Bilikiki – Part 1

First day full tilt diving on the Bilikiki. Similar routine as other boats. Get up eat, dive, snack, dive, lunch, dive, snack dive, dinner, dive if you want to night dive, do our log books and blog if not, sleep…

Diving is a bit different. There are 20 divers on board. Only one dive master leads each dive. Three ‘tinnie’ boat loads enter the water at intervals. The dive master enters from the first tinnie. Everyone does their own dive more or less. We have to pay attention to the dive briefing or we could head off in the wrong direction and cause a bit of a ruckus. The divers all progress at different speeds so we are spread out all along the reef, there is very little interfering of each others’ dives. Debbie and I are in our own space. We dive the depth we want and the speed we want. The first two dives have a limit on time, 60 minutes. At 59 we head to the blue and one of the tinnies picks us up and ferries us back to the mother ship. Pretty good system so far. The last two dives are as long as we want or our air lasts. We dive 70 minutes and I am coming up with huge air. 70 minutes and I still have ½ a tank????? The dive is shallow but hey I think I finally got this breathing thing down.

We do find a few interesting things, some different fish, a few nudi’s, a gigantic puffer fish and some really small endemic crabs that live in abandoned Christmas Tree holes.

Four dives today and it wasn’t really taxing. All we really have to do is dive, the rest is done for us but there are 9 days to go and I’m sure we’ll be tired.

Solomon Islands

A few days later.

Diverse group on board. A few Americans, a few Germans, an Austrian, an Argentinian, and a couple of Canucks. They are all good people. Debbie and I have 500 dives and again we are on a live a board with 19 others and I think there maybe 3 people have fewer dives than us. A couple of these folks have 5000 plus dives. The ratio of men to women is 12 to 8. Quite an even group compared to what we have been use to. When we started diving, 20 years ago, it was Debbie and all the guys, the last few years it has be Murray and all the ladies.

Almost every dive we do is with current. Not crazy current but strong enough to cause heavy breathing and shorter dives. When we can, we dive with the current and are picked up downstream by the ‘tinnies’. Tinnies are small aluminum dive boats that shuttle us from the mother ship, the Bilikiki, at the start of each dive site and pick us up to bring us home.

Food is pretty good. Not real fancy and but more than edible. Usually on a live a board if the meals are plated, we are served far too much and a lot of it goes to waste. On the Bilikiki it is served buffet style so I can control the intake and hopefully not put on weight.

Solomon Islands

May 14

Intrigue on the Solomon Express. I think it is a set up. A person crying out for attention. My first thoughts were this woman is an airhead but since then I have adjusted that idea to she is just plain stupid. After my last encounter with her I will not even acknowledge her presence. This woman is a novice diver and she cannot or more likely will not follow instructions. After having to sit out a day of diving for 24 hours because she went into deco. She claimed she was never told anything about decompression limits in her Advanced Open Water course. She has been instructed to stay with the diver master. A few minutes into every dive she conveniently looses her buddy and swims off on her own. Yesterday, Debbie and I were swimming in the same direction as her. She was ahead and stopped to take a video of a couple of clown fish. I waited and when Debbie and I were going to move I tapped her and motioned to follow. We swam through a very tight swim through and on the other side she had not followed. I swam back and caught her swimming off father away from the boat, alone. I motioned for her to buddy up and follow me. She scowled at me and swam away. I swam back to join Debbie and was royally pissed. I will not even speak to her now.

The intrigue started this morning, upon going to the ‘charging’ room she discovered the glass on her phone had been smashed. Presumably by accident. No one will admit to it. My cynical nature says it was her fault in an effort to make people feel sorry for her. As of this moment it is still a mystery but I have absolute no compassion for stupid people and she falls into that category. PS As of the end of the trip I do not think there was a resolution beyond the glass on the phone is broken.

