The People We Meet

When we do boat diving or go on a liveaboard, we meet and talk to the same people for a few days or even a week. We get to know folks, even develop friendships with them.

Shore diving, with just Murray and me in our group, is different. We meet and talk to other divers, but it is different divers at each dive site, three times a day. No opportunity to have a long chat and share dive stories over supper or a drink.

Elkhorn Coral

Elkhorn Coral

We meet up with a couple from Alabama, who when they ask where we are from, and we say “Edmonton, Alberta”, we get a blank stare, until Murray adds “Canada”. Then the lights go on. Had a good talk with them about the dive site though. They seemed quite knowledgeable as they had been here numerous times.

We are meeting divers from Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands and from England. Everyone is friendly and has something to offer when asked about a dive site, or where they are from.

A Cleaning Station

A Cleaning Station

Bonaire is a stop for cruise ships, and there is a HUGE ship in today. As we are taking our gear off after our second dive, a taxi van touring cruise ship folks around, stops opposite us, the passenger window rolls down, and an older gentleman asks us if we scuba dive. Of course we chat him up. His friend in the back seat also gets into the conversation and we have some fun for a few minutes. “Where are you from?” “How long does a tank last?” “Psst, come here, I really like your hair, but I can’t say it in front of my wife.” (Made my day!)

Bonaire

The couple, Caroline and Vincent, who own the Coral Paradise Resort, where we are staying are fantastic people. Always helpful and chatty, and Canadian too! They are also divers , of course, and are eager to share stories.

When we were here in 2011 the place was busy but now it is bordering on crowded. The ocean is big so it is not too much of a problem, only at the parking areas. The plus side is we get to meet a very diverse group of people with a common interest and a good part of travelling is interaction with the people from around the world.

 

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Debbie’s “Process”

Accountant/Engineer, no matter how free floating, there is still quite a bit of rigidity in that brain. Diving could be a matter of life and death so to make sure we are set each time we dive, Debbie works out a pattern and routine to getting ready. I have already forgot to turn on my air once. Stupid move but without a routine, one piece to the puzzle is easy to misplace.

Bonaire

When shore diving you are on your own, or only with your dive buddy. That implies you are not only dive master (guide), but boat owner, boat capitan, dive shop flunky and tech.

Bonaire

Over the last three days we have developed and refined a routine and we have been trying to follow it so I don’t go in the water without my air turned on again. Park the truck. Get out and wander over to the area where you are to enter the water and look for a good route. This can be done as you go in but it is much easier without the extra 50lbs of gear. We stand our tanks on the tailgate of truck and mount our BCD’s, then regs. TURN ON AIR. We lay a towel on the ground for a dressing mat and don our wetsuits. Spray our masks with baby shampoo and wrap our computers around our wrists. We can then put our loaded BC’s on our back. Pick up or fins, masks and cameras and head to the shoreline. The whole time we chatter back and forth to make sure we don’t miss a step. It is only day three and the routine is bound to a change but for now it is working.

Bonaire

Our truck boat has only 3000 kms so I don’t expect any trouble with that and I hope we don’t have any trouble with our gear. Although I think I’m a reasonably handy guy, I have never taken a scuba tech course.

Free thinking and action is always good for adventure but routine and planning is good when your life could be in the balance.

 

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3 am wake up call and wonderful diving…..

MEEEEH, MEEEEH, MEEEEH, MEEEEH, MEEEEH. WHAT THE F**K IS THAT? Emergency. An emergency is always good at 3am. Keeps you on the edge, you know. I don’t think we have ever been out of bed so fast. It is good to know you can move if you have to.

The stove in this place is propane. Plugged into the wall, 5M from the stove, is a gas detector. I don’t know how come it took all day and 1/2 the night to gather enough gas to set off the alarm but 3am is the time it decided there was too much gas in the room for its liking. We are the only guests here this week so it did not disrupt any other folks. It only took a part of a second to figure out the gas must be on. Debbie headed for the stove and I headed for the alarm shut off, it is a truly obnoxious noise. The stove was on. Can’t figure out how come it was either us or the maid that moved the dial when we were cleaning the stove. Debbie opened both the patio doors and the front door to dissipate the gas gathered on the floor. Didn’t seem to work immediately as the alarm started again in all its glory. We eventally stabilized the situation and headed back to bed with our adrenaline count about 3 times higher than it should be.

Lesson learned. Double, triple, quadruple check fourteen times a day to make sure the stove is turned off.

