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7 weeks in Latin American: Update II

TravelPosted by Jean Dar Mon, February 12, 2018 18:57:29
Ushuaia - Bariloche - Buenos Aires

In Argentinean Patagonia you have got a few popular tourist hubs where its really easy to arrange tours, day tours or longer ones, in order to take in landscapes, flora and fauna or adventure sports, such as white whiter rafting, kayaking, horse riding, hiking, mountaineering etc.

I would say that I took in all four of the most well-known ones in Argentina: El Calafate, El Chaltén, Ushuaia och Bariloche during my two and a half weeks in Patagonia, I also entered Chile twice in the process. A few days in the Argentinean capital city of Buenos Aires was a good ending to my Argentinean/Patagonian leg of "7 weeks in Latin America".

My photo above is from a day tour I had arranged from Ushuaia on 31 January 2018. I stepped on a catamaran at "the end of the world" and casted off. Beagle Channel, the watery border between Argentina and Chile, and penguins, cormorants, albatrosses and seals where all spotted during this day, as the mountainous feature of the Chilean Tierra del Fuego loomed to the south. Its also possible to spot whales but further out from Ushuaia than I went.

My photo above is from 31 January 2018. Ushuaia is the capital of Tierra del Fuego, Antártida e Islas del Atlántico Sur Province in Argentina and is commonly regarded as the southern most city in the world. It was founded on 12 October 1884 by Augosto Lasserre and is located on the shores of the Beagle Channel surrounded by the mountain range of the Martial Glacier in the Bay of Ushuaia. Its motto is: "Ushuaia, end of the world, beginning of everything".

My photo above is from 4 February 2018. It was a crazy day going to the Nahuel Huapi National Park from Bariloche in Argentina and white water rafting the Manso River all the way into Chile! In this photo only the skipper is still in the raft and the full team of seven, including me, are moving fast closer to the Chilean border among the class 3 and 4 rapids. White water rafting in Bariloche was one of first things I included in this trip and it turned out to be the best single day so far!

I took the photo above on 3 February 2018, while having an excursion from Bariloche to the Lake District. No matter where in Patagonia you end up, in the south, central or north, the scenery is just lovely. I found out that even scuba diving is available both in Ushuaia and Bariloche during the summer time, as basically as adventure sports are. Wintertime makes Bariloche a prime Argentinean ski resort. The summer in Bariloche is hot but the other locations in the south are more cooler and windy.

My photo above is from 8 February 2018, picturing the Obelisco, a prominent feature of Buenos Aires located at Avenida 9 Mayo, in the very heart of the city centre. By that time I was more than half-way through my "7 weeks in Latin America" trip, and Buenos Aires was a hot, sweaty location with plenty of museums and attractions to see, of which I saw the most part of. Unfortunatly the Plaza de Mayo and Casa Rosada where closed during my visit due to renovations.

- I'm now taking part in the famous Carnaval de Barranquilla, Colombia.

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My YouTube video: Santos, São Paulo

TravelPosted by Jean Dar Wed, February 07, 2018 13:08:58
A weekend in Santos, São Paulo

The first weekend of my "7 weeks in Latin America" started in the largest country in Latin America, and in the largest city in the southern hemisphere - São Paulo, Brazil. I didn't stay there for long as I had made plans for the weekend in Santos, some two hours taxi drive to the coast from São Paulo.

Coming from the dark, snowy and icy Swedish winter to the tropical heat of Brazil was of course a nice thing. My hotel was just across the street from the Gonzaga Beach of Santos and with all the restaurants and shops very close by. All in all, I had 63 hours in Santos and this is my YouTube video of my stay there.

I arrived in Buenos Aires, the capital city of Argentina, yesterday and am writing this post from my hotel here. My hotel is located at the huge Avenida 9 de Julio in the very heart ofthe city, and with the Obelisco more or less outside the entrance door.

