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Diving in Yap, Micronesia

AdventurePosted by Jean Dar Sun, January 08, 2017 14:09:02

Yap - Stone money islands

Yap lays northeast of Palau and is a quite a different place. The capital Colonia is really a village and not a big one either, with only one resort/hotel that can offer a complete accommodation, meal, diving and spa experience. This is the Manta Ray Bay Resort. I found it out by staying at another resort that couldn't deliver a complete package for me. Colonia is a sleepy, chilled-out and calm place with not more to offer than diving.

Yap is one of four states in the Federate States of Micronesia, the other three are Chuuk (that I will be visiting shortly), Pohnpei and Kosrae. The different islands I have visited in the Philippines and Micronesia so far, have all been different from the others. And I'm not surprised considering the great distances between these islands. Yap is more traditional and perhaps conservative than all the rest in Micronesia. My first two photos are from 1 January, showing two traditional Yapese houses above and stone money below.

The stone money, also called Rai, is typically found in Yap. And while the monetary system of Yap appears to use these giant stones as tokens, it relies on an oral history of ownership. Being too large to move, buying an item with these stones is as easy as saying it no longer belongs to you. As long as the transaction is recorded in the oral history, it will be owned by the person you passed it on to, no physical movement of the stone is required. These Rai stones were quarried on several islands in Micronesia and transported to Yap.

On 2 January I had my first dive in Yap, captured in my photo above. This photo is from a dive site called Vertigo, a huge drop-off into deeper waters and incredible visibility that goes beyond 50 meters. Its easy to spot the approaching sharks with visibility as good as this, and there are three of them in my photo, but there were more than that present. The main difference between diving in Yap and Palau, is you don't have as many dive boats and divers as in Palau, resulting in a more relaxed and personal dive experience.

Another benefit is that accommodation is less pricey in Yap then neighbouring Palau, and the diving is at the same high level. My photo above is from 2 Janauary and pictures the unspoiled coral reef at Vertigo, with a black tip shark cruising the reef. I and my divemaster were the only two divers in the water at Vertigo when this photo was taken. It was really as relaxed and pleasant as the picture is. All in all, I saw three different spieces of sharks on this dive, Grey Reef Sharks, Black-tips and also a White-tip, and a lot of other fishes.

Yap offers equally spectacular diving as Palau, and without the crowds and also cheaper accommodation, about half of it in fact! You got the sharks, mantas, reefs with soft and hard corals, multitude of fishes to watch once you stick your head below the surface. Yap is as mentioned a sleepy place and the only this one can do here is dive, dive and dive some more. I also believe Manta Ray Bay is the best resort in Colonia, giving you most value for money.

- I'm currently in Saipan trying to organise some scuba and freediving.

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Diving in Palau, Micronesia

AdventurePosted by Jean Dar Fri, January 06, 2017 14:08:00

One of the absolute best dive locations in the world!

After spending another night in Cebu City, I was heading for Palau via Manila on 27 December 2016. A typhoon had just hit Luzon and bad weather followed for a couple of days, meaning my flight from Manila to Palau was delayed for four hours. As I finally got to Palau in the early hours of 28 December I was so tired that the first day had to be a rest day, and no diving or other activities were carried out. I did manage to arrange diving the following two days and made in total six dives at five locations in Palau.

I arranged my dives through the resort I was staying at, with a Chinese dive operator. The first plunge alone told me that Palau got some serious top end dive locations! My photo above is from that first dive, picturing me getting to the bottom of a blue hole called the Virgin Blue Hole on 29 December 2016. At a depth just shy of 30m at the very bottom of this blue hole, I and the rest made our way out through the exit which is at some 25m depth, while the entrance is clearly seen above me.

Small fishes, big fishes, sea turtles, spotted rays, hard and soft corals and a lot more is available in Palau. Various dive sites might often have different animals and corals depending on currents, depth etc. My photo of the Grey Reef Shark above is from my second dive in Palau at the famous Blue Corner. This location of the reef is famous for the amount of fishes found here, and got plenty of hard corals too. The current at Blue Corner was really strong when I took the photo above on 29 December 2016.

