sabato 28 settembre 2013

Back on track

Hello everyone!

Good news! It stopped raining! After a week of continuous storms the sun finally started to shine again... and we sure didn't loose any time waiting around! We've been diving as much as possible, every morning. Afternoons are still dedicated to "office work" since we still have a lot to finish before next week.
I've almost finished the fish presentation (which turned out to be even longer than the inverts one... 97 slides) and there's only one left to go... corals. That'll be very tricky... especially since the're often hard to identify because the same species varies so much in appearance depending on its environment...
Life on Koh Sdach is enjoyable, but i'm really missing Koh Rong Sanloem... the morning runs on the beach, attending to clients... the big lunches and dinners... and the people ofc. Here we have no outsiders passing through and it gets a bit boring at times...
Today we went diving on the neighboring
island of Koh Chan... I didn't think it was physically possible, but the visibility is even worse than on Koh Rong. XD
I brought along the coral identification guidebook and started looking at corals while Fia and Owen were looking at fish. After a while Fia found a huge net caught in a coral patch with a couple crabs stuck inside... we decided to free the crabs and bring the net away with us, but it proved to be way more difficult than anticipated. The net was tightly caught in a big chunk of dead coral, and it was full of sand so as soon as we started moving it the viz went down to 0. After trying to cut the coral loose for about 20 mins we realized we weren't gonna accomplish anything anytime soon so we pulled the whole thing up to the surface and managed to untangle the coral chunk from there. We managed to free one of the crabs while underwater, while the second was so tightly tangled up that we had to deal with it on the boat while coming back to Koh Sdach. In the end I managed to cut it free and release it under the unbelieving eyes of our two lifelong fishermen captains. :-P
Tomorrow Owen and I will go on a field-trip to Koh Kong...he has some Shallow Waters business to attend to while I have to sort out my visa situation instead. Visas always seem to have a problem with me.. doesn't matter in which country i am.  Turns out my electronic visa can't be exchanged for a business visa, so i have to cross the border and come back in with a new business visa.
Oh well.. it'll be a good excuse to do some travelling and see a new island...and it won't take more then a couple days anyway.
Only one week left before the next volunteers come in... and we're getting quite exited about it! I can't wait for the science officer to get here so i can bombard her with the million questions i've been asking myself for the mast month and a half... she'll probably start hating me right away.  :-P

Still no reply from all the job ads I e-mailed... I hate when this happens. I'm starting to accept the idea of having to come back to Europe for a month after this... :-(
Oh well... I'm sure I'll enjoy the food and Christmas atmosphere :-)

Until next time!

sabato 21 settembre 2013

Rain, Rain... More Rain.

Hello everyone!

Its been a while...  and we've changed location since the last post...
We finally arrived on Koh Sdach, at Shallow Waters Headquarters! Yay!
The trip from Sihanoukville was pretty long... about 6-7 hours on a delivery boat, counting all the stops along the way... but it was enjoyable... and most importantly, dry.
This cannot be said about Koh Sdach instead. It's been raining practically non stop since we got here. Now i see why they call it the rainy season.
Anyhow, there's a lot of "office" work for us to do anyway, so we're not missing out on much. Sofia and Owen have been going through all the welcoming speeches for the new volunteers and updating the emergency action protocols, while i've been working on the ID presentations for almost 4 days now. Inverts down, fish and corals still to go. :-S
Its a very time consuming job, but its turning out to be quite interesting and the final product is like 1000 times better than how it was before. I should have studied to be a designer or something like that instead. :-P
The base itself is really nice... a whole different world compared to the dorms in Koh Rong Sanloem. It has a huge hall, big rooms and a really nice patio in the back that looks directly to the sea.
After getting used to the simple life on Koh Rong being in this "huge" (600 families) village feels like being in a metropolis. Shops at every corner (there are no corners, its just the usual loooong main straight road), people everywhere and foooood! Yes, food! Theres even a man who sells croissant ice cream sandwiches out of a cool box on the back of his bicycle! For 20 euro cents! He's definitely the most important man on the island... at least as far as i'm concerned.
Yesterday we started Khmer lessons with our new teacher... Owen is using a Phonetic-to-Khmer book which is making me way more interested in learning the phonetic alphabet rather than Khmer. Luckily we've got some spare time on our hands these next 2 weeks (before the next volunteers come in) so i guell ill be studying both.
Our cook is really nice... she's Sea's sister... doesn't speak a word of english but we manage to understand each other somehow... and she cooks really well! The portions are way smaller compared to Eco Sea though. :-(
I think i'm gonna meet the owners of the 2 guesthouses on the island this or next week...they both have an oven so i need to befriend them so i can cook something nice. Im thinking banana bread. Yum!
Aaaaaand it started raining again. Pouring actually.
The roof of the base is made of metal so it gets reeeeeally loud sometimes. Good thing i'm not a light sleeper.
Not many photos to share with you this time around... just a couple of the base.
Gotta get back to looking up fish on the internet...

