Tag Archives: SCUBA

Spring Break – Maldives Diary

Spring Break! Off to the Maldives – a garland of islands in the Indian Ocean off the southern tip of India. Woo hoo!

According to Visit Maldives:

The Maldives lies in two rows of atolls in the Indian Ocean, just across the equator. The country is made up of 1,190 coral islands formed around 26 natural ring-like atolls, spread over 90,000 square kilometers. These atolls structures are formed upon a sharp ridge rising from the ocean, making way for their secluded uniqueness.


Sunday, March 24
Air India recently cancelled our short flight to the Maldives via Colombo, Sri Lanka. We felt lucky the savvy travel experts of Sun Tours had our backs and rebooked us on another flight. It’s probably a good thing I was too busy to process the new schedule. On paper, it seemed OK: Delhi to Kochin (southern India). Kochin to Male (capital of the Maldives). Seaplane to our resort in the Lhaviyani Atoll.

Here’s how it really played out: We left for the airport at 4:30 a.m. About half way into our “direct flight” to Kochin, the flight attendants made the stow-everything-and-get-ready-to-land announcement. After panicking momentarily that we had boarded the wrong plane, we soon realized we had been duped by the “fake direct flight” ploy. Grrr… uncool, Spice Jet. We dropped off about half the passengers in Hyderbad, stayed on board while the crew cleaned the plane, and then waited for the new group to board. Eventually, we reached Kochin and caught our connection to Male, where we traveled by seaplane to the Kuredu Resort (after a quick stop at another resort). We finally reached paradise after 13 hours and FIVE separate flights.

Our first seaplane ride ever!

View from the seaplane.

Unloading at our island.

And now I’ll stop whining and start gushing … this place was fabulous! We came here at the recommendation of my brother and his wife, who vacationed on this island last year. Kuredu Resort has the whole island to itself. For six glorious days, Tony and I were living large in a beachfront villa overlooking the Indian Ocean. See?


By the time we arrived and checked in, we barely had time for dinner before crashing for the night.

Monday, March 25
A compulsory informational meeting gobbled up much of our morning. We bought a power adaptor, signed up for a few excursions, and did a little exploring around the island.

At 2:30, we joined about 12 others for a snorkeling boat trip. Our guide, Greg, was from South Africa, but we and he were the only native English speakers. His onboard presentation about the snorkeling site was quite funny as he tried to make himself understood. Surely the Europeans spoke enough English to get the gist, but he kept miming ridiculous concepts like “brain coral.” Our favorite line was when he asked, “How do you say snorkel in German?” The Germans replied in unison: “Schnorkel.” Ha! Now Tony and I cannot stop saying, “Do you vant to schnorkel?”


Oh, snorkeling was super fun. We swam around two different sites teeming with fish and took a few mostly lame photos with a borrowed underwater camera.




That evening, we were back on a boat for the complimentary sunset cruise. About 30 people sat stiffly on the benches of a dive boat, and I was beginning to wonder whether this was really worth our time. After motoring around for half an hour, the crew began shouting and clapping. Dolphins! They seemed to respond to the cheers, swimming right alongside our boat and leaping into the air. One baby dolphin repeatedly jumped out of the water and spun around like a corkscrew. Their playful demonstration had us all laughing and cheering. One of the crewmen pulled me to the front of the boat, so I sat on the deck with one foot in the water, getting soaked by the waves but loving every moment.


The boat crew looks for dolphins.



Tuesday, March 26
My favorite way to start the day here was sitting on this porch bed with a strong cup of coffee (Nespresso machine in our villa!), cherishing the salty air, rolling surf, gentle breezes clicking the palm fronds together, and the sea’s gradual transition from clear cerulean at the shore to turquoise to jade and ultimately nearly black as it drops off the horizon.

But enough with the poetic ruminations… there was no time to sit around trying to name the exact color of the water. I decided I wanted to walk the perimeter of the island today, so that’s what we did. Kuredu is part of the Lhaviyani Atoll, created gajillions of years ago when a volcano erupted. The volcano’s crater now forms the center of the atoll – a relatively shallow and calm lagoon with sloping reefs – ringed by small islands. That means one side of Kuredu faces the atoll’s interior, while the other side faces the open sea. Our walk revealed interesting differences on the two sides of the island – coarser sand, broken coral, crashing waves, and refreshing winds on the Indian Ocean-facing side (where our villa was located) and babypowder sand with gently lapping waves and no breeze on the interior-facing side. At one point, we peeled off our cover-ups and left them inside my sunhat on the sand while we walked, waded and eventually swam from a long skinny sandbar cutting through perfectly clear water. The strong current seemed to deter most fish, but we did see a small black-tipped reef shark. It felt like a Disney moment. You know that blue water in the Splash Mountain log ride? This water was THAT blue. How is that possible?

