An Open Letter to Leonardo DiCaprio #BeforeTheFlood

I attended the premiere of #BeforeTheFlood in Paris, and I had a question ready for you even before the screening started. See, I know that you’ve been an activist for the environment for a while, and I wanted to ask you: how can we still find hope, we, the people of my generation, the 20 & 30-something who won’t live long enough to benefit from the improvement, and should yet not only change their lives, but also convince older and younger generations to follow? Where can we find the strength to face the responsibility that has been put upon us by our predecessors?

But you answered that inside the documentary. « Hope won’t be enough ».

You’re right. You’re absolutely right. I’m 29 years old and I’m out of hope for this world. But I do have plenty of anger instead. I’ve sat through this cold exposé of our present situation, but you’ve left me with less hope than anger.

I was born into a system that led me to believe that this is the way that we should live. But « this way » is criminal in so many levels, and ignorance has made me an accomplice. Had I had any say in it, I would never have supported such a pillage of our planet. It’s not the footing of the bill that angers me besides myself, it’s the responsibility that I now face, and how powerless I feel, looking at our situation.

I am standing before the flood armed with a tea spoon: this is how powerless I feel. Yet you would want me to believe that I, and everyone of us, have the power to change our future? That our billions of spoons put together might just stop an ocean rising?

You say that we can turn things around by the choices that we make every day, I see us nailing our coffins with the choices that have been taken out of our hands, every day.

You’re damn right « hope won’t be enough », I have none left for this world, and I’m not sure it deserves any. Because from where I’m standing, I’m not sure that I want to stop that flood anymore. We have the leaders we elect, we get the products that we buy, at the prices that we ask… Ignorance was a good excuse, but now what?

You’ve left me short of hope Before the Flood, and I’m already drowning in rage. You talk about consumer choices, but all I want to do right now is to scorch the handful of corporations which have been burning our forests to the ground. All these companies and men, who have long since forgotten the actual value of green — not the dull shade of a dollar bill, but the bright green of a tropical leaf — I want to tear them apart.

You advise us to vote wisely, but the last thing I want to do right now is to trust another spineless politician, and watch them yield to corporate interests quicker than you can cash a check.

All I want to do right now is to overturn the table of negotiations like an hourglass, to buy back the time that was lost in empty talks and promises void of actual commitments.

I’ve taken aim at you, but held my fire.
Because I know better than to shoot the messenger.

So I do have a question for you, after the screening of #BeforeTheFlood. You have met quite a few World leaders, government officials… Tell me: do they realise their responsibility? Do they really understand what needs to be done, and the timeframe that we have to react?

You see, I need to know this. Because we’re not « before the flood », we’re already inside the storm. I need to know that our leaders are prepared to act upon the promises that they have made at the COP21, and to push further yet.

Watching your movie wasn’t an incentive to vote. It made me want to riot.
It didn’t deprive me of hope, it just melted away its remnant, in the form of illusions.

If that system can’t be changed, then we’ll have to bring it down. We may not be able to stop a flood with a billion spoons, but governments and corporations have been brought down with fewer numbers.

At least, some hope’s back on our side.

D. 57 You can’t miss what you’ve never left behind

I used to cling on to stuff like talismans against the passing of time. Now that I’ve made my peace with time, I understand how my compulsive collection of random objects to save as « memories » was a waste of space and energy.

You cannot lose nor miss what you’ve never left behind.

I am leaving tomorrow, but I will take with me so much of Bira, so much of this summer that no matter how much time passes by, I’m sure to remember the essential.

Because, how could I forget any of this?

How could I forget that I nearly drowned out of excitement when I spotted the tiny pigmy seahorse that Laura had found, on my very last dive here? Or when I almost forgot to breathe, when we came across one of the most massive turtles I have ever seen, and another one swimming gracefully above and away, while a school of big bumphead parrot fishes passed us by?

There’s no way I could forget that last dive here, not with these massive, unknown fishes that swam right in front to us, to inquire about our presence. We’re still not sure what they were, clearly not tunas nor sharks, even though they shared characteristics with both species. [UPDATE: they were COBIAS omggg]

No way I would forget my first dive here, it was Eagle Rock again, the same site we did this afternoon, again, with Laura. Again, I was scanning the blue, and again, there was too much to see. A gigantic Napoleon Wrass, and especially a school of giant barracudas passed us by.

How could I ever forget the feeling in my chest during our first dive of the day, when my heart skipped a beat as I recognised the unmistakable mouth of a Manta Ray, flying away, a few meters under our fins.

I’ll take a piece of everything, for the rainy days

I’ll take away a piece of everything I love about this place, and store it close to this spot in my heart, where sadness sometimes sinks in. So the next time I’ll be feeling blue, I’ll flood it all with another kind of blue, where I used to fly around magnificent, strange and impressive creatures. All so beautiful and fascinating, that they must belong in my dreams anyway.

