Tuesday, July 27, 2010

It's been a long time

Sunrise from the new apartment over Freshwater

...Been a long time, been a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time.

Well not really that long but we have been offline for a while due to our recent move. We've done some cool stuff in the interim, here are the highlights:

Did the Manly Spit Walk:
A 3 hour hike from the spit of land that connects Manly to the rest of Sydney that goes along the coast. It was a pretty sweet hike, great views all along the way and plenty of secluded beaches to check out. We were guided by the beacon of beers waiting for us at the hike's termination point at the Manly Wharf. We were not disappointed.

Deserted beach on the way to Manly

Surfing again:
Based on the advice (contemptuous heckling) of the gentlemen in Chris' NYC based music club, we have broken out the wetsuits and done some winter surfing. The first attempt at this was shockingly mild as far as temperature and we have done it several times since, even venturing over to Freshwater Beach to test out the waves there. It is mid/late winter here now and we now know that we will be able to surf all year round. Awesome is not a strong enough word for this revelation.

The view from the coastal hike

Somewhere over the moonbow:
We saw an actual moonbow - a rainbow cast by the moon. Neither of us nor the friends we were with at the time had ever seen this before. It was cool. No, we do not live in the land of make-believe.

Moon is shining down on the surfers

Make mine a Duff:
The brewery is in full production mode in the new apartment. We have a heater in the second bedroom on a timer to keep the temperature constant for fermentation and we currently have a batch of Belgian White that will be going into the soon-to-be-built keggerator and a batch of mead fermenting as well.

Sunset over Manly Beach

Another one bites the dust:
On a bit of a sad note, I (Chris) am now gainfully employed. I'll cover this in more detail in another post but to summarize briefly, it involves going up on roofs and playing with power tools.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Movin' on up

It's moving day today to our new place. For everyone who's been debating a visit because of the lack of two bedrooms it's your lucky day. Not only do we now have two bedrooms, we also overlook two beaches from our wrap-around balcony and Chris is eagerly pursing all of the necessary parts for a keggerator!

Here's the new Manly direction view - from the front part of the balcony. More pictures and the Freshwater view to follow once we're a bit more settled.

Here is a video of its awesomeness, pre-move:

Vanuatu: Jungle Adventure

Welcome to the jungle

The second major adventure that we undertook on our recent trip to Santo, Vanuatu was a hiking excursion through the jungle that included an extensive hike, a cave tour, canyoning, and floating down a river.

A hut in the village made from local materials, chickens on the left

After being picked at our resort and passing through the town of Luganville, arrived at a jungle village inhabited by native Vanuatuns. These people seemed relatively well off when compared to the last remote village Amy and I had visited in Masai Mara, Kenya. For one, their houses were made of wood and woven palm fronds rather than cow dung, mud, and ash. Additionally, the jungle provides a cornucopia of animals and fruits for them to consume. We noticed that everyone was walking around barefoot, a condition that our guide would rue later on in the day.

Looking out at the jungle canopy

We proceeded through the jungle from this first village to a second one where we met up with our 2 hiking guides. With these two fellows, we set off on a new jungle path that was both steep and muddy at times, The path was aided at points by bamboo ladders and strategically lain vines in places intended to slow your descent down a mud-slick slope. Our shoes were ruined after about 10 minutes of negotiating this terrain - I mention this not as a complaint, more as a revelation of why everyone was walking around barefoot in the village.

Amy makes her way down a bamboo ladder, guide at the bottom in yellow

After about an hour and a half of tough going, we neared the cave entrance. At this point, one of our guides split off with our backpack and promised to meet us on the other side. This is done because the cave has a river running through it and he basically saves all of your stuff from getting soaked. Good man.

On the way to the cave

The primary guide at this point had us sit on a log at the side of the path and painted on our faces with a clay based paint that was stored - not joking - in a coconut. He explained that this was to show the gods in the river and cave that we had paid our respects to the villages which we had passed through and were respecting their customs.

I credit the protection of the face paint entirely for us escaping the more hazardous later sections unscathed.

The cave mouth. Muwhahahaha!!!

We now walked down a stream towards the gaping maw of the cave entrance. It was quite high and descended into darkness not far from the entrance so we couldn't see much more than the area immediately after the opening. We could see however that the stream got faster and deeper quite soon.

Higher quality Youtube version here

What followed now was Amy and I stumbling near-blind through a pitch black cave in water that ranged from ankle high to chest height. We scrambled over wet rocks that frequently had crickets (ewww) or bat guano (ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwww) on them, not able to see anything other than the water at our feet that our flashlights were shining directly onto. Additionally, the entire riverbed was covered with broken rocks. These were sometimes above the surface of the water but mostly underneath it. It amounted to us blindly stepping from one unsteady rock of unknown depth to the next, frequently falling over into the water which contained god-knows-what.

