Week 2 with Opwall
17.07.2013 - 24.07.2013
My arrival on Hoga wasn’t quite how I imagined it would be. It was raining and so dark that I could barely make out the outline of the island from our boat transfer from Kaledupa. Making my way to my hut was interesting as my hut is in the jungle part of the island and the tracks are tracks (as opposed to the paved pathways that can be found on the other side of the base) and with the rain, these tracks were quite saturated with water and a bit muddy and there were plenty of track-wide puddles a couple of cm deep along the way – which all would have been fine apart from the fact that all my diving gear was in a wheelie bag that I had to drag along behind me, hoping the wheels wouldn’t get stuck in the mud. It was, despite all this, very exiting!! I was finally here, making my way thro’ the jungle to a small wooden hut that would be my house for the following 3 weeks. And the hut didn’t let me down – on stilts with a decent enough sized balcony and a perfectly functional room with really cute Indonesian furniture and 2 beds with mosquito nets hanging over them. There was, contrary to popular belief, an electricity supply to the huts (a light inside the room, a light on the balcony and a plug) but this is only on in the evenings. The mandi (Indonesian for bath or wash or something along those lines) is at ground level behind the hut and contains a squat toilet and a cement tank of fresh water with a scoop to scoop the water over oneself for washing. There is another smaller container with seawater in it – this is for flushing. I was utterly delighted with the hut, and at that point had it to myself as my roomie wasn’t due to arrive til the following day.
Meal-times were an altogether different experience compared with Baubau – which is no surprise considering there were about 30 or so people at the Baubau station, and there were about 200 on Hoga the week I arrived. Food is delivered to the table here, with a maximum of 8 per table, and there’s no such thing as seconds. There are 3 sittings for each meal (apart from brekkie) depending on what your working day is like. Breakfast is better as they have porridge most mornings (and when we run out, I have my own personal stash). Lunch is always veggie (i.e. vegetarian) with a yummy cold juice and dinner is either veggie or fish – there’s not much meat around. There’s rice with every meal, and sometimes noodles as well, with veggies (vegetables, not vegetarians), and there’s usually a bit of fruit with dinner. People generally feel like the lose weight here from lack of enough food. I do find I’m hungry quite a lot, but my chocolate stash in my bedroom keeps me going thro’ the hard times. And I think most of the reason I’m hungry is cos breakfast is, with the exception of de-gas day, always at 6, and the last dinner is at 7.15, and with only one other meal between these times, the time between meals is too long for me. Snacking is definitely necessary.
The dive staff here comes to over 30. There’s a mixture of DMs and instructors, and each week everyone is allotted a particular group to work with. So in Baubau I was on the OW course, and my first week in Hoga I was on science. Science is probably the easiest DM job going. Basically you go out on a boat full of scientists and their equipment and they buddy off in pairs and do their respective work, and you and your DM buddies (typically 3 on each dive) patrol the scientist buddy pairs to make sure everyone is doing their work without risking their own lives or the marine life around them. It means we get to have a look around each of the dive sites too and we get to check out what the scientists are doing. Some of them are using quadrats and counting different things inside them, others are using transects and counting things along them, lots are using photography and then computer software to analyse, for example, coral cover in the quadrats. It’s all very interesting. There are secchi discs being using vertically and horizontally, sediment traps are being laid and picked up at regular intervals, one guy is transplanting bits of sponge to see, well, I’m not sure exactly what.. There are science talks about once a week, and last week they did an overview of all the research areas being covered here, which was really interesting. There are a few PhD and MSc students, and they’re in charge of the undergrad dissertation students. The scientists mostly come from Britain but there are also Americans and two students from Vic Uni in Wellington here. Anyways, back to our DM work – we’re in charge of getting the scientists safely onto the boat, out to the dive site, and back. One of us is the boat leader, and it’s our job to do radio checks back to base when we depart from the shore and arrive at our site. It’s also our job to brief the scientists, altho’ I’m sure they could all give the briefings too as they listen to them so often! There are 5 science dives per day, at 7, 9, 11, 1 and 3. So some days I got to do 3 dives (7, 11 and 3). Another of Opwall’s safety rules is that we all must have a minimum of a 3 hour surface interval, so diving at 9 and 1 sucks, as you can’t fit in a third dive that day. The science dives take place at 3 different dive sites, so I visited each of these more than once during the week. Anytime I was free when a dive was going out that had space on it, I went along on a fun dive – these are the only dives where I’m allowed to take my camera, for obvious reasons!
Other dive team tasks include working in the radio room replying and reacting to any messages that come in over the airwaves (this is the one that kind of freaks me out a little cos in the case of an emergency, the person in the radio room has a lot of responsibility!), working in the dive shed helping to give out the rental gear to the students, and shore cover for any snorkelers that are going out. While working in the dive shed, I try to learn a bit of Indonesian from the 2 guys who also work there. They are unbelievable – they know almost all the students by name and remember exactly how much weight, and which combinations (1 or 2 kg blocks) they use – incredible!! I haven’t had to do shore cover yet, but I suspect it’ll be the most boring task as we’re (again for obvious reasons) not allowed to take a book, or music with headphones or anything with us. We literally just have to sit there with a radio and binoculars and watch to make sure nothing happens to anybody..
