December 27, 2011

My 2011 in diving

Basically I'm satisfied because at least some dives. Certainly in the beginning of the year I dreamed of trips to new, exotic places but nowadays I have much more plans than travels. I would like to spend a few weeks in the Caribbean for a long time but sadly we simply couldn't afford even Dominican Republic. I learned a lot about the country, the best resorts, the most exciting dive sites and- I stayed home.

Later we went to the usual Adriatic round trip. But I had an unusual experience: we were invited to a week long liveaboard trip to the Kamelija yacht. We had the chance to dive places where I hadn't been before because they are far from the mainland. I had to realize how much exciting spots can be in Croatia with abundant sea life. I had many dives in different islands and I know what to expect. I know it's really special to see purple and yellow gorgonians at 25 meters depth. To find huge scorpionfish and crabs. Morays are very rare too. And on this liveaboard trip I saw all of these in a single spot- in a cavern there wasn't one but two morays! The Kamelija was one of the best boats I've been to, not too large with all the important facilities and a fantastic cook. I really loved it.

In the summer we organized a special underwater photography trip the Egyptian Red Sea. We rented the whole Cassiopeia boat, a lot of photographers joined us and we made a shootout competition for them. Most of the Egyptian liveaboard routes go to the offshore reefs while we stayed close to shore. We had different plans. We looked for shallow but spectacular places which are safe for more than a dozen photographers. We had an awesome trip, our friends took a lot of great pics, so next year hopefully we can organize a similar trip again.

Late summer I've been to Croatia again but this time as an ordinary tourist. It was a great experience to dive the Adriatic when its water is much warmer. I didn't miss my drysuit, it was nice to dive without any assignments. I tried to make some photos and enjoyed diving in itself. I loved that experience. In the last few years the Croatian trips meant not only enjoyment but work as well. I needed these trips to feel the beauty of Adriatic diving again. It's funny to go back the same old place and realize how lucky am I when I can spend so much time there.

And... That's all, folks. I had some nice dives and because of the actual crisis I don't have too much plans for 2012. Adriatic, again, Red Sea, again, a visit to Brussels and Nemo33- for the third time. I don't dream about the Caribbean or Asia. If I can go I will if I can't I won't. Life is simple as diving: you know the rules and you have to decide "what, where and how" within your boundaries. Even a fairly typical year can bring a bunch of surprises if you really try to look for them. That is why I am satisfied with my 2011.

How about you?

December 23, 2011

Scuba Christmas

Last weekend our friends in Dorog invited us to the underwater Christmas celebration. They had a nice a tree and an UW camera which they used for the live coverage of the event. As usual the cold water wasn't inviting for most of the guest, the majority of us stayed in the surface. It was nice to see some old diver friends again and greet the brave ones (especially the man who dived in wetsuit in 5 degrees cold!) who submerged.

December 12, 2011

Ray: A Life Underwater

Nowadays this is my favorite short documentary. Ray Ives, the 75 years old diver really interesting person and the mood of the film is simply fascinating. I think the makers deserve mentioning their names:
Produced and Directed by Amanda Bluglass
Editor and Director of Photography: Danny Cooke
Dive photography: Neil Hope
Sound track: Tony Higgins

December 9, 2011

A special kind of fish soup

When yesterday I wrote about fish food and some exciting fish soups I realized I dived a place where I encountered living fish soup. It happened in Gran Canaria of Canary Islands. As we descended to the Pasito Blanco it seemed the bottom is flowing and moving but when we swam closer I saw thousands of fish. It was one of my most incredible diving experiences! It's a protected area so those fish won't be cooked hopefully. I don't care if I had to eat something else but has the chance to see this shoal of fish someday again...

December 8, 2011

Fish out of water

To fish or not to fish: that is the question. Sometimes as a I diver I think about my eating habits. I read a lot about destructive fishing methods and whenever I order seafood in a restaurant I feel guilty. On the other hand I like fish food...

I remember some dive trips in Egypt where the local crew caught fish: a tuna or a grouper. They chose an environment friendly way of fishing with a single hook, they had the fish and didn't destroy the coral reefs as the bottom trawlers. My first fresh tuna steak on a Egyptian boat was a stunning experience, I ate only canned tuna before which was in a totally different league. Later I tasted fresh groupers and cuttlefish too and seeing how it was caught made the dinner more delicious.

Anyway I can't resist seafood in restaurants. In Hungary certainly I prefer local freshwater food, I know a great place not far from Budapest where they make only trout. The owner, a friend of us is a really nice guy and his roasted trout is awesome! In some restaurants I like to taste Hungarian style fisherman's soup called "halászlé" from catfish.

Whenever I travel to abroad I like to try new foods. There are place where simply do it better: in Madeira we always had delicious meals. They make my absolute favorite fish soup in that small island but the swordfish steaks with banana (filetes de espada com banana) is a special dish too. I like the Canary Islands' fish soup (caldo de pescado) which I had in several places around the archipelago. In Graciosa island we had the daily menu in a small restaurant in the harbor with tasty fish soup and a glass of awful wine. I usually prefer beer or water, the local wines' quality can be a positive or more likely negative surprise. I avoid those frustrating experiences by choosing a pint of lager...

I do the same in Croatia where I tasted many fish food. One of the "classics" is the stuffed cuttlefish (punjene lignje), but they make it differently in every restaurant. It's exciting to cut it and see if there's cheese, ham, rice or something else inside the cuttlefish.