If Blue Corner is a must if you want to see Gray Reef Sharks up close, then the German Channel is a must if you want to see Manta Rays. Parts of the sea floor is sand here, so all you have to do is get down and wait for the Mantas to fly past you! The German Channel is a cleaning station where the Mantas come to get cleaned by smaller fishes, so its important to stay put on the sea floor and not disturb the cleaning fishes or Mantas, which may prevent the Mantas from coming there. My photo above is from 30 December 2016.

My photo above is from 30 December 2016, picturing a Red Lionfish close to Blue Corner. Lionfish venomous dorsal spines are used purely for defense and when threatened, the fish often faces its attacker in an upside-down posture which brings its spines to bear. However, its sting is usually not fatal to humans. So keeping some distance to it while taking photos or filming is recommended. Palau is a fascinating place to go diving at, offering something for everyone, at a cost of course.

Palau ranks as one of the absolute top diving locations in the world. It has got plenty of spectacular diving possibilities, covering from large pelagics to World War II wrecks and land installation. The only down side is the price tag for visiting Palau, I payed US$ 1.300 for five nights accommodation alone. The diving, all food and transport was added to it, making it the most expensive five days on any of my trips! I'm glad I did go to Palau diving, but I'm not sure I'll do it again due to the costs involved.

- I went to Yap after Palau and am now in Guam, heading for Saipan tomorrow.

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Best of South Africa & Namibia (18)

AdventurePosted by Jean Dar Thu, December 31, 2015 22:44:58

Skydiving - Skeleton Coast - Spitzkoppe - Himba People

The Best of South Africa & Namibia travel project continues as planned, and only three days remains of the Namibian leg of it. Still to come after this Namibian tour ends, is my three days at the Kruger Park in South Africa, where I will be heading on 5 January.

Imagine watching the rollers of the Atlantic Ocean crash into the Namib desert from 3,300 meters, and also being able to see both Swakopmund and Walvis Bay at the same time. That's what I got to do skydiving two days ago, on 29 December, as seen on the photo above. Needless to say that it was awesome!

The Bushmen called it The Land God Made in Anger and the Portuguese knew it as The Gates of Hell. Ever since European navigators first discovered the Skeleton Coast, ships have wrecked on it's off-shore rocks, or run aground in the blinding fog. My photo above is from the southern strip of this infamous coast, on 30 December.

The Spitzkoppe in Namibia is also known as the Matterhorn of Namibia, and rises to 1,784m above sea level. This granite mountain is more than 120 million years old and there are several mythical stories about it and the men who tried to climb it in colonial days. My photo above pictures it when we are setting camp to the bottom right in it.

The Himba people are indigenous people with an estimated population of about 50,000 people living in Kaokoland, northern Namibia. I got to meet the Himba People today for an hour or so, and got to see how some of the villages are organized to be visited by foreigners and tourists.

- I figure my next post will be while I'm in Windhoek, before going to the Kruger Park in South Africa. And Happy New Year 2016!

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Best of South Africa & Namibia (16)

AdventurePosted by Jean Dar Tue, December 22, 2015 19:17:19

The Two Oceans Aquarium

Needless to say that my shoulder injury caused me a lot of disappointment, mainly because all of the planned scuba and freediving with blue, mako and sevengill sharks had to be cancelled, and me recuperating in Simon's Town instead.

However, today was the last day possible for a dive here in Cape Town, South Africa, since I will be going on a two week long camping tour to Namibia, starting tomorrow.

The Two Oceans Aquarium is located at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town, South Africa. The aquarium was opened on 13 November 1995 and comprises seven exhibition galleries with large viewing windows. The enchantment of this particular aquarium is due to its location, where the Indian and Atlantic ocean meet.

