Deep underwater. Deep, deep underwater & The End

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March 2nd 2011
Published: March 2nd 2011
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Diving Galore

Additional maps: Going Home!

Deep underwater. Deep, deep underwater

Postscript: Damn. It took a long while to find the motivation to actually wrap up this blog. Even though it was more or less written it has taken me forever to make the final editing, but here it is. All of the underwater photos were made by Kari Kulonen.

Entering the "real" world again

My plan after Vipassana was to either go diving or if the meditation had put me in another mood then just head home. But fortunately my appetite for adventures had not been quenched by sitting still for a while. So after the wierdly emotional goodbyes at the Dhamma Center I went straight to the airport.

One final note about the friendliness of my fellow Vipassanars (a new word I think). I was along with a couple of the other meditators picked up at the center by Mr. January who is a four-time Vipassana veteran. Whenever he can and his children are not keeping him busy he transports people to and from the Center. Total strangers. Free of charge of course since he wants to enable others to benefit from the same experiences as he has gotten. That is just fantastic. I hope and believe that it is contagious.

I already had a Lion Air ticket to Manado. They have the somewhat ominous slogan "We make people fly". If they would focus on keeping their planes in the air I would be feeling safer, but they are also a guaranteed source of wonder. They find some way of turning the otherwise well-proven sequence of getting into and out of a plane into a farce. A worthy test of my new enhanced tolerance and patience.

So my boarding pass said gate A7 and I head in that direction, but notice that the screens say A4. Ok, that's pretty common. A simple gate-change so I aim at A4. Along the way I witness an exodus of what must be a full plane walking from one gate to the other. Weird.

I am immediately turned away at gate A4. "No. no Sir. Your boarding pass says A7". "Yes, but what about the screens? They say A4". "The screens??? We never look at them", he says laughing. Silly me. So I sit down at gate A4 and time passes. The boarding time and actual departure time also passes without any
Ribbon EelRibbon EelRibbon Eel

Not all morays are boring and grey. This juvenile ribbon eel is truly fantastic. There are lots of them in Indonesia.
information that I can understand. Some announcements in garbled Indonesian followed by what I assume is a parrot on acid that once in a while says a word or two that almost sounds English. Every screen at the gate shows nothing but commercials and information about the enlargement of the airport that in 2013 will make it's passenger capacity meet the current load.

About an hour after the scheduled departure an announcement makes everybody get up and start walking in the one direction. You guessed it. Gate A4. Yup, I'm certainly in Indonesia again and the funny thing is that it didn't really piss me off. Was it the meditation or just getting used to the Indonesian way of not doing most things in a clever way?

I had quite frankly been a little scared of going from the Dhamma Center straight to a place as hectic as Jakarta Airport, but it was actually fine. My search for some meat-containing junk-food resulted in a horrible burger and I even found a place to check my email. The joys of modern life.

I was picked up in Manado Airport by the guys from Living Colours Diving on Bunaken

Sahaung Island bliss. At Bangka Island.
and after a starlit boatride I had returned "home". Beautifully set at a mangrove lagoon with bungalows on the hillside overlooking the ocean. And cold beer. Fantastic.

I spent about five days on Bunaken, five days at Divers Lodge Lembeh and five days at Blue Bay Divers on Bangka. All three islands are just of the northern tip of Sulawesi and the diving has been great. Every location is quite different and world class. But I have realized some things about diving.

The dark side of diving

Nah, I'm overselling it in the subhead, but doing 2 1/2 weeks of continous diving is too much for me. It is not the diving itself that is the problem. That part is great and I was fortunate to find a good buddy in Finnish Kari Kulonen and we did even more dives together than I did with Eric. He is an avid underwater photographer which can be a problem since they tend to stay for very long at a single little creature to get just the right shot, but Kari and I found a good balance.

No, it is the divers life above water that started to get to me.

At Lumbalumba on Pulau Weh where I started my journey there was a constant flow of really funny and interesting people. I found Eric and Sylvia to travel with and all the others were just nice to be around. Manado is unfortunately even more accesible than Pulau Weh and that means that people fly in just from Europe just for the diving. And that means narrow-mindedness. The English term "watching paint dry" brilliantly describes how something can be boring, but I would have loved that as an alternative when underwater photographers start talking about their gear and techniques (sorry Kari). Bloody hell. We over-water photographers can wrap up that conversation in about five minutes flat, but when it becomes wet it can go on for hours.

But what really has gotten to me after a too long stint of diving is how my enjoyment of diving doesn't match those of the people I've met lately.