By the time we fully circumnavigated the island, we were exhausted. After a nap, a dip in the pool, a quick snorkel outside our villa, lunch, a visit to one of the wifi hotspots (which was not so “hot” of a spot as it lost power after a few minutes), we decided to go for another swim in the pool created by concrete pylons a short distance offshore in front of our villa. However, the low tide left little water for swimming. Instead, we donned a scuba mask, sat on the sandy bottom and bent over the rocks and dead coral to observe the tidepool ecosystem. Tiny technicolor fish, hermit crabs, eels and sea slugs seemed unconcerned about the receding tide. I guess they knew it would be back again soon.

Low tide. That’s me standing out by the concrete pylons.


High tide. Hundreds of crabs crawl onto the pylons and hang on for dear life.


With set meal times at one of the three restaurants, we built our day around food, and then – like the street cows of New Delhi – we paraded en masse to the next feeding. Breakfast and lunch featured standard buffet fare, but the dinners raised the bar with culinary themes. Tonight’s “Arabian” seafood kebabs ranked among my favorite meals in recent memory.

The “O Resort” restaurant.

Tony photobombing my pic of this cool bird.

Wednesday, March 27
Because we hadn’t gone scuba diving in two years, we decided to refresh our skills with a scuba orientation class. Our instructor, Sebastjan, introduced us to the Prodivers dive center and the island’s “house reef,” a vibrant coral reef literally a short jump off the end of the jetty. It was our first time diving in water warm enough to ditch the wetsuit. (around 30C; 86F. Perfect!) We carried all our gear to the end of the pier (except for the tanks which arrived via wheelbarrow). I had a little trouble with a hissing inflator on my vest, so Sebastjan had to run back to the dive shop and switch it out for a new one. Once in the water, we went over a few basic skills: flooding and clearing your mask (I am an EXPERT at this because my upside-down-lightbulb-shaped face makes every mask leak…), losing your regulator (the oxygen source), and running out of air and using your dive buddy’s “octopus” (the extra regulator everyone carries).

Getting ready to dive. A man cut in front of me to steal the pink tank, but I got a funky orange one. Why does that matter? I don’t know, but it does.


After ensuring we knew the basics, Sebastjan led us on an hourlong dive. We cruised along next to a nice coral reef and visited a boat wreck. Highlights: a sea turtle, puffer fish, a school of about 20 huge translucent orange-and-white angel fish, tons of geeky looking pointy-nosed unicorn fish, and zillions of colors darting in and out of the coral. One of the most amazing experiences on earth has to be floating silently into a huge crowd of ambivalent rainbow fish who make space but otherwise ignore your presence.

We loved this dive so much that we signed up for an afternoon boat ride to another dive site: Tinga Giri. It took just 10 minutes to get there, and it was such a treat not to wrestle into a wetsuit on a rocking boat. We just attached our BCDs to our tanks, slipped on our fins and masks and jumped in. This was another gorgeous coral reef with brilliant diversity. At one point, a huge tuna swam by. I thought it was a dolphin at first and I nearly hyperventilated with joy.

I had borrowed a mask from the dive shop to testdrive it before buying, and it worked beautifully! Sucked right on to my mutant face and didn’t leak a bit. It fogged up repeatedly, though, so good thing I’m a pro at taking off and cleaning my mask underwater. Later, we got some great tips from the divemasters: coat your mask with toothpaste overnight and don’t wear any sunscreen on your face. What?! I didn’t try the toothpaste, but the sunscreen advice made a huge difference. Who knew creams caused mask fog? Geez.

Thursday, March 28
Lazy breakfast.
Eventually, we headed to the dive shop to rent snorkel gear, and I turned in my borrowed mask and bought a new one. We walked out to the pier and hopped in the water for a snorkel on the house reef. My new mask leaked like crazy! So frustrating. It was the same exact model as the one that worked so well yesterday. I tried adjusting the straps a million times. If I let it fill about half way, I could still sort of see. Aaarrgghhh!

