We touched down in Los Angeles a few hours ago. Spirits were appropriately high among the kids as they had just endured 18 hours of air travel and were that much closer to home. And Chipotle. Alex and I were wrestling with a mix of feelings brought on by the end of the road, most immediate of which was a strong dose of sadness. Though we have promised ourselves that more adventures lie ahead, and that they don’t have to involve massive travel, they will have to wait at least a little while. Not that we needed it, this point was driven home by what sat at the gate next to ours at LAX: an Air New Zealand jet, preparing for its long haul back to Auckland. Seeing that plane was like a punch in the gut.
We finished strong in Indonesia, without being overwhelmed by the end of the trip. Bali may be a bit of a circus, but our time at Wakatobi more than made up for the crowds and traffic. A diving resort on a tiny island, Wakatobi is easily the most remote spot we have visited – off the southern tip of Sulawesi, about halfway between Papua and Java. We took a two-hour charter that the resort runs a couple of times a week from Bali. Otherwise, I was told that a two-day boat ride is the only to get there. Part of me feels like our flight was a bit of a cheat, and that we couldn’t appreciate just how in-the-middle-of-nowhere we were without getting there by water and land.
Once there, it was all about diving. We are still new to the sport but have clearly and accidentally spoiled ourselves by hitting the Great Barrier Reef and Wakatobi on the same trip.
Where the GBR showed us larger creatures like sharks, dolphins, rays and turtles, the endless reefs of Wakatobi are a blast of color from the coral and the (often tiny) animals that live among them. Some of the greatest finds are the smallest: the pygmy seahorse is about the size of the nail on your pinky finger, but you’ve had a banner Wakatobi day if you spotted one among the coral.
Tallying species in your dive log is fun, but, more importantly, we have each finally gotten control of the underwater anxieties of managing breathing and equipment to the point where we can truly savor drifting the world below the surface. Earlier tonight, over dinner in an ominously dull Santa Monica restaurant, Alex recalled a dive spot called Conchitas. Unlike vertical reef walls which are so common around Wakatobi, Conchitas is a series of underwater bays separated by rideglines which attract larger species like sharks and rays via electromagnetism (our excellent divemaster Joeri provided that last bit; I can’t honestly vouch for it). We did see some reef sharks and an eagle ray, but what Alex remembered most vividly was the sensation of drifting along the sea floor, up toward the lip of a bay, then topping out each ridgeline to take in the blue abyss beyond. I can see it like it was earlier today, but can’t say much more about it without using silly words like blueness and abyssness. We have underwater photos we can share in a few days, but I have my doubts that they will convey the moments much more effectively.
The kids mock me openly every time I mention it, but I read somehwere along the way that we should each be living for the moments that can’t be put into words. I have a running mental list of these moments from our trip, and our dive at Conchitas fits well alongside Himalayan dawns, a hammerhead in Australia, and an icy sunset on the shoulder of Mt Aspiring. As we return home, our job will be to cherish these moments, let the headaches of constant travel melt away, and add to this list with more adventures.
We’ll spend a week in California before returning closer to reality.