Who Runs the Boat?
July 18, 2012
Our first day of diving finally and we both seem healthy enough with only the usual aches and pains of arthritis and creeping old age that we are ready to go! Yea. Our dive boat leaves out of the closer location this morning so we don’t have to get up too early and we have prepared all our gear last night. Downstairs for breakfast with our hosts and all the dogs. Our hostess has 5 dogs now. They are lovely dogs and the two “wiener dogs” are cute as buttons and always trying to beg for some breakfast. As we have two cats, it is lovely to stay someplace where they are such animal lovers and it gives me a chance to get a “fuzzy fix” since I am far from my cats at the moment.
Breakfast and good company and good conversation done, we load up the car and head for the dive boat which is close to the power plant. We’re heading down the road and manage to find it without a worry and are even a bit early. They are still setting up the boat and getting ready for the tour group that comes for the dives. MDA’s bread and butter and jam and marmalade are the Japanese divers who come often and frequently. We had actually neglected to ask if a dive guide went with each group of divers. We prefer it because it is easier to spot wildlife when you have someone who knows the area and you don’t really have to pay much attention to where you are going either. When it is time to end the dive, the dive guide or dive master usually knows where the boat is located and you have circled back to it. Well, not remembering to ask if there was a dive guide meant we were in for a big surprise this morning. We’ve dove in resorts for so long that I guess we just assumed we would have a guide but NOPE, that’s not the way they operate. You can request a guide, in advance, and pay for one, but otherwise, you and your buddy are on your own – EXCEPT for the Japanese divers who come with a guide and come with helpers too I think. MDA definitely knows who butters their bread.
The staff finally told us we could get on the boat and then we have another surprise. We have paid, apparently, to have our tanks delivered to the dock BUT that means we are supposed to put them on the boat ourselves. Again, they are busy loading the tanks that the tour group will use but we have to put on our own tanks. Luckily, we can do that as we know how. And, to be fair, some of the staff almost always helped me put my tanks on board because I do look rather feeble (gosh, hope not really but it is obvious I am older!) That’s also a first with resort diving.
We got our gear ready and set up which included putting on our BCD’s and our regulators onto the tanks and usually that’s also something that resorts do for their clients. This part I don’t mind because I think every diver should know how to set up and take care of their gear. So we are ready to go and it is Past time for the boat to leave when the “bus” arrives. Not sure it was really a bus but suddenly there are a dozen or more Japanese tourists who have arrived and are getting on the boat and being directed to their equipment which is sitting there on the boat ready for them. They just have to hop on and get their mask, fins, and snorkels ready. Amazing. I was a bit surprised that the difference in service was so marked and vast. However, I don’t know what these people paid for either. It’s possible they paid a much higher price than we did to get their tanks loaded and prepped and to get a dive guide in the water with them. Everything has its price. Also, they were the ones who told the boat where they wanted to go as in which dive sites. Before they arrived, there was a lot of discussion among the staff on what dive sites to visit today. Once the Japanese tourists were on board, their staff member pretty much told the boat where he wanted to take his tourists. As this staff member also seemed to be a MDA employee, possibly he was just higher ranking or more knowledgeable but it seemed evident that the boat was going where the Japanese tourists wanted to go and so it was each and every day.
The boat is away and we have gotten a very brief boat safety lecture from the staff and we will get a very brief dive site briefing shortly. We aren’t going to any far away sites on any of the days so it doesn’t take long to get to the first site. We are going to be doing drift dives. I’m not always a big fan of drift dives. It means you go with the current underwater and when it is time for you to surface (low on air, running out of time, whatever), you deploy your safety sausage and do your safety stop and then pop up to the surface. Supposedly the boat will have seen your sausage and been on its way to pick you out of the water. In theory. In practice, we have done some drift dives where we have surfaced in a driving rain storm and it took the boat 20 minutes to find us. That one was scary. I have also surfaced after a drift dive where the current was so strong, I had to hang onto rocks to remain in one place and had drifted so far that the boat took about 15 minutes to get to me. So I’m less than thrilled that: (1) we have no dive guide to give us direction underwater (2) we’ll have to rely on spotting good stuff by ourselves without local expertise and (3) it’s a drift dive and we have to hope the boat sees us and comes to get us when we surface.
Still, we love to scuba and there’s always good stuff to see so we suit up and are in the water fairly quickly after we are anchored and “the pool is open”. I’m working on a new light system with this trip to help my photography. I have two underwater cameras and one does a fairly good job but not thrilled with the second as it doesn’t filter out very much of the blue unless I have the subject lighted really well. My new light system is strapped to my wrist and supposedly shines the light wherever my hand points. In practice, it kept twirling around my wrist because I couldn’t’ get it tight enough as I wasn’t wearing a wet suit and I think it needed one. And also, it was just hard for me to figure out how to manipulate my camera and the light at the same time. So I was less than thrilled with the results on my photos.
The first dive, I was quite pleased that I actually found a scorpion fish. They are greatly camouflaged and usually quite hard to spot unless they are moving. I caught this guy out of the corner of my eye and possibly he had been moving but he was still when I turned to look and verify what it was. So my husband and I are underwater together by ourselves for possibly the first time in 20 years and we found a hard to find fish! Awesome. The dive wasn’t terrific though. There were plenty of small aquarium type fish but nothing extraordinary past the scorpion fish and sad to say, my new light and camera system didn’t work very well and I ended up without a good photo of it.
