A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about diving

Discovering Curacao

Off road driving, diving, dancing, relaxing and learning on the smartest island of the Caribbean.

sunny 33 °C

Curaçao

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Curaçao is a tiny island, a stone’s throw from the coast of Venezuela.
A former colony of Portugal, Spain and then Holland, today it is an autonomous, free and thriving nation. There is a huge oil refinery which processes much of Venezuela’s oil, plus a myriad of mechanics and engineering factories and businesses.

This is not a touristy island at all. Tourism is merely a blip on the nation's radar, coming in at only the fourth in terms of revenue generation after oil, machinery and aloe vera.

If you're looking for resorts and five star treatment, then don't come here. If you want to be in a tranquil, quiet, serene place, where everybody quietly goes about their business, and lives on equal footing in paradise, then this is perfect!

Curaçao is known for being the most literate and highly educated islands in the Caribbean, with the highest per capita standard of living in the region. You won't find a single vendor selling trinkets on any beach here.

Though Curaçao is largely independent, their citizens have Dutch sovereignty (and passports).

Languages

The official national language is Papiamentu; a mix of Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish and native African languages. Curaçao is one of the only islands where the official language isn’t a formal European one. Papiamentu is spoken in offices, government, courts, etc... and the default language of ATMs, etc.
To me it sounded a lot like Spanish with a Dutch accent, and it was nice to be able to understand much of the language as a Spanish speaker.

High school classes are conducted in Dutch and tertiary courses are in English. Most people also speak Spanish and listen to Colombian and Dominican music... and so almost everyone I met in Curaçao spoke all four languages fluently.

Areas

Wilemstaad

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This is the capital and really, really nice. It is surrounded by a river system and beaches. The architecture is distinctly Dutch and felt like little Amsterdam by the sea.

Punda

This is the hub of activity in the city. Most of it is pedestrianised, with many shops, cafes and businesses operating harmoniously here. The bridge between here and Otrabanda is a notable highlight!!
There is a gorgeous laneway system here full of really nice open air places to eat, drink and socialise.

Rif Fort

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This is a gorgeous preserved area with restaurants, bars and shops. The views from the upper levels are magnificent. Throughout the week there are many events here, including Salsa, Bachata and Kizomba dance nights.

Jam Thiel

This is the swish beach area of the island. There are stunning apartment complexes, beach restaurants and bars lining the sand. What I like about Jam Thiel is that it isn't in-your-face flashy, but rather pretty subdued. Though it's obviously upmarket, it isn't exclusive and barricaded. The beaches and facilities here are accessible to everyone. There are great parties here, especially on Sundays.

Mambo Beach

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This is my favourite part of the island. There is a complex of many different restaurants and cafes here, both set back from the beach and on the perfect white sand itself. The best parties are also around here because of the range of venues.

In Curacao locals love all Caribbean music - from Salsa, Bachata and Soca... and they have their own style called Ritmocombinar, which to me sounds a lot like Zouk or Kizomba. On weekends you will find most of the local kids partying to ritmo and zouk at the upper floor venues on Mambo Beach.

Whilst having dinner with friends on Mambo beach, I asked some of the staff what they like to do for holidays since they aleady live in paradise. One of the barman said he and his friends go to Medellin (in the centre of Colombia) to get away from the beach and have fun in a big city. Talk about #ballers

Facing the beach is a man made barricade of rocks, roughly 100 metres from the coast, creating a very nice pool-like swimming bay, free of tides and waves. There are several sunbathing platforms in the middle of the swimming area. It really is magnificent.

Emporio and Latin Community

This is a great place to hear latin tunes. Many folks from Venezuela, Colombia and the DR come to Curacao for seasonal work, or emigrate permanently, and this is their spot. I met a nice couple from Barranquilla at Emporio who set up a business importing clothes from Antioquia to the islands.

Flag Day Celebrations

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During my time in Curacao the island were preparing for their national flag day. In the main city square, many groups were rehearsing music and dance performances. It was really great to see.
The day itself was incredible. At every corner for the capital city, there were music and dance performances in traditional dress, song competitions, etc.

