I always meant to learn to scuba dive but the timing was never right. School in New England, freezing temperatures and swimming pools. Tulane University had cheap PADI courses, but I was caught up with school and never got around to it. I was too poor when I first got to Cambodia, and then the macabre horror stories I heard about the Sihanoukville dive outfits dissuaded me from biting back my existential terror and checking them out.
But when I got to Bali and Flores, I realized that not diving in these balmy, zoologically explosive waters was a remarkably dumb thing to do. So I decided to take a testdive with DiveKomodo yesterday to see if I liked it.
Cliffs Notes: Loved it.
I was under the impression diving was a lot more technical than it is, conveniently ignoring the fact that little kids and frat boys visiting Thailand manage to do it all the time.
I know actually being certified is a lot more complicated than just doing a guided test-dive, but it seems like the basics are pretty simple: breath slowly. Keep breathing. Stay calm. Pay attention to what others around you are doing. Don’t poke creatures you shouldn’t poke, lest you become a comical news feature in the Daily Mail when the local press gets wind of it. Don’t knock over grossly endangered and delicate coral with bullish impunity. And so forth.
I’m too hilariously self-conscious to really enjoy swimming for the sake of swimming, but putting on a wetsuit and poking around at remarkable wildlife — which is everywhere in Komodo – somehow overcomes my inherent sense of extreme mortification. It’s very Zen, and I like to have that in my life. Having a great instructor definitely helped.
As a nerdy person who loves adventure travel, photography, and weird nature, it’s a bit of a mystery why I didn’t take this up sooner. Well, other than fear of being seen in a wetsuit, I suppose. Which I got over. They’re mostly just incredibly clammy when you’re back on land.
Today I saw….multiple clownfish, a blue, giant sea anemone that looked artificial, a well-camouflaged Tentacled Flathead, a rather irritated looking Hawkbill sea turtle, a shoal of multi-colored squid in a pyramid phalanx, nudibranci, giant clams in psychedelic colors, a lurking red lion fish, huge puffers, and much, much more.
The colors of Komodo are akin to what I’d expect to see on a particularly bad acid trip, and are perhaps proof positive that nature is not and has never been particularly tasteful — an ecological object lesson that the Asian tropics are particularly keen on driving home at every possible opportunity.
To be quite honest, the entire transcendental experience, upon reflection on the boat, made me want to rewatch “Finding Nemo” and eat quite a large amount of fried fish for dinner. But I would like to pretend I reflected deeply on the delicacy and art of the remarkable, untouched variety of marine life in Wallacea.
Maybe later, I’m tired.
Also, diving (at easy sites) in Komodo does seem to reward the rank idiot and the clumsy, as there’s such an inordinate variety of life that not seeing interesting things would actually require an active effort. Manta rays, whale sharks, and reef sharks make regular passes, and up-above ground, there’s man-eating monitor lizards and uninhabited beaches to occupy one’s time.
And it’s all reasonably priced and no one has plonked a 5-star-Hilton-Doubletree-Sandals on it yet — the order of the day in Labuan Bajo is still somewhat rickety, occasionally smelly fishing port, albeit punctuated with dive shops and a few (apparently quite nice) pizza restaurants run by Italian expats. It’s only a few hops away from the Little Australia that is Bali, but it feels much more isolated.