The doorknobs at the Louvre

First time I visited the Louvre I must have been around 10 years or so. My parents loved to spend hours in art museums and it took another couple of years before they let
Red FrogfishRed FrogfishRed Frogfish

Froggie!!! There are lots of frogfish around the northern tip of Sulawesi. Different sizes and colors and they blend in fantastically. This red one has however been caught away from its hiding place.
my brother and I loose to find something more interesting to do in the meantime. So those punitive hours not even looking at the art made me come to loathe art museums by definition and I have only in recent years been able to start enjoying them. They are still not something that I actively pursue, but when I'm close to a good one, I allow myself to actually immerse in them. Reina Sofia, MOMA, The Met, Louvre, Gare D'Orleans, Pompidou and the local Aros in the last few years is not a bad track record for a former art-museum-loather.

Anyway. From that first visit I remember three things. How utterly boring it was and how Mona Lisa and Venus from Milo did not help. How the only painting I found interesting was tucked away in some tiny little corner around a bend that no-one else seemed to bother finding and I felt really sad for the artist. So much effort and and his masterpiece ended up in that dusty corner. And finally I observed one of the custodians who meticulously inspected every single doorknob as he was wandering through the halls. Why the hell did he look so
Blue-ringed octopusBlue-ringed octopusBlue-ringed octopus

These tiny octopussies are a quite rare sight.
hard at every single one. He seemed to enjoy it quite a bit.

When you dive you have a guide. He is without exception an Indonesian guy (instructors on the other hand all seem to be European). He will lead the dive and try to find something interesting for you to look at. Here around Sulawesi they suffer even more than elsewhere in Indonesia from Pygmy-Seahorse-Obsession, or PSO. We all know what a seahorse is, but a pygmy seahorse is a tiny version. They barely get more than a few millimeters long and they are very well camouflaged. So when a guide can find a pygmy seahorse it is a way for him to show how good he is. They are apparently very rare in other parts of the world, but I have seen them EVERYWHERE. And I'm fucking fed up with the little bastards. If I had a needle I would poke the eyes out on them.

Here is why. The guide will be examining a seafan for a long while. You are supposed to stay close so it kind of slows you down. And then he will start frantically signalling for your attention. And you don't
Pygmy SeahorsePygmy SeahorsePygmy Seahorse

Little bastard!!!
even have to see the bent index finger that is the sign for seahorse. You already know and you reluctantly start swimming towards him. Of course one or more photographers will make it there before you do, and now you are supposed to wait in line until they have taken the million shots required to be able to even recoqnize the little assholes. And then finally it is your turn and you go as close as possible and squint your eyes almost shut and you can just make out a tiny little critter the same color and pattern as the surroundings. And everybody expects you to be amazed even though you have seen hundreds of them over the past few months.

Here is the problem. Pygmy Seahorses are like the doorknobs at the Louvre. When you have been embraced by the same otherworldly beauty underwater for too long then even that becomes trivial. Masterpieces everywhere but after a while it is in fact the doorknobs that turn out to be the only item left to investigate. Or seahorses too small to really see. And that is sad as hell.

Anke, the owner of Blue Bay Divers here on
Hypselodoris bullockiiHypselodoris bullockiiHypselodoris bullockii

The biggest Nudi I have seen. About 5 cm long and stunning. This was on a wreck at Lembeh.
Bangka, said that I was ignorant when I revealed how bored I am with them. Maybe she is right, but maybe she has just been diving too much. Lost that innocence that I am struggling to hold on to that gets amazed by big clouds of red-tooth triggerfish and pyramid butterflyfish even during my 79th and last dive of this trip. About my little obsession with trying to find a Clown Trigger Fish (simply named CTF in my diver's logs) which is just a fantastic fish. But I'm clinging to this first wonder of diving that I experienced at Pulau Weh 4 1/2 month ago. The insane beauty and ecstasy of being underwater with moving colors everywhere.

The guides think I am crazy. For the past week I have returned their signalling with asking if it is a Pygmy Seahorse and if so, then I have just signalled that I'm not interested. And then I will keep looking at a fantastic nudibranchs or a school of fish or following one of the space-alien-like Flamboyant Cuttlefish forever. And if I ever become really interested in Pygmy Seahorses then I should switch to collecting stamps or license plates, since that would

We chased this poor octopus for a while so that the photographers could get some nice shots.
be infinitely more interesting.