We did spot a turtle munching grass on the sea floor. She swam right at my face when she came up for air; I actually had to move out of her way.



Back in the room, we rinsed the mask and discovered it had a piece of plastic missing, which caused the leak. After lunch, we took the leaky mask back to the shop, and they exchanged it for a new one. We repeated our morning snorkel with much more success in the mask department. Overall today we saw three sea turtles (although Tony thinks the one I spotted was the same one we had seen earlier). Several massive buck-toothed parrotfish chewing on the coral kind of freaked me out, but like all the other intimidating sealife, they left us well enough alone. (Photo from cruisemaldives.travel.)


Another ubiquitous underwater attraction is the schooling of hundreds of fish into a blob that appears, from a distance, to be one enormous sea creature. I was fooled more than once, and believe me your stomach flips over when that happens.
We saw schools like this one many times. (Photo from US News Travel.)


Friday, March 29
We snorkeled the house reef again and saw a huge turtle! Tony chased a ginormous black fish – a grouper, maybe? – which kept just out of reach with a quick flick of its tail. We also found three lionfishes like this one in a little coral cave. (Photo from Travel For Passion website.) Pretty, but venomous, so we didn’t linger.

LionFish (1)

While I’m a strictly stick-to-the-surface snorkeler, Tony bravely held his breath and dove to explore the depths, including the tip of the boat wreck.

Later, we walked out to the barely visible sandbar at high tide. It was obvious how the sandbar was formed; waves crashed onto it from both sides. We struggled to stay upright, unstable on the soft sand with the surf pounding our shins, but we looked rather Biblical, as if we were walking on water. After trudging quite a ways out into the sea, we wondered whether the sandbar ever disappeared completely when the tide got very high. Just in case, we quickly paddle-sprinted back to shore.

For our last dinner at Kuredu, our waiter, Shareef, had set a fancy table for us with flowers and sand stencils of a turtle, dolphin and letters spelling out “See you soon.”

Windy evening.

Every night after dinner, we sat outside at the seaside bar, sipping drinks and staring at the underwater floodlights for passing sharks and big fish. Night after night, we watched between one and four large fish circle one of the lights repeatedly, hypnotically, breaking stride only when a reef shark or another unwelcome visitor approached.

Saturday, March 30
We were sad to say good-bye to our utopian island, but it was time for the long journey home. Even though Spice Jet tricked us with its pretend “direct flight,” we have to give them kudos for being on time or early each leg of the trip. We left Kuredu around 11 a.m. and got home shortly after midnight.

Have I piqued your interest in the Maldives? Check out the Visit Maldives website for more facts, photos and awesomeness.

Maskonfusion – the story of how my funky-shaped head nearly led to my early demise

This post was written on April 11 … just a little slow to get it on the blog.

Yesterday we hit the high seas with high hopes for an interesting scuba excursion.

We climbed aboard the Cham Island Diving boat with our friends Carol, who would earn her PADI Open Water certification by the end of the day, and Nikki, who experienced some mediocre snorkeling. Tony puked for most of the 45-minute boat ride to the dive site, so he was happy to finally squeeze into a wetsuit and strap on the BCD (buoyancy control device). I warned the divemaster that I always get cold underwater, even on dives that other people report as “like bath water.” He tossed a second wetsuit to me.

Little did I suspect that hypothermia would be the least of my problems on this day.

I may have mentioned in the past that my head is shaped like an upside-down lightbulb, and I have yet to find a dive mask that can seal those little divots at my temples. For my first dive in Hoi An, I wore an old dive mask that belonged to my sister Megan when she was a kid. I figured a teenager’s mask might fit better than a full-size adult’s mask made for normal full-size faces. I was wrong.

From the minute we descended (which actually took longer than usual because I didn’t have enough weights on my belt, so the divemaster had to slip another weight in my BCD pocket), my mask (a) leaked and (b) fogged up. I spent the whole dive taking off my mask, wiping off the fog, putting it back on, blowing out the water and then catching up with the group. I don’t even remember seeing any fish.

In addition to my mask misery, I was freezing! Back on the boat, it took a good 20 minutes before my teeth stopped chattering. For the next dive, I got a new mask and put on a hood and a THIRD wetsuit. I could barely bend my arms to put on the BCD.