The sharks in this aquarium are sand tiger sharks, also known as sand sharks, gray nurse sharks or spotted ragged-toothed sharks, and they have a deceivingly ferocious look, with a mouthful of sharp teeth that protrude in all directions, even when the mouth is shut. Despite this, they are a docile, non-aggressive species, known to attack humans only when bothered first.

The sand tiger shark is a large, coastal shark, occurring in most subtropical and warm temperate oceans, except for the eastern pacific. It produces only two large pups per litter, and as a result, annual rates of population increase are very low, greatly reducing its ability to sustain fishing pressure. Populations in several locations have been severely depleted by commercial fishing, spearfishing and protective beach meshing, requiring the introduction of specific management measures.

- I'll be starting the camping tour tomorrow from Cape Town, through Namibia and ending in Windhoek on 4 January 2016.

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Best of South Africa & Namibia (13)

AdventurePosted by Jean Dar Tue, December 15, 2015 19:46:46

Paragliding from Lion's Head

This was the first activity on this trip that was totally weather dependant. And at first it looked like a 50/50 chance to go paragliding today, being cloudy and with the wind direction changing all the time here in Cape Town, South Africa.

It took two full hours before the flight could take place, and not from Signal Hill as first planned, but from Lion's Head instead. During those two hours me and my pilot, Carlos from Venezuela, headed back and forth between Signal Hill and Lion's Head twice in order to get the right winds for paragliding over Cape Town.

The wind did cause some major problems for us first attempting a flight from Lion's Head. We actually crashed into trees and bushes just after start, when a powerful wind totally blew us out of control. Lion's Head is to the right in the background in my photo above.

Nevertheless, we were both fine with only minor scrapes and had managed to avoid injuries by not hitting some big rocks only some decimeters away. Carlos sorted out the chute and we got back up to the starting point again.

Once being airborn again, and staying that way, the flight was very enjoyable to say the least. At first we gained hight on the west side of Lion's Head and staying pretty close to the mountain wall here.

On the west side of Lion's Head is where the wind gets pressed upwards against the steep wall of Lion's Head. For a few minutes we stayed here gaining some serious altitude. My photo above shows what stunning views this flight included.

I have gone paragliding before, but I must say this was without a doubt the windiest and highest so far! Also, Carlos took me for a spin, actually several sharp turns over the Atlantic shoreline, as seen on my photo above.

Having both my GoPro cameras with me to this activity helped me get these photos and also a video of the entire flight. As it happened, the batteries is my GoPro 4 Silver had died, making me relying totally on my old GoPro 3+ for getting some footage at all.

Paragliding from either Lion's Head or Signal Hill is well worth the money spent, if you want a different and spectacular view of Cape Town and the Atlantic Ocean. The normal rate is ZAR 1150, which will provide you with spectacular footage and memories of your visit to the Cape.

- Tomorrow I hope to be going ziplining in the Hottentot Hollands Nature Reserve!

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Best of South Africa & Namibia (8)

AdventurePosted by Jean Dar Mon, December 07, 2015 22:47:09

Paragliding over Cape Town

Signal Hill is the back of Lion’s Head and is easy to spot from Cape Town, Seapoint or the Waterfront. This is from where I will be relaxing paragliding only a few days after arriving to Cape Town.

At 350m it is not terribly high but does offer excellent paragliding potential with the right winds. Signal Hill requires a NW or W wind ideally. Best winds are between 15-25 km/h. Tha landing is at the Seapoint promenade in front of the Winchester Mansions Hotel. Sunset flights are generally rewarded with a cold beer at Harveys bar afterwards.

Signal Hill is a prominent landmark from which the historic noon gun is fired, and forms the "lion’s body" for the adjacent Lion's Head mountaintop.

The hill rewards hikers with spectacular views across Table Bay harbour, the central city and the Atlantic Ocean. Many family-friendly picnic spots on Signal Hill are favoured by tourists and locals all year round.

