Diving & Komodo

This photo and underwater photos by Laura F.

When I travel I divide my journey into legs in my head. They usually relate to time spent in a certain place or with a certain person. This one I spent on the edge of Komodo National Park in a little resort only accessible by boat. Had I planned my Bali holiday myself I don’t think I would ever have ended up here, but my dad is dive crazy and a vacation spent on or underwater is heaven for him. My mum and I knew we were going to be diving or snorkeling everyday except for two of our week spent there, and maybe that just didn’t register. Either way we had no idea what was expecting us and felt a range of emotions as we experienced it. My final evaluation says: holy shit, that was awesome.

The resort itself is small, consisting of a beach side common area with tables to eat and log at, bean bags for beer and guitar ambience and scattered hammocks for dreamy star watching. Accommodation offers either en suite double bed rooms, which my parents booked, or two matrass open bales,one of which I got the pleasure to stay in. Bathrooms for the ten bales are shared, though I of course got the perk of using my parents’. I didn’t mind the missing wall at all. The climate is dry and cool enough in the evenings, while the rooms heat up a good deal. Geckos create nighttime harmonies to let you know the few mosquitoes you saw earlier are long taken care of. I did make an animal encounter that while unspectacular I am not looking to repeat very soon. The first night got an unusual amount of rain, and I assume my towel hung up to dry by my bale was a welcome shelter from the wet. When I shook it and wrapped it around myself after my morning shower a palm sized dark animal fell to the floor. In my disgusted surprise I mistook it for a cockroach at first, but once my glasses helped me see clearer I detected the tail. Mama got a slight scare when I told her there was a scorpion in her bathroom.

The resort had dogs, cats and goose sized ducks, but the main attraction was the marine life, of course. One or both of the dive boats left at 6:30 or 7:00 depending on the designated dive spots for the day, requiring early nights and producing the one or the other hangover face. Neither the Alfredi nor the Birostris left you hanging though. Both of the wooden boats had sundecks and beanbags for tired divers, and breakfast was served as soon as the boats took off. Eggs, pancakes, bread, spreads and fruit, tea and coffee. Really nice when you can eat it, but sadly my stomach was never agreeing with me, least of all around breakfast time. If at all I wolfed down a pancake after the first dive when my body was finalling telling me it needed food. Lunch never went over too well either. If I was lucky I could have some of the delicious afternoon snacks when we got back to the resort and fortunately by dinner time, I was usually able to try all of what the talented kitchen staff put out that evening.

 The problem with an upset stomach is that diving takes up a lot of energy. Every day included three dives, and as I quickly learnt it was simply too much for me. I am the kind of person who likes diving,  but I don’t live for it. I did my Advanced course with Scuba Junkie while we were there, and I am glad I decided to do it. However, the first day gave me no break. We briefed, we dove to do buoyancy skills, we debriefed, we briefed, we dove to do navigation skills, we debriefed, we briefed and I started feeling ropy, we dove for the Drift Adventure dive and I had to cut it short, emerging from the water bawling. I don’t think it was one specific thing that got me to this point. The first dive was great, and I had a heap of fun, but I was already concerned about my buoyancy and learning more about it made me expect a lot more from myself. The currents were pretty strong during the second dive and when my instructor Ewan signaled for me to kneel on the slope and I continued being pushed lower and lower it freaked me out. It freaked me out even more when I felt something pulling on my tank behind me until I realised it was one of the shadowing DMTs, Chris, holding me in place by swimming against me. Chris saved me all the time, which I am adding here because there is actually visual proof of him making sure I was okay 😀 Thank you, Chris. 

As I mentioned I was already feeling a little nauseous in between dive nr. 1 and 2. During the third dive I started feeling like I was doing everything wrong. I knew better how buoyancy worked and was more aware fo what I should be doing. I worried everytime the drift carried me faster than the others, because I wasn’t supposed to go ahead of my instructor/ dive guide. Then I had to turn and fin away from the reef because I felt like I was going to crash into the coral. Then I was afraid I was going to float to the surface like it had happened before – I just felt that I was doing terribly. I was frustrated and exhausted and began crying underwater and asked Ewan for us to ascend. It wasn’t all that terrible, we had still done a 54 minute dive. Still, I was embarrassed to have given up and so as soon as I had nodded at my mum so she wouldn’t guess anything, I headed to the back of the boat and cried some more. Ewan and Ben, another instructor asked how I was, but I felt too ashamed to look them in the eye until I had calmed down a bit.

The weird thing is that I didn’t even really panic. My breathing didn’t accelerate, I didn’t flail about, I simply felt uncomfortable. Yet another DMT, Adam, confirmed this later after we’d done a dive together, and I had given him a wavy okay sign saying “yeah, I’m uncomfortable, but I’m okay”. Everyone I dove with told me my buoyancy was good and better than theirs had been at dive 50 (I was at dive 13 after the first day). It was kind and encouraging, but it doesn’t really help much when you feel like you’re a mess underwater, and my stomach was a real nuisance the next morning. I wondered whether I should dive at all the second day, but Ewan suggested I sit out the first dive and see how I go. I followed his advice and tested my well-being by snorkeling in between dives. Someone had spotted a manta so Fandy pulled his dive shirt and hood over me, and I got to snorkel watch a manta. Definitely a highlight!