The hood and third wetsuit made a huge difference – I felt warm and cozy. Unfortunately, my new mask immediately filled up, and the divemaster tossed it back on board to trade it for yet another. I thought it was sealing better, but shortly after descending, it filled again. I cleared it a few times and figured I could dive with a partially filled mask. Suddenly, it filled up completely and no matter how hard I tried to clear it, the water rushed back in. I panicked momentarily when I couldn’t see anything. I couldn’t read my gauge, so I didn’t know my depth. I couldn’t tell if I was bobbing back up to the surface (and risking “the bends”) or sinking to the bottom (and risking the explosion of my ear drums).

Later Tony explained that he saw me sinking, so he quickly grabbed my buoyancy control valve and pumped a little air into the BCD. Then I started to float up. By then the divemaster realized I was in trouble, so he pulled my fin down until I was level with him. At first I was desperate to get out of the water, so I made the thumbs-up gesture for “Back to the surface!” I cleared my mask and could open my eyes for just an instant to see him pantomiming, “Calm down, silly.”

He tried to push all my hair away from the mask in case it was creating gaps, but by then my panic had subsided and I knew the stupid hood was the problem. I whipped off the mask, pulled the hood down around my neck, put the mask back on and cleared the water by blowing air out of my nose. The mask sucked on to my face like it was permanently attached.

For the rest of the dive, I didn’t have any problems with water leakage. The pressure on my face was quite uncomfortable, but I didn’t want to equalize it for fear of creating new leaks. As a result, I now have a nice fat bruise right above my nose. Pretty.

No longer obsessed with my mask, I was able to focus more on the dive. Too bad the visibility was poor. Our group had six people, and we often couldn’t see further than the fins in front of us.

When I climbed up the ladder to get back on the boat, my three wetsuits suddenly compressed like a corset and squeezed all my internal organs up into my throat. I barely wriggled out of the BCD before leaning over the railing to barf my breakfast into the sea. I felt like a pig in the coils of a boa constrictor and couldn’t get out of those wetsuits fast enough!

As for the dive itself, we encountered a few interesting fish and rolling coral terrain, but probably the best thing I took away was the reminder to stick with my dive buddy. Poor Tony. He always tries to stay close, but I’m so easily distracted. I tail the divemaster but often lose track of Tony when I spot a cool fish. Sometimes I snap back to reality and whip around to find him, only to discover he’s floating right above me. When I had the mask problem, he was right there to help me. But who would help HIM if he got into trouble? Chances are, I would be mesmerized by some colorful sea anemone while he signaled for help. So this was a big wake up call.

After our second dive, we anchored off Cham Island and piled into a little boat to get to shore. We ate lunch and played cards till it was time to take the dive boat back to Hoi An. Despite the equipment malfunctions, chilly water temperature and post-dive pukefest, diving always rocks. Plus, it was fun to be with Carol when she earned her PADI certificate. So, all in all, not a bad day.

Shots in the water were taken by Nikki or Carol with an underwater camera.

Carol, Nikki and Tony on the boat.

Pulling away from the dock in Hoi An, we passed fishermen in boats and baskets.

Carol’s ready to jump in.

Getting ready to descend.

Alex, the divemaster, trying to help me with my stupid mask.

Whew! Finally got it to stop leaking.

Some nice scenery despite the poor visibility.

Playing cards at Cham Island.

Heading back to town.

Love these fish nets!

Pulling in to the Hoi An port.

The seas were rough that day, my friend

This week in Phuket, the weather has been a bit indecisive. A few minutes of rain, a few hours of sunshine. A few hours of rain, a few minutes of sunshine. Only Wednesday brought torrential rains, and lucky for us, we missed most of it. You don’t notice the weather when you’re 20 meters under the sea. Scuba day!

The hourlong boat ride to the dive site was wetter and cooler than usual, but at least we didn’t have to worry about sunburn, right?

We did two dives at Koh Racha Yai with our guide, Khob. While the weather on land was gray and dreary, the underwater scenery was breathtaking. Tony and I couldn’t believe how many different types of fish we saw.

Some highlights:
* A school of juvenile barracuda surrounded us before swimming away.
* Several moray eels poked their big heads out of the coral and flashed their creepy grins.
* An old wreck created a colorful hangout for all sorts of creatures.
* A big cuttlefish undulated next to us for a few minutes like a sheet flapping in the breeze.
* Feathery-looking brown-and-white striped lionfish lounged in the coral.
* Two small blue-spotted rays drifted on the sandy bottom.
* Clownfish and other small colorful fish darted in and out of the waving anemone.