After our exciting night, we end up sleeping in so get a later start to our dive day than we were hoping. First stop is a dive site called Red Slave, on the southern end of the island. The entrance into the water is slightly tricky (uneven) so Murray helps me in and then gears up and comes in too. The dive is fabulous! We are starting to find the small stuff we love to find, this time a tiny file fish hiding in a soft coral.

Yellowline Arrow Crab

Yellowline Arrow Crab

The winds are low today so there is talk that the dive site called Willemstoren Lighthouse is calm enough to dive. We head there for our second dive to check out the water surface and get the scoop from other divers. We are finding that talking to divers, preferably ones just coming out of the water, is a good source of information. We learn that there is little to no current. We can see that the wave action is only smallish waves, so we decide now is the time to dive this site. Apparently this site is not diveable a good part of the time, so we have arrived here on an auspicious day. Our big surprise of this dive was encountering the biggest, meanest looking, Debbie eating, barracuda we have ever seen in the shallows while we were swimming to shore.

Soft Coral

Soft Coral

Two dives and now it is lunchtime! We have been trying the food trucks parked along the main road that runs north south. Today we share a chicken burger from Kite City, parked at the Kite surfing beach. Murray gets the top half this time with bun, mayo, cheese, bacon and chicken and I get the bottom half with bun, lettuce, tomato, bacon and chicken. Yummy!

We do our third dive just down the street from our accommodations at a site called Bari Reef. Amazing dive! We find a tiny mantis shrimp, juvi spotted drum fish, a boat load of coral banded shrimp and arrow crabs and tarpon cruising close to us.

A cute Toby

A cute Toby

As we drive the short distance to our hotel, we agree that today has been a stellar day of fish finding regardless of our eventful middle of the night and late start.

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First Day of Shore Diving on Bonaire

Every diver coming to dive Bonaire has to do a briefing and check out dive before going out on his or her own. We arrive at AB Dive for 9:00 and get filled in on on “dos and don’ts”. Easy. We drive to the dive site called Te Amo to test our buoyancy. We over weight ourselves, so no issues and off we go.

We do two other dives with long surface intervals. It is a relaxing day, no hurry and no stress. Murray is a real gentleman and helps me into the water on the dives, and then gets geared up and comes in while I wait in the shallows.

French Angel

The reef is in great condition. It helps being a marine park with very strict rules. The fish are not afraid of divers. I was about two feet away from a French Angelfish and he was not bothered by me at all. They usually are very timid. A number of porcupine fish came over to say hello with their cute little faces.

Porcupine fish

We got reacquainted with trunk fish, who are in abundance here. All different patterns of black, brown and white make each of them very distinctive.

Trunk fish

It is a great first day of Shore Diving in Bonaire.

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Purgatory

The flight from Toronto to Curacao goes smoothly. As we are landing, Murray says, we are 50% to Bonaire. And I reply, well, aren’t we more like 95%? After all, we only have a couple of hours to wait in Curacao and a 20 minute flight left.

As our boarding time draws close the skies open up and it pours and pours and thunders and pours some more. As we are all lined up ready to step out onto the tarmac, we are suddenly herded in the opposite direction, back into the terminal. Our plane can’t land and is circling until the weather clears.

We sit at the gate, our conversation about being 50% or 95% to our destination comes up again. I suggest it should be a more computer like status. Either a 0, for not being there, or a 1, for being there. We are a 0.

Also we talk about being in purgatory. You see, we entered purgatory when we left the house yesterday. As we move through purgatory, we come to various levels or bosses or challenges that we must complete to get out of purgatory. Seat reassignments, lineups, security, hotel shuttles, rain delays, airplane refuelling. We are now stuck on the rain delay level.

Time passes……

I can safely say now that the rain delay, airplane refuelling and the Bonaire taxi, car rental and hotel check in levels have been mastered and we are a 1, for being there.

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Oooooom

Travel mode. We are on our way to Toronto today and then to Curacao and Bonaire tomorrow.

I said it to myself on the way to the airport but things still get to me.

Yesterday Debbie printed out our boarding passes and they indicated we were relocated on the seat plan. According to the Westjet website we were still in the same seats but out boarding passes indicated something different. Not normally a big deal but we are taking a couple of long flights and decided to splurge and fly in the front rows. There are only two people for every three seats and they actually feed you, you know like they used to do so many years ago. Our reassigned seats are not in the same section so we were somewhat confused.

After a phone call to Westjet yesterday, when the nice lady reassured us things were all fine, this morning Debbie’s spidery sense was tingling. She thought she should check the seats again at the flight gate. The ladies there seem somewhat confused about the whole thing, the seating plan on the computer has now changed. Debbie being efficient Debbie had printed off our original ticket that indicated our original seats, important piece of paper it turns out. It seems the plane we are to travel on has been changed and when that happens the computer randomly reassigns seats. By the time it is discovered this morning our seats had been resold. My angst level increased greatly.

