Tag Archives: snorkelling

Days 26 to 29 – Tranquilised

Thursday 16 to Sunday 19 March 2023 – I’ve been pretty quiet on these pages for a couple of days now. But all good things must come to an end. We have been at the exquisite Tranquilo Lodge for four days and it’s exactly the break from relentless tourism that we required. We have been so lazy we have been getting fan mail from sloths.

Well, there were a couple of exceptions. Principally, we went snorkelling a couple of days ago.

Caño Island is a nature reserve quite close to Drake Bay, and is a very popular snorkelling destination because of its coral reefs and sea life. Jane had made sure that this was included in the schedule that Pura Aventura had put together for us.

I have strong reservations about going snorkelling. I’m not a strong swimmer, and my previous (limited) experience doesn’t enable me to look forward to doing it again with anything other than grave suspicion,

Anyway, we set off.  Early, of course.  After all, we’re on holiday travelling.  Sebastien had arranged a breakfast box for us, so at least we had a pretty decent stab at a meal having got up at 5am.  At the appointed hour – 0645 – we walked down to the Lodge’s office, where a juvenile hawk of some sort watched us with some bafflement.

Sebastien appeared, provided us with towels and led us (a couple of chaps also staying at the Lodge, Jean-Pierre and Matthew, were part of this excursion as well as Jane and me) down the road to Pirate Cove where we were joined by a German gentleman, Rainer, and spent a little time waiting for the guy who was going to lead the snorkelling, Federico, to marshal his forces. Once things were ready we walked across the beach to where we were to board the boat.  Well, everyone else did. I managed to slip and fall into a stream which ran across the beach, and of course the towels went in as well as me. So they were going to be no use for the rest of the day.

Same like me, really.

Federico was clearly an experienced guide and snorkelling leader, as he gave us clear instructions as to how we were going to get on board and where we were to sit.  He made sure we put on life jackets and off we went, via another beach to pick up a French Canadian family who were also part of the activity.

Off we went, on a 45-minute ride to the island. We got to the first of the two snorkelling stops, and once again Federico gave us clear instructions about how he would lead the group, and what to do in the water, such as how to signal that you were drowning or whatever. And into the water we went, in my case bearing an Olympus Tough camera with which to photograph the bewildering plethora of wildlife that I was sure would be there for me to see.

I discovered, as I had feared, that the normal laws of physics which enable people to enjoy bobbing around in the water with masks, tubes and flippers on simply don’t apply anywhere near me.  The idea is that everyone should stay as a group, and Federico would tell us what we could see. I find that I can either stay with the group or take a look at what’s going on under the water. But not both at the same time.

The nadir of the experience came when Federico told me that there was a turtle to my right, but I had great difficulty knowing where to look.  In fact the bloody thing bumped into me to try to attract my attention, I think.  I managed to get a shot of it as it buggered off

but that was enough for me. I realised that I couldn’t stay with the group, I was having great difficulty seeing anything, so my best place would be on board rather than slowing things down for everyone else. So I used one of the gestures that Federico had taught us meant I needed retrieving and the boat came over to get me. Even that was embarrassing, as I couldn’t get my fucking flippers off and they had to help me with that.

After about 45 minutes, the swimmers came back on board and we went to the island’s beach, where there’s a Rangers’ Station

and a short trail

which leads past convenient conveniences up to a viewing platform.  It was actually a pretty decent view.

After a few minutes, it was time to board again, but there were lots of boats with groups of punters and so it was a bit chaotic as everyone juggled for a place in the queue to come in.

but then we were off to board the boat (that’s Federico leading the charge).

I (obvs) decided not to participate in the second snorkelling session, but Federico got everyone else organised with his usual clarity and humour.

I will let Jane take up the narrative at this point…

OK so first off, I should have thought to take Steve’s camera on the second session; but I didn’t so I can’t show you what I saw. I have included stock pictures of the main fish we encountered, though, to give you an idea…

My main problem with snorkelling is keeping my mask from fogging up (I have my own mask with prescription lenses, to allow me to actually see without risking my normal contact lenses). There are as many proposed solutions to this problem as there are snorkellers: specific anti-fog sprays, baby shampoo, dish soap, spit… Federico proffered “Monkey Spit” – a bright green biodegradable soap solution of some kind, which actually worked pretty well, and then it was off into the water.