Signal Hill is named for its original use: the practice of flying signal flags to communicate with nearby ships, and later for the daily firing of the famous Noon Gun.

- My next post will include the full itinerary for my Best of South Africa and Namibia project!

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Best of South Africa & Namibia (6)

AdventurePosted by Jean Dar Thu, December 03, 2015 22:05:32

Cape Canopy Tour zipline in the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve

Since I now will embark alone on my Best of South Africa & Namibia travel project, I have changed some locations of the activities and also thrown in some new ones, not originally included. One of these will be ziplining with Cape Canopy Tour in the beautiful Hottentots Hollands Nature Reserve.

The Hottentots Holland Nature reserve is not all about wonderful landscapes, it is also important for the conservation of mountain fynbos with approximately 1,300 species, including several rare and endemic plants. Small populations of grey rhebuck, klipspringer, common duiker and grysbok occur, and leopard frequent these mountains.

This zipline location lays some 1,5 hours southeast of Cape Town and from watching this video, it will be well worth the visit, especially on a hot sunny summer's day. This activity is in my itinerary on December 16.

The Best of South Africa & Namibia itinerary is now complete with the shark and wreck dives being highly weather dependant, as is paragliding over Cape Town and parachuting over the Namib desert. The full itinerary will be presented here at Ad Astra shortly.

- The countdown has already begun, and its now only eight days left until departure!

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Best of South Africa & Namibia (5)

AdventurePosted by Jean Dar Tue, December 01, 2015 22:16:08

Diving with sevengill sharks

A large-bodied and powerful species, the broadnose sevengill shark can be distinguished from most other sharks by the fact that it possesses seven conspicuous gill slits on each side of the head, whereas most sharks possess only five.

The overall colouration is typical of predatory sharks, with silver-grey or brownish upperparts that blend in with the dark marine waters when seen from above, and paler underparts helping to disguise the shark against the lighter surface waters when viewed from below.

Adults also have small black and white speckles on the body and fins, and the young may possess white trailing edges on the fins and a black stripe running along the caudal fin.

The broadnose sevengill shark is a powerful and versatile predator that takes a wide variety of prey, including marine mammals such as dolphins and seals, and fish including sharks, salmon, sturgeon and herring. It has also been known to feed upon shark egg cases, sea snails, and the dead bodies of mammals it find in the water, such as rats and humans. Interestingly, this species will sometimes hunt in groups, with the individual sharks working together to capture large, agile prey such as marine mammals.

While regarded as potentially dangerous to humans, attacks are very rare, usually only occurring when the shark is provoked. Although a formidable predator, the broadnose sevengill shark sometimes falls prey to larger sharks such as the great white, and has been known to be cannibalistic.

- I look forward diving with these sharks, as well as the blue and mako sharks, weather permitting of course.

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Best of South Africa & Namibia (4)

AdventurePosted by Jean Dar Sun, November 29, 2015 21:07:11

Scuba and freediving with blue and mako sharks

One of many highlights in my forthcoming travel project Best of South Africa and Namibia, will be scuba and freediving with blue and mako sharks off the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.

The idea is to head out to open seas some 80km from land, and start freediving as soon as a couple of blue and mako sharks are spotted after chumming, then have a change to scuba gear and continue the amazing encounter with the sharks. All of this is of course depending on the weather on any given day.

In this video freediver Hanli Prinsloo is experiencing exactly what I intend to do, just watch the video and get inspired!

Blue sharks are considered to be dangerous and so people are warned to steer clear of them. They have been involved in numerous attacks on people and some of them have resulted in death due to the force of the jaws and teeth that this species of shark has. Humans are to blame for the significant drop in the number of blue sharks in out oceans. Millions of them are hunted each year, if such high numbers of them continue to be killed it won’t be long before they are endangered.

