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Well, I recently returned from two and a half weeks on the other side of the world. What was meant to be just another SCUBA excursion turned into a grand adventure featuring Diplomatic intrigue, strange jungle diseases, a life and death struggle, a secluded tropical locale and even terrorism.

My SCUBA destination was the Wakatobi Dive Resort in Indonesia. The name is actually an acronym for the four islands that make up the Tukang Besi archipelago off the southeast corner of the island of Sulawesi: Wangi Wangi, Kaledupa, Tomia, and Binongko.

The resort itself is located on the island of Onemobaa, which is off the southwest coast of Tomia. Click here for a neat map animation that better pinpoints the location. Now, this all should have been straightforward - fly there, SCUBA dive for 9 days, fly home - but I should have known better.

It all began when I decided to try to work out a business trip to India to inspect some equipment we're having built that would dovetail conveniently off the back end of my vacation. However, what seemed like a simple formality turned into a protracted two week battle with the Indian Embassy over the semantic details of my Business VISA application package which resulted in my passport being held hostage for the duration. Finally, at the eleventh hour, they approved the VISA and released my passport, getting it back to me less than 24 hrs before my scheduled departure.

The first stop was Bali, Indonesia via Moscow and Singapore. Boy, the Moscow Airport is a dreary place. Reminded me of what Newark Airport was like back in the `80s.

Noone in the airport would look at you, let alone talk to you, and all the airport employees were whispering into their walky-talkies, like a hangover from the Soviet days. The only highlight was the chick giving the pat downs at the security station ahead of the transfer lounge. She was pretty hot and didn't shy away from bodily contact. So much so that I asked her to check again, just to be sure I wasn't carrying contraband. Compare that with Singapore's airport.

They just know how to do things right. The place is spotless, the food is relatively inexpensive, there's no shortage of visual stimulation and the people are fairly cheerful.

Bali is a neat place. A Hindu enclave situated in the middle of the world's most populous Muslim nation, Bali somehow manages to soldier on relatively untouched by the often brutal ethnic and religious strife that plagues most of the rest of Indonesia. The people are very laid back and friendly and the place just exudes calm and peacefulness.

And since Hindus are much more liberal than Muslims, you'll see things in Bali that you wouldn't dare see anywhere else in Indonesia.

Notice that this image is hosted separately from the others. It is apparently too hot for Photobucket. Don't they understand that this is art?

After two days in Bali, it was off to Wakatobi. This involved a two hour plane ride, followed by a 15 minute hike followed by a 30 minute boat ride. However, the reward for all this travel is a beautiful, secluded tropical island about as far away from civilization as possible.

The accommodations are excellent for this type of resort (all the buildings and the furniture in them is hand made by the local tribes people on the surrounding islands) and the food and service are first rate. Of course, the whole point of coming this far is to dive, and boy do you ever. I am now totally spoiled. I don't think I can go diving anywhere else anymore since it simply won't be as beautiful. Perhaps Raja Ampat in NW Papua or Fiji, but I can't think of anywhere else on this earth that will come close. Here are a few pics...

The colors of the fish and the coral have to be seen to be believed. The pictures simply can't do them justice. And because the reefs are so healthy, we spent most of our dive time at 40' and shallower. This is a place where you look for small stuff: pygmy seahorses, nudibranches, ribbon eels, tiny glass shrimp, etc. The bigger stuff (sharks, rays, etc.) live much deeper down.

Now, while we were all enjoying this SCUBA goodness, our trip leader Gary, who happened to be my roommate on the trip, managed to pick up some sort of jungle rot on his nether regions. We're thinking that it was a pre-existing condition that was aggravated during the two hour full-body massage he got back in Bali (happy ending?). Well, between the tropical climate and his as yet undiagnosed diabetes, the condition accelerated from minor infection to full-on gangrene in the span of 4 days, despite a heavy dose of antibiotic tablets. At this point we're talking life and death. Miraculously, it just so happened that some highfalutin so-and-so from Jakarta had just flown in that morning on a private jet, so we hijacked the jet with the intention of flying Gary back to Houston via Makassar -> Bali -> Singapore -> Moscow, which would be a three day event. However, upon his arrival in Bali, he was examined by a doctor from a local clinic and it was determined that he had an 80% chance of dying on the flight back to Houston. He was admitted to a private hospital in Bali where he had three surgeries to remove the gangrenous tissue from his nether regions and was put on IV antibiotics. That was the first week of December and he's scheduled to return to the US next week. As if the situation weren't calamitous enough, the next day I found a gecko lying belly-up in the middle of my bathroom. This was seriously bad Ju-Ju since geckos are a symbol of good fortune in Indonesia. Fortunately, the rest of my SCUBA time was not interrupted.

However, the Ju-Ju would not be denied as Mumbai, India was the victim of a terrorist attack. It just so happened that Mumbai was my port of entry into India for my carefully (and painfully) planned business trip. As you can imagine, being at the edge of the world, communication was limited. In this case, a spotty satellite internet connection and a Sat phone for emergencies. I managed to keep in touch every three days or so with my company's Country Managers in India to get updates on the security situation and possible travel restrictions. As the situation developed, my travel status was kept in limbo till the day before my planned departure from Singapore when I found out that all company travel to India was deferred till further notice. Now I was stranded in Singapore on the weekend at the Shangri-La Hotel in the swanky Orchard District with no return ticket to the US. What's an intrepid Globetrotter to do? Hit the streets, of course!

Yes, that is a phone next to the can.

zOMG! Hainanese Chicken Rice!!

Of course, since I was now on Company time, it meant I was flying home on the Company dime. Business Class, Bitches!!

The Singapore Airlines Business/First Class lounge was the shiznit. All the food and booze you could handle. The Business Class seat on the plane was a semi-private booth with fold down bed and TV with a choice of 120 movies on demand. If I didn't turn on the `Do Not Disturb' sign, the hot stewardesses (Singapore Airlines has standards) would drop by every 30 min to refill my Cuba Libre and replenish my stock of Ferrero Rocher. Hell, I probably could have gotten a Happy Ending if I had asked politely. By contrast, Continental Domestic First Calss (my connection from LAX to IAH) sucks donkey balls. They kicked me out of the First Class lounge because I wasn't a SuperDuperzOMG! Mileage Club member and the First class seat was only ~10% better than the Singapore Airlines coach seat I had on my way to Indonesia. And the stewardesses were fat and ugly.

All told, a fantastic trip. Some of the best, if not the best, SCUBA diving in the world, spiced up with a little drama. I wish I was still there.

Check out the rest of my pictures and video at the links below:


Wakatobi (videos too)

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