I have had diarrhea twice this since we left home in April. Both times in places where the food should be non-toxic. The first time was the day we are leaving the Volivoli, an extremely high-class resort. The food was good but there was definitely something that disagreed with me. I actually didn’t feel that bad. Just stopped eating and went about getting to the next island to dive.

Last night on a long rolly transfer from the Marovo Lagoon to the Russel Island group. I started to feel quite sick. This is an expensive boat set up for gringos with weak stomachs. Three or four people have already been sick and taken a day off of diving and now it is my turn. This time however I am down for the count. It is 5.30pm and I have not been out of bed and eaten absolutely nothing. I am so sick. Don’t think I am about to expire but I am weak and useless. It is a costly time to get ill. Missed an entire day of diving and don’t know if tomorrow is on the agenda or not.

I am fine the next morning and a diving I will go. Other than a bit weak I am fine.

The day after I return Debbie bites the dust. Pretty much the same disease. Others have also fallen prey. Could be the food but it seems more likely this time it is some sort of flu bug. In the end we all survive and are diving by the last day.

Solomon Islands

May 16

Debbie reached dive number 500 yesterday. Good day of diving and worthy of the milestone. There was one dive we did twice. It is a really shallow hard coral garden with tons of fish. Easy diving and hardly used any air. Found quite a few of the small guys we like. Debbie also encountered a couple of sharks on the hunt for a big silver fish. First mister silver came around the corner swimming at speed. He blew by Debbie, two sharks in hot pursuit followed. Debbie saved the poor fellows life. The sharks saw this big black thing making bubbles and retreated right away, leaving big silver to live for a while longer. (Note from the proofer – I now think it was a bumphead grouper.)

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A Shift in Position

There has been a shift in position. When Murray and I first learned to scuba dive, we both used 80 cu ft tanks. Being new divers we used tons of air due to being overweighted, kicking too much and a lack of buoyancy control. Murray used way more air than me, so he swam about 7 to 10 feet above me as he would use less air at a shallower depth. As our dive skills improved, his air consumption decreased and we were a able to dive side by side.

Solomon islands

A few years ago, while diving with the Kona Dive Company, one of the dive masters asked me how much air I was coming up with after a long dive. Of course, I didn’t actually know as I never looked as I knew that I had lots of air left in my tank. After the next dive I mentioned to the fellow that I came up with 1,500 psi (a half tank) so he recommended that I use a 63 cu ft tank. A 63 cu ft tank still has 3,000 psi, same as an 80 cu ft tank, but it has less volume. So each breath uses more volume of air. Since I came up with 1,500 psi with an 80, I should be just fine using a 63. I did a couple of test dives with the small tank and my air consumption matched Murray’s almost perfectly. Sold! I have been using a 63, whenever they are available, since then.

We have come to realize that at depth I use more air than Murray. In the shallows I use less air than Murray. In current I use less air than Murray. On a good dive profile of going deep first and then working our way shallower and shallower, by the time we are finished the dive, we have the same amount of air left in our tanks.

Solomon Islands

When we arrive on the Bilikiki, we are assured they have small tanks. We are told they have small tanks and are 10 litres. We could not make the conversion to cu ft until we hit WIFI land.

Right away we notice that my air consumption is greater than Murray’s and, on some dives, limits our dive time. What is going on? Is the tank actually smaller than a 63 cu ft tank? Are we spending more time at depth where I use more air? Am I still overweighted? Has Murray’s breathing improved enough to cause that difference? What are we going to do about this?

I start to purposely stay a little above Murray when we are at depths below 60 ft. I drop one more pound of weight so I do not put as much air in my BCD at depth. We try not to spend too much time at depths below 60 ft, which suits me fine as I like the shallows better. I think about my breathing. Up until now I have never had to think about my breath, about how much air I take in and what part of my lungs I am breathing out of as I have always had more than enough air available. That is the hard skill to learn, but I practise and practise, and have to take gulps of air every so often.

We manage my air consumption and still enjoy dives that are from 45 minutes to 95 minutes, depending on the currents and depths. It is a good exercise for me and I improve my diving skills.