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7 weeks in Latin America (5)

TravelPosted by Jean Dar Mon, January 15, 2018 22:37:10
El Carnaval de Barranquilla, Salsa Caleña y Medellín

Leaving Buenos Aires and Argentina, my first stop in Colombia, Latin America's oldest democracy, will be the famous four day long Carnaval de Barranquilla, worlds second largest carnival and only surpassed by Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. This carnival is Colombia's most important folkloric celebration and was proclaimed a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2003. El Carnaval de Barranquilla and Patagonia were the two first things I fitted into this "7 weeks in Latin America" project.

This carnival really makes Barranquilla come alive during these four days and room rates at hotels rises dramatically and pre-payments on rooms are necessary, as most hotels expect to get fully booked. This year El Carnaval de Barranquilla is held between 9 - 13 February, with something going on basically every hour non-stop. Trying to get out of the city before the rest of the bunch, I'll be leaving in the afternoon of February 13 for Cali, missing out on the Grand Finale. The video below is from last year's carnival.

Cali, or actually Santiago de Cali, is as well-known for its Salsa Caleña, as Buenos Aires is for its Tango. So no wonder I'll be taking private dance lessons here for a week then, hopefully two per day and continuing with locals in the nights at the different salsa venues through out the city! Its going to be interesting to see how much the Caleña style differs from the Cubana style that is more common. Cali is also called "the Salsa Capital of the World", and has the most salsa schools and salsa teams in the world.

My last destination in Colombia will be the city of Medellín in the Paisa region of the country. Medellin is known as the "City of Eternal Spring" due to its perfect spring-like weather year round. The combination of warm days and cool nights helps to make this, the second largest of Colombia's cities, a top destination in Colombia for Colombians, international tourists and business people. Long gone are the days of Pablo Escobar's narcotics empire that smuggled all that cocaine into the USA during the 1980's...

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7 weeks in Latin America (4)

TravelPosted by Jean Dar Mon, January 08, 2018 21:34:47
The City of Buenos Aires

The Argentinean capital city of Buenos Aires is one of Latin America's top tourist destinations so I just had to include it in my itinerary for my forthcoming "7 weeks in Latin America" project. I will spend half a week here after my Patagonian leg of my project and the Brazilian stop-over, mainly to take in the famed museums, culture, art and history of this city. And I'm sure I'll be sipping down some Argentinean wine too..

The city is highly influenced by the Europeans who started to arrive to Buenos Aires some 150 years ago and is today synonymous with Tango, which has influences from European, Native American and also African cultures. The dance is included in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List since 2009 after a joint proposal by Argentina and Uruguay. And if you haven't got a clue what Tango music sound like, just listen to the music in this video.

I have made hotel reservations really close to the Obelisque and am hoping to get some beautiful nighttime timelapses of it with my new mirrorless Sony a6000 camera from the room of my hotel there. And with the addition of a Haida Neutral Density 3.0, 1000x filter to my camera, I should be able to get at least some sensationally good photos. This filter is suited for very long exposure times and could boost my creativity.

When coming up with this project I initially also had Santiago, the capital city of Chile in it, but with the timeframe available between Patagonia and the Carnival of Barranquilla in Colombia, that starts on February 10, I had to settle for only Buenos Aires. I'm pretty sure I'll have another project that will include Santiago in the future, so only Buenos Aires will have my full attention for half a week in early February this time.

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7 weeks in Latin America (3)

TravelPosted by Jean Dar Thu, December 28, 2017 19:33:23

El Calafate - Ushuaia - Bariloche

After the Gorra Blanca and Patagonian Icefield expedition that will start and end in El Chaltén, I will also spend time in El Calafate, Ushuaia and Bariloche, taking in the natural beauty of the Patagonian region and its history and culture. All these locations are found in the informative video below along with plenty more stunning places from both the Argentinean and Chilean part of this region.

The Argentinean city of El Calafate got its name from a little bush with yellow flowers and dark blue berries that is very common in Patagonia. The city is the natural destination if you want to see the spectacular Perito Moreno Glacier, but also a convenient stopover before/after further exploits to the north, including El Chaltén, the FitzRoy mountain, famous hiking routes, river rafting and canoeing, or a Gorra Blanca expedition.

