Sep 182014
 

When we arrived at Lake Ohrid in Macedonia there was only one thing that came into my head as I saw the crystal clear waters; I need to dive in this lake ! !
I have more than 700 dives in 21 different countries, but never have I dived in a lake before, so it had to be tested!.

Me and torunn in the lake!

Me and torunn in the lake!

Who organizes diving there ??

Ohrid city

Ohrid city

There are relatively few scuba diving operators in Ohrid, but with some planning it is relatively easy to organize. The cheapest operator is the Koteski brothers at Kaneko diving. They have a website where one can at least find some contact information – Kaneo divers address was not updated, which we found out the the hard way. When we finally,after much ado, had found the address it was an empty house. We did not have a working phone, so could not call them.

We ended up organizing a dive with the considerably more prolific operator Adriana -Amfora divers . This is the operator that is recommended by tourist operators around Ohrid.

Torunn watching the dive-shack

Torunn watching the dive-shack

You should contact them yourself to organise a dive suitable to your experience level.. If you book through a travel agent you might end up with a bunch of people who do not even have diving certificate, and only plan to splash around at 2 meters depth.

Amfifora is located right by one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of Ohrid - The bay of bones.

Bay of bones village

Bay of bones village

It can be reached relatively easily by public transport from Ohrid, or even easier if you rent a car like I did.
A dive costs 35 € and it`s 10 € extra to dive in the Bay of bones(absolutely recommended!) or 5 € extra to dive from their boat. They offer dive packages where you can get discounts if you dive more than 5-6 dives.
Amfifora is a serious operator, and the people workiong there have lots of experience(the boss told us that he does 5-600 dives every year)
The prices ar a bit on the high side, and there is no discount if you do 2 dives- In contrast you might be able to negotiate 2 dives with the Koteski brothers… for 50€.

What are the best dive sites?
We dived in the Bay of Bones, which is known as one of the earliest areas where civilization started in the Ohrid area. The first residents were a tribal people who built houses on stilts in the lake.

Fish between the poles

Fish between the poles

It was extra tough for the men who had to install 3 pillars for each wife they married. Seems like a lot of work to get new wifes..

The first 5-10 minutes of the dive I began to wonder if this was worth 300 Norwegian kroner(14$) ". There was mostly just seaweed and micro fish, with little variation. When we got to the "archaeological" part of the dive it was not much better.

Old jaw

Old jaw

Torunn ecstatically happily showing off some old shattered pottery...

Torunn ecstatically happily showing off some old shattered pottery...

Most artifacts from the old civillization was found in the water here. There were jars,pillars,remains of bonfires and animal bones. Most of the stuff has been picked up and put in a museum, but a few pitiful pot shards has been left under water. This is why they require € 10(!!) from the dive center to let people dive there. I would argue that you would have to be particularly interested(archeologist or something) to derive any enjoyment from looking at a few shards of pottery and 2000 year old bonfire remnants.

under the village

under the village

However, what was really interesting and fun,and made the whole experience worthwhile,was when we got to dive under the recreated pillar-village.

Diving under village

Diving under village

Thousands of fish were gathered between poles,and the sunlight shone through the torn planks and created a semi-magical effect.
When we swam back to the dive center I had used only 50 bar of total 200 bar during 45 minutes. So I asked to continue diving a bit, as I wanted full value for money!,and had been told that there was some sea-snakes close to the diving centre!

We continued diving along a more rocky area where we encountered something like 4-5 very beautiful and stylish sea-snakes.

sea snake !

sea snake !

We followed the biggest of them, and were really impressed to see how it hunted the small fish. Dinner plate was set at all times.

inside the cave in search of snakes

inside the cave in search of snakes

There are many other places to dive in this lake, and there is diving at any debth from 5 to 40 meters . In some of the dive sites you can see a special type of anemone/snail found only in this lake. The reason we chose not to do it was cold-exposure. They told us that at 16-20 meter debth the temperature is about 15-17C, while at 30 meters debth it is usually only 8C !!. Where we dived(max 12 meters ) the temperature was around 20 C .

