Arriving in Labuan Bajo

Arriving at the airport in Labuan Bajo was encouraging. Despite the poetic soliloquies we’d heard about the diving here, not a single person had a kind word for Labuan Bajo, so our expectations were pretty low. The airport, if a bit small, was clean and modern and as a bonus it was a nice temperature outside. We’d been e-mailing the dive shops for a few months and a few were trying to court us. One of them sent an escort, Marius, a goofy looking Dutchman and divemaster trainee with and infectious smile. We love his energy and were very excited to talk to his instructor, Martin. In all the commotion we barely noticed the town unfolding beyond the windows of the van.

Martin, another jovial Dutchmen further amped us up with an overview of the course and the incredible diving conditions in Komodo National Park. We left the office buzzing, but starved. Marius felt the same so we decided to sniff out some cheap food. This was about when the reality of Labuan Bajo started to set in. Motorbikes flew passed us, honking and swerving, throwing up clouds of dusts that we futilely tried to swat away. The street was pockmarked with ancient potholes and the nice temperature at the airport had given way to an afternoon swelter. Our meal was indeed cheap, but not altogether what we’d hoped for. No matter, this was just one of many places we would try in the next few weeks. It was time to find shelter.

Marius was kind enough to show us his room. We’d stayed in a variety of places over the previous year, and a few worse than this room. It was incredibly cheap though, but we knew that the longer you stay somewhere the less you are willing to endure it. Something about the constant rain of hair onto the mosquito net above his bed told us that living below the barber shop just wasn’t for us.

Next we scanned the hotels. The quality was mostly what we were used to but the price tag gave us a bit of a shock. It’s hard to generalize Indonesia, let alone SE Asia, but Labuan Bajo has to have one of the worst hotel values of anywhere we’ve been. After a lot of searching we were able to negotiate a decent price for a decent room, we’d officially arrived.

We loved Martin and Marius but their offer conflicted with our real goal here. The Divemaster course is intended for people who want to become professional dive guides. It’s multi-faceted and thorough, and by the end you are presumed to be capable of safely and responsibly leading people through a deadly environment. That was all well and good for us, but we had basically no interest in becoming professionals or guides. For us it was quite simple, we had a small amount of money and we wanted to do a massive amount of diving with it. A divemaster course was the only realistic way to do that. To us all of the course requirements and certifications were just side effects. Therein lied the problem, Martin was going to give us great training, but his resources were limited. He couldn’t offer us as much diving as we wanted, so as much as we liked him, it wasn’t a realistic option.

We checked a few other shops, who for a number of reasons didn’t work out either. The start of this adventure was not going as smoothly as we had hoped, then we met Wolfgang. At the last shop we checked we had actually one of the first we had contacted by e-mail. We knew the numbers were right, and everything seemed great, but we had to meet their instructor. Over a plate of very nice food above the diveshop, a skinny, blonde haired, Austrian man in his 50’s who looked like he never met a sunny day he didn’t like told us how he runs a divemaster course. He was mellow and thoughtful. After being a ski guide in Austria for many years he’d become and instructor and had since worked around the world diving. Our ability would dictate the pace of the course. He wasn’t going to put us through boot camp, but he was going to be thorough and we would complete all the requirements including a few extra that he thought every DM should know. He was easy to talk to and we liked him.

“Look, to be honest we want to dive a lot, like everyday, that’s our main goal. We’ll do everything the course requires and try to become excellent divemasters, but all that is secondary to us. Our purpose here is to spend a large amount of time underwater.” He smiled. “I haven’t been here for that long either, and I’m glad that you told me the truth because I feel exactly the same way.” We shook hands. This was our guy.

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Scott Dusek is a writer and photography from Seattle, Washingon. He has spent over five years on the road traveling to over 60 countries. When Scott is not writing you can find him trekking, climbing, and scuba diving in far flung corners of the world.