A couple of days in Ushuaia will follow my visit to El Calafate and the Perito Moreno Glacier. Ushuaia is commonly regarded as the southmost city in the world and found in Tierra del Fuego, on the very tip of the South American continent. The highlights here are the breathtaking landscapes, the history of Ushuaia and also the wildlife including Penguins, Whales and Sea lions along with activities like hiking and canoeing.

Far to the north in Patagonia lies San Carlos de Bariloche, known as only Bariloche, a major tourist and adventure hub in this part of Patagonia. The big attractions here, as in much of Patagonia, are the stunning landscapes including mountains and volcanoes, waterfalls and beautiful lakes. The obvious activities here are hiking, mountaineering, canoeing and skiing, but Bariloche is also well-known for its good cafés and restaurants.

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7 weeks in Latin America

TravelPosted by Jean Dar Wed, November 29, 2017 20:55:17
First stop - São Paulo and Santos in Brazil

My next travel project "7 weeks in Latin America" is less than two months away and as its name indicates, its a 7 week long arrangement that still is only half complete, regarding reservations for flights and hotels. In total some fifteen separate flights will be included and a multitute of locations in five countries, starting in São Paulo and Santos in Brazil.

This Brazilian leg of the trip was originally not included in my blue print for the trip, and now making up the first ½ week of the itinerary. It was added as a short stopover for some fun in the sun before heading towards Patagonia and the Gorra Blanca ascent. The video below is from earlier this year showing drone footage of the city of Santos, São Paulo.

Santos is probably not the first Brazilian city that comes to mind as a tourist, being close to the megacity of São Paulo, the largest city in the southern hemisphere. But it is a historical city as it was founded by the Portuguese nobleman Brás Cubas in 1546. Some of the attractions in Santos are the Coffee Museum, where the coffee prices were once negotiated, the city's beachfront garden that is the largest in the world, and of course the museum of the great Brazilian footballer Pelé.

Santos has the biggest seaport in Latin America which handle a large portion of the world's coffee exports, as well as a number of other Brazilian exports including steel, oil, cars, oranges, bananas and cotton. I will however not see much of this, as I have made hotel reservations quite close to the main beaches on the south side of Santos, and will be soaking in the sun preparing for the coldness of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, Campo de Hielo Sur in Spanish.

- More info will be posted of my "7 weeks in Latin America" project.

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Ad Astra on YouTube

TravelPosted by Jean Dar Sat, November 11, 2017 21:10:41

Ad Astra was introduced on YouTube today!

Ad Astra - Jean Dar is the full name of my new YouTube channel, where everyone will be able to see them videos from my travel projects. The first video posted on Ad Astra - Jean D is the 10:25 minutes long one found below, covering my Philippines & Micronesia travel project 11 December 2016 - 20 January 2017.

Further videos will show awesome wreck diving footage from Chuuk Lagoon (Truk Lagoon), diving in Palau and Yap, and of course the South African Dive Bonanza project in June - July this year. And a lot more. If you want to be the first to watch my new videos, subscribe to the channel: Ad Astra - Jean Dar

My forthcoming grand "Living La Vida Loca Project" is still being organised with only a few flights and accomodations completed at the moment. The first few days will be spent in Sao Paulo and Santos in Brazil, followed by the Patagonian leg consisting of two and a half weeks that will include a climbing comeback for me on the less technichal peak of Gorra Blanca in Chile.

It will be a five day expedition on the Patagonian icefield, starting in Argentina and with the climb itself in Chile. This will show whether my shoulder (and the rest of me) could be up for some heavier mountaineering objectives in the future.

- More updates on my forthcoming "Living La Vida Loca Project" will follow!

