoothly, without any hitches or problems. Frankly this is exactly what happened to us in 2009, and what one would expect from Wakatobi. Well coordinated, friendly, welcoming and efficient service. Many resorts claim to have good service, but Wakatobi is head and shoulders above everything else when it comes to making their guests feel welcome.
Once everyone was on board one of the 70 foot dive boats used to transport guests from the marina to the resort, we headed off for the 15 minute boat ride to the resort itself. There is nothing quite like rounding the point on the island where the resort is situated and seeing the famous resort in the distance. The first thing you see is the long jetty where the bar is located and where the dive boats tie up depending on the tides.
During the time we were at the resort, we took advantage of a behind the scenes tour and one of the most interesting things about the resort is the jetty. Because of the environmental sensitivity of the resort, the jetty took 7 years to complete, because work was only done at ultra-low tide, so as not to damage any of the pristine coral reef structures around the resort. Another great feature of the jetty are the sunsets that can be enjoyed while sipping an adult beverage!
So, we finally arrived at Wakatobi! We were shown to our bungalows which were situated right on the beach and got a quick orientation to the room and schedule by one of the Wakatobi staff. In the past, this was done as a group, but on this trip, a staff person guided us to our room, showed us all the amenities and explained the schedule and resort layout. Locally constructed out of teak and mahogany, the bunglows are beautifully appointed with crisp linens, thirsty towels in the outdoor shower, a small stocked fridge and lots of closet space.
All of the bungalows now have a spacious front porch area which is ideal for afternoon naps on the huge couches, working on your logbook, or just watching the water. In addition, each of the bungalows has a small foot shower near each of the steps to the bungalow, as it is customary in Indonesia to not wear shoes inside your bungalow. For many, this is an interesting twist….you don't wear shoes for the entire time you are at Wakatobi, unless you have sensitive feet, or if you do the village tour.
Before I go further and describe the diving operation and conditions, a word needs to be said about the food! In a word, the food is spectacular. Breakfast starts at 6am, which seems extremely early, but many of the guests are awake very early in the morning after the long flights. Lunch is from 1230pm to 230pm, and dinner is from 7pm to 9pm. All meals are served buffet style, with lots of variety, including western options and local fare. The desserts are to die for. You will not lose weight on this trip!
OK, now on to the diving…..there are three boat dives done every day, with the exception of arrival day and the day before departure. The dive boats are 70 feet long (yikes!) and only 12 divers are allowed on each boat. As you can imagine, this allows for lots of space for gear and cameras. The boats are staffed with a captain, three crew members who help you with your gear, changing tanks, and securing the boat on moored sites. In addition, there were three guides for the group of 12 divers. This is where I mentioned earlier 12 is an ideal number for this trip, as each guide would only lead 4 divers. Each morning your gear is set up for you, and all you need to do is grab your camera from the air conditioned camera room and board the boat. Your wetsuit and gear is rinsed and hung to dry every evening. Dive briefings are done right on the boat either while the boat is docked or at the dive site. The guides do an excellent job of drawing the dive site profile, describing what one can expect to see, and they also go into detail on safety procedures and hand signals. On many of the dives, the current woud pick up a bit, and the guide wold turn the dive from a standard reef dive into a nice relaxing drift dive. No reason to work hard here!
If you decide you'd like to try some shore diving, the resort can accommodate you easily! All you need to do is let your guide know and they will arrange to have your gear brought off the boat and hung in a special area on shore near the dive shop. When you are ready for your shore dive, the land crew members will help with whatever you need…they will carry all your gar, cameras, fins, etc.right into the water and wait for you to end your dive, and then they come out to the water to help you with exiting the water. The service level is almost ridiculous in its efficiency. You literally don't have to lift a finger.
As far as diving conditions, well, let's just say they are varied, as is the topography. Some dive sites were current-free while others had some current and as mentioned above, we never had to fight any currents. The guides would always be aware of conditions and modfied the dive plan to ensure everyone was safe and had an easy dive. This is where the group of only 4 divers really helps. Water temperatures were a consistent 81-83 degrees, and most everyone was comfortable in 3mm suits. Dive times ranged from as little as 45 minutes on some of the deeper dives, to well over 80 minutes on some of the shallower sites. Tanks are AL80 with a few AL100 tanks available. Nitrox is available and was a consistent 31-32% with always 3000-3200 psi in each tank. After each dive, we were helped back to our place on the boat, where a crew member would take our tank and switch it out for the next dive, and all we had to do is put our fins and masks in our basket located under the seat. Easy! Every diver was also issued a nice aluminum water bottle which was filled with water, hot chocolate, or hot tea, brewed or made fresh right on the boat. Even though the air temperature was in the mid to upper 90s, after a long dive, something warm to drink was appreciated. Snacks on the boat consisted of small finger sandwiches, fruit, cookies, and sometimes candy. Remember, you won't lose weight here! Once we were served our beverage of choice, the crew would come around with hot mint-scented hand towels….a nice touch, to be sure. At the dive shop was posted a list of the planned dive sites, along with recommended lens choice for the photographers…wide angle or macro.
Marine life is also varied, from the smallest pygmy seahorse to large turtles and a few sharks and eagle rays. Clouds of fish, especially on the shallower parts of the dives. Tons of colorful nudibranchs and acres of pristine hard and soft corals. Lots of anemone and their associated fish friends. Sensory overload to say the least. The guides are great when it comes to spotting interesting creatures. In most cases, they will identify a creature using their magnetic slate. First, they will write out the common name, make sure everyone sees it, them they will erase the slate and then write out the scientific name. This was especially true when they saw nudibranchs. Impressive!
Some additional highlights:
- Everyone knows your name within a couple of hours after arriving at the resort. Don't ask me how they do it…we suspected they look at pasport photos when we arrived.
- Overpack on memory cards for your camera, and underpack on clothes. Leave the diamond tiaras at home. Laundry service is available for a fee, and on both trips we had some articles laundered and they came back beautifully clean and pressed.
- WiFi is available, but is relatively slow………remember, you go to Wakatobi to get away.
- Snorkeling off the beach in front of the resort is fantastic.
- The camera room is really nice…air conditioned and with both 220 and 110 volt charging stations
- There is a well stocked boutique at the resort with Wakatobi apparel, and some toiletries.
- The soap, shampoo and conditioner provided in the bungalows are really, really nice.
- The bungalows numbered in the upper teens to twenties are situated on the island where there is more of a breeze during the day.
- Bungalows have in-room safes and phones to contact other bungalows or the front desk.
- Spa services are also available.
So, this is definitely a bucket list trip, and one every serious diver needs to plan on doing at least once. From the efficient service, warm welcome, great food, excellent diving, and friendly staff, one would be hard pressed to find a better overall experience on a dive adventure!
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