Days on the road: 370
Flights: 55 regular flights plus 3 scenic tourist flights
Pictures saved: 2100 (Average of 6 pictures per day)
Lost items: Kindle, Sigg drinking bottle, various caps and earphones
Brocken items: Laptop, several sunglasses, my main Deuter duffel bag, some poles of my tent
Books read: 39, approximately 27’000 pages **
Costs: Equivalent to a brand new Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 with 580hp
It should have been the grand finale of my trip, but ended in a quite disappointing week. The hotel location, the rooms and also the kitchen were exquisite, but the diving was unfruitful. Off season, only unexperienced honeymoon divers, cancellation of trips due to shortage of divers or bad weather, unmotivated and unprofessional crew. Twice I sent the guide with the beginners after 30mins to the surface and continued the dive solo.
Back in South Africa I rented for four weeks a small camper van, based on an old Toyota Hiace Reglus van. Really basic, no sheet, blankets, pillows, only very few pans and cutlery and just a single burner gas stove. Well, you get what you pay for.
I spent the first four days in the Kruger National park, mostly in the southern and central parts of the park. The Southernmost part is also the busiest area and nicknamed “The circus”, the central part was named “The zoo” due to the abundance of fearless animals and the less visited Northern part is just “The wilderness”.
I enjoyed the freedom with my own car just to spend more time to take pictures of beautiful birds or waiting until the light and the scenery is picture perfect. In bigger tour groups you often just focus on the Big 5, but I normally even prefer a beautiful small bird to an elephant. Compared to Serengeti, Kruger is a better place to spot rhinos, but big cats are not as abundant as in Tanzania.
On the third morning I was stopped by a flat tire, it seems that I drove over some thorny bushes, and two nail-like thorns pierced my tire. And my spare tire did not fit… Fortunately there was a repair station within the camp, and after less than an hour the car was roadworthy again. My highlights were a drinking leopard next to the car and on the same day a dead kudu (antelope) gutted by dozens of vultures. Driving around 200km every day through the park and spotting animals is hard work, and I was happy to spend the next days relaxing and hiking in the pristine mountains of Swaziland. Easy hiking trails, nice waterfalls and no other hikers (I was glad to have a GPS with me, their hiking maps are not that professional.) Some shy zebras and blesbucks (antelope endemic to South Africa) roamed around, but they would never approach people like the almost domesticated animals do in Kruger.
I took the plane from Nairobi to Maputo, capital of Mozambique. Scheduled to depart at 07.00 it was postponed to midday, without informing the guests… Instead of sleeping in, enjoying a tasty breakfast and saying goodbye to my fellow travelers I wasted my time waiting at the airport. After a night in Maputo I took the early morning mini bus to Tofo in the North, famous for manta ray diving. The boat launches are spectacular. The rigid-inflatable boat (RIB) is pushed into the shallow water by a tractor, then all divers help to push it into deeper water before jumping onto the tubes. You put on lifejackets, stick your feet into the holders on the ground and grab with both hand the safety ropes, before the captain tries to cross the high waves before reaching the calmer water. Once we almost flipped, as the boat was hit by a gigantic wave and filled completely with water, but the captain finally managed to find an opening with lower waves.
The dives are spectacular, quite deep, some current, huge manta rays, potato bass, turtles, leopard sharks and schools of travelies (also called jacks). As there is no pier, the captain steers the boat after the dive with full speed onto the beach! Wise to hold on tightly, when the RIB hits the beach it stops quite brusquely!
In Nairobi all my remaining 11 fellow travelers left and others, both new arrivals and participants on other Gadventure tours filed the gap. After a relaxing day in a nice hotel in Nairobi (a proper bed after many nights in a tent is invaluable), we startedl moving West towards Uganda. We first stopped at Lake Navaisha, a birders paradise with lesser and greater flamingos, pelicans, fish eagles, cormorants, storks and kingfisher. And a healthy population of hippos, that leave the water and walk inland for grazing during the night. Our campsite was protected with an electrical fence, but this protection failed due to power shortage. Therefore during the night armed guards assured that no hippo enters the campground. Hippos look harmless, but they are by far more dangerous than for example sharks (3000 fatalities per year by hippos, but only 5 by sharks). They have long sharp teeth, run like the wind and do not like to be disturbed and threatened, particularly when they move back to the water. Better not to cross their path!
Few days later we pitched our tents at beautiful Lake Bunyoni, close to the Bwindi Impenetrable Mountain National park. Wildlife enthusiasts from all over the world flock here to see Mountain gorillas (population of less than 1000 animals in Uganda and Rwanda). Both governments are highly protective of this natural treasure. Only few tourists are allowed daily to visit them, and dozens of park rangers protect the gorillas from poachers. The exclusivity has its tolls and a visit permit to see the gorillas costs between 350 and 750 USD per person per day (depending on season). Before the tourists arrive, rangers search the gorillas by using last known position and their tracks. By radio the tourist groups, accompanied by a guide and some armed rangers, are guided to the exact location. It can take from 1 to 8 hours to find them, depending on their movements during the night. We were lucky, after just over an hour of easy hiking we reached “our” family, consisting of 11 animals, among them 2 old male Silverbacks and a two months old toddler. As they are visited regularly by tourists, they became habituated to people and do not fear them. In rare occasions, particularly young gorillas even interact with humans. We were allowed to go as close as few meters to the resting animals. Some of them were dozing and yawning, two teenagers were wrestling for a while, the mother was nursing her baby and the Alpha male Silverback was watching the family. After 50 minutes the group dispersed into the trees, but anyway the visit time is strictly limited to one hour, and we got most out of that.
Day 30-35: After another long drive we arrived in Dar es Salaam and pitched our tents close to the ferry port. With light luggage (except me, as I brought also diving equipment) we started our journey to Zanzibar. What normally would be an easy trip proved to be quite a challenge. The tuktuks (local three wheel taxis) that should transport us from the campsite to the port were delayed and therefore we were already behind schedule on the city ferry that would bring us to the main port. After a short boat ride we all run to the waiting motorbike taxis, which brought us at a breakneck pace to the main port. Fortunately without accident. But that was not all. The local travel agency that organized our tickets transmitted the wrong names. Instead of entering the ferry last minute, our guide had to collect all passports and change the tickets. In the end, we still caught the ferry, thanks to the guide who blocked the removal of the gangway.
As I have been already once in Zanzibar and the historical Stone Town I abstained from visiting the city and went diving instead.
Next day we headed north to Nungwi, stopping on the way at a spice plantation to see all kind of spices and local fruits (and being pushed to buy their stuff).
