Mancora, Peru: scuba diving, beach and relaxation

Two night buses in a row with some lack of sleep meant time to relax by the pool and beach in Mancora. The main purpose for my visit was to chill and Scuba Dive. There’s not much more than plenty of tourists, markets, street food and many places to drink something refreshing. Our hostel was a party place with a resort pool and sunbeds to lounge on with is totally what I needed for the next few days.

we had arrived in Mancora at around 6 in the morning, we took a tuk tuk to our hostel, which ended up being a lovely party resort with a pool and a place to relax. Just what we needed! As we couldn’t check in yet, we lounged in a hammock until the restaurants were open. Then we wandered along the beach to find something to eat, where we ordered breakfast We stayed here for a while watching the children in the café playing with toys and lying in a hammock with a coffee. After we checked in.

During the afternoon, we la[004016]id in the sun by the pool getting a tan, which I was in need of as I hadn’t had much sun while being in South America. We walked along the beach, eating fruit, then searched for a place to book a scuba diving trip for the following day. This was  one thing I wanted to do while I was here even though it wasn’t a popular destination to do this.

In the evening, we just relaxed, talked to people and had a drink before heading to bed. The hostel was a party hostel so there was loud music playing for most of the night. However, I was so exhausted that I just fell asleep with any problem.

The next day, we got up early to go to the scuba diving centre. Even though my friend didn’t scuba dive, she came for the boat ride and enjoyed some snorkelling. She was extremely scared of the water but overcome her fears with the help of the guides and managed to swim and admire the sea creatures.

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Along with the guide and one other guy, we assembled our equipment and jumped into the water. The first location was an abandoned tower with just the frames. We swam around, diving deeper and looking at octopus, sergent fish, sea lions, a brittle star and many more sea creatures. I tried to swim through several obstacles, which at first I was successful but then I panicked slightly, causing me to worry and breathe heavily. I managed to calm myself down under the water and carried on swimming. When our air was running out, we resurfaced and relaxed on the boat, which took us to our next location.

Again, we dived down but this time the visibility was so bad that I couldn’t see more than 10 cm in front on me so my dive master held my hand and guide me in the correct direction. There was nothing. We were only about 8m down, extremely close to the sandy ground. After a while, he gave and we all resurfaced to the top of the ocean, where our boat collected us. Then we tried again. This time the visibility was better and we swam around the bottom of the ocean looking at varies fish and coral: octopus, trumpet fish, puffer fish, angel fish, butterfly fish, high hat fish, panana pork fish, frog fish and a star fish. After about 30 minutes, we slowly came back up to breathe normal air. Our boat collected us and then we chilled while the boat took us back to shore. Near the shore, we saw and swam with several huge turtles and different birds.

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We carried our equipment back to the van and drove back to the dive centre. It was great fun diving around again even though the locations weren’t great. I still need to perfect my diving skills but I feel like I am getting better.

In the afternoon, we first went back to the hostel to have a shower, pack and check out. Then we tried to look for a shop selling bus tickets, where we ended up waiting in a café, drinking a coffee and I spoke with my sister on skype. Eventually, we found and open shop and purchased a ticket for that night. After, we laid by the pool in the hostel, drinking some cocktails and talking to some other travellers.

Early evening, we searched for some street food then went to the hostel to listening to other singing karaoke. It was a mixture of Spanish and English songs, which was fun. When it was time to leave, we got a tuk tuk to the bus shop. This time the bus was full of mainly gringos wanting to enter Ecuador. It was time to leave Peru. This is a beautiful country with so many things to offer and do, with delicious food and landscapes. It was definitely an amazing 3 weeks, where I met some incredible travellers and experienced so many things. I would have stayed here long but by this time, I had just found out my start date for my job in Colombia so I needed to get a move on and explore the next country: Ecuador.DCIM122GOPRO

On the bus, we drove to the border of Ecuador, which wasn’t too far but it was late at night so I was feeling sleepy. At the border, we lined up to be stamped out of Peru and into Ecuador. It was a really easy process with no hassle at all. Back on the bus, I slept until we reached Cuenca. We were originally going to stay here for the day then get another night bus to Banos but instead, as we were feeling exhausted, we decided just to get a day bus there. We quickly bought a ticket before the bus was leaving and took our seat. It dropped us off just outside of Banos, where we had to get another bus to the town. It was easy enough. Eventually, after 15 hours of travelling, we arrived in Banos, where we found our hostel and relaxed for a bit.