Cya all soon!

giovedì 12 settembre 2013

The world is falling apart

Yes you read it right... everything is falling apart... it’s been pissing down with rain all week and we haven’t had any guests for 3 days now… and you know what that means… yup… no deliveries. Everything is finished. First to go were bread and eggs, then ice... vegetables… fruit… drinking water… everything is gone… yesterday we even got to the bottom of the pancake mix… what are we going to do? We still have to stay 3 days here before moving to Koh Sdach…
Yesterday Pekadai and Susan came over to have a look at a presentation Fia and I are working on, it’s all on environmental awareness and teaching the locals how to treat waste appropriately. Luckily they also brought stuff to cook dinner for us: fish, fish and fish… fish everywhere, in every form, for every taste; raw, steamed, grilled fried, sweet, salty, spicy, mild, everything… It was all superb… Susan’s restaurant in the village will surely be a success! Best of luck to them both!

If I remember correctly the last post was about our one day trip to Sihanoukville… what an adventure!  And it didn't end there! When we came back I had to stay out of the water for a couple days so I finished off my Dive Master manual and we started working on the presentation. On the night of my last day of rest I was going to sleep in my bungalow when suddenly I felt a sharp pain on my toe, I looked down but I couldn't see or hear anything moving. At first the pain was bearable, like a pinch, but soon after it started to build up, a lot! I really think it was the worst pain I felt in a very, very long time… bee stings and dog bites were pleasant by comparison.  Sofia got the first aid kit and we tended to the sting as best possible, trying to suck the venom out, without any success. We called the resort owner, Vibol, and he told us it was most probably a scorpion sting… that it would hurt like hell for a while but nothing more… just my luck. XD The searing pain lasted for another hour or so, after that it started to come back down to human levels. Eating helped coping with the pain, and thinking back it must have been fun for Sofia to come back to the tent expecting me to be rolling around in pain and instead finding me sitting in a corner holding on to my food with one hand and gobbling down a pack of crackers with the other… lol. Anyhow,  we sat down and watched an episode of Game of Thrones while waiting for the pain to subside, and went to bed right after, at 5am. The next morning we both would have liked to sleep late, but at 8.30am it was already way too hot to stay in the tents, so we had to get up. My foot was still sore and I couldn't walk on it until today (Thursday).
I still need to finish off all the practical part of my Divemaster course before we go to Koh Sdach, so today I’ll do the search&recovery scenario and possibly the scuba equipment exchange underwater as well. It feels so strange thinking about leaving this place in 3 days… I’m excited about Koh Sdach but im sure I’m gonna miss the simplicity and peacefulness of Koh Rong Sanloem a lot. There’s lots of stuff to be done before the next set of volunteers come in: we need to perfect the Marine Protection Internship program and revamp all the fish, inverts, substrates and dangerous marine life presentations. It’ll be a long, time consuming job, but I already have the final idea in my mind and I’m sure it’ll all be worth it. We also have to catch up with all the surveys we weren't able to do here because of all the drama, still 17 to go. Oh, and I also have to start looking for a job… ishhh. Fingers crossed!
I just came back from diving… I did my search and recovery scenario looking for a jar full of wafers underwater… Fia knows me too well already. =P  It’s only been a week since I last dived but it felt so strange…like the first time all over again: a sensation of weightlessness and freedom like nothing else in the world… except skydiving maybe… I’ll have to try it out and let you know! We also did the equipment exchange; I think it went pretty smoothly, way better than when I tried it with Owen.. and with no headaches this time. I guess I really needed to take some time off and rest. It’s almost lunch time now, I wonder what they’re cooking since they have no food left in the kitchen… … maybe they’ll start feeding us dog meat soon =S
Oh, fried rice and veggies! I can’t wait to go back to that Israeli place on Sunday evening!
Time to eat! Talk to you all in 3 days!