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TravelPosted by Jean Dar Thu, January 12, 2017 06:20:09

Guam – The largest island in Micronesia

Guam is one of the Mariana Islands and is the largest island in Micronesia. Its an immensely popular tourist destination for Japanese, Chinese and Koreans. In fact, you have far more Asian restaurants and tourists than Chamorrans or Westerners. With the historical ties to Micronesia and other parts on the western Pacific, the Japanese and Korean interest is understandable. The down side is of course the negative environmental impact in terms of pollution and inexperienced diver damaging corals.

My photo above from 4 January 2017 is from the pool area at my hotel. The contrast between Yap and Guam couldn't have been greater. Travelling from the sleepy and low key Yap to Guam, the hub of travelling and economy in Micronesia, is close to unreal. Guam receives a million or more Japanese visitors per year, as Yap gets some four thousand visitors in total per year. Guam is a part of the USA and all that comes with it: cars, restaurants, bars, shooting ranges, high-rise hotels, fashion and generally a higher living standard than average in Micronesia.

My second photo from 6 January is from the commercial centre of Guam, Tumon, where the shopping gallerias, restaurants and tourists are found. Having so many visitors from Japan, there are quite a few really good Japanese restaurants but also plenty of Korean and Chinese ones for their tourists. If Colonia in Yap is at best a sleepy village, a quick glance at my photo above lets you know what to expect of Guam and its capital Hagåtña. While being a part of the US, it felt more like being in an asian city due to all the asian restaurants, brochures and businesses in asian languages.

The historical Japanese connection with Guam is evident as they invaded the island during World War II, and traces of the war is found all over the Guam. Eventhough I find Saipan having a lot more easily accessible monuments and remnants from the war, but that's material for my next post. My photo above from 7 January pictures the Japanese World War II cannon found at Gun Beach. This historical site was only 15 minutes walk from my hotel. There is also a memorial park where the US troops initially landed on the north side of the Orote peninsula and Apra Harbor.

Diving is possible in Guam too, as in all of Micronesia. The water is warm and you don't really need a wetsuit in most cases. My photo above is from my dive at a dive location called the Shark Pit, less than an hour's boat ride from Apra Harbor. No sharks were seen on this dive though, but I did get some good pictures of a Moray Eel, as seen above. The photo is from 6 January 2017. There are quite a few dive sites not too far from Apra Harbor, and dive companies will let weather dictate locations sometimes, for safety reasons. Making dive arrangements before arrival is recommended.

Apra Harbor itself has got some interesting locations for diving too. My photo above is from a dive sit called Gab Gab 2, where the visibility is somewhat less than at the Shark Pit. However, the coral reef here in the middle of Apra Harbor, is an excellent one with plenty of soft corals and fishes. My photo from 6 January 2017 pictures some Batfishes at Gab Gab 2. Another popular dive in the harbour is where you can touch a wreck from both World War I and World War II at the same time! The World War I wreck is the SMS Cormoran and the one from World War II is Tokai Maru.

- I'm now in Chuuk, diving the famous Japanese World War II wrecks.

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Cebu City - The Queen City Of The South

TravelPosted by Jean Dar Tue, January 03, 2017 08:14:28

Update from the oldest city in the Philippines

Cebu City is the oldest city is the Philippines and was founded by the Spaniards. Today there are churches, fortresses and other remains from these colonial days found in Cebu City and neighbouring Mactan Island, where the international airport is situated. But some modern attractions are also available here.All photos in this post are from 26 December 2016. First photo pictures me riding the world's first urban zipline. The ride is a short one, spanning from Tower 1 to Tower 2 on the Crown Regency Hotel, but the views are spectacular. A combo of the Zipline and the Edge Coaster costs 750 PHP. The Fuente Osmeña Circle is in the background, and during my three visits to Cebu City I had booked accommodation in walking distance to it.

The Crown Regency Hotel has a few other attractions to offer, besides the zipline. World's first Edge Coaster is pictured on the photo above, showing me giving it a thumbs-up. This coaster can tilt up to some 50 degrees and make you have a good look at the streets below. You start the ride tilted to the max and then you can control yourself if you want to continue that way or not. The entire ride round the building takes two minutes.

