A momentous decision

Today I decided to commit to working as a DM at Scuba Junkie for 6 months – until June.

I resisted the idea at first – I’m meant to be traveling, not unpacking my bags. How can I write a blog called “the range life” if I’m not in motion?

But such thinking is rigid and silly. Time to live life, and take the opportunities that present themselves. If I have found a place where I’m happy, where I can learn more about diving and about myself, what’s the point in rushing off? I always said this wander around the world would be free of rules, would conform to a plan only in the roughest sense.

There are practical considerations as well, of course. First and most importantly, by committing to 6 months part of my “pay” will now include 4 cases of beer per month. An insane amount of beer. I’ll also build up a good number of guided dives, which will give me both experience and CV-filler that’ll make it easier to get a job elsewhere later.

Finally, by settling down for a while – not planning and traveling and seeing stuff – I can continue to work on the backlog of writing I built up since I landed in St Petersburg more than 8 months ago.

(Editors, please respond to my story ideas! They’re sitting in your Inbox.)

So, what is it I’ve been doing?

Let’s start with a quick explanation of how the PADI system works. Divers-to-be must first take an Open Water diving course and become PADI-certified to dive. It’s only then that I can guide them – since I’m *not* an instructor (that requires more training), I can’t teach anyone to dive.

Each day I’m assigned to a boat going to one of the islands in the Celebes Sea: Mabul, Kapalai, Sipadan, Sibuan, Mataking, Mantabuan, Siamil, etc. There are usually 2-3 divemasters assigned to each boat, and no more than 4 customers per DM.

Once we get to our assigned island we choose which dive sites to go to – we do three dives per day, and each island has many dive sites. We take into consideration the experience level of the customers, whether they’ve dived the sites before, the conditions (current, weather, and so on), and also where we’ll see cool stuff.

Next I give a dive briefing to my group of divers. I describe the site, go through the hand signals we’ll use to communicate under water, establish how I want to run the dive, remind them of safety procedures, answer any questions, and tell them what kinds of marine life we’ll see.

Dive, rest, repeat * 2.

After the third dive we head back to Semporna, where the DMs offload the boat, rinse and put away all the gear, take a quick shower, and meet our customers at the bar to log the dives. I give them the stats from the dive (time in, dive time, maximum depth, etc.) and then list all the creatures we found – from white tip sharks to teeny whip-coral shrimp.

After that it’s back to the dive shop to set up the boats for the following day. Then a quick dinner, a beer or three, and off to bed.

Long, intense, wonderful days.

All I want for Christmas

A few people have asked for a mailing address for me. Now that I’m back, settled in at SJ, here it is…

c/o Scuba Junkie
Block B, Lot 36
Semporna Sea Front
91308 Semporna
Sabah, Malaysia
tel: +60 (89) 785372

What I’d love to get for Christmas:
– to read Griffin and Justin a bedtime story
– to drink lunchtime martinis with the Guineys
– to attend Sue & Chris’s annual Xmas party
– to spend Sunday watching 12 football games with those who kicked my ass in Fantasy Football
– to drink red wine and gossip with the grrrlz
– to go to Les Halles, sip a Bombay Sapphire martini, eat the endive salad followed by grilled scallops with asparagus, accompanied by any bottle of French red, ending with an espresso.

See what ya’ll can do.

On the road again?

Last Wednesday I packed my bags for the first time in 6 weeks and hit the road again. A week later, I’m sitting in the food court in KL’s central station, where there’s free wifi, food and (most importantly) handy tables where I can sit all day writing.

After staying put for 6 weeks, hitting the road again was…this is weird for someone like me to say….disorienting. My body wanted to go diving, my heart wanted to spend more time with my becoming-friends at Scuba Junkie, and my head couldn’t grasp the concept of trip-planning and logistics. It was a trip I wasn’t ready for.

Luckily, DrC was ready: he found a hostel in KL, hired a car, and planned a few spots to explore in Peninsular Malaysia. After leaving KL we visited Georgetown, an old British settlement on the island of Penang, off the northwest coast. Unlike Melaka, Georgetown was only vaguely interesting, for about a day. On the second day we toured the island, visiting a fruit farm and eating durian that did *not* smell like feet. In fact, durian tastes like rich butterscotch pudding. Delicious.

I slowly started to get back into the travel groove. I read the Lonely Planet. I looked at maps. I even took some pictures. Suddenly I was impatient to get some time alone, to write. But it’d have to wait a few more days, for DrC to leave.

After Penang we drove east to the Cameron Highlands, nice and cool at 2000 meters. On the way there I got an email from Scuba Junkie, inviting me back to work as a DM. I was pleased, of course – this is what I had wanted before I left Semporna. But now I was traveling again, thinking about going to Thailand, hoping to go to Siberia for my birthday. Unlike most places, Semporna was less appealing in my mind, from afar, than it had been in person. Did I really want to go back, to stay still for *months*?