Actually, as I started to write some highlights I realized that the whole experience was one big highlight after another! It’s hard to pick out the best parts. I also need to take a course in identifying marine life. In the meantime, I like checking out the Fish/Coral Information page on the Thailand Divers website.

Bali Folly

As a travel planner, I have really slacked off this year. Usually I start thinking about potential trips way ahead of time, track down the cheapest flights, read scads of hotel reviews, act on tips from friends, and otherwise ensure a most awesome adventure for Tony and me. Since moving to Vientiane, I have felt too busy/tired/confused/broke to put much effort in to travel planning.

As our April break was approaching, we heard this mantra again and again: Get the hell out of Laos! The Pii Mai holiday (Lao New Year) has many beautiful and spiritual traditions, so I hated to miss it. However, the practice of dousing everyone with water sounded annoying enough to send us both into an emotional tailspin. Apparently, the lovely water blessing has deteriorated into a full-blown citywide water fight, complete with buckets, water cannons, water balloons and other paraphernalia. The rate of vehicular accidents also skyrockets during this week, which seems predictable when (a) most vehicles on the road are motorbikes, and (b) it’s not easy to get your bike back under control after taking a bucket of water in the face.

Thailand was celebrating the same festival (they call it Songkran), and the “Red Shirts” were building momentum with their civil disobedience, so I ruled out a Thai beach vacation. In fact, I ruled out all flights routed through Bangkok, not out of fear but out of awareness that if my holiday were cut short by demonstrations at the airport, I would be truly pissed.

After many inner confrontations between Pragmatic Me (who argues we should be pinching every penny to pay for our Michigan lakehouse renovations) and Spoiled Me (who insists we DESERVE a bit of pampering because we work SO hard!) – I decided to book a trip to Bali. (Pragmatic Me never had a chance…) Feeling the usual spring burnout common among teachers, I chose to check in to a hotel and stay there. No exhaustive bopping around the island. A few quick internet searches and – bam! – we had tickets and a hotel. Here’s how it played out.

Saturday – On the Road Again
Flew to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and spent the night at a hotel close to the airport. Air Asia had changed our flights at the last minute, necessitating an overnight en route to Bali. Doh!

Sunday – Scoping Out the ‘Hood
Arrived at our stunning oasis, Rumah Bali Bed and Breakfast, near Nusa Dua on the southeast coast. The hotel is part of a little empire launched by a Swiss entrepreneur and his Balinese wife. To illustrate my previous point that I hadn’t done much research for this trip, I chose Rumah Bali based only on a few reviews that raved about the breakfast. We were happy to find that everything about Rumah Bali – including the breakfast – was perfect.

Here are some shots from the hotel grounds.

That’s our bungalow behind Tony. We had the whole top floor. Loved it!

Just across the street, high-end swanky hotels lined the beach overlooking the Lombok Strait. We walked through the lobby of the Peninsula Hotel to get to the Tanjung Benoa beach. It was pretty disappointing. There was lots of flotsam and jetsam floating on the surface of the very shallow water, and the sand was coarse and full of sea debris. Walking along a path that links the hoity-toity resorts, we thanked our lucky stars that we hadn’t shelled out the big bucks to stay at one of them. We happily crossed back to our idyllic bungalow and hopped in the pool.

For lunch, we wandered down an alley and found a little “warung,” a hole-in-the-wall café that served up simple Balinese food and catered to the locals. Tony’s meal looked like a chicken had been attacked with a weed whacker, but he said it was tasty, and he’s quite adept at removing all bits of meat from the bones. My “nasi goreng” (spicy fried rice with chicken) and stir-fried garlicky veggies were so delicious that I opted for warung food over restaurant fare most days.

Back at Rumah Bali, we wandered around the grounds. One large area is set up as a traditional Balinese market restaurant – Pasar Malam – with several small thatched-roof pavilions filled with heavy teakwood tables and chairs. On this day, workers were setting up an extensive sound system, which didn’t bode well. As we discovered later, some company was holding a special event at this venue and would blast dance tunes till nearly midnight. Tossing and turning in bed that night, I couldn’t help but admire their playlist – it could’ve come straight off my iPod. Fortunately, this was the only party during our stay.