By a local Dow boat we visited next day the protected Mnemba atoll for some diving. Our group missed all the interesting stuff such as turtles and frog fishes and I surfaced quite disappointed after the second dive. But then a pod of bottle nose dolphins passed by and we extended our dive by a couple of minutes, seeing the dolphins playing and mating. An average dive turned suddenly into a great dive. That's nature!
Back in Stone Town we visited Prison Island, home to dozens of giant tortoises up to 150 years old (similar species like the Galapagos giant tortoises).
The ferry ride back to the main land was trouble free, but the sea was a bit rougher and few of us had to fight the sea sickness. Fortunately I was never really prone to that problem.
Day 20-24: Also the border crossing into Zambia was hassle free, and we soon reached our base for the next couple of days: Livingstone, next to the spectacular Victoria Falls. Again we went for a sunset cruise, but this time no one really cared about the wildlife (which was also much less abundant than in Chobe), as there was an open bar on the boat and it was the last evening for some members of our tour group…
I spent a full day at the Falls, trying to find the picture perfect spot and light situation. During that day I got robbed twice! Reckless baboons attacked from behind and stole a sandwich out of my hands and later also a bag of nuts. I officially declare baboons to be enemies of civilization (Oh, but they are so cute and it's anyway our fault… Blabla, they are a plague and the fearless ones need to be shot. This is done in Serengeti as well as in Kruger, if they get too accustomed to humans).
Zambezi River is known as one of the world best white water rafter. Particular with low water the rapids are world class and extremely challenging. Unfortunately the river level was already quite high and some girls in our raft wanted to avoid at all cost a flipping of the raft. We therefore often took the less challenging routes and missed most of the fun. Why do people go river rafting on Zambezi, when they are not up to some action??? Nonetheless, it was a nice boat ride, but by far not what I expected.
On the last day in Livingstone I viewed the Falls from a bird’s perspective from a Microlight plane. Those planes offer two seats, and look like a hang glider with engine and propeller.
Day 14-17: After a speedy border crossing into Botswana and a long drive we slept nearby a bushman camp. Some bushmen try to keep alive the local traditions, such as hunting, healing and singing/dancing instead of drifting into alcoholism as many of their fellows do. But it's mostly show for the tourists, they were hardly able to start a fire traditionally and they drove a Toyota pick-up. I'm sure, after the show they change their traditional cloths immediately to jeans and shirts and send some instant messages on their mobiles…
Next morning we arrived in Maun, the gate town to the world famous Okavango Delta. The rivers meets the flat land and widens extremely to a delta, until all water disperses. On the scenic flight in a small four seater plane the myriads of small river arms were visible, like blood vessels of the landscape. In addition we spotted herds of elephants, giraffes and also some hippos.
By a local mokoro, a dugout canoe for two guests pushed forward by a local with a long wooden stick (similar to the gondoliers in Venice) we ventured deep into the delta. The water ways were full of beautiful sea roses and amazing, but shy kingfisher birds. We pitched the tents on one of the many islands in the delta, without any amenities. But with zebras, elephants, buffalos and big cats. Next morning on a walking safari we spotted some zebras, but (fortunately) no dangerous animals, as our guides were only armed with walking staffs…
Due to a broken Laptop and slow internet connections in Africa I'm currently unable to upload pictures. I'll do that later when I'm back in South Africa or home.
Day 4: of the Overland truck / Camping tour: Fish River Canyon, Namibia (180 km, 5h (including boarder crossing): Highlight of the day was the visit of arguably second largest canyon in world and the sunset seen from the viewing platform. Especially as the sunset was accompanied by an “Apero” with wine and cheese! The drinking games, singing and Macarena dance performances chased away the other tour groups, and the party could go on.
Day 5: Namib dessert (560km, 10h): Challenging day for the bum, as we were driving all day long more or less bumpy roads. In the late afternoon we could present our terrific volleyball skills in minor swimming pool.
Day 6: Namib dessert (200km 5h): We woke up early and set off for a pre-dawn climb of the mighty Dune 45 to see the sunrise and the amazing color changing of the dunes. After a desert breakfast we moved on to the ancient dead trees, which were cut-off from water supply by the moving dunes. We spent the night at an amazing campsite with a man made waterhole for animals. After dusk, hundreds of Oryx and Zebras and few Jackals passed by to quench their thirst. To clarify the pecking order between Oryx and Zebras and between the various Zebra families small fights entertained the observers. Fortunately no animal got hurt, as the fights were more a show of force or a competition than real battle.
Day 7-9: Swakopmund is considered to be the Adrenalin capital of Namibia. Skydiving, Quadbiking and Sandboarding are the common activities here. As the the sky was mostly clouded I dismissed skydiving, but went Quadbiking in the sand dunes. Unfortunately the operator forbade fishtailing, wheelies and jumping. No risk no fun versus safety but no fun. Despite all those restrictions the excursion into the dunes was quite fun, and the guide wasn't strictly enforcing the rules. In the evening we went to a casino, as on this Sunday all bars and clubs were already closed. As I didn't do the skydiving I had some excess cash ready for gambling. After losing the first 80 USD at Black Jack I moved on to the Roulette table and went all in with the remaining 20 bucks. I won three consecutive times with all in! The winnings were invested in drinks for the group and the next day sand boarding activity. But before we could enjoy the rapid ride on some wooden planks down the sand dunes we had to carry the gear uphill the dunes. Hot, dusty and exhausting, but well worth the effort. The reward: incredible rides downhill with up to 72 km/h, measured with a professional speed camera. Needless to say, that a competition about the highest speed was inevitable. Everybody was quite close, but in the end the girl that was most scared reached the highest velocity. Our next campsite, one of the most beautiful of the entire trip, was nestled below some beautiful "Spitzkoppe" (round mountains resembling heads). After an unsuccessful attempt to hike to the top (we learned only later that a couple of weeks ago two hikers died there climbing) we slept under the stars, just the sleeping bag protecting us from snakes, spiders and scorpions. But as our sleeping places were high atop the rocks, such an undesirable encounter was unlikely.
Day 10: A day spent mainly on the road, with an optional stop to visit ancient rock engravings. Bushmen carved maps of waterholes and animals on the red sandstone rocks and due to the arid climate the carvings are still in perfect condition, despite their age.
Africa, one of the most challenging but most rewarding continents to explore. The first difficulty arose already before arriving in South Africa. When I was planning the Africa trip, all countries on the itinerary required no visa for Swiss citizens or they grant visa on arrival. But for unknown reasons Malawi introduced the visa obligation for Swiss people. According to rumors, the wife of the Malawian president had issues to obtain a Swiss Visa and as consequences they punished all Swiss visitors with the new obligation. I had therefore to change my itinerary. Instead of connecting to Cape Town directly after the arrival in Johannesburg I had to stay three days in Joburg and visit the Malawian consulate for four times… First time on Wednesday, but it was closed. I called them several times and wrote E-Mails upfront, but I never got any reply. And the opening hours weren´t published on their homepage. On Thursday I could finally hand in my application. Early morning next day I visited them again. Good news, the Visa was approved. Bad news, they do not accept credit cards or cash, but only bank transfer. So I had to go to the next bank, transmit the money and finally at Friday 11.30 AM – half an hour before they close the consulate – I got my visa sticker. Traveling can be sometimes quite annoying.
