Mallorca Highlights for Adventurers

Palma cathedral, Mallorca

Twenty-five years after my first visit to Mallorca, I returned to the Mediterranean island in October with Tony in tow. Like many visitors, my first experience here was a rushed trip spent on the busy tourist beaches near Palma. It was only later, through a German magazine article, that I learnt just how many adventurous activities I had missed. So this time around, I wanted to do it right. During our two weeks on the island, Tony and I set out together to discover the best of what the largest Balearic island has to offer. Continue…

Cenote Diving in Playa del Carmen

One of the principal reasons we decided to base ourselves in Playa del Carmen for a month was to take advantage of the Mayan Riviera’s excellent cavern diving opportunities. Due to the unique geology of the Yucatan Peninsula and the huge number of cenotes and cavern systems that dot the region, the stretch between Playa del Carmen and Tulum is the world’s leading cave and cavern diving destination. As one local dive instructor told us, this is pretty much the only place in the world where a cave diving instructor can build a full-time cave diving career.

What is the Difference between Cave and Cavern Diving?

You may be asking yourself what the distinction between cave and cavern diving is. Cave diving is a more technical specialty which involves particular certifications and equipment, and requires the diver to master a set of skills such as laying guide lines and navigating at an extended distance from a cave entrance. Cavern diving usually follows pre-laid lines and requires divers to stay within a certain distance of cave entrances. We’ve experimented with caverns and extended swim-throughs in other destinations such as Sipadan and Komodo, but the dives here take cavern diving to a WHOLE new level Continue…

Xkeken and Samula Cenotes

Thomas in the Xkeken Cenote

The limestone landscape of the Yucatan Peninsula is famous for the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of sinkholes and natural pits that dot the region. Known locally as “cenotes,” these formations pop up (or should I say down?) across the region. They are so common that they are deeply interwoven into Mayan ritual and legend. Some cenotes still contain ancient pottery, skeletons or other remnants of the past. Many cenotes interconnect to form large, very enticing underground cave systems. It’s the ultimate playground for those who like to crawl or swim their way into their own Jules Verne adventure.

Our first (but surely not last) encounter with these natural wonders was just outside Valladolid at Cenote Dzitnup. Actually, the site boasts two spectacular underground pools known as Xkeken and Samula. Decorated with stalactites and stalagmites and illuminated by natural skylights, both Xkeken and Samula are perfect for hiding from the midday heat and even taking a cool dip. If you do decide to swim, don’t be surprised if you feel little Continue…

The Flores Hobbit

Our first stop leaving Ruteng was the Liang Bua cave, which made headlines around the world in 2003 for the discovery of tiny Homo floresiensis, otherwise known by the media as the “Flores hobbit”. Since their discovery, the bones of H. floresiensis have been the subject of intense scientific debate: does this population of three-foot-high people represent a species distinct from modern humans, or do they represent a population of humans with unique genetic characteristics or disorders?

As of 2012, the general scientific consensus seems to be that the Flores hobbit represents Continue…

Is Sipadan All Hype?

Wait until you get to Sipadan… Sipadan, Sipadan, Sipadan. That’s all we’ve heard for the last few years. No matter where you dive, someone’s always there to point out that Sipadan is so much better. Even after more than 80 dives, we were told Sipadan can top them all. It almost seems dive sites around the world are measured against the one and only standard: SIPADAN. You want to see turtles? Go to Sipadan. You want to dive with reef sharks? Go to Sipadan. Huge, whirling schools of fish? I’m sure you guessed it, go to Sipadan. So we did! And now that we have dived Sipadan, we can answer the question: Is Sipadan as good as everyone says, or is it all hype?

Well, after two full days of diving at Sipadan, we can comfortably say Continue…

Krabi’s Tiger Cave Temple

The Tiger Cave Temple just outside Krabi town is known for its big caves and big views. But what really captured my attention was the big trees along the nature walk behind the temple. One tree in particular stopped me in my tracks. It had to be the biggest buttressed trunk of any tropical tree I had ever seen anywhere in the world. It was bordering on the dimensions of a Continue…

Penises for a Princess

Let me start by saying that this posting is not about me, contrary to what the photo or the title may suggest.

During a recent island-hopping trip, our guide Ooh told us the local legend behind the Princess Cave, a small shrine in the karst at the southern end of Phra Nang beach.

“The cave is inhabited by the spirit of a princess who killed herself there,” Ooh said earnestly, looking around to see our reactions.

“What happened?” a Danish woman asked curiously.

“A long time ago,” Ooh continued dramatically, “her father wanted to marry her off to a man in a foreign land. During the sea journey, she was kidnapped by pirates.”

“And then?” Tony probed Continue…

Cave Temples of Ipoh

To spice up our stay in Penang, the family got together and drove down to Ipoh to visit the impressive cave temples just outside town. The tollway runs through some beautiful karst scenery and stretches of jungle. David said it was one of the nicer stretches on the highway leading to Kuala Lumpur.

The mountainous countryside appears to be riddled with caves; however, we chose to focus Continue…

Palawan’s Subterranean River

Palawan's Subterranean River

Palawan tourism officials love to love their not-so-world-famous subterranean river. Although if they have their way, that is about to change. Nominated to compete in an online competition to choose the New Natural 7 Wonders of the World, Filipinos and foreign visitors are racing to see this piece of marketing mania for themselves.

Heralded as the ultimate underground river journey, I think we can safely say that this wasn’t even the nicest underground river journey we have made this year. But perhaps, this is somewhat unfair.

To be honest, Palawan’s subterranean river is a beautiful place. The entrance, situated on a picturesque blue lagoon, is strait out of a tropical dream. Boating through the cavern’s interior, visitors encounter Continue…

Sagada’s Cave Connection

Sagada boasts more than a cool mountain climate, forests full of pines and tree ferns, and exotic burial rituals. Our principle reason for coming here was to bone up on our spelunking skills by doing the famous Cave Connection, a four-hour cave crawling tour linking the Lumiang and Sumaging cave systems. This tour requires its participants to repel down vertical shafts, crawl, squirm, dangle off of ledges, slip, slide, wade waist-deep through underground streams, and clamber over wedding cake cave formations – in other words, it’s serious food for your inner child.

But the trip is not for the faint of heart. No safety equipment was provided and the entire tour is conducted by the light of a gas lantern. Twenty minutes into our tour, our gas lantern started to malfunction and Continue…