by Harry (BigH) Ryalls
Back around the end of October 2001 a couple of good friends of ours asked Julie and myself to spend a few days with them when they next went to the Costa Blanca, Southern Spain. Tony’s cousin owns a villa just outside Torrevieje near San Peblo in a complex called Pueblo Latina; approximately 45 minutes drive from Alicante airport. The first thing we had to do was book our flights and arrange for the hire car. Now being new to these gismos, we decided to see what the Internet had to offer. So we logged in and did a search for flights. We entered our preferred departure date, the airport we would like to travel from, Lusgate International as we are in Bristol, the airport we would like to travel to, Alicante, Costa Blanca and the number of nights we would like to spend away (fourteen was the plan). We then hit ’enter’ and went downstairs for a few beers whilst it did its thing. After a few hours, (in fact we brought the beer back upstairs with us, so it was minutes in reality) we looked to see what was on offer. Sadly there was nothing – that’s how we went for fifteen days and not fourteen, because by extending the trip by one day we were able to get return flights to Alicante for £125, direct from Bristol. Tony who has been here once or twice in the past, said that this was a very good price, so out came the plastic friend and we were soon receiving confirmation of our booking from ’GO Airlines’ (now belonging to the Easy Jet empire). The only thing I did not like at the time was there are no tickets; the confirmation sent by email is the only proof of your booking, so if you go and book this way KEEP IT SAFE. Now all we had to do was wait for our departure date of May 28th. We did had Christmas and a few other things to look forward to before that date arrived, so hopefully it would get here a bit faster than normal. Time waits for no one and it certainly did not wait for us. Julie was soon telling me that I had to pack my shorts, a couple of T-shirts and my sandal’s as it was TIME TO GO. Even though the time had flown by, we were really looking forward to this break, as the past few months had been very stressful, our daughter had got married and my job had been looking very doggie for the past five months. Thankfully the wedding went of without a hitch, or if there was one, it was very minor, and I was given my job back a few weeks before we were due to fly, so we were both a little stressed and this holiday was just the ticket. Tuesday 28th May 2002 – 5.00 am, saw us bleary eyed standing in the check-in queue with heavy bags waiting our turn, was this going to be smooth or ugly, as between Julie and myself our baggage weighed in at around 60Kgs. ’GO airlines’ had given us all an extra 10kgs each for diving equipment which we were very thankful for, I will be glad when all airlines recognise diving equipment as ’Sports Equipment’ and give the allowance without you having to beg for it. All it took with ’GO’ was a phone call and we were told to take our diving qualifications as proof if asked. I wonder if anyone at these airlines knows how much diving kit actually weighs? I do not know of any combination of my kit that would be sufficient and still weigh less than15kgs. I have even weighed fins in a dive shop to see if they would be better and lighter than my ’holiday fins’. Even with the best will in the world and only taking what I deem as essential kit that I know works and can rely on (Mask, Fins, BC, DV-stripped of extra pipes and gauges, 3mm wetsuit, compass and torch), we are luck to keep it all down to 30Kgs packed into the case, normally we are around the 35 mark instead. I do not know what we would do if we were of to somewhere like Denmark, Holland or the like to do some ’ICE’ diving, we would have to live in our kit as we would not have much of the weight allowance for clothes. Lucky it was sunny Spain that we were heading for. After a drink and chat in the departure lounge it was time to board our plane, a couple of Whisky and Dry Ginger for me, Bacari and Coke for Julie, Gin and Tonic for Mary, a light snooze for Tony and myself and we were starting our descent into Alicante airport.
