Penang, Malaysia

Here we are again, painlessly over the border and back in Malaysia. The free 3 month visa on arrival certainly contributes to the ease of entrance. Ushered into the country in the back of a minivan, our driver delivered us safely into the heart of Georgetown on Penang Island. Having no clue as to where we would stay, we jumped out in what looked like an area heavy with cheap accommodations. We strolled around, checking several places before settling on 76-Backpacker’s Lodge. The clincher: screens on the windows; such a small but luxurious perk in mosquito heavy SE Asia.

After settling in and doing a quick walk-about exploration of the area, we sat down for the first of many Indian food meals in Georgetown—thus starting, yet again, another Indian-food-eating-bonanza. The next 6 days in Georgetown were spent quite indulgently—i.e. watching a new film every night and filling our bellies with tandoori chicken, garlic naan, and masala tea. Sure we walked around Georgetown a bit, took in some of the sights, and did a nominal amount of exploring; but not that much and it felt good.

Around town we met folks who taught yoga, taught salsa dancing, taught language classes, taught cooking classes, and taught and taught and taught. They all invited. They tried to lure us to undertake their classes and sample the goodness of their offerings, but we were uninspired, unmotivated, and generally happy with our lazing about. So we kept it up. I rounded out my languid days devouring pages of new books. On the 6th day in Georgetown we decided that we had indulged enough, and spent enough Ringgots “doing nothing.”

It was here we came to the decision that it was time to make a decision. Our plans to undertake Divemaster (DM) training in SE Asia was on the forefront of our minds when we set out on this journey. Yet many months later we had not yet settled on where this training would take place. We had waffled long enough, exhausted the pro’s and con’s of DM Training Programs in Sipidan verses Komodo for months, and speculated to the nth degree about which location which provide a better overall experience. Well, there is really no way to know. Sure you can ask around, sample divers, and research the Web. But each experience is unique, fraught with its own challenges and rich in its own rewards. We would just have to go. Go, and make it the best experience possible. But go where?

Both are said to have amazing diving, both situated in locations that lack amenities beyond the spectacular diving and both coming in around the same cost. The biggest difference: current. Komodo is known, and feared, for strong conditions. Situated between the Pacific and Indian Ocean, the area creates one of the few bottleneck passages that allow massive amounts of water to flow between the two. As a result, tons of water rushes daily with the tidal changes, sweeping through the area and results in some very challenging diving conditions. We’ve met many dive professionals over the last year, and among those whose opinions we’d come to value and respect the most, the result was unanimous—if you can guide Komodo, the rest is cake.

It was tempting to balk on the challenge. We’re on holiday after all. Of course we want to learn as much as possible during the DM training, but come on. We really just wanted an economical way to do a lot of diving, and the DM training would provide just that. We talked more about the merits of Sipidan, but in the end, neither one of us could turn our backs on the gauntlet laid before us. Komodo was in the cards.

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