Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia: Wakatobi

January 22, 2014

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This place is definitely off the beaten path, but well worth the effort of getting there. The service here is top-notch. Everything is taken care of and everyone’s there to dive. Of course you don’t have to dive to have a good time as there is plenty of snorkelling along their extensive house reef that will keep you entertained for some time. On the short boat ride from the airport you’ll pass by the local town which is supported by visitors to Wakatobi. It was great to hear that the resort has had sucha positive impact on the locals livelihoods as well as the protection of the reefs.

IMG_5820Speaking of reefs, it doesn’t get much better than this. Cut off from mass tourism, Wakatobi truly is a remote island refuge. It is situated in the heart of the Coral Triangle and if you know anything about reefs, you know this is where it’s at in terms of diving. But do take note, if you are hoping to see large pelagic you’re headed to the wrong island. This place is all about macro. For those of you that are into photography, be sure to pack your macro lens and port. Unfortunately, I spent a lot of time with video on this trip and don’t have a lot in terms of macro shots. But I can assure you if macro isn’t your thing there are many other options. The walls and reefs capes are incredibly dramatic.

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If you haven’t already heard about the amazing set up they have waiting for you, let me just tell you there is actually an entire room dedicated to keeping your photography equipment protected while changing batteries, memory cards, lenses and ports. And believe me there is plenty of room for everyone. There is nothing worse than trying to clean an o-ring on your night table.

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The rooms here come in the form of individual bungalows which are really cute and private. One thing that I thought was a nice touch were the built-in foot baths which are sunken just before the front steps going up to the bungalow’s porch. For the most part, we walked around the island barefoot so it felt good to be able to rinse and dry our feet before we entered our room. Oh, and I almost forgot, there was a large pitcher of water in our room when we returned from a full day of diving which was much appreciated.

These guys really are extremely organised and attentive to your needs. Just take a look at the board that’s updated every day. For those opting for enriched air, before you head off to dinner you are encouraged to analyse two of your tanks for the following day so that they are all ready to go in the morning. The third tank is analysed after your second dive. Since this such a serious dive location they probably get more nitrox divers than your average resort therefore keeping things organised and perfectly structured is important to them. There is a very real emphasis on safety and efficiency all while achieving a sort of family environment amongst the staff and guests.WakatobiBlog_1                                                                                                                                                     That’s actually something else I want to mention. The crew worked very hard to make us feel at home in such a far away place. For example, on the last evening of the trip they presented a slideshow consisting of underwater images submitted by guests as well as a montage of the dive guides with their groups. This close-knit environment of like-minded people is bolstered by the resorts structured schedule. Their calendar requires a fixed start and end date for in- and outgoing guests. By requiring this they automatically create a very social environment for all of their guests.

 

Have you been to Wakatobi or are planning to go? Would love to hear what you thought of it!

Giant Strides

January 15, 2014

As I wrote in my first post, I had some anxieties about the ocean, however as much as I feared it, I couldn’t stay away. Living in Southeast Asia at the time, I realized I needed to seize the opportunity to get acquainted with the Coral Triangle. So I went to Koh Tao, an island off the eastern coast of Thailand to get certified through PADI as an Open Water Diver. This island is well known for pumping out certified divers like they are on an assembly line, however, I decided to go a different route. Having a one-on-one instructor from the Jamahkiri resort helped me overcome a few of my hangups and by the end of the week I felt pretty comfortable in the water. If you are heading to Koh Tao you should take a look at these guys as an alternative to the crowded dive operations found everywhere else on the island.

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My biggest obstacle of the course was clearing my mask. If you are unfamiliar, this is an important skill to master. If and when water seeps inside your mask, whether intentionally or unintentionally (leaks or even comes off completely), being able to
clear the water from it needs to be second nature. For some reason I had an irresistible urge to inhale any drops of water resting in the nose piece of my mask. So I am sure you can understand my hesitation with having to remove it completely, put it back on and clear the seawater from it. I cannot tell you how many times I inhaled water while practicing this skill
in a pool. It was extremely frustrating and embarrassing to say the least. But at least in a pool you can stand up and cough it out. With 15 meters of water above your head this becomes a bit more tricky. Even though this was my last task in completing the course and the entire reason I was in Koh Tao; I felt close to bailing on the whole thing. As my PADI instructor waited patiently for me to muster up the courage, I started to fidget around and grew more and more anxious. My shifting in the sand caused a bit of an issue with the visibility and this just added to my anxiety.

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Luckily, a few moments later, through the debris, something caught my eye. To my left, just a few meters away, thousands of shimmering yellow scad fish formed an absolutely mesmerizing wall of light, color, and life. My instinct of course was to swim closer. It’s funny how it took me all of thirty seconds and a school of fish to forget my fears, strip my mask off and remember why I was going through all of this to begin with. It’s amazing how that simple moment changed everything. I often wonder what might have happened if that school of fish hadn’t been there. Would I have shot to the surface and been done with diving altogether? I am grateful they were there and that I had finished what I set out to do. My instructor gave me a high-five me and we spent the next half hour swimming through (and photographing) the large school of fish.

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It felt incredible to overcome my fears so much so that after that dive I decided to continue on to do the Advanced Open Water course overthe remainder of my time in Koh Tao. And some time later I went on to do the Rescue Diver course to feel even more secure with scuba diving. My confidence from this course has been so beneficial and I highly recommend it to every diver. But even more so, I think its incredibly important to find a dive operation that is going to really understand your needs and work through any issues you might have. A lot of people have no issues whatsoever with getting certified and I think when you are in a group of people like this it becomes difficult to receive the attention you might require. I’ve also found that a lot of people give up on the sport because they aren’t given the opportunity to work through their fears. Choosing the right dive organisation can really make or break your intro to scuba diving. Make sure you do your research!

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Wet Feet

January 7, 2014

The idea of scuba diving has always intrigued me. It’s was one of those bucket list items I thought would be great to try once, just to say I did it. But the truth is, scuba diving is not something you can say you’ve tried if you’ve only been once or twice. I’ve always loved the ocean. Marine life of all shapes and sizes piqued my interest. But for some reason, I was also slightly terrified of it as a kid and that fear followed me into adulthood. So when the opportunity to finally give it a shot came about, naturally all I could think about were the sea monsters below the surface waiting to get me. Instead of focusing on how amazing it was that my first ever dive was in the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, I focused all of my energy on how much I did not want to see a shark. All I could think about after both feet were safely back on the boat was how lucky I was to be in one piece and that while it was an amazing experience, I probably couldn’t bring myself to try it again. Why take the risk? By the way, about that shark I didn’t want to see; I saw him and he saw me and I was shocked at how quickly he wanted to get away from us.

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On this very first dive I had a compact camera in an underwater housing with me. It was my first time to the Great Barrier Reef and at the very least I needed a few photos from snorkeling to bring back with me. Topside, I always had a camera in my hands so when I found out the housing for my Canon G9 was so reasonably priced I jumped at the opportunity to buy it. I had no idea about anything related to underwater photography, but luckily my dive guide did. Some of the photos he took were so inspiring that later that night when I uploaded them to my laptop I was hooked. I needed to go back down and create these shots myself. Unfortunately, the next day was windy and we were discouraged from diving as I was so inexperienced. On the one hand it was very disappointing, but on the other hand I felt a bit of relief as I was still very nervous and in the end I thought it was good that it happened. The “itch” to get back in the water took hold and I haven’t looked back since. Except for a few dives to get my certifications, my camera has always been with me and will continue to always be. It keeps my anxieties at bay and helps me focus on why it is I dive.