Normally whenever I travel anywhere it's from Manchester or London, but today we were lucky in that the flight to Barcelona was from Newcastle, and as I live only 10 mins from the airport it meant a relative lie in, despite the fact my buddy arrived 20 minutes early at my house to pick me up!
After an uneventful flight to Barcelona we passed through immigration very quickly and didn't wait long for our bags. So far so good, and even a 45 minute queue to get our hire car couldn't dampen our spirits. I was well prepared and had maps printed out ready for our 2 hour drive to the small town of L'Estartit on the Catalonian coast.
We arrived at Unisub dive shop around 5pm and were given keys to the apartment that was to be our home for the next 5 days. The apartment was clean and spacious, was 2 mins walk to the boat and a minutes walk to the dive shop, and had beautiful views over the harbour and the sea- this would do us just fine! After dropping our bags off we headed along to find somewhere to eat, and had lovely tapas and sangria right on the sea front, before heading for an early night.
After bacon sarnies for brekkie in the apartment, we headed along to the dive centre to fill in the required paperwork, we were greeted by Antoni the dive centre owner who was very friendly and helpful, before heading along to the boat. The boat, The Triton, was an ideal diving vessel with indoor kitting up benches to shelter you from the sun, a big dive platform on the back and a sun deck on the roof. It was only 10 minutes sail to the Medes Islands and the scenery was beautiful.
The first dive was to be La Reina; as the vast majority of the boat was French we had our own dive briefing in English from the skipper Shaun, who was brilliant, very helpful all week and provided excellent and detailed briefings. La Reina is a reef dive and provided an excellent introduction into the diving here- the underwater scenery was beautiful with lots of shoals of fish including various types of bream, big groupers, nudibranchs, and conger eels (including one out hunting). The highlight of the dive for me was a white nudibranch with purple fronds, the same type as in a photo I had admired in the dive shop wall earlier. After a lovely 70 minute dive we ascended into the beautiful 35 degree sunshine and enjoyed the ride back to shore on the sun deck.
We were doing 3 dives a day so when we got back to shore we dropped our cylinders off on the 'emptys' crate and grabbed new cylinders. There is a filling station right next to where the boat docks and it's a great system as you drop your empty cylinder off into the emptys crate and pick up an air or nitrox cylinder for the next dive. The 15l cylinders all have dual valves, which was ideal as we are used to diving our twinsets, which meant we didn't have to change the configuration of our regs, and also meant we had some redundancy.
After the quick change the next dive was La Vaca. This is a huge tunnel through the reef and was one of the dives I was looking forward to the most. We were first in the water and were told to follow the reef along at 14m and we wouldn't be able to miss the caves. The main tunnel is extremely impressive with light streaming through it, and when we got to the other side we were greeted by a large number of big dusky groupers which was an impressive sight. Turning left we swam round the headland and back through the cave, this time through the much smaller cavern that dog-legged off the main chamber. This one was smaller and darker and you definitely needed a torch. The place was like Swiss cheese and when we had had our fill of swimming back and forward through all the various chambers we made our way back to the boat, we were told there were two caves in 11m and a further swim through at 6. We did the first cave which extended back a good 30m and wasn't for the feint hearted, then the swim through at 6m before doing our safety stop under the boat. This is an impressive site and compares favourably with the inland sea/blue hole in Gozo which is one of my favourite dive sites in the world.
We were back to shore by 1, and as our next dive wasn't till 4 we had time for a leisurely lunch and a quick snooze before heading back down to the boat for our third and final dive of the day which was to be Salpoxtet. The boat was moored onto a big rock, and after the briefing we dropped into a small canyon teaming with fish, there was a lovely tunnel further back from that in about 7m, then lots of huge boulders to swim round with all the same marine life as on the other dives. Arriving back to the boat we had lots of gas left, so swam through the canyon again and again through the tunnel, before finishing the dive watching the huge shoals of fish all around us, including an extremely large group of yellow striped cow bream grazing on the rocks. That night we had more tapas and cocktails by the sea, which finished what was an awesome day off nicely.
First dive in the morning was to be La Vaca, we were only too happy to do the same dive again as we had enjoyed it so much the day before. After playing in the tunnels again we decided to do the second cave, this time you could ascend into an air pocket filled with Stalagmites and Stalactites. We couldn't resist a quick fin through the swim-through at 6m before ascending onto the boat.
