scuba dive travels

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 with the visual acuity to find them co-evolved.

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

12 June 2013

the dive log…a vanishing art?

by Janice Nigro

I love to be writing in my logbook. The obvious significance to this statement is that I am actively scuba diving if I am writing in my logbook. I started my first log book in 1993 under inauspicious conditions, diving in a stone quarry in Tennessee in November, but continue to this day to write something about each dive. Ok, diving is not something that I do every day, and I am not even at the 500 dives mark. But it seems as if I am unusual amongst divers, especially experienced divers, in that it is still important to me to keep a dive log.

There used to be a practical purpose for keeping a dive log. In 1993, planning your dive by the log tables before going underwater was standard, but now we dive with a computer. Since the dive computer logs all of the specifics about your dive, recording it in your logbook is no longer of any use or really any interest. The only interesting situation is if something goes wrong, and then your dive computer reveals all. However, some technical dive details are worth writing down. In the beginning of your dive career, it serves as a concrete record of the number and type of your dives. Was it a night or drift dive? You can carry it anywhere, even on a boat or on a shore dive. This record keeping of the number of dives is necessary particularly early on if you want to upgrade your skills. I also write in my logbook details such as how much weight I used with what equipment. It helps to do this so that my diving is consistent from one trip to the next, especially if I am only able to dive once a year and if the conditions for diving are different. Dry suit versus 3mm wetsuit diving is logged as 12kgs versus 4kgs. And to merely keep track of the names of the dive sites is at least entertaining. Who doesn’t want to brag about having dived Wangi Wangi Bay (Indonesia), Layag Layag (Philippines), or Tapu and Toopua (Bora Bora)?

But the purpose of my dive log probably diverged from the practical at the outset. My open water dive instructor recommended to just purchase a regular notebook to use as a dive log. I suppose with that suggestion, the intent of the book took on a different meaning because I was not relegated to the limitations of a formatted PADI log book. I could write as much (or as little) as I wanted about any dive site. At my first check out dive, the instructor quickly scribbled in the format of the handmade logbook (dive number, date, location, weather, visibility, temperature of the water, bottom time, total bottom time, and remarks), and I stick with this.

What makes the dive log fun and uniquely yours, is to write about what you see and feel and sometimes the people that you meet. I suppose my dive log has evolved into a sort of an underwater travel journal. The first entry offered little to remark about other than my shock about the complete lack of visibility and the temperature of the water. At the time I thought it would be coldest water that I would ever voluntarily enter for diving. Mostly I comment on the creatures that I see, including where I can Latin as well as common names. Some dive days are spectacular and you almost think, if it all ends today, I am lucky to have that as one of the last images in my head. On Dive no 248, at Cape Kri in Raja Ampat, fish were raining down on us throughout the dive and then suddenly, all the fish disappeared. It was a terrifying few seconds wondering what was coming our way. We remained still, and finally, a school of eagle rays swam past us, like a collection of all the rays I missed on previous dives. It was unexpected in that area, and I was breathless for the few moments as they passed. On Dive no 355 at Rhino City on Ambon, I had a rare opportunity to view the psychedelic frogfish, an unusual frogfish that has no lure. When the photographers were finished, I stayed behind with the dive guide, and we watched it act like a statue, until a small fish ventured too close and was snapped up in a nanosecond.

Incidents underwater are worth remarking about as well. Dive no 14 was hardly about the marine life. I had a poorly fitted rental mask that was flooding non-stop, so much so, that a handsome dive master leg locked himself onto me to help adjust the mask as we were careening through the Great Barrier Reef on a drift dive. I couldn’t remember much else about that dive. Humpback whale sounds accompanied me on Dive no 30, a night dive in Maui in February, and on Dive no 413, I finally correctly interpreted the impromptu signal for a cuttlefish laying eggs on a dive in Komodo, Indonesia.

One of the critical aspects of a dive log entry is the stamp. Each stamp makes the dive “official” along with signatures from your dive guides and buddies. The stamp means you have been somewhere, just like your passport, only you do not have to leave your country to get it. Some of the same stamps reappear in my dive log, and some are from companies that sadly no longer exist (Archipelago). To obtain signatures from your dive companions perhaps seems particularly obnoxious when you are older, but one memorable dive guide on a recent trip even gave me a signature along with an amazing hand drawn caricature of an anemone fish (see image).

My dive logs represent travel through 14 different countries including the USA, two European countries, and more typical dive destinations such as Bonaire or Fiji or French Polynesia. Some locations were never on my dive wish list, such as the west coast of Norway, which is extraordinarily far from the equator. The dives there were amazing even though the temperature was a shocking 8 degrees Celsius, a temperature that I did not realize my dive computer could register.

It seems old fashioned to use a pen and paper to keep track of my dives, but I can flip through the pages wherever I am. It always starts a conversation. No dive has been boring, and the lesson with each dive is to just get into the water, and something will happen. It is a good reminder of how to live life.

How many of scuba divers keep a log book? Where is your favorite stamp from?

©2013 Janice Marie Nigro/janikiInk.com

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