Knobs at diveshops

Not a nice subhead, but diveshop owners are a special breed. In Indonesia they all seem to be Europeans who have somehow managed to bypass the general Indonesian law that foreigners can not own land by leasing for long periods of time. I understand the dream. Sitting on a fantastic beach with happy divers everywhere and the water is at your beg and call. But just like the doorknobs this apparently also gets boring after a while. And then they develop weirdness. A beach on an island with a never-ending series of semi-relationships with people passing through is not the best environment for continous development of yourself. Think Fawlty Towers.

One little piece of advice for visitors is to immediately excuse yourself (for a toilet break or something) if a diveshop owner says the threatening words: "I have a theory". What follows is bound to be a prolonged tirade of narrow-minded stupidity caused by too much time and too little information. "How WW2 really started". "Why Italians and Finnish people are similar". "Why every single detail in 'the DaVinci Code'" is correct. That kind of mindnumbing bullshit. They are not all that bad, but you need to be alert.

Normally though they don't really run the actual diveshop anymore. They have employed someone to actually handle the daily runnings of the diveshop and these people seem to be fantastic by definition. My favorite was of course the stunningly beautiful Belgis at the Divers Lodge Lembeh. For some reason I can find nothing to complain about when the manager is gorgeous. Y-chromosome in full swing.

I've been Nelly'ed

Nelly is a young girl here at Blue Bay Divers that was found as an infant and has been brought up at the resort. I first saw her when she showed up at the restaurant one evening and since she is really exotic and beautiful I immediately went over to her. She was sitting on the railing and it seemed appropriate to start stroking her on her the back. She seemed to like that, but when I was not paying attention she climbed onto my arm.

Nelly is a cuscus. A cat-sized marsupial (with a pouch like a kangaroo) that lives in trees in Sulawesi and the sorrounding islands. Since there are some really strong winds here from time

Bloody nasty claws. Literally.
to time and Nelly has to be an animal that really does "live in trees" and not one that "falls off trees when the winds are bad" then she is equipped with some fierce-looking claws. In adventure computer games you may be able to find "Claws of Death, Destruction and Decay" with +10 strength and they would most likely be made from cuscus-claws.

It was fine as she settled down on my left arm. She was in fact very gentle as she clinged on and started nibbling mysteriosly at a chunk of flesh under my armpit. I don't know whether it was the deoderant or smell of sweat or a combination of the two, but she was chewing at it merrily without piercing the skin.

Something prompted her to move on and within a second she sat on my head. To my pleasant surprise she didn't want to use my head as a toilet. She certainly wouldn't have been the first animal to do that. A quick list would be cat, seagull, rat and gecko (albeit the last one was a near miss). But she just sat there for a while. Then she climbed down onto my right arm and started chewing on that and unfortunately this hurt so much that I started swearing in Danish. I have barely spoken my mother tongue for over four months and my innner monologue switched to English after about a week of the journey, so me speaking or more specifically screaming in Danish is apparently perceived as a distress signal. All of a sudden there were lots of people trying to get Nelly off me and one lady slapping her on the head.

This is where the "wind in the trees" instinct kicks in for a cuscus. Instantly her claws went deep into my arm and I went "Nej, nej, nej. I må for helvede ikke hive i hende". Indonesian, German or English would have been better choices. For some reason there were only three hands trying to get her off, so she had at least one claw available to cling on to me and she employed all the more force the fewer she had to work with.

I got Nelly'ed badly. If you have ever had a nice fight with a cat and gotten some scratches out of it then you can multiply it by at least five.
Glossodoris CintaGlossodoris CintaGlossodoris Cinta

With a tiny shrimp as passenger. Yup, that is also a Nudi.
She is a real treehugger.

The End

So that was the end. I left Sahaung and flew home in time for Christmas. Had I achieved any of the goals that I had set for myself. Yes, I guess all of them. It can truly be recommended to do something like that. To just leave for a while and stop searching. I am amazed at what I have found!

The List

But this is the end of my trip and how do I summarize 4 1/2 months of travelling. I have decided to make a small Harper's Index type of list:

Volcanoes climbed: 3

Volcanoes climbed the day before they erupted after having been dormant for 400 years: 1

Modes of transportation: At least 25

(cars, planes, side-car motorcycle, mopeds, ferries, dive boats, river boats, elephants, trucks, busses, mini-busses, bechak (bicycle-taxi), Tuk-Tuks, motorcycles, bicycles, jumbo (tuk-tuk look-alike), whaling boat, the Embaku liveaboard, cable car, inner tube, kayak, monorail, train, elevator, zodiak

Hours spent waiting for modes of transportation: God Dammit. A LOT!

