Life on a Live-aboard in Komodo National Park, Indonesia

I would SO be voted off this island. Not that I’m either surprised or upset – mostly just wish things could be different. But it’s the risk you take traveling alone – no friend to cover your back!

But I’d be here again in a shot anyway – so I guess it’s not that bad an island.

Ok – The Mangguana is an Indonesian style live-aboard dive boat. That means there’s no dive platform – you dive off dingys that take you to the dive site, and then in theory the boat circles around for an hour waiting for someone to surface. Must be boring – and hot – and rather dull – but I guess the kids that do this make a living – and that makes it worth doing. The Mangguana itself has 4 ‘guest’ cabins – each of which has 2 bunk beds, a bathroom (sort of), a sink, and an all important Air Conditioner. You definitely need AC in this climate – that’s even with the breeze.

The bathroom has to be experienced to be believed – It consists of a shower and a toilet – no seperation. And only a shower curtain to separate the bathroom from the bedroom part. So you can sit on the toilet to shower – or just stand and shower. If you do either – use the towel to dry the seat – or you are going to be wet bummed for the day! On the good news front – the shower works fine, and they supply shampoo. So getting rid of the salt water – a natural result of doing an hour long scuba dive – isn’t a challenge.

There are 2 main areas of the boat that are for guest use – in the front is the ‘dive preperation’ area – benches, boxes for gear, places to hang wetsuits. On the upper deck behind the steering house is a huge covered area that serves 5 or 6 times a day as a feeding ground. There’s a giant wooden table – 8 chairs, a fridge for holding drinks (free except the beer – $2,50 each on an honor system), a serving area for misc. food – coffee, tea, sugar, plates, silverware, 2 boxes of cereal (yum), a toaster – and the all important fish books. What’s a dive boat without fish books. They could seriously use a better library though – a reef creatures book would have been so great.

There’s no segregated photo table – so photographers wouldn’t be in love with this boat – and the toilet would definitely disaude my husband from being here – but I’m a happy camper.

There are 6 divers on board – and 8 staff. 2 dive masters one of which I think doubles as captain, the chef, the waiters, the prep cook, the guys who drive the 2 tenders, and then miscellaneous people who appear and disappear without much guest contact. I’m guessing they fill the tanks, clean the dishes, keep the boat ship-shape. I’m not even sure where all of these folks are living – although the below deck portion of the boat must be huge – it’s completely off limits to the likes of us. There’s also the portion directly under the open area living space – maybe that has crew quarters, although I’m guessing it might be the kitchen from the delicious smells.

Ok – so on to why I’d be voted off.

6 guests – to protect the innocent – I’m giving them fake names.

There’s SC – Stalwart Canadian. He’s a Montrealer, formerly helping businesses set up ERP systems – who gave up his job and decided to scuba dive until he ran out of money. This boat is just one stop on his extended trip. He’s actually also my room mate – and a better room mate you couldn’t get. He’s so quiet – yes, even asleep – I often don’t even know he’s in the room. And he’s neat – his clothes are carefully put away – and his bed is MADE. And he’s a good diver. Practically Perfect in every way.

There’s the German – he’s an extremely experienced diver – over 800 dives – and he probably the nicest person among the guests. I don’t know much about him, other than he comes from a small village near Stuttgart – and like me is on a limited time holiday. Although his is not only including this dive boat – it’s including 4 days at this incredible diving resort in the park. I later found out that he’s 52 (surprising that), has a girlfriend who doesn’t care to dive (how sad), and works in a company that makes Headlights for BMW among others.

There are the Sisters – 2 gals from Switzerland – one of whom is a dive instructor. They find me annoying – to say the least – but hey – they are young, beautiful – and there are no eligible guys on board. Must be hard on them. They spent the last week at the above mentioned fancy resort – and now they are here. Great figures, awesome bikini’s, perfect tans – They have been there – seen that – and as far as I can tell find the dives ok – but not great. It’s hard to tell for sure, they tend to sleep or read when they are not eating or diving. But then – so do I.

The last member of our group is the Vegetarian. She’s from Amsterdam – owns a flat there – but seems to not call Amsterdam home. Her mom is Indonesian – and she grew up here in the Island – I’m not sure what she does to afford diving – but she’s tall, thin, wears a different bikini every 3 or 4 hours – and she’s the reason I’m bunking in with the Canadian.

I arrived first at the dive shop in Laboun Bajo – but they had problems fitting me into a wet suit. They had to order one from a different shop – that one too didn’t fit – so a third was ordered. Bottom line – I ended up going to the boat last. By the time I boarded the boat – each guy had taken a cabin, the sisters had a cabin, and the Vegetarian had a cabin. The crew suggested that we share – being both girls and all – but she made a fuss. “I was promised my own cabin – I need my personal space.” Well, don’t we all dear.

But – color me flexible – I don’t mind sharing with a guy – and the SC said he was ok with it too. So we are room mates. And as I said before – he’s the best room mate ever. I literally never see him in the room – I go to bed before he finishes drinking beer at night – and he’s been gone before I’ve gotten up every morning. How he can brush his teeth in silence is a mystery. I even asked him this AM if he slept in our room! (Yes – he did).

