We got up at 6:30, Justin after good sleep, Crystal after intermittent. The view outside our room was nice, at least we could see the ocean, even if not "Ocean Front." We made our reservations for the whole trip (including the hotel) with Sam's Tours, a local tour operator specializing in diving, kayaking, and snorkel tours. We booked a week-long dive package, which included five days of diving (two dives per day, plus jellyfish lake snorkeling and a third dive one day). We also booked two days of kayaking/snorkeling as well, to mix things up.

We grabbed breakfast at the buffet. It was very nice, with a good mix of western and eastern breakfast items. For example, right next to the omelette station was an asian noodle soup station. We ate our breakfast looking out over the ocean, which was calm as could be. The beach was man-made - ironically the main islands where everyone lives have almost no beaches, whereas the Rock Islands have a number of beaches but are so small that no one lives there. Back in the room, while packing our dive bag and our dry bag, Justin turned on the TV and the NFC Championship was on. Right as we were leaving, Green Bay made a field goal to go up 19-7 and Justin said "game over."

We went to the dock where we were supposed to get picked up at 7:45. We waited and waited, and started to get worried as it approached 8. From the dock, we could see quite a few fish just from the dock - the visibility was all the way to the bottom. The boat did show up, and the ride to Sam's was only about five minutes, around and through some of the Rock Islands. [In the picture below, the path we meandered from the hotel to Sam's is drawn in red.] At Sam's, it was a bit of a zoo, with boats coming and going and people milling around everywhere. There was a TV in the bar area, and lots of people huddled around checking it out. Green Bay was kicking off, and it appeared they were still ahead. Turns out, they had just tied the game at 22-22, and Seattle had mounted a comeback out of nowhere while we were waiting for our boat to Sam's.

We went into the office to get checked in and to pay. One nice thing about Sam's is that the vast majority of the payment wasn't due until we showed up, so there was no need to get trip insurance, since if something had come up, we could have just cancelled the whole trip. While checking in, we heard a roar, and Justin stepped outside to look at the TV - Seattle had won the game on a long bomb in overtime. Sorry Mike. Once we paid for our trip, we went to the rental area and got sized for all of our gear (we had brought just mask, snorkel and fins - traveling light).

There were 8 people on our boat, 5 from Germany, Chris from San Francisco and 2 folks we can't recall. The boat ride out to the first dive site (Blue Holes) was about 50 minutes, with amazing scenery like Phang Nga Bay, only the islands kept going and going and going and the colors were even more vivid. About 75% of the way there, we went through this awesome channel with turquoise water and some exposed coral on both sides. The water everywhere was incredibly calm, almost as calm as West Java. Ironically, we stopped to dive at the first place all day there were any waves, a dive site called Blue Holes.

It also started raining just as we were putting our gear on, but since we were diving, it wasn't a big deal except for the fact the sun wasn't out. The "blue holes" are holes in the reef that go from the surface down 80 feet or so, and are visible from the air (the aerial photos are from later in the trip, but give context to where we are - the blue holes are in the lower left of the left picture above, and upper middle of the right picture above) and are very obvious below the surface as well. On the dive we saw a bunch of fish, but nothing particularly noteworthy (to us at least, but we don't know what's what). Justin was under-weighted and had to struggle to descend, and as a result went through his air really fast. He ended up breathing for awhile off the second regulator on our guide Michelle's tank so that the group didn't have to ascend early. We did see a reef shark on the ascent, but not very close (or clear).

We went to a nice beach nearby for lunch. Apparently, funds collected from the permit fees everyone has to pay gets used to put up (and maintain) a few dozen lunch locations around the rock islands that have tables, bathrooms, and (invariably) nice beaches. After eating, we wandered around the beach and saw a couple large groups of butterflies. They looked as if they were eating the new growth on one of the mangrove trees. After lunch, we went back to the nice channel we had traveled through that morning.

It's called German Channel, and is part natural and part manmade. In the pictures immediately above, the natural part of the channel is on the left-hand side and is wider and a bit curved, while the manmade part is on the right-hand side and much narrower. The Germans got tired of going around the area, and extended the natural channel with bombing a long time back. As we were mooring to dive there, the sun came out and it was even more gorgeous. Underneath the water there was lots of stuff, including one Manta Ray (albeit far away), which is one thing German Channel is famous for. We also saw several sharks. At one point, while hanging out and waiting for sea life to come to our group, we got got swarmed by a bunch of asian divers, which is unfortunately common. Huge tour groups come from China, Korea, Japan and have "less than stellar" certification credentials and no real idea of diving etiquette. Not that the two of us are long-time divers (hell, it was Justin's first day diving since being certified), but we have the good sense not to swim between a group of divers and the animals they are patiently watching.

After the dive, we took the boat back to Sam's, with more of the same scenery, but on a different route - the east side instead of the west. Back at Sam's, we washed our gear (they had separate rinse pools set up for gear and cameras) and then put our gear into crates (they looked like big milk carton crates), which stay at Sam's overnight.

Back at the hotel, we got cleaned up and checked on what happened in the NFL games (New England won by a lot in the second game), then went to the pool bar and hung out for awhile, then got some food. They had a lot of calamansi, and Crystal had a nice calamansi margarita. Justin tasted the calamansi and remarked "It tastes like ours, only sourer." Our calamansi is also variegated. Crystal said the bar area reminded her of Morondava, Justin said it reminded him of Bali. We're definitely lucky to have so many memories to pull from. We were very tired, but aimed to stay up until 8 to help avoid jet lag. We succeeded, and crashed a little before 9.