PS The calculation from a 10 litre tank to cu ft is more complicated than I have patience right now, so I will let you know what I find out once I get home.

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Diving by the Numbers

When we arrive in the Solomon’s, Murray has 13 more dives than me. Yeah, it’s not a competition, but geez, he’s ahead of me! He mostly got ahead doing night dives that I did not want to do and the occasional upset tummy.

There seems to be a bug going around the ship and Murray catches it on day 6. He is down for the day, sleeping in the bunk. I dive, first with S&G, and then with R. It feels odd not diving with Murray but the four dives are relaxing. I am up 4, making the difference 9.

Bump head Grouper

BumpheadGrouper

Day 7 has us diving the same reef twice and I am getting tired, so I decide to pass on the second dive on the reef. Murray dives with R. I am down 1, the difference is 10.

Day 9 has me sequestered in the bunk with the same 24 hour flu bug. Murray dives with R and gains 4 dives on me. I am now down 14! GRRRRRR! I cannot seem to make up lost dives and I keep Loosing ground.

Blacktip Shark

Blacktip Shark

I keep threatening Murray that I am going to go to Kona by myself so I can catch up to him, after all it is NOT a competition!

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Honiara, Solomon Islands

Honiara. Solomon Islands. It’s hot here. Boy, it’s hot! The heat hits me in the face as soon as I step out of the airplane and onto the tarmac. It’s intense.

The drive into town from the airport reminds me of India, or the Andaman Islands. Garbage, standing water, street market stalls, too much traffic, dusty roads. First Impressions, I am not so sure about Honiara and its surroundings. 

Our driver finds our lodgings, the Rekona Flourish Lodge, a guest house by definition. It is simple, plain but has a very nice lady greeting us. I am still not completely sold yet. Maybe I am just too hot.

We shed our travel clothes for shorts and shirts, find our hats, hide our valuables, ask a whole lot of questions and off we go for a quick explore to find Coke, ideas for supper and to scope out the town. We had been warned that Honiara is unsafe, but the Bilikikicruise staff said no worries and the lady here says no worries, so we are not worried. Off we go. We wander down the main street with no issues at all. We definitely stand out with our wide brimmed hats and white skin. I look around and notice right away how the women carry their purses or bags – around their necks or across their bodies with the again front. I quickly change my little pack to across my body hanging in front. Just like a local now!

There is velvety red betel nut juice splattering the sidewalks and pavement with every step we take. Many many men walking by have red mouths. Vendors are not allowed to sell it on the street, so they sit just off the roads, in a hut or stall, plying their trade. I wonder how much the betel nut affects productivity here.

The roads are in poor condition. Gravel and pavement create dust with every passing vehicle. There is road construction between the airport and the center of town. Large crews with half the crew working diligently and half seemingly supervising. It’s the same all around the world, even in Canada. Murray spots a fellow with a small trowel grouting between precast concrete block pieces to lay in the hole in the road.

Murray and I seem to be the only tourists out there. We run into one other white person on our walk. They are probably all hiding in the three or four luxury type hotel complexes afraid to step out of their resort. Right about now, I could go for a dip in the pool that they most likely have.

We have already noticed how friendly the people of the Solomon Islands are. They are rather shy also. Maybe it is because we are forcing them to use their English. We chatted with a guy from PNG (Puapa New Guinea) on the road in front of our lodge. Was impressed we came all the way from Canada and agreed with us it was very hot, as he is from the highlands of PNG. Meeting people such as the folks we have met In Fiji and here are what makes a trip so interesting.

I am now fed and am cooling off. My attitude is changing about Honiara and, although it is rougher than the places we have been to lately, it’s okay in my books.

Tomorrow we have some time to explore the area further and then onto our liveaboard for more luxury.