Orangutangs seen: 5

Number of photographs taken: 3912

Pieces of batik purchased: 0

Number of diveshop
Dive boatDive boatDive boat

So this is a diveboat. They come in all shapes and sizes, but this one at Bangka was one of the nicer ones. I spent my time going to and from the dive sites listening to music or updating my divers log.
t-shirts purchased:4

Distance covered as a bird would fly carrying a piece of women's nightwear in my backpack: 866 km.

Number of massages received: 17!

Number of massages given: 0

Financed marine life hunting trips with resulting killing and subsequent eating of whale shark : 1

Number of dives: 79

Number of whale sharks seen while diving: 0

Longest dive: 82 minutes with 40 bar left

(which is pretty good IMHO)

Liveaboards that we anchored next to that sank the following day: 1

Chickens killed after moderate pressure from insane Cambodian girl: 1

Weird things digested: Too many to count

Enrichments of the English language: 3 (at least)

(The following phrases are to my knowledge my own proud inventions: "Happy as a kite", "Not the brightest bulp in the ballroom" and "Kiwaussie". The last one is used for people that are either from Australia or New Zealand and you have become tired of involuntarily offending them by guessing wrong. It can be expanded to "Kiwaubrits" as needed)

Number of sickdays: 1/2

(After the cruise around Komodo I had serious problems with my left ear. I haven't told anybody about it of course but I only had about 50%!h(MISSING)earing on that ear for almost two weeks. It was blocked somehow but didn't hurt. Did I visit a doctor? Of course not. Doctors are for pussies. It is perfectly fine now but Eric got a bit tired of having to talk to my right ear. I was quite dizzy on the first half day)

Towels mysteriously lost: 3

(why the hell can't I hold on to a towel?)

Countries visited: 6

(well, 5 actually since Thailand doesn't really count. I got the stamps and all, but just went out to check in again)

Number of four month old hornet stings that still look frightening: 5

The furthest destination reached by modes of transportation and travel time to get home: Lamalera on Lembata. 4 hours by truck, motorcycle to harbor, at least 4 hours by ferry and then 5 flights.

Total number of cuts, bites, stings, bruises, burns, cramps etc. suffered by my legs: Bloody hell. No idea. A LOT!

Days of Vipassana meditation: 11

(yes, it also surprised me that a ten-day course
Lembeh StraitLembeh StraitLembeh Strait

Lembeh strait is dirty and the massive container harbour doesn't seem inviting. But underwater the magic starts. Tons of garbage but tons of critters as well.
actually lasted almost 11 full days)

Time spent laughing: 134 hours 25 minutes and 43 seconds

(or something like that. A lot of time)

Number of regrets: Absolutely NONE!

Wonderful people met along the way: Oh, so many. My path has been crossed by countless interesting and funny people. I owe the world a big hug!

Bhavatu Sabba Mangalam

Update: I've finally started looking for a job back home i Denmark. It requires some money to get out in the world again.

Additional photos below
Photos: 25, Displayed: 25



Sahaung Island at Bangka. My bungalow is somewhere behind the palms!
Blue Bay BandBlue Bay Band
Blue Bay Band

This is the band at Blue Bay Divers. I love the homemade instruments!! They played most nights and on the beach as we left the resort. Very nice.

3rd March 2011

Loving the "Harper's Index type of list" (som vi tøser nok mest kender fra Bridget Jones :-). Min klare favorit er: "Chickens killed after moderate pressure from insane Cambodian girl: 1". LOL. Tak for god underholdning, Busse. Og held med jobsøgningen!!! Knus Rikke
13th April 2011
Hypselodoris bullockii

Cool picture. How did you get the colours so vibrant.
20th April 2011
Green Sea Turtle

Fantastic photo!!
Amazing detail
20th April 2011

Amazing underwater pictures and a great blog. How do you get the colours so bright?
27th April 2011

Not mine
Hi Chris and Nikki As I mention in the blog these photos were taken by my Finnish dive buddy Kari, so he should have all the credit. I fully agree. His pictures are amazing and it is worth noting that all the photos here are un-edited. He had a pretty nice rig with two external strobes and an amazing talent, technique and patience. Add to that the amazing diversity that you find around Sulawesi and then you get shots like these. Thanks for reading and watching Jens
11th November 2011

LMAO! Love your blog!
What a wonderful blog - and I can so relate to the pygmy sea horse and underwater photographers thing having just come back from Bunakin. Will be heading to Bangka in January so will have a look for Nelly :)
12th November 2011

Ah, Bunaken is wonderful isn't it. I stayed at Blue Bay Divers at Bangka and I can recommend the place. The guides weren't the best, but I took my issues to the owner and she promptly dealt with it. Give Nelly a hug from me :)

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