The sunset is beautiful from the top of the Crown Regency Hotel, with all of Cebu City and also Mactan island in full view. On my photo above one can see that the Edge Coaster really is on the very edge of the roof. There are two restaurants in the Crown Regency Hotel and Towers, but you also got plenty of eating options near the Fuente Osmeña Circle too. During the night, the Crown Regency Hotel is lit up with colourful lights on its facade.

I visited Cebu City three times during my first two weeks of the Philippines & Micronesia project. I stayed at different hotels each time, and eventhough the prices ranged from US$30 to 55, all hotels I stayed at in the city were good and well managed. They were also located max 5 minutes walk from the Fuente Osmeña Circle for practical reasons. If only staying in the city for catching a flight, I recommend some accomodation on Mactan Island, which is a lot closer to the international airport.

Read more about Cebu City here:

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Panglao Island - Balicasag Island - Bohol

TravelPosted by Jean Dar Sun, January 01, 2017 14:13:45

Second update from the Philippines & Micronesia project

Its been a week and a half since my last update on my Philippines & Micronesia project, and that depends mainly on poor Wi-Fi connection. Two typhoons have hit the Philippines during my stay, and they may also have affected Wi-Fi and internet connections.

Panglao Island lays just south of Bohol and is reached easily by a boat from Cebu City to Tagbilaran on the south side of Bohol. From there land transport will take you to Panglao Island across a bridge, and if you are going to the Alona Beach area, this ride will take approx half an hour. My photo above from 22 December 2016, pictures Alona Beach. Sadly there is not a single wastebasket on the beach, and a lot of plastic waste from lazy and careless tourists end up in the sea.

Balicasag Island is a popular diving spot south-west of Panglao, where sea turtles are frequently observed. Sea turtles are only one of the sea creatures that end up with plastic in their gut, disposed by humans into the oceans. My photo above from 23 December 2016, shows a sea turtle resting on some soft corals near Balicasag Island, a protected area that hopefully in the future will attract larger marine life. That is if human waste will not see a decline instead in those animals and corals there today.

My photo above from 24 December 2016 pictures the Chocolate Hills, that are probably Bohol's most famous tourist attraction. Most people who first see pictures of this landscape can hardly believe that these hills are not a man-made artifact. The Chocolate Hills consist of more than 1,200 hills. They are very uniform in shape and mostly between 30-50 meters high. These Hills are covered with grass, which at the end of the dry season, turns chocolate brown in colour

A Tarsier from Bohol is shown on my photo above from 24 December 2016. The Tarsier of the Philippines are threatened by the destruction of their natural forest habitat. For many years both legal and illegal logging and slash-and-burn agriculture have greatly reduced the forests where Tarsiers live, and reduced the population to a dangerously small size. If no action is taken now, the Philippine Tarsier can soon be added to the list of extinct species.

My last photo is me on the Sui-Slide Zipline in Loboc Eco Adventure Park, on 24 December 2016. This zipline is the highest and one of the longest in the Philippines, spanning 520m on the first cable and 460m on the second one. The starting point is at a height of 120m and 100m at the end. It is a thrilling ride that takes less than 30 seconds each way and you cross the Loboc River, seen on this photo, on both cables. There are of course both weight and length requirements for this zipline.

- I have been to Cebu City and Palau after Christmas and am now in Yap, Micronesia.

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Cagsawa - Legazpi - Malapascua

TravelPosted by Jean Dar Tue, December 20, 2016 16:01:58

First update from the Philippines & Micronesia project

My six week Philippines & Micronesia project started on 11 December, and so far I have visited Cagsawa, Legazpi, Cebu City and Malapascua Island, situated just north of the larger Cebu Island in the Viscayas. Here are five of my photos that I find showing the highlights of the trip so far. More of my photos will be posted as the trip unfolds, both here in the Philippines and in Micronesia.