Sadly you rarely know if you have local fresh fish or imported one. When the crew catch you know it's really fresh but there were another memorable moments during our trips. We had a flat tire in Tenerife in a small fishing village. We decided to have a meal and in the restaurant there was a huge fridge with the fresh local fish: we chose one and they made it in the roast in the opened kitchen. It helped to forget our car problems very soon! This year we spent a wonderful week in a liveaboard boat in Croatia. On the last day I saw the captain as he cleaned some fish near the boat. He revealed his fisherman father caught them in the morning and the cook made one of my best Croatian meals.

Many nice moments, many good food... I hope someday they'll use sustainable fishing methods everywhere in the world and I'll have the chance to see fish under water and on my plate as well.

December 6, 2011

The birth of an independent traveler

Some people use to travel with agencies, while another ones like to organize everything for themselves. I like to do everything on my own but as all of us, as a beginner diver I joined groups. After some disappointments I decided to be my own travel agent. Here is the story of becoming an independent traveler.

When I was a newbie diver there were two possibilities: travel with a big agency who couldn't help at all in diving so I had to organize that on location or join a dive instructor who organized trips for smaller groups. Nowadays there is a third option, the handful of travel agencies specialized in dive tourism- there are only a few in Hungary, most of them were independent instructors in the past who made a professional company. In my country the way as the instructors did organizing was quite illegal, but we didn't have too much choice.

So with my about 10 dives I joined a man who offered a 4 days long to trip to Croatia. We discussed all the details. He suggested me to travel with a couple in their car. I decided to stay in a camping and eat the food I bring- I didn't have too much money in those years. We arrived after 10 hours driving and I realized there weren't booked accommodations. For me it wasn't a problem because I knew I had to sleep in the camping. Or at least I prepared for that: the instructor came back in 2 hours and he said "I booked a room for you as well!" I felt a kick from my pocket, my wallet sent me a message: "Say NO, you can't afford that!" But the instructor said it was cheap and much better than the camping, OK... Later he said to the group he ordered meal for all of us for 3 days, it's so cheap and delicious. I asked kindly how cheap was it but he didn't tell. I later found the price list and I knew I had to live on a tight budget somehow. I needed money for the accommodation, the food so I didn't have enough on diving. I was in Croatia, prepared for diving without too much money to spend on diving.

The instructor promised boat dives- they were expensive as boat diving is pricier everywhere in the world. We knew the prices, the plans, the possible locations- and we had to drive to a bay where we made shore dives for the same price. The way as he led the dive was terrible, he sent the divers to the surface one by one, I remember a girl who wasn't even certified, she had about 3 dives under her belt when after reaching 60 bars she had to make a controlled ascent from 30 meters, followed by a long surface swim. It was far from safe practice... By the way on the next day the group really sailed on a boat- without me. I simply didn't have enough money and I was shy to ask from the other guys. I was on the shore when they left the harbor waving to me and because it was a daytrip I had just enough time to think about this situation. It wasn't my mistake at all. But on the other hand I felt if I should be more careful next time.

A few months later I traveled with another instructor to Croatia again. This time the apartments where we stayed were miles away from the sea, in a village without a pub or a shop, and my room was the kitchen of an apartment in the basement. The diving was OK but I knew if I would had organized that trip it had been much better. Or if it would had been as worse as that the only one to blame have been me. Since than I always look for offers on air fare, try to find discounts on diving and accommodation, book our own rental car and so on. All of the trips were much better than those terrible Croatian excursions. And when somebody join me I never want to cheat or book an useless expensive extra service to make money. I still remember the moment when I realized I spent my hard earned money on a dive trip where I had to stay out of the water instead of being under. I try to do my best when organize trips: I hope nobody collects disappointments but nice memories.

December 4, 2011

A big smile

I took this photo 10 years ago. A decade! I like this happy smile. It's a "I'm happy after successful certification dive" smile, and not a "I survived a 30 minutes torture in a murky lake" relief. Or it was "hopefully next time I can dive in nice warm seawater" cheer? I don't know if she is still diving nowadays but I guess she isn't. Sometimes it happens.

I was a beginner when I shot this photo and I'm still diving. After more than 400 dives I can ask myself what changed. My country, Hungary joined the European Union 3 years later. There weren't wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We didn't expect world economical crisis. I even used a traditional analog photo camera in 2001 and before I saw the picture I had to make it developed...

And in diving? In those years a travel to Croatia was a dive trip of my dreams. Egypt seemed so exotic, so attracting, so distant, so expensive for me who just finished the studies and started to work. Only a minority of divers were able to afford an Asian trip so we hadn't ever thought about that. In those years all of us had to use a weight belt because there weren't integrated BC-s. Most of the divers I knew didn't use computer just followed the leader who had one. It was common to make a really deep dive just after certification, inexperienced divers made to 40+ depth regularly. We usually rented the equipment which was old, simple and heavily worn but we didn't care about this. We went to nearby quarries often and we were happy when we found a place where the visibility was more than 1-2 meters.

And on the photos we smiled as this lady. It was because of the happiness, the relief or the hope? Maybe all of them.

December 1, 2011


Should this text appear in every Open Water Diver book's first page? "After certification you can be saddened for 47-50 weeks per year."

(I found this in a ScubaBoard post, great idea.)

The most beautiful ray

No, not the manta ray for me. The most special ray I ever encountered is the wonderful butterfly ray.

I saw the first one near Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands. I caught sight of a wide animal in the depth which swam smoothly away. I asked the DM who said it was a common butterfly ray. Later I saw more of them in Gran Canaria. They slept in the daytime but after we went too close they swam away with an unbeatable elegance. It simply glided a few inches above the bottom with a marble-like pattern skin. I know the huge manta is a wonder in itself, but the butterfly ray is different, it's so incredible, so special. There Canary Islands are like a ray sanctuary, I saw here devil rays, eagle rays, common skates and those wonderful animals I mentioned above. I can't get tired of them...