lunedì 9 settembre 2013

36 Hours of civilization

Hello everyone!

I’m on the boat coming back from the mainland, so I've got a couple hours to spare... time to catch up with the blog…
Last post ended with Brad and Owen departing from Koh Rong Sanloem… leaving Fia and I to finish off my Divemaster training and to get some more surveying done… the objective is to have at least 30 sets of data for each survey method… we’re already almost half way there…
Anyhow… as I was saying… on our way back from Sihanoukville… we came here for a couple days because I've been having some really bad headaches in the past days and we thought it was better to have them checked out by a doctor… just to be on the safe side…  Turns out they're probably due to continuous muscle strain on the back of my head (because of the body position while diving), facilitated, if not completely caused by a side effect of the malaria tabs I’m taking… Every time I tell someone I’m taking malaria tabs they look at me like I’m crazy or something… apparently there’s no malaria on the coast of Cambodia (dengue is more of a problem) and every doctor I've spoken to tells me this particular brand of malaria tabs (Lariam) is the worst in existence, with loads of side effects and completely not worth taking for long periods. I still haven't decided what to do… the alternative brand is way more expensive and I would have to take it every day… pretty annoying…  I must do something though… I can't keep having headaches every time I get in the water or every time I try to exercise… I'll call the DAN (Diver’s Emergency Network) later today and see what their doctor suggests…

 But let’s talk about nice things instead! Sihanoukville… going back to civilization was shocking… my phone started working perfectly again, internet works properly, I managed to catch up with emails and Facebook… and to post on the blog! Photos should be completely uploaded and available on my web album as well… I’m sorry there’s not many, but I’m in the water most of the time and the Go-Pro turned out to be good only for videos, and sucks at still shots.  I’ll try to select the best videos once I move to Koh Sdach and upload at least a couple for you to see…
We got to Sihanoukville on Thursday evening and went directly to the clinic for the consultation… the doctor concluded that the best therapy would be interrupting/changing my malaria tabs and relax completely for a couple days…he also suggested going for a massage while we're in town…best prescription ever!! We went looking for a pharmacy straight after, just to see what alternative exist for malaria tabs… turns out there’s only one brand available and it costs 10$/pill… to take every day…crazy!
On our way in we bumped into some familiar faces… we stared at each other for a second and then realized we knew each other…it was Laura and Harrison, two students from Exeter University (UK), staying at the MCC bungalows (the other conservation program on Koh Rong Sanloem), friends of Owen. We decided to spend the evening together so we grabbed a couple drinks and then started to look for a place to have dinner… We went to look for that Israeli place Brad told us about last week… and I must say… it was as good as advertised! Falafel and hummus were amazing…and the warm bread was just too good…especially after eating damp baguettes for over a month. We stuffed ourselves to our satisfaction (I finished off everyone’s leftovers, as usual) and then made our way to Serendipity Beach…for more drinks.

