A few weeks ago, the exotic word “Komodo” simply evoked for us those giant leathery skin lizards, the Komodo Dragons. I had no idea there was an entire other world waiting for our personal discovery: the underwater paradise of Komodo National Park.

The park itself consists of the large islands of Komodo and Rinca (where we did indeed see some of the massive reptiles) and about two dozen smaller islets and reefs. Some of the best diving in Asia (maybe the world?) is concentrated here. We were lucky enough to experience it in 20 gorgeous and sometimes heart racing dives on our week long stay aboard the Lambo.

Flying through a school of blue fusiliers. This is the closest we'll get to defying gravity.

Flying through a school of blue fusiliers. This is the closest we’ll get to defying gravity.

A new challenge

Seb and I are scuba-newbies. We got our Advanced Open Water PADI certification during an intense week in Thailand only two months ago. At the time, it seemed like a good idea as it was relatively inexpensive and Koh Tao was a beautiful spot to complete it. Little did we know we’d fall so in love with this new activity.

Now, after diving solid for a whole week, we still have just over 30 dives in our log book (we were the most inexperienced divers on the boat). Our technique still needs work and I get overly excited every time I see a clown fish (a relatively common reef fish here), but we acquired great experience in Komodo and now can’t wait to do another live aboard.

Our BCDs (buoyancy control devices), air tanks and other equipment on board awaiting our next dive. Scuba requires a lot of technical 'stuff'.

Our BCDs (buoyancy control devices), air tanks and other equipment on board awaiting our next dive. Scuba requires a lot of technical ‘stuff’.

A beautiful sport

Before our experience in Komodo, I was a bit torn about whether scuba diving should be considered a sport. It certainly requires skills and technique, but physically speaking, our first months of diving weren’t exactly difficult. Komodo, with its unpredictable currents and infamous drift dives, was another story. Being caught in a current feels kind of like being a leaf caught in a gale-force wind: you have little control over where it will take you. Swimming against the current tires out your muscles rapidly and it can feel scary if you can’t get back to the reef where you have a chance to brace yourself (without crushing coral, of course). The air consumed from your tank is a good indication of how hard you were working under water, and several times we had to share air to finish a dive. The incredible impact on our appetite also showed attested to the fact that we were getting plenty of exercise – we ate with the enthusiasm of sharks during a feeding frenzy all week.

An underwater universe

Before trying scuba, we’d heard the experience underwater enigmatically described as “a whole other world” – but it really is that. It is a world where colors, movement and even gravity abide by different laws than on land. We spent lots of time floating on the surface, listening to our dive briefings (basically, what rules to follow and a description of the site), but you can never imagine what you’ll really see until you get under the surface. We discovered black sand deserts, towering pinnacles, Abyss-like walls that drop into blue nothingness and underwater mountains with castle-like rocks perched on their extremities. The colors of the vast coral gardens are truly otherworldly – sometimes bordering on neon, sometimes a deep glowing blue – and fish and other alien looking creatures defy gravity all around you. It is an underwater ballet – a spectacle to take in and be applauded with every Darth Vader-like pull on your regulator (breathing device).

Self portrait of Seb, my favorite dive buddy and photographer.

Self portrait of Seb, my favorite dive buddy and photographer.

A unique activity

Imagine seeing all these amazing underwater sights, wanting to share in the joy with your beloved buddy but the two of you are, for all intents and purposes, expressionless and mute. Sound reacts differently underwater and speech is rendered impossible. The essential scuba gear such as face-distorting masks and mouth obliterating regulators makes it almost impossible to register or read any normal facial expression. We did learn how to communicate essential information (running low on air, shark attack imminent, etc.) with hand signals or by banging on your tank, but the excited banter of discovering a huge crocodile fish or “flying” with a black manta ray must be saved for when you surface. In this magical blue realm, diving is a social yet solitary activity. Drifting along in the silence as the tranquil spectacle unfolds before your eyes can make you feel like the only person there…until someone starts banging and points to a turtle.

One of our many dive site maps - you do not want to be in the "too late" zone.

One of our many dive site maps – you do not want to be in the “too late” zone.

The downsides

So we’re thoroughly enamored with diving, but it does have some disadvantages. For one, it’s pricy. Whether you rent or buy your own stockpile of equipment, good quality scuba gear is absolute essential (I mean you’re spending up to an hour underwater! This is not the time to get thrifty). Even though PADI officially says we can dive with just a buddy, going with an experienced dive master or instructor is always recommended – and of course comes with his or her own fees. Our live aboard in Komodo was one of the most expensive weeks we’ve had on our travels, but we really feel it was totally worth it.

Diving also has some weird effects on your body. Humans are not designed to be underwater, so our bodies understandably react a little strangely. In addition to the incredible appetite it works up, the nitrogen build up creates an almost drug-like lethargy when you surface. I’ve never been one for napping, but on three dives per day, several siestas were necessary. Jellyfish stings, whips from fire coral and ankle sores from rubbing fins are all painful but unfortunately rather common. Seb and I also had the gross discovery of our bodies shedding large chunks of earwax. It was as if the underwater pressure on our ear canals and the continuous equalizing somehow pushed out years’ worth of build up. Yucko! The salt water also does a very efficient job of cleaning out your nose and throat, and the underwater buoyancy makes you want to pee almost constantly. It was weird.

 

Even with the hefty price tag and bodily weirdnesses, nothing could take away our enthusiasm for diving, especially in Komodo. We’ve discovered a new love and we’ll continue  diving whenever we get the opportunity. I also have a premonition that one of our next purchases will be underwater housing for Seb’s cameras…

 

In the meantime, here is a short GoPro video of some of our underwater flights (watch it in HD). Enjoy!