I only did the third dive that day, which was a Fish ID Adventure one during which I was supposed to tell my instructor, upon being asked, whether we were looking at a grouper, a sweetlip, a trevalley, a triggerfish or an eel. The only problem was that we only encountered two of the five during that dive. I felt as uncomfortable during this one as I had before and I think it’s partly due to the current. I just don’t seem to enjoy drift. However, I felt good after we resurfaced and when my dad showed me a video he had sneakily recorded, I realised how I was looking completely calm and collected although I was feeling very poorly in that moment – Ben had asked me to identify a fish, and I was motioning to him that I had no clue because I didn’t see the mouth. Mainly I wasn’t feeling great at that moment because I had to get close to the reef to take a look, and I was worried I would touch anything.

The video and positive feeling gave me enough confidence to be determined to finish my course the next day by doing my required Deep Dive. So despite my body disagreeing with the tightness of my wetsuit and the weight of my BCD and tank I did my giant stride and commenced descent with Ewan. Practically the first thing we saw was a white tip reefshark which was neat and then heading for a sandy patch to do our skills I spotted a RAY and got super excited by it. This dive was by far my favourite. The skills were fun, especially one for which we cracked two eggs and were able to play ping pong with the yolk because of the pressure. I laughed under water and was really relaxed. Then after a short moment of disappointment because there wasn’t enough current to be ripped through what’s called the shotgun, we were instead surprised by a few passing devil rays and an eagle ray which stayed close for a small while and let us watch its elegance. I was noticing my improved posture as well and confused Ewan a little trying to get his attention to my angled legs – I’d struggled really hard before to keep them angled upward in a horizontal hover. All in all I felt relaxed and positive so I did the second dive as well and continued to feel cheerful and more alert, because I had gotten a bit better at spotting fish, including a juvenile angelfish, and what I mistook for cowfish. Note to self: Not everything with two little horns is a cowfish! We saw goatfish, parrotfish, unicorn fish, a heap of eels, trevalleys, triggerfish…. We basically saw plenty of everything that was absent during my Fish ID dive.

Even though the last dive I did two days later had me feeling a bit worried again, though I spotted a huge turtle right underneath us which was so cool, I still like to remember those two awesome dives and how great they felt. Except for the first day I never did more than two dives again and had one day off diving completely. On my last day after that last dive there was nothing inside me that told me to go back in the water, except for the guilt of having paid for the dives already and of being the least enthusiastic diver for miles. I don’t think anyone there except for my mum really understood how I didn’t feel the urge to go again and again, and to fully embrace the lifestyle of eating , diving, sleeping on a loop. Ewan even suggested that physically diving might not be for me, seeing how my body was acting up the whole time – the day I didn’t dive was the only day I didn’t get a stomach ache. I felt really guilty, felt like I was being complicated and frustrating to those around me and really that only made it worse. So I’m grateful to have had a great instructor in Ewan, who was super patient and conscious of my anxieties and made me feel safe even when I wasn’t feeling so great. Everyone else was very kind as well, they all take care of each other and it’s just really lovely and helpful to be in a positive environment when you feel like things aren’t going so well. So this is part of why I was able to decide for myself that I wasn’t going to feel guilty anymore. I have offered my dad to pay him back for the dives I didn’t do, because I do feel bad about the wasted money. But there is no point in going diving when it feels like a chore. The only one I have to answer to is myself – this is my holiday, and I need to do what makes me happy. I’ve discovered for myself that three dives a day is too much for me, and that six days in a row is too much for me as well, and that is okay. I like diving, and I will definitely do it again during this holiday even. In fact I would love for my boyfriend to try it so we can share the experience! However, I don’t love diving like the many cool people I met at the resort and like my dad, and that is okay, too.

While I enjoy my personal growth in the diving department, I’ve had such an amazing time outside of diving there as well. I got to know a bunch of the staff there, befriend my unexpected and lovely bale mate, and witness the dive master trainees fool around during their training time. With them being at a similar age I got to know them most just like my parents befriended a family from England there to visit their son. Everyone was lovely, but you do always have certain people you spend more time with in between dives and after the return to the resort. The day I didn’t dive I decided to hop in for a swim which was incredibly pleasant! I had forgotten what it felt like to be in the water without the gear, the mask and fins. I jumped off the boat a few times into the turquoise water and one of the boat crew joined me. He spoke very little English and I only knew a couple of words in Bahasa, so this was the first time I actually sat down next to someone, a dictionary in hand, trying to make conversation and teaching each other. We did this until my mum spotted a turtle in the water, at which point we jumped in and followed it around for a while, before it disappeared off and we were picked up by the boat again.