As this transpires we are informed the Westjet computer system is down and they cannot access our flight plan. Without the flight plan we sit. Doesn’t look good. Somehow a flight plan for our trip is sent from Calgary and our pilots are allowed to proceed. Again not good for the level of anxiety.

Once seated on the plane my stomach starts to ease. We are totally lucky. The pilot’s announcement informs us we are the last plane to leave the ground until the glitch is fixed, could be many hours.
Once we land in Toronto, we have to go to the Westjet check-in counter and get the seating mess straightened out.

It seems today is not the day to be dealing with computers. The Westjet check-in kiosks at the Toronto airport are on the fritz and the line to the counter is 50 people long. After a few deep breaths we join the line and inch our way forward.Remember……travel mode.

Best news of the day is the young lady at the desk is able to get us back to the proper seating arrangement. We are happy but there will be a couple of somewhat unhappy folks at the desk tomorrow morning.

Shuttle and hotel went alright and we are now ensconced in an isolated cocoon fOr the evening.

Oooooom. Travel mode.

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Camping in mid September

Sitting at our picnic table in site # 64 in Murray Doell Campground, watching the loons swim by on the lake, I realize that it is extremely quiet. No people noise, no traffic noise, no human noises. Just nature.

The loons call is haunting and varied depending on the time of day. A raven’s call is something I do not think I have heard and it is bizarre. Made me really listen to the notes. As a raven flies over our campsite, its wings go swoosh, swoosh, swoosh. I can imagine the air flowing with each wing pump.

fawn

No WIFI! No power! I brought my iPad, but it did not come out of its case. Luckily, I had a paper book that I am reading. Truth is I did look at my phone on the first morning to check the weather forecast. But only that! It feels good to get unplugged for a few days.

We went for a drive through the park to explore the other lakes and campgrounds. The gravel road is an avenue with autumnal trees bordering each edge. The trembling aspens stand out with their bright golden yellow leaves atwitter in the wind. Fall is a spectacular time of year for a drive in the country to marvel at the colours.

Deer

Murray and I were surprised at the quantity of wildlife that we encountered. Numerous deer, two of which darted in front of our moving vehicle on the main gravel road through the park. The second one, stopped in the opposite ditch and looked back to say, “HAH, made it! Take THAT!” Two bear cubs also crossed the road in front of us and then hid in the bushes to check us out checking them out. A shy coyote also on the move. A bald eagle gliding in circles, searching for lunch.

The chilly weather finally told us to go home. Tenting is a great way to experience nature, but cold climes can turn fun into survival. The weather wasn’t harsh, it was just slightly too cold and we had to keep moving to stay warm and this camping trip was supposed to be about regenerating, ie. sitting.

geeseNext stop, Bonaire.

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Meadow Lake Provincial Park, Day 2

Cold, eeew it is cold. Numbers say it is 10 but the air says it is a lot colder. Thought I could get out of the tent and survive with my fuzzy on, but nope. Touque, fuzzy, anorak, socks, mitts, and I’m still borderline. Debbie won’t even get out of her sleeping bag. Only clouds in the sky, sun isn’t even glowing through. The plan for the day, stay warm.

Get up late so breakfast is late and the moving about warms the extremities. Food also helps. Think a short hike would extend the heating and we are off to explore the campground. Seems the road in front of the tent is on a hiking trail. Figuring if we follow the signs it may take us somewhere and we know for sure the boat launch is in that direction so we can’t get too lost.

Murray Doell Campground Beach

Murray Doell Campground Beach

As our hike progress we gather more and more information. Mostly from signs but we do run into the only other inhabitants of the campground and they, being experienced Meadow Lakers, fill us in a bit more. The Boreal Trail we are on seems to extend from one end of the park to the other. This we discover by driving to the far end of the park and finding trail remnants all along the way. Next we are in a portion of Canada’s boreal forest. And that is what the trail is highlighting. Trembling aspens, bears, loons, tamarack, deer and assorted other flora and fauna. Most of which we have seen in our travels. Including  2 bear cubs. We were in the car so in no danger even if mom was about.

bear cub

Bear Cub #2

The park is also very popular destination as we stop at 5 or 6 different lakes and everyone of them has a campground. At least 3 of them, including the one we are at have over 120 spots. I thinks it would be very crowded mid summer. I don’t think any one has much over the others. The Murray Doell has a small beach but the camp sites are separated nicely and there is ton of room and personally the one I like best. The Greig Lake site is a little more developed with paved roads, a large family area and beach, but the sites are a little more open and less private.

deer crossing

Deer Crossing

At Kimball Lake the sites are huge, big enough for a large RV and a boat, the roads are paved and it has a very big nice beach. Not much of a place for tenters but good for families and trailer haulers. A much smaller campground is at Matheson Lake as there is no electricity, and the beach is butt ugly.