Monday – Breakfast and Beaches
Early to bed, early to rise. We had breakfast delivered to our balcony around 7 a.m., and it was spectacular! Delicious French-pressed coffee, pastries still warm from the oven, fried eggs and crispy bacon, freshly squeezed mango juice, and a gorgeous collection of fruit. The fruit bowl included the standard melon and banana, but also starfruit, jackfruit, lychee and two mystery fruits that I’d never had before. One had thick hard yellow skin and a grey gelatinous middle with little seeds. It tasted sugary sweet, but the texture was reminiscent of a raw oyster and triggered my gag reflex. The other newbie to my fruit repertoire had a brown leathery skin. The flesh was white-ish and hard with a marble-sized smooth pit. It tasted like a dry sweet pear. Thumbs down on Mystery Fruit #1, which I have since identified as marquisa passion fruit and learned it is usually enjoyed in juice form. Thumbs up on Mystery Fruit #2, which I discovered is aptly named snakeskin fruit.

Breakfast on the balcony.

Today we rented a motorbike with big plans to explore the area. We rode to Nusa Dua, another string of ritzy beachfront resorts nestled in a perfectly manicured neighborhood. We walked along the flagstone path and checked out all the decadent hotels, where not a grain of sand was out of place. We even saw workers raking and burying seagrass that had washed up on the shore. (I freely admit that my criticism may be slightly tinged with jealousy.) At the end of the path, we encountered a woven bamboo wall, so we walked around it and discovered the “real” beach – just sand, water and locals selling snacks. As much as I wanted to swim in the sea, I was discouraged by the posters warning of sea urchins, the lack of waves, and the omnipresent junk bobbing on the water. Again, we zipped back to Rumah Bali and jumped in the pool. We definitely didn’t get our money’s worth out of the motorbike!

Nusa Dua beach.

Tuesday – Bathroom Meditations
We had planned to go scuba diving, but I woke up with a bad case of Bali belly, so we postponed our scuba outing. I spent the whole day in the room, only occasionally venturing to the balcony for a few minutes at a time. I couldn’t even muster the strength to take a dip in the pool. Tony tried to get to Kuta, the backpacker Mecca of Bali, but he ended up back at Nusa Dua at a shopping area called Bali Collection. I don’t really know what else he did; I was too sick to care. About the only thing that made me happy today was the fact that our bungalow did not have an open-air outdoor bathroom like some of the others.

Wednesday – Tonny Cooks up a Storm
Another morning of feeling icky! My tummy was fine, but I felt like I had a mild flu or a bad cold. I had enough energy to lounge by the pool and wander around Rumah Bali a bit; mostly I watched TV and read Vanity Fair. I kept trying to convince myself that my body was crying out for rest, but I’m not very good at resting. Tony joked that my illnesses were slowing me down just enough to be at his pace. Ha, ha.

Tony spent the day at the Bumbu Bali cooking school (where they gave him a nametag labeled “Tonny”). It took place in a kitchen in the hotel’s Pasar Malam area. Heinz von Holzen, a reknowned chef, cookbook author, and founder of the Bumbu Bali restaurant, was the teacher. I dragged myself down to the kitchen to shoot a few pictures.

The cooking class kitchen.

Tony mixes the meat and spices. Oh, wait, that’s not Tony.

There he is with his lovely satay on a stick of lemongrass. He learned how to pinch the satay to make it look like a temple, which keeps it from falling apart on the grill.

A few more shots from cooking class.

Thursday – Lice and Crabs
Waterworld, a local scuba outfit, picked us up at 8 a.m. and took us to the beach. We joined a British guy, Colin, and his 14-year-old son, Jack. Still feeling stuffy, I opted to snorkel in lieu of diving. After the three guys were fitted for wetsuits and equipment, we boarded a small boat for the hour-long ride to Nusa Penida Island in the Lombok Strait. Just offshore, the boys climbed into their gear and dropped backwards off the boat with the divemaster.

I had my own snorkeling guide, so we jumped in and took off. At first I was disappointed not to be diving, but I was soon distracted by all the colorful sea life so close to the surface. In fact, the scenery tricked my body into thinking I really WAS diving. Occasionally my snorkel would fill with water and after trying to blow it out, I automatically reached for my regulator. Of course, I didn’t have a regulator, so I quickly snapped back to reality and rolled my head to the side to suck in some air. I floated over all shapes, sizes and colors of coral teeming with little fish. Huge brightly colored and even striped starfish clung to the coral. I only saw one big fish (maybe a yard/meter long), and it was just chillin’ on the sandy floor surrounded by a swirl of smaller fishy admirers. The highlight was a sea turtle that popped out from under some coral and swam away.

