Diving with the “Incredibles”

by Janice Nigro

I have spent 18 days:1 hour:36 minutes of my life underwater. Nearly twelve of these days, I have logged in Indonesia. Indonesia commands you to return in large part because of the unparalleled underwater diversity, but perhaps equally important, the reason for my consecutive trips to Indonesia over the last six years, is the dive guides. They interact most directly with you every day, working hard to show you something unique every dive hour, and when you surface, they jovially join in your amazement in the creatures that you just saw. “Wow!,” they might say, “Oh my god!,” as if they too saw the critter for the first time. If you are lucky though, sometimes conversations go beyond reviewing the creatures of the last dive, and you find yourself discussing topics that you would with your friends at home. These are the conversations that can lead to really memorable moments in scuba dive travel, and trips and people become unforgettable.

On a recent trip to Komodo, a place where the landscape alone throws you back probably a billion years, such a conversation surprisingly started when a dive guide and I traded titles of favorite movies. One was the animated film, “the Incredibles.” It is about a family where each member has a different superpower, and the story is about how they struggle to live a normal life, but ultimately they cannot and resign themselves to saving the world. A couple of aspects of this conversation I found remarkable: firstly, that I was even discussing a US film in a remote area of the planet with someone from North Sulawesi, a place perhaps not well known to many with the exception of scuba divers, and secondly, that the nuances of the humor of that movie had not been lost in translation to Indonesian. My favorite line in the movie is when “Mr. Incredible (Bob Parr),” the father of the superpower family, makes a phone call to the sexy female protagonist (who eventually leads him into trouble) and initiates the call by declaring, “Incredible, here.” It is the best line of the movie (and really funny to all of my female friends), and I believe, as I explained to the dive guide, the entire reason the Incredibles were named the Incredibles, was just so Mr. Incredible could deliver that line. Suddenly, an analogy between the Seven Seas dive guides and the animated family with superpowers was inspired. They became the Incredibles.

Many of the best dive guides come from North Sulawesi. If you have ever had the luck of diving with a guide from North Sulawesi, I do not have to explain this analogy further. These dive guides have an extraordinary ability to find any critter, macro- or really, microscopic, whether they were previously aware of its existence or not. They have distinctive names, like Stoner (?), and they do wear suits (see image). The dive guides that I met on my most recent trip to Komodo with the Seven Seas were even brothers, provoking me to consider whether superpowered-ness is within the gene pool in North Sulawesi. Muck diving originated here, and at the very least, it could be imagined to be a unique microcosm of evolution on the planet-critters and the people that co-evolved to find them.

Although the analogy originated with the brothers Incredible on the Seven Seas (IncRRRedibles in Indonesian accented English), it would be unfair to limit the designation to only these two. There are many others with underwater superpowers, and they do come from other parts of Indonesia, such as Bali and Ambon. The dive guide community is tight, as all good dive guides seem to know all other good dive guides, even though Indonesia spans around 17,000 islands. If you have been to Indonesia a couple of times, you can strike up a conversation with any one of them and catch up somewhat on the lives of the others.

The manner in which they elicit their superpowers is also distinct. Most notable are the ones that look as if they are doing nothing in the water, simply hanging there (even in a blasting current), and then suddenly, they drop and point to a micro-frogfish that you can barely see when you are looking directly at it. Some of them seem uninspired by a typical reef but spring to life in the least likely of underwater environments, sloping sandy. To you, it looks desolate, but in these areas, the Incredibles are truly magical/superpowered. One of the dive guides from the Seven Seas, Incredible 1 (Frenckie), could make creatures appear out of the sand, as I witnessed on a dive one night. I am not sure what he saw in the sand in the dark, but suddenly, with a special motion over the sand, a small torpedo ray came forth. If magic exists, this is what it looks like.

Apparently, there is some earthbound method to their success. It was once explained to me that they look for specific environments. Some of these underwater locales become obvious even to me. I look for orangutan crabs in bubble and mushroom corals, and shrimp and porcelain crabs on anemones. The confounding phenomenon is how they look at a pile of coral rubble, go to work like machines, and end up finding boxer crabs, tiger shrimp, and blue-ringed octopi. Incredible 2 on the trip to Komodo, Irwan, stated that it was his job to find them, so I still do not know the secret. And if you get to have an Incredible to yourself, be prepared to work hard underwater. On a night dive once, I burned nearly completely through my tank of nitrox (usually impossible for me at 10 meters or above) as the guide led me from one creature to the next, non-stop for 90 minutes. My logbook for that dive covers two pages and is probably incomplete.

So many great Indonesian dive guides come from this one place, and often the others mimic their style. It is a small place on the planet, and yet, the Incredibles bring such delight to those of us glued to a computer in “civilization”. This is their true superpower, to give us an unimaginable view into their country through their magnificent eyes. Diving with them is always, well, incRRRedible.

©2013 Janice Marie Nigro/janikiInk.com

also published at http://www.scubaverse.com/2014/04/24/diving-incredibles/

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