I’ll remember the laughters we shared on the boat, the warm tones of Wendy’s australian accent, and the way she called me « Clemo » (and how that nickname stuck the entire summer lol). The way Hannah’s big brown eyes light up when she laughs, the way Laura’s face breaks into a smile, how Charlotte celebrates her most exciting sightings with an enthusiastic « BOOYA! »… And so much more.

I won’t forget all of our smiles, how they shine so much brighter on darker skins. Surti’s laughter across the Rumah Makan, Ismail’s « Hey sister! » and our daily life here, in paradise. All the looks, signs, silences and smiles that made up for our lack of words between English and Bahasa.

I’ll take all of this with me, they’ll get me through the rainy days. Even if sometimes, it rains here too, in paradise; even those days were blessed.

Thank you, the #DreamTeam of Bira Dive Camp, for a summer to remember (entirely spent in my jammies, thus the name of this blog) (see what I did there?!)

I did 44 dives here, seen incredible sights, and I drowned myself many times: into the sky at sunset, through the moon and stars at night, into our laughters, and into pure bliss, every day here, and every night.

Thanks for everything ❤

Until We Meet Again.

D. 51 The Captain with the right hand hook

So I’ve talked a while ago about my body being the stallion and my mind being the rider, and how I need to listen to my body as if I were riding a horse. That is, if I intent to go the distance. I could very well keep burning through my power, and see where that would get me.

Then I figured out that I couldn’t let my body dictate the terms either: if I indulge too much in resting, we’ll get used to moving slowly, and I can’t have that.

All in all, throughout this trip, I have finally managed to get my mind & my body to find a sort of balance between them. But there’s one more lesson I need to learn.

So I wasn’t at the top of my game today, which is the understatement of the year. I had been extremely tired the day before, and both my ears were ringing. When I woke up, the right ear (A-G-A-I-N) felt stiff, swollen, and painful.

I felt it coming though. It was already burning pretty badly the day before, but not yet painful. I am so used to discarding pain, that when I feel something is painful, it’s the sort of pain I cannot ignore anymore.

I guess I got that from the leg muscle-tear I got playing soccer when I was 10 years old. Because all the adults assumed that I was faking it because I hated soccer at school, they kept saying that I was faking it to get out of soccer practice. (I honestly don’t know how they got to this conclusion, since I had been playing soccer with my brothers all the time, and it was about THE ONLY SPORT I actually liked).

I guess I ended up telling myself that I was not really hurt, and I kept walking — or rather, limping on that injured leg for about 2 weeks. Until one morning, I couldn’t take it anymore. I sat up on the stairs of our house, and demanded to see a doctor, refusing to move until promised so. My dad said he would take me after school, so I limped another day on it, until finally, a doctor examined me.

What might have been a minor tear if treated & rested properly early on, had become a knee tendinitis, made worse by my constant limping on it.

3 weeks of rest left this knee weaker than the other for years.

I should have learnt then to take care of pain when it first manifests, but I was 10 years old. Instead, I learnt that if it’s anything serious, the pain will come back worse after I have discarded it.

And most of the time, biting through it combined with a little rest usually works. And if it doesn’t, I’m usually the only one to pay the price.

« Usually ». Well. I had to sit the day out yesterday, and we had 8 guests wanting to do a Try Dive. A fourth Divemaster would have been appreciated. Because I was unable to dive, the team had to divide the try divers in 2 groups, and do 2 rotations each.

It’s not the ear that hurt me most yesterday, although the lack of painkillers on the boat made itself sharply obvious. It’s the feeling that I’m letting the team down, and they have to handle double work because I’m out.

Try Dives can be really tough to monitor, because they tend to go up and down a lot, failing to equalise properly, or to maintain their buoyancy underwater. This very enthusiastic crew was no exception, and everybody’s ears were subjected to quite a strain. Twice.

And a third time that day, with 3 other Try Divers.

Helping out with equipment set up on the boat, rinsing and clearing out the gear was the least I could do that day, and it felt like not enough.

Not because the girls made me feel like I was letting them down (on the contrary), but because I felt like I could have avoided this situation by taking a day off earlier, when I first felt tired and strained.

I won’t be the only one paying the price anymore

I need to remember that I’m not the only one paying the price anymore. I may be paying the highest toll, but as long as I’ll be part of a team, it’s the collaterals I need to think of, not just my own stakes in the matter.

That lesson gets even more essential transposed to team captain, instead of just team member. Sure, I can be a captain with a right hand hook, even with a wooden leg and a glass eye.

But wouldn’t I be better at it if I kept all my parts, to the best of my ability? Doesn’t it make more sense to rest when I need to, instead of when I can’t handle it anymore?

Isn’t it easier to plan a day off, than to suffer through sick days, waiting for my body to be functional again?

I probably have an ear inflammation. AGAIN. I probably need to stay out of the water for a couple of days. AGAIN. Yet I barely have more than « a couple of days » left here, and 4 trials to complete, 2 of which underwater.

I need to accept 2 things about myself:

My mind is in far better shape than my body. I’m faster, smoother, sharper in my mind than with my body.