Amy and our guide prepare for the depths

I also had the hubris to bring our camera with us in its waterproof case. Note to anyone who is planning on going caving in the near future: DO NOT BRING A CAMERA. It is pitch black inside a cave, you will not be able to take any pictures and will only proceed to trip and fall repeatedly because you are stupidly holding onto a camera with one hand rather than using it to brace yourself.

Daylight, glorious daylight

After a lengthy trial, we eventually say the first glimpse of daylight from the cave exit. We waded out into the sunshine, counted our limbs, thanked the river/cave gods, and met up with our second guide who was waiting with lunch, as promised.

After some sandwiches, we ventured onward to the third leg of the trip which started off walking down what started off as a stream but quickly turned into a river. This was a beautiful sight, walking down the bottom of a canyon with verdant, virgin jungle encroaching. At various intervals there were gigantic, moss covered boulders that had to be climbed over, scrambled under, or floated past.

The floating sections, amusingly were aided by means of a child's inflatable floaty ring. The rings we were given included Asian text and cartoon characters of unknown origin on them. I can only imagine at that moment, some child was throwing a tantrum somewhere on mainland China, demanding from his/her parents why the store was out of the tamogatchi-power rangers-pokeman floaties and that this was now the worst birthday ever. Thank you, unknown child.

Ready to float

At this canyoning phase, our guide suffered a slight mishap. Standing at the top of a 5' waterfall, holding onto a chain that was secured by means of wrapping it around a stick and coconut wedged into a rock, our faithful guide half slipped/half jumped into the pool below.

Amy and I did not know what had happened at this point as our guide was floating downstream. I thought we should jump in and follow him, Amy was convinced that we should wait. Our guide finally grabbed onto a rock and pulled himself out. At this point, he was looking at his foot and doing that "ssssssss.....aaaahhhh...ssssssss....ahhhh....sssss...." thing that you do when you basically want to cry but cannot. He was also carrying out a futile attempt to push his big toenail back on to his toe, although we did not realize this at the time. Peter Griffin can demonstrate for us:

He signaled for us to wait, ending our debate and made his way back around to us. We thought he was fine but for the rest of the trip, every few steps we would see a blood spot on the rocks, mud, and bamboo ladders that we had yet to traverse. Goddamn, that must have hurt.

We continued onward, the guide insisting he was fine - not that there was really any choice, we were literally in the middle of nowhere.

Next came the most relaxing part of the trip, the big boulders became fewer and further between and we began to float (with the assistance of the child's floaty) down long stretches of the river, which was now totally enclosed by the canyon walls. This was absolutely sublime with the peacefulness accompanied by by waterfalls crashing down off the canyon cliffs and sparrows flitting overhead.

The canyon we floated down

After about an hour of this dream, we proceeded to climb our way out of the canyon by means of more bamboo ladders, strategically placed vines, and lastly climbing hand over hand up a running waterfall.

We made our way back to the villages through the jungle, where we were told by our original guide/driver that he had never seen anyone make it back that quickly. He may say this to everyone but it still made me feel like Chris and Amy - 1, every other tourist - 0. We said our goodbyes and thanks to the guides and returned home exhausted, sore, and eternally grateful to the river and cave gods for letting up pass through their realm unscathed.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Vanuatu: Diving the Coolidge

Amy and our guide

One of the main draws of the islands is scuba diving on the USS Coolidge, a former passenger liner that was converted to a troop transport during WWII. The ship hit an allied mine (D'OH!) while on the way to deliver troops and equipment to the US base on Vanuatu, the overwhelming majority of the troops got escaped with their lives (the captain actually went down with the ship) but due to the desperate evacuation all of the equipment was left on board. This, combined to the close proximity to shore makes for an outstanding and unique diving experience. The ship itself is gargantuan, approximately 650' long and lying on its port (left) side on a slope with the bow closest to shore. We did 3 dives on the Coolidge, visiting 3 separate areas.

Click on the picture to for a blown up version courtesy of Aquamarine

Dive 1: The Promenade

Looking up at the surface through the structure of the ship and hull

This dive was mostly on the outside of the ship and was the shallowest of the 3. It is approached as a warm up dive to get people comfortable with the location and depth. We descended over the bow and swam along the deck, which due to the fact that the ship is on its side, is perpendicular to the ocean floor. We saw some large deck guns, a huge crane and the bridge. At one point, we entered the ship by swimming through a large hatch in the deck to a storage compartment that contained jeeps and tanks which had to be abandoned. We next swam up to the starboard (right) side of the ship which was closest to the water's surface. Here there was lots of coral built up and some previous divers had stashed some gear that they recovered from the ship including a gas mask, a rifle, some ammunition, and a helmet, all covered in barnacles and coral.

Preparing to battle the underwater WWII zombies, helmet on the knee

This was a cool dive and it helped us get accustomed to the scale of the ship. for the short time we were inside, you could see that it was massive, the tanks and jeeps were dwarfed by the size of the hold they/we were in.