The Philippines: Bohol

img_20160824_120408A few hours passed before reaching Bohol. It was nearing the end of the day so the sun was starting to disappear. I managed to grab a Jeepney, which took me to my hostel about a 45 minute drive away over the bridge.

The hostel where I stayed was in the jungle with little wooden lodges with bed and outside bathrooms. It was such a cute place. Once I had dumped my bag in my room, I sorted out a Scuba Diving trip for the next day, spoke to some people at the hostel and ordered some grilled fish with sweet potato fries.
Excited about my scuba trip, I woke up early trying not to wake the two others in my room and headed to the social area to lie in a hammock.

Then I got ready for the day, showering and preparing my bag. My breakfast was ready as soon as I walked to the common area. I was surprised by the brekkie: it consisted of eggs, sweet potato, rice, banana and some other vegetables. It was so filling and delicious.
After breakfast, I got collected and taken to the scuba resort, which was stunning.
I met an older Australian guy there, who was going to be doing the same dives as me. Along with the guide, we sorted out our gear: BCD, goggles, wetsuit, flippers and regulator.

A group of us jumped into a Jeepney and rode through the town to the place we were departing from. Normally, we would go from the resort but as the sea was so rough, it would have extended our time massively to get around the island.
We took a small boat, where we transferred to a bigger boat to cross the water to our first spot. As the boat was hurdling over the waves with water spraying my whole body, I lounged at the end of the boat, talking with fellow divers.
It was time. Standing at the edge, stepping into the unknown of the ocean with my gear covered me, I held the button of my BCD and sunk under with my guide and an Australian guys.

The ocean was incredible, seeing stone fish, turtles, trumpet fish, green and red nudi branch, frog fish and flat head scorpion fish.

Still getting my buoyancy just right, I dappled through the waters for about 50 minutes. Time goes so quickly and with a 3 minute stop, my head peer over the sea.

On the boat, we rested as we were taken to the next area. The view of the island was so picturesque, looking like paradise.

Our next dive, we did the same motions until we were 18m deep. We saw turtle, frog fish, devon scorpion fish, flute fish, zebra mooray eel and bat fish.

After resurfacing, we just relaxed on the boat with the sun shining as the driver got us back to shore. Somehow a French guy from the boat offered me a lift back to the resort on his motorbike, which was just exhilarating as he was speeding along the path.

By the time I got back to the scuba centre, it was mid afternoon so I sat around chatting and eating some noodles from my hostel.

When I returned back to my hostel, I decided to go for a walk to the nearest beach about 1km away. The beach was peaceful with not many people there. As there had recently been some small natural disaster, there was rubbish and dirt on the sand, which ruined the whole golden look of the beach.

In the evening, I spoke to the girl from the previously day, where we had some dinner. I hung out and chatted for a bit but I was ready to sleep.

On my last full day in Bohol, I wanted to see as much as possible. I had arranged to meet the Australian guy from the scuba trip. I hired a motorbike from the hostel, which I was super excited about driving.

The first place we went to was a bee farm with a cute little shopping area with a café and ice-cream shop. I didn’t care that it was only 9 in the morning and it may not be an acceptable time to eat Ice-Cream. I ordered an Ube (famous fruit in the Philippines) ice-cream, which was a bright purple colour. We walked down to the water front to take some photos then headed back on the road.

Next, over the bridge, through the town then winding through the roads in the magnificent countryside, we reached out next destination: Tarsier Conservation area. On the way, we went through the man-made forest, where there were high pine tree on either side of the road, shading the whole road. It kind of felt enchanted.