I used the spare time to explore the city. More than 5 million inhabitants, strategically unfavorable located (no lake, no river, high altitude) and not too many highlights beside the must do Apartheid museum and other historically interesting places such as the Constitution hill.
On Saturday finally I could travel onward to Cape Town which offers a myriad of interesting excursions. Unfortunately I had only a single day left to my disposition, before the Overland Truck trip to Nairobi with Gadventures would start. So I had to focus on the absolute highlights of this area. Great white shark cage diving and the Table mountain.
The partly autonomous Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong (SAR) is an interesting blend of West and East. Many aspects of architecture, culture, food and transportation are heavily influenced by the past British history, but still a vast majority of inhabitants have an Eastern background. English is widely spoken and all announcements in public transport are bilingual, which makes travelling here really easy.
Some randomly interesting facts about the city:
- Hongkong is one of the gloomiest regions in the world with often overcast and foggy sky. During the four days I spent here I never saw the blue sky, but at least sometimes few sun rays made it through the clouds.
- Hongkong has the second-highest density of 7-Eleven stores in the world. While standing at a crossroad with a view in several directions you normally see at least two to three 7-Eleven stores.
- As in Japan, people here are perfectionists in queueing (Public transport, some good and cheap restaurants at midday, tourist attractions). No one would push and shove, despite space is scarce.
- Due to the population density various laws and fines help to keep the city clean. Spitting on the ground costs you a fixed fine of 1500HKD (=200 USD). Also feeding pigeons and other birds may dirty the area. Offenders are liable to a fixed penalty in the same amount. On the other hand, SAR has no law on public intoxication, and retailers are legally allowed to sell alcohol to minors, even if most of them choose not to do so.
- The transition in 1997 and the increase in the population since then triggered a real estate hype. Nowadays a centrally located 2 bedroom / 1000sq ft (90sq m) apartment in one of the skyscrapers cost at least 3m USD or 3000 to 4000 USD monthly leasing
My original Round-the-World ticket included a visit of Beijing after touring Japan. But for several reasons I changed my itinerary and replaced Beijing by Taipei.
1) Just a few weeks before my planned stay in China I read an article about the current pollution in Beijing, with a fine dust level reaching alarming concentrations
2) To visit mainland China a tourist visa is required (to be obtained before arrival, no entry visa), but Taiwan has a visa exemption for most Westerner tourists for a stay of less than 90 days.
3) Several divers I met on my trip around the world recommended me to dive the Green Island in Taiwan.
4) I just wasn´t in the mood to visit the “real” China.
So I called British airways and changed the ticket and they sent me the new itinerary. I also checked online the “Manage by booking” section and noticed that the changes have been processed. But when I wanted to check-in, Japan Airlines JAL couldn´t find my booking. It seems that BA updated their system, but didn´t release the ticket to their partner airline JAL. Fortunately I was around 3 hours before departure at the airport and after two hours of calling BA service center they finally managed to get my ticket released. Just an hour before departure I could check in and I made it timely to the gate. But all hurry was futile, as the plane anyway left with an hour delay.
I spent the next day in Taipei, visiting some monuments, gardens, the infamous Taipei 101 skyscraper and the Elephant hill offering an amazing view onto the city. Unfortunately it was cloudy and drizzling all day long. In the evening the clouds covered just the upper part of Taipei101 and it seemed as if the tower was burning and fuming.
Despite being still Japan, Okinawa and its Islands are quite different to the rest of Japan. While it’s still winter in Tokyo, spring has already arrived here. Temperatures currently range from 18C on a rainy day and 25C on a sunny one. Those Southern islands were conquered last by the Japanese empire, and have their own cultural heritage. In addition, the largest US troop contingent is based in Okinawa, which also lead to a slightly more Western living style.
Okinawa´s pretty crowded, and the cities can host a myriad of tourists. Fortunately there are some small islands around, which are often visited just on a day- or weekend trip and are amazingly peaceful now in off-season. One of those gems is called Zamami and can easily be reached by ferry within an hour from Okinawa. In summer this place is crowded with divers and beach bums, but in February almost no one stays on the island. There are dozens of Humpback whales mating, breeding and resting in the safe water around Zamami, and whale watching is the main attraction in winter. Unfortunately, during my tour the whales were not breaching (=jumping), but they are curious and came close to the boat. I guess this fearless behavior was one of the reason for their almost extinction around Okinawa during the 50s and 60s, when the whales were hunted. While in the late sixties not a single whale was seen in several years in Zamami, the population recovered to around 200 different animals, which is close to the population in the pre-hunt era.
I thought that I knew the Asian culture. But so far, I traveled only in South East Asia (Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia). But everything is different in Japan. Already on the Japan Airline flight from Manila to Tokyo I was astonished how nicely the food was presented. Let´s take the dessert as an example: Three equally sized slices of each a read water melon, an orange mango and a greenish melon made a perfect trio. Perfection and order seem to be of utmost importance. The immigration process was extremely fast, despite taking pictures and fingerprints, but also extremely thoroughly. It happened never before, that the customs officer wanted me to unpack all of my luggage. But he repeatedly excused and even helped me to re-pack my staff after the inspection.
Being used to a good public transportation system at home, I immediately felt comfortable traveling by train, metro and bus around Tokyo. Fortunately, on major lines and stations most of signs and announcements are both in Japanese and English.
Tokyo didn´t really strike me, it´s mostly just an ordinary metropolis with uninspired skyscrapers and typical ugly 70s and 80s concrete buildings. Japan faces so many earthquakes, that it might be a waste of time and money to construct unique and outstanding buildings. And most Japanese would detest any kind of showing off, that might be another reason that constructions are kept simple. Order and functionality is far more important than design.
Also my trips to Mount Fuji and Kyoto were a bit disappointing, with bad weather and a depressing environment. Rainy and windy weather, some polluted snow and ice, buildings as well as nature mostly greyish and brownish. I believe that those places are amazing during spring (cherry blossom) and autumn (maple leaf season), but mid-February is definitely not the best time for a visit.
