Learning Scuba Diving in Tenerife

As silly as it sounds, I’ve always wanted to be a Cool Person™. A cool person, as defined by me, has evolved throughout the years. The older, athletic, popular kids at school used to be the epitome of coolness, but basically now it’s someone who is adventurous, bold, and courageous. They don’t conform to the molds of society through peer pressure, and they live life fearlessly and with few regrets. And they do Cool People Things™ such as extreme sports or risky jobs. Learning scuba diving in Tenerife would definitely qualify as one of those Cool People Things™.

The Inner Athlete

When I was in sixth grade, whenever I got glimpses of the tall giants in the high school hallways wearing letterman jackets, I felt excited, envious, and anxious for my turn. I was obsessed with basketball so that was the obvious route to that brand of coolness. Then in 7th grade when I was a mere 12 years old, I tore my ACL, anterior cruciate ligament, playing basketball. I was convinced that I could be like an Olympic athlete, one who gets back up and continues playing the game. Instead, I fell down again and later fainted. 

Photo by Gene Gallin. A basketball laying on a gym floor

After that, I thought that I could make an excellent comeback and be better than ever. And after months and months of rehabilitation, and with the doctor’s permission, I was ready to get back into the game. At our first scrimmage after 11 long months, my body decided to reject the ligament transplant, and I collapsed in front of everybody just before the game even began while simply running up the court. After that, my coaches and parents had to force me to quit basketball for good, and then I promptly had an identity crisis. 

Hoop Dreams

You see, at the end of fifth grade, in preparation for sixth grade, we were allowed to choose one elective. For me, it was between my two great passions: art and basketball. Basketball won out, and it eventually consumed my life. I ate, breathed, and dreamed of basketball. I wanted to be a professional athlete. My natural abilities weren’t the best, but tell that to a child who believes that with hard work and passion, you can accomplish anything. 

Photo by Yannis Papanastasopoulos. Art brushes laid out it a row

Without basketball, I had to redefine who I was completely. Thus, I went down a more artistic route which turned out pretty well. In some ways, I’m grateful for this first identity crisis and the disappointment of having your dreams crushed. It set a precedent for later dark times when I would need to reinvent myself yet again and/or seek alternative paths. 

It was just two surgeries (well, not including a more minor one I had to have at 25 years old), and I know many people have it much worse. However, I think they must have been traumatic for me, especially since it happened when I was so young. I started to observe the jocks that I used to idolize with unfounded contempt and jealousy.

Sporty by Nature

 And after all that pain, time healing, and after having been left with lots of scars on my little 13-year-old knobby knee, I started agonizing over what sports I should take part in and what effect it could have on said knee. Go ice skating with my classmates? I don’t know. I might have an accident.

Skiing and snowboarding sounded like amazing fun, but with all those twists and turns, I might get hurt again. Later when I contemplated joining the military, I decided that bootcamp alone would probably cause another premature injury. Rock climbing? Skydiving? Bungee jumping? Surfing? Running a marathon? All things that I systematically decided were a no-go. 

But God, how I wanted and still want to do many of those things. And now that I might be having early arthritis issues at 34 years old, I think my decisions to avoid those things were probably the best thing to do. Emotionally, it still hurts, though. I feel like an athlete at heart, but my athletic career was cut very short by an unfortunate tiny twist to the knee. 

Why Scuba Diving in Tenerife?

Swimming, though, is something that is not forbidden to me. Actually, all the professionals say that swimming is practically the perfect exercise. A few years ago, I tried two dives in Malta, and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. For the first time in my life, I felt naturally good at something. It fulfilled me in a way almost nothing else has. So now that I actually live by the ocean, I’ve had the opportunity to take it further. I am now a certified scuba diver. 

First, I contacted a diving agency called Teide Divers, and they got me set up with the written theory section of the process. There were two options: in-person and online. Online was a little cheaper, so that’s what I went with. I completed the online portion at my own pace which happened to take a few months. I was definitely out of practice when it came to studying. 

There were five sections with many subsections with even more subsections. It’s definitely a lot of information, but I recommend making a Google Doc to retain most of the important information. I also recommend specifically memorizing the steps of the five-point descent, the five-point ascent, the official names of your gear, the steps to assembling it. and the pre-dive safety check. 

Taking the Plunge

Next, my scuba trainer, who is definitely a Cool Person™ in his own right, and I did our swimming pool dives. After having dived for real in Malta, I thought this part of learning scuba diving in Tenerife would be totally boring and super lame. It ended up being very useful. A lot of the techniques that we did would have been a lot more stressful under the ocean. For example, I had to learn how to take off my scuba mask while continuing to breathe through the regulator. Once off, I had to put the mask back on, and clear the mask of water. And I had to do all that while trying not to drown from inhaling water through my nose!