Tarsiers are small little animals like gremlins, which are nocturnal and rare. As we walked around this forest, we could see some cuddling the trees with their huge eyes staring at me. They were so cute. It think they were well looked after and as much in the wild as they could be.

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We drove further down the road to the Butterfly sanctuary, where there were butterflies just flying around. There were beautiful butterflies just fluttering around. We sat down for a coffee before heading off again.

Then we drove through rice fields at high speeds to the famous Chocolate hills, which are loads of small greeny-browny hills popping up everywhere. From the view point, up about 50 steps, was an incredible view of them.

We decided to drive further around the island to look for a particular river but unfortunately it had all dried up so we decided to head back. As it was mid-afternoon, my stomach was feeling empty and in need of food. We found a little restaurant at the side of the road over-looking the rice-paddies. We were in the middle of nowhere so there were no people. It was a peaceful place where I had a noodle and fish dish.

After about an hour or two of driving on our motorbikes, we ended on the main touristy beach, where the Australian guy and I went in different directions. I parked then walked down to the famous beach on Bohol Island. I was slightly disappointed: the beach was dirty and it was just a very touristy spot with loads of bars and restaurants. I’m glad I saw it but also happy with the fact I was stayed slightly away from this part. I bumped into a couple of people from the hostel along the promenade.

While walking back to my bike, a sign lured me in to buy a waffle with peanut butter on. It was delicious but I definitely didn’t need to eat it.

Back at the hostel, I chilled for a bit before meeting the English girl. Together, we got picked up, which took us a decent drive away to see the fireflies on the river. Even though I have seen them in Thailand, I wanted the experience of kayaking to find them. However, they didn’t tell us the correct price so it was so much more expensive than expected so we did the boat cruise instead. It was an open round bus with chair nailed to the floor, looking in one direction. We saw clusters of fireflies, glowing in the trees around the river. It was so cool. Some of the other people on the boat caught them in their hands but I wanted to just leave them to be free.

When we returned to our hostel, a group of us sat around chatting and drinking dark rum, which was super cheap. I didn’t stay up too late as I was getting up early for a flight.

The Philippines: Scuba Diving around Apo Island

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The next day, I got up super early to have complimentary breakfast of eggs, fruit, toast and juice, before walking to the scuba diving shop. I was so excited but also slightly nervous.

Filling in a standard form and trying the equipment was easy. I got in a Jeepney, taking us on about 30 minute ride to an abandoned shore with the boat waiting for us. The boat was a typical Filipino structure which was a narrow boat with bamboo shafts that stuck out like wings. Unfortunately, we had to wait for late comer but soon enough we were on our way to Apo Island.

There were many foreigners and locals aboard mostly snorkelling. While moving, I soaked up she sun lying at the front.

img_20160824_120408When we were close to our first diving stop on the east side of the Island, I had a quick briefing session with the guide. It ended up just the two of going together, which eased my worries as he would have to focus on me.

With my wetsuit on, tank on my back and googles ready, I stepped into the moving water and blew up my BCD.

Following a rope down, we dived to the bottom with masses of coral and fish. We swam around looking around and exploring the deep ocean sinking further and further to around 22m, looking along the walls.

We saw morise idol, hawk turtle, bell snake, moory eel, lion fish, box fish, soft coral and a cave. It was incredible.

With the gas slowly running out, we resurfaced after 50 minutes. Back on the boat, drying in the sun, I had some bread with jam and an air break.

Further around the island was our next spot, where we got ready for our next scuba diving session. After a bit of a rest, I geared up again before heading down to the bottom of the ocean for some more exploring.

We saw tryger fish, snake, morry eel, a school of jack fish, bandit sea snake, clam, tiger cowry shell, soft and hard coral, nemo and a sharktail.

 

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Diving is just an incredible experience. Then I had some noodles and a boiled egg for lunch sitting under the sun. I was tempted to do another dive but instead at the third spot, I snorkeled in the choppy and high current of the sea with one person from the boat.
At the end of our time around Apo island, we sailed back to the shore mid afternoon.