I’m not sure I could swim in any of the lakes. They look clean enough and there is not much seaweed but just looking at them I can see how cold they are. This is, after all, approaching northern Canada, and I guess it is almost autumn. It seems to be a place for boaters and fishers. The lakes would be wonderful if you had a canoe or a kayak and I’m sure there are plenty of kids that spend countless hours in them but for us it seems like a good place to chill.

The temperature at the moment is ensuring we chill physically but this would be the time of year to come and rest. By the look of what is here summer would not be a time to get away from the daily routine.

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Meadow Lake Provincial Park, Saskatchewan

Some sage advice. Don’t travel highway 28 east for the next while. Start out today and leave early on what is to be about a four hour trip. Yeah well, we do not travel more than a few kilometres without having to slow to 50 and stop and wait. We are on the road for an hour and a half and maybe traverse 50K. It is like that all the way to the Fort McMurray turn off. Home free right. Nope there is still a couple more sections of the road that need work.

There has been talk of improving the road north but I wasn’t following it closely and I did not realize they are doing it all at once. Must need votes pretty bad to go at it like they are.

We do get to the Saskatchewan border eventually. From there on it is clear sailing on very good roads actually. It is kind of odd but the traffic is lighter on this side. There are fewer people but the border is just an imaginary line and there are no guards to impede crossing but the plates change and the numbers drop.

Our goal is Meadow Lake Provincial Park. Who knows why. We decided to go camping this week and that is where I picked. Haven’t been to Sask. much and I hear the Meadow Lake park is a nice place. Make the turn and it is on to the gravel. I’m OK with gravel roads but it is night and day from the brand new asphalt we just left. We head to the south side of the lake first. Debbie was on Google maps and noticed a sandy beach on this shore so we thought we might scope it out.

Weird, the gate house to the park is all boarded up. There is a fee to enter the park but no one to pay. A shrug of the shoulders and on we go. There is a residence close so we stop to ask the fellow about the campground, where we pay, if we have to pay, and assorted other things. The friendly fellow tells us the Provincial Park campground is on the north shore and the park is closed so he is not sure if we have to pay or not, or if the campground is even open. We decided to drive over there and take a look.

Entering the campground is much like the southside experience. There is a building but it is all boarded up. This building however has a few notes on it. First and foremost the campground is on self registration mode. Find a spot and self pay at the kiosk. Debbie want so go down to the lake side and see if there are any spots. Spots? It is more like are there any campers! We can have our pick and there is no line of traffic behind us waiting to jump on the good spot we bypass. There are a few trailers here but no people, no vehicles. Just us. Even the campground hosts have vacated but left their trailer.

Our campsite at the Murray Doell Campground

Our campsite at the Murray Doell Campground

Quiet and I mean quite! A chipmunk chirp here and a goose honk there but that is it. Oh ya, the military planes from the Cold Lake base flying back and forth. But only intermittently.

Get set up and head to the self check booth and lo and behold there is one more vehicle and campers, so there are two. 120 camp sites and 2 are occupied. Kind of spooky really.

murray doell campground

As darkness fall the loons wail their haunting cry and all the creatures including us know it is soon time to turn in.

loons at murray doell campground

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A Perfect Last Day of Diving

The day starts out with two turtles and a cute box fish swimming near the boat dock and then dolphins in the entry to the harbour. A couple of them swim our bow wave right underneath us. It is already a stellar day.

Our first dive is at Garden Eel Cove. D, our dive master, guides us north towards a point. On the way, a spotted eagle ray swims by and then a turtle cruises by close enough for photos and videos. The point is full of fish. Great schools of all sorts of fish. It is a rare sight to see so many. We take our time gazing up and around and down at all the sea life.

Kona fish

Our second dive is at Crescent Beach, a spot popular for getting glimpses of the resident dolphins. D lays out the plan to get the best opportunity to see the dolphins that are, in fact, in the area. His plan and our patience pays off and we are graced with the dolphins swimming by us so close we feel like we could reach out and touch them.

Dolphins off Kona

We doddle back to the boat, hoping they will swim by again. B, Murray and I stay under as long as we can to enjoy this last day of stellar diving which has been one of the best of this trip.

 

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