Back on the boat, Tony and Colin consulted their dive tables and realized that the divemaster had kept them underwater too long. The divemaster told them, “No problem!” but the guys insisted on keeping the second dive short. Colin was particularly peeved as he was trying to teach safe diving habits to his son.

During the break, I noticed tiny blue bits all over Tony’s neck. I picked one off and said, “I think these are bugs.” He looked at it and said it was just lint from the wet suit. With a blue bit on the end of my finger, I stretched out my arm and brought it back in, trying to find the perfect spot where my aging eyes could focus on it. Finally, I held it out to young Jack. “What do you think it is?” I asked. He concurred with Tony. The more I examined the blue bits, the more I swore I saw little legs. Finally, I held out my finger to the divemaster. “Do you know what this is?” I asked.
“Oh, yes! It is a …” Grasping for the English word, he said, “It’s like …” and then he scratched his head with exaggerated urgency.
“Lice?” I said.
“Yes! Sea lice!” he said with obvious relief.
So there’s no end to my amusement as I tell everyone that Tony picked up lice at the bottom of the sea.

Heading back to shore, I spotted a tiny crab in the bottom of the boat. I was afraid someone would step on him, so I tried to scoop him up with a dive mask, but he kept escaping. He scurried back and forth across my foot for much of the ride, prompting Tony to guffaw, “I may have picked up lice, but you got crabs!” Hardy har har.

When we got back to the diveshop, we were given some cold egg sandwiches and the news that their credit card machine was broken. The lady said, “The machine no work, so you give us money.” I had to laugh! Oh, right, it just so happens I have $200 in my bikini bottoms! I had told them upfront that we were paying with a credit card. They had a little freak, but Balinese people are so polite that it didn’t get nasty. Ultimately, our wonderful hotel added the scuba charges to our bill and then reimbursed the dive company.

Friday – A Taste of Ubud
For years I had heard about Ubud, the center of Balinese arts and culture, nestled in the rice terraces of the mountains. Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about this town in Eat, Pray, Love. My parents visited in the 90s and did their part to keep the local artisans in business. Many friends have traveled to Ubud and come home with wonderful stories. But did I listen to them? Nooooo. I listened to the ONE friend who said, “Ubud used to be so fantastic, but now it’s overrun with tourists. I would skip it if I were you.”

We didn’t skip it altogether, but we made it a day trip. One of the Rumah Bali workers hooked us up with his friend, a driver, who took us to see the rice terraces and then dropped us in Ubud for about 4 hours. We felt like the Griswolds at the Grand Canyon: “Uh-huh. Uh-huh. OK, what’s next.” We didn’t have time to linger and fully appreciate it.

We jumped out of the car for a short visit to some rice terraces.




Ubud, it turns out, is STILL fantastic! We wandered the shady back alleys, browsed in unique artsy shops, poked around the market, stopped for a quick lunch, and kicked ourselves for not spending more time here. Despite the throngs of tourists, the town seems to have maintained its roots in spirituality and culture. I picked up a little guide to Ubud at the tourism office, which only fueled my regret. There’s so much going on in this town: dance performances, yoga, art exhibits, cultural workshops, live music, and so much more!

At a temple outside the local market, people were leaving little packets of offerings and incense.



The market was a jumble of jewelry, clothing, home decor, handicrafts, sundries and fresh produce. This was a basket shop.

Cool art was tucked in every corner of Ubud. This was the view out the window at our lunch spot.

Our lazy week at Rumah Bali was dreamy, but I left Bali craving a dose of Ubud. I’ll be back!

Friday night, we treated ourselves with dinner at Bumbu Bali, the restaurant started by Tony’s cooking teacher. Designed to feel like a Balinese home, the restaurant is really a collection of open-air rooms. The entrance is right next to the kitchen, so when we walked in, all the cooks shouted out, “Hello! Welcome!” The hostess stuck a frangiapani flower behind our ears and walked us to our table. Flowers dangled from the thatch ceilings, and water flowed in little rivulets through the restaurant. A Balinese band sat on the floor and played soothing tunes while young girls performed traditional dances. We ordered a sampler menu with heaps of appetizers, delicious main courses and sweet gooey desserts.