Driving back to the store was a peaceful journey. I decided I was in need of a massage especially as I was in Asia and knew that it would be cheap. Just up the road from my hostel was a nice looking massage place, where I had a typical Filipino full body massage. It was so relaxing. For the reast of the evening, I chilled, ate noodle then went to bed.

Fiji: Nada and first time scuba diving

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Fiji was just one incredible country and 12 days was definitely not enough time but luckily I still managed to experience the culture and learn about a whole new place.After a long, overnight flight from Perth with a stopover in Brisbane, I landed safely at Nada airport, where I had lost several hours because of the time difference. I was welcomed by a couple of guys in a colourful shirt with a guitar singing Fijian songs. Later, I realised that Fijian just love singing all the time and they are actually good.

At the airport, I went through immigration which was a doddle and was met by a lovely young girl from the hostel, who arranged my lift to my accommodation. By now, it was late after with the sun still blazing. The vibe from the airport and just the drive made an impact where I thought I’m going to live this place. I had heard fantastic things from different people about the views, people, culture and their experience.

Once I had checked in and dumped my bags in a 16 bed dorm, I decided that I should probably eat and get in a routine here. I didn’t want to stuffer from jet lag or waste my time with sleeping at funny time. After eating a veggie quesadilla at the hostel restaurant, I chilled in my room, giving myself an early night as I knew I had to be up at 6.30am the following morning.

Even though I was in a large dorm, I managed to sleep extremely well but I think this was because I was exhausted from flying. To my surprise, quite a few people from my dorm got up at a similar time as me to go on trips. I was so excited for my next few days. I had booked to do a PADI open water scuba diving course. I had never been scuba diving so I was feeling a little anxious. However, my excitement overrode the nervous feeling especially after not being able to do it in Australia due to complications.

Today, I knew I wasn’t going to be diving deep just the theory part and basic skills in shallow water. Once I had a shower and scoffed some breakfast biscuits down my throat, I was ready to rumble. Outside my personal chauffeur was waiting for me. I always feel a bit anxious when I first meet someone especially as I knew it was going to be a fourth-five minute journey. However, he was so lovely and chatting with an infectious laugh and I didn’t feel awkward.DCIM104GOPRO

The journey was first through Nada main city then on the main road with small villages and crops on each side, on to windy country road through mountains. The actually dive centre was being renovated so there wasn’t many people around and seemed a bit dead. The first thing that came to mind was ‘is this a legit centre?’. Soon I came to the realisation, it was and used to be booming. At a wooden cabin, I filled out various forms with the lady at the desk. I had a slight panic attack when my card didn’t work but it was easily sorted out.

During the morning, I sat in a dark room with a projector to watch three of the theory DVD’s. After each unit, I had to fill in the revision part of the book then complete a test with my diving instructor, Scuba Sam. Some of it was common sense, whereas other part were interesting and more complicated especially as I hadn’t done any underwater activities before.

Gazing out onto the ocean with the tide so far out, I ate my pre-packed lunch of tinned fish and crackers while chatting to my instructor about general Fijian life.

After, I sized up for a wetsuit, flippers, goggles and wet shoes then we headed out on a small boat into shallow waters to start my skills. On the boat, I was shown the different equipment and how to construct the BCD, regulator and tank together. It wasn’t too difficult but I knew it was important to carefully put it together otherwise my life would be at risk. With a safety check in place; equipment, flippers and goggles on; I lowered myself into the water. Under the water, we practised breathing; taking out the regulator and the goggles off; different hand signs etc…

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Breathing under water was kind of a weird sensation, where I felt a little panicked but also excitable. It was harder than I thought to breathe normally and slowly with the constant sound of inhaling and exhaling. I started thinking maybe this wasn’t for me but also loved it at the same time.