Whilst watching one of the performances at Rif Fort, a lady pulled me out of the crowd to dance with her. She explained the steps as we went, and I didn't really make too much of a disaster out of it. It was really great fun.
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Kura Hulanda Slave Museum

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This one of the most comprehensive museums related to the history of slavery in the world, and an important place in the Caribbean.
There are many displays, documents, and artifacts related to Holland's slave industry that not only serviced the Caribbean, but also the US. The Dutch slave companies sold many thousands, if not millions of Africa slaves to the US.
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I did a tour with a group of Afro descended Americans, who were tracing their roots. Our guide was very informed and clear, and as a group we left very informed about that controversial side of history.
The site itself is particularly beautiful and tranquil, which made the experience just a little bit haunting.
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Diving

I experienced some of the best diving of my life here. There are huge shelves and walls full of sea life, and the water is really clear. The great thing abot the island too, is that there water gets deep straight off the coast. We simply walked out from the beach in our gear and swam out over the shelf. I was the only customer at the Chilean run dive shop.
The bloke who owns the place said he never looked back once he came here. It's a usual story in Curacao,

Dune Buggies

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One of the most awesome things to do in Curacao is go on a dune buggy safari. Most of the island is rocky remnants of coral (most of it was under water).
I drove in this beast with a nice group from Holland to the far reaches of the island, explring caves and coral mountains. It really was an incredible day out!!

Thanks Curacao, what a suprise

This is easily my favourite spot in the Caribbean. It is rich with culture, peaceful, prominent and safe - with amazing food, music and beaches.
I can't wait to go back!!

Posted by SkinnyFists 08:47 Archived in Curaçao Tagged beaches diving curacao scuba_diving dune_buggies rif_fort mambo_beach wilemstad flag_day_curacao jam_thiel Comments (0)

Mexico: Yucatán

Mayan Riviera and Mérida; immaculate beaches, amazing ruins, wonderful towns, diving beneath the jungle and phenomenal oceanic sites.

sunny 42 °C

Ace Mexico

I had an amazing, adventurous and sun drenched two weeks in Mexico..... super accommodation, amazing beaches, awesome diving , interesting Mayan culture and amazing ruins, a bustling town in Merida, friendly people, etc… and an all round ace time.

Transport

I flew from Madrid on new budget airline, Evelop, opting for their premium economy package at roughly 300 euros.
This got me seat #A1 with silver service, extra snacks plus more soft drink and coffee than I should have had!
I arrived at Cancun Airport feeling very refreshed after the 10 hour flight .... and jumped on a bus bound for Playa del Carmen.

Note: I was initially refused check-in at Madrid for not having a return/onward journey ticket....
Sky scanner saved the day, and I quickly found a flight to Cuba via Interjet... all sorted in 3 minutes.
I had to show the email receipt to the check in clerk and her manager before proceeding.... you've been warned.

Playa del Carmen

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PdC is a lovely, easy going, friendly, safe and well layed out town, centred on the main Avenue #5, just off the beach.

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You can get almost anything in the pharmacies here; diet pills, romance assistance, hormone injections, etc, etc...
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Lodgings

I stayed at Playa Karma Hotel, and really enjoyed it there.
It’s very well priced, well appointed and very quiet considering the 2 minute walk over to the clubs/beach.
It's a family run place and they gave me a lot of advice and assistance for my onward travel.

Diving

There is a huge diving community here and it is very cost effective.
I did 3 full days of diving with Scuba Playa, at sites around Playa DC, Cozumel and the Cenotes for USD280 including gear hire and lunches each day!
They were recommended to me and I absolutely recommend them to you.
Their service, staff, culture, knowledge, general organisation and offerings are first class.
It was also phenomenal value.

Day 1: Wrecks and Mayan Waterways
We dived around one of the wrecks sitting just off the coast of Playa. It had sunk in 1996 and was immersed in a lot of coral and wildlife.
Between dives the boat took us to shore at the mouth of an ancient Mayan water system!
We walked along the canals and our dive master explained the history!

Day 2: Cozumel
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Cozumel is a small island facing Playa del Carmen and takes roughly 30 mins by ferry to get there.
I joined my diving compadres from Japan, Germany and China on or ready-to-go dive boat And set out for our sites.