Evening times vary. Some people hang out at the DCHQ (dive centre HQ), some in the cabanas (wooden chill-out structures), some go to bed early, the scientists are often off in the wet or dry labs running experiments (there are scientists that have land-based projects and spend all of their time in the lab), some have a beer, but again the rule is one beer only per person per night, apart from party night. The biggest reason for this, apart from avoiding having lots of drunk people around every night, is that the island would be drunk dry very quickly if this rule didn’t exist. All supplies, from fresh water to porridge and beer, are shipped in to the island once a week, with the incoming arrivals. Which is why there is generally porridge and powdered milk for the first half of each week or so, but by the end of the week there’s nothing left..
My roomie here on Hoga is an Italian by the name of Anna, who’s also DMing here. As we’re both up at about the same time every morning (5.30) and neither of us tend to stay out too late (we’re generally both in bed by 10), our living arrangements are working out quite well. The dive team is a very international group of people, with Polish, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Irish, English, Scottish, Aussie, Kiwi, American, Canadian, South African and Indonesian members.
Party night on Hoga is a vastly different affair to Baubau. Each week there’s a theme and people have to dress up (remember resources are seriously limited on an island, so imagination is key to a successful costume). During my first week, the theme was Alice in Wonderland. The other thing that happens on party night is that the dive staff get together and dress as the same thing, and turn up to the meal (it’s the only time during the week that everyone eats together and the benches and tables are taken outside to make a dance floor space in the lodge) fashionably late and with a bang. For Alice in Wonderland, we dressed up as the Queen of Hearts’ army of cards (we’re painting the roses red..). Edd, the scientific dive officer and dive safety officer (one of our main bosses) was the Queen of Hearts and we were all divided up into the 4 suits (hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs) with an A4-sized bit of cardboard hanging by string around our necks with our suit painted on it, and the sign of our suit on a headpiece - at some point I’ll add a photo as it will speak the thousand words I can’t think of right now. But we rocked!! Some of the Indonesian dive staff joined us too. About 7 of us helped make the costumes, led by Mike and Josh. It really was a fantastic effort – and of course greased along with a bit of Bintang! We made a massive entrance: everyone else was already eating and stopped to take a look. I wish I could have seen it from where they were! There were lots of Alices in drag that night, and a few Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dees, and there was one super caterpillar who even had his sheesha pipe – people really had been very productive and imaginative despite the lack of wardrobes that most of us have. Dave (one of the science staff who come from Cork) even managed to find an orange wig to go with his Alice in drag costume! I can’t wait to see what the theme for next week is! Party night went on into the early hours and there were plenty of sore heads and late risers the following day. I was in bed by midnight however, not being able to stay up any later after a week of getting up at 5.30 and going all day without a nap. And I only drank 2 beers, as by the time I’d finished the second, the cold beers were gone (limited fridge/freezer space) and warm beer is not something I enjoy. I’m not sure what time the music went on until, but it seemed to go on all night (man, do I sound old!) – the wind must have been blowing towards my hut..!
There’s some cool wildlife on the island – the most cool for me are the monitor lizards, altho’ I haven’t seen that many of them. There are also snakes, which fortunately I have only seen underwater, where they don’t freak me out.. At night on the way home, my torch light picks up lots of pairs of eyes looking at me. A fair few are at ground level and they’re some sort of reasonably sized spider – I’m not sure what type exactly, but I generally tend to keep my distance. There are also kingfishers, but I haven’t managed to see any. Whenever it rains (a couple of times a week , altho’ in general the weather is a lot better now that it was before I got here), there’s this shell-less hermit crab who comes up the drain system and into our toilet.. I feel quite bad for him – it can’t be too pleasant down there. In fact, as the only time I’m likely to see him is when I actually need to use the toilet, I try to get him out first and put him back in again afterwards! Whenever I put him back in, he disappears pretty quickly back down the drain – I’m not sure he’s actually keen on being in our mandi – he must just get lost each time! The other evening, on the way back to my hut from checking out a really cool fluorometer and the work that was being done with it in the wet lab, I came across this big hermit crab who’d made his home from a bit of plastic, like a large bottle top. God love him he was far too big for it. Clearly he’d gotten stuck in it and couldn’t change when he needed a bigger home. And there was no way he was going to be able to hide in it as hermit crabs normally do in their shells. I felt really bad for him too – what an awful life growing inside something that’s too small for you. Nice work with the plastic pollution us! Oh, another very exciting thing for me was on Tuesday of the week when some bluebottles arrived in. This is the name given to the Portuguese man-of-war jellyfish, which is definitely something to be avoided at all costs. But I’d only ever seen them in photos before, so I spent a bit of time on the jetty taking some photos and watching them drift by. I didn’t see any of the really cool nudibranchs that each the bluebottles unfortunately – I’d love to see those.. Maybe we’ll get another bluebottle swarm drift by before I leave. Of course, bluebottle in the water in any small densities (like 5 individuals in 100 square metres) means all diving in that area is cancelled, such in the toxicity of their sting. So nobody really likes to see them as everybody would rather be diving. During the week that I was in Baubau, all dives were cancelled for 2 days due to bluebottles – not a good thing when you’re trying to get thro’ a diving course or collect samples for a science project.. But that’s nature for you!
Anyways, I’m not sure I can think of anything else to report right now, and I have a feeling that this already doesn’t read particularly well as it’s just whatever bits came into my head as they came in.. So I’ll stop now.