People are encouraged to watch out for the mako shark. While they don’t eat people or large animals they have been known to aggressively attack. They don’t like people in their environment as they view them as a threat. The numbers of mako sharks has dropped due to the high volume of hunting them for sport. They are also killed due to the aggressive nature they tend to have towards humans.

- I will try to combine this blue and mako shark dive with a second dive the same day, with sevengill sharks and sea lions. More about that dive in the my next post here at Ad Astra.

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The Ghosts of K2

AdventurePosted by Jean Dar Sun, December 07, 2014 23:49:11

Defining moments in climbing history V

K2 is the second highest mountain in the world at 8,611 m, and known as the "Savage Mountain" due to the extreme difficulty of ascent and the second highest fatality rate among the eight-thousanders. Its also called the "Mountaineers Mountain" as no large parties of paying clients are guided up to its summit.

One in every four people who have attempted K2's summit have died trying, and it is more difficult and hazardous to reach it from the Chinese side. K2 is therefor usually climbed from the Pakistani side. Unlike Annapurna (the mountain with the highest fatality-to-summit rate; 246 summits and 55 deaths) K2 has never been climbed during wintertime.

Its today been exactly one year since I had my climbing accident that put an end to any future climbing ambitions. My right shoulder recieved permanent injuries in that accident, and doctors in both Ecuador and Sweden have advised against further climbing. I will follow those recommendations since I also have injuries to my left knee from a climbing accident in 2007.

The Ghosts of K2 is the last of five films of some defining moments in climbing history here at Ad Astra. It is a BBC documentary which explores the history of climbing K2, from the early days to the summit with historical footage photographs & re-enactments.

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Nanga Parbat

AdventurePosted by Jean Dar Sun, November 23, 2014 23:44:56

Defining moments in climbing history IV

Before Reinhold Messner climbed Everest without supplementary oxygen as the first human being, he was a skilled climber with a solid reputation. In 1970 Nanga Parbat, 8,125 m, became his first ascent of an eight thousand meter mountain. That climb was to become a turning point for climbing as a sport, and for Reinhold himself. During the Nanga Parbat climb, Reinhold and his brother Günther summited as the first two climbers the unclimbed Rupal Face, the highest rock face in the world.

However, on the descent Günther perished in an avalanche while the two brothers were trying to find a way down the mountain. Reinhold suffered from severe frostbite and had to amputate six of his toes, and was not able to climb quite as well on rock after the 1970 Nanga Parbat expedition. He therefore turned his attention to higher mountains, where there was much more ice. That was a defining moment in climbing history.

On the morning of 27 June 1970, Reinhold Messner was of the view that the weather would deteriorate rapidly, and set off alone from the highest camp on Nagna Parbat. Surprisingly his brother climbed after him and caught up to him before the summit. By late afternoon both had reached the summit of the mountain, and had to pitch an emergency bivouac shelter without tent, sleeping bags and stoves because darkness was closing in.

The events that followed have been the subject of years of legal actions and disputes between former expedition members, and have still not been finally resolved. What is known now is that Reinhold and Günther Messner descended the Diamir Face, thereby achieving the first crossing of Nanga Parbat (and second crossing of an eight-thousander after Mount Everest in 1963). Reinhold arrived in the valley six days later with severe frostbite, but survived. His brother Günther died on the Diamir Face.

The movie Nanga Parbat (2010) by Joseph Vilsmaier is based on Reinhold Messner's account of the events.

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Everest Without Oxygen

AdventurePosted by Jean Dar Sun, November 16, 2014 20:24:04

Defining moments in climbing history III

Reinhold Messner is in my eyes the greatest climber ever. I simply can't see how someone could push the limits of climbing in the way he has done. Not only climbers are amazed by his exploits, also scientists back in in the 1970's were not sure if it was possible to climb 8,848 meters without supplementary oxygen, and the effects it would have on a human being. On the summit of Everest, a person's oxygen intake in only 1/3 than at sea-level.