My first photo pictures the Church Ruins of Cagsawa in front of Mount Mayon on 14 December. The baroque church of Cagsawa was built in 1587 and burned down by marauding Dutch in 1636, and reconstructed again in 1724. On 1 February 1814 the strongest eruption recorded to date of the Mayon volcano buried the town of Cagsawa and its surrounding areas, killing an estimated 2,000 people. Hundreds of inhabitants of the town of Cagsawa purportedly sought refuge in the church, but were also killed by the pyroclastic flows.

My second photo pictures the harbour of Legazpi with Mount Mayon in the background on 15 December. On some maps of Legazpi there will be a hill pointed out just south of the Embarcadero shopping mall, called Sleeping Lion Hill. Its from this hill I've taken the picture above. I first took a tricycle from Old Albay where my hotel was to the foot of Sleeping Lion Hill, then a girl offered to "guide" me up the hill, and I accepted since the path is muddy, slippery and not obvious, but also with safety in mind. She did of course get a tip for her troubles.

My third photo is from December 17, showing the beaches of Malapascua. I had a hard time getting there due to cancellation of my flight from Legazpi to Manila, where I would catch a second flight to Cebu City and from there make my way to Maya on the nothmost tip of Cebu Island, hop on a boat bound for Malapascua. My flight was cancelled due to bad weather, and in Legazpi the rain was pouring down all night and all day! Finally I managed to rebook my ticket to a rerouted flight to Cebu City, arriving there quite late, tired and hungry, after having spent all day sorting things out in Legazpi.

On the evening of December 18, I had a night dive west of the Lighthouse on Malapascua. On my first dive that day, I did see a smaller sea snake of the spieces Blue-lipped Sea Krait (Laticauda laticaudata). On my night dive, the second dive of the day, I saw a real big one, surely one meter long, indicating it must have been an adult Blue-Lipped Sea Krait. This is a venomous sea snake that I have great respect for even if they are known not to attack humans, if not provoked. This photo is actually from the film footage from that night dive.

Last but not least, my photo of a Thresher Shark from yesterday, December 19. This spieces of shark is an odd looking one, with large eyes and an extremely long tail fin. In fact, half of the shark's total length is made up by this long tail fin! The Thresher Shark is famous for special jumping techniques and behavior called "breaching" where they jump out of the water and into the air. One did exectly this when my dive boat had stopped and I was gearing up for the plunge. I would have loved to have that on photo or film..

- I'm going to Panglao Island and Bohol tomorrow, stay tuned!

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The Philippines & Micronesia (23)

TravelPosted by Jean Dar Tue, December 06, 2016 23:08:21

Full itinerary of my Philippines & Micronesia project

My previous posts have more or less covered all the locations I will experience in my forthcoming six-week long solo trip to the Philippines & Micronesia. My girlfriend Paula will not be joining me on this trip, which made me put together the longest itinerary to date!

This is really just a rough blue print and all the details have been spared, there is a lot more to this trip than can be read here!

11-13 Dec: Stockholm – Beijing – Manila

13 Dec: Manila – Legazpi: Mount Mayon, Sleeping Lion Hill, Lignon Hill

14 Dec: Daraga Church and Cagsawa Church Ruins

15 Dec: Donsol: Whaleshark interaction

16 Dec: Legazpi – Manila – Cebu City: Restaurants and museum

17 Dec: Cebu City – Malapascua: travel by bus and boat.

18-19 Dec: Scuba diving including Threasher Shark dive, night-dive and more

20 Dec: Malapascua – Cebu City: Travel by boat and bus, restaurants, museum

21 Dec: Cebu City – Panglao Island, Bohol: Restaurant, arrange scuba diving

22-25 Dec: Scuba diving, adventure sports, Tarsiers, Chocolate Hills, landscapes

26 Dec: Panglao Island, Bohol – Cebu City. Restaurants/museum

27 Dec: Cebu City – Manila – Palau: Arrange scuba diving

28-31 Dec: Scuba diving/ freediving/land or jungle tour/culture/history

1-4 Jan: Palau – Yap: Scuba diving/island tour/culture/history

4-7 Jan: Yap – Guam: Scuba diving/island tour/culture/history

7-11 Jan: Guam – Saipan: Freediving/scuba diving/island tour/culture/history

11-15 Jan: Saipan – Guam – Chuuk: Wreck-diving/freediving/land tour/culture/history