 I was closest with Laura who took amazing photos during her dive and who I shared the occasional bean bag with. We took out a small boat, apparently called Delphinus, with a few people one evening to a nearby foresty island from where thousands and thousands of fruit bat take off in a new direction every night during sunset. An awe inspiring spectacle. They all fly from the same spot on the island for at least a half hour there is a steady stream of them swarming out in the same direction to find food. The locals assume that they must be scarce for space on their little island when they’re on it during the day because there are just so many of them. The kitchen had put out an amazing breadstick snack that day – they are super talented – and with those and a bunch of beers we witnessed the spectacle and gorgeous sunset before heading back to devour dinner despite our breadstick filled stomachs.

While a highlight it wasn’t my favourite evening spent. The next day, my second to last one, I was feeling really fit because I sat out diving all together and planned to watch the sunset from the hill with Soleman, which soon became Marie, Ben, Laura, Soleman and I. We had thought we were just going to go on the little hill left to the resort, but Soleman had other plans. He was thinking bigger. The climate is nice, but it’s still warm there, so I can’t say I was super excited to hike up a hill, guitar on the back, with the setting sun heating us up. We wouldn’t have needed the sun though. That hill was steep, so steep I was dreading the descent the whole way up, once there though I quickly forgot about it. Drenched in sweat, this is an understatement, we turned around by a small tree and saw Komodo National Park spread out in front of us. The resort by our feet was small, we could see fruit bat island and the boats around it awaiting its inhabitants, we could see close islands and the shadowy shapes of all the other ones behind them, all tinted by the glow of the setting sun. If I’ve ever seen something more beautiful I certainly don’t remember. The photos don’t do it justice. Since we had carried the guitar all the way up to Ben’s jukebox sounds, Soleman tuned it for me and although I hadn’t played for ages, I sang the few songs I know out into the world. I felt peaceful and happy and not critical of myself at all. I might not have been by myself but I saw nothing in front of me but the gorgeous place in the world I got to spent such a tiny amount of time at.

It was all dreamy and gorgeous for ten minutes. Then we had to use the remaining light and a torch to make sure we didn’t die. I’m not exaggerating. That hill was steep, I gave up and went on all fours, holding onto bunches of long grass behind me and crawling my feet forward and sliding on my bottom at times. Perfect timing for Soleman to tell us how “Max fell down here when we were putting out a fire. He was lucky.” Oh, really? Why thank you so much Soleman for telling me right now, I’m not freaked out at all by the fact I can’t see anything, especially not when I would stop falling if I did. By the time we could walk standing up straight again my knees were shaking so violently that I could barely manage that either. Good thing beers and cozy beanbags awaited us. My conclusion remains: It was stunning, but I wouldn’t do it again.

That evening I think I finally arrived in “Komodo”. I only had two days left, but that’s generally how it goes. We sat in a circle, and I got to get to know people I had been spending everyday with like the two DMTs who had been shadowing me, but who I had barely spoken a word to except for during our buddy check. One kept teasing me for drinking shandy, so I teased him back for mispronouncing ducks and we just had a big tease off all night until we finally decided to be friends. I learned that the other one, Chris who kept saving me, was the strong and silent type, having a smoke with his eyes closed, lending his ankles as surprisingly comfortable pillows and having a chuckle to himself every once in a while. Felix remained cheerful and invested as I had seen him the whole time, and Adam disappeared behind the phenomenon that is Ollie. At some point I was passed the guitar again, and I played and sang for those lovely people and felt very comfortable with them. Ollie to my left was groving, nodding in the rhythm and drumming along with his fingers, cigarette between the lips, so I’m not surprised even talkative and goofy Adam disappeared behind him. My parents were there, as was Laura and Rochelle and other people who all disappeared behind Ollie somehow. This is my most memorable night, even though the one after was nice as well, just that it was a lot more tired and a little sorrowful.

I know this has been a long and possibly too detailed blogpost. There are just so many moments I want to remember and not even half of them are in here. One thing I won’t forget for sure is my mum’s 25 minute manta encounter while snorkeling which made her and my dad so happy, because we’ve told it so many times now. There’s listening to Adam and Ollie telling their DMT stories both in their own animated and energetic style, and watching Adam jump into the water in what I swear was slow motion to retrieve a lost marker cap. There’s Ewan’s first underwater sneeze I got to witness and resolved confusion about the diving sign for nudibranchs – underwater slugs – which usually are very small, and since I was taught the nudie sign to be different I always looked very interested and acted like I totally knew what I was looking at when actually I had no clue for the first few days. Even the unspectacular visit to Rinca to see Komodo Dragons is worth a memory, though not as much as the hours spent in a cuddly heap on the boat.

I enjoyed myself more than I expected, and I hold these memories dear. I’ve met wonderful people and learned a lot about myself as a diver, so I cannot wait to continue my diving adventures once I’ve recovered from the Komodo excess a bit. Who knows, maybe one day I will actually start enjoying the drift! And I’ve even given slight thought to attacking dive master training one day, because I enjoyed being around those guys and gals a lot, but then I realised it involves a lot of diving and getting up early, and the snorkel test is also putting me off a tiny bit – I should probably acquire a dive passion first and then see what comes with it.


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