The Diving. Let’s start with the diving. Cause it’s always about the diving. The reason I decided to face my fears of strong currents and book a liveaboard during full moon, when the currents are in fact at their strongest. So, was it worth it? I clearly survived, but did I enjoy myself?
Fuck yeh I did!
Telling stories I know you usually build up the excitement, leave the most interesting bit until the end, but I’m just going to go for it, and tell you about the Cauldron first.
After absolutely loving the currents at Castle Rock (more later) I was pretty excited about jumping in at one of Komodo’s most famous sites. Even writing this fills me with excitement! Without a doubt, the craziest dive I have ever done. My fears of fighting strong currents, being thrown around by strong currents and generally not having a clue whats going on, were more than realised. And then a little extra drama to boot.
Initially dropping down to about 15 – 20 metres we rode some pretty decent currents whilst admiring beautiful coral as well as the masses of marine life doing the same, until we came to the ‘Shotgun’ part of the dive. Here you are essentially spring boarded (by the currents) up to around 9meters in a matter of seconds and thrown over to the other side of ‘The Cauldron’ where the currents are again, really strong. It was so, so much fun and everyone dives computers were beeping like crazy (not something you usually ignore, but we have been sufficiently briefed!)
On the other side I saw my DM (dive master) & DB (dive buddy) hook onto a rock, so I tried to find one near them. Unsure half the time whether a ‘rock’ is a rock or hard coral I was pretty reluctant to just start aiming my reef hook mistakenly into coral, and eventually just held on to theirs too. My DM pointed to a rock a few meters away (though in these currents my brain initially thought ‘no fucking way – I’m just gonna fly…’) but made my way over there (in a split second) and failed at trying to hook on.
All the time this is happening people and marine life are flying past us. Earlier on in the dive another couple in our group were happily hooked in, but then saw my DB go flying past so had to unhook and follow. I wish I could properly explain the (intentional) shit-show of craziness that this dive is, or at least was that day. I also realise I’m focusing so much on the currents here that I haven’t really mentioned that already I’ve seen a turtle, sharks & rays…
I managed to fight the currents & swim up to my DM & DB and tried to hook into their rock… but my extra weight just uprooted it and we all went flying. Laughing to myself and thinking ‘what the fuck is going on!!’ (which I had many, many times during the dive already, but not once felt unsettled or unsafe) I decided to just stick close to the DM and follow his path.
And then I had no air.
I remember thinking, ‘Oh shit, I can’t breathe’ and looked up at my DM (about 3m away) and though feeling confused, calmly but quickly thought, ‘I better get his Octopus’ (spare second stage /part you put in your mouth and breathe from) and swam up to him and grabbed it. I couldn’t get any air initially but managed to purge it and breathe. Keep in mind whilst this is happening we are both flying through the water. As I’d come from behind he also initially had no idea what was happening!
Surprisingly, not once did I feel panicky but my DM kept insisting I look at him and breathe (best way to keep someone calm underwater) for which I am incredibly grateful. No doubt did this play a large part, never once feeling I was in danger or the situation was out of control. We had risen quite a bit, and away from the currents at about 6/7m. I worked out that I did have air, but my mouth piece had fallen off! So I’d obviously tried to breath, but with the mouth piece not being connected to the (air) hose, there was no air. How I did not swallow water or choke, I don’t know. I then switched to my Octopus and DM asked if I wanted to descend and continue the dive, which I did, so down we went.
As we got to the back to about 15m he signalled again to check I was okay and I remember signally back, in a quick ‘yeh yeh yeh’ fashion before making the shark signal and pointing ahead, because there, right in front of me, to welcome me back was not only a reef shark, but also a manta ray.
What the hell was this dive! What is life! Once they swam away we gave each other a high five and continued on (with all the group) eventually finishing the dive at 42 minutes. When I surfaced I laughed and swore a lot. And got another high five.
All the training, the research, the awareness, really focusing and listening; had all paid off. That dive could have been pretty fucking scary and disastrous but I stayed calm, did what I needed to do, sorted myself out, and had an incredible time. Even just in regards to the currents, I’d learnt not to thrash speedily against them, but when I did have to fight against them, use strong, steady fin kicks, taking my time, always knowing that if I really wasn’t okay and needed to surface, that I knew how to do as well!
So, that was the Cauldron.
Castle Rock, the previous dive was another one known for its strong currents. After dropping into the water we moved round the pinnacle a little bit, and then just hooked on and watched the show. Shark after shark! It was utter heaven. Feeling the currents strongly sweeping past but just holding on; utterly amazing. There was a huge variety of fish, huge fish, and huge schools of fish, but honestly I mainly just remember shark-gazing. Swoon.