My mind can always negotiate a little extra energy, I can always persuade myself that « I’m OK ». I waited 18 hours with 2 broken wrists last year, before asking to go to a hospital. I should have known right away that this kind of pain meant that something WAS wrong. But no matter what my mind tells me, my body will always have the last word.

There really is no point in being a healthy, exercising, non-drinking vegan, if I keep ignoring the earliest signs of something going wrong.

I’m not talking about making a fuss every time I have an itch, I just need to stop ignoring the small signals my body sends me.

It’s like clicking « later » on the important updates pop ups on your computer: sooner or later, the thing shuts down and you have to wait out the installation of the 12 657 updates you neglected to download earlier.

I might have to leave this place without completing my Divemaster. It’s a dire price to pay for this lesson, but again, it’s one I really should have learnt by now. And one I really cannot afford to suffer through again.

…Worst case scenario, though: I’ll have to come back here to complete all of my trials.

— Saturday, August 27th

#CheatDay because, once again, I was too tired to be bothered to open up my computer.

D. 49 It’s the details that will throw you off your game

Chances are, I won’t ever drop in the water for a dive forgetting my tank. And even if I did, there would be someone to point out the problem. It’s not the big, obvious mistakes you’ve got to worry about. You know the drill, you run the show, this is not a challenge. But it’s the details that will throw you off your game. A grain of sand grinding a smooth mechanic of well shaped habits.

I’ve been diving here for a little over 3 weeks, so focused on working on my leadership skills, improving the way I divide my attention between finding interesting stuff, and keeping an eye on my divers.

Because I’ve been carrying extra-weight most of the time, in case a diver needs some extra during a dive, I’ve neglected my own balance in the process.

Three weeks. And I’ve let this issue completely under the radar, not noticing its impact on my general behaviour underwater.

When I was practising how to properly demonstrate skills underwater with Laura, I was thrown off balance so often it became frustrating. I could not complete a sequence properly, when I had to struggle just to keep kneeling straight at the bottom.

Laura suggested that I added some weight next time, and I did, this morning, when I had another go at the exercice, this time in front of an actual student.

Granted, the conditions were not ideal, because the current was much stronger. But again, I struggled to keep my balance, and failed multiple times, constantly falling forward.

Once you know it, it becomes obvious

Needless to say, I wasn’t at all satisfied of my performance this morning. Once out of the water, Laura pointed out the problem to me:

« You need to wear your weight at the back. Not in the front. This is why you keep falling forward ».

So I was wearing the right amount of weight, just not in the right place. Of course, once she had pointed it out, I couldn’t believe how I had not seen it myself. I’m wearing all 3.5 kg at the front of my belt, and the extra kilo in the side pocket, also forward. Nothing cancels out the upward pull of the aluminum tank strapped to my back.


Because it’s the details that will throw you off your game. The ones only an expert eye can see, the ones that creep up on you through « the habits that kill », the ones you can only get rid of by performing rigorous checks and asking yourself the right questions.

About those damn « habits that kill »

Interestingly enough, I did identify the source of the problem: it’s through what I’ve called « a habit that kills » that I came to wear my weights on the front, without even questioning why I always wear them there.

I am used to dive with a steel tank, which are shorter and denser than aluminum tanks. This is why I usually wear weights on the front, to avoid getting the weights pressed against my spine by the tank.

But when diving with an aluminum tank, I should have questioned this habit. It’s not the comfort that drives the decision, it’s the balance issue. Had I thought about that, I would have realised that I was wearing my weight on the wrong side.

But I didn’t. Force of habit. And I blamed external elements for my failure to master proper balance at all times.

Lesson one: you probably have the key to correct your own failure

So, two lessons must be learnt out of this experience: the first, is that I should look into my own behaviour for mistakes & potential improvements BEFORE blaming the elements or any outside influence.

It’s always so tempting to try and find an outside explanation for failure, even the little ones. But this is a dead end, when it comes to self-improvement. So what if the current was, in fact, making it difficult for me to keep my balance? Laura was managing perfectly. So it was achievable.

Lesson two: it’s the details that’ll throw you off your game

The second lesson, is the next step to follow from the first one: pay attention to details. It’s unlikely I’ll make a huge obvious mistake, with no one around to point it out to me. But I will look past an intermediary checkpoint, I will forget about the little things that pave out the way to perfection.

As my 11th Grade Drama teacher used to have us repeat every day:

« Excellence consists in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well »

You can hop on one leg while taking care of other people’s problems, because they matter more at the moment. But when your other leg gives way from exhaustion, a fat lot of good it’ll do you if you’re falling down too.

I should not have overlooked my balance issue for this long. When I really needed to be on my A-game, I couldn’t bring it. Worse, I couldn’t even figure out WHY I couldn’t bring it.

I learn a great deal from my failures, especially the smallest ones.

I moved the weight to the back of my belt for this afternoon’s dives.