All was going well, lets hope the car is ready and waiting? Yes it is and within 30 mins we were on the way to our villa, with a couple of suitcase on the roof rack and the car boot crammed with what we could not get on top. Soon we were looking at the vista of Spain, vast open spaces with Orange or Lemon groves stretching away into the distance. Olive trees heavy with their fruit, just how I remembered the Spain of our last visit 10 years ago. The heat started to rises as we slowly made our way along the coast and we started to melt, a quick flick of the switch and soon cool air was circulating around the car, we had made a point of hiring one that had air conditioning. We passed several small Spanish Hamlets that seemed to support a new breed of bird – cranes or is that cranes. The amount of building work going on was amazing, no matter what direction you looked or what town we passed through, they were there. Six or more towering over the old, building the new, ready for the invasion that must surly be coming. Tony said that when they first came to this part of Spain, his brothers villa was right on the outskirts of the town, now it is more in the middle and soon could be classed as in the centre. We passed areas where there was a complete road system, street lights and trees, water pipes and power cables poking out of the ground, all waiting for the houses, villa or apartments that was sure to follow. The only good thing was that nothing is allowed to be more than three stories high. With thanks to money from the European Market, Spain is under going a radical building program and I think it would be a shame if too much of this were allowed to happen. They have built complete new towns and infrastructures where once there was open fields, dual carriageways where once there was small, quite roads and introduced the first toll roads in mainland Spain, all in the name of progress.
What was even sadder was that we were here to enjoy all of that.
Tony had struck lucky so he was driving, when we discovered another new innovation to the Spanish road system – The Roundabout – and before you ask, Spanish drivers are just as bad as the majority of British drivers I have come across, they do not have a clue on how to use them. When we were nearly at our destination, we came across the first in what was a series of new ones, where it used to be a straight, if curved drive, there was now a group of them, some just there for the fun (they must be planning something for the future), others just to slow the traffic, some to make junction safer; if you can be safe driving on the wrong side of the road and new ones still in their infancy, not yet finished. One day we drove through Torrevieje with no problems, the next we found they had built a mock roundabout over night, just to annoy the locals – well the tourists at least. But in the end we arrived safely at our destination and the start of the adventure. The Villa is part of a complex amongst a group of complexes, our complex consisted of about 25 villas all backing onto a communal area, which had two swimming pools, one of the pools was a children’s pool, the other larger pool also has a diving board for the bigger kids. The grounds are well maintained, with plenty of grass and shade given by the variety of trees that have been planted. The first week we were there, the gardeners went around and cut all the grass within the complex, sadly they took a couple of days to clear the grass cuttings. So for the first few days we had the noise of their mowers cutting the peace and quite that we were expecting. A short walk away was the shopping complex; this contained a ’Mercadona’ (small super market), a few restaurants, some hellios stores (that’s ice cream for the un-educated amongst us), a couple of bric-a-brac shops and the compulsory bars. For those who like local food, you could always tell which restaurant was the best as it was always busy, so whenever we went out to eat it was to Santo’s. Our accommodation consisted of three bedrooms, the master having a double bed, the others having twin beds, one of these being bunk beds that had been taken down. There are two bathrooms; both having showers only one having a bath. Hot water is supplied using bottled gas, so could be expensive if you are not careful, all water is metered, so beware. The kitchen had all the basic equipment needed, a microwave, a cooker with two electric and two gas hobs and an electric oven. There was a fridge freezer, with a small freezer compartment, but a large fridge for all the beer and drinks. The lounge area was very large with a dinning table if needed; we always ate outside on the veranda. The villa had two patios, one at the front, and the other towards the back within the communal area, but separated by the boundary wall. There are sun loungers, chairs and tables for use outside, or you could just lie on the grass near the pool. If you wanted to cool off, you had to shower first before getting in to the pool. There are two showers, one at each end of the pool area for you to use. The villa also had a roof suntrap, which, once the sun was up, got very hot, but we used this for drying any wet clothing. What was nice about the complex was it was very secure with locked entrances into the communal area other than those allowed from the villas. What was sad was there has been quite a bit of crime in the area in the past so the residents have taken action to safe guard their properties; this is bared out by all the barred or shuttered villas in the various complexes. Tony said that the majority of the villas in our complex are owned by Spaniards, who are only there over the weekends unless there is a holiday or something. See Mary Hartigan report for more information about the complex.
For the majority of the time that we were there, we were the only people there in the daytime, there was a few English families staying, but we only saw them towards the late afternoon or early evenings. So for a quite, relaxing and unwinding break we needed, we could not have asked for anything better.
That was to be the order of the day, once we had spent the first morning stocking up the fridge with all the essentials, getting the ice in the freezer and the drinks cooling in the fridge, it was a case of relaxing and seeing who would be the first to give in and get the next round of drinks in. I could slowly feel myself winding down and quietly chilling out. Just what the doctor ordered.
