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March 2016

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When you think of England, you think of the Royal Family, the Big Ben and the London Bridge. You also think of city tours, double decker buses, and other famous city landmarks that tourists frequently visit. What you probably don’t know is that England also has some of the greatest adventure tours that you have to experience.

The Coast to Coast walk/cycle/ride is an event that thousands of people from around the globe flock to England to participate in. Alfred Wainwright was the genius behind this exciting journey that takes you through the off beaten paths around England. Back then, Wainwright just walked around England.

Today, people take on Wainwright’s path by walking and cycling. The 5-day event meant that people had to use the path that Wainwright created long ago and stick to the path as closely as possible. This is a challenge because England isn’t the same as it was during Wainwright’s time. There are new buildings and new roads that have been created that could make following the original path a bit tougher. Participating in this event meant you get to go see the England that tourists don’t often see.

England doesn’t have a lot of diving spots, but there are some places that you can still go to in order to have your underwater adventure trip. At the Scapa Flow in the Orkneys, you can go on a diving expedition and explore the warships and destroyers that sank off this coast during the World War I. Marine life had taken over the sunken ships so you can see the beauty that sprung up after the devastation. There are beginner courses that you can take for less than £100. There are also longer expeditions that can set you back £500 or more.

If bungee jumping is your thing, you can go to the Transporter Bridge in Middlesborough to get your fix. This is the only bridge in the UK that allows bungee jumping. Satisfy your bungee jumping craving with this 200 feet high jump that lets you fall head first to the Tees. The freefall won’t lend you any picturesque views as you go down but it is still worth it. Not many people can say that they bungee jumped in England.

Sailing is another way that you can explore England from a different point of view. From the Tower Bridge you can sail through to Devon, north Cornwall, Isle of Man, the Scottish Islands, Edinburgh and then come on back to the Tower Bridge via the east coast. Sailing through all these places can take more than 2 weeks so plan your vacation accordingly. You can opt to sail through only a few of the 60 stops that this tour offers or you can go on a limb and go through all of them.

These and other lesser known adventure tours in England are steadily gaining popularity as people are recognizing the need to really discover what else England has to offer other than the city tours and normal tourist attractions. Let your wanderlust take over and book a tour and find out more about England’s hidden gems.

Recently I got to spend time snorkeling with over 100 manta rays (closer to 150 to be precise) in Komodo National Park. It was one of the pinnacle sea moments of my life.

I was on a dive boat with about a dozen others when the captain shouted from the distance the huge school of mantas. We turn the boat around, stop about 100 feet from the manta pathway until we approached them at a safe distance. It was one of the most exciting times for me. But sometimes we get caught up in these beautiful moments that we forget how to interact with marine life responsibly. This is why I am sharing with you 5 ways to interact responsibly with these sea creatures.

1. Keep Noise to a Minimum
When you encounter manta rays, don’t be that person screaming at them to come over to you and then doing cannon balls right next to them. Not that I think you are, but there’s always that “one person.” Keep noise to a minimum and avoid jumping in abruptly if you’re on a boat. Keep your fins underwater to avoid creating big kicking splashes.

2. Allow the Mantas to Swim Around You. Not the Opposite 
When you’re snorkeling, try staying in one area allowing the mantas to swim around you. Don’t swim over to them. Keep calm and avoid disrupting them if they’re feeding close to the surface of the water.

3. DO NOT TOUCH!
Let me repeat. Do not touch the mantas. Do not touch the mantas! I know it would feel so amazing to touch one of these guys, but this code of conduct is an absolute! The manta rays have a protective mucous coating, and when you touch them, you rub away their protective barrier causing them to get sick or get an infection. We don’t want them to get sick. Let’s preserve their existence in these oceans by keeping your hands off.

4. Keep your distance 
The rule of thumb is to stay at least 10 feet (3 meters) away. If manta comes close to you, remain calm and still and let the manta ray control the interaction with you.

5. Do Not Chase or Harass the Mantas 
You want to avoid restricting their natural behavior by blocking their path. Avoid duck-diving when they’re near. It may startle them and interrupt them while in their natural habitat trying to feed or clean.

That’s it! Stick to these 5 and you’ll be to engage with the mantas in a safe and responsible way, and while I’m not a marine biologist or expert, this is simply a guideline I’ve heard through my training. I hope this helps!

When one thinks of Labuan Bajo, they think of diving with manta rays or visiting the Komodo dragons at Komodo National Park, but what else is there to do is a common question I’ve been asked? How about jumping off a 42-foot cliff at Cunca Wulang Waterfall?

Admittedly, I almost didn’t go. The night before I was raging it up at the Paradise Bar, the only place to go on a Saturday night in Labuan Bajo. My Swedish friend and two-week long roommate was taking off, and I wanted to properly send him off with one last good night out.

It’s Sunday morning, and I get a Facebook ping at 9 am from my local friend, Stefan, who is all bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to go. This is going to be a struggle. He said he’ll be at my place by 10 am so I use the opportunity to sleep in those few extra minutes before he arrives. Should I use this time to sleep in and go another time? Motivate, Celia. Motivate!

