Guest Post: DC Dives Redang – First Stage

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After much nagging, I finally persuaded DC to do a guest blog. Let’s see what diving’s like from a different perspective! – WS

We decided to go diving a bit closer to home. We’d heard good things about Pulau Redang and decided to give it a try, and scheduled a five-day holiday to dive there. Just for a change, we decided to fly to Pulau Redang instead of taking the usual overland route. The plane, an old De Havilland propellar plane, leaves from Seletar airport and flies directly to the brand new airstrip at Redang. Needless to say, the thought of flying in an old prop plane raised some rather interesting risk analysis over whether flying was more dangerous than Malaysia’s notoriously unpredictable roads. This wasn’t helped by a thunderstorm that delayed the take-off of the plane by one hour!

plane

However, once we got over the extra bumpiness of the flight and the strange noise of the propeller blades, we managed to get quite comfortable and true to form, we were soon fast asleep and only woke up when we landed at Redang airport. The airport itself is brand new, so brand new in fact that the mandatory fire station wasn’t ready yet. The good news about was that immigration was very fast, given that there was next to no airport building.

From the airport, we caught a quick taxi ride and speedboat to the resort. RedangKalong resort is a PADI 5-star resort with a private beach. The chalets are basic but clean and have hot running water and air-conditioning. The management, headed by A.B. Lee and his brother Tim, are living legends in the Malaysian diving community.

Resort

Once we were there, we settled in for the night and woke up the next morning for our first dive. Being as it was my first dive since my open water exam 5 years ago, I was feeling understandably nervous. However, I was in good hands (my three other diving buddies consisted of two instructors and a rescue diver) and I was soon comfortable in the water. We were soon greeted by the magnificent sight of a school of bumphead parrotfish leaving their nighttime perches to feed.

bumphead

Each parrotfish was about 2 to 3 feet long. It was totally awesome to see them glide slowly and regally through the water. It was like watching a royal procession.

Shortly after that, we came across the resident nurse shark in its cave…

nurse shark

… as well as a school of juvenile chevron barracuda.

school of barracuda

It was a fine start to the holiday. So fine, in fact, that I decided that I just had to do my advanced diving course.

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April in The Philippines: Long Trek to Clark (Kids, don’t try this at home)

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You know what they say about always trusting what you hear on the ground and that your guesthouse is the most reliable info source? Well, it’s not always right that I can tell you. Thanks to my guesthouse, I probably took the longest route ever to get to Clark airport for my flight out of The Philippines. I guess it turned out pretty cheap, but I sure would’ve paid the extra needed for a direct bus there.

This is what happened: I checked out at the ungodly hour of 5.30am and hopped into a cab to take me to Pasay Bus Terminal. There, I caught the onward bus to Dau. It was a pretty uneventful trip as it was an airconditioned and not very crowded coach. It was only when I got off the coach that I discovered to my horror that (a)  I still had to navigate past the gate of Clark Freeport Zone to get into the airport and (b) the trike ride from Dau would only take me to the gate. The 5 minute trike ride of less than 1km cost me 50 PHP (S$1.50). Feeling stiffed, I stood uncertainly at the gate of the Freeport Zone trying to figure out how to get inside without spending the last of my reserves on a taxi (200 PHP) and getting stranded for not having the local currency to pay my airport tax.

A couple of jeepney drivers offered to take me and my dive gear (it was a huge bag) into the complex for 180 PHP. I refused and decided to try my luck with a bit of crying. The stress of the journey and the early morning start helped. Soon enough, another jeepney driver came up to me, telling me he could take me into the Zone somewhere close to the airport for 20 PHP, but I’d have to walk to the gate myself. Wiping away my tears and thanking my lucky stars, I climbed into the front seat of the jeepney (a rare privilege), waited for it to fill up with people and we were off!

The Zone was rather large, and to my surprise (doh!), more people wanted to get to other parts of the Zone than the airport. I was set down about 5 minutes later in a fairly deserted area about 500m away from the airport. There wasn’t anyone around except the odd security guard patrolling the odd gate. They all smiled at me and pointed me in the right direction. Given the dive bag that was almost size, it was pretty obvious which direction I was heading. One of the guards even introduced himself and we had a little chat. Another one motioned to me that I had to jumped across a drain at the narrow part if not I’ll be stuck and not get to the terminal! It’s amazing how friendly they all were to an odd stranger.

After a pretty long and sweaty trek in the hot sun, I finally reached the airport gates! After showing my passport to the guards, I fairly stumbled to the cool of the waiting area outside. A chat with the locals made me realise that I was quoted the right prices, and even the lowest possible prices. They were amazed that I trekked in to the airport.

After taking a cab, a bus, a trike and a jeepney, then going on foot, I hopped on the plane and sank into the comfy seats, secure in the knowledge that Noid was picking me up in her car on the other side.

[post script: I later found out that there were scheduled buses leaving from SM Mega Mall to Clark Airport. Le sigh.]



April in the Philippines: The World’s Smallest Airport

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The landing at El Nido was very smooth. The plane coasted across a strip of sea polka-dotted with giant white jellyfish, and dipped down onto a runway flanked by two low hill ranges. I should have expected it, but the sheer (lack 0f) size of the airport stunned me.

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Everything was done manually because it was so darn small, from the steps for passengers to get on and off to the baggage cart. Incidentally, I was the only one getting off the plane and I offered to carry my own bag to the arrival hall but I was waved away with cheerful grins. I then trotted off to the arrival/departure hall.

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It really was more open-air shack than airport hall. Low benches were the departure/arrival area. The check-in counter was but a rostrum with a manual weighing scale next to it. Both were covered with plastic canvas once check-in was done. It was lovely and relaxed chatting with the departing passengers, mostly western tourists. We exclaimed at how quaint and dinky the airport set up was.

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Of course this wasn’t quite the whole airport. The VIP lounge was at the back. In reality just a hammock strung between two tree trunks. Much of the time airport staff used it for their siesta.

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I gather that this here is the side gate of the airport. I don’t know where the meandering path goes to but it sure looks pretty.

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Seeing that there wasn’t a road in sight, I worriedly asked the friendly folks manning the counter how I could get to El Nido town. No problem was the answer: I’d just wait till the plane took off and then they’d open the runway gate. A trike soon came rumbling in and I was off on the next part of my journey!