This is Nefi, who also worked at the cooking school and remembered “Mr. Tonny.”

Loving the atmosphere (and prawn chips with spicy chili sauce).


A cook fans the coals with a bamboo mat.

Bad photo, but cool rice steamers.

More shots from the restaurant.

Saturday – Home Again, Eventually
Stupid Air Asia and its stupid flight schedule. We left Rumah Bali at 3:45 a.m. for our flight to Kuala Lumpur, where we then sat for six hours until our flight to Vientiane.

Parting Thoughts
Travelers to Southeast Asia seem to fall in to two camps: (A) Love Thailand/hate Bali. (B) Love Bali/hate Thailand. When we tried to decide which group to join, we realized there were things we loved and hated about both places. Actually, we don’t really hate anything about either place … except maybe the traffic. Keeping in mind that we have visited Thailand more times than I can count and Bali only once, we agreed that:
• Thailand has nicer beaches.
• Bali seems less jaded by the influx of tourism. However, we never visited Kuta, which might have skewed the results.
• The people in both places are absolutely lovely and gracious.
• The food in both places is spectacular. (I prefer Thai food by a slim margin. Tony prefers Balinese, but I think he’s just feeling very informed about Balinese cuisine after his awesome cooking class.)
• We need to do more research! So it seems more visits to Thailand and Bali are in order.

Are You for Scuba?

I have a confession to make: It’s been two years since our last dive, and I haven’t cracked a PADI book or given much thought to scuba since then. So when we boarded our dive boat yesterday morning at Ao Nang Beach here in Thailand, I experienced a sudden onset of jitters.
Divemaster Maoro from Italy told me to hook up my regulator to the tank, and I sputtered, “I forgot how!”
He stared at me in disgust and said, “You are a PADI-certified diver! You must take responsibility for the equipment.”
“I know, I know, but it’s been two years, and I just forgot,” I whined.
Patiently, he lectured about the importance of re-reading my manuals or taking an occasional refresher course. “Yeah, right, of course, but today will you just do it for me?” I asked.
Big Italian sigh. Mauro calmly showed me how to set up all my equipment and then pointed out that I had put on my wetsuit backwards. Oops. Zipper goes in the back, duh.
Anyway, despite all the millions of things that can go wrong when a ding dong like me grabs an oxygen tank and sets off for a deepwater swim, I’m happy to report that nothing did. In fact, Mauro led us on two uneventful dives off the coast of the Phi Phi Islands. The other couple in our group was from Germany – Oliver, who is a certified rescue diver, and Sandra, who had only done six previous dives. We always have to dive with a buddy, so I asked Sandra if she wanted to trade. “I’m a tad nervous,” I told her. “I would really like a rescue diver for a buddy.” She declined.

Our day started with a ride on the dive shop’s “bus” to the beach.


Then we boarded a longboat for the ride out to the dive boat.


Finally, we went aboard the dive boat and took off.


Tony suits up.


Our beautiful boat!


We did two fairly shallow dives (around 15 meters) at two different sites off the coast of the Phi Phi Islands – Hin Bida and Bida Nok.

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On the first dive, we were welcomed into a school of yellow fish, which surrounded us and showed us around the reef. A blue moray eel smacked his lips menacingly, and Marou picked up a jellyfish about the size of a Thanksgiving turkey. It swished away with translucent gracefulness. At one point, thousands of fish streamed toward us, so we quickly sought out the source of their fear – a leopard shark. It makes me wonder at the intelligence of my species when we seek out the predators instead of fleeing them with the rest of the marine life.

Our second dive was even better with more colorful coral – purple barrels, orange fans, effervescent green balls, rainbows of branches clinging to the underwater cliff – and uncountable fish. In some nooks, a solid column of little fish swirled from the sea floor to the surface. At times, we were so engulfed in the clouds of fish that we could barely see each other. A school of barracuda swam overhead; a small grey ray with blue polka dots scooted over the sand below us. We spotted another moray, which Marou later told us was a rare zebra eel.

Ao Nang Divers deserves a great big pat on the back for a safe and well-organized day. We appreciated the clean, comfortable boat, equipment that was clearly in good condition, tasty lunch of beef curry and fresh fruit, and excellent divemasters. We have definitely experienced dives with NONE of those things, so we know a good thing when we find it!

P.S. “Are you for scuba?” is a quote from the movie Along Came Polly, and we crack ourselves up saying it every time we get ready to dive.