Thursday, July 30, 2009

Gili Fast Boat or is it Wet Boat?

Bali, Indonesia - We left the Gili Islands Tuesday to head back to Bali by fast boat. There are several options for getting to and from the Gili Islands with the fast boat being the quickest and most expensive option. The fast boats are really speedboats 25-35 feet with several large outboard motors that seat 20 to 30 people.

On our last night the wind really picked up such that we had 4-5 foot choppy seas. That might not sound like much but that was in addition to the normal swells. The swells here are pretty unbelievable. As I mentioned in a previous post Indonesia has some of the greatest currents around as it is where the Pacific and Indian Oceans meet up. The Pacific Ocean is several feet higher than the Indian Ocean so that coupled with the thousands of islands that make up the Indonesian Archipelago create rivers through the islands.

The swells seemed to be about 100 feet long and 20 feet deep and on our way out to Gili we would gently ride up and gently ride down but on the journey back the swells were accompanied by 4 to 5 foot chop which made it quite a bumpy ride

The currents between the island we were on, Gili Trawangan and the island next to it, Gili Air about a half mile away were as bad as anything we saw on the Mekong River.

So our fast boat left about 1130am for the 2.5 hour journey back to Bali and it was an adventure. We were going across the chop so by the end of the journey I felt like I had a compressed spine.

At one point I was taking note of where the life jackets were and wondering if I could use my belt to secure Betsy and I together in the water but we made it back with no issues and I have a feeling that the waves were nothing out of the ordinary as none of the boat staff seemed particularly worried!

On Thursday we head to Singapore for one night and then on Friday we head to Sri Lanka for our last month of travel. Sri Lanka will be a nice change from Southeast Asia and we are really looking forward to it.

Diving the Gili Islands

Bali, Indonesia - Diving was excellent in the Gili Islands and we greatly enjoyed our last 5 nights and 4 days. We did 8 dives over 4 days with visibility up to 30 m. The only downsides of diving in the Gili's are most of the coral above about 15m has been bombed by fishermen so you really have to dive to 20-30m to see the best coral formations and sea life. It makes diving in the Gili's not that great for those with only their Open Water certification. It was definitely worthwhile getting our Advanced Certification in Koh Tao!

The other downside of diving in the Gili's are the currents. We had a couple of dives where it felt like we were diving in a river. You feel like you are holding on more than just floating along. But those two things aside the variety of sea life is amazing. We saw turtles, ocotopi, scorpionfish, mackerel, barramundi, crabs, prawns, frogfish, pipefish, trumpetfish, lionfish, sharks, cuttlefish and so on and so on.

It was a great trip and already has us thinking of our next dive trip, maybe to the Red Sea in Egypt or Belize.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Shark Diving

Gili Trawangan, Indonesia - Today we got back in the water and went diving for the first time in 3 weeks. Our first site of the day was Shark Point which is supposedly one of the best sites on the Gili Islands. We were quite excited to see a shark for the first time or I should say I was excited to see a shark, Betsy was a little nervous, so nervous that I nicknamed her "Shark Bait".

Down we went to 22m for 52 minutes, we saw several octopi, cuttlefish, hawksbill turtles, moray eel, banded sea snakes (3 right next to each other) as well as the usual assortment of angelfish, fusiliers, bannerfish and other creatures of the deep. What we didn't see was a shark! Quite a few people on the boat saw a shark but we unfortunately did not.

Our second dive was at a site called Manta Point, here we dropped down to 22m and immediately came upon a 2m Whitetip Reef Shark that was resting on the sand. He swam around in circles and we probably got within 15-20ft of him. We also saw a large school of batfish, more cuttlefish, a baby shark, turtles and the usual assortment.

What we noticed diving here compared to Thailand are the currents. The currents are very strong whereas in Thailand we had almost no current. On our second dive there was a large surge as well so you would swim along and the surge would sway you back and forth about 10 feet. That took some getting used to. The downside with that is we had to wear extra weight. Whereas in Thailand I had only 3kg of weight here I am using almost double the amount. The currents are really strong!

It is hard to say who has the better diving. There are definitely larger pelagics (fish) here but I don't feel there is the same number of fish as Koh Tao (Betsy disagrees on that). What we do agree on is the coral is much more spectacular in Koh Tao. Years of dynamite fishing has destroyed a lot of the coral here luckily that is no longer practiced.