After we unhooked and swam further around the pinnacle Aji pointed out three baby white tips under a rock. So adorable! I heard that hooking in was fun. Deep down I knew it was, that’s why I bought myself a hook, and thats why I was there, but wow – it really is something special.
Another one of my favourite dives was Makasser Reef (Manta Point). Even before dropping in we saw Mantas off our little speedboat, desperate to get in and join them! The currents were really strong at first, and I almost started to feel unsettled, but then remembered to stay close to the bottom and use slow, powerful kicks and felt like some Scuba SAS person, and started having fun with it. During this dive we saw Manta Ray after Manta Ray. It was incredible. Most of the dive is over sand and rocky rubble, and at one point my DB Michel was so engrossed trying to spot something in the rubble he almost missed three Manta’s graciously swimming above him. My first ever tank bang! Seeing his puzzled expression change to one of awe was itself something quite wonderful. I loved this dive, even when for 5 or so minutes there was nothing to see I loved floating along, thinking my thoughts, thinking nothing at all, just being. Like the most pleasant walk you have even been on, but underwater.. oh, and Mantas.
What made this dive so interesting for me wasn’t just the Reef Sharks, Turtles, OCtopus or even the Mandarin Fish (haha, okay, I’ll stop..) but I had my first underwater photo shoot (which was very strange, but really fun, I’d love to do another where I’m not so taken by surprise!) and also got myself to such a place of zen that I had to actively snap myself out it, in case I just fell asleep or lost my senses! I went to re-do my braids and remembered how much freer I feel when dancing, (or moshing) with it down, so I thought I’d try just leave it lose. And yeh, it had the exact same effect. The dive was very easy and slow, so I just let my mind wander, followed some fish, played around in the water a bit, (imagine, a child underwater in a swimming pool, finning like a mermaid, twirling.. that sort of thing) and my mind became so calm I felt it might switch off! My remedy? Put my hair in a braid and actively went to explore. It worked.
We did two night dives, the first at Gili Lawa Darat, and the second at Siaba Besar. This one, on the last night, was utterly incredible. I love night dives anyway, being in what seems like a different ocean, feeling like an explorer, and aside from one light beam surrounded by darkness and blissful silence. We saw so much – whitelipped eel catfish (super cute pokemon looking things), flasher scorpionfish, a spanish dancer, snowflake eels, lionfish hunting, and a really big black worm! Waiting at the safety stop I realised we’d picked up a diver – I counted the others a couple of time, and yup, definitely an extra body, Chema. Doh. There was also bioluminescence to play with and as we hid our torch beams and I swirled my fingers round the water I felt like I was in some magical, underwater fairy land. I swear I could hear the fantasia symphony playing in my head…
Our last dive was supposed to be at the infamous Batu Balong and we’d had a pretty exciting dive briefing the night before. When we arrived at the site you could tell the currents were crazily strong, and given there are pretty ripping down currents around the pinnacle we had to move on to another site and headed over to Wainilu.
This is a macro (small stuff) muck diving (sandy/rubbly/mucky bottom) site. Some people find them ‘boring’ but you really need to go slow and seek things out. Home to some beautiful and unique creatures, muck diving feels a bit like a treasure hunt! I used to think of these as easy dives, but actually they are the ones that make me lose my senses most easily. A few times I had to readjust my brain (!) and actively work out the terrain when it had difficulty computing if the sandy bottom was flat, or on a slope. This confusion results in a second or two of dizziness. Easily overcome, but a not particularly pleasant sensation (despite generally enjoying the sensation of dizziness…) The dive itself was the murkiest we’d had, with only about 5 metre visibility, but there was lots to be sought out and seen. I followed a few cowfish (cute little things, like boxfish with horns), spotted some Manta Shrimps (what amazing curious things they are) and even spotted a ribbon eel, unsure what it was, asking one of the other divers if I’d found a ‘thing’ or some rubbish! When it emerged a little more from it’s hole I realised I’d spotted a beautiful yellow and purple eel ‘thing.’ (Ribbon eel!) We didn’t expect to see any rays, but we saw two, a Devil Ray, and a Mobula Ray! Not quite the Eagle Ray I was hoping for (ha! I’m not complaining at all!!) What an ending to such an amazing four days of diving. Such diverse sites, experiences, aquatic life. So many Mantas, so many Sharks! As I sit here writing about it, it feels like a dream. One of those wonderful, wake up super happy and floaty kind of dreams. BUT IT WAS REAL. ❤
Final post about the liveaboard boat and experience, the people, & THE DRAGONS to come.. (oh, not forgetting Padar Island… the place with THAT view.)
My First Manta, Komodo – Arriving in Komodo & a day dive trip.