The water was crystal clear with amazing visibility, which was great because there was plenty to see. We saw at least three massive turtles, many, many kinds of fish and coral.
Cozumel island itself looks pretty ritzy with many high end resorts, and caters to the serious diver.

Day 3: Cenotes
The Cenotes are underground caves located in the jungles, and now full of freshwater, with enormous stalactites formed over (possibly?) millions of years.

Diving these sites is not for the timid, and requires an advanced open water cert. at minimum to join a trip.
We followed our dive master single file through many caves and tunnels, creeping past stalactites and interesting formations.
The passages are dark and narrow, but very, very rewarding!!

We passed through many tunnels and very low depths (approx. 45 metres).
I had to conjure a bit of calm and courage at points, but it was all worth it.

Enormous stalactites enhanced by the glitter and reflection of the water, it really felt and looked otherworldly!!
Absolutely up there with the best diving experiences of my life!

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Nightlife

All of the big nightclubs are on one street (Calle 12), making them easy to either avoid altogether, or stumble between them.
I had a great time dancing Salsa and Bachata with locals and tourists at Salsanera, and also experienced the truly memorable Coco Bongo....

Coco Bongo

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Visitors to Playa del Carmen will inevitably become aware of Coco Bongo.
I was sceptical about it, but gave it a go..... and so glad I did.
For me, it was a unique entertainment immersion experience with great acrobatics, choreography and music.
The show starts at roughly 11pm and finishes roughly four hours later!
There are many sets with many themes and featured artists /films including Guns n Roses, Madonna, MJ, Tron, etc.

The Michael Jackson section was thriller and bad.... chaaamone...
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When the show ended, the fun continued into the night, as the DJ span Reggaeton to the max and everyone boogied till dawn.
Ushers even encouraged people to dance on the bar(!) and let loose.
I had a great time!

Chichen Itza

This is an ancient Mayan site, of what once was a metropolis designed and built from pure genius.
The detail would be poorly explained here, suffice to say it was a marvellous experience and a highlight for everyone visiting this region.
I recommend watching the film, Apocalypto before visiting!!

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After some hunting around I went with Cancun Bay tours.
The tour took in one of the more scenic Cenotes first with an opportunity to swim and then lunch.

At Chichen Itza we were divided in to English and Spanish language groups.
The guides were very informed having extensive qualifications in Mayan archeology, history and anthropology.
Their insights really added to the experience, and I left feeling somewhat informed and mesmerised at the end.

We were on the bus for a total of 5 hours, and in Mexican style the beer, tequila (mixed with lemon) flowed all the way home courtesy of the tour company!
The mood was jovial, the conversation flowed and everyone agreed it was a really amazing and experience!!

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Tulum

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After a really nice time in Playa, I moved south to Tulum in search of more Mayan ruins and a bit of PnQ.
Tulum is a tiny, friendly town with strong Mayan roots and the most amazing Mayan site I saw in Mexico.

My hotel, Teetotum was amazingly lovely, unique, and charming...
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Tulum Ruins

The ruins are worth the journey. Incredible! Set on the coast to add a bit of drama.
You can get close and in some cases climb the stairs of some ruins.
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The surrounding restaurants are a bit of a tourist trap and charge exorbitant prices.
I'd recommend going to Subway instead.

Tulum beach is lovely, sleepily super chilled, with no shortage of great places to stay, eat and drink.

Mérida

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The Capital of Yucatán is a beautiful city with warm, friendly people and a thriving arts culture.
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It would be a great place to live, and many Americans do immigrate here.
I saw really interesting art, co-ops, studios, galleries, resto-galleries everywhere... complemented by the music you can hear throughout the city!
Salsa, Reggaeton, Reggae.
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As the world celebrated Octoberfest, Merida was no exception.
An entire street was closed to traffic in favour of Bavarian style open air beer halls, bratwurst BBQs and German music.
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I stayed at the amazingly serene Lux en Yucatán, for seven nights and definitely recommend it.
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Mérida is an amazing town, and really shouldn't be missed if you visit this part of the world!

