27 September 2013

Scuba Diving Indonesian Borneo: Derawan Maratua Sangalaki

For better or worse: it's impossible for me to find a scuba diving destination where someone I know hasn't already been there done that. So when I stumbled upon the islands of Derawan, Sangalaki and Maratua in Indonesian Borneo and my co-workers said, where?!? I knew I had a winner.

I'll be honest with you. When I say the words Indonesian Borneo in my head, my mind adds ...where she contracted a rare, flesh-eating virus. I don't know if it's because my mom worked for the Health Department, the inflamed STD pictures they showed us in high school, or too many zombie movies. Still, I had to go. As the plane took off I wondered if my last words (with friends) would be: PLOW and POOD. Read more about my Indonesian air travel adventures (earlier post).

Since joining the scuba diver tribe ten years ago, I've become a reverse-travel-snob of sorts. If someone recommends a destination where I'll deplane using an actual jetway - forget it. If I'm going to spend hundreds of dollars, I expect to walk across the tarmac and find myself in an airport terminal with one gate and one luggage carousel.

The one thing I have to get over is trying to find places where US corporations don't have a presence. At the Suribaya airport there was a guy who would shrink wrap your cardboard box so it could be used as luggage....and a Starbucks. D'oh!

So why Indonesian Borneo? Well, there are three things I wanted: muck diving, coral gardens and large pelagics. This is a surprisingly tough combo to find, and we got all three.

Derawan had quasi-muck diving. For those of  you who don't scuba dive, muck diving describes the sediment where you find interesting little critters. Sangalaki is where we saw Mantas, and Maratua is where we saw some lovely coral gardens and also a barracuda tornado and an seven foot leopard shark. Oh yeah, and I saw my first hammerhead!

We also visited a village on one of the islands - you can see it in the video below. The little kids all shouted Hallo! Hallo! Later the next evening we went to another island where we saw a turtle laying eggs on the beach. When she was through she gave a long sigh of exhaustion that sounded very human...or perhaps sometimes we humans sound like exhausted turtles.

Riding back to the dive boat that night on the dinghy there were an impossible number of stars overhead. Looking up was almost as cool as looking down at the bio-luminescent water that was as equally twinkly as the sky.

Moments like this that make me feel like I'm a real adventurer. At the same time, I recognize how lucky I am to travel thousands of miles of ocean in an airplane instead of a boat. To think I crossed the Pacific Ocean in about ten hours and it took my ancestors weeks! Makes me wonder what world travel will be like when I'm an old fart.

minimal? visits Indonesia

Check out the scuba diving highlights in the three-and-a-half minute video below. In addition to the barracuda tornado, there's a shot of a black manta and a turtle scratching its butt. Not shown: a mantis shrimp that was a bit camera shy.

23 September 2013

Traveling to Indonesian Borneo

This is a message to inform you that your scheduled shuttle pickup time has been changed to: 4:15 am. Thank you. BEEP!

It was the first of many early mornings greeting the dark: bags packed, bleary-eyed, and ready for adventure. Adventure!

Because sometimes you need to get away from place like this...

...and go to a place like this.

(if you have subscribed to this blog by email, you may need to click through to themadhapa.com to view the images)

Ironically, to escape the rat race of too many people crammed in too little space you have to cram yourself and your belongings into still smaller spaces: shuttle vans, security queues, and of course the airplane itself.

By the way, flying a SE Asian discount air carrier was truly an adventure. I wondered aloud, do they allow smoking on this flight? To which my traveling companion muttered, I can't feel my knees. If you think I'm just being a western tourist a-hole, check out this photo I took in the airplane toilet. Incidentally, the toilet didn't flush... and it was a 6am flight. You can do the math.

Sometimes You Have to Laugh
It's funny though, things that would have really bothered me back home didn't bother me so much, because it was another culture, I guess. For example: in Indonesia, you clear security just before boarding the plane. There's a metal detector and an inspection belt for bags within view of the jetway.

I dutifully pulled out my laptop, took off my watch, and while I was doing this several Indonesian dudes pushed past me. I thought that was odd, but let them take care of emptying their pockets and so forth. While I waited, another couple of guys shoved in between me and the first group. Dafuq? 

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised when they didn't queue to board either. Everyone jammed into the jetway. I had to laugh at this because, well, it's an airplane. We're all getting there at the same time. Who cares if you get on the plane first? I had to laugh...

I think this says, "will using my mobile phone crash the airplane?"
Cultural Treasures Available in Your Seat Pocket
The image above is from the inflight magazine. I think the article is meant to discourage people from using their cell phones in flight.

In my seat pocket there was also a prayer card with prayers in Indonesian and English for: Muslims, Protestants, Catholics, Hindus, Buddhists and Tian Khaghhuzu Shangi Di - which I just typed into Google and the first search result was "Fan Fiction." I have no idea.

I also enjoyed the pre-recorded messages they played over the PA for English-speaking passengers. Before the plane takes off they remind you about the emergency exits and also that the penalty for transporting illegal drugs is death. Just before the plane lands they thank you for flying and remind you not to steal the lifejackets - further noting that your luggage will be searched.

Shortly after the message ends, the pilot drops the plane on the tarmac like a hot f*cking rock.


I hope you've enjoyed this little missive. I hope to do a separate post about the actual dive trip and also the time we spent in Singapore. Until then terima kasih (terry makka see) which is Thank You in Indonesian.