Divers in the lake

Divers in the lake

Typical Macedonian fish

Typical Macedonian fish

Cold-diving in wetsuit we did once before - in South Africa in the middle of a seal colony - and it is not something we want to do again !.
The dive that we did not do that tempted me the most was a special pålace where a river mounts, and you can dive in water that is much more clear than in the rest of the lake. The visibillity is so amazing that it feels like flying. What is the coolest place you ever dived ? Any reccomendations ? Ever dived in a lake before ?!

 Posted by at 10:48 in the morning
Dec 142013
 

We took the boat back to Malaysia where we got stuck one night on a small island called Labuan. We struggled very hard to find a cheap place to stay on Labuan. We ended up having to share a room with a Brit who we met on the boat from Brunei.
Labuan was not much to write home about, but at least there was lots of cheap booze there, I`ll give them that.
The boat trip to Kota Kinabalu took 3 hours ,and was quite undramatic. We ended up spending 5 days without really doing anything. We did not have enough energy to run around looking for attractions. After 13 months on the road it is nice to just be able to chill out in an airconditioned room for a few days.

Chilli for sale

Chilli for sale

 

We went out drinking a few times with Johnny from England. One evening we went to the most dubious-looking karaoke-pub I've seen in a long time. There was a handful of local patriots there. We swept them off their feet with our wonderful singing voices and quick dancing feet. It was a night we will remember for a long time, especially me and Torunn `s duet of Britney Spears` "Oops I did it again" - instant classic.
We visited the night market in Kota Kinabalu, apparently the best market in Malaysia. There was a lot of strange stuff for sale there. Tons of fish and shellfish that were ready for grilling. Hopefully everything was fished "Sustainably" hahahaha, like that word exists in Asia..…. We bought one crab each that was cooked in chilli sauce for us. It turned out to be a lot of work for very little meat, but it was good.

Torunn in market

Torunn in market

We ended up buying a lot of stuff that we had never tasted before. The best way to experience such market is to snack a little on everything they offer, incidentally also the best way of securing food poisoning., One just has to hope for no acute abdominal problems.
One of the biggest tourist attractions in Malaysia is to climb up the mountain which lies right by Kota Kinabalu city. We did some research and figured out that it was way to much of a tourist-trap, and way overpriced. . Once Malaysia finds out that something is popular among tourists is the same day they decide to add lots of silly "taxes and fees". "Conservation fee" very rarely goes toward conservation, but most often in the pockets of some high-ranking official person. There is a hostel that is halfway up the mountain where they take 1200 norwegian kroner(200$) for one night in a 14 person dormitory without heat (when it is 0 C in the air). It is pure exploitation.

pier with 1 million Chinese

pier with 1 million Chinese

We went instead to some islands that were outside the coast of Kota Kinabalu. It turned out to be just as much of a tourist trap as the mountain.

Beach life...

Beach life…

We came to a small island with the most-populated beach I have ever seen. In addition we had to pay a ridiculous "conservation fee" to be allowed to relax on the beach for a couple of hours. The Conservation fee oviously was`nt spent on cleaning up the large amounts of garbage in the water, and in the sand around the island. There were thousands of Chinese tourists - the worst kind of tourists, without consideration or moderation. They waddled around with life jackets and snorkel masks without even realizing how stupid they looked. It was a bit of a wasted journey for us who have had so many incredibly perfect Caribbean beaches to ourselves on this journey.

From Kota Kinabalu we went south in the province of Sabah. We ended up in a sad, dirty town called Semporna. This town is known to be a a bit dangerous because there are various groups of militant muslims in the area. The only reason to go there is as a stepping stone to the reef and islands located an hour's boat ride from town.
We took the first boat to the islands the next morning, and found a decent place to stay on an island called Mabul. It was lovely to get away from city, and from traffic. I hate noisy traffic, especially in Asia. We stayed in a stilt house, with water beneath our room. It's lovely to lie in bed listening to the waves, but not having the rolling feeling that you have on a boat. We walked around the island and found that there were many poor locals living there.