During the first two days, I was in a bit of a rush. I recommend having the day completely free for your practical theory. Although we started at around 9:00 AM, I still felt pushed for time. Having to rush home to give classes at 2:30 PM just wasn’t very feasible. I ended up canceling my classes on the days where we dived in the ocean. 

By the time we finally started our ocean dives, I had practiced and mastered most of the techniques while using the local swimming pool for scuba diving in Tenerife. When it comes to the ocean, I recommend you take all those survival instincts that evolved and ingrained in your brain and *mostly* throw them out the window. Squash your feelings, and swallow your anxiety. When you approach the drop-off in the ocean, ignore that primordial neanderthal voice that screams “Don’t go over that edge! That’s where the sea monsters live!!!!”. The sea monsters do not live there. They are much deeper, and will probably not be interested in little ol’ you. 

Cool People™ Rule

We dived in Radazul, Tenerife which is a really nice place to dive because it was constructed specifically with divers in mind, and it’s sheltered from the elements. While I was down there at around 18 meters, I saw very many fascinating things. There were octopuses, sea hares, sea stars, fireworms, a very glowy purple sea anemone, a dusky grouper, cuttlefish, a rare streaked gurnard, ornate wrasse, a multitude of beautiful red and yellow parrotfish, and so much more.

Now, I look forward to finally scuba diving in Tenerife with sea turtles, sea horses, and, hopefully, someday dolphins. This is an expensive hobby, but when they say that your experiences outweigh any materialistic thing that you could own, this is the kind of thing that they are talking about. And now, when my people ask me what I want for Christmas, aside from art supplies, I no longer go completely blank. Now, I can ask for diving day excursions. Yippee!!! 

Lastly, when you finish your last dive, remember that you are officially a badass. Congratulations, you did a really awesome and brave job. Print yourself out a Cool Person™ sticker because you, and I, deserve it. 

Five Reasons to Visit Zanzibar

 

Anyone ever heard of Unguja? How about the island’s more common name, Zanzibar? It’s known as the Spice Island as well as the birthplace of Freddy Mercury. An Indian Ocean archipelago off the coast of Tanzania, Africa, it’s also a diving and snorkeling mecca. Here are five reasons to visit Zanzibar. 

Five Reasons to Visit Zanzibar

Reef Diving,  Snorkeling, Surfing

A coral reef runs along most of the ocean side of Zanzibar for about a mile offshore. Levan Bank, off the northern tip, is one of the island’s most famous and impressive dive sites. There, you can see huge kingfish and impressive tuna. Inside the reef, the waters are calm and crystal clear. When the tide goes out, you can actually walk from the beach to the reef. According to many professional divers, Zanzibar offers some of the best dive sites in Africa, and possibly the world. 

The Beach - one of the best reasons to visit Zanzibar

There are official and unofficial guides who can take you diving or snorkeling, depending on what you want to spend or what type of boat you’re looking for. Seeing some of the rickety wooden boats along the beach may send you in the direction of a resort that offers more professional services. If getting up close and personal with scaly fishy friends isn’t your style, Paje, further south, offers pristine beaches and some of the best kite surfing anywhere. 

The Spice Island

Zanzibar has an abundance of spices, and therefore, an abundance of spice tours! They’re not only informative but an interesting distraction from the beach, where you can explore small villages set right in the jungle, and see first hand how exotic spices are grown and harvested for sale. You get to sample cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and black pepper that are plucked right from trees and shrubs growing all around you. Local guides encourage you to smell and/or taste the indigenous spices. 

A photo of the tour guide of Ed and his wife's spice tour showing off one of Zanzibar's spices.

Retreating under the thick jungle canopy, the spice tour was a nice escape from the 90°F heat. About halfway through the tour, they offered a cornucopia of fresh local fruit. Local guides receive training at a young age on how to climb trees and harvest spices. They make their village huts out of nothing more than grass and mud. Using hammocks for beds, furnishings remain simple and sparse.

Giant Tortoises

We took a leisurely three-mile boat trip to Prison Island (Changu) from Stone Town, the main port and largest city on Zanzibar. The trip was relaxing. Our arrival at the beach pier offered the most amazing shades of blue I’ve ever seen. The locals have opened the prison, once hell on earth for rebellious slaves incarcerated in the 1860s, for public tours. The island has also functioned as a coral mine in the past. Despite its grim history, Changu remains in the top five reasons to visit Zanzibar.

