The first few days at Thalassa Dive Resort were a blur as the stress of travel wore off. Fletch and I had left the US four days prior to our arrival, flown 12,000 miles via four different flights, and had jumped ahead sixteen time zones in the process. Tanja and Stefan had their own stress not just from the journey from the Maldives, but from work as well. We attempted to do the two morning dives each morning, but each of us more or less took a turn sitting out for half a day to rest.

Fletch and I did the first dive off of the mainland just the two of us. When packing for the trip, I had been about to bring my 3mm long suit, but Fletch had reminded me that the water was going to be a comfortable 28 degrees celsius. I had looked up the water temperature just to be sure, and everything I could find confirmed that the water temperature this time of year was indeed 27-28. So I packed my short, 2mm surf suit. Upon our arrival, the manager had boasted that this area of Indonesia offered 28-degree water year round. I was going to be happy has a clam. Only we back-rolled into the water that first morning and it was most definitely not 28 degrees. I felt like I had just hit a cooler of yesterday’s melted ice. When you spend every day in the water, you can tell the temperature without looking most of the time. The surface was 26 degrees. We both let out small shrieks of surprise. Water conducts heat away from your body 20 times faster than air does. When you’re spending an hour in the water, you notice a degree difference. We found pockets of 24 as we descended. That might not sound so terrible to non-divers (or those crazy cold-water divers), but for someone with limited "bioprene" (as a dive buddy once put it), who has spent six years being spoiled in the tropics, that was like going from a luke-warm bath to a bucket of ice-water. Yes, I’m the world's biggest wimp when it comes to the cold.

I really tried to suck it up and enjoy the two, hour-long dives; I really did. I refused to admit that I wasn’t having fun doing my favorite activity. But I honestly don’t remember much of either of those dives because I was so darn cold. The constant shivering for two hour-long intervals gave me a pressure headache in no time. I still refused to admit that after traveling for four days to the opposite side of the globe for some world-class diving, I wasn’t enjoying myself. This had always been my happy place. I couldn’t let a couple degrees difference in the water change that.

I do remember seeing a ridiculous number of turtles on the second dive, the one that Tanja and Stefan joined us for. There were so many turtles that I lost count, and big ones too. It goes without saying that you should never, ever ride a turtle of course (shame on you, James Bond girl from Thunderball), but these guys were so massive that I doubt they would have even noticed. They were all very lazy turtles and sleeping in little alcoves in the steep, coral wall. At one point I came across a green sea turtle and a hawksbill, in neighboring alcoves, separated only by a thin wall of coral. Each was completely oblivious to the other, and sound asleep. I’ve never had the opportunity to compare the two species up close and in person before, so I hovered there for a while noting all the differences, the main one being the shell. The shell of a green turtle has a smooth edge, while the shell of the hawksbill is scalloped and looks like a corner might draw blood if you touched it. I already knew about the shells, but it was still cool to see them side by side.

One of the many sea turtles we saw in Bunaken National Park, Indonesia.

The pressure headache from the cold lingered on ever so slightly into the second morning, so that by the time we hit the cold water again, I was already done. The cold just wasn’t worth it. Only two things stood out to me above the cold on that dive.

The first was a seahorse, the first I had seen since Roatan six years ago, and the first Tanja had ever seen. The poor little guy was tumbling down a sandy slope, blown away by the current, and I really thought the thing was dead. We all watched, slightly worried that our guide had just pointed out a dead seahorse for us to all hover around. The two local boys guiding us started grabbing sticks off the sandy bottom and propping them up in the sand, in the seahorse’s path, so that he would have something to wrap his tail around and hold onto. Quick thinking on their part. After about the fifth or sixth stick it worked. The seahorse hit the stick sideways, and managed to balance himself there, huffing and puffing, his poor little gills working overtime. Eventually he managed to curl his tail around the twig, which was a much more seahorsey-like way for him to keep himself in place.

Seahorse off of Manado, Sulawesi, Indonesia. Photo Credit: Tanja. 

The second was a set of critters smaller than grains of rice, and camouflaged in with a bright feathery coral of some sort. I tried to focus on what they were, but my body was shaking and my head was pounding too badly by that point to see something that miniscule. I did see Tanja’s video later on though, and the two little guys, whatever they were (skeleton shrimp apparently), were caught up in an epic battle. It was quite the show.

I made up my mind while still underwater to sit out the second dive. It was too darn cold. I couldn’t remember any other dives that I had sat out in my entire 1200-dive career. It just doesn’t happen. There was one out of all of those that I bailed on halfway, and that was also due to cold. And somehow, before I had even said anything, we got back on the boat and Fletch asked me, “you’re sitting the next one out, aren’t you?” Apparently after six years he can read my mind.

The resort was extremely accommodating. The manager stopped by around lunch to ask how everything was going and we explained to him that it was colder than we had planned for. This wasn’t really a complaint of course; there’s no controlling the water temperature. He took it upon himself to fix the issue anyway and hooked me up with a cozy 5.5mm long suit. My headache eased slightly just knowing that I wouldn’t have to dread two weeks of shivering every dive. We mentioned a couple other minor details and he sorted all of them out as well. The rest of the week should be smooth sailing.