Too soon the dive is over and we are surfacing and have realized that we don’t have a string to attach to our safety sausage so we can’t deploy it until we are on the surface. It’s also hard to get a lot of air into it other than blowing so it is like a limp wrist bobbing on the surface and not standing up in the air for the boat to see. The boat does see us though and comes to get us and we spend our down time talking to a few of the other divers on board waiting for the next dive.
The boat moves to a new site and we are ready again to enter the water. This dive was a bit better as the corals were a lot more interesting. Still, we aren’t seeing a lot of interesting fish but we are seeing some that we don’t recognize and that’s always good. At the beginning of our dive, we saw some of the other groups descending and swimming but they quickly disappeared into the blue and we are alone again. It is still a bit freaky as we just aren’t used to being underwater by ourselves and yet we know divers who would sooner slit their air hoses than be attached to a group or a dive guide. There’s room underwater for everyone I guess.
The dive boat captain had loaned us a safety sausage for our second dive (in case I haven’t explained, a safety sausage is a long red or yellow tube. Underwater, you blow air into it either from your mouth or from your octopus rig or your regulator. Once it has air in it, it floats to the surface or jets to the surface if you put in a lot of air, and bobs there, hopefully upright, so the boat can see you and come get you). This safety sausage had a string and reel attached so we could deploy it while we were still underwater. We never heard another boat but the captain said we were in boat lanes so having the safety sausage arrive on the surface ahead of us was a good thing.
All divers back on board shortly after we climbed aboard and we are heading back to the dock. MDA has a number system. Everyone signs in and gets a number with a clasp that attaches to your equipment. After the last dive, the numbers are collected by the staff and when they have all the numbers, they know they have all the divers. The staff are quite quick on pulling the numbers off your vest as your climb the ladder onto the boat and I think I only once had to take my number off my vest and actually hand it to him.
Once at the dock, another bit of a surprise because we have to take all our gear with us (which we actually realized that because we are leaving from a different marina tomorrow) but there didn’t seem to be a place to rinse the gear (I found it later) and that means we’ll have to rinse it back at our BnB.
Time for lunch but first we have to stop at MDA and get a better safety sausage system, one with a string on it so we can deploy below the surface. There are several there with reels and while I would like one, it seems there is one in a pouch too that has a string and it is much cheaper so we get that one. Now lunch.
We have been hitting the Del Taco already. Love Del Taco with its cheap greasy imitation Mexican food. There is a Del Taco in the shopping center so we stop for burritos and nachos and then head back to the BnB to clean up our gear and take a shower and find something to do for the rest of the day. Took a while to get the gear rinsed as our hostess just has a hose. All the grass has been picked over by the chickens so the area quickly got a bit muddy as I was washing the gear so I put it on the steps to dry. We’ll have to come out this evening and pack it up to go tomorrow again.
We have visited Guam twice before so we have seen a lot of the museums and a lot of the sites on the island and we decide, in the end, that we are still tired from hiking around abandoned cities in Russia and gulags and that we can relax and enjoy ourselves and just chill. So we chill. Nice day, nice dives
Today is Wednesday though. Wednesday is the day of the Chamorro Market in town. The Chamorro people were some of the first settlers of Guam and there are still plenty of them around. In fact, our host is Chamorro. The Wednesday market has restaurants and stalls and stuff for sale plus is a good gathering place for locals to talk and dance and have fun. We had planned on going with our host and hostess. We took both our rental car and they drove in their truck in case we wanted to stay longer or vice versa.
Found some parking and then walked over to the market which was just getting started. Our hostess pointed out the place they like to eat and there was already a line forming. We joined the line while our host went to find us a place to sit. The line started moving promptly at opening time and we got one large plate to share and drinks and then climbed up to the top floor of the community building to eat our dinners. Below us was a small open dance floor which will be busy later this evening. Our host said the same people come every week and dance. A gentleman below was starting his evening warm up. Many of the people who come to dance will wear costumes or wear traditional clothing of the islands.
After finishing our dinner, we walked around the market for a while. I was hoping to get some ice cream but it was not to be. The places that had it were quite crowded and I was just too tired to wait in line. We headed for the Micronesia Goldsmiths shop. We had visited this shop years before and purchased a pair of earrings for me. At the time, Victor, the man who owns or runs it or makes the jewelry (never sure which – ah, looked it up and he’s the owner and jeweler: http://www.micronesiangoldsmiths.net), had a gold dragon that I particularly liked and I wanted to see if he still had it. It might have been the same one but this time I didn’t like it as well. But we got started talking to him and stayed there talking to him for quite a long time. He’s a travel nut and we’re travel nuts so we had a lot of stories to share. And in the end, we got a glass of champagne and purchased a pair of gold turtles with diamonds on their backs. Lovely.
Our host and hostess left while we were in there and afterwards, kept looking for that ice cream but it was not to be. My husband however, found a microbrew at one of the bars and we went in to taste it. He thought it quite good for a beer that started out as being made at someone’s home in a hot climate. When we left, we talked briefly to the wife to compliment her hubby on his beer. Then it was time for us to meander back to our room and get our gear ready for tomorrow.