Tuesday, June 07, 2005

To Dive or Not to Dive

Sunday 6/5/05: Sabang
I’m tired, I’m whipped, I’m burned, but I’m totally exhilarated.

Whatever people might say, we work our butts off here. In the last two weeks I don’t think I have left the office before 7 PM, and several times I’ve continued to work on proposals and budgets until eleven. Hence, I haven’t been very great at providing daily updates. This has been the same for Ricardo, my boss. At least when I come home at 8, I’m usually done… his conference calls with our NHQ last until 10PM. He has not taken a day off since his arrival to Indonesia in late April… that all changed today. The Brits have a boat. They use it to transfer materials to and from the island of Pulo Aceh where they are doing village reconstruction. Our team will be helping with their water sanitation, but since they have contracted with this driver, they have the boat all month. They decided to take a trip to Sabang. Sabang is an island about two and a half hours by boat from Banda. It used to be a big tourist destination for people from all around asia. They would come for the hammocked bungalows and amazing diving. But this all changed in 2001 with the declaration of martial law. Due to the civil war, the Indonesian government closed the province of Aceh to all non-Indonesians and crippled the burgeoning tourism industry there. The tsunami hasn’t done anything either for the island… they’re trying and now they have a new market, the ex-pats working for NGOs who are desperate like us for a day off.

OK, so back to the boat… this ain’t a speed boat. It’s a traditional wooden boat that goes VERY slow (see picture). When I first saw it, I first thought of the expression… “he’s on a slow boat to China!” I also realized quite quickly that there was no real “cabin” just a place for the driver. That meant that I was going to spend about three hours in direct equatorial sun… good thing I had sunscreen. So about twenty of us, mainly Indonesians working for the Brits, got on the boat. Many of the diving ex-pats cancelled though… they simply had too much work, but Ricardo was determined to go… he’s a divemaster who taught diving for several years, so he was geeked, and I had to support my boss, right?

We left at seven in the morning. The Australians that we worked for had had a house-warming party and I had been at that till eleven the night before. Simone called me at five that morning… so between the slight hangover, and four and a half hours of sleep, I wasn’t feeling that dandy… and the rocky seas didn’t help much. But I was brave, I didn’t blow any chunks, but as I looked over the side of the boat at the forty dolphins swimming around us, I had to swallow hard… you can only overcome sea-sickness if you look in one direction and don’t change the scenery.

After three and a half hours on the boat, we arrived to the island of Sabang. A dive boat was waiting to pick us up and we all transferred to it. They brought most of the people to an inlet to snorkel, and then Ricardo, myself, and a Brit from “Save the Children” went on to deeper waters to dive. I learned to scuba when I was in Egypt… back in 1996… I haven’t dived since! But this is Indonesia, they trusted my word and never asked for dive documentation. But I was honest and said that I haven’t been underwater in nine years. Ricardo and the Brit, who is also an expert diver, went with one divemaster, and I went with Ami, another divemaster. He was patient… and I was impressed how quickly things came back to me. After remembering how to use my BCD, we went down to a coral reef about twenty-four meters deep. If you’ve ever dove in a highly touristic area, you may see a lot of fish, but the coral is grey. That’s because when you touch coral with your hands, it often will die. Three years of zero tourists has helped this coral return to a stunning pink and blue. The fish were amazing. I felt like I was in the opening scene from “Finding Nemo” and I saw enough clown fish to really feel I was in the film. I lost count of the blue trigger fish which I saw. There was a three meter long yellow moray eel (scary mo-fo), scorpion fish, rock fish, manta-rays, you name it, it was there feeding on the coral. The fish absolutely glowed in the water. It’s like being on a safari all by yourself. There was no one around to bother you. We were down for about thirty minutes. Ricardo, who left before me, dove for over an hour on the same tank that lasted me thirty minutes. I hope with practice, I can also improve my air consumption. He’s dove in dozens of countries and said that he can’t ever remember seeing such a wide and diverse variety of fish. We had lunch on the island, and then dove again in the afternoon.

Starlight, Star Bright, First Star I see tonight…

By the time we picked up the snorkelers, it was about six and starting to get dark. The ride home was perfect. A painter’s sunset soared over the sky and as the sun disappeared, the stars appeared. Out away from the light pollution, the stars were amazing, and a different sky that I had ever seen in the US or Europe. I saw the Southern Cross (http://www.users.zetnet.co.uk/eaves/southernskies/cross/image.html) for the first time. This is the equivalent of the north star for the southern hemisphere. It’s like a big kite in the sky. It’s bottom always points due south. The breeze was light and the conversations were many. I sat on the stern for several hours and just shot the bull with the Indonesians. We talked about life, about love, about sex, about religion… it was like sitting around a campfire, but without the campfire. Luminescent fish sparkled like fireflies in the water below us. I wanted Simone there so bad… her absence filled me with a melancholy that I have not felt in a long time. I saw several lovers clandestinely embracing (here holding hands is ticketable) and it ached.

I’m determined to return to Sabang though. I think we’ll take the last ferry and go for a night dive one night, sleep in a bungalow and get two dives in the next day. I guess night diving in the tropics is amazing. We’re also going to plan a deep sea dive (around 42 meters) and Ami, my divemaster, has promised me lots of sharks and tunas. I can’t wait!


Anonymous Nick Bolema said...

"The Southern Cross" ... reminds me of Jimmy Buffet. Keep up the good work.

6:59 AM  
Anonymous koh tao diving said...

As I'm a compulsive traveler I found your blog quite interesting
Keep up the good work
koh tao diving

9:48 PM  

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