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January 2014    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 29, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Travel Tips & Helpful Dive Hints: Part I

how to avoid cockroaches, cyclones and a lack of local currency

from the January, 2014 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

This year's Chapbook for Travelin' Divers, sent to you last month, is chock full of great information. You can download it, read it online or even order a printed copy at our cost by going to www.undercurrent.org . Of course, I read every entry (editing none of them, although a couple didn't make the cut). I noticed a number of themes, incidents and tips that would be useful if bundled and described. So here is the first installment of a number of ideas that will surely make your travels less stressful and more fun.

Mosquitos, No-see-ums, Cockroaches, Rats and Mice

When you're in the tropics, a lot of critters will be right by your side. In Africa and the Indo-Pacific regions, one will find malaria-carrying mosquitoes, so it's wise to use a prophylaxis. In those areas, one only sees a few mosquitoes, but it takes only one to inject malaria. Then there is the Caribbean: sand fleas in the Bahamas, no-see-ums in Honduras and Belize. These pests ruined a couple of my trips when I was young and stupid, falling asleep on the beach or drinking at the bar, and ignoring the welts.

Stephen Anania (Hopewell Junction, N.Y.) was at Laguna Beach Resort on Utila in October and wrote that the no-see-ums were horrible. "We got eaten alive a few times, mainly during the last 10 minutes waiting at the dock for the plane back to Roatan. The only thing to keep them at bay appears to be baby oil."

Rebecca Middleton, snorkeling at CoCo View on Roatan says, "I was eaten by the sand fleas, but that is just me. They say it is my negative blood. No one else in my party got bitten like I did. Nurse Andrea has created a bug spray that works well as a deterrent and an after-bite spray. My husband never got one bite."

Some people swear by a number of non-toxic sprays, but when Consumer Reports and even the U.S. Army test bug sprays, they invariably find that a spray with at least 25 percent DEET works far better than anything. I have always used 100-percent DEET concentrate and still live to write; however, I don't use it for weeks at a time, which is the rule.

In the tropics, one has to learn to live with critters; rats and mice scurry around, especially at night, and cockroaches are ubiquitous. Years ago in Belize, a cockroach nibbled away at -- and destroyed -- the seal on my mask (the dive operator swore it was a roach) and at Indonesia's Kungkungan Bay Resort, Ann McGrath (Alexandria, VA) reported that one of her diving friends left her silicone mask outside overnight in a mesh bag. Next morning, the mask was badly chewed, probably by a rat, based on the teeth marks. The mask had just enough skirt left to be usable, which was a good thing, as it was a prescription mask and McGrath's pal didn't have a backup. Of course, "There's a Cockroach in My Regulator" is a true story, one of many in my book of Undercurrent tales, which you can buy at www.undercurrent.org

Leave your traveler's checks at home. No one
wants them -- not restaurants, not resorts.
One reader found out in the Philippines
that banks don't even exchange them.

Cyclone Season

Smart North American divers are savvy about hurricane season, and make their travel plans with the June-November window in mind. The bigger blows tend to come in September and October, which makes trips to the Caymans, Belize, Cozumel and the Bahamas more risky. During that time of year, many divers steer farther south to Bonaire and Tobago, which are below the hurricane belt. But what about typhoon season in the South Pacific? In reading reports over the years from fellow divers who head to the Philippines and other South Pacific destinations, it seems they often don't consider the risk of cyclones, which usually develop May to October (although the big 2013 hit of Typhoon Haiyan was in November, so the season now seems extended).

In November, Linda Rutherford (Montara, CA) was at Crystal Blue Resort in Anilao, Philippines, and reports that "the 'super-typhoon' just passed by yesterday. The typhoon went south of us, and we are on the west coast, not the east, where they got a direct hit with 200-mile-an-hour winds. Due to heavy rain for 24 hours yesterday, we skipped diving. After that, our guide selected spots that would be least likely to have rain-runoff, the tiny offshore islands . . . The best time to go to the Philippines is said to be in April and May. November is described as the second best time to go (July to October are rainy) but based on this typhoon, you should avoid early November here."