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Sliding into the Darkness

Tomorrow morning we are boarding a plane for the Solomon Islands. The internet will be sketchy at best. The next day we board the live a board boat and there is NO internet at all. So, those ten days we will not have any communication what-so-ever and the rest of the time it will be intermittent. For family this will mean no news is good news as far as our end. We’ll touch down when we can an will probably post a couple of posts a day when ever we have access.

Ciao for now

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More Specific Gold Coast Observations

Greenspace is important here in the Gold Coast, and if I remember correctly, all over Australia. The other place I remember very clearly is Brisbane and it also has a lot of parks. In the Gold Coast you can’t drive for 5 minutes without going past another park or beach or sports field. They all seem to be busy, not just on weekends but all week and a good part of the day. Today we were at the beach near the aquatic center where there is a big kids playground/park and it is packed. We get in the water to swim laps and there were a 1/2 dozen other folks in the water swimming or wading as well. This is on a Friday morning.

Yesterday I entered a place I previously had not even considered going into before – a vegan restaurant. M & D make the choice of establishments we are going to frequent for lunch and upon arrival the waitress says ‘everything on the menu is vegan’. There are a couple of things that look edible so I order gnocchi with some sort of fake cheese sauce. Except for the pansies, yes flowers, it tastes quite good. What I don’t get is why they call it cheese sauce when it is not cheese. The folks that eat no animal products are inventive enough to make something that resembles cheese, why not be inventive and name it something else rather than the non vegan food it simulates? Are they just unable to let go of human’s past indiscretions?

Tamborine National Park, Australia

Fashion here is quite odd. Middle of the week on a busy shopping street at mid day you can observe an older man in the grubbiest casual wear, a young women in a long flowing black shear evening dress and spiked heals, an older lady with stick legs in a skirt so short I could tell she at least wore underwear, a guy with only a pair of swim shorts, no shirt, and bare feet, people dressed for business, both formal and casual and just about anything you can imagine. I usually don’t give two hoots about what people wear but I find the diversity here does capture my attention.

The tourist destination of the Gold Coast does not recycle very well, and it could just be Australia in general, don’t know for sure but here the recycle system is limited and very few residents seem to participate. They have however instituted a campaign to limit the purchase of bottled water, thereby minimizing the number of plastic bottles entering the post use universe. They have water fountains everywhere and the fountains all have a tap water to refill reusable bottles. The posters on the fountains and elsewhere state “Be Smart, Choose Tap”. I guess Pepsi and Coke don’t have enough pull or money to persuade the politicians here to get rid of that particular saying.

Tamborine National Park, Australia

For a small place, the traffic here is quite congested. I think it is because the city is only a few kilometers wide and stretches along the shoreline for a much greater distance. That means all of the cars ply the same few roads that parallel the beach and only branch off east or west when they are near their destination.

Tamborine National Park, Australia

Today is our last swim for a while. Yesterday, we did 10 laps of the roped off swimming area and guessed it was more than 2000M. We have a good guess that we are headed to the hinterland today, which means a long hike so we cut our distance to about 1200M. Then an hour or so in the car to Tamborine NP. The hike is quite serene not many people, quiet, and dark. Our goal is a waterfall partway around a loop trail. Really the waterfall is quite unspectacular, the water levels are low in the fall but the walk is great. The high canopy lets in streams of sunlight accenting the fauna that comprises the lower canopy. Quite a stunning effect.

This part of Australia would be easy to live in. The city is not too big, weather is nice and the ocean is out the front door. There is little differentiation between seasons. Which is a bit of a bother but the only real draw back as I see it is it does not snow.

Zoom, next stop the Solomon Islands.

 

 

 

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The Beach

It is a beach morning! After dropping D off at the Robina Hospital where she will help with a clinic, Murray, M and I find our way to Kirra Beach down at Coolangatta. We park the car and walk towards Snapper Rocks, one of the best surfing destinations in the world. There are surfers plying the curls, which are not too big today.

