Where have we been?
Thursday October 11, 2007
Despite our best efforts, we’ve once again fallen into a pattern of not writing any new posts. This is due both to the fact that we’ve been spending all our times on boats—hence, no internet—and a more fundamental shift in our lifestyle. When we first set off some eighteen months ago, it was for the trip of a lifetime. And while this has turned out to be just that and more, after so long on the road, we’ve stopped looking at this as a mere trip, and more our new life.
And yet, we’ve had dozens of emails asking for updates. The reality is we’ve spent the better part of the past few months underwater. It’s hard to write about diving while making it sound interesting and non-repetitive. Most of you would use my pictures and stories of diving as sleep therapy—like yoga or walking in the woods, diving is an entirely personal experience and one that is hard to describe adequately in words. I can be having the worst day of my life but the moment my head submerges under the water all my stress is gone. There are few things more pleasurable for me than the sound of bubbles and swimming through sea looking at rare and exotic marine creatures. The colors are amazing, as is observing the behavior: watching a Hawksbill turtle use it’s beaked mouth to tear off a tasty piece of sponge; a frogfish perfectly camouflage itself in it’s environment; a grey reef shark circling it’s prey.
Teaching in Semporna
After the Philippines I headed back to Semporna to get some much needed certifications and experience working as a dive instructor. Kai took a brief detour and met up with his Dad in Bali before meeting me back in Semporna.
When traveling, you tend to look for patterns—some measure of sameness amidst the constant changing of the environment and people around you. For me, Semporna has become a safety net—a wild west town stuck in the far east that is simply perfect in all it’s imperfections. Despite the less-than-stellar food and mangy dogs, Semporna has become to feel like home. It was lovely to return to our friends, who are now really more like family. Of course, it’s still Scuba Junkie, so I wasn’t surprised to step out of the airport and discover that the shuttle bus hadn’t arrived. No matter, I managed to hitch a ride on a competing dive shop’s shuttle for free. Once I actually made it to Scuba Junkie, Ric sensing my eagerness, had two courses lined up for me and I began teaching within hours of my arrival.
Taking the Instructor Development Course and actually teaching people how to dive are two very different things. Being responsible for the safety and well-being of people underwater for the very first time was completely overwhelming. Yet, I received some great help from the other instructors at Scuba Junkie—especially my dearest friend Mike—and with every course teaching became easier. Of course, when your office is comprised of white sand beaches, palm tree, bright blue sky, and warm, tropical water, it’s hard to call your life stressful. It’s not sheer hedonism though; diving has given me a new-found sense of wonder in the world, and an inner-confidence that has been lacking for some time now. Teaching diving, in particular, places you in a position of leadership. All in all, during the two months I spent back in Semporna, I certified 50 people, including two divemasters and three rescue divers.
I have to say we had a lot of fun out of the water in Semporna as well. A lot of this was due to Dan—an instructor at Scuba Junkie—and his amazing ability to throw a good party. I don’t know what it is, but the only time I’ve ever dressed up in America is for Halloween. Europeans it seems need little excuse for a dress-up party, and we had weekly “fancy dress” parties. Themes ranged from 1980’s/1990’s power ballads to night’s of terror. Semporna isn’t exactly a shopping mecca, so the theme parties pushed or creativity and ability to do more with less. It’s amazing what you one can do with nothing more than safety pins and three meters of fabric. And did you know that Rose Cordial is an amazing substitute for fake blood? My particular favorites were Kai and Mike dressed up as Slash and Axle Rose (respectively) on Power Ballads Night performing a rendition of Knocking on Heaven’s Door as well our infamous rave party. Our Night of Horror was pretty good too!
Back in Bali…again
We only planned to stay a short time in Semporna, and this was made easier by our friend Mike’s invitation to join him in Bali for some R&R and diving in the famous black sands of Bali. (Yes you do need a holiday even when you are in paradise—mostly to get decent food).