What is better in Gili is the visibility. We can see 20m+ whereas Koh Tao was about half that. Both areas are great and we are looking forward to our next few dives here.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Diving the Gili's

Gili Islands, Indonesia – It is interesting to see how Bali has changed since the bombings in Jakarta. There are now guards at the hotel checking the ID of everyone entering from the front of the hotel or from the beach. Some of the guards are even carrying automatic machine guns which is a bit eerie. All the malls and restaurants we've been to have security guards who check people's bags as they enter, it definitely feels like security has been ramped up in a big way the last few days.

All in all we feel very safe though, business is going on as normal and there are tons of tourists so hopefully the Jakarta bombings won't affect Bali's tourism industry too much.

Today we arrived in Gili Trawangan which is a small island about an hour and a half boat ride from Bali. We are here for 5 days to do some diving. Trawangan is one of 3 islands known as the Gili Islands. All 3 are very small and you can walk around the whole island in a couple of hours. There also are no motor vehicles allowed on the islands. No cars, trucks, scooters just a few bicycles and pony carts.

Tomorrow for our first dive we are going to Shark Pt. This is supposedly one of the best dive sites around the Gili's and we are almost guaranteed to see some sharks which will be cool. I guess they usually hang out around 24m and we will be going down as far as 30m.

In the afternoon we will be going to Manta Pt another great site where we may even spot a manta ray.

It has been 3 weeks since our last dive in Koh Tao so we are really looking forward to getting back in the water and seeing some new things.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Jakarta Bombings

Bali, Indonesia - We arrived in Bali yesterday after traveling from Phuket, Thailand stopping over in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and then on to Bali. It was a pretty uneventful trip and the food on Malaysian Airlines was quite good.

What was a disappointment was the KL airport. It was one of the worst airports we've been to. We were in the Malaysian Air International Terminal and while there were a million duty free shops there wasn't even a newsstand to buy a bottle of water, hardly any seating and nowhere to eat except a Harrod's Cafe and a hot dog stand!

The airport looked brand spanking new but the amenities it offered were terrible.

Today we woke up to see that two hotels in Jakarta had been bombed. Very sad but we are hundreds of miles and a body of water from Jakarta so are not particularly worried plus our Holiday Inn is only about half full so probably not a great target.

Betsy is dealing with some stomach issues so I am out wandering on my own today. Hopefully she feels better in a day or so. Our hotel is very nice, thank goodness for hotel points!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Monsoon's & Travel Plans

Phuket, Thailand - We are still in Phuket having been here just over a week now but are heading to Bali, Indonesia tomorow.

The week in Phuket has really flown by as it doesn't seem like we've done much except do some surfing, hanging around the great pool at our hotel and planning the last 6 weeks of our trip.

Last weekend we had a tropical storm come through where it rained most of Saturday and Sunday, at times quite heavy. So needless to say we were stuck in the room most of those two days so we decided to plan out our last six weeks. It was a pretty crazy storm with palm fronds knocked down everywhere and the power off and on for two days. I got soaked going out to get us dinner one night. When I left it was sprinkling but by time I returned it was a torrential downpour!

Back to our travel plans, our intention had been to go to Sulawesi in Indonesia and do some diving and then follow that up with some more diving around Bali & Lombok also in Indonesia however what we failed to realize was that it is high season in Indonesia right now and in Bali that means best of luck getting a hotel, in the other areas getting a hotel was possible but very expensive. So to make a long story short we have cut our plans in Indonesia from 6 weeks to 2 weeks with about 9 days in Bali using points for our hotel stay and 5 days in the Gili Islands doing some diving.

On July 30th we fly from Bali back to Singapore and then on July 31st we are headed to Sri Lanka for a month before flying back to Singapore on Aug 29th and then home on Sept 1st.

How did we come up with Sri Lanka? We basically looked at a map and tried to find destinations that were within a 2 or 3 hour flight that would be cheap to fly to, wouldn't be in high season like Bali but would still be a good time to visit and would be cheap once we got there.

We came up with 3 possibilities, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Philippines. Nepal and the Philippines are very rainy right now whereas in Sri Lanka the weather is actually pretty good this time of year. The final marks in Sri Lanka's favor was that we could get a flight on Sri Lankan Air for $350 for the two of us and that the used bookstore next to our hotel had a copy of the Sri Lanka Lonely Planet!