My life underwater has just become a whole lot easier. Funny how much influence those little details can have…

D. 33 Giving back is the greatest reward of all

Today was my first time diving with complete beginners. This German couple wanted to try diving, and what better place to do it than this remote backpackers’ camp, run by girls?!

I had spent quite some time with Andy (the guy), to share the tales of my first experience as a diver. I told him about my dread of going underwater, my panic attack on the boat, and about the adrenaline rush. I went on, telling my own diver’s story, and how much I had learned since then.

A day went by, and this morning, I found out that he and Frida had signed up to go on their very first dive with us. So I spent most of breakfast again with them, this time getting a bit more technical, and explaining the ear-equalising manoeuvre. I was careful not to overload them with information, merely taking a cue from their questions.

Frida was really tense, I could tell. So before we went for the dive, I told the Instructor about it. She took Frida with her to go down, and I stayed by Andy’s side. He barely had any trouble equalising, so we reached the bottom first.

We waited for Frida and Hannah to make it down as well. Then Hannah had them do the skills required before we could go on and do some exploring.

I stayed by Frida’s side the whole time, gesturing her to keep equalising as we went a bit deeper. I spotted a whip Ray half-buried in the sand, and signaled it to Hannah, who showed it to our buddies.

Andy got into some trouble keeping stabilised, which is perfectly normal for a beginner. But none of them encountered any major problem, and I kept checking with them all the way.

Hannah even discovered a baby shark and a blue spotted ray hanging out under a coral leaf, so I’d definitely call this very first dive a major treat.

We resurfaced, and though Frida seemed thoroughly relieved to be breathing above water (I inflated her BCD for her when she broke the surface), Andy was openly and vocally delighted.

Later than afternoon, I was walking towards my bungalow after having rinsed off and put away our gear. Frida was coming down, and as she saw me, she said:

« Thank you so much for this great experience! »

I could tell that it was sincere, because it felt great to hear.

Later still, I was cleaning my sunglasses by the restaurant, when Andy came along:

« Thank you so much for this afternoon, we are really grateful that you were with us, Frida felt so much better having you by her side all the time.

It was really amazing! You were so calm, it was so reassuring. And thank you so much for all the talks we had, I really hope you become an Instructor! And you should have a diving blog or something! »

Way ahead of you pal, way ahead of you… So « The Dive Never Ends » doesn’t have its first post up yet, but it already has a reader.

I’ve done it: I’ve shared my passion with someone else. Through words, conversation, I managed to convey that deep love for diving to another person. I even managed to break through the fear and apprehension building up to that very first dive.

Giving back feels amazing. It is the greatest reward of all. But in scuba diving, I can only do this for one person at a time.

By writing & working for a website, I can do it for hundreds, thousands of readers at a time. Granted, I don’t get an individual feedback, not every day. But I know. I know what I can do, what it means, even if there is no effective reward at the end of the day.

Giving back is the greatest reward. And I don’t need a pat in the back to know that I’ve done my job right. Yet every time I do, it’s always a surprise. That’s because I never take that reward for granted, I guess.

D. 23 Sea sickness is a real thing (and curse this shit)

I just spent twenty-eight hours on that goddamn ferry, the better part of it contorted with stomach pain. I flat out refused to believe that I was being sea sick, on the account that I don’t believe in sea sickness, to start with. Even if such an affliction did, in fact, exist, it could not affect someone who had already spent over seven days at sea, in much worse conditions than these, for instance.

For one, I was lying down the whole time, under proper ventilation, and with a view to the outside, not canned up somewhere below deck. And the size of the ship was so that I could barely feel the movement of the wave underneath.

So there was really no way I could be subjected to « sea sickness », and again: I’d sooner believe in ghosts than in the existence of a stomach disease, caused by the simple fact of being aboard a boat. I do believe that my own mind could cause my body to feel sick, but that can happen in various situations. What the mind does, the mind can undo. If I don’t allow myself to entertain the reality of sea sickness, then my body cannot be afflicted by it, can it?

But there I was, unable to move from my position, bed-ridden by my stomach, threatening to relinquish its content without warning at any sudden move on my behalf.

Well, I must be having my period, then. For sure. Intense nausea has been a symptom before, especially on an empty stomach. I should eat something, drink more, and place my mooncup as a preventive measure.

Eating made it worse. Oh well, then I must have given myself food poisoning, by eating these awful crackers. After all, they do contain some milk products, that must be the reason why I can’t seem to be able to digest them. Even though I had eaten those last week, to no side effects. Fuck this. I need more water.

Well, I’ve been drinking over 1,5 L of water over the last 20 hours, with no feeling of thirst, and no need to go to the bathroom… Something if definitely wrong with me. My body isn’t processing anything at the moment.

Why isn’t my digestive system functioning properly? WHAT THE FUCK, BODY?

By the time we reached Bira, (Saturday, around 6pm, having left Friday at 3pm), I was seriously considering jumping ship. Then again, the full blast karaoke session that had been going on for the past SIX FUCKING HOURS made for a greater incentive than this pretend-sea sickness I still don’t really believe in.