Snapper Rocks, Coolangatta

A short walk later we are shedding our shorts and T-shirts to tackle the  smaller waves on the beach. The water is cool but not icy and amazingly clear. There are even a few fish under the surface. The sand is smooth and gentle on our feet. The waves, however, are a little intimidating for this prairie girl. M, having played this game for a couple of years now, handily body surfs even the larger waves. I just bob over them like a cork or dive under them like a seal.

The beach along this coast is about 30 km long in a huge arc, but it only becomes reality when I can look across the water and see the towers at Surfers Paradise projecting into the sky.

Coolangatta

It was a perfect morning on the beach, walking and playing. Time to pick D up at the hospital and head back to Southport.

Coolangatta

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Australia Observations 2 (The Sequel)

The Gold Coast is the part of the country everyone comes to for a beach vacation. Surfer’s Paradise has long been the summer mecca for Australians and foreigners. I was here in 1986 and although it was not as developed as it is now, it was still busy. The thing that hasn’t changed too much is the beach. I remember this 50M wide beach that literally went on for miles, so far in each direction you could not see the end and it was definitely too far to walk. Today our adventure consists of taking the tram to Surfer’s and walking the 5kms back to the apartment.

It is a beautiful day for a walk. The sky is clear, the sun is not too intense and there is a bit of a breeze to keep things cool. This time of year, fall, and the time of day, 10am, we are here and the crowds are minimal. All the shops are opening up but the walk down the side walk is casual. No ducking and weaving.

We stop occasionally to window shop and see what is up. There is a real estate office with pics of some super nice properties and they are not that expensive. A 2100 sq ft house is about $600,000Aus. A house of that type would cost the same in Edmonton and we don’t have a world class beach in the area.

Southport, australia

M and Debbie walking the beach earlier in the week.

My guess is there would be close to 365 bike rideable days here. Maybe a few of the torrential downpours would be a deterrent, and I am sure it would not be great on a +35C day but other than that bike riding would, in my opinion, be preferable to car transport. Very few folks ride here. I find that odd. There are bike lanes on every major street and plenty of side streets to stay safe but hardly any bikes. The other weird thing, and of interest to me because Edmonton just spent copious amounts of money on bike lanes, is the lanes here are not used. The only people I have seen in the bike lanes are the ones that know how to ride a bike and would most likely would be on the road anyway. Everyone else, including the riders of electric bikes and electric scooters, ride on the sidewalks. That being the case, I think the bike lanes are useless and a great waste of money.

Of the people I have seen on bikes a good percentage of the the bikes are electric. Not quite half but close. Good transport but not much on the fitness part. But as I mentioned they ride these things on the sidewalks and at speed. I find it rather dangerous, maybe there have not been enough collisions to make it much of a big deal???

gold coast Sunday market

The Sunday Market

Other than a short walk on the beach the other day, today was our first “beach day” since we got here. Weather has been rather crappy for that so we have found other entertainment. Today the sun was out and even though the wind on the beach was a bit excessive, when we laid down we had the beginnings of a dune build up on our windward side, it was a good day to do it. The waves were big and the rip was quite strong, but the water was really warm and amazingly clear. Debbie and I have been swimming the estuary and the water is cold and murky, the ocean side is totally different and if not for the huge waves it would be good to swim in the ocean. I did swim a few strokes into the rip, which was running parallel to the beach, and made zero progress.

One of the tourist businesses that is running strong and by our calculations making a pit full of money is the helicopter ride along the beach. There is a non stop stream of heli’s plying the air from the harbour south along the beach and a constant line of Asian tourists lined up for the next ride. Every heli has a full load, the round trip takes about 20 mins. (our estimate), there are 5 or 6 heli’s flying in rotation, as one takes off another lands, and they do this 10 hours a day, 7 days a week. At $200 per rider they are making a killing.