16-19 Jan: Chuuk – Guam – Manila: Taal volcano/museums/shopping/culture/history

20 Jan: Manila – Beijing – Stockholm

The very last location on this trip will be Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. Taal volcano can be reached from here on a day trip, and so can a lot of other interesting places in the greater Manila region.

All domestic flight reservations for the Philippines are now made, and in total 16 separate flights will link together all the various parts of this travel project. Only accomodation in Cebu City and Manila remain and will be sorted out before this weekend.

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The Philippines & Micronesia (22)

TravelPosted by Jean Dar Sat, December 03, 2016 00:30:49

The Ghost Fleet of Truk Lagoon

During World War II, the Truk atoll was host to Japan's Imperial Fleet, which was left destroyed in the wake of Operation Hailstone 16-18 February 1944, often referred to as Japan's Pearl Harbor. Today, hundreds of Japanese aircraft and other military machines remain at the bottom of the lagoon, making it one of the world's best wreck dive sites.

In February 16-18, 1944, five fleet carriers and four light carriers, along with support ships and some 500 aircraft, descended on the islands in a surprise attack. Just a week before the attack, the Japanese military had moved additional ships to the area, and, as a result, approximately 250 Japanese aircraft were destroyed and more than 50 ships sunk.

An estimated 400 Japanese soldiers were killed in one ship alone, trapped in the cargo hold. Most of the fleet remains in exactly the same spot it was left, largely forgotten by the world until the end of the 1960's.

Jacques Cousteau's 1969 film Lagoon of Lost Ships (see previous post here at Ad Astra) explored the wreck-littered lagoon, and many of the sunken ships were then still full of bodies. As wreck divers brought attention to the site, Japan began recovery efforts, and many bodies have been removed and returned to Japan for burial. A few, however, remain.

Many of the wrecks are visible through the shallow, clear water, making it an accessible dive. The wrecks themselves can be very dangerous, not only because of ragged edges and tangles of cables but because of half-century old oil and fuel leaking into the water, creating a potentially dangerous situation.

Up until the 1990's, the lagoon was known at Truk, but it is now called Chuuk. Many maps still show both names. Needless to say that this location will be an excellent ending to my Micronesian leg of my Philippines & Micronesia project.

- The full itinerary of my Philippines & Micronesia project will be posted here next week!

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The Philippines & Micronesia (21)

TravelPosted by Jean Dar Sun, November 27, 2016 19:38:10

Two weeks to go!

After having covered Palau, Yap, Guam, Saipan and perhaps even Tinian in Micronesia, my travel project will take me to Chuuk Islands, also known as Truk Lagoon. This location was the scene of a major battle in 1944 during World War II.

Chuuk is the best wreck diving location on the planet, as this lagoon is scattered with Japanese shipwrecks, submarines and airplanes that went down in Operation Hailstone on February 16-18, 1944. Operation Hailstone was a massive naval air and surface attack during World War II by the United States Navy against the Japanese naval and air base on Chuuk Islands.

For more that two decades this Pacific atoll was more or less forgotten, and so were the sunken Japanese ships, airplanes and submarines in it. Then came Jacques Cousteau along in 1969, exactly 25 years after those thunderous days in February 1944 and captured it all in his film. Today Chuuk is known as the best wreck diving site on the planet!

Featured here in its entirety, Jacques Cousteau's 1969 documentary "Lagoon of Lost Ships" is about the shipwrecks of Truk Lagoon. When it was first released, this documentary reveled new discoveries and to this day still inspires awe. Many contemporary divers cite this film as one of the reasons they became interested in wreck diving.