I waited for my ride a few steps away from the ferry docks, praying it would be a car, not a bike of any kind. The ground was moving all around me, and I ended up sitting down on the warm stone, increasingly aware of my stomach, which content had not been released in over twenty-eight hours.

My ride came. Of course it was a motorbike. Of course there was no helmet. The driver took my backpack in front of him, and I remembered just enough indonesian to ask « pran-pran »: slowly please. It was only about ten minutes but it felt agonisingly longer, although at this point, I had no resistance left. I think my body went to survival mode, and I wasn’t as fear-ridden as I would have been, riding by night on the back of a motorcycle, clinging to some guy’s shoulders for dear life.

When we passed the gates of « Bira Dive Camp », I let out a sigh of relief. I was trembling when I got off of the bike, thanking my driver for his skills. He took me to meet the staff, then to my dorm, and let me get settled in.

But he was gone for about a minute when my stomach decided that it was time to let it all out. Ha, so here’s the water I’ve been drinking, but that my body hasn’t been getting.

I went down to the terrace only to bade everyone good night and fill up my water bottle, which I drained once for good measure. I was dehydrated for sure, and it was pointless to eat in these conditions.

As I lay flat on my mattress, I could here the soft rustling sound of the waves, less than fifty meters below. The noise alone was giving me a funny feeling inside. I drained another bottle of water during the night, and thought I’d best pass on the invitation to join in for the next morning’s first dive. Diving while dehydrated isn’t exactly the best idea.

So, I guess, that these past two days have taught me this: sea sickness is real. I am prone to sea sickness. I need to find a way to get past this. I will then get as much information as I can find about this illness, why it happens, how to get rid of it. There has to be a way. I like the sea too much to let it keep me at bay, on the ground that my stomach can’t — well, can’t « stomach » it.

I am the boss here. And I say that since I cannot ignore the problem anymore, I’ll solve it. Period.

— Saturday, July 30th

D. 19 Days borrowed away from eternity

I wish I could waste a lifetime of getting carried away to an unknown destination. We were off schedule by a day, and I was most likely going east only to fly back to my starting point. There was nothing more I could see before returning to Labuan Bajo, yet I continued on, just for the sake of moving forward, in great company.

I still have etched on my face the glorious smile of our early morning ride from Denge, back to Ruteng. I had felt a world away from where I had started, as if I had switched to a completely different trip.

So today, we didn’t do anything. We got off a car shooting too fast through the road, in the hand of a careless, dangerous driver. We settled in a medium hotel, and chilled around our cheap, bare rooms, for a highly needed nap. Rian continued on to Ende, but the girls, Magnus and I stopped in Bajawa for the evening.

We took care of our future travelling arrangements, and set out to find a restaurant for dinner, which turned out to prove quite a challenge, since nothing vegetarian seemed to be on the menu in each wahrung we tried.

This day got me thinking about time and value. I had been thinking about the relations between price, cost and value, but time is also valuable, yet highly difficult to praise. What’s the value of a minute? I’ve got plenty on my hands, on a daily basis. But if I’m short one after my boarding time, here goes the price of a plane ticket.

My time in indonesian is very precious. It’s not like I can come back any day, I would need time and money, and I’ve got neither of those things in unlimited quantity. But what would be the point of running to the next sight, rushing to check out boxes on the must-see tour of Florès?

There was plenty to see around Bajawa, but I was in no mood to do anything. Just chilling with my new friends was more than enough to make this day memorable.

This is what I love most about travelling. It’s not the places you go to, or the things you see, it’s the people you meet, the experiences you have, and how it makes you feel.

I never thought myself capable of living out of backpack for more than five days, yet this is already the 19th of my trip. I never thought myself capable to go without hot water, modern showers, or even familiar foods.

I was the kind of person who needed to know beforehand the complete route and schedule of a bus before deciding on a mean of transportation. Was. I like how a slow day like this one makes me realise how much I’ve already changed, so early on in this trip.

Because it is still quite early in this trip. I’m barely getting started.

— Tuesday, July 26th

D. 18 A day to remember

We stole away a day to a dimension we don’t belong to. When the sun rose over Wae Rebo, I didn’t move, too tired to lift myself up the dry leaves mattresses we had been provided for the night. But when breakfast was brought to the center of the hut, I could no longer ignore the call to rise.

Fried rice, corn crisps and some herb omelette I didn’t try had been served, along with another round of the local, incredibly good coffee. I found out over breakfast that I had been drinking water from the mountain the night before (I was too thirsty and in too dire need of water to inquire as to its origin), and since I didn’t get sick, I was no longer afraid to take generous gulps of clear water this morning, and re-filling my empty bottle.

We left the village around 9am, making our way down to Denge, back to our host. The man Tata, Ticka and Rian had heard about is offering us the hospitality of his family’s home for the day, and the night. We will leave at about 2am, when the public transport is supposed to depart for Ruteng. Translated into indonesian time, that may be any hour from 2 to 4, I guess.

