First, let me preface this report with a disclaimer that your trip results may vary as I cannot imagine replicating this overwhelmingly perfect dive trip. Even the dive masters on the Carpe Vita remarked that we seemed to have an extra helping of awesomeness throughout the week we spent with them and that not every itinerary is able to do the same sites that we experienced. With that said, here we go….
As stated in the paperwork from Carpe Vita, members from the Carpe Vita crew and ownership met the group of us surrounding the airport information desk promptly at 2:30pm on Sunday. We were escorted to what would be our dive dhoni for the rest of the week for the short commute to the magnificent Carpe Vita, our home away from home. I'm sure there are "proper" terms that should be used when discussing boats and such, but bear with me when I just say, "Wow, what a pretty boat."
All gear and bags were brought to the stern of the Carpe Vita where we identified them and sorted out dive gear from clothes, etc and from then on, the gear was on the dhoni and not touched again unless it was time to gear up and jump in for a dive. Each diver had a personal tote that was kept under his dive station where all equipment was stored between dives and ready to go when you were. No lugging of anything other than a water bottle, towel and various pieces of camera or electronic equipment that needed to be charged between dives.
All divers gathered in the galley for a welcome greeting from Agnes, Carpe Vita's owner, given paperwork to complete and a rundown of what was to come. The galley became a base camp of sorts for each pre-dive briefing, downloading videos and photos,using the Wi-Fi, which was surprisingly fast and reliable, and grabbing a snack or a drink between dives. It was spacious and well-appointed, plenty of comfortable seating for all well without being squished together.
The rundown was basically our schedule for the week would be: cold breakfast, DIVE, cooked breakfast, DIVE, lunch, DIVE, snack, DIVE, dinner rinse, repeat. A bell was rung indicating that we were either about to eat or dive basically if we were already wet, time to eat if we were dry, time to dive. Pavlov would have been proud at how quickly we learned where to be.
We also met our dive masters, Valho, Panda, Dempey and Hussain. Each of the DMs were quick to smile, friendly and overly nice. I was with Panda for the week and he was extra awesome to me, making sure I saw everything and he found SO much tiny stuff bubble shrimp, dragon shrimp, coral shrimp, teensy coral crabs as well as halimeda ghost pipe fish, fancy ghost pipe fish, frog fish,dozens of nudibranchs, octopus, a huge zebra eel (that was awesome), all while keeping track of divers of various skill levels.
Ok so the diving: Sunday was a checkout dive, you know the drill, so-so site, don't kill yourself or anyone else and then we'll start the real stuff. Well, for a checkout dive, it was still pretty nice. We were all required to shoot a bag to make sure we still had the skills some didn't LOL holy cow, who knew there were so many ways to wrap a string around your body that was as much fun to watch as the dive itself. Anyway, everyone made it back to the boat and it was time for food more about that later.
Monday brought us to some real diving. Some of the most beautiful table coral I've everseen, I mean as far as the eye could see it was table coral and so much life! Big schools of fish, at one pointI was part of a bait ball, so amazing! It was fish soup and I was in heaven. Then if that wasn't enough, here come the turtles who could care less that we were there and snapping photos and videos within inches of them. And the walls were equally beautiful, so much to look at eels peering out from their homes, lionfish where they are supposed to be, cleaner shrimp, nudibranchs, frog fish and so much more. Soft corals, hard corals, gorgonian fans, truly a diver's paradise at least this diver's idea of paradise, anyway. This experience was repeated throughout the week, there just wasn't a "bad" dive site. So many fish and such healthy reefs and absolutely beautiful topography…...sigh.
For one of the afternoon dives we used reef hooks and it wasmy first rodeo what an experience. I've dealt with currents but I wasn't understanding the concept and it didn't help that my hook wasn't cooperating; every few minutes I'd come unhooked and Whoa!Nelly! It was an experience that I wasn't really looking forward to repeating the only thing that made it worth the stress and nearly a full tank of air were the sharks playing in the same current. It did make me feel a little better that they seemed just as surprised at the fast flow they'd get to the corner and whoosh get swept back a few yards. I'm sure this was play time for them, but nonetheless, it kept me amused.
Tuesday Nice morning and afternoon dives and then the big event, the Manta Ray Night Dive! When the boat was anchored, the crew turned on a big, bright light on the back of the boat and set up lawn chairs which had some people thinking that we weren't going to get in the water, but no, it was for the pre-dive manta show. As if on cue, the Mantas came up to the back of the boat and started their barrel rolls and fly-bys just to give everyone a taste of what was to come after dinner. Surprisingly, people claimed they weren't really hungry and were ready to just dive patience my friends so, dinner it was and then an enthused group jumped in the water in buddy-pairs, were guided to the "stage" and then the show began! I have been treated to Manta Night dives in Hawaii on several occasions so I knew what to expect but it's still a thrill to have them so close and coming directly at you when they adjust ever so slightly so that you aren't touched. The only trace of their presence is the rush of water/pressure that you feel as they "fly" over your head. Even when they cruise directly in front of you, perpendicular to your body and their wings are coming directly at your head, a slight tilt of the wing tip and swoosh, there it goes, no harm, no foul. Breathtaking. Many of the divers had not had this experience before and were left in awe wondering just how we could ever top this. Ah but we did….
