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Scuba Diving

Monday, February 25, 2013

Snorkeling Aruba’s Boca Catalina

Just returned from a weeklong vacation with 12 members of my family in Aruba. Blue skies every day, temperatures in the upper 80s, and that consistent tradewinds cooling things down on the fine white sandy beach. While there, we had the option to go on a snorkeling cruise for $60 per person. Then we realized we could rent a 12-seat van for $125 a day and snorkeling equipment for $15 per person, reducing the price in half and giving us the freedom to see the other sites around the island. Most of those snorkeling cruises head to Boca Catalina Beach, easily accessible by car on the northwestern tip of Aruba. Take the turn-off to the California Lighthouse and you’ll see a small parking lot on your left. Grab your snorkeling gear and plunge into the Caribbean Sea. Swim around the rocks and you’ll soon be surrounded by the neon-colored fish and a healthy dose of brain coral. Remember that the sun is hot in Aruba, so I always snorkel with a light T-shirt on, and bring a second shirt to stay dry on land. I learned my lesson snorkeling for an hour at Fiji’s Natadola Beach, only to return to shore looking as red as a lobster. 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/25/13 at 01:00 PM
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Thursday, December 06, 2012

My Rap on Yap

Writing about Palau yesterday reminded me of a story I once wrote for Continental’s inflight magazine on “8 Great Places You’ve Never Heard Of.” The main body of the story was on Yap. Smack dab in the middle of Micronesia, between Palau and Guam, Yap is known only to World War II history buffs and scuba enthusiasts. Large numbers of manta rays live in the crystalline 83-degree water offshore. Anchor at the edge of the M’il Channel and these graceful creatures will soon be hovering above your head, stretching up to 12 feet from wing to wing.

 
What those oxygen-tank junkies fail to notice is that terra firma is just as intriguing as the sea. The 12,000 or so Yapese still use stone money; massive disks with circles through the middle are littered about the island, leaning up against thatched huts. The islanders are also fond of chewing betel nut. Toddlers to grandmothers spit out the red juice, making the roads look like scenes from a gory thriller. For visitors, sliced papaya and coconut is a tastier alternative. 
 
Stone paths weave through jungles of hibiscus, wild taro, and bamboo. If you’re fortunate, you’ll be able to catch a traditional Yapese dance, where locals use bamboo sticks as a form of storytelling. Masks and other hand-carved objects created from hibiscus, coral limestone, and, yes, the spines of manta rays are on display at the Ethnic Art Institute of Micronesia. Ultimately, it is nature that beckons. Whether scuba diving or guiding a kayak through the lush mangrove forest to view fairy terns, this exotic locale nestled deep in the Pacific will leave you enchanted. Just keep it a secret.  
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/06/12 at 01:00 PM
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Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Saving the Sharks of Palau

Palau is one of those locales, like Fiji and the Red Sea, discussed only in clandestine conversations between avid scuba divers. To reach it, you have to travel five hours from the West Coast to Hawaii, another seven hours to Guam and yet another 90 minutes to this cluster of 200 sparsely populated islands, which Jacques Cousteau called the best scuba diving site in the world. From your home base on the capital isle of Koror, head to the Big Drop-Off, considered the best wall dive on Earth. It starts in knee-deep water and then abruptly plummets almost 1,500 feet into an abyss. Nearly as mind-boggling is Blue Corner, a large coral cavity where three ocean currents meet. Hunker down and watch schools of tuna, white-tip sharks and 3-foot-tall giant clams (where’s the melted butter when you need it?). Those white-tip sharks are protected, along with hammerheads, leopard sharks, and more than 130 other species fighting extinction in the Pacific Ocean now that Palau has created the world’s first shark sanctuary. The country has banned shark fishing on more than 237,000 square miles of ocean, so divers can expect more up close views of those pearly whites. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/05/12 at 01:00 PM
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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Top 5 Adventures in the Caribbean, Diving Bonaire

A mere decade ago, the island of Bonaire was mentioned only by scuba diving enthusiasts in hushed tones. Now that the secret is out, travelers are learning that Bonaire is magical both above and below the water. The reef’s proximity to shore is ideal for divers and snorkelers who want to swim with blue and yellow queen angelfish and orange trumpetfish in waters with visibility of 100 feet or more. On terra firma, the island’s semi-arid landscape is home to some 200 types of birds, including one of the world’s largest colonies of pink flamingoes. Stroll along the southern tip of Bonaire at sunset, near the Willemstoren Lighthouse, and you’ll no doubt see a small flock. Stay at the stylish Harbour Village Beach Club and you’ll have a spacious villa with balcony that overlooks the white sand beach. Heinekens and gouda are the sustenance of choice on this Dutch colony, but if you go upscale, grab the candlelight dinner on the beach at La Balandra Bar and Grill and order the freshly caught tuna or shrimp with roasted tomatoes.
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/25/12 at 12:00 PM
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Friday, June 08, 2012

My Favorite Small Outfitters, Cook Island Divers, Rarotonga

You can get your scuba diving certification at the neighborhood indoor pool over the course of 3 months or you can do it in the South Pacific over the course of three days. Cook Island Divers is where I learned to scuba dive and it resulted in one of my first travel stories back in 1991. Perhaps I’m feeling nostalgic, but it’s hard not to praise Greg Wilson, one of the finest instructors in the business. It also don’t hurt that the surrounding ocean offers visibility over 100 feet and water temperatures in the 75 to 85 degree range. If you’re thinking about obtaining your scuba diving certification, this would be my top choice. Then continue onward to the pristine waters of Aitutaki, Taveuni’s Rainbow Reef, and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. 

 
Next week, if all goes as planned, I’ll be blogging from New Brunswick, Canada’s Acadian Coast. Ciao for now. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/08/12 at 12:00 PM
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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Diving Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos

On terra firma, Grand Turk is a sleepy former British outpost, where you stroll past the Victorian homes on Front Street in a matter of minutes. Underwater, Grand Turk is home to the Wall, where without warning the reef plummets to a mind-boggling 7,000 feet to mark the edge of the Turks Island Passage. On the rim of this great blue abyss, it’s not uncommon to see humpback whales migrating in winter, hawksbill and loggerhead turtles swimming gracefully and unafraid, and herds of spotted eagle rays, with wing spans upward of eight feet, their thick black tails churning behind. Better yet, the dive sites are all less than a five-minute boat ride away on the leeward side of the island. Here, the reef is protected by strong winds and current, allowing divers of all abilities to access one of the most pristine locales in the Atlantic. Try the Tunnels, where you hit the reef at a depth of 65 feet, go through a tight chute and get your first glimpse of the Wall’s dramatic plunge. 
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/02/11 at 02:00 PM
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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Top 5 Wildlife Viewing Experiences, Taveuni, Fiji

I first dove off Taveuni, Fiji, on the way to the Great Barrier Reef after recently being certified in the Cook Islands. It would end up being far more memorable than any of my dives on the Great Barrier Reef. It’s not just the multi-colored coral they dub the Rainbow Reef or the myriad of neon-colored fish that provide divers with a kaleidoscopic view of the sea. No, it’s the big boys like white-tip sharks, sea turtles, and manta rays that make you feel like Jacques Cousteau. No wonder Jacques’ son, Jean-Michel, has his own resort in nearby Savusavu. He’s no fool.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 04/22/10 at 01:00 PM
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Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk.

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