So I get my ass up and hop in the shower and meet my friend as scheduled. I stop to pick up a sandwich and water for the road, and we start making our way to Cunca Wulang Waterfall. He’s concerned about his two other friends…and, when I say concerned, I mean he’s concerned they’re still hungover and not going to wake up. He promised to not leave without them but stopped by their house and no sign of life. He called but no answer. Eventually, around 10:30 am they awake from the dead! It looks like after the bar had closed, they all decided to go swimming at the beach and share a bottle of tequila until the early sunrise. Rock stars! So we’re all a bit of a hot mess at this point except my friend Stefan who seems to have a neverending supply of energy.

We make about a half-dozen more stops (it’s one of those mornings, lol) trying to find bananas for my other two friends, stop to take pics at a viewpoint, pick up some food from the local warung, more water, cigarettes, and then we finally get our shit together and begin making our way to the waterfall.

view along the way

I’m not really sure how long the drive would take to get there because we made so many stops, but I guestimate it’s about an hour away.

After making our way on our motorbikes through windy roads up the mountain, we reach a rocky unpaved road. We pay our $4 (50,000 rupiahs) at the entrance of the waterfall park where we could either park our bikes and make a long 1-2 mile trek or say f*ck it and four wheel our way through that mothereffer. We’re still hungover, so we say f*ck it and start riding our bikes on the loose cobblestone path.

The easier part of our trail.
The easier part of our trail.

After about 15 minutes and a sore ass, we make our way to the end of the path where the only way to go is by foot. There’s an old man there selling coconuts, so we decide to take a couple for the waterfall. The man chops the outer barrier with a machete trimming it down for us. We then have a local who we pay to escort us to the waterfall.

The hike is about another 15 minutes or so. We come to a crossing point where we literally have to leap from one rock to another. I’d guess it were about 4 foot jump. I’m thinking, “Are you serious? F*ck!” Here goes nothing! My sad leap across the two boulders with streaming water below me looked more like one awkward old lady giant stride. Stefan grabs my hand so that I don’t fall into the flowing stream. Alright! I made it! How in the hell am I going to get back, though? I’ll think about that later. Then we come across another “leaping point” we’ll call it for lack of a better term, but this one wasn’t as bad as the last one.

path to waterfall 1

We arrive, and it’s just as beautiful as I imagined. Wow. I’m surprised we’re one of the only few there. We get settled and park our things, and I can’t decide if I want to nap, eat, nap, or jump.

friends at canyon

My friend decided she’d motivate to be the first to jump off the 42 foot (13 meters) cliff. Alright, alright, let’s get our asses in there. It’ll feel so much better. My friend, Stefan and I, decide to jump in together and “Weeeeee!!” *splash*… shock therapy! Instant hangover cure. There’s something about the ocean or natural body of water that clears the mind, body, and alcohol seeping from your pores. 

Later more people begin to show but still not too many where it felt crowded. We begin to guide them on where to jump, and it’s about a dozen of us all enjoying this hidden gem.

Our friends made their way to a rock below the waterfall, so my friend Stefan and I decide to follow them. Stefan went first, and I could see it was going to be a struggle getting to the waterfall. It required all of his upper body strength to swim there. I try, and I’m struggling. I keep getting pulled back into this little hole, and the current is too strong. My arms are tired, and I feel myself getting swept back. I tell him I can’t make it and I’m swept back to where I started. He comes back for me and said we don’t have to go, but I’m determined. I’m not a quitter. I can do this. So we hang onto a rock with one hand and try to find an alternative route until my arms regain strength. Our friends told us to try from the other side which now made a whole lot more sense because it was a lot less strong. So we try from the left side, and then I make my way to the other side, and we begin climbing to meet our friends. The rocks are slippery and I keep slipping, so Stefan continues to be my guiding light helping me get up safely. Then others begin to follow suit, and he helps about 3 others make their up grabbing them all with one hand until they get to a stable point.

We want to give others the chance to enjoy the rock under the waterfall, so we decide to get off, but it’s tricky. One of our friends was starting to make his way down with his feet in a sliding motion, but that only lasted about a second before he was swept down in .2 seconds, the fastest rock slide I’ve ever seen. We see a couple of others try, and the same thing happened. Slippery slope! Stefan was the last to go down and then told me not to go down that way because it was a very shallow and rocky area. So he helped me get down the way I came up.

After about a half-day at Cunca Wulang Waterfall we decide it’s time to make our way back to town. We ask our friends to carry our bags back to the beginning area of the trail so we could go in for one last jump and float part of our way down, which also allowed me to skip that treacherous leap between rocks.

piggy back trail

Our local guide who was there watching our belongings the whole time making sure it was safe carried our bags back the rest of the way until we reached out bikes. Score! I tip him $4 (50,0000 rupiahs) for allowing us to focus on having a good time.