Wednesday Manta Ray cleaning stations were on the itinerary for the day because we just didn't get enough last night. We headed out to a known cleaning station,but the Mantas were apparently sleeping in. After fifteen minutes or so of no activity, we headed out for a regular dive. Back to the boat, breakfast and then off to Moofushi Rock another known cleaning station and we weren't disappointed this time! A flurry of activity announced the presence of three mantas circling overhead. We took our places and the show began, well at least for some ofus. I was behind a wall of blue-striped snappers that would shift positions to block my view as soon as the mantas came anywhere near me. It was pretty comical,really. After a while, I gave up and started to look around at everything but them and the mantas little eel that was awfully close to me, and a bunch of little fishes checking me out, etc. Back to the boat and lunch and then we returned to Moofushi where I was treatedto the best seat in the house! I guess a little pouting from the first dive paid off. Fourth dive was a night dive that I wish we could have done earlier inthe day just because the area looked good at night but it would have beenanother amazing wall dive with a table coral safety stop. Dinner that night was a beach BBQ served on our own private island. Decorations for the evening included whaleshark sand sculptures so that we could definitely say we saw a whaleshark, regardless of how the next day would turn out when we went in search of them.
Thursday Hammerhead morning dive zilch. But spotted eagle rays on the way back to the reef and then lots of white tips and octopus and schools of fish over the reef. Then it was off in search of a whaleshark… YEEHAW! But don't get our hopes up because we had a 50/50 chance. They don't always see them, but they do try and will cruise for quite awhile to make sure they don't miss an opportunity. Well, we set off with expectations on simmer but excitement on high; about ten minutes in WHALESHARK! And not just one, but FOUR!
The plan was to take eight snorkelers out at a time, drop them off and keep making drops until everyone was ready to stop with the snorkeling and start diving. What a hoot! Dropped in a hundred yards in front of the big guy, swim like a madwoman for a few minutes trying to keep up with a whaleshark that was barely moving his tail, but what a thrill. It was my first time to see a whaleshark up close and in person, such a priceless memory. After a few more jumps in and out of the little skiff everyone was pretty done and ready to dive. As luck would have it, we didn't scare them off and were able to dive with one for a few minutes before he was out of sight. As we continued the dive another came along from the other direction, what a treat! Surely this was going to be the highlight of the trip and wouldn't be surpassed, right? Nope… but first,another reef hook dive.
This time I was prepared and rocked it. Placement is everything, both where the hook is set and viewing spot. White tips and greys just a few feet away and playing in the current, even got to see one have some lunch! After twenty minutes or so, we unhooked and went flying! Woohoo! When we finally got away from the strongest flow, we did our safety stop among some great topography and saw eels, lobster, schools of batfish, and a huge Napoleon Wrasse.
Friday We started out the day with two more lovely morning dives with walls and swimthroughs with nudibranchs and the most amazing and beautiful anemones of all different colors, soft corals and safety stops above plate coral where turtles were happily feeding and lazing about. Back to the boat, lunch and another reef hook dive in a channel where, again, the white tips did not disappoint. Then it was time for dinner and our final night dive briefing where we were told we would be using reef hooks on a night dive? You gotta be kidding. Well, it wasn't because the current would be rippin', it was to keep us in place to watch the action. Oh and what action there was!
We were taken to the end of a hotel dock where they used to do shark feedings and apparently the nurse sharks have long memories because they keep coming back for more. So, there we were in our familiar circle of divers now hooked in the rocks to watch large, 8-10 foot nurse sharks and rays that were easily 3-4 feet across and amber jacks that would have fed a family swimming around us, I swear I could see the nurse sharks sniffing the ground like puppies, looking for food. While our dive masters didn't feed them, I found out later that what they were doing when they entered the "arena" was putting fish blood on the rock where the action was taking place. It was amazing. As I was hooked in, the current and surge (not much but hey, it's the ocean, water moves) kept me swaying and occasionally I would bump into what I thought was the diver next to me until I looked over and a shark was swimming between us SO COOL!! The rays would get into the action,too. One of the large rays would swim up the rock where I was hooked and skim along until he ran into my line and then rub up against it, trying to figure out what the heck was in his way, give up and swirl around, rubbing up against me LOVED IT! He felt like velvet I could have done this dive for days, just keep throwing me tanks. Finally, we were instructed to begin our safety stop at the next level and there were more sharks and rays there as well, so the entertainment continued.
Saturday and our last day on the boat, nobody wanted to getin the water as it would signal the end of our trip. After the second dive, many of our groupclimbed up on top of the dhoni and cannonballed into the ocean as a fondfarewell. Playing like a bunch of kids,dive masters, crew all the divers, what a great memory and a fun way to end whatwas an absolutely spectacular trip.
If you are still reading, sorry for the lengthy report, itwas just so good it's hard to give you a Reader's Digest version. All I can say is I would do it again in aheartbeat, the only thing I would change is to make sure it's 10-days insteadof just seven.
Thanks Kamala for allyour help in making this happen.
Edited by Sqbagal, 22 May 2014 - 11:51 AM.