The main attraction of Prison Island is the gigantic tortoises. Some weigh up to 500 pounds, live until 150 years of age, and are about the size of a Smart Car. At one time, there were as many as 200 of the unique creatures, but now there are about 50. Since Zanzibar has become a world heritage site, the tortoises have been offered protection from theft and poaching. 

The Masai and Freddy Mercury

Whether it’s on the beach or in Stone Town, you’ll surely notice the people of Zanzibar come from a variety of backgrounds. We saw Muslims in robes and hijabs, native Swahili, and Masai in their traditional red Shuka. No matter their religion or heritage, the people were welcoming and friendly. Many of the tourists are European, with some flocking to the upscale Italian-focused resorts. 

Zanzibar is like any other exotic tourist destination, with people trying to sell their wares on the street or beach. Fortunately, street sellers were nowhere as bothersome or persistent as some we’ve encountered elsewhere. There is a colorful market in Stone Town, offering all kinds of fresh produce and seafood. If that’s not good enough, you can buy fresh fish and octopus right on the beach from the fishermen who caught it. 

Stone Town

We stayed in Stone Town for a night, hoping to explore as much as we could. Unfortunately, even with a city map, we found the narrow and winding streets confusing. The personal tour we booked was the way to go. We saw and experienced so much more, and our guide explained things that we had no idea about. For dinner, we sought out Mercury’s, a beachfront restaurant with an awesome sunset view. The kitchen is an open-pit barbeque, and there are autographed photos from Freddy Mercury and Queen on the walls. 

A photo of Stone Town

The stone architecture pays tribute to the town’s name, and buildings have taken on a lichen-stained patina that shows how gracefully they’ve aged. There is no room for cars on the inner-city streets. They are more like alleys or sidewalks, where everything has to be carried in or on wooden carts. Beware of some locals who buzz through the cobbled maze on motor scooters. 

The Beaches

Try to imagine what your favorite beach looked like before it was invaded by massive resorts and the throngs of tourists that come with them. That is what the deserted beaches of Zanzibar offer. Miles of white sand with swaying palm trees on one side and turquoise water on the other. The northeast beaches of Nungwi, Kendwa, Pwani, Waikiki, and Kiwengwa were some of the prettiest that we’ve visited anywhere. 

There are a handful of resorts on the island that exist mostly on the north end. Nonetheless, you’ll find more fishermen and wayward cows on the beach than noisy jet skis or other pleasure craft. Small sailboats are more the norm. We stayed in an AirBnB and ate most of our meals in, but found plenty to eat and drink by visiting the mom-and-pop restaurants scattered along the beach. 

When not cooking at home, we found ourselves strolling down the beach for fresh homemade dinners, rather than taking a taxi down the road. Outdoor restaurants and patios can be nice, but they can’t compare to sipping cocktails in a shaded beach restaurant, listening to the waves roll in, and watching the moon rise over the ocean. 

Friendly Locals, Beautiful Locale

In conclusion, we found Zanzibar to be one of the most interesting places we’ve ever visited. We consider it quite safe and Cathryn walked to the beach and local village for groceries by herself. She worried when one local man followed her around the village, but it turned out he was only there to protect her and help carry things. 

The man even helped me carry a five-gallon jug of water all the way home. You’d think I gave him 100 dollars when I tipped him a buck. Not being resort people, we stayed in the Kamili View Apartments in Kiwengwa, a gated complex with a beautiful swimming pool. Our second-floor unit offered ocean views and breezes.

The Gagnon's AirBnb Pool

I don’t pick favorites and rarely return to places I’ve visited, but Zanzibar is one destination that both Cathryn and I agree we’d definitely return to. These five reasons to visit Zanzibar represent a short summary that doesn’t give this beautiful island justice. Book the trip and see for yourself.

If you enjoyed this article and wish to read more of Ed’s adventures check out my website at www.edmondgagnon.com.

Air Batang: A Tioman Tale Part Two

Michael CarterRead about Michael’s arrival to Pulau Tioman in his last article.

Air Batang, Pulau Tioman, Malaysia

After spending a couple of days in Salang, I caught a water taxi a short distance south along the coast to Air Batang, Pulau Toman, Malaysia. I stayed in a bungalow by the shore at Nazri’s. It had a fantastic sea view and sounds of the surf to lull me to sleep at night. I was a 10-minute walk from the Air Batang jetty and a 50-minute walk to the largest village on the island, Kampang Tekek. Like Salang, there were no roads, only pathways. After just a 3-minute walk from my bungalow, I found Ray’s Dive Adventure. Ray’s became my closest depot for beer, sunsets, and star-gazing at night.

