Moments in Time: Lessons Learned on the Wakatobi Islands

It’s 5.45am on Sunday morning, the 29th of July 2018. I woke up to an unfamiliar rocking in my bed. A strange rumbling and vibration sent me into overwhelm. “What’s going on?” I asked myself in disbelief. Could it actually be? The glass of the windows violently shuddered to the extent that they were on the verge of smashing. I was still waking up, adjusting to a new day in my villa in Bali in what now felt like unfamiliar territory. Finally it eased off, eventually slowing down to a halt. A 6.4-magnitute earthquake struck Lombok. I was on the receiving end of it’s rippling effects in Ubud and sadly many have experienced the extent of its ruin in closer proximity.

Within the three months that I have lived here in Indonesia, it’s the second time a natural disaster has hit. Mount Agung too had it’s say by erupting and causing great concern and disruption to all who reside here. Flights were cancelled and I was advised to invest in a good quality mask in the event of a worst case scenario. I had booked a flight to Singapore, expected to depart in a few days time for a planned visa run and questioned if this was even a possibility. I was lucky. Nothing severe resulted from it, but it got me thinking about the the lessons in travel. Daily I post romantic images of my endeavours, with a short description of what that exact moment meant for me (www.instagram.com/robynwhaleart). I understand that what I’m posting may be perceived as an idyllic portrayal of my journey and for the most part it is! These destinations are in fact out of this world. But as of late, I’ve been challenged by all aspects, the perceived good and bad. Travel is opening me up to both sides of the story.

I admit it. I am an amateur traveller having only been on the road for five months. There is a level of ignorance that is being unravelled as I encounter these new experiences. I’m still new at this, but boy oh boy, am I learning at a rate of knots. Most recently, I visited the Wakatobi Islands. This trip was booked the day before departure. I remember reading an article on the return flight home on the World Nomads site, stating that for my own safety they recommended considering my governments travel advise before embarking on this level of “dangerous” adventure. Some part of me felt elated at reading that, discovering that I am indeed an explorer and love the thrill of the unknown. But then the reminder of the lived experience tends to pan out quite differently.

Originally the plan was to visit all four islands (Wangi Wangi, Kaledupa, Tomia & Binongko), but with limited funds and time available, it was whittled down to two, namely Wangi Wangi and Hoga Island. Unlike diving off the remote islands in Raja Ampat (West Papua), activities included one dive to Shark Point, an unforgettable scene of sharks encircling us at great depths. However, what best describes what Wakatobi meant for me was snorkelling the untouched coral reefs, spear fishing with the Bajo tribe, exploring island neighbourhoods by scooter and visiting the Sea Gypsy Village. Specific scared “moments” occurred within these excursions, which altered my very core. Moments that have opened my eyes to truths that have only come with the lived experience of adventurous travel, together with a little  bit of courage and an open mind. Like the earthquake and volcano, once a shift occurs deep within the earths crust, is its structure no longer the same. Change is inevitable. What manifests from that release of energy is what alters lives.

The following three excursions stick in my mind. Snorkeling amongst the mostly unspoiled coral reefs of the Indonesian archipelago was sensational. I swam and explored exquisite underwater forests, kissed and illuminated by the suns rays filtering through transparent hues of warm turquoise water. I proudly faced my phobia of the serpent and discovered the habits of a Banded Sea Krait, considered to be the most venomous snake in the world! But the “moment”…stumbling across a sheer drop so unfathomably deep, it felt like I was flying over a never-ending cliff face set in precious stones and jewels of every colour imaginable. I stopped breathing. In those depths, I experienced the supremacy of God, the absolute power of creation and the unknown. I suddenly became very small and that makes one question one’s very existence. It did mine.

The second most distinguishable memory was embedded very unexpectedly in my bank. I was introduced to spear fishing with the Bajo tribe, also known as the Sea Gypsies. This nomadic tribe have built their village on stilts in the middle of the sea and spear fishing is their main source of survival. They are known to have developed a much larger spleen having had to adapt to an incomprehensible amount of time spent underwater. We visited two locations, the mangroves and the reef. I felt completely out of my comfort zone in the mangroves. A girl from Africa, swimming in remote channels with limited visibility, surrounded by dense, tall grass and wiry roots, where crocodiles once did roam? One word: scary!