I enjoy the peacefulness of snorkelling, the sensation of flying, the sound of my own breathing; it has to be said that keeping in a group with other snorkellers, including a couple of charming but excitable kids liable to suddenly kick off in any direction, is maybe not quite as peaceful as I’d like, but anyway… We followed Federico over the coral and rocks, about 2m deep on the first session; tbh the visibility was not perfect but the second session, after the stopover on the Island, was much better (and a little deeper).

We were swimming through shoals of Sergeant Major fish, their gold stripes flashing and shining in the sun, and Scissortail Damselfish curious enough to get close to check us out.

Hiding in the coral were shy Guineafowl puffers, black spotted, yellow and half-and half; and blue Parrotfish gnawing away at the coral with their sharp beaks at one end, and excreting a stream of fine coral sand at the other.

Garden eels, lobsters, starfish… a grazing sea turtle… From time to time Federico free-dived very elegantly down to show us things of interest on the bottom.

Despite a few minor stings from jellyfish it was all entirely delightful – but the best sight of all came towards the end. We came upon a massive shoal of Bigeye Crevalle Jack; these are fairly large fish, maybe 50cms long; in the stock picture I’ve included below they are silver when seen from the side, but when seen from above, as we were seeing them, they were an almost translucent pale dove-grey-blue. There were thousands of them, it was a living blue-grey river, flowing, branching, recombining, swirling – a mesmerising and magical sight.

Bigeye Crevalle Jack

And now back to Steve…

The return journey was, unsurprisingly, the reverse of the way out, a 45-minute (more bumpy) ride back to Drake Bay through occasional rain showers. (I took note of the skipper putting his rain jacket on and so followed suit – well, jacket – with alacrity.)

And that was our snorkelling expedition. We relapsed back into total relaxation with only one other brief flurry of activity, when we took a short boat ride out into the bay to see a phenomenon that neither of us had witnessed before – bioluminescence. The conditions, remarkably, were right – low tide and new moon. Our guide was called Abraham (a cousin of our barman Gonzalo (qv) as it turns out) and he took Jane and me and one other couple who were staying at the hotel, Sumi and Raj away from the shore and the lights of the village.  Jane and Raj went into the water (I know my limitations, so steered well clear of that prospect) and had a close-up view of the blue pinpricks of light emitted by the plankton as they moved arms and legs in the water.  The plankton emit light when stressed, Sumi and I splashed our hands in the water and were rewarded by seeing the light emitted by individual plankton swirling around our hands.  I of course tried to photograph it, but there was not enough light and so all I have for it is a series of black frames.  It was intriguing to see the phenomenon at work, though.

Those two activities aside, our time here has been spent in blissful idleness with more than a hint of overindulgence.  Tranquilo Lodge is good at that.

Sebastien and Christophe sold their very successful catering business in San Francisco and have come to Drake Bay to create an absolute jewel – modest in scale currently but with some plans for future expansion.  There are nine villas, each with rooms that are large, comfortable and very well thought-out. The attention to detail is impressive, the service is impeccable (in a relaxed and approachable kind of way) and the food is Michelin-star quality, courtesy of head chef Danny. Much of the food is home produced – they make their own bread, take fruits and vegetables from the gardens and get fish from local sources.  They even make their own honey – here is Sebastien proudly showing the latest batch.

Behind the bar is Gonzalo, who does a great job of making the sort of cocktails that Jane loves,

there’s a cat which appears to have adopted the place as his home

and there are many comforting conformations that the place simply oozes class.

I only have one complaint.  The route from our villa to the bar is really quite steep.

The restaurant and bar area is at the top of steep hill

but in extremis (e.g. with luggage) there’s a lovely new golf buggy, of which Sebastien is justly proud.

We have to leave tomorrow, which is a bit sad, but which will be good for our waistlines: we normally tend to eat just two meals a day, but Sebastien and Christophe do a good line in selling us on a third. Given the quality of the food, it’s difficult – OK, thus far, almost impossible – to resist.

We have one more destination on our schedule, Heredia, back in the centre of the country near San José. We fly there tomorrow, so please come back and find out how that all went, won’t you?


Oman Day 9 – and we thought the mountain roads were rough!

Friday March 1. A large chunk of the day was to be spent at the Daymaniyat Islands, a nature reserve off the coast by Seeb, near Muscat. Rashid had talked about a dhow being our transport, but in the event we travelled in a smallish motor boat just big enough to house the three of us, the skipper and his mate and two 300-horsepower outboard engines. We boarded at Al Mouj, a very posh community residential and business area which featured (luckily for us) a marina, and pottered out of the harbour before the skipper opened up the throttles and we headed out at 30mph.