Shell from a deck gun. Be Prepared.

Dive 2: The Lady

This is probably the most well known dive and location on the ship, the primary objective being a carving of a woman petting a horse that is above a doorway in one of the interior corridors that is a vestige of the passenger liner days. This was the deepest dive we did, it took up through the ship and down to about 125' (12 stories) from the surface.

Drifting in the current

It started off with us following our guide dropping through a cut hole in the starboard side of the ship. The reality of this is hard to describe, you are basically swimming down into a dark hole on the side of the ship into a hallway that is otherwise enclosed. Because the ship is on it's side, the portholes are above you as you swim through this corridor, providing the only natural light in vertical columns that pierce the darkness. In the video, these appear as circular holes in he ceiling. The water inside is extremely clear, you can see reasonably well once your eyes adjust but before that, you are looking over the cusp a dark hole that you are about to descend into. We soldiered on.

This was one of the holes in the hull that we descended through

Once entering the ship, we made our way through successively deeper corridors through the bowels of the ship to The Lady. The corridors are relatively large, there is enough space for a person to turn around without any advanced acrobatics (aquabatics?) but you are definitely enclosed. There is no way to extricate yourself without retracing your path. For one, there is no way a person could fit through the portholes, secondly, you are very deep in the water and would not want to risk getting lost in a dark, sunken ship. When we finally got to The Lady (we couldn't take pictures of her-too dark but here is one), we took a few moments to check her out and then began our ascent. We have video of this point in the dive, it starts at about 35 seconds in on the embedded video. About 40 seconds into the video, you can hear me inhaling and then on the exhale, there is hysterical, maniacal laughter. This was primarily due to euphoric joy.

On our way out, we passed through several rooms that we hadn't stopped in on the way down. After you have reached the deepest point in the dive and are on the ascent, air conservation is less of a concern so we could take the time to look at this stuff. We passed through a bathroom with the toilets on the ceiling above us as well as a workshop with a vise sticking out of the wall, both due to the sideways orientation of the boat. All of these items were covered in coral but you were able to make out their shapes, especially after some charades from out guide.

We eventually came out through a side corridor into the large hold we had been in on the previous dive which contained the jeeps and tanks and then after a safety stop with lots of fish and coral, ascended to the surface.

Dive 3: Medical Room

This dive was more shallow than The Lady but more as well diverse. We also entered through a cut hole in the starboard side of the ship, swimming into a dark room but saw many different compartments, including the eponymous Medical Room.

First off was a storage compartment for airplane fuel drop tanks. These are large, egg shaped containers that are strapped to planes to extend their range and then dropped while in midair when they are empty. There was also lots of small caliber ammunition in this room, bullets lying everywhere. After the storage compartment, we swam to the washing room which contained clothes washing machines - some smashed, others intact. Next was the Medical Room of the ship which contained cabinets with vials and bottles of medicine, some of which were still sealed. We got to handle some of these and then carefully put them back.

The last stop was the barber shop of the ship, which still had the barber's chair intact. Our guide demonstrated by placing himself in the now sideways chair.

Amy swimming through a corridor

It was odd seeing these aspects of everyday life on the ship. It helped cement the idea that this wasn't just some ancient structure but was actually a home to people from our grandparent's time and they did what little they could to make it as bearable as possible.

Overall, the dives were outstanding and diving the Coolidge is a unique opportunity for wreck divers. We were amazed by both the immense size and complexity of the ship and the exploration far exceeded our expectations.

Safety stop, with company

The guides we were diving with were from Santo Island Dive and Fishing and I cannot speak highly enough of them. Mal, the operator was friendly, accommodating, and helpful throughout the entire trip and the rest of the staff are all local guys who were friendly and eager to share their island and wreck with us.

Surface interval between dives

For more info about diving in Vanuatu check out Vanuatu Diving Info

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Survived Vanuatu

Us in one of the holes cut in the side of the USS Coolidge

Well, we are back from our trip and it was AWESOME!!!!!

Vanuatu was beautiful, the diving was great, and we did some other fun stuff like caving, canyoning, and floating down a river in the jungle.

Here is a video of the reef diving we did, I will post stories and video shot in the jungle and on the USS Coolidge, the 650 foot sunken WWII ship that we dove later in the week.

For more info about diving in Vanuatu check out Vanuatu Diving Info

Thursday, July 1, 2010

WWII Underwater Zombies

We're off on our first excursion from paradise to a slightly warmer chain of island in the South Pacific called Vanuatu.

View Larger Map

The highlight of this trip will be all of the junk that the allies decided to drive into the ocean rather than shipping home at the end of the war. They've named this site million dollar point supposedly to reflect the 1940's cost of all of the equipment dumped into the ocean.

In addition - a huge ship called the Coolidge sunk there.
The ship is well gone now

We'll be back in a week or so with pictures - and hopefully our own WWII era tank!

For more info about diving in Vanuatu check out Vanuatu Diving Info