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The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
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September 2018    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 44, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Bonaire, Cozumel, Cuba, Fiji, Palau . . .

spear tossers, baggage restrictions and thieving crews

from the September, 2018 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

We live in an imperfect world, and when you're off diving in unfamiliar territory, those imperfections can catch you off guard. We publish selective comments from our readers that can help you anticipate problems before they arise, so your diving holiday can be worry-free.

At the same time, you shouldn't limit your diving explorations. Bonaire is one place where it makes sense to get off the beaten track . . .

Bonaire's East End. Rather than stick with the standard dive operators along the west side of Bonaire, Mary McCombie (New Haven, CT) drove over to the little-dived east side of Sorobon in June. "East Coast Diving operators Martijn and Bob are excellent naturalists, instructors and captains, and they are warm, pleasant, and easygoing. The boat is a rigid-bottomed inflatable with an ingenious feature: a section that can be deflated and removed so a ladder can be attached for divers to enter the boat after the dive. Funchi's Reef was lush with stony and soft corals, really stunning, and there were a number of large green turtles cruising around, but my favorite sight was eagle rays in singles and groups. Turtle City, just north of our first site, was lousy with green turtles, sleeping and cruising, and I stopped counting after 40. The reef was again lush and healthy, and near the end of the dive, we drifted to The Fingers, a site with massive dense ridges of stony corals. It was great to see after diving the west coast, where storm damage and runoff has had its predictable effects on the reef. We also saw a hogfish, a common sight in the northern Caribbean, but profoundly rare on Bonaire.

"It cost $120 for two tanks per person, plus tip, and was well worth the price. Nice operation, gorgeous reef and some big animals -- what is not to like? " (

Concerns about Cozumel. Aldora has been a long-time favorite of Undercurrent readers, including Mark Magers (San Antonio, Jalisco, Mexico), but he had a few issues on his April trip there and hopes they'll make a few corrections. While they can't do much about the diminishing marine life, he didn't like that Aldora gave women smaller tanks than the men, without asking about air consumption. "The pairing of divers felt a bit haphazard -- one day we were matched with divers of similar experience to ours, another day with people who had much poorer dive skills. Once we had to wait almost 90 minutes for two new divers to arrive on a ferry from Tulum (offered as a "reason" why they were late -- as if that mattered?), which significantly delayed our departure. We dove with the two tardy divers, and they were terrible -- poor buoyancy control, dangling hoses and gear, banging into coral while swimming upside down to 'blow bubbles' and doing flips (!), actually grabbing coral and sponges. The divemaster never said a word to them. We aren't sure he noticed, because he rarely looked around to see what was happening.

"We dove with three different divemasters; the briefings were very varied and generally not thorough; some excluded basic things like communicating air and deco, and what profile to expect. Not sure what is going on with Aldora, but . . . we hope this experience was an aberration."

Magers also saw a lot of boats loaded with spears,pole hooks and scuba tanks, and he wondered if they were headed into the marine park that "we pay $2-$3 per day per diver to 'protect.' We never once saw a boat or officer enforcing anything, or checking for the wristbands we paid for. People in the dive industry, as well as longtime, frequent visitors to Cozumel, said environmental protection had gotten worse and that the economic driver of grouper and lobster on local menus (also eaten by divers, not just cruisers) has made it bad for the reef's denizens. We noticed this on our dives -- few lobster or grouper, fewer fish in general. Even something as simple as plastic straws -- they are everywhere on Cozumel -- and ubiquitous styrofoam containers for all takeaway food suggest a lack of commitment."

Undercurrent readers do report a serious decline in marine life in Cozumel waters, which, sadly, is to be expected with increased runoff, sewage, cruise ship visits, warming waters and other human-induced change. Shawn McDermott (Melbourne, FL), notes, "I'm told that 150 dive boats now have marine park licenses. Even if you get out early, there can be more than 100 divers in the water by the end of the dive, mostly bouncing off the bottom, running into the reef and pointing their POV cameras. There's not much to shoot anymore."

Luggage Restrictions on Cuba Flights. Be warned that American Airlines can impose severe baggage restrictions on its flights, even if the ticket agents can't explain why. Bruce Carlson (Ewa Beach, HI) was devasted that, when checking in with his wife at Miami for a flight to Camaguey in May, they were told they were not allowed to check in the typical two bags per passenger. "We spent an hour repacking, with our gear all over the terminal floor. In the end, we left our camera gear behind. To add insult to injury, on the return trip from the same airport using the same plane, the Cuban AA agent said we would be allowed to check our two bags. He had no idea why only one bag was allowed on the inbound flight to Cuba."