Muchas Gracias Mexico. Adios

Yucatán is an amazing part of the world, particularly for diving, incredible beaches and Mayan ruins.
It's very safe an easy to get around, and I had an awesome time.

Over to Cuba....

Posted by SkinnyFists 18:15 Archived in Mexico Tagged beaches diving ruins maya cenotes chicen_itza play_del_carmen Comments (0)

Malaysia: Perhentian Islands

Super chilled, like Gilligan's Island with cabins on the beach, great food, wonderful warm personalities. Beach party at night.


View liftyrskinnyfists on SkinnyFists's travel map.

Perhentians

I flew from KL to Kota Bharu (near Thai border), and then took the very eventful (see: rainy, bumpy, getting soaked) trip across to Pulau Kecil - a gorgeous, stunning oasis.

Long Beach, Perhentians
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Lodgings

Checked in to Mohsin, on the coast which had a gorgeous view of the sea from it's elevated point.
Food there was terrific, but it's right next to the beach party (goes until 5am), and being an elder gent, I decided to check out in the morning and move to Coral Bay around the corner.
CB is worlds apart, so quiet and not many people around. I checked into Maya and got my own cabin with bathroom and fan for about $10 a night. So nice!

Diving

Did two dives on the Perhentians. The first was D'Lagoon, where we saw a lot of turtles, and other interesting fish. It was a nice easy dive.
The second was Sugar Wreck - a sunken ship way off the coast. Conditions were POOR! Super strong current and almost no visibility. We went down anyway, but a few minutes in we lost one of the group!
Protocol says to ascend after 1 minute to find them, our dive master indicated for us to stay put whilst he looked around.
Upon returning without our friend, he indicated to then just continue the dive(!!).
I freaked out, but did what the diver master asked. Eventually we found our lost friend, but the dive was a bit of a waste

Snorkelling

I decided to join the Maya snorkelling trip the next day.
Totally awesome!!!
The group was about 30 people on two boats and we went to 6 sites around the island. The water was crystal clear, and there were black tip sharks, turtles, barracuda, and bump heads everywhere!
Was a great trip and good group.
I met a couple from Germany who gave me a lot of insights into traveling India and South America, and a couple on their way to Sydney to work. Everyone on the trip (internationals) said they would like Melbourne better, I think the poor souls were disappointed.

Me with a new friend
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Long Beach is the place to party at night. There are two beach bars set up, and the nights I was there, a fire twirling (for want of a better word) group were performing. It was absolutely amazing. Put the Confest hippies to shame. Really spectacular.

The Perhentians are really nice, and worth the trip!

Sunset at the Perhentians:
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Posted by SkinnyFists 05:09 Archived in Malaysia Tagged beaches snorkelling diving malaysia coral_bay perhentian_islands Comments (0)

Malaysian Borneo: Sabah Highlights

Diving, climbing, eating, wildlife and getting to know the wonderful people in Sabah

sunny 35 °C
View liftyrskinnyfists on SkinnyFists's travel map.

Welcome to Malaysia, Craig David Parsons

Wow, it's a month already since I left freezing Melbourne for the tropical jungle of Malaysian Borneo.
First stop was Kota Kinabalu, and it was pretty fast paced for the next 4 weeks from there: exploring, diving, climbing, eating wonderful food, getting a little bit sick and meeting terrific people.
In KK I stayed at Masada Backpackers - if you go to KK I recommend it!
Facilities are the bees knees, it's super clean and the food is divine!
On my first day I decided to book an action packed itinerary - whitewater rafting, diving, Mt Kinabalu climb, etc.
When I told the booking agent my name, she asked "Craig? Like Craig David?" .....even in Malaysia!!! proper bo

Here are my highlights from Borneo

Kota Kinabalu

The "capital" of Sabah. A really nice place to visit - lovely people and a lot of diversity: Christian and Buddhist Chinese, Muslim Malays and Hindu Indians. Lots of lovely food - everywhere!

