Monday, 12 April 2010

do's and don'ts in renewing your visa

Here are my top five do's and don'ts if you have to wait especially at popular places like the Embassy of the United States.
1. Don't bring electronic equipment inside and this means telephone, calculator, camera including any spray items like perfume, cologne, alcogel, throat spray. In case you have no driver to call to pick up the prohibited items and you parked far far away, don't fret. There is a coop business thriving where some kind of hawker peddles their time to guard your items for P200.
2. Don't assume. Read instructions properly. The required photo is against a white background. I guess I got confused because recently, the Department of Foreign Affairs changed the required passport shots to be against a blue background. In case you missed this, don't panic, there is a photo booth inside the pavilion which costs P70 for six mug shots. Well, you get what you pay for!
3. Do fill out all the items in the application form - both the DCS176 and the bank form. Don't leave any item blank. Just put 'none' if there is none. I discovered that this was the cause of the long wait at the queue. Applicants who did not fill out the form properly were asked to go to the side counter and complete the missing items. They would then go back where they left off, right at the top of the line. Duh!
4. Dress for hot conditions. The crowded pavilion was stewing at 30 degrees. I completely forgot about my visa appointment and was wearing of all things a knit top!
5. Do expect to wait 3-4 hours and even longer. Since this is Manila, I was not surprised when the brownout occurred. I was shocked though that it took the Embassy some minutes to get the power back on and appalled that the finger scan machine conked out! Bring a good book as a distraction to all these unpleasant conditions.
When I left at 4pm, the number being called out was 3,800 so i guess they must be processing at least 2-3,000 applications per day? At 100 dollars visa fee, hmmmm... do the math.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Dive in Maldives now.. before it vanishes

our dive boat behind
I don't want to sound like an alarmist but experts warn that climate change and rising sea levels are of great concern to this group of 1200 islands which according to is slightly more than 1.5 times the size of Washington, D.C.

Maldives is only 8 feet above sea level at its highest point and as the North Pole's icebergs melt and sea levels rise, it's entire existence is in danger. In fact, the disputed Bengal Bay island (by India and Pakistan) which is 6 feet above sea level has already vanished and displaced its population.

I'm glad that i got pulled by Marge, Esq. and piqued by Atom's query to dive in Maldives this Easter holiday.

Somehow Maldives was never in my diving radar and regard it more as a luxe honeymoon destination. It never got to my must-dive bucket list lke Cocos Island for hammerheads, Palau for grey reefs, Bali for sunfish, Sardine run and great whites in South Africa, etc.

Ricky and Marge enjoying the view on the deck
I was surprised to discover that Maldives has reasonable rates and the diving excellent. The initial quotes that we got for resort-based diving went as high as USD4,000 per person excluding the dives which was another USD50 to 100 per dive for a week's stay. So I'm happy that we found the dive safari run by Bas van der Mee.

Bas' mantra during our trip was safety first. He would wake us up at 5:30 and yell "coffee, tea, dive briefing." He conducted detailed dive briefings with maps and all before each dive and made sure that everyone had a dive computer, mirror, safety balloon since the currents can be pretty strong and "its 2400 km to Africa" as he always said at the end. He was fairly strict and limited the dives to one hour underwater and three per day (total of 17 dives) since most dives were rather deep and we would sometimes go on deco mode.

Bas briefing us on our next dive
We saw everything - grey reefs, white tips, schools of dog tooth tunas and jacks, squadron of eagle rays and even dolphins underwater-- you name it we saw it, except sadly, the mantas and whale sharks that Maldives is famous for. We went to the usual haunts in South Male' and South Ari. Alas, nada! The construction of the new airport must've scared them away which prompted Bas to change the route of the group after us and headed to North Ari to Rashdoo where they spotted lots! Note that Atom who stayed in the W with his family said he saw seven mantas in one dive.

Heading back
Oh well, there will definitely be a next time. Bas runs two seasons Spring (March & April) and Autumn (October & November). Ricky SB is already planning a diving trip for this Autumn. Hmm… maybe plan a reunion dive with all the Belge/Dutch/Dane on the boat?