American Airlines' website currently states that outbound flights to Cuba charge $25 for the first bag and $40 for the second, while the same two bags on inbound flights back to the U.S. are free. There are also specific restrictions with carryon and checked baggage for various Caribbean islands, and they may vary, so check before you start packing for your trip. ( travel-info/baggage/checked-baggage-policy.jsp)

Top-Notch Service in Lembeh. It's common for Asia-Pacific flights to get you to your destination at zero dark thirty, with hours to kill before you can get to the dive resort. Henry O. Ziller (Conifer, CO) faced that situation during his May trip to Bastianos Dive Resort on Indonesia's Lembeh Island, but the staff there went the extra mile. "We bought tickets months ago on Garuda Indonesia Airlines, with a direct flight to Manado from Denpasar, but alas, two weeks before we started the trip, they canceled that flight and routed us through Jakarta. Our flight was delayed so we arrived at Manado at 1 a.m. I thought we would have to spend the night in a local hotel, but there was a Bastianos driver waiting for us with a sign. The drive to Bitung took one hour and 45 minutes; then it is a 15-minute boat ride to Lembeh Island. Front desk staff was waiting for us at 3 a.m. to show us to our room and deliver our bags. There is still great service in some parts of the world." (

Health Hazard Tips. While Ziller couldn't control the flights to Indonesia, he could change the outcome of diving in the nutrient-rich waters of Lembeh Strait, which carries a health hazard. "During our trip to Lembeh in 2010, we both experienced ear infections, so since that time, we have carried a 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and rubbing alcohol. We use it after most dives in all parts of the world now."

David E. Reubush (Toano, VA) swears by the antibiotic Cipro. He was at the Walindi Plantation Resort in Papua New Guinea last March, during which a trio of California divers had a problem with diarrhea. "I learned a long time ago to travel with Cipro, which usually fixes any problem with a single dose. I personally did not have a problem." (

Watch Out for Spears. And Reubush has another story to tell. Papua New Guinea, still a wild and wooly country, had a few diving disappointments, but Alan Raabe, the exemplary captain of the FeBrina, made good in spades. Reubush joined a trip led by Burt Jones and Maurine Shimlock to dive their way across the Solomon Sea to Milne Bay and end in Alotau, at PNG's southeast point.

"Milne Bay is renowned as a macro destination, so I thought this would be a great trip. Unfortunately, about a week and a half before we were scheduled to leave, Alan told us it was too dangerous in the Alotau region (there are active pirates in those waters), so we would now be doing an exploratory trip along the south coast of New Britain. After reading newspaper reports of what was happening around Alotau, I think Alan made the right decision. While the diving along New Britain was not bad, it was definitely not up to my expectations.

At the southernmost point, even though Alan had cleared our diving with the local chief, we got run off by a local who showed up one day on the back of the boat with a spear, threatening bodily harm for our diving on 'his' reef. Alan gave up on the exploration, we returned the way we came and dove many of the same sites we had done on the way down. At the end of the trip, Alan apologized for all that had happened, and told us we could return at any time in the next three years for free. I think he made the best of a bad situation that was out of his control and, with the offer, he went beyond what I expected." (

Bad Nitrox Management in Fiji. Dive shop managers, what's going on there? John Miller (Lubbock, TX) was horrified by the nitrox procedures at Beqa Lagoon Resort, a PADI operation, during a visit in May. "Two of my guests were not nitrox-certified, yet they dived on EAN32 all week, as did a couple of other new divers who weren't EAN certified. I say EAN32, as that is what the shop said it makes. However, without any analyzers available to verify that, we had to take them at their word. Not once were we required to fill a nitrox logout with maximum operating depth or other basic information. Many in my group didn't even know how to set their computers, and others were diving without computers. On our three-tank dive, they did not have enough tanks of air for those not wanting nitrox or not certified for it, and yet they offer nitrox to those not certified. Those of us who did not request nitrox, accommodated the crew by accepting it, so they would be able to give 21% to the others. Readers who are instructors know how this issue is a major standards violation and simply not acceptable under any circumstances."

On-Board Theft: Another bad story about diving in Fiji comes from Herve Hosek (Corpus Christi, TX). He reports, "While two divers were separated from the rest of us by a current, two crew on the boat were busy stealing $200 from my wallet and going through the bag of another diver while the boat ladder was up, preventing those two returning divers from getting back on the boat. The dive shop manager wasn't on site when we went to report. His answer to our email was to just question the veracity of our story, without apologizing." Given the circumstances, we find it improper to report the hotel name, but they know who they are and what staffer is the culprit.

Blue Corner Blues in Palau. Rose Mueller (Houston, TX), who has visited the archipelago 27 times, stayed in April at Palau Pacific Resort and dived with Splash Dive Center. She can remember diving with 50 or 60 sharks at Blue Corner, but apparently, as she observed on this trip, those days are long gone. Maybe it's connected with global water temperature rises.

Curtis Kates (Los Angeles, CA) did the same itinerary in May and also made similar comments. "The ocean was very warm on this trip, and currents and sea conditions were light and calm; therefore, we did not have the usual, high-thrill, reef-hook dives at Blue Corner. However, dropping down to 100-120 feet, I could see an impressive slew of grey reef sharks circling in the slightly colder water." (;

And a Palau Travel Tip. Mark Etter (Lititz, PA) was happy with his May trip and says, "You really must try a local tour with Nan, who works at the Palau Central hotel. He took me on a private tour of the island, including a magnificent woodcarving shop, the village where he grew up, the Badrulchau monoliths, Japanese cannons, a marine biology research facility and the National Capital Building. We had a great lunch in the north at Okemii Cafe. Fantastic!" (

And that's the news for this month. We wish you good diving -- and keep your travel reports coming.

- Ben Davison

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