The Daymaniyat Islands are just basically lumps of rock a short distance off the coast of Oman, but access is restricted – it is necessary to apply for a pass to go there, and such things as fishing are prohibited. There are a couple of beaches and snorkelling is a very popular activity, and that was what we were here for. We moored off one rock which the skipper called Turtle Island.

I don’t think that’s it’s real name, it’s just he thought we had the best chance of seeing turtles there.

My ambition was simply to try to get some decent underwater photos, as my record so far is dismal. I tried in the Galapagos, which was pretty much my first (and not really very enjoyable) experience of snorkelling (the lack of enjoyment was due to my own lack of experience and swiimming expertise); the photographic results were awful. There was not one single underwater picture worth sharing on that trip, sadly.

So, in we plunged and I was about to set off in the hope of finding some nice pictures when I tested my nice brand-new snorkelling tube to find that it let the water in, which was a bit on the disappointing side. Fortunately, the skipper could provide a substitute, so off I went. I got lots of very poor photos of fish and some reasonable pictures of the coral there

and a fairly sizeable sea urchin

but no turtles by the time I got out of the boat for a rest. Jane had found one and so we got back in and headed over to where she had seen it – and there it was; a green sea turtle! The only problem was that my mask had completely misted up so I could barely make the thing out, far less see what my (Olympus TG-5 Tough) camera was doing. Nonetheless, I managed a couple of decent snaps

by sheer freakish good fortune, and also – hallelujah! – some video!

We pottered over to another, different location

and had another dip. This time, athough my mask was clear, the photos and videos were still disappointing. Note to self – don’t try to zoom in too much, even if the camera has the function, as the results are unlikely to be worthwhile. So I’ve learnt something photographically worthwhile on this trip, eh?

Then, although it was still earlyish (about 1130) we took lunch as it looked like the weather would change. Rashid said that perhaps some rain was expected. Indeed, the wind was beginning to get up and actually before we’d had time to finish our picnic lunch, the skipper was looking anxious and so we told him to take us home.

Fuck me, what a journey!

The wind had got up to at least a force 6. If you read the official blurb to describe this, it calls it “strong breeze” and says that it features “large waves with foam crests and some spray”.

What it doesn’t tell you is that, in a small boat when trying to make way basically into the teeth of it, it involves you being thrown out of your seat unless you’re clutching on to something substantial whilst having bucketfuls of the contents of the Sea of Oman chucked over you at regular intervals of, say, every five seconds or so.

The skipper did his best to minimise the discomfort, but it was still a hideously uncomfortable journey made worse by my (a) worrying that sea water would find its way into my lovely new Nikon Z6 and all my lenses and (b) really, really, really needing a pee but understanding that trying to do that would almost certainly involve suffering serious injury. I used Endomondo to track our progress on the boat, which is how I know we were averaging about 30mph on the way out. Coming back, the best we could do was between 5 and 9 mph until we got very close to the coast and could speed up a bit. So it was a long, wet and very uncomfortable journey for us all. Under the circumstances, I hope you’ll forgive me for not having taken any photos on this return leg. Poor old Rashid looked a picture of misery even as he insisted he was OK standing and holding on to a stanchion and really didn’t need us to shift up so he could sit down. The sea water got to his phone, and it was dead by the time we made land, poor chap.

Thanks to the skills of the skipper, we made it back safely to the marina and I made it safely to the loo; then we hastily packed up our stuff so that Rashid could take us back to the hotel. We said our goodbyes to him at that point, but the situation made it a hastier and more muted farewell than perhaps it might have been in other circumstances. Rashid had done a fantastic job of looking after us for nine days, sharing his passion for Oman, his knowledge of the area and his love of guiding to make our time with him so interesting and enjoyable and we’re both hugely grateful to him for his energy, expertise and thoughtfulness.

The shower back at the hotel was a thing of joy. So was the large G&T immediately afterwards.

The rest of the day was spent recovering and relaxing and, in my case, writing the blog, for today would be the last day of Being A Tourist; the only thing the morrow had to offer was a day of relaxing, maybe a bit of photography around the hotel and packing to travel home, as we have a very early start on Sunday.

So, that’s it, really – it’s been a remarkable few days, with new experiences of a (for us) new country and its landscape, culture and people. We’ve been royally looked after by the fantastic team at Hud Hud Travels and the staff at the Chedi Muscat. We shall miss this place.

I might cobble together some final thoughts on the holiday and what we’ve learned, in which case, it will be in the next instalment of this blog, in case you’re interested to keep up. ‘Bye for now.