Nonetheless, there are some parts that I really enjoyed, mostly the Shinkansen "Bullet Train" ride from Tokyo to Kyoto. 520km in 2h20, despite 3 stops! A flight including airport transfer,
check-in, flight and baggage claim would have taken longer (but would have been cheaper than the train). Also really enjoyable is shopping, respectively window shopping, in the Yodobashi
Electronic store. A massive shopping center with all the latest gadgets such as a brilliant 84 inch 4K TV for a mere 18´000 USD and all the latest cameras and lenses.
Therefore I´ll soon leave to Okinawa, the southernmost islands of Japan, close to Taiwan. Pleasant spring weather and decent diving is awaiting.
After 5 weeks of diving in the Philippines I needed some change to spice up the journey, and went exploring the active volcano Mayon in Southern Luzon. It was a hell of a bus ride from Padre
Burgos in Southern Leyte all the way North to Legazpi. Over 21h journey, no aircon and a crazy bus driver confusing the windy roads with a formula 1 race track!
But in Legazpi I got rewarded the next day with almost perfect weather and a beautiful view on the smoking Mount Mayon. It´s one of the most photogenic volcano worldwide because of its almost symmetric conical shape (similar to Mount Fuji in Japan). Unfortunately, due to it´s current activity it´s not allowed to hike to the rim at almost 2500 m.a.s.l.
The last tragedy occurred in 2006, when a typhoon brought heavy rain and caused enormous mudslides that erased entire villages around the volcano and killed over 1200 people. Nowadays living
close to the volcano is banned, but the extremely fertile grounds are perfect for rice plantations.
The day after I went to Donsol, on of the most known places in the Philippines to see whale sharks. But compared to my previous experience in Padre Burgos, this excursion was rather disappointing. Extremely touristy (15 boats with 4 to 6 snorkelers each, chasing a few whale sharks) and bad visibility in the murky water. Nonetheless, we encountered closely three whale sharks. It´s understandable, that the gentle giants here dive almost immediately deeper, as soon as dozens of snorkelers jump from various boats into the water. In Leyte I could accompany them for 10 minutes or more, without disturbing them. I sooner run out of breath because of the fast swimming, than they run out of patience.
That´s the end of my extensive Philippines trip, I move on for three weeks to Japan and then to Taiwan. Both countries are not known to the Western diving community, but they offer some secret
diving gems, and of course also a unique culture and culinary experience not to be missed.
Previous destination: Philippines - Southern Leyte - Padre
Next destination: Japan
Southern Leyte is famous for whale sharks encounters. The largest fish worldwide reaching up to 12m length (whales are much bigger, but they´re mammals) is a major tourist draw. Despite this attraction, there are not too many tourists in Padre Burgos, as it takes a 2h30 fast ferry ride from Cebu, then a 3h mini-van drive and finally a 1h local bus journey to reach the little town.
On some days we were only two divers on the dive Banka, which has a capacity of up to 20 divers! Taifuns in the past years, extensive fishing and the coral-eating “Thorn of crowns sea stars” damaged the reefs. Once supposed to be among the best in the Philippines, they´re still beautiful but not stunning anymore.
On the third day we started a bit later to the daily dive trip, as the engine of the diving Bangka broke before we left, and the staff had to prepare the smaller second diving boat. Once on board we noted quite fast, that there is also a technical issue with that engine. After a couple of minutes, the diesel engine stopped working and we snorkeled back to shore, while the crew waited on board for rescue. In the Philippines, they neither have a local word for, nor do they really understand the principle of “maintenance”. They use a car, boat etc as long as the engine runs smoothly and they do not really maintain it, and repair it only if absolutely necessary.
My absolute highlight was the whale shark snorkeling tour. Three small one-man Bangkas with local spotters located the gentle giants for us, the boat captain brought as in front of the fish and we just glided into the water and waited, until the whale shark passed by. Following the fish is possible but exhausting, as they are swimming extremely calm, but fast.
5 tourists, 1 guide, 2 local NGO observers (Large Marine Vertebrates La.Ma.Ve) and 3 whale sharks!!! No other boats around and no Asian tourists trying to touch and ride the fish! Superb experience.
Before I head on to Japan I´ll visit the iconic volcano Mayon and the world famous rice terraces in Banaue.
Previous destination: Philippines -
Next destination: Philippines - Luzon
A local bus brought me in five hours from Cebu, the capital of the equally named island, to Maya at the Northern tip of the island. Another half hour Bangka ride later and I set my feet on the tiny island of Malapascua, renowned among divers for thresher sharks. It´s only place in the world, where you can see almost guaranteed the thresher sharks during their early morning visit at the cleaning stations. In around 30 to 40m depth they circle around spots where a myriad of smaller cleaner fishes are waiting to do their job. And the thresher sharks are a pretty relaxed bunch, even if there are dozens of divers around, they just ignore us and sometimes pass by just in front of the eagerly waiting divers. Well worth to wake up at 5AM. There are also supposed to be some hammerhead shark around, but I wasn´t among the lucky ones who saw this massive, but quite shy shark.
The corals around the island were amazingly abundant until 2013, when super taifun Yolanda hit the island with full power. All corals in shallower and exposed parts were eradicated. Soft corals are now slowly recovering, but it would take centuries for some of the hard corals to reach the former grandeur.
Despite the vast destruction of the corals, there are some other highlights underwater not to be missed. The beautiful, but fearsome Mandarin fishes hide during the day in corals, but exactly at sunset they slowly rise for mating. After a 20 seconds quicky, they cover again in the corals, just to repeat the show a couple of more times until the sun is fully down.
Cabilao is a small island on to West coast of Bohol. From Tagbilaran, the capital of Bohol and point of entry to Bohol, either by plane or ferry, it´s a 90min car drive along the West coast, followed by a short Bangka boat ride. After staying in many backpacker places, I selected a more upscale resort under German ownership. An amazing place with various accommodations and a top dive sites just in front of the resort. Even the cheapest room available, a treehouse with just a fan and a cold water shower was a massive upgrade compared to my basic rooms in Coron and Apo Island.
One day late I arrived in Dumaguete, the provincial capital of Negros Island, where I was picked up by van from the Apo Island lodge. After half an hour drive through the rush hour we reached the small port of Malatapay, the gateway to Apo Island. The typical local Bangka boat was packed with supplies for the island, mainly drinking water, beer, fresh fruits, salads and heaps of freshly catch fishes. Only a handful of locals live on the tiny island, and two dive resorts on the island offer quite basic accommodation, with no running water, only sporadic electricity, but more or less reliable wifi connection.
The dive spots around the marine sanctuary of Apo are supposed to be among the best in the Philippines, but the first dives were a slight disappointment. As the sea was quite rough the previous days, the visibility sank, and due to death in the family most dive guides were absent. Instead of having my private guide, which would be available for only a couple of Dollars surcharge, I had to join “enormous” diving groups of up to eight divers. Nonetheless, there were several highlights, such as the omnipresent turtles, the common sea snakes, beautiful nudibranchs and two critters that I haven´t seen before, the tiny hairy Orang utan crab and the well camouflaged Ornate ghost pipefish hidden in a Feather star.