I still remember that morning in early May 1978, while having breakfast, a voice on the radio stated someone had climbed Mount Everest without supplementary oxygen. It was of course Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler who had done it on 8 May 1978. Everest Without Oxygen (1978) is the movie that captured that epic climb and defining moment in climbing history.

In the thin air and extreme cold and hostile environment above 8,000 metres in the Himalaya, climbers suffer high-altitude sickness, risk frost bite and life threatening oedemas, and just taking a step needs a tremendous effort. It's known as the Death Zone.

Everest Without Oxygen follows Italian and Austrian mountaineers Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler through the Khumbu icefall into the Western Cwm, then all the way up to the South Col and to the summit itself at 8,848 m.

Reinhold Messner, an Italian from the mainly German speaking province of South Tyrol, was the first man to climb all fourteen eight-thousanders in the world and without supplemental oxygen. His climbs were also all amongst the first 20 ascents for each mountain individually. In addition to that, he has made first ascents on extremely hard and technical routes all over the world, often solo climbing with a breathtaking speed.

- Another movie about Reinhold Messner will be posted next sunday!

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Hillary And Tenzing

AdventurePosted by Jean Dar Sun, November 09, 2014 10:15:06

Defining moments in climbing history II

On 9 May 1953, a lanky New Zealander named Edmund Hillary and his climbing partner, Tenzing Norgay, became the first to reach the highest point on earth - the summit of Mount Everest, 8,848 m. The few brief minutes these two men spent on top of the world profoundly affected the rest of their lives personally and politically.

Actual footage of the climb, sound recordings, letters, diaries, and intimate interviewers are woven together with evocative new sequences to tell this remarkable tale of human achievement and the political chaos that followed.

The race to be the first human being standing on the roof of the world started in earnest in 1921, when the northern approach to the summit of Mount Everest was discovered by George Mallory and Guy Bullock on the initial British Reconnaissance Expedition.

During the 1924 British Mount Everest Expedition, Mallory and his climbing partner Andrew Irvine both disappeared on the North-East ridge during their attempt to make the first ascent of Everest. The pair were last seen when they were about 245 m from the summit.

Whether Mallory and Irvine reached the summit of Everest in 1924 before they died, still remains a subject of speculation and continuing research.

- Next sunday I'll post a movie about Reinhold Messner, the greatest climber ever!

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The Beckoning Silence

AdventurePosted by Jean Dar Sun, November 02, 2014 05:39:17

Defining moments in climbing history I

If you have read my previous posts here at Ad Astra or , you might have seen some of my climbing photos and videos. I climbed mountains on four continents before quiting due to injuries in December last year, and I can say I really miss climbing!

With that in mind, it shouldn't be too hard to see why I'm going to post five full-length films this month of defining moments in climbing history. That is one highly inspiring climbing film every sunday throughout November.

The Beckoning Silence was originally a book by Joe Simpson, also the author of Touching the Void, and who almost got killed by the passion of climbing beautiful mountains. This is the documentary film with the same name as the book, narrated by Joe Simpson himself.

The Beckoning Silence tells the tail about a new breed of German and Austrian climbers that in 1936 tried to tackle "the last problem of the Alps", as the north face of the Eiger was called, with new climbing techniques. Success would be equivalent to winning the gold medal in the upcoming Berlin Olympics the same year, becoming German national heroes and win world wide fame.

- Next sunday I'll post a movie about the first climb to the roof of the World.

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Panama - El Salvador - Colombia video

AdventurePosted by Jean Dar Thu, October 16, 2014 21:07:32


Its been just over a month now since the Panama - El Salvador - Colombia project came to an end, and the video for it was uploaded on the video page of the past sunday. It was a fast moving and highly mobile trip arrangent with my fiancée, that went totally according to plan.

If you had a peak at it already, you might have got a feel for the very essence of this well-planned trip, and the various locations and activities that was included in this project. If you still haven't had a look at the video, you might just want to have a peak and see what my projects are made of!

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