But I wouldn’t trade my place for anything in the world. We spent the day with the family, and my only regret is to not be able to speak more indonesian to talk to them. Tata and Ticka do their best to include us in the conversation, but translating is wearisome.

We arrived from our trek at about half past eleven, and were welcomed with hot tea, that we drank on a straw sheet deployed specially for us in front of the house. We shared salt crackers, and while Magnus played cards with the girls, I went to wash away the sweat from the morning’s efforts.

I thought I’d miss hot water at some point, but definitely not today. The cool temperature struck my skin in blissful delight. When I joined my friends outside again, ready to begin this entry, they were surrounded by school children, apparently fascinated by the tall white man playing cards with the girls.

We shared lunch at our host’s table, rice & corn served with bitter vegetables and smoked fish. It was intimidating to be a guest in the household, and again, so frustrating not to be able to express my gratitude as much as I would have liked to.

Another coffee had us linger around the table, while the boys exchanged cigarettes. We ended up talking about tax rates and public education in France, Denmark and Indonesia, until I felt too drowsy to keep up with the constant language switch.

I was offered a bed in the main hut, and felt asleep almost instantaneously. When I woke again, the afternoon had ran away, and the family was starting to gather around, children taking interest in my writing, Magnus, the girls and the boys getting out the cards again.

Night fell and we moved to supper, but by now, my silence was starting to feel somewhat lighter. We are no longer strangers, imposing our presence in an unfamiliar place. We are guests, welcomed in this household for the evening.

This is not an experience you can order through a travel agency. This is the beauty and the wealth brought by random encounters, when strangers meet and share enough between them that they become friends.

I can’t wipe the smile off my face, and I will cherish the warmth growing inside my heart, that has chased away the awkwardness of the first hours.

I thought this day would be wasted away: we would be stuck in Denge, waiting for a ride out of there. But we ended up stealing away a priceless experience, in the heart of Flores.

This quote from St Exupéry, Le Petit Prince, comes to mind: « the essential is invisible to the eyes ». For sure. Even though I certainly got an eyeful, and the images of last night will be carved into my memory, no picture could even begin to sum up the feel of that day. After dinner, we all gathered in the main hut again, and the men got out their instruments to sing traditional songs.

I was on the verge of tears, so moved by the atmosphere of pure warmth, and sharing. We were all draped in sarongs (my new favorite piece of clothing, the best thing EVER), until it was time for bed.

For us, the night would be short. We had a 1:30am wake up call, to be ready for the ride back to Denge — whenever the ride might be ready. We ended up spending nearly 2 hours watching music video on some indonesian music channel, in the main corridor, sitting on the floor and drinking coffee.

At 3:30, we boarded the « trucksport », and bade our good byes. I will never forget this day. And as the truck began its bumpy descend through the jungle, it was blasting a very appropriate song, about making the moment last.

Nothing could wipe the smile off my face at this point. As we were dashing through the damp night in the jungle, I could hardly believe my own happiness. These moments aren’t even dream material, they’re token of eternity stolen from paradise.

Dawn crept on us, and lit up the rice fields as we reached the heights approaching Ruteng. Hardly the end of the road, though.

As I let the cold morning wind chill the skin of my face, I reminded myself of this thought, that I had confided in Magnus this morning, drunk from tiredness: I think this fucking ear infection is the best thing that has happened to me so far, in this trip.

Had I not been grounded for seven days, I would have been off diving around Komodo, having a fantastic time, for sure. But this day? That was a jewel, every minute of it. And I will cherish these memories like the priceless diamonds they are.

— Monday, July 25th

D. 15 The safety tax

So that’s what it means to be a young woman travelling alone.

This morning, I was woken up by a maid, around 9:30. That’s not bad. What upset me was the reason she did it: some guy, Roonie, was calling upon me. And no, Roonie wasn’t my latest « one night stand », far from it. He was the guy I had met yesterday about sunset, on the road above my hostel.

I had just reached the main road, emerging from the hill’s hidden path, when this guy stopped on his scooter. He asked where I was going, I said I was just walking around, which was true. Most guys on scooters here are eager to offer a ride for 5 to 10 000 rupiahs, so I wasn’t at all put off by this situation.

He offered to take me to the beach, and since I hadn’t found a beach and that would be the perfect spot to enjoy twilight, I agreed. Once again, no red flags there, since our numerous discussions with Julie, the backpacking girl who had completed a world tour, and Harold, our french guide on the cruise, had let me believe that this is a perfectly normal behaviour to have.

The conversation I had with Roonie was also very normal: where are you from, how long are you staying, bla bla bla… Although perfectly casual, I refrained myself from sharing any specific details in our exchanges, save for the irrelevant facts like: yes, I came here to dive, but, I can’t go because my ear’s infected.

But « I don’t know how long I’m staying » (seven days, not another one), « I don’t know what I’m going to do » (find myself a tour inland), « Yes, I already have a room booked » (did NOT specify where, for the record).