Diving in the Costa Blanca
Both Tony and Mary have dived in the Costa Blanca before, so knew where we could go to get wet and hire the necessary equipment that we had not brought with us (tanks, weights and air). What I was interested in was find what, if any, other dive shops or organisations where around this area, so we decided to take a day and go for a look. The nearest dive shop was in San Pablo, sadly it was not a dedicated shop, but catered for fisherman as well, there were lots of spear guns and the like on display. When we tried to ask the shop assistant about diving trips we found that she did not understand us very well if at all, it might have been that she spoke no English and our Spanish was something to be desired. Our next attempt took us to Torrevieje, where we were told that no less than 4 shops existed. What we did not know was where they were but we did have some landmarks that Tony knew about. So off we set, we must have walked a fair few miles with no joy but what we did find was a tourist information office, who quickly told us we had been walking in the wrong area of town. What we needed now was to drown our sorrows for a few minutes before setting off again. Finally we did locate two shops, but neither of them was of any help. The third shop was also located, but it was similar to the one in San Peblo, but with a heavy coating of dust on all the diving equipment on display in their window, the last shop we were looking for just eluded us throughout the day so we gave up until we could get some more information about its location. As this was to be a chill-out holiday, we decided to limit our diving to 5 days, so that evening Tony gave Jon Philip, the owner of “Scuba Tribe” a call to see if it was all right to drop in the next day to organise some trips.
Scuba Tribe has been around for about 6 years, it was started by Jon Philip Dubois and his brother and has grown into a well-organised operation. It is located in the town of Rojales, about a 10-minute drive from Torrevieje and is run from Jon Philip’s home at Calle Murillo, 26 Ciudad Quesada. The dive school is located in the basement of his home and has an external assess, as you cannot go through the house, Jon Philip now runs the school on his own with help from a couple of Ex-Brit’s, Bruce Moncrieff and Allan Gough. Here are general directions on how to get there.
The SCUBA TRIBE Team
Bruce Moncrieff and Alan Gough. Both British ex-pats living in Spain.
Although Mary and Tony had met Alan before, my first impression of him was one of someone who likes to make people feel at easy. Even though he is quite tall and would tower over most people (he is well over 6ft tall – 2m for you metric people) he does not overpower you with his presence. Talking to him was easy as we discussed his present health and wealth, we learnt that he had not long ago married Jon Philips sister and they now have a little boy. Sadly he would not be diving with us as he is recovering from an operation on his back. Bruce on the other hand was someone who gave a confident aura to everyone close to him. His attitude to diving was so laid back that I thought I was diving with my old diving instructor who could drop asleep at every opportunity, even waiting for the dive boat to come a pick us up. Bruce was to be our main dive guide and told countless stories to us on our trips to and from our dive site, that’s if he could stay awake in the back of the 4X4 long enough. We found a way and that was to make him drive, he would not fall asleep at the drop of a hat now would he?
Jon Philip himself gives the impression of a gentleman with a carefree attitude, but this disguises someone who is well turn-on to diving and the safety aspect of the sport. We discussed our current qualification and diving experience with him and he quizzed us on when we last dived. As BSAC members, our third party liability insurance was accepted without any qualms, this saved us having to take out the Spanish equivalent, as all divers must have third party liability insurance, a divers knife and each group must use a Surface Marker Buoy a all times.
Jon Philip explained that “Scuba Tribe” does not organise dives everyday as they also supply a diver training program for new starts under the Association of Canadian Underwater Certifications, Inc. (popularly known as ACUC International or ACUC Europe).
He normally organises trips for qualified divers on a Sunday, Tuesday, or Thursday at what every site the current weather conditions allow, the other days are uses for diver training. As they are very hot on the safety side of diving, they will not use any of their dive sites if there are any breakers, breaking onto the shore – they should see some of the site we dive from in the UK, Chessil Beach being a prime example. This caution was to limit our dive sites, as at this time, Spain was generating all the bad weather that Britain was to experience at the start of the World Cup. I will not go into details about all the sites available as Mary has put pen to paper and written her own report about their diving experiences back in 2000. The link to this report is Spain2000 and it is well worth a read. As there were four of us, Jon Philip also offer us the chance to have a boat dive for which he needs 6 divers on the Wednesday.