After changing our cylinders, the next dive site was Carall Bernat, which was a dive round the highest of the Medes Islands. Despite being the highest, the island actually doesn't have a large diameter, so it was essentially a large pinnacle dive. Being first in the water there were shoals of fish everywhere and loads of barracuda hunting them. The wall was covered in soft corals and multi coloured sea fans, and was absolutely spectacular. When we got round to the other side the current was ripping and it was head down and fin hard to get round. We still had plenty of time so we went round one more time in shallower water. This time we found lots of stunning nudibranchs, which I was excited about as they are some of my favourite things to see underwater. The islands are made up of porous stone and we found another chimney which provided another nice swim through. We finished the dive under the boat, where again we whiled away our safety stop watching the shoals of fish everywhere.
After lunch and another quick siesta, the third dive of the day was Pedra Del Dea. This was a wall dive and after descending to around 22m we swam along the reef on our right until we found an underwater pinnacle, which was absolutely covered in life and rivaled anything I have seen in my many trips to the red sea. It was covered in soft corals and red, white and blue sea fans and absolutely teeming with fish. Stunning! After admiring the pinnacle we swam down into the canyon which dropped off by the pinnacle. We had already noticed a thermocline on our previous dives, with it being about 25 degrees in the shallows then 23 degrees around 25m, but we were not prepared do the next thermocline, which was 19 degrees down at 38m! Ascending out of the cold we swam up and round the headland to another stunning wall, we ascended up the wall and through an arch in around 6m, coming back down the other side of the reef there were more nudibranchs, before finishing the dive under the boat.
The last day we decided to do only one dive and what a dive to finish on! Dolphin Cave is the signature dive in the Medes Islands and is the one I was really hoping I would have the opportunity to do. Diving is very regulated in the Medes Islands, with only a certain number of dives allowed at each site and the dive centres have very strict rotas as to when they can dive all the sites, so I was really lucky to be able to dive it.
The boat was moored in a cove and we were instructed to surface swim into the next cove and descend to 5m and into the cave, the tunnel extended 25m through the reef until we seen the dolphin statue for which the dive site is named, swimming out of the cave into the brilliant blue there were lots of groupers to greet us. Swimming reef left we swam back into the cave structure and into what is known as the cathedral. It's easy to see where it got its name from and the light streams through the whole of the canyon roof making a stunning sight. Next was the swim through the largest tunnel, we were told that this was some serious penetration, completely dark and a full on overhead environment some 70m long finishing in about 30m of water. Inside it was pitch black and shining my torch I noticed little albino crabs running around. Eventually we arrived at the end of the tunnel and emerged into the inky blue of the reef on the other side, swimming back through the same tunnel we arrived back at the cathedral, there were yet more caverns to explore, so next it was into a tunnel connecting the cathedral to dolphin cave, this had another chimney streaming light through. Randomly I found a large white nudibranch with black spots, that I later researched and discovered that they like low light environments, hence finding it in the cavern. All too soon it was time to go through the short tunnel past the dolphin statue and back to the waiting boat, to finish what had been one of my favourite ever dives. What a way to finish the diving in the Medes Islands!
I had been wanting to dive the Medes Islands for many years and it absolutely lived up to its reputation as the best diving in Europe. We managed all 7 dives in the Medes Islands, but apparently this is unusual. Due to the limited amount of dives allowed on the islands it's more normal to do half the dives in the Medes Islands and half up the coast; as the diving up the coast apparently isn't as impressive we certainly weren't complaining.
After putting our equipment out on the balcony to dry it was time to celebrate (commiserate?) the end of our diving with lovely seafood and a large number of HUGE gin and tonics, served in huge bowls of glasses with the gin poured until you say when! Certainly not like back home!
Our final day was to be one of sightseeing, starting at the extremely impressive Dali museum in Figueres, the whole place was designed by Dali himself and consists of a number of large installations, each cleverer than the last, culminating in his sculpture of Mae West's face which can only be seen by climbing the specially installed staircase. Next stop was Barcelona where we enjoyed the usual sights from the top of the hop on hop off bus, although we didn't hop off much as the sweltering 40 degree heat didn't really lend itself to pounding the pavements.
Our final night was in the 5 star Hesperia Tower hotel in Barcelona, where we made good use of the air con to cool down and enjoyed the magnificent breakfast buffet in the morning, before a short drive to the airport to drop the car off. Again the journey was uneventful and we arrived back into Newcastle in record time to finish what was an excellent holiday.