I did. I agreed to go back for at least 3 months (until my birthday in early March), and take it from there.

In the meantime, DrC and I continued uphill. Everything in the highlands is soaking, dripping wet and covered with spongy greenery. When we arrived, starving, we ate chicken tandoori followed by strawberry crepes with coffee, waiting out the rain. We visited the tea plantations, which carpet the humid hills like peat moss.

Before I could go back to Borneo, I would have to do a visa run (cross the Malaysian border and back to get a new 3-month visa). I figured I’d just find a cheap AirAsia flight to Thailand or wherever when I got back to KL, but DrC had other ideas. We would make a mad rush to the Thai border near Kota Bahru. He would stay in Malaysia while I crossed the border (and back) on foot. Then we’d carry on down the east coast of Malaysia.

So that’s what we did: On Sunday we drove from the tea plantations near Tanah Rata to Gua Musang, in the less-touristed Kelantan province. On Monday we woke up early and raced north to the Thai border. I was across and back in 40 minutes – not even enough time for a green curry. Knowing we had to be in KL by noon the following day, we drove most of the way down the coast, to Kuantan, that afternoon.

About 400 km of driving in hot, humid weather = two rather cranky people. At our rather seedy hotel, I stomped on a cockroach, climbed into bed and was asleep before DrC finished telling me he was going to take a shower.

Back in KL I gave DrC a big hug goodbye and checked into the Backpacker Traveller’s Inn, a hostel in Chinatown. It’s only 11 Ringitt/night (about $3.50), but you get what you pay for: a cramped 7-person dorm with no free Wifi, no fan and a/c that is only turned on from 9 pm – 9 am. Oddest of all: midnight is lights out. Which means one of the managers slips into the room, wordlessly switches off the light, and slips out again. No matter if you’re reading, talking, brushing your hair – she just switches off the light, without warning or regard to the people in the room.

I had planned to stay in KL for a week to write and whatnot, but given the state of my accommodation, I panicked – I admit it, I panicked – and booked the first reasonably priced flight back to Semporna. So I go back tomorrow, on Friday, with too much writing left to do. I’m regretting it now, but what can you do? I’ll find some time and space to write when I’m there.

And that’s the tension, the undercurrent to the past week. When I was moving all the time, I could find some time to write because I had no social obligations. When I was doing my DM, it was impossible to write – not just because of the long days, but because part of the deal was to get to know the rest of the staff. And that takes time and mental energy.

Now that I’m going back, and to a place where I have already established some relationships, I’m hoping I can relax and write more. Gawd I wish I was able to just sit and write something real (not just notes) in a stolen half-hour here and there. But I can’t. Sux.

OK, that’s the catch-up post.

So the plan is to divemaster by day and write by night and on my days off. The theory is that my DM job is like a waiter job – a day job that pays my expenses, with any money I make from writing going into “savings.” Of course, I *love* diving, so it’ll be the best day job possible.

Traveling, writing and diving. What more could a girl want?

Life as a DM in Semporna

Well it’s official. I’m a divemaster.

My course ended on Monday – in the morning I led my instructor on a guide, and then I endured the “equipment exchange,” aka the stress test.

During this test, my buddy (Heath, another DMT) and I kneel on a sandy bottom at about 5 meters, buddy breathing (only one source of air, so we each take two breaths, passing the regulator back and forth), and exchange our masks, fins and BCD (the thing that holds the tank). Stressful enough, right? But at the same time, Rohan (my instructor) and various others threw sand in our faces, free-flowed their regs so we couldn’t see through the bubbles, ripped off our masks and weight belts, tied up our hoses, etc. It was fun in hindsight, but I never want to do that again!

That evening Heath and I stayed at the SJ resort on Mabul Island. I went for an 85-minute night dive off our jetty, grabbed a quick dinner, and then did my first snorkel test (video coming soon). I killed it – Rohan says I put all previous DMTs to shame with my ability to inhale large quantities of alcohol very quickly. One of my many talents.

I took the next day off, in anticipation of my *second* snorkel test back in Semporna. This one was administered by Mike, the instructor who took over my course while Rohan was on holiday. I killed that one was well, though not quite as elegantly as my first (my trousers were soaked with booze).

Finally, today I woke up and packed for the first time in 5 weeks. It’s weird to be leaving, to go traveling again. I have more to write about this, but I’m too hung over to think particularly clearly.

I’m off to KL tonight to meet up with DrC and travel around peninsular Malaysia for a while. I *might* be coming back here, if SJ needs staff later this month. It’d be good to get some experience at a place I know and with people who know me. But if that’s not possible, I might go to Thailand, where it’s fairly easy to get a DM job. I also need to spend a bunch of time writing a backlog of stuff that’s been simmering unwritten in my brain while I’ve been busy here.

That’s the update from here. More (and more interesting) stuff soon…