Monday, August 7, 2017

August 5 – Dive Day

We’ve had interesting set lists during the last three breakfasts here at the hotel. The first morning they played the “Happy Birthday” song, but they played ten different Asian versions of it and were still rolling out more as we left. Yesterday they played techno and house music at an uncomfortably high volume. This morning they must have found the Spotify “Saddest Instrumentals Ever” channel because I was nearly crying by the end of it, but part of that was because the breakfast sucked too.

Today was dive day so we were out of the hotel and at the dive shop by 7:15. Us and an Australian couple were picked up by a taxi and driven to the main port, which was a chaotic mess. It seemed that every single dive boat, tourist boat, fishing boat, ferry and cargo ship were trying to get loaded and out of there at the same time so it was a complete frenzy of activity, none of which looked particularly orchestrated.

We were lead over to one of the dive boats, and on initial inspection it looked pretty hideous. There was a thick ring of used tires hung by chains all around the sides acting as fenders. The boat was built of wood, and looked like it may have hit a few sea mines left behind during the war, and then repaired with rudimentary materials. Us and another 25 or 30 passengers were helped onto the boat and once loaded, we slowly chugged away, escaping the toxic diesel fumes that had been collecting at the dock and poisoning the air. The one reliable variable that is sure to bring the seasickness on is diesel fumes, so I dreaded the imminent barfarama. Fortunately, the seas were very calm so I didn’t notice anybody losing their breakfast.

We arrived at the dive site and the captain and crew tied us up to the long line of boats that were already there. In all, there were ten dive boats, each with 30 people aboard, so that meant 300 people diving and snorkeling in the same area. I didn’t have a good feeling about this. I was put into a group of divers and we received the dive briefing from the Divemaster, who was a young dude from the US. I have been diving for 20 years and have around 70 or 80 dives under my belt, but I haven’t done one for at least three years so I really paid attention to his instructions. I was happy to see that their equipment was almost brand new and they were very structured and professional getting everybody ready and into the water.

The first dive was okay. Just okay. We went to a maximum depth of 50 feet and covered some sandy area outside the coral banks, but didn’t see much. We then moved onto the coral and it was mostly dead, which has been our experience in other locations we’ve snorkeled at. Why is the coral dead? It’s a combination of local fishermen throwing their anchors haphazardly on the corals, divers getting too close and damaging it with their fins, possibly some climate change effects, and probably a bit of dynamite fishing by enthusiastic fishermen. It really makes you sad, especially when I remember back to the quality of the dives I had in Thailand 20 years ago when I first got my diving certification – it was magnificent. But when you are dropping 300 people a day on the same spot, it is inevitable that the reef will get damaged - it’s just too many people.

Our dive lasted 55 minutes and when I surfaced I pulled off my mask and unloaded two nostril cavities of mucus into the water. This is one of the disgusting side effects of diving – breathing dry air through your mouth only for nearly an hour causes an incredible amount of mucus to accumulate. As far as I know, it’s the only social gathering when you can farmer hanky your nose and nobody really minds.

The second dive and snorkeling was excellent. Although only a short ride away from the first site, the coral here was vibrant, alive, multi-coloured and swarmed by fish and creatures in every nook and cranny. Two of the more interesting fish I saw were a stone fish and a lion fish. There were huge boulders and canyons here and we got to swim through multiple caves that were eerie and full of fish. We hit a maximum depth of 60 feet and stayed down for 50 minutes. There was only one other diver in my group and we didn’t run into many other divers until the end of the dive as the site itself was very large. Ana and the kids said the snorkeling was fantastic and they saw all sorts of fish including a puffer fish.

We got back onboard and the crew helped me remove all the diving gear and they packed it away, leaving us to grab a beer and sit back and enjoy the sunshine. Although the boat didn’t look like much on the exterior, it really was a good dive boat is it had plenty of space, non-slippery wooden floors, a washroom, and reasonably comfortable seating. On the way back to the harbor I cracked out a cigar and sat on the back of the boat with my feet dangling in the water enjoying the view and having a chat with our Divemaster about his diving experiences in the region and beyond.

Once we returned to the dock we were mini-bussed back to the centre and we stopped at a restaurant for drinks and a cool down. The temperature here has been in the 35 to 37 range so those Asian butt sweats were at an all-time high. Since we were leaving today we had to check out of our room before we left for diving, and we just left our luggage at reception, which meant we had to keep ourselves busy for a few hours until the scheduled bus departure at 6:30pm. We walked down to the beach, spread out our towels and enjoyed our remaining time in Nha Trang swimming in the ocean and watching the many people enjoying the beach and beautifully warm ocean.

The majority of the tourists here are Russians, and they are so easy to spot. To begin with, they never smile or laugh. In fact, when you pass them on the street they look as if they are about to punch you in the face – women and men. Russian tourists are split into two categories – Young and Old. Young Russians are generally tall and slim and they nearly all have striking blue eyes and are quite attractive. The men are so similar it is actually funny. They all have identical brush cuts, strong builds, wear thick gold or silver chains around their necks (often with a large medallion), and appear enraged. Also, they all wear speedos, or similar types of, form-fitting, snug, banana hammock trunks. I myself do wear a gold chain, and if I was a bit taller, a bit stockier, and much less happy I could almost be mistaken for a Russian - except that I’m not gifted with the abnormal testicular mass required to showcase that particular choice of beachwear.

The Old Russians are different. Yes, the men still wear the genital clutching swimmers, but they have enormous beer bellies, are mostly bald, and nearly always have a large wife and two skinny blued eyed kids trailing behind them. And they all look like they are called Boris. They never speak English, and they never smile, but they do look slightly less likely than the young ones to launch an unprovoked attack on you as you pass them on the beach.

The whole thing is quite strange, because the Russians I know in Canada are extremely friendly, happy, smiley and would never punch me in the face. Maybe they get happier when they leave Russia? Or maybe it’s just a tourist thing? I may never know…

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