After a couple of hours out to see, we returned where I got a lift back to my hostel. I had a shower then went in search of food. I quickly realised that my hostel generally had the cheapest food but there was a offer for cheap pizzas at a different restaurant. I ate the vegetarian pizza which was too bad, not Italian but it was edible. Back at my hostel, I enjoyed an evening of Kava time. This is basically a traditional drink that is used in ceremonies, which looks like dirty water and doesn’t really taste any better. Sitting on a large straw mat in a circle with no shoes, we each were handed, one at a time, a small bowl of Kava. The Kate was made in a large bowl of water where spices were put into a bag then washed though the water for a few minutes. A Fijian would massage the bag into the bowl with his hands until it was ready. Before receiving a bowl of kava, they would ask ‘high tide’ or ‘low tide’, basically a small or large amount. After answering, I had to clap once with curved hands, say ‘bula’, drink the bowl in one, give it back without it touching the floor, then clap three times.

In between Kava, there were people playing guitar and singing, where many people joined in this session. I chatted to several traveller and locals including a girl from the USA currently studying in New Zealand and a French guy living in New Canadonia. img_20160614_130406

When Kava time had finished, I decided to go to bed as I had to be up early to check out and be collected.

Once I had sorted myself out and changed room because the hostel said there wasn’t anymore room in the large dorm (which I later found out was a lie as there were empty rooms), I found my chauffeur. Exactly as the day before, he drove the route to the dive centre with the time passing quickly.

Scuba Sam welcomed me at the cabin, where I changed into my scuba gear ready for the morning in the ocean. Walking a km through the shallow waters, trying to avoid any slime or animals was slightly difficult but we reached the boat eventually.

Three of us were on the boat: myself, Scuba Sam and the driver so it was a private scuba diving session. I was feeling a bit nervous but also extremely excited for first dive which was 12m deep. My love of the ocean and all the creature has just grown so much over this trip and it wasn’t going to stop now.

With a plan arranged and all our gear set up, we were ready to embark on this new adventure. The best thing was not to panic. Sitting on the boat, I rolled myself in with all the equipment on and puffed up my BCD until I was afloat. My instructor entered the waters, where we swam to the front of the boat to lowered ourself down through the water. Holding my hand up high squeezing the air out with my regulator in my month, I merged into the sea. Slowly but surely, we lowered ourselves to the bottom of the sea, surrounding with blue water with a visibility of 15m and temperature of27 degrees.

First we did the cramp removal skill as the day before with Scuba Sam demonstrating them and then I copied him. Trying to calm and slow my breathing, we mooched around the bottom, where I found it difficult to get my buoyancy, causing myself to bob unnecessary. It was a whole new world down here with various fish just swimming around and loads of different coral including trumpet fish, coral fish even a white tip reef shark, stingray and Hawks bill turtle. My eyes were just darting everywhere with the goggles enlarging each organism and a closer depth of perception. I was constantly looking at my gage to ensure I had air and the depth below sea level.

I did have a slight panic attack when I started floating up and my instructor wasn’t paying attention, I didn’t know what to do. Eventually he came and got me, and dragged me back down. I definitely need to work on my buoyancy but at least I know now that I should push out the air, stand vertically and breathe out with small slow inhaling breathes. img_20160614_173244

Not long later, we surfaced taking a 3 minute safety stop at 5m. Back in the boat, we took a rest as it important to have a decent amount of time out of the water for my safety. We drank a cup of tea with a fresh coconut and a weird fruit called bread fruit. It was delicious but had the consistency of bread. I think it had been cooked before.

We drove to our next stop, where we did a bother dive of 12m. It was a similar procedure but I did more skills: removal of scuba and weights, regulator exchange. Down the bottom, there were high walls of corals with fish deep inside. We also saw another white tip reef shark, sea slugs, moorish idol fish, cornet fish and big eye fish.

The time at the bottom seemed to go so quickly and soon enough we were back on the boat. Before heading back, I had to swim around the boat three time and be afloat for 10 minute to ensure I could pass my PADI.