So we've been reading up on Sri Lanka and trying to formulate an itinerary. The only thing we have booked right now is 5 nights in the town of Kandy which is the sight of the biggest festival of the year in Sri Lanka called the Esala Perahera.

The only other thing I need to keep in mind is my Fantasy Football Draft will be on the morning of Aug 28th our last day in Sri Lanka so I will have to make sure we have a hotel with a reliable internet connection...priorities you know!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Surfing in Thailand

Kata Beach, Thailand - Betsy and I took our first (of two) surf lessons today. Tony our surf instructor has been surfing for 20 years which means he started very young because he doesn't look much older than his 20's!

It was a lot of fun but tough work. I managed to stand up on my 3rd wave and ended up riding about half the waves that I tried to get up for. A couple i was kind of kneeling but didn't have any huge wipeouts.

The waves were good for learning about 3-4 feet.

Betsy had a little more trouble getting up on the board as I guess most women do when they first start as they don't have quite as much upper body strength to get up but she did pretty good and enjoyed herself enough to try it again tomorrow.

It was a blast and definitely looking forward to trying it again tomorrow though I think we are both going to be pretty tired!

Simple Life Divers

Phuket, Thailand - Betsy wrote a short thank you/review of our dive school in Koh Tao and they published it on their website. You can check it out here.

Phuket Revisited...

Phuket, THAILAND - We left Koh Tao via ferry headed for Koh Samui that is about a 2 hour ride. Unfortunately, it turned into a longer journey than expected. Once the ferry left the Koh Tao port we headed out for about 15 minutes and then came to stop as we anchored up with two other ferry boats in the middle of the ocean. With no announcement we somehow gathered that we had to get our belongings together and step across to the other boat and the passengers on that boat were to board our original boat. The entire process took almost an hour. When we finally arrived on to Koh Samui we boarded a mini van that was to take several of us to our various hotels. Of course we were the last ones in the van with the driver wanted to head back in the direction of the port but we know our hotel was further on. We convinced him, after he stopped to ask directions twice and was still taking us in the wrong direction, to borrow someone's mobile to ring our hotel for proper directions. That did the trick and we were at our hotel a few minutes after that.

We spent the next 3 days at the Samui Reef View Resort relaxing by the pool and organizing our next stops. The Samui Reef View is located up on a hillside and was very quiete with the pool adding to the chill-out factor. The owner, Angus & his wife made us feel at home.

Next, we flew to Phuket to stay at Kata Beach. Our first flight since flying to Hanoi, Vietnam in late March. To date all of our travels have been via bus, boat or train. Stacy and I were in Phuket 5 years ago on our honeymoon. It is low season here so the hotel and restaurants are pretty quiet. The plan for now is to stay here for the next 5 days and maybe take a couple surfing lessons.

Teddy's Mini-Me....

Koh Tao, THAILAND - During our 20-day stay on the island of Koh Tao, we got to know the employee's of the hotel and dive shop very well. One of the ladies that worked at our hotel, Simple Life Resort, brought her 4 month old puppy to work every day. He would accompany the maids while they went from room to room cleaning. He looks exactly like my mother's dog, Teddy and I got very attached to him during our stay.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Where in the world are the Kuchta's?

Koh Tao, Thailand - Yes we are still in Koh Tao, going on 18 days but are finally getting ready to leave tomorrow to Koh Samui another island about a 90minute boat ride from here.

There hasn't been much in the way of posts lately because we haven't been doing much except chilling on the island and diving and without an underwater camera simply writing about our dive trips is probably not very interesting.

We've hit pretty much every major dive site around here from the depths of Chumphon Pinnacle to the recent dive boat wreck at Japanese Gardens to the schools of fusiliers at Mango Bay we've seen a lot. The weather has been great and the water warm. Our new found love for diving has definitely changed our focus for the last couple of months of our trip.

So far we have done our open water certification, advanced open water certification and a half dozen "fun" dives with our favorite dive operator on the island Simple Life Divers. Thanks to Woz our instructor and Lisa our divemaster on our fun dives for making our diving so enjoyable.

On our last dive for our advanced certification Woz brought along a camera and we took a few pictures that you can see below.

Us under a school of fusiliers

Looking up at the Fusiliers

Nasty looking Triggerfish

As Betsy calls it a "cute" little boxfish

Stacy & Betsy getting ready
for a dive