Prudent behaviour, even before anything felt awry. The collaterals of growing up as a girl.

He took me to the harbour, downtown, through the fish market, and it was a very enjoyable moment, to be driving through the warm air of the beautiful afternoon, coming to an end. At the harbour, the conversation started to get creepy, as I gathered from his poor english that he was more or less offering me to stay forever in Flores, that he would welcome me in his family, he wanted to show me his village, and so on.

Sensing it was time we parted ways, I told him I was looking for a bar to sit and work (again, plain truth there). I let him drive me a little further to the TreeTop, which turned out the be exactly my kind of place, where tourist AND indonesian folks come to hang out (save for the food, where nothing vegan was particularly enticing, most of my choices being of european inspiration).

I told him I needed to work and said good bye, but he stuck around for a drink (not at my table, as I had made perfectly clear that I was busy. Again, nothing but the truth). It’s when he moved to another table, to bother another single lady, and that she told him off quite plainly that I realised my « nice guy » was not at all that nice, and that it probably wasn’t the cultural differences or the language barrier that made it hard for me to make myself clear: he just wasn’t listening.

But he did go, trying to make an appointment the next day, so I told him no, because I don’t know what I’m doing, and with my sick ear, I’m not making any plans. But this is a small town, so we might run into each other again, and let me get the drink, as a thank you for the ride and the tour.

He left. I thought I had adopted the best possible behaviour in this situation. I was courteous the whole way through, but firm, and I had kept the upper hand at every moment.

Yes, he had been a little too insistent to stay after I had told him good bye now, but I’ve had to shake off worse stalkers in my days. All in all, nothing happened.

Until this morning.

Stalker alert

« Excuse me to wake you up, sorry to bother you… There’s a guy, Roonie, asking for you »

What the what? How did he find my hotel? How did he know to ask for ME? Yes I told him my first name but that’s hard enough to remember, let along to repeat it and for someone to understand it.

I told the maid I didn’t know that guy, he just gave me a ride yesterday, and no, I’m not coming out, I’m sleeping… And I’m sick! I showed her the ear drops I had put it 2 hours before (then fell asleep again).

She went away, I turned to sleep again, but a couple minutes later, she was back, with another member of the staff (a guy), AND ROONIE.

So I told him off very bluntly this time, adding that I AM SICK I’m not going anywhere with him, and please LEAVE ME NOW I’m SLEEPING.

But now he knows he’s got the right place, he even knows which tent I live in. Oh yeah, A TENT. No door I can lock, not a single door between the road, the entrance of the hostel, the terrace, then the tents, then MY TENT. You can just walk in. For 100 000Rp a night, what to expect?!

I call it the safety tax. It sums up all the expenses a woman has to make, that a man doesn’t need to. That a man doesn’t even think about, because it is completely unheard of. Men can be stalked by someone they know, but very, very very rarely by a complete stranger.

I’ve already scouted another place, much fancier, much more expensive (probably over double what I’m paying here — update: seven times what I was paying then), but with doors that can close, and staff members to prevent strangers from entering the facility.

I don’t want to move out, because I like this place better, I certainly don’t want to spend more money to be downtown, living above a fancy and very western restaurant/bar. But should Roonie pay me another visit here, I just might have to leave.

Now two details in this story are infuriating me. The first, is how hard it was for me to recount precisely my own behaviour of last night. Thinking back, I could just point out the many moments when « I led him on ». I should have said « no » firmer. I should have stopped hanging out with him straight from the harbour. I shouldn’t have bought him the drink. I shouldn’t have accepted the ride in the first place…

Yes, it’s MY behaviour that I’ve been reviewing critically. It’s ME I blame for what happened. It’s MYSELF I doubt when I questioned the way I refused his proposals. Not firmly enough? Not clearly enough? Not enough.

But in the end, it’s HIS behaviour that’s the problem. Not the way I have been reacting to it. How many times will I have to write it, to repeat it, for it to stick: you’re not responsible if you’re being stalked. Being courteous and polite isn’t a problem. Abusing this courtesy and ignoring a polite but unequivocally firm « no » is the problem.

I’m not responsible, but I’m still paying the consequences. And that’s the second infuriating detail of the story: I’m the one who’ll have to move out of this place if he comes back.


Now it’s half past six, and I’ve just enjoyed a beautiful sunset from the very well oriented terrace of the Paradise Bar. I took a scooter ride there (5 000Rp), and Magnus, my danish friend met on the cruise, joined me for a drink.

We are leaving tomorrow at 7am on a shuttle bus to Ruteng (3-4 hours drive), where we will find a room for the night, and spend the day visiting around Cancar. On Sunday, we depart for Wae Rebo, a traditional village where we will most likely spend the night.

Monday, we make our way from Wae Rebo to Bajawa, find a place for the night then enjoy the sights. Tuesday, we’ll reach Moni through Ende, and organise our sunrise trek on the Kelimutu mountain.