My bungalow at Nazri's in Air Batang.I started suffering from a chronic condition known as IPI (Island Pace Inertia). No matter which island in the world one travels to, that traveler eventually succumbs to IPI. In my case, it took about five minutes for the condition to afflict me.

As I was still on the northwest side of the island, I had come to accept that I wouldn’t have time to see nearly as much of the island as I originally thought. Wanting to explore a bit more, I considered taking a day-trip out of Tekek. I thought about going on a 4-wheel drive tour for a day. As the largest city on the island, Tekek actually does have a road. There’s one leading to the east side of the island. Alas, the tour required a minimum of four passengers, and no one else had signed up. I decided to rent a bicycle instead, and pedal my butt around Air Batang and into Tekek. This turned out to be a great decision.

Mother NatureOther than by foot, my primary mode of transportation.

I cycled along the coast and made numerous stops to gaze into the crystal clear water below. I saw plenty of marine life species without donning a mask and snorkel, which thrilled me I managed to rip off a large toenail earlier in the trip and water activities would have only aggravated it. 

Tioman seemed to have more cats than people, but for lovers of slightly wilder life, there was a plethora of free-roaming creatures. Countless colourful birds, butterflies, and playful monkeys. Lovers of lizards and things that slither would be in heaven here. Monitor lizards ambled along the pathways everywhere. It seemed like every time I glanced up into the tree branches, I caught a glimpse of a python lazing away.

The Tiong,  a reddish-orange bird with a bright yellow beak and white trim on its wing, has become a symbol of Tioman. So much so, that a large statue of a Tiong is erected in a Tekek park.

The Tiong Statue in Tekek.

Last Hurrah in Tekek

Air Batang was my comfort zone, but I cycled in all directions daily. I happened upon a place near the end of the marine park jetty called Go Deeper. It had a modernistic, yet funky, decor. The food was crap but the beer was ice cold, and the cheapest I had come across on the island. I sort of liked the place and decided to move from my bungalow in Air Batang to Go Deeper for my last night. The lodgings were more expensive than Nazri’s, but they offered me a free bicycle to use and free transportation in a sidecar to the early-morning ferry at the jetty in Tekek, which was four kilometers away. 

The beach at Air Batang

The rooms were refurbished cylindrical-drainage-pipes-turned-hotel-rooms with air-conditioning, plus a private bathroom behind. It seemed ideal for a final night.

I had neglected to bring a travel alarm with me, so I was at the mercy of the Go Deeper staff to wake me up at 6:00am, so I could shower and leave by sidecar to the jetty in time to catch the 7:00am ferry. I had already purchased an open ticket, but still needed to arrive in time to exchange it for a boarding pass.

A picture of the refurbished cylindrical rooms at Go Deeper in Air Batang.

An Early Morning

Tioman is a duty-free zone. Notably, I still had one bottle of wine left from my purchase at the Tekek Duty-Free Centre. For my final Tioman night, I cocooned myself into my cozy drainage pipe and liberated the cork from my last bottle of wine. Fond memories of the island flashed back through my mind, but I was afraid to fall asleep. Past experience taught me never to rely on ‘wake-up’ calls or services.

The Go Deeper Hotel, at the foot of the Marine Park jetty.

Nonetheless, the wine gods insisted otherwise, and I was lights out before even finishing the bottle.

The call of nature woke me up at some unknown time. After peering outside and seeing black, I had no real idea of the time. It could have been 2:00am or 6:00am. I remembered that the bar/reception area had a large-faced clock, which was easily visible because three sides of the eating area were open-air. I figured it made sense to leave my room and make the 45-second walk to check the time. It was pitch black all around, with a tiny sliver of a moon barely illuminating my path. There was just enough natural starlight to make out the time. Although looking at the clock almost seemed like looking through a pair of eyeglasses made of bubble wrap, I hazily deciphered the time. It was 4:30am.

Nightfall in Air Batang

Trust the Wake-Up Call

With just an hour-and-a-half left, I felt too afraid to go back to sleep and risk not getting up in time. I still didn’t have faith in receiving the wake-up knock-knock. Besides, I had about a third of a bottle of wine to polish off before departure anyway. Ahhh — I had ninety minutes or so to relax and sip on some coffee. Elysium.

The view from the front of my bungalow at Air Batang

It seemed like only a few minutes — and it was — had gone by when I heard a tap-tap on my glass door. My 6:00am wake-up call had arrived, along with my sidecar driver waiting for me when I was ready. My clock-reading skills must have failed me. More than likely, I had woken up around 5:30 instead of the perceived 4:30.

I forfeited my morning shower in order to finish the wine at a respectable pace and made it to the jetty on time.

by Michael Carter