Begging children

Begging children

I have no idea why they lived on an island far out at sea with close to no job opportunities, but I'm not sure if there were any adults in the village as we just saw hundreds of kids. There are perhaps a few adults there with an extreme need to reproduce, real baby-machines. In the water outside our hotel there were several derelict canoes with young naked children begging for money. I can not stand seeing people who are unable to feed themselves produce lots of children just to get sympathy points when begging.
We did some diving around the islands and the reef. Sipadan reef is known as one of the 5 best places in the world to dive. It did not disappoint! It was fantastic with plenty of life the minute we left the surface.

cute fish in coral

cute fish in coral

There were lots of fish that I had never seen before, and we had close contact with 5 giant sea turtles on the first dive!

Malaysian turtle

Malaysian turtle

We saw some of the coolest seahorses I've ever seen. They were identical to the corals where they lived. They even had coral-like pieces sticking out of their body here and there so that it is impossible to see any kind of shape. Without the divemaster we had never been able to find them.

He also found another fish called "frogfish", which was also complete and totally identical to the background. He pointed it out to me. I was 10 cm from the fish and wondered why he pointed to a random soft coral before I actually realized it was a fish.

Crocodile fish

Crocodile fish

On one of the dive sites, off an island called Kapilay, they had built lots of underwater houses. Inside the houses there were lots of fish and corals .

Camouflaged seahorse

Camouflaged seahorse

We were very satisfied with the diving, and got back to a dinner served. The menu was dried fish with old rice. Not exactly a gourmet meal, but we were so happy after the diving we would have eaten anything.
All in all we were very pleased that we got to dive there, even though we did not go to the Sipadan dive-site. It's too popular to dive there, so you usually have to secure a spot several weeks in advance. They only hand out 400 licenses for diving every day. In previous years there has been a large amount of exploitation of the reef, which has done very much damage.
After 2 days we went back to Semporna and continued the journey north. Our next adventure was going to be a river cruise with orangutans on the Kinabatangan River

 Posted by at 4:54 pm
Dec 272012
 

P1020632We made it safely to the Dominican Republic after spending 12 hours on the road, including 7 hours in Miami . It also cost as much as we paid to fly from London to The Dominican Republic. Pretty ridiculous considering that Jamaica and the Dominican Republic are located right next to each other. If there were direct flights it would have taken 40 minutes. That's how it is to travel between the Caribbean islands, It is not easy!.
At the airport in Santiago, we were picked up by a guy who drove us across the mountains to Sosua. He did not stop talking for the 2 hour trip. He was very interested in discussing any mafia people who are apparently operating in the area. He told us about a German assassin lady who had killed lots of people and several policemen. She was fortunately put in prison....
Torunn was sleeping so I had to be the one to nod politely and say "hmm" every two minutes.
Sosua was much the same place as we remembered from the last time we were there. We took a walk through the town to get some food and discovered that there were significantly more prostitutes there than 2 years ago. Skinny women with unnaturally big tits(However the Dominicans seem to be blessed in that area) in unnaturally tight and short dresses were everywhere.. The same with single middle-aged men who really did not look like they belonged in the giant outdoor disco bars with the thundering loud techno music.
It's probably not a destination we had chosen if it was not for the fact that we work for a charity which has an apartment in Sosua, where we can stay for free. It helps with the travel budget.