What an amazing morning of my first scuba diving experience. Back at the centre I ate lunch then completed the last two unit of the course, where I completed the final test. Then I received a lift back to my hostel, where I checked back into the hostel. My room was a little further away in a separate house up a set of stairs at the back, where I dropped my bag off then wandered to the pool to catch some end of the day rays. DCIM104GOPRO

In the evening, I grabbed some food from the restaurant and sat with a group from different countries chatting while they drank some beers. I didn’t want any alcohol in my body as I was diving the next day as I can be sensible sometime. We jammed on the floor by the Kava for a couple of hours, where I talked to the American girl and French guy. With familiar song played on the guitar, a Fijian guy showed us a Fiji tobacco which was rolled into a long, thin straw using newspaper. It was bizarre.

After a couple of rounds of Kava and singing, I went to bed on my squeaky top bunk.

The following day, I rose as usual for my last day at the dive centre. I was excited to go diving again. Again, I got picked up then transferred 45 minutes. Today, we were riding around on a bigger boat as there were four other divers with their own guide.

Once everyone was geared up and ready to vamoosh, we dawdled towards the boat, squelching on the ground. I was able to take my GoPro to video some footage of the underground world. We drove to the edge of the reef, where the others started their dive first, then I went through the plan and safety check with my instructor before stepping off the boat into the ocean. Holding the cord, we pulled ourselves down under with the regulator in my mouth.DCIM104GOPRO

There were a few skills I had to do at the bottom before exploring the surrounding area. I felt so much more comfortable and confident. We glided at around 18m, actually some of the time, it was lower. To one side was a high coral wall, where we admired the life. My instructor was great at seeing all different types of sea creature and would constantly point them out to me. We saw 4 white tip reef sharks, 18 century anchor, green turtle, soft coral, nemos and 4 line snappers. I can’t explain how magical it was, swimming through the blue water.

As we were swimming through the nursery reef, we started and finished at different point, which meant we got to see a lot more. When we ascended to the surface, I climbed onto the boat and soon found out I didn’t run out of air for 50 minutes, which is better than my 35 minutes when I first started.

To my surprised the others had other been down for about 35 minutes. We rested with a cuppa and coconut.

On the way to the canyon reef, we went in search of dolphin. This must have been the most incredible experience of my life. There were massives of dolphins swimming and just over the water. I managed to get some footage but it’s not as good as real life. Our captain drove the boat around in circles, where the dolphin glided parallel to us. We all just didn’t have the words to say.

On the next dive, we descended to 16m with a visibility of 10m. Without any warning, at the bottom we swam through a dark cave with hard coral, where I cut my hand as it was so narrow. Unexpectedly, the cave was long than I thought, turning left and right to avoid the walls then ascending a little to leave the cave. img_20160616_135333

My love for diving has just grown so big. I can’t believe I didn’t start diving earlier in my life. Down in the reef, I saw a white tip reef shark, unicorn fish, grouber fish, hard and soft coral, ghost coral and a school of snappers. I just loved every minute and didn’t want to return to the boat but soon enough I had to as my air was running out.

I did a controlled emergency swimming ascent then used the inflatable signal tube so that the captain could see us and collect us from our spot.

Calmly but quickly, we were driven back to the mainland, where again we had to walk about a kilometre back to shore. I washed my equipment and took a seat while all my paper work was filled in and signed. I learnt how to fill in the dive record book with all the correct times, condition and what we saw. After I sat on the floor with some of the locals sharing their food of tea and breakfast crackers with a mixture of butter and jam. It was delicious.

When we were ready, we drove back to the hostel, filming along the way as this was the last time I would do this journey.

At the hostel, I just chilled by the pool in the sun, trying to top up my tan as much as possible.img_20160616_134729

When the sun started setting, I sat with a group I had met the previous few days, chatting and drinking beers to say goodbye to some of them who were leaving and me for completing the PADI open water scuba diving course. we were a little bit cheeky as we bought Berra from the shop then drank them in the hostel. One of the guys had a traditional Brazilian drink so we shot this down as well.

For the rest of the evening, we just hung out. One of the girls went with some Fijians to a local club but a couple of us decided to stay then go to bed.

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