I met great people here (not the overly noisy Chinese group) and the lodge´s restaurant offered delicious local and western dishes, with tables overlooking the beautiful bay and terrific unreal sunsets, so I still enjoyed my stay here, despite that my expectations of diving quality wasn´t met.
Shortly before my departure I heard first of tropical storm AMANG hitting the Phillipines in the North East. Due to the lack of warnings during the 2013 typhoon and the resulting criticism of the authorities, they changed now to an overcautious approach. Despite the sea around Dumaguete and Cebu was extremely calm and flat, a travel warning was issued and some ferries cancelled the trips, among them my fast ferry to Bohol. I got stuck a day in Siquijor, a smaller island between Dumaguete and Tagbilaran on Bohol and I did also check out the diving here, before finally reaching Cabilao, my next top diving destination in the Philippines.
Previous destination: Palawan - Coron
Next destination: Bohol - Cabilao
My first diving destination in the Philippines was Coron, in the North of Palawan, an hour flight from Manila. Coron ranks high in the wreck divers must-see list, as there are ten WWII Japanese ship wrecks in diver friendly depths of 0 to 45m.
A short excursion into history: Japan was an ally and on good terms with the US for quite a while. The resource poor Japan relied before the WWII of ores and oil from the US for its thriving industry. During WWII Japan tried to lessen this dependency by conquering resourceful neighboring countries such as China and Philippines. As consequence, the US sanctioned Japan and stopped all shipping to Japan, and the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 1941 started the open war between the two nations.
In the late stage of WWII after some losses in the Philippines Sea, the Japanese attempted to reinforce their forces.
For divers, Coron's history started on September 24, 1944 when US Navy fighters and bombers attacked a Japanese supply fleet of up to 24 ships, at anchor, in Coron Bay and around Busuanga Island and sunk most of them within a single day.
The waters in the lagoon can be murky, and the dive spots are sometimes packed with dozens of divers, but the dives are still great, especially with an experienced buddy and a well-trained guide who´s willing to penetrate deeper into the wreck, where not too many divers already raised the sediment with their fin-kicks. Ammunition, gun, gas masks and even part of a human skeleton are still to be seen, and fishes, corals and lots of nudibranchs populate nowadays the wrecks.
Beside the wrecks, there are also some reefs, caves and the famous Barracuda Lake waiting for exploration. The setting of the Barracuda Lake is spectacular, and the dive even more so. After anchoring with the traditional Bangka dive boat in a protected bay, the fully equipped divers need to climb for few minutes to the lake. Brackish water at 28C dominates the first few meters, then it changes to the “cold” salt water with the same temperature. At around 15m a thermocline separates the “cold” water from 39C hot salt water, heated by volcanic activity. Below 25m, the temperature drops again to 28C. The deepest level below 32 meters is a tea colored liquid providing zero visibility. The ground consists of extremely soft mud, and adventurous divers can plunge head first into the mud. Not too many fishes to be seen, and we didn´t find the huge Barracuda, but playing around the thermoclines and the mud is great fun.
After spending several months in quite pricey countries, Philippines really help to keep my budget low. Here some examples:
- Beer in a bar: 1 USD
- Simple local set lunch or dinner: 2 USD
- Hair cut: 3 USD (I was ripped off, locals pay only 1.50 USD ;-)
- Short drive with a Tricycle per person: 10 Pesos or 20 Cents
- Dive: 30 USD
I planned to spend my birthday diving in Apo Island, my second destination in the Philippines. Unfortunately, the flight from Coron to Manila with Cebu Pacific on January 12 was delayed by three hours and I missed my onward flight. I got a complementary airport hotel stay and a ticket for the earliest onward flight in the morning, meaning that I started my birthday on the next day at 0500 in the morning with a shuttle to the airport.
Previous destination: Australia
Next destination: Philippines - Apo Island
One hour from Melbourne I started the “Great Ocean Road trip” at Torquay, the surf capital of the world (as they are claiming, but I´m not too well informed about the surfing scene, so I guess that other places i.e. in Hawaii claim the same). In the summer the waves are considerably lower than in winter and it wasn´t too spectacular to watch the surfers. Also the bay watch (here called Surf Watch) was rather annoyed and they lingered around without much to do. So I started touring the Great Ocean Road, built by war prisoners after the First World War along the coast, offering access to some great views, nice beaches and amazing scenery. The first night in the tent at the prime holiday village of Lorne I realized a) that prices here are ridiculous (50 AUD for a unpowered camping site) and b) that nights in South Australia can even in summer be quite cold. I brought only a thin tropics sleeping bag, which was completely perfect for camping in New Caledonia, but definitely unsuitable for 10C cool nights. So I had to sleep in the car and turn on the heater every two hours to stay comfortably warm. Later I purchased a cheap quilt, which made the camping much more enjoyable.
It felt strange to arrive in metropolis like Sydney after spending several months on smaller islands with no big cities. Despite I´m no big city enthusiast, I still felt strangely home. Maybe because I visited Sydney with my family already once 14 years ago or as the city is a known melting pot for immigrants all over the world and I found several Swiss bakeries, German beer gardens and other European food and influence.
The weather was far from great, it was mostly clouded and raining faintly. That didn´t really matter, as I like the famous area around the Opera house and the Harbor Bridge anyway better by night, when illuminated by strong lights and the occasional firework above the sky of the Opera.
New Caledonia does not appear on the travel community map and they do not invest heavily neither in tourism industry nor in advertising their country as travel destination. The only other travelers I met were from France.
Never before on my travel did I meet so friendly and helpful people like here in New Caledonia! Either helping me with translations (many locals speak only French), lending me their phone (my SIM isn´t working here and it´s hard for tourist to purchase a prepaid SIM), offering a ride or some fruits from their garden, and accommodating me in their own apartments!
Only 24 hours before my scheduled flight to Vanuatu I got the flight cancellation message from Fiji Airways. Instead of drown my anger with tasty local “Fiji Bitter” beer I decided to spend the
additional day in Fiji with diving. Near the small island of Beqa sharks are fed for over 20 years and the baited shark dives in Beqa are considered to be world class. And indeed, we saw around
15 up to 3m long bull sharks elegantly cruising around the bait – fish heads stuck on a spike – and catching the bait directly in front of the divers. After that great dive I wasn´t anymore upset
with the cancellation.