I suppose these experiences are refining my values, pinpointing the exact personal wrong in my gut and penetrating it so deeply that there is no escaping the lesson.

I felt relieved changing location, rather opting to fish in the middle of the ocean as opposed to crocodile country. Surprisingly, I was quite good it! I managed to catch five fish in total, and was happy to partake if it would mean providing a meal to a family. However, this memory had me in tears. Without knowingly attempting it, I speared the most beautiful reef fish I had ever laid my eyes upon. It’s abundance of radiant, vibrant colour and perfectly arranged geometric prints still haunts my mind. How could I attempt to kill, or even hurt something so utterly magnificent in nature? The feeling of the attached blade puncturing its flesh was unbearable. Once I had clocked what I had done, I froze, floating to the surface in disbelief. Choked up and angry with myself, my dive mask filled with tears of remorse. It affected me to the extent that I have had to remove fish from my diet altogether. I suppose these experiences are refining my values, pinpointing the exact personal wrong in my gut and penetrating it so deeply that there is no escaping the lesson.

The final “moment in time” is probably the most reminiscent. I decided to spend a night in the Bajo Village itself. Our host was a sweet family, working hard to try and make their way in life by opting to provide the only homestay in the entire village. I distinctly remember the young man’s warm smile and invitation to stay. The accommodation was most basic, offering a mattress on the floor with a mosquito net covering, a long drop toilet and a large bottle of water to bathe with. Children’s drawings decorated the bamboo-woven walls next to the bed. Rats and gecko’s scurried along the roof tops and the sound of prayer from the Muslim mosque kept me awake throughout the night. The crash of seawater washed up against the wooden stilts, the high tide subtly moving into dawn. Raw fish hung threaded onto drying racks outside. The young couple so kindly offered delicious meals of cooked, assorted vegetables, grainy rice and fried, whole fish. I felt guilty for fear of insult to the woman who had lovingly prepared the meal, having to decline the fish due to my previous experience. Their lives seemed so simple, yet they gave wholeheartedly.

Locals stared at our presence there, but always with a welcoming smile. Children would playfully run up and cuddle me, desperately enquiring in their local dialect and wanting a selfie at every opportunity. As I carefully strolled the centre of the raised, planked walkways further into the heart of the village, it dawned on me that I was experiencing what it meant to be content with simplicity. That a self-sufficient tribe living within the most humblest of means, could demonstrate such inherent kindness and evident peace with having very little. It moved me.

Lessons of perspective, values and humility were learned on the Wakatobi Islands. “Moments in time” that have taught me truths that have ultimately resulted in me reviewing my own life and how I’m living it. That in the greater scheme of things, my tiny existence is fleeting. That my values encompass a great appreciation and respect for all living things. And in humility and kindness there is indeed the possibility to love another through the simple act of giving.

 

Articles

TGU: The Great Unknown

TGU: The Great Unknown

I couldn’t help but think of a photo I had taken some months ago, when first arriving in Melbourne. I unexpectedly took it one Sunday afternoon, whilst walking over the Yarra River bridge. I had recently sold off my entire life and had moved to a new country. I was...

The Toe Tap: The Art of Muay Thai

The Toe Tap: The Art of Muay Thai

I’ve been thinking about my year of travel lately (March 2018 – April 2019). I’ve realized there are many unspoken words and unshared experiences that still sit with me. Stories that I feel need to somehow be recorded to try and preserve these precious memories. A few...

Perfectly Bagan: The Land of Childlike Wonder

Perfectly Bagan: The Land of Childlike Wonder

Perfectly Bagan: The Land of Childlike Wonder I’m thinking of a title to best describe my first experience of Myanmar. Buddhist temples and hot air balloons were the original catalysts in mind, urging me to visit this ancient country. And before I knew it I found...