It was happy hour at JJ’s… 10$ for a bucket (a proper ice bucket) of cocktail + a free t-shirt reading “let’s get f*cked up!”… No need to say anything else. They also had shishas and a crew of “fire boys” doing acrobatic shows on the beach with flaming sticks…luckily I had my camera with me this time so I managed to get a couple cool shots. The night was going wonderfully when at a certain point Laura looked at us, raised a blood-soaked hand…and calmly said “I don’t want to alarm you guys, but the dog just bit me” I found it hilarious…I mean, I’m sorry for the bite and all, but the way she told us was just epic.
We tended to the wound as best we could but Laura preferred to go to a clinic to have it checked out for possible rabies…fair enough. We tried texting them the following morning to see how she was doing but we never got an answer…the SMS must have gotten lost somewhere between here, England and the way back, since neither of them has a local SIM card. I hope she’s OK, we’ll find out soon enough when they come back to Koh Rong Sanloem on Sunday.

Sofia and I went back to the beach for ice cream…we stayed there until late at night meeting random people, as always… this time it was a guy with a fluorescent orange t-shirt screaming “Justin Bieber!” and a Welsh guy who works as a PR for a bar on the beach… funny people, especially after trying laughing gas from a balloon! Now I understand all those scenes in films of people at the dentists laughing their brains out!  :-P

We took a tuk-tuk home and slept until late the next morning. When we finally woke up we made our way to the city marketplace… a huge covered square with and endless array of small stands selling all sorts of stuff…from kitchenware to CD’s, fish, cell phones, fruit, live crabs, spices, clothing, toothpaste…literally anything! And often in the same shop! The weirdest combinations, like books and coconuts, or jewellery and fruit…wth? Lol. We stopped for breakfast in one of the stands: noodle soup, yum! The lady that owns the stand came to take our order, Fia asked for a portion with no meat (she’s a veggie), while I said anything was fine for me. The lady looked back at me and said something like “pwakkabif?”…I couldn’t understand what she was saying so I just repeated “meat is good, ok meat”, and she repeated “I KNOOOOOW, PWAKKABIF?”… at that point Fia translated what I thought was Khmer to something I could understand: “pork of beef?”…lol
The soup was delicious…it finished way too fast, as all food… but it was really satisfying. We then went on a shopping spree for flip-flops, sunglasses, chillies,  fruit, t-shirts and all those things we couldn’t get our hands on while on the island… mostly food and snacks anyway :-P
[Holy crap we’re almost on Koh Rong already! I’ve been writing for over an hour!]
After going to the market we headed back home… both me and Fia had loads of stuff to do on the internet… we pretty much spent the rest of the afternoon checking emails and updating Facebook, until my eyes started to burn from too much screen time…at that point we decided it was time for our doctor-prescribed massage… right next door. Sihanoukville is full of massage places… you can really be anywhere in the city and always have one in your sights. They all look exactly the same and basically offer the kinds of massages… I seriously doubt they can all like solely on tourists, so I suppose Cambodians in general are really into their massages.
We were greeted by two “maidens” who gave us an initial feet scrub and we then moved upstairs where the real deal took place… full body massage… for a whole hour…for just 8$ (tea included). They spent way too much time on the lags in my opinion, which is why we decided to go for round two after dinner, specifically for neck and shoulders. We ended up staying in the second massage place almost until midnight…and on the way back home something dawned on Fia… the Eco Sea staff house usually got locked before 11pm… shit.
We hurried home hoping they had left it open for us, noticing we weren’t there, but sadly that was not the case. They had locked us out. We looked around for an open window or a way to climb up to the second floor but everything was barred or locked. We ended up trying to sleep in the back of the Eco Sea van, when suddenly the owner of the massage centre next door offered us to sleep on their futons… such a kind lady.   --- Score!  
So we spent the night sleeping in the massage centre… exactly as we were dreaming of while having the massage… … … be careful of what you wish for!!
The rest of the story is pretty obvious…woke up, breakfast, and hopped on the boat back to Koh Rong. Still, I feel like a lot has happened in less than 36 hours :-P
[We now switched to the boat for Koh Rong Sanloem, we’re almost home… I’m amazed at how time flew while writing…]
Gonna spend the next few days out of the water just to be on the safe side… we’ve got a lot of stuff we can do to improve the resort and  I still have to finish reading my Divemaster manual… not to speak about my mapping project… I definitely won’t have time to get bored.

mercoledì 4 settembre 2013

Catching up...