The next day I finally managed to fly to Vanuatu´s capital Port Vila and travel onward the next day with a pretty old Twin Otter aircraft to Tanna Island, home to the active volcano Yasur. For the first time on my trip I met travelers who are on very similar journey as I´m, with focus on photography, nature, diving and with a budget well above the normal young backpacker crowd. After a 2 ½ hour drive with a 4WD Nissan pickup across the island we reached Yasur volcano and the lodging directly at the base of the mountain. Very special place to sleep, the bungalows are built high in Banyan trees and every couple of minutes you hear the thunder of another eruption of Yasur. From there it´s only an hour walk to the crater rim of the volcano. Most tourist just arrive for twilight and stay another hour in the darkness to watch the volcano, I stayed more than twelve hours to get the perfect pictures. The general activity level is currently quite low, meaning less eruptions and also less violent eruptions. Therefore I dared to leave the beaten tourist track and I went down closer to the hot spot. Forbidden, but exhilarating and still in a relatively safe environment. This picture of the eruption was taken with an ultra-wide angle lens (14mm) and the photo isn´t cropped, giving you an indication how close the eruption could be watched. After a couple of hours sleep we went to explore a small river canyon through pitch black lava sand, before we ascended in the early evening again to the top of Yasur. There was already smoke obscuring the view on the eruptions during our first visit, but on the second day the smoke persistently filled the entire caldera and besides seeing the red glow and hearing the explosions there wasn´t much to experience.
The next day started clouded and on the way to the airport the rain started pouring. Heavy rain and strong wind caused finally the cancellation of my flight back to Port Vila, and I had to stay another night in Tanna.
Thinking of Fiji you would expect a tropical paradise, but I was greeted by a merciless downpour in the capital Suva. Not many opportunities to spend the last day on-shore before boarding the “Island Dancer II” except reading and sleeping. This live aboard was my home for the coming week, a 30m yacht for eight divers and five crew members (captain, engineer, dive guide, cook, steward).
The standard day schedule:
0630 Early breakfast (mainly fresh fruits, cereals and toasts)0730 First dive
1030 Second dive
1330 Third dive
1600 Fourth dive
1930 Night diveBasically eating, sleeping and diving, and not much else.
The plane to Auckland started in Papeete (French Polynesia) on Thursday night and I arrived Saturday morning at 6AM. I crossed the date line and lost therefore one day, making it really difficult to keep track of the weekdays.
Directly after arrival I picked up my Campervan, a custom built 15year old Toyota Townace with a bed, two LPG gas-stoves, a 15l fresh water tank and a small sink. According to the Freedom Camping Act 2011 it´s allowed to camp on every public place, except it´s a designated No camping area.
After a short drive to the inner city of Auckland (where 1/3 of New Zealand´s 4 million inhabitants live) I rented a mountain bike and visited some point of interests, such as the Quay road, the museum area and Mount Eden with spectacular views over the city. A pleasant spring day, around 20C warm, sunny and various blooming flowers scented the air.
Five hours west of the Easter Island the beautiful islands of French Polynesia (Tahiti) await eagerly to be explored and dived! It is composed of 118 geographically dispersed islands and atolls stretching over an expanse bigger than entire Europe. Yet, its total land mass only accounts for 4167 square kilometers, around a tenth of Switzerland´s area. Around 70% of the barely 300´000 inhabitants are local Polynesians.
I flew with an AirTahiti ATR Turboprop from the capital Papeete on Tahiti to the tiny dream island of Maupiti (1200 inhabitants, highest peak 380masl), 40km west of the far more famous Bora Bora. Due to the lack of any hotels on the island, the island never really attracted huge groups of tourists. Most came by ferry from Bora Bora on a short side trip, to see how Bora Bora looked like 30 years ago before all the shiny honeymoon hotels opened. The ferry service was stopped last year due to economic reasons, and even less people visit now Maupiti. Bad for them, good for me. It´s an extremely charming island, you´re greeted by everybody when biking around the island and doors as well as bikes and cars are never locked as there is no history of theft, respectively no way to hide and handle stolen goods.
In addition, Manta Rays flock during the night in the sheltered lagoon and leave in the morning through the only channel to the open sea. On the way out, some of them stop at a cleaning station (small wrasses eating the parasites from the Manta skin). There´s almost a guarantee to see the Mantas while snorkeling or diving. Unfortunately the wind/current/tide pushed some murky water into the lagoon and the visibility was barely good enough to see the entire huge Manta (wingspan of 3.5m) who was just circling above our head. Besides diving, hiking the "mountain" of Maupiti, sunbathing and kayaking to the palm-fringed white sand beaches of the Motus (small islands around the main island) are the main activities.
The next flight was one the shortest I ever did, around five minutes after the start the pilot announced, that the landing procedures for Bora Bora were initiated…
Easter Island is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. The nearest inhabited land lies in central Chile, 3,500 kilometers away (except some tiny islands closer with only several hundred people living on it). The beginning of the colonialisation by Polynesians is still controversial, and the estimates range between 4th and 13th century AC, with the 11th century being the most likely.
To worship their ancestors, the locals built the world-famous Moai´s, statues carved from volcanic tuff of the Rano Raraku volcano. Almost 1000 statues were built, the tallest 11m high and 90 tons heavy. While the there is no doubt about the purpose and the carving of the statues, it´s still an unsolved mystery how they transported this massive stone work from Rano Raraku to the varous religious sites, mainly at the costal area.
The “Moai” culture did end around the 15th century with internal clan feuds raging in the country. All Moai´s were toppled (think of the Saddam Hussein statue in Bagdad that was toppled as one of the first actions after Bagdad was taken/freed by the U.S.) and only re-erected for tourism/conservation starting in the 1960s.
The name "Easter Island" was given by the island's first recorded European visitor, the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen, who encountered it on Easter Sunday 1722.
Currently, over 70´000 tourists visit the Easter Islands annually, which means over 11 tourists per inhabitant (slightly less than 6000 people live on the island).
Almost all goods are imported, and the entire business of the island relates to tourism. The island is too small (only 116 square kilometers) and rocky for large scale agriculture, and the water is too low-nutrient for successful fishing activities.
In most South American countries you get a migration card at entry, and the copy of it needs to be handed in at leaving point. Unfortunately I lost my Bolivian migration card and therefore the migration officer didn´t want me to leave the country. The fine for losing the card was 10 USD, without receipt. I´m pretty sure, that the money didn´t end up in the government accounts...
First stop in Peru was the Colca canyon, one of the deepest canyons worldwide with up to 3000m high walls, offering some great hiking possibilities. Due to time constrictions, I just spent one day in the canyon watching the majestic condors from close and relaxing in the thermal pools of Chivay.
On the way to Machu Picchu I stopped half a day in Arequipa, the second biggest city of Peru, also called “White City”, as most historic buildings were built with the typical white colored volcanic stones. Skipping normally most churches, I nonetheless visited the Monastery of Santa Catalina, as this site was top-rated at Trip advisor. It was worth jumping over my shadow, as the monastery is truly impressive, a real city within the city providing some great photo opportunities.