A number of factors made this documentary so successful. Only twenty five years had past since Operation Hailstone, when the ships and airplanes of Truk were sunk. Breathtakingly preserved in this film and untouched by divers and souvenir hunters. Second was the technology employed, a scanning radar device with a chart recorder, and maps from the 1968-1969 USS Tanner hydrographic survey.

Diving in Chuuk Islands will of course be something very special, as this is not only a war graveyard, but also a location of historical value. For practical reasons this will be a solo trip without Paula, so I have just tried to fit in all the best into this fast moving island-hopping project.

- More about Chuuk Islands will follow.

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The Philippines & Micronesia (20)

TravelPosted by Jean Dar Mon, November 14, 2016 23:09:01

The World War II Maritime Heritage Trail: The Shoan Maru wreck

The Japanese Freighter (presumably) Shoan Maru is included in Saipan's Maritime Heritage Trail, and I hope to freedive this wreck too in Tanapag Lagoon with some other World War II wrecks.

The wreck is locally referred to as the Chinsen, or simply as "the shipwreck", this wreck is a Japanese merchant vessel tentatively identified in 1990 as Shoan Maru. Nearly two dozen merchant vessels, including Shoan Maru, were sunk in Tanapag Lagoon or in deep waters surrounding Saipan during World War II. Commissioned during the war years, they served as auxiliary submarine chasers, guard boats, and transports. Many ships were used as transports during the inter-war years and later requisitioned for use were either purchased from foreign builders or seized during World War I.

The list of typical transports provided in warships of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1869-1945 includes ships built in Scotland, Germany, and England. These ships were generally fitted with vertical tripleexpansion steam engines and water tube boilers, a good time-marker for pre-war build. Very Little information ha come to light regarding the story of Shoan Maru. It is referenced only as a standard steamer transport of 5,624 gross registered tons built in 1937 and requisitioned for use during the war years. As such, it was pupose-built for wartime use.

According to records of U.S. submarine attacks, Shoan Maru was torpedoed on 27 January 1943 west of Rota. It was damaged but, due to defective torpedoes, the ship did not sink and was later towed to Saipan for repair or salvage. At the time of the submarine attack it was reportedly carrying conscripted Korean soldiers which have since been commemorated on the shipwreck site with a monument. The ship was still grounded in Tanapag Lagoon more than a year later, when it was damaged beyond repair during airborne raids from the Task Force 58 carriers Essex and Yorktown.

During the post-war cleanup of the harbor, the ship was cut down to the waterline because it was considered a navigation hazard. Between 1949-1962, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had control over much of the northern half of Saipan. Under the cover of the U.S. Navy, a facility known as the Naval Technical Training Unit (NTTU) provided training in intelligence tradecraft, communications, counter-intelligence, psychological warfare techniques and sabotage. The remains of Shoan Maru were reportedly used for explosives training by the NTTU.

The disarticulated remains of this Japanese freighter lie in 10m of water on a sandy bottom. The ship lies on its starboard side and little remains intact, except for a section of the bow. Although most of the ship has been damaged due to the effects of explosives and salvage efforts, the major elements such as the engines, boilers, steering gear, and superstructure are located in the general area of their original positions. At one time, a few bicycles were still visible in the cargo areas, however, these have not been seen for years. The overall length of Shoan Maru was approximately 125m, but the wreck as it appears on the seabed is scattered over an area of approximately 274m. This is likely due to salvage and explosion efforts.

Marine life on the wreck is abundant and changes from season to season. The sheer size of the surviving structure attracts greater numbers of larger fish species. Predatory red bass patrol the edge of the wreck, and also school at the bow in heavier currents. Shoals of daisy parrotfish scour the hull for algae. Schools of yellowfin goatfish shelter on the leeward side, often associating with bluestripe snapper, whose colouring they resemble. Solitary Chinese trumpetfish can also be found on the on the leeward side of the wreck.

- I'm making the last reservations for the Philippines & Micronesia project at the moment.

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