I’m sitting in the bar...doing nothing... I think it’s the first time I have a free afternoon in almost two weeks… It’s been a while since the last post and a lot has happened…first of all, my previous post mysteriously disappeared from my PC, so I’ll try to fill in the missing bits and pieces from memory…If I remember correctly the last time I wrote I was telling you how good the weather had been… well ofc after that we had a couple days of continuous, heavy rain… just because I called it.
I can’t remember precisely what we did during those days, probably just chilled in the restaurant drinking hot tea waiting for a dry moment to do a quick dive or two…The bad weather didn’t last too long though, the sun was out and shining again soon enough and we went back to our usual routine…

On one day (25th Aug), two American guys found their way to this deserted island: Brad and Shawn. We soon became good friends, especially after sharing a huge fish-based super dinner (caught and cooked by Pekadai and Susan, a local couple we met two or three weeks back), and enjoying a good bottle of wine, we even lit a bonfire and gazed at a beautiful starlit cloudless sky for over an hour before going to sleep… it was amazing…

Sadly, the next day Shawn had to leave to return to America… Brad instead decided to stay around a while longer…he was supposed to stay just for one more night, but he liked the place (and company) so much that he ended up staying for over a week! During this time we had another important arrival: on Thursday Luca (the Shallow Waters director) came to visit to introduce Owen (the new project leader) to the team… an important moment in Shallow Waters history! :-P
After lunch we decided it was an occasion to celebrate! We took the next day off and headed over to the neighbouring island: Koh Rong. Life there is radically different from Koh Rong Sanloem: the village is fairly developed and a lot more touristy… 2 o 3 dive centres and endless display of bars and guesthouses tightly packed on the main beach, right off the pier. We left our stuff at one of the guesthouses and headed to the bar next door to finally use some internet! First time after almost a month! Ofc it wasn’t working properly, super slow and barely enough to check my ema, that’s why I still haven’t posted anything on the blog yet.

Anyhow, that evening was memorable…very memorable… not just because of the amazing time we had and the great company, but for the epic unforgettable dinner! The Brave One! That’s how the ginormous burger I ate was named… a 4 layered humongous delicious enormity stuffed with meat, bacon, cheese, eggs, salad, tomatoes, peppers, onion and anything else that passed  front of Frank (the South African cook and owner) while he was making it. It was Superb to say the least. I almost had two but I withheld myself just for the sake of decency.

After dinner we stayed up late downing beers, swapping stories and meeting completely random people… culminating with finding ourselves at a bar called “Vagabonds”, lying down on a plastic mat on the beach, and having to rush home when it started to rain… what an unforgettable evening! Thank you so much Brad, Owen, Luca, David & Fia!
The next day was D-day for David…. Time to hop on the boat and go back to England and normal life… on the + side, he can go back to eating all the ice cream and bacon he desires! Lucky bastard. Fia, Owen, Brad and I headed back to Koh Rong Sanloem instead, with a looong week ahead of us. We started off with the Fish & Inverts lists I had learned just a couple weeks back, but this time I was teaching them! It felt a lot like being back in uni, but this time with no grade-related pressure :-P Sofia took on the coral and substrates list instead, since I felt I would benefit from hearing it once over before teaching it. Both Brad and Owen were really interested and they were surprised at how much more stuff you notice while diving when you know what you’re looking at! It’s like looking at the reef for the first time again.
The rest of the week was intense, but not just work… we managed to fit in a couple movie nights (with the usual cookies and snacks, obviously), and enjoy Brad’s and Owen’s company before they left on the following Sunday. Owen went back to Koh Sdach to start running the SW machine, while Brad made his way first to Portugal and then to Austria to start his internship in the wine making industry, lucky him!
It’s been only me and Fia for the last 3 days now, not many customers in the resort either… she’s amazing, super easy going and fun… I couldn’t wish for a better dive instructor/teacher/adventure buddy/movie night pal/faketella eater :-P
I think this is my longest post yet… It’s almost 18.15, time to get ready for our night dive! I’ll try to be more diligent with writing posts, I promise…

Until next time!