Ready for amputation

Ready for amputation

The charity we worked for was quite different from the one we worked for in Mexico. It was an incredibly attractive arrangements for us vets; we just got there in the morning, had a coffee and then there was an anesthetized animal on our table, already prepped,scrubbed and ready for surgery!
In addition, they use the good anesthetics so that none of the animals began to wake up while we operated and none of them bled a lot like they did in Mexico. Very lovely and relaxing to be able to operate on the assembly line without having to do anything with drugs.
We also got plenty of time to relax and to be a bit touristy. One of the days we had a day off we rented a moped(Even some of the locals said it was "craaazy" driving here) and drove to the number 1 tourist attraction in the Dominican Republic, which is a place called ¨ 27 waterfalls¨. As the name says, there is a valley with a river and 27 very picturesque waterfalls that are made available to tourists.

Dream Team on the road

Dream Team on the road

These waterfalls are not like the gigantic ones seen in Norway that fall a hundred meters down, but rather a series of smaller waterfalls. These can be climbed through, jumped off or slided down until you get to the bottom.
After a bumpy and eventful drive on our scooter, where I constantly had to avoid running into the big and dangerous potholes in the road, we reached the waterfalls that are located far in the jungle..
There was an option to just do 12 or 8 of the waterfalls such as 99% of the tourists did, but of course we had to go through all 27 (which any adventurous person would do).
It was really fun to slide on the natural waterslides made in the limestone that led down to the pools. It was a very nice rainforest too, almost no other tourists, only the sounds of the forest. On the way up to the top we were picking avocados, mango and passion fruit which we ate on the way up to the waterfalls.

Swimming in the pool

Swimming in the pool

Climbing waterfalls, Puerto Plata

Climbing waterfalls, Puerto Plata

On the way back to Sosua we stopped in Puerto Plata, which is the largest city in the area. As I drove on the main road another moped drove over to the side of us and the man on the back started shouting at us. It was the same man who had begun to nag at us earlier in the day when we filled petrol. The same man who fussed so much that I'd lose concentration when I was going to pay for the petrol that I had given 3 thousand peso notes instead of 3 hundred peso notes. I was quite annoyed at the guy, but he was apparently just a nice man who wanted to "help" us.

On the way down from the waterfall

On the way down from the waterfall

He began driving in front of us in an attempt to direct us toward the center(which we were already on the way to). He stretched out his hand every time there was a side road so no one would run over us "lost" tourists. We tried to chase him away, but it was not easy, he insisted on continuing to provide a service that we did not want . When we finally reached the town, of course he started asking for money. Then it was extra nice to be able to pull out your wallet and show him exactly how bone dry it was. We did not have a single peso left after the waterfalls.
We parked the scooter right next to a bank in the town centre. Then there were 2 people coming running, towards us. One wanted to "look after" our scooter, although it was in a place with 20 other scooters, and the other guy wanted to show us to the bank, even though we were already on the way to the bank. He jogged after us quite a while since we could not get money from any of the banks. After that blunder we just had to go back to Sosua and both idiots had to leave us without getting a peso out of us.

The next day the clinic called us and asked us to stop by to check on a German Shepherd who had problems with his feet. The poor dog had plenty of wounds on his feet, a real nasty infection with lots of larvae. We spent a long time to clean his paws, pick out the maggots, applying antiseptic, give antibiotics and analgesics etc.
The owner of the dog was also the owner of a company that took tourists on safari tours in Dominican Republic. He was so happy with the treatment that he gave me and Torunn a free safari for the following day.

We think it was a bit strange with safari tours in a country where there are no animals and only a few interesting birds, but we went along, after all it was free !
The safaritour was in a converted truck full of fat American tourists, so not quite our style. It was to drive along the countryside and look at the people who lived there and what they were doing.

Kids in school

Kids in school

We went into a school to see the local kids getting on with their normal day, and then at the house of some Catholics who had Jesus pictures everywhere. Then we got to see some plants - coffee bushes, cocoatree,

Cocoa-beans

Cocoa-beans

pineapplebush, sugar canes and various other plants. It was an ok tour, but I would not have paid for it. We finished with a Dominican dinner (chicken, beans and rice) Also, I held a small crocodile, which I had already done a few weeks earlier in Miami.

