Thursday, May 20, 2010

End of Dive Season

There are many diving destinations in Indonesia, but there’s something extraordinarily special about diving in Gorontalo. The marine life here is amazing, for sure, but what keeps me coming back is the contagious smile and boundless enthusiasm of Rantje, the American divemaster who runs Miguel’s Diving - not to mention his extensive knowledge of the marine environment and insights into the culture and customs of the Gorontalese. And who can resist the shy smiles of Rantje’s two assistants, Yunis and Undeng? A day out on the water with this crew is practically guaranteed to be a good time.

I’ve already blogged about many amazing things that have happened to me while diving in Gorontalo this season. You’ve heard all about my encounters with whale sharks, my first wreck dive and my experience posing as an underwater model. But there are many other extraordinary moments that are also worthy of mention. Here are a few that I haven’t written about yet.

The day the clouds touched the sea: One afternoon after climbing back on board after the third dive of the day at West Point, Rantje pointed out to me how the clouds were so low on the horizon that they seemed to be touching the sea. He explained that this happens because we’re so close to the equator. The effect made it look like icebergs existed in tropical Tomini Bay.

Tomini Bay "icebergs"

The day I became the first woman ever to swim through the tunnel at Chimneys: Rantje took Anna and me out to Chimneys one day. It was the first time he had been there in about a year because it’s farther away than most of the other sites and, to save fuel, requires a flat sea and a light boat to get there. The underwater landscape here is fantastic with tall chimneys lined with white sea fans and split-level caves and tunnels. Rantje swam through a tunnel and then beckoned for the two of us to follow him. I went first and then Anna followed. After the dive he informed us that we were the first two women to ever swim through that tunnel.

The day I snorkeled with a wall of shipjack tuna: Rantje and I were getting ready to dive the Japanese Cargo Wreck when we noticed a disturbance at the surface of the water. Tuna were jumping out of the water left and right. We quickly donned our masks and fins and jumped overboard to see if anything big was also in the water. What we encountered was a solid WALL of shipjack tuna.

Being able to dive so often here has truly transformed my fellowship year. Any frustrations I felt about power outages, rats in my house, plagiarizing students or language barriers quickly disappeared when I got on the dive boat. The fresh breeze on my face, the laughter and jokes on the boat, and the wonderful anticipation about the days’ dives always worked wonders to lift my spirits. I’ve been blessed with so many unforgettable memories this year thanks to Rantje and his crew. Last weekend was the very last weekend of diving in Gorontalo this season and Sarah, Alexa and I tried hard not to cry as we put on our fins and backrolled into the crystal clear water for the last time this year. None of us wanted this to ever end but the weather will turn soon, causing swells of up to five meters to crash into the limestone cliffs for the next six months.

Last surface interval at Hidden Beach with Rantje, Alexa and Sarah

The end of the Gorontalo dive season also signals the beginning of the end of my fellowship. Rantje has already returned to the US for the off-season, Sarah and Alexa will be leaving Limboto next week, and I have exactly four more weeks of classes left at UNG. Four weeks. That’s it. Then I’ll submit my final grades, pack up my worldly possessions, and also say farewell to Gorontalo. Well, for now. I’ll be back next dive season for sure!

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