San Pedro in the Atacama Desert was the starting point for several amazing daytrips (see previous blog entry) and also the first station of the three day 4x4 adventure trip to Uyuni in Bolivia. A Bolivian driver, six tourists and heaps of baggage and water were closely packed in a Toyota Land cruiser. We visited several spectacular natural attractions, but spent most time driving from one highlight to the next. Once arrived, there were at least ten other tour groups already present. Nonetheless, a unique experience.
The first day included several top spots, such as the green colored “Laguna Verde” with the perfect cone-shaped volcano Licancabur in the background, geysers and bubbling mud pools, a small thermal pool inviting us for a short bath in the middle of nowhere in the desert and hundreds of Flamingos at “Laguna Colorado”. We spent the night in a basic “Refugio” in 4800masl, without heating and only two hours of electricity. After a bitter cold night (-25C) we got some unwelcome, but not entirely unexpected news. Our driver got so drunk during the night that he didn´t even show up in the morning. Fortunately, his brother in law works in the Refugio, and as he´s also an ex-driver/guide, he took over our group. As we started two hours late, we needed to rush from viewing point to the next, on the other hand we were mostly all alone, as all the other cars were well ahead of us.
The second night was more agreeable, in a hotel built mainly of salt bricks, even beds, tables and chairs were carved out of salt! Despite Bolivian national day, our driver stayed sober and we started timely at 5AM in the morning, to see the sunrise in the middle of the Salar the Uyuni. The biggest salt lake covers more than 2000 square kilometers, and except some rock islands covered with cactus, it´s just white, flat and salty!
One of my personal tour highlights was the last stop in Uyuni: Former trains of the Uyuni – Oruro line were exploited and the remaining unusable parts just left to rust.
200km to the Northeast lays Potosi (Elevation AMSL 4090m), one of the highest big cities in the world and during colonial time the mayor Silver mining town of the Spanish Empire. Founded in 1545 as a mining town, it soon produced fabulous wealth, becoming one of the largest cities in the Americas and the world, with a population exceeding 200,000 people. Miners were mainly indigenous and later on also slaves from Africa, working often several months in the dark without seeing daylight.
Even today, still 180 mines perforate the “Cerro Rico” like as Swiss cheese, and the 10´000 workers that are mostly organized in cooperatives, work partly still the way their ancestors did, using human labor and explosive, but seldom pneumatic drill hammers or automated transportation systems.
After an “apprenticeship” of three years, working for one of the cooperative members and sharing the proceedings, the miner can apply to buy into the cooperative (onetime fee of around 1000 USD) and then work at the own sidearm of the mine at his own risk and reward.
The somehow controversial tour through an active mine was an impressive experience and a proof, that my childhood claustrophobia completely vanished, otherwise one wouldn´t survive the 3km trek through the mines, without orientation, 400m below the ground, sometimes only 1.50m high gangways and the dust and heat. To compensate the miners being watched like animals in a zoo, visitors are supposed to bring some gifts, such as Coca leaves (Chewed by miners to minimize the impact of the altitude and decrease hunger, thirst and tiredness), drinks and even explosives. I got two sticks of dynamite including fuse and detonator for 30 Bolivianos (4 USD) in the local miners shop without any restrictions, despite that would be enough explosives to blow away a small omnibus!
After visiting few of the almost 100 churches, and wandering the colonial streets of Potosi I realized once more, that I´m no big fan of visiting cities, as I got bored quite fast.
Skipping most of Argentina – although Patagonia is high on my „to travel“ list, but Winter isn´t the most enjoyable time to visit the deep South – I flew directly to Salta in the North of Argentina as the center point for visiting the various natural attractions in the province.
The capital itself is named "La Linda" ("The beautiful"), but lacks of major attractions. Beautiful churches, parks and a rustic Swiss built cable car to the San Bernardo hill overlooking the city are the main draws. More important, the city is the tour operator hotspot for the following attractions:
Salta and its surrounding attractions is elevated between 1500 and 3500 masl (meters above see level), and during the night a thick blanket or a sleeping bag is handy. A perfect acclimatization area for my next stop, San Pedro the Atacama in Northern Argentina. After an eleven hour overnight bus ride and the border control at the Paso de Jama (4200 masl) I arrived the village of San Pedro (2000 inhabitants, 2500 masl) in the Atacama salt flat. A dusty, one story clay building dominated village, with a lively restaurant/bar and tour operator scene.
The village´s disadvantages are made good by far by the circumjacent volcanos (among them the perfect cone shaped summit of Licancabur (5900 masl) or the still active Lascar (5600 masl)), beautiful salt and freshwater lagoons, geysers and salt lakes and abundant wildlife including foxes, rabbits and the Vicuña, a wild relative of the llama and Alpacas which lives in the high alpine areas of the Andes (3200 to 4800 masl) and produces extremely fine wool. As it can be shorn only every two to three years and it must be captured for shearing, the wool is pricy, and a vicuña wool scarf costs around US$2,000! Money better spent for some more excursions and travelling!
Previous destination: Brazil
Next destination: Bolivia
Thinking of Brazil, most people would highly likely mention Rio, Copacabana, Sugar loaf, Football and Caipirinhas. And indeed, those were my first encounters. As flights were fully booked to fly in for the World championship final (Argentina – Germany) I travelled to Rio the day after the final, when the outbound planes were fully booked, but the inbound carriers almost empty. The city was still packed with Germans and Argentinos, but the Brazilians already started to erase the memories of the cup, which is somehow understandable, taking into account their 1-7 disaster against Germany in the semi-final. Interestingly, they were not too unhappy with the outcome, as they all despise Argentina and most Brazilians supported their defeater Germany in the final. I spent two great days with amazing weather and sunsets in Rio, visited the must-sees Sugar loaf and the Christ the Redeemer statue on Corcovado. Both sites grant spectacular panoramic views over the city, especially at dawn and night. The infamous Copacabana makes all up to their reputation, people showing off, training their bodies at the beach muscle stations, playing beach soccer, surfing or just sitting at one of the uncountable bars along the beach and drinking Caipirinhas for 5 Reais (1.70 Euro or 2.50 Dollars). A small bottled water was normally more expensive!
After the hustle and bustle in Rio, I flew through Sao Paulo to Campo Grande, which represents a major gate-town to the vast wetland of Pantanal. Staying at a few days in a Pousada in the heart of the Pantanal I enjoyed horse riding, boat safaris and mainly photographing the numerous birds – among them macaws, parrots, tucans, kingfishers, falcons, vultures, herons, egrets and storks – as well as the ubiquitous caimans.