The last odd ball piece of info has nothing at all to do with the tourist industry but is another observation of Aussie oddness. I go into a store and see something, today it was a specifically sized package of rosemary, I pick it up wanting to know the price. Nada, no price is on the tag or on the bin it came from. Nor are there prices on any of the other adjacent items. This is not always the case, it is just that it is not unusual. I’m guessing the idea is that it is either so expensive the prices is not justifiable or that anyone wanting rosemary is going to buy it anyway. Can’t say really, but I ask M and he says it is just one of the things about Aus that is a bit strange.

One of the hardest things to get used to is to look right first before crossing the road. Debbie and I have been taking care of each other and have called out more than once when the head of the other is looking left and a car or bike or bus or tram is approaching on the right. I have taken to looking both ways and still mess up.

Gold Coast

Australia is an extremely easy place to travel in, but there are still things that shake up ones complacency. One of the reasons for travel is to make sure you realize the systems within which you live are not the only ones and not necessarily the correct ones. Every time you experience a different way of doing something, you should reflect on the way you have learned it and try to adjust your thoughts and actions to suit the best aspect of all the ways you have experienced. This is what travel is all about.

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Wallabies and a Koala

Murray, M and I walk through the Coombabah Lakelands Conservation Area this afternoon for some exercise and fresh air since it is too windy to go to the beach.

Almost immediately we see wallabies. They are smaller than kangaroos, but look like them. Moms were carrying their young. This youngster had his feet sticking out and looked all scrunched up. I wonder if he is comfortable.

Wallaby

We meet some folks and they tell us they spotted two koalas in some trees down the path. We are given directions and after some hunting and lots of looking up, we spy this fellow snoozing. We could not locate his friend.

Koala

 

We wander the paths and marvel at the lush, green vegetation and all the wallabies, who seem mostly unafraid of us. I can’t help chuckling and saying “boing” “boing” each time one hops by.

Wallabies

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Aus Observations

I have travelled to both New Zealand and Australia. When people ask the difference I tell them NZ is more like Canada and Australia is closer to the US. It is maybe somewhere between the US and Canada. Since M & D moved to Australia we have been here a few more times I expected to, so I have had a bit more exposure and observed and noted a few oddities.

Things like the signage. “Illegal dumping prohibited”, seems a waste of paint, if the dumping is illegal it is by definition prohibited. Just sayin’.

It has taken a while, and meeting quite a few Australian couples, but Aussy men treat their wives quite different then we do in Canada. It seems to me that the idea of wife as a chattel has never left this country. They treat women in rather a demeaning fashion. It seems to work with them but I cringe when I notice it.

They have ‘City Bike’ here in the Gold Coast. The system seems odd to me. Most cities have designated pick up and drop off racks for their city bikes. Payment systems differ but if you have a bike you can use it all you want but you have to deposit it at a rack. Here the bikes have GPS chips and can be hired by swiping a UPC code with your cell phone. The bikes are scattered all over the city at random locations. If you are finished riding, you get off, scan the UPC and leave the bike where ever on a street corner or on someone’s front lawn or the middle of a park or at the entrance to a shopping mall. The scanning of the UPC activates (or inactivates) a u-lock on the back tire and where you drop the bike is where it sits until some walks by and wants to ride somewhere. Very weird.

Today I ordered a mushroom burger for lunch and odd as this might seem I got a burger of mushrooms. Not a meat patty with mushrooms on it, the burger was some sort of deep fried batter that contained the sliced mushrooms and melted cheese. There was no meat involved. Should have expected that I guess, but I had the North American model in mind and it was a bit of a disappointment. It was edible though.

Australians are know for their beer drinking but I did not realize they were such gamblers. Driving about Edmonton I am always a bit amazed at how many casinos and such there are, wondering how many people must go there and piss away copious amounts of cash. Here there are gambling opportunities at every street corner. Pokies (VLT’s), off track betting and the like everywhere. I guess Australians make too much money.

Alcohol is readily available at corner stores, burger joints, and other establishments that you could not get it in Canada. Maybe contributes or services Australia’s love of booze, not sure which, but it is things like this is why I say it is more like the US.

Australia is an easy place to travel even though some things amaze me.

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