Padas River Whitewater Rafting

The train ride through the mountains is nearly as exciting as the rafting itself, weaving through the jungle mountains on a rickety old train.
Exciting.
The Padas river has level 3 and 4 rapids, which means pretty fast and busy.
The experience itself was wonderful, my group didn't capsize, but came close a couple of times as we steered through the rapids!
Where the water was deep, we were allowed to swim through, but floating on our backs, with feet up/forward. Lots of fun, but lots of water up the nose.
For the last rapid, I hung from the front of the boat, which was very gnarly indeed!
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Mantanani Island

This is the tropical island that you see on ads. Crystal clear blue water, white sandy beaches, (literally) no-one around.
I took a speedboat over with new pals from the hotel, Darren and Xui and we stayed at Mari Mari resort.
Basically 6 elevated huts and a mess/hall restaurant - r i g h t o n t h e b e a c h!

The dive centre servicing the areas, is a huge facility built on stilts out in the ocean. Absolutely fantastic
Did 3 dives at various sites, with visibility of (and I'm not kidding) 40 metres plus.
Saw turtles, barracuda, black tip sharks, nudie brands, everything. Super duper!
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Mt Kinabalu

This was H A R D yakka!
Xui and I were driving to the Mountain by the owner of Masada where we met our guide for the journey!
The first part of the trek is 6 kilometers of pretty grueling trekking on (at times) very steep gradient)
The scenery was so very lush and nice, though it can be hard to focus on such beauty as you dig deep to press on.
I have to say the vibe amongst trekkers was really positive and fun, which helped a lot!
On the way up, you meet hikers on their way down, giving very mixed accounts of what to expect!
At the 6km point we reached our stopping point for food, shower, and rest - before the big part.

There is no hot water at the lodge, and with temps down to about 16 degrees, the cold shower was tough, but invigorating.
My trainer at home reckons cold water is just as good, if not better for the muscles to recover - and indeed it helped.
A quick dinner (nice food) and then straight to bed (a little narc'd on altitude too - whoop).

At 1:50am we rose again for a quick brekkie and straight on to conquering the peak of Mt Kinabalu.
The last 2.5kms of the trek are the toughest.
Much of the finale requires you to pull yourself up via ropes, and it you are at all squeamish about heights, then it may be a bit scary.

In the final 200 metres, you start humming to Rocky soundtrack (doo-doo dooooooo!) and get to the peak. Amazing!!!!
So cold (-1 Celsius), but so worth it.
As dawn breaks over the mountain, you become in total awe of nature - it's enormity, beauty and power.
Definitely a life highlight.

At the top:
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On the way down:
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Climbing down was definitely harder than going up - the legs are exhausted and you kinda slump your way down.
AT the end my calves were pretty destroyed, though proud of themselves too :-)

Kinabatangan River

This is the Borneo that you hear about: wild oran-utans playing on the banks of the river (we saw plenty), promiscus monkeys, playing in the tree tops, bats, giant lizards, etc.
I stayed at Billit Kinabangan - and was the only guest - so I got a private boat tour, and night explore/hike. Was truly spectacular!
Froggy having some chill time:
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Dramatic Kinabatangan at dawn:
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Diving: Mabul, Sipadan, Kapali

This also falls into the 'life highlight" category!!
I had to take the bus down to Semporna (Lonely Planet describes this town as "no great shakes" - a total understatement), and then meet my group for the speedboat across to Seaventures Dive Resort; a converted oil rig which is like divers heaven - right in the middle of some of the best dives sites in the world (and Jacques Cousteu's absolute favourite).
I stayed for 3 nights, where we did 3 dives at Sipadan, 2 at Mabul and 1 and Kapali. All sites are amazing in their own right, but Sipadan takes the cake. Malaysian Government mandates the folks need a permit for Sipadan, and rations are low. This means that it isn't crowded when you are lucky enough to get in.
Truly spectacular.
The food, organisation, accommodation and service on Seaventures is outstanding too. I'll never forget the experience!

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Photos
Feel free to check out all my photos from Sabah.
(Note: they are Facebook links, however you don't need to have a Facebook account or be my FB friend to access)

Sabah Gallery 1
Sabah Gallery 2

Posted by SkinnyFists 05:08 Archived in Malaysia Tagged food diving wildlife jungles mountain_climbing oran_utans Comments (0)

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