Wednesday morning, if everything goes according to plans, we’ll watch the sun rise over the three lakes. I fly back to Labuan Bajo thursday at 7am, go straight to my doctor for our seven day check up, and probably spend another night in town, before boarding a ferry to Bira the following day, or catching a flight to Java as soon as possible.

Sounds like a plan. One that will keep me busy in the best way possible for the next six days. One that takes good care of my stalker problem.

One that does not feel the least like a contingency, but much rather like a perfect plan. Even though we’ll likely improvise most of it as we go.

I guess you could call it tax evasion.

D 5. What it takes to be(come) a Dive Master

I don’t remember the last time I had a long term objective this precise, let alone one I actually pursued with this much dedication. And it’s no joke, by the way. I can’t think of anyone who would spend the third day of their dream vacation learning the many ways someone can die, playing through accident scenarios, learning how to break ribs to save a life, and so on. (Yeah that rib thing did traumatise me quite some.) I had to know what I was doing, and be determined to see this through, in order to spend three dives in these phenomenal waters learning how to assist an inexperienced diver, rather than just drifting through the most wonderful real life aquarium I had ever seen.

When I first thought of becoming a Dive Master, it was in the form of a challenge. I met a girl, six years younger than me, not much fitter than I was, most probably not smarter than me. She had done it. So could I, if I really wanted to, uh?

But why would I want to do that? To what end? I’m no longer a student, looking for a smart and cheap way to spend as much time as possible in the most beautiful places of the world. I’m turning thirty this year, surly I need to be thinking of real estate and retirement plans, not travel hacks and a clever escape to some paradisiac island, shouldn’t I?

That’s the first step of going after your dreams, isn’t it? To realise you’re allowed to stray away from the beaten tracks. Once you take that step, and allow yourself to actually turn a crazy thought into a « why the fuck not » impulse, then comes step two: will power. If you really want this, you’ll find a way. No matter how scary it may seem, or difficult it may be.

I never thought myself capable of keeping my cool under water, yet the more I dive, the better I feel. It’s been nearly two years since I’ve started, and I haven’t hit that frustrating ceiling yet, that moment when I don’t make any progress anymore, but I do, in fact, keep getting better and better. And my first instructor knows how far I’ve come down that road, if my very first dive was any indication… (hashtag panic attack on the way to the diving site, let’s not forget).

A year and a half later, here I am, in Indonesia, starting my training. If everything goes according to plans, I could very well be a Dive Master at the end of the summer. I would be a professional diver. An actual hard skill that I can find work with, a job that would require living near the ocean, diving frequently, meeting new people, and practising my foreign languages — even learn some new ones, enough to brief visiting divers and show marine life.

I am looking at the Diving Instructors who have taught me rescue and emergency first response these past three days, thinking: that could be me (Instructor is a step above Dive Master, but one that I intend to take with a little more experience). That could be me, clearing up the dock at the end of the day, preparing the gear and boat rotations for the next morning. Welcoming guests. Training experienced divers, introducing the activity to beginners. That could be me. And I very much like that thought.

I could be living in my bathing suit, and using all the spare time provided by the long afternoons and evenings, the lack of guests, the weather delays, to write. All the novels I have in store, somewhere up in my mind. I could use the relaxing feeling triggered by every submarine immersion to draw endless inspiration. Who needs to get drunk when you can achieve this level of serenity by practicing your actual occupation?

Now I know. Dive Master is a great responsibility. I’d have to stay alert at all times, and assist my divers. Should anything happen, I need to act without fail, for a small mistake underwater can become a great accident. But even this kind of positive stress does not dull my senses, nor my inspiration. And with more experience, I’m confident that I would be able to resolve many more stressful situations, beyond the few (twisted!) scenarios that my Instructor has pulled on me during our three training dives.

« Dive, eat, sleep »: #LifeGoal

So there I am. On the threshold of a new choice, profiling ahead, months, maybe years away… Maybe less. As difficult as that upcoming choice may be, the hardest is yet to come. I may feel confident enough to play Dive Master to an Instructor pretending to be inexperienced, I may be skilled enough to assist an average diver, but I’m a long way away from being able to calm down a stressed beginner, yet alone defuse a panic underwater. I’ve got decent skills, good reflexes, and cool-quick thinking. That’s a start. But not the end of the road, far from it.

It’s an exciting journey, and I intent to enjoy every minute of it. May it be discussing pulmonary oedemas under a parasol, or suffering a sunburn from playing drowned & rescue in a pool for 3 hours, or gazing at my very first giant sea turtle, resting on a reef, with a fish nested on top of her shell.

I had to blink a few time under my mask, the salty water stuck to my lashes wasn’t from the sea.

Ultimately, I don’t know whether or not I’ve got what it takes to become a Dive Master, then an Instructor, to do this job. One thing I’m sure of though: I won’t find out until I’ve tried, with everything I’ve got.

Bring it on: I’m doing this 200%.

Oh, and by the way: I passed. Emergency First Response and Rescue. I’m qualified to coordinate a rescue. And I actually feel confident that I could if — God forbid, I ever needed to.