Diving is always done in a buddy team. So – the Sisters are one team, surprisingly SC and the Vegtarian (who is actually not nearly as bad as she first appeared) is a 2nd team, the German is paired with one dive master, and I’m paired with the other. When we get in the tenders – everyone gets into one tender – except me and Denny – my dive master/buddy. This is not a bad deal – doing every dive one on one with someone who loves pointing out the fishes, the nudibranches, the reef animals – and can find pgymy sea horses – is never going to be a mistake. But it does mean a lack of comradery with the rest of the guests – hence my certainity that I’d be voted off!

Ok – enough about the boat and my fellow divers – It’s time for out 8th dive of the trip – and it’s only day 2.

Got to go suit up!

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Why Travel Makes Me Nervous

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately – and despite my nervous nelly concerns – here I am on another airplane.

This time I’m heading for Labuan Bajo – the sailing off point for trips to the Komodo National Park. I’m hoping that all will go well, that the folks from Komodo diving (long story – but not the folks I reserved with) will meet me at the airport as planned, that the weather will be great, the boat lovely, the diving spectacular. Sigh – so many things can go wrong of course.

But here’s what seems to be bothering me about travel – particularly travel by myself by airplane. I don’t get nearly as worked up about car trips – but then one can always abort those trips.

So – what can go wrong – you can have problems deciding what to pack, you can discover when you arrive that you didn’t pack the right things, you can have issues at security, you can have problems with your ticket, the flight can be delayed or canceled, you can get lost getting to the airport, you can arrive too late to check in, your luggage can get delayed/never arrive, your window seat can be ‘window-less’, there can be no food on the flight, the bathrooms on the plane might not be working, or you can be refused at immigration (this I have to say has only happened to me once – and they didn’t refuse me – they just made me find my Yellow Fever card in South Africa). To Continue – the people you intend to meet at your destination might not be there, might be delayed, might not recognize you. You can run out of money, not have the right money for your destination (I once arrived in one country – with only the currency of another – really hard to get a cup of coffee. This used to happen really often in Europe before the Euro – I’m all for the Euro.)

Such a complex puzzle – and so many things that can go wrong. No wonder I get nervous. I’m kinda surprised I continue to travel.

But here I am – on my own – flying on Garuda Indonesia Airlines – headed for a place who’s name I can not pronouce, being met (hopefully) by people I don’t know.

Man – sometimes I even surprise myself.

Ok – my diving trip plans – and what can go wrong, will go wrong – just rarely as expected!

Once I’d agreed to come to Bali (awesome decision BTW), and started to do research on my destination – it became clear that a live-aboard dive boat in Komodo National Park was going to be a fabulous option. Not only do I get to do almost unlimited scuba diving for 5 days – I get to see the Dragons!

I cleared that change of plans with my hosts – The Lady in Pink and her hubby – and started doing research. There are probably 50 well known dive boats that cruise the Komodo National Park area – so the first step was to eliminate options. I wasn’t interested in a long trip – many boats are 10 days – too long to be away from my hosts. I wasn’t up for a fabulously expensive operation either – no matter how good – I’m just not that into spending that kind of cash. I didn’t like the idea of having to take a speed boat for an hour or so to get the the dive boat – so I wanted a trip that started from a dock near an airport. And they had to have space available during the time period I was going to be in Bali.

Only one group met all that criteria – Moana Crusing. So started a long involved email chain with the owner Stefan – confirming availablity, arranging 100% pre-payment, determining that I needed re-certification to meet the newer Padi requirements for dives within the last 2 years, conversations about the food, about the services I’d need – like airport pickup, and help with my tanks. (I can’t actually lift scuba tanks – and I also can’t walk with them on my back – surgery in 1984 precludes me from doing these things.) All done, all arranged, all paid for. Done. I’m due to depart from Montreal on March 9th – and my dive trip starts on March 14 – All very cool.

5 days ago (on March 9th) I get an email from Stefan – the owner of Moana Crusing – their boat is stuck in Bira due to ‘weather’ and a problem with the authorties. It isn’t looking good – but he’s working on it. March 10th – another email from Stefan – their dive master and chef are going to get on board another boat – from another supplier – but don’t worry – everything is fine. March 11th – Niel – who I have never even hear mentioned – not once – writes to tell me that I’m going to be diving with Komodo Divers – one of the folks I’d nixed originally because they require you to take a speed boat for several hours from Labuan Bajo. And the boat I’m going to be on is the Mangguana. But don’t worry – they are taking care of any additional costs – and their dive master will be on the boat.

All my Research – all my detailed looking up – worthless. I’m now going on a boat I know nothing about, with a dive group I know nothing about, and this on the word of a guy I’ve never heard of.

Color me blonde – but this made me just a bit nervous. But as befits an experienced traveler – I’m ready to go with the flow…

AFTER I do a ton of google research of course. The good news – actually more people report diving with Komodo Crusing than with Moana Crusing, the Mangguana offers Nitrox, and there are ton of mostly positive reviews on Tripadvisior – generally about a different boat – but run by the same team. And the few references I can find to the Mangguana are actually really good.

So speed boat trip aside – I think I’m going to be ok. Of course I’ll only know when I arrive. But I do have my fingers crossed in a good way.

Signing off to go drink another cup of Delicous Balinese Coffee – The Soup Lady