A three hours bus ride to the South, and I reached the eco-adventure capital of Brazil, the comely 20´000 people city of Bonito. Around the village, several caves, waterfalls and crystal clear rivers with limestone filtered water are ready to be explored by snorkeling, diving, hiking and rappelling.
The most unique (and most expensive, 800 Reais or 270 Euro) trip is the Abismo Anhumas, an underground lake the size of a football field. Only four divers and twelve other visitors are allowed to enter the cave daily. The day before the trip, everyone has to attend the abseiling training, as the surface of the lake lays 72m below ground level. All the gear including scuba tanks is rappelled by staff to a floating platform in the underground lake. The water level fluctuates by +/-4m, depending on the rainfalls. The lake reaches at its deepest point a depth of 80m (but the diving is limited to 18m). Small fishes and albino shrimps live here, but the major draw are the up to 19m high underwater cons in the lake (similar to stalagmites, but the cones grew in the water). A truly unique dive trip.
Unfortunately during the night the sky darkened, heavy rain fell and temperatures dropped to below 10C. Bonito offers no bad weather indoor options such as museums, and the outdoor activities lack somehow of appeal if it´s freezing cold, windy and clouded. Captured in the hostel, I spent my day reading the Wheel of time, book four. Despite only slightly better conditions, I dove the next morning the twin lakes of Lagoa Misteriosa. Two funnels, connected on the surface and merging in 55m to a single tube, and water clear as glass, make this site to one of the best freshwater dives.
Close to the lake, underground springs provide crystal clear water to a side creek of Rio Prata. Drifting down with mask and snorkel, one is accompanied by fearless Dourados (freshwater fishes). I even spotted a 3m long yellow Anaconda, resting underwater on some dead tree branches! Seeing one is great, but spotting one that the guide missed, makes the experience even more memorable.
After an 18 hours overnight bus ride 700km to the South, I reached the amazing Iguazu falls. On average 1750m3/s water supply 200 falls scattered over an edge of around 3km. Heavy rainfalls in mid 2014 triggered a new all-time record of 45,700 m3/s in June, and during my visit in July the flow was still significantly above average. Hiking, boat trips and helicopter flights over the falls easily fill two days to see and do it all.
Previous destination: Florida Keys
Next destination: Northern Argentina and Chile
After a short hop from Bahamas to Miami – the flight attendants had merely time to finish the security instructions, before starting with the landing procedures – I picked up my budget rental car (red Mazda 2) and drove straight to Key Largo for some wreck diving. Key Largo claims themselves to be the “Diving capital of the World”, this might be true for non-cosmopolitan Americans, but it´s an obvious lie to every passionate diver.
There are nice reefs, but far away from world top dive sites and the main attractions are intentionally sunken ships creating artificial reefs (Duane and Spiegel Grove in Key Largo and the infamous Vandenberg in Key West). The Spiegel Grove was sunk in 2002, but the operation failed, as the Spiegel Grove ended up laying upside down. At additional costs of a quarter million USD, the team managed to roll the ship at least onto the starboard side, instead of staying upright as intended. Where humans failed, nature succeeded. Powerful hurricane Denis hit in 2005 the coast, and lifted the wreck in a diver-friendly upright position! Unfortunately, the American dive centers are extremely profit driven, and in order to offer two half day two-tank dives per day with the same boat, the surface interval as well as the dive times are quite limited. Hard to leave a nice wreck in clear blue water, despite the tank is still half-full. But dive times (e.g. 30min at the Vandenberg) are strictly enforced, and if divers stay to long at the wreck, the coast guard will be notified…
Besides diving, I visited twice the Everglades by my own, spotting alligators, turtles, various birds and swarms of mosquitos. As summer is the wet season, the water level in the Everglades reaches substantially higher than in winter, therefore animals are harder to spot. While in winter, they gather around the few remaining poos, but they disperse in summer in the width of the park. On the other hand, far fewer people visit the park now, and I hardly saw other tourists.
The last day in Florida almost turned to a nightmare, as I lost a few hours before my flight to Rio de Janeiro the wallet on a super market parking. I still would have had passport, a credit card and a debit card, but ID, driving license and some cash seemed to be gone. Half an hour later, the wallet was delivered to the hotel reception by an honest finder! Thanks again, Lars, you made my day!
Before flying to Brazil and Argentina, I purchased a Swiss football shirt, I assume some Brazilian would bully me, guessing that I´m from Germany. Therefore I took the precaution, and will from beginning put the cards on the table and show my true colors.
Previous destination: Bahamas
Next destination: Brazil
Day 0: Neither did I miss the early morning flight to London, nor did I go to the wrong airport (both happened to me already more than once ;-) No troubles at the airport, the check-in bag isn´t too heavy, and the handbag (40l backpack) containing laptop and underwater camera was accepted, although it slightly exceeds to official maximum dimensions.
I planned originally to stay a week on diving live aboard, but strangely all were fully booked, despite the low season (high season is in winter, when the Americans flock in Bahamas). I hoped for some last minute cancellations on one of the boats, but to no end. Plan B came into place, and after a night in Nassau I took the Bahamas ferry to Harbor Island, where diving and beaching were supposed to be excellent. The dive center was shiny and expensive (160 USD for a two tank dive with equipment), and the dives were among the worst I ever did. There were snorkelers, beginners and me on the same boat, and therefore the dive sites were selected to match the weakest part of the chain, meaning that we bobbed up and down in 3 to 10m depth...
I cancelled the remaining diving and spent my days on the pristine Pink sand beach, which stretches over 4km with maybe as few as a hundred persons scattered on it. As I still wait for the new Games of Thrones books, I started now reading the Wheel of Time of Robert Jordan, which is as captivating as Martin´s books.
The afternoons were spent with tasty local Kalik beer and football in the Marina beach bar (The round of 16 and quarter final games started locally at midday and at 4pm).
Back in Nassau, I finally managed to do some decent dives with pristine underwater ridges, wrecks and grey reef sharks en masse! Those friendly sharks (1-3m long) accompanied always the divers, and came really close at the controversial baited shark dive.
As tourism provide an estimated 60% of the gross domestic product (GDP) and around 85% of tourists come from the United States, the 4th of July was celebrated in Nassau with a parade (similar to carnival in Rio, but on a much smaller scale). The independence day of Bahamas (Thursday 10th of July), celebrating the 40st anniversary of the republic, was already commemorated with a big parade the Saturday 05th. Unfortunately I missed that festival, as I stayed with a cold and fever in my bed :-( I forgot to switch of the aircon during the night before, and the cold and dry breeze managed to knock me off for a day.
Next destination: Florida Keys
Surprisingly, on trial packing there is still some volume unused in the main tramp duffel bag.