In researching your trips, consider the damage recent typhoons have wrought. In Fiji, Mark Rosenstein (Cambridge, MA), was on board the Nai'a in October and notes, "A typhoon went through Fiji last spring and damaged the coral in some shallow sites. Yet six months later, there is already visible regrowth and hope that in a couple of years most of these pinnacle tops and shallow coral gardens will have complete coverage. No worry, there are still plenty of places that look great." One advantage of a liveaboard over a resort: you can get to undamaged sites.

Dan Clements (Everett, WA), who visited Atlantis Dive Resorts in the Philippines last June, months before Haiyan hit, writes, "The typhoons of 2011 and 2012 have significantly impacted the local reefs. The critters are there, but not near the abundance of Anilao. While corals are dead at the house reef and adjacent coast, they are quite good at Apo Island, one of the dive sites I visited."

Doug Swalen (Los Gatos, CA), who dived with Sam's Tours on Palau last March, says, "I had been to Palau twice before, but I had unfinished business, having missed some of the best parts. A week after I booked the trip, I found out about Typhoon Bopha, which hit Palau in near-miss fashion back in December. In this sport, timing is everything, and I happened to land when Palau was at the early stages of a storm front that stretched clear back to the Marshall Islands. This translated into seven out of eight days of partial to completely overcast skies, higher than normal winds, and more rain than I had seen there previously . . . The bad news: The eastern reefs of Palau got hammered by Bopha. Want to dive Short Drop Off? Trashed. Ngerchong Inside and Ngerchong Outside? Wrecked. Peleliu's Yellow Wall? Hammered. Now the good news. Short Drop Off and Ngerchong are considered several cuts below Palau's best dive sites, and Palau's Crown Jewels escaped relatively unscathed . . . Palau's president wants to increase tourism and bring in high rollers. His solution? Get someone to build a five-star hotel and a golf course. In 80 percent humidity, 85-plus degrees and rains-a-lot Palau? Good luck with that. If he wants to bring in more people, he needs to talk to United about their now-extortion-level airfare."

Money

While you can surely get around your hometown with a credit card and spare change, a lot of dive destinations are not so simple. Leave your traveler's checks at home. No one wants them -- not resorts, not restaurants, not people. As Eldon Okazaki (Sunnyvale, CA) found out in the Philippines, they're useless. "Banks do not even exchange them."

If you hit an ATM every time you need cash at home, don't expect to find that convenient little machine in the more remote spots. If you're on a liveaboard -- and searching for cash for a tip -- well, there are no ATMs. Once, I tried using traveler's checks for a tip, but was politely informed that it's nearly impossible for someone to cash a traveler's check with a second signature.

So, cash is king, and you'll sometimes be surprised where you need it -- and in local currency. In October, Michael J. Millet (Dublin, CA) traveled to Patuno Resort in the Indonesian province of Wakatobi and says "Lion/Wing Air charged from $1.25 to $2 for each extra kilogram. The airline does not take credit cards or U.S. dollars."

But there is often a cash discount, which you might get just if you ask. Sandy Falen (Topeka, KS), who visited Two Fish Divers in Indonesia's North Sulawesi province in May, says, "I made my arrangements through the Two Fish website, and found them responsive and helpful. You can save some money if you're willing to carry cash to pay the balance of your bill, because that eliminates the 5 percent up-charge for using your credit card."

But this boils down to the question: For a $1,000 charge, would you rather pay the full amount and not bother to carry cash? If you use an ATM, the fees might eat up the savings. And if you have inspected your credit card statement after returning from an overseas trip, you may notice some nasty fees for using it abroad. If you're a frequent traveler, look for a card that doesn't add those charges, such as some American Express cards, including the pricey but benefit-rich Platinum.

-- Ben Davison

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