Kai and Mike left for Bali a week before me as I had decided to stay on at Scuba Junkie an extra week because they were short-handed. Sticking around Semporna worked out well for me because we ended up having plenty of staff with the arrival of several new instructors, and I was able to get in some fun diving (diving without guiding other people, which is a luxury for instructors whom often spend entire days kneeling in shallow water teaching people to clear a mask). Ric, one of the owners of Scuba Junkie, took me on my deepest dive to date at 52 meters (170 fet), and on another dive I saw my first scalloped hammerhead shark.
Our underwater camera—a Canon S-80 with waterhousing—had been out of commission for a few months, but with the help of Kai’s Mom (thanks Dianne!) we finally got it back and were finally able to take some underwater pictures again.
By the time I arrived in Bali, Mike and Kai had already explored the north of Bali, around the area of Lovina. They were both gloating over having found a mimic octopus in the black sands of Puri Jati, and I was eager to get back in the water. First things first, and that was a trip to Lombok and to a small set of islands off the Northwest coast called the Gilis (_gili_, in Bahahsa Indonesia, simply means “small island”). The Gilis have long been a stop on the backpacker trail, noted mainly for there laid back lifestyle and abundance of young travelers. For me, the beauty of the Gilis (there are several, we stayed on Gili Trawangan) is that there are no cars or motorbikes. Living in Asia, you almost become immune to the constant hum of motorbikes an scooters around you, and it’s not until you get away from them that you realize just how loud they really are. Even though there is diving in the Gilis, it’s not world class, and we opted to spend our days swinging in hammocks, playing cards, and eating at the many cafes dotted along the white-sand beaches.
Mola-mola and Black Sand Diving
Mike was dying to see a mola-mola (known as Sunfish in the western world), a prehistoric fish that is actually related to puffer fish except about a thousand time larger. Though not as big as manta rays, mola-mola can get up 3 meter wingspans, and swim in what looks like a sideways fashion (to my eyes, they look like at any moment they should tip over). Fortunately, Bali is one of the few places in the world where sightings are possible, and even more fortunately, it was mola-mola season. We headed to Padang Bai on the east coast of Bali to secure a trip to Nusa Penida—a small island off the east cost of bali where they are particularly prevalent. In Padang Bai we met up Che, another instructor from Scuba Junkie who also happened to be in Bali, and three of us became four. Our dives took place at Crystal Bay. The channel between Bali and Lombok is famous for what is known as the Wallace Line, a boundary that largely separates the zoogeographical regions of Asia and Australasia. In practical terms, deep beneath the channel separating Bali and Lombok is a giant confluence of continental shelves; for divers, this means some of the strongest currents in the world (on the ferry ride from Lombok to Bali, we witness actual whirlpools in the water). Crystal Bay is a relatively protected sanctity amidst the currents that lies off Nusa Pendia; the mola-mola come in to rest and be cleaned here. Mola-mola also like colder water, and the currents and thermoclines in this area provide it, with temperatures dropping to 19 degree celsius. The cold temperatures and hoods were worth it though, as we managed to see six mola-mola in two dives. It isn’t often you get to see such an ancient creature up close and perosnal—let alone six—so we were all buzzing after our dives.
From Padang Bai, we headed farther north and settled in Tulamben to do some diving at the U.S.S Liberty wreck, as well as to explore the famous black sands for weird macro creatures. In Tulamben we met up wit Katarin and Peter, two more divers from Scuba Junkie. The beauty of Tulabmen is that nearly all the diving is accessible from shore. As we were all instructors and divemasters, we were able to rent tanks for $3 a piece and do our own dives, which was a real luxury and gave us ample time (usually 70 or 80 minute dives) to explore. We found all sorts of interesting creatures—many that we’d never seen before—including myriad harlequin ghost pipefish, loads of nudibranchs, harlequin shrimp, tiger shrimp, juvenile frogfish, and many others. More than anything, it was just a blast to go diving with friends with no responsibility to customers!
From Bali, Kai and departed ways with Mike, heading up to Singapore for a visa run. We’ve once again settled in Bali. Kai is working a few freelance web projecs, and I’ll be hunting for some freelance dive instructor gigs here in Bali for the next month or so. That’s it for now!