After 2 weeks with almost only relaxation in Sosua, we went to Boca del Yasica to visit an American dentist couple, Debbie and Mark. We had met them the last time we worked for AAAS.

Luxury waterfront villa used as clinic and accommodation for us

Luxury waterfront villa used as clinic and accommodation for us

They had a villa with swimming pool right next to a deserted beach. I and Torunn got to stay in the house for 5 days while we did operations by the swimming pool. I am so glad that we signed up to do volunteer work with such benefits!
We were actually very efficient in the 3 days we operated. Each day the assistants arrived at 09.00 and gathered together all the dogs and made them ready.

Operating together

Operating together

All me and Torunn needed to do was to operate them, the rest of the team got them ready for surgery and took care of them when they woke up. Some dogs were incredibly aggressive and bit at everything that moved, so I felt incredibly grateful that I only had to handle them in the sleeping state.
Most of the operations we did was spaying females and neutering of male dogs. It was almost only females. The Dominicans has a macho culture. The men are very proud and must always give the impression of being tough and hard. Wife-abuse seems to be common here. Therefore, not many locals approve of us cutting off the balls on their dogs.
There were some other operations also, which was good to mix things up a bit. We amputated a hind leg of a dog that had been hit by a car and I removed an eye on 2 different dogs.

Dog Sterilization by the pool

Dog Sterilization by the pool

We operated on more than 60 dogs in a few days, which we were quite satisfied with. Operations just went faster and faster until we both managed to sterilize a female under 18 minutes (which we of course are very proud of). It was really very short days, we were pretty much done before 15.00 so there was plenty of time for us to enjoy ourselves on the beach and by the pool.
The charity people (AAAS) were very nice and arranged both lunch and dinner for us on most days.

Torunn operates a lump on a man (Carl)

Torunn operates a lump on a man (Carl)

One night there were some problems with the power in our house so Debbie (The American lady who owned the house) came to help us. She was angry at the night guard that she had hired because he was not there right then and there. When he finally appeared she yelled at him in Spanish and he made lots of excuses.
After she had gone home (her house was 100 meters from the villa we lived in) the guard came up to us and started to complain and whine in Spanish. I only understood a few words of what he was saying, but he was apparently not pleased that a woman was telling him what he should do. It was fine when her husband yelled at him, but not a woman., He is, after all, a real macho man !
We were not very interested in listening to him complaining about her, but since he was waving a loaded gun, we thought it was best to be polite. 10 minutes after we got in, we heard shooting just outside the house. It was a bit scary as we thought he had snapped, maybe he had shot his boss or something!
We found out the day after that he shoots just occasionally to scare potential thieves away, not to scare innocent vets!

After Sosua, we went to Las Galeras which is a small town near Semana on the north coast of the island. It is the best place for snorkeling and diving in Dominican Republic, which was the main reason we wanted to go there. It was a very picturesque place, we stayed at a guesthouse that was far far away from the nearest civilization. There were a lot of nice beaches there. We did not get a chance to snorkel as it rained the 3 days we were there and also I was sick with an ear infection.

Las Galeras

Las Galeras

I think I got an ear infection because I had spent a lot of time playing in the waves in Sosua and Boca del Yasica. The waves tossed me back and forth and my ears filled up with water, algae and sand.
I think I've never had so much pain before. I used 2 different types of painkillers and 3 different types of ear drops with antibiotics, antimycotics, steroids and local anesthetics, but nothing helped. My ear was inflamed and swollen. The ear canal was so swollen that it was completely closed.
So with ears like that there could be no diving....

Santo Domingo sightseeing

Santo Domingo sightseeing

The last 2 days in the country we spent in the capital Santo Domingo. We wandered around the old town and looked at ruins. It was quite interesting to see how Columbus lived and to see the various fortresses which he had built. We had an overdose of museums in one day, but we made up for it by drinking lots of extra beer at night.
Thanks to Dominican Republic for now, I'm sure we will be back!!

 Posted by at 11:35 pm