We rise early. It’s 6:30am but the roosters have been crowing all night. I shake Val; she squirms in protest but finally wakes up. “Wh–what?” she mumbles. “Time to go,” I whisper and stumble across creaky wood planks to the bathroom grasping for my toothbrush. Val steals five more minutes of sleep.
Labuan Bajo is still quiet, bathed in the soft light that follows the sunrise. We walk quickly along the frenetic sidewalk, scuba masks dangling behind us as we dodge potholes. By the time we reach the shop, a half a kilometer walk away, the noise and heat have caught up to us. “Selamat Pagi” (good morning) we say as we enter the dive shop, trying to muster a genuine smile for the Indonesian counter girls. Val checks the forms while I scour the store room for miscellaneous but critical pieces of equipment.
“I’m headed to the boat,” Val shouts and heads out the door.
“Do you want rice?” I yell back, but I already know the answer.
Divers start arriving at the shop, always a mixed bag. Some are chatty, nervous about the day or maybe just glad to be on vacation. There’s the serious types who sit stoically or idly calibrate equipment. Others, like us, are still waking up and wondering how they ended up a thousand miles from nowhere. I greet everyone and begin getting the last minute particulars handled. Is there food? water? Do we have enough tanks? Who do I have to kill to get a straight answer?
The walk to the boat is muddy and convoluted. It requires coordination, grace, and patience but today everything runs smoothly and before we know it the boat is cruising out to sea. A beautiful day is unfolding.
It’s a 2 hour sail to the dive sites. Val sets up the weight belts and promptly passes out on the sundeck. Some of the guests follow suit, braving a taste of the world beyond the shade of the canopy. I drink tea and stare at the ocean. The Indonesian boatmen laugh heartily, no doubt about a juicy bit of local gossip. The wheelhouse puffs like a coal train from their constant smoking.
Val wakes up on queue and we start the dive briefing. It should be a simple process. You just give the depth and type limits, a word of precaution, a general plan, and a teaser about what we might see. But a good dive briefing is more art than science, tailored to its eclectic audience so it magically stops problems before they start and thrills the guests without scaring them. Each day brings a different level of success, but either way in a few moments the talking is going to stop. We take the plunge and the universal language of the sea takes over. This is what we live for.
Komodo is a special place to dive. Its spell has deeply hypnotized us. Even after hundreds of dives here each submersion reveals a new creature, detail, and feeling. Tiny nudibranchs show every color in the rainbow. Grey reef sharks keep us honest. Manta rays swoop by. Octopus leer and reef fish of unending variety fill the water like a freshly shaken snow globe. People from all over the world come here, embarking from the humble little fishing village of Labuan Bajo, to be guided by two Americans who are utterly devoted to enjoying themselves.
Back above water the wood of the deck radiates much needed warmth back into our bodies. We’ve been down for an hour. Everyone is happy and feels like the earth took a moment to grant a special blessing just for us. The boat is probably broken in some way, behind the scenes there is always a crisis, but I barely remember them now. The powerful equatorial sun works its magic and just when we are starting to overheat it’s time for the second dive.
The ride home is filled with tales of adventures played out across the globe. Whichever language the most participants understand prevails and Val and I occasionally find ourselves miraculously understanding the gist of a hilarious recount of a Polish first date. Euphoria is easily communicated.
We close up the shop at 8:00, we’ve been working for 13 hours. We have just enough energy to eat quietly and drag ourselves home or, rarely, dance until sunrise.