About our Diving
The normal practise of Scuba Tribe for any of their dives is for everyone to meet at the school around 8.00am. All equipment is checked then loaded, along with all the tanks, weight belts and personal equipment (put into crates if needed) into their very large trailer. This can take a fair amount of time, as there always seems to be loads of tanks and then for everyone to pile into one of the two 4X4 vehicles that the school uses. To actually get to any of the dive site around Mar Menor normal starts with 1 to 1-1/2 hour drive, thankfully they do have a rest stop in one of the garages on the way. Once at the site the order of the day is for everyone to be paired with their buddy, to kit up and into the water to standing depth, where the dive brief is then normally carried out – buddy checks being done prior to entering the water. This is so that no one gets heat stroke (Hyperthermia) and you can keep cool whilst waiting for the stragglers. The majority of dives are around the 45 – 50 minutes duration, but once back into a depth between the 9m – 6m range, you can extend this until you reach your minimum air supply, on more than one occasion the was extended to 60 – 70 minutes when we visited a wreck just offshore. Although Scuba Tribe offers a number of dive sites in their itinerary, we were sadly limited to only three, one of these being the boat dive.
The first of these, ’Cabo Palos’ is reached by descending a series of steps to a very small shingle beach; this can get even smaller if there are members of the public sunbathing. Entry into the water entails negotiating some large rocks until you get into waist depth water, there are some small channels, but these are hard to find and keep to.
There are two different dive-site here, both around the 16m mark. Both of these are scenic and very typical Mediterranean diving, you need to look for things of interest
Our second site was ’Cala Fria’, just around the corner from the first site. This is reached by a sloping ramp, which does get a little steep close to the shingle beach. Again, large rocks limit the entry point, but unlike Cabo Palos’ there is a large channel leading to deeper water. The normal thing is to surface swim for about 50m to get to deep water before descending. Again there are two-dive site here, but there is also a wreck, which makes the end of the dive more interesting as you can extend your bottom time as it is only in about 9m of water.
Our final dive was to be our boat dive, we would use a Rib supplied by on of the local dive centres at Playa De Estaco. From here we would be visiting an offshore site about 25 minutes from the harbour. ’Lata Reef’ is about ½ – ¾ mile off shore and drops of to a good 20m. It is a pinnacle just off another island and is a very easy dive. The top of the reef is in 6m and makes for a good off-gassing site after the deep. We found lots more to see here than we did when at 20m and completed a 66-minute dive easily. The only downside to this trip was it was a one-dive day only.
My thoughts on the whole thing
As a whole the holiday was just what Julie and I needed, we were able to do nothing when we wanted to, we could just laze around the villa and pool enjoying the excellent weather. The diving was just how we like it, easy and uncomplicated. We “could do our own thing” so long as you followed in the general direction the rest had gone. You could meet them on the way back. There was no rush to get you out of the water, you just had to return to 6m with 50 bar and then could had a little delve as you off-gassed. You just had to return with some air in the tank (30 bar was fine). There were a few things that I was not impressed with. The early starts – we were up at 5am to get to Scuba Tribe by 8am (I was on holiday). The other thing was spear fishing, the Spanish are worse than the French regarding this – if it’s alive SHOOT IT. We found lots of evidence when a variety of aquatic life had suffered from the lance of the speargun. Lots of holes where there should be flesh, size did not matter either, big or small damage was evident everywhere. We found a baby Moray with more holes than a colander hiding in a shallow bowl barely alive, but alive anyway. All this in the name of fun. Diving on the wreck in the morning we found a very large scorpion fish, it looked like this was home, sadly in the afternoon only scales could be found drifting amongst the wreckage. It may have swum away, but I do not think so. Jon Philip said it was very sad as the breeding stock was slowly being eradicated and soon the reefs would be barren of reef fish. Another thing was the amount of travelling time, sadly the 4X4’s only had natural air conditioning (you had to open the windows), so our short stops at the garage was looked forward to. All in all a very enjoyable time was had and my thanks go to all at Scuba Tribe for the diving and to Mary and Tony for inviting and putting up with us.
Copyright © 2008 Bristol Aerospace Sub-Aqua Club