After we got back to our bikes, we made one last pit stop at a private resort beach and rested up with some coffee and tea until the sunset. 

sunset at beach

Moral of the story is get your lazy ass up and motivate when it comes to beautiful natural gems like this and never quit even when you’re fighting against a strong current you don’t think you can fight; there’s always another way.

Diving with mantas is among one of the ultimate bucket lists for divers and why so many passionate divers come to Komodo Island, but how about swimming with 150 of them?

I started my morning with Wicked Diving on their boat, Charlie, with about a half dozen others who signed up for this full-day excursion. We were already off to a good start seeing dolphins playing in the water on our way to our first dive. We don’t always see a lot of dolphins around here so it was a nice surprise to see them from a close distance as they passed our boat.

charlie

We just finished up our second dive at Batu Balong, one of the best dive sites in the world, and were on our way to Makassar Reef (also nicknamed “Manta Point”), a dive site northwest of Komodo, known for finding mantas hence the nickname.

Our captain and some of our boat crew noticed something in the waters about 100 meters in the distance, and we notice there are about a dozen mantas. Our captain decided to turn the boat around, and that’s when we saw a long stretch of about 150 mantas. We watch the mantas from the second level deck of Charlie, and we are ecstatic. Everyone runs to grab their cameras and watch them in awe as they form a line behind each other looking like aquatic birds.

About ten minutes pass and we decide to keep going but continue to keep seeing mantas everywhere. I want to jump in! Everyone wants to jump in, so the captain and our dive instructor make the call to turn around and allow everyone to grab their mask and fins and hop in!

One of the Wicked staff members joined the boat trip today on her day off has never even seen a manta. This is someone grew up on this island, works in a dive shop, and barely snorkels. She escapes through travel books like the works of Paulo Coelho. Can you imagine the joy she felt not only seeing her first manta but hundreds let alone being able to go out and swim with them?? I’m pretty sure I can vouch for her by saying this is one epic moment in her lifetime.

Or could you imagine a couple who traveled from the other side of the world with only one dream to see a manta and then gets to see an entire sea full of them? Hell, even our dive instructor was ecstatic and said the last time he saw something like this was a year ago.

We all jumped in, and the captain was guiding us about the proper direction to go in, and once we found their path, it was craaaazy!! They were in every direction! On either side of me, below me, coming at me! There was one manta ray that was literally swimming 6 inches below me and so close to flapping it’s wings on me if I didn’t move. I remember coming manto y manto (er, I mean, mano y mano. hehe) with one manta ray with its mouth wide open. I’m thinking, “Oh sh#t! What if stay in place? Will we have a head-on collision?” Naturally my instinct was to get the hell out of its way.

snorkel selfie manta (1)

After about twenty minutes of being able to snorkel with these beautiful creatures, we get on the boat and head to our last dive at Manta Point.

We gear up, take a giant stride into the water, and descend into a drift. Sure enough, mantas are passing by in several directions. Not quite as many as our impromptu snorkel session, but still incredible to see and a different experience. You get to study their bellies as they pass you from above in twos, fours, and sixes or lean close to the ocean ground steadily watching them circle around you.

After experiencing an epic day with nature’s playground, it was no surprise that at the end of our trip back to Labuan Bajo that we were gifted with a beautiful sunset and three eagles passing in the distance. Incredible day!

eagle

My activist friend, Marta, runs the Wicked Good SEED (Support Environment & Education Development) accelerator project in Labuan Bajo, a 7 month scholarship program sponsored by Wicked Diving. She invited me to spend a couple of hours talking with the teenage students of SMKN 1 High School, a vocational tourism high school, in Manggarai. I love getting in touch with the local culture through my travels, especially, curious and enthusiastic teens, and agreed to meet her the following morning.

She meets me on her motorbike in front of La Cucina Restaurant at 7:15 am, but she didn’t have an extra helmet for me. The cops can be a bit strict on the helmet policy around here, unlike many other places in Indonesia, so we decided to hail down a motorbike cab instead. It’s about 10 minutes away in a ruralish area outside of Labuan Bajo. The students are all dressed in a matching baby blue and yellow uniforms wearing Vans or Converse shoes in crew cuts and ponytails.

I was a few minutes ahead of Marta, and while I wait for her to arrive at the school, I get plenty of rubberneckers wondering what this foreigner is doing standing by herself in front of the school on the side of the road until she arrived.

LBJ high school

Marta escorts me pass about a half a dozen of full classrooms, and I get big hand gesture waves, bright smiles, and welcoming hellos from the students. If there’s anyone that knows how to boost my self-esteem, it’s definitely Indonesian kids!

We get into Marta’s classroom where she teaches 4 hours a day on Monday’s and 2 hours a day on every other weekday and most of the kids were already in their seats. They’re all wondering who is this foreigner guest their teacher brought into the room.

Marta introduces me to the class and then allows me to tell them something about myself and encouraging they ask me questions to help practice their English.

“Hello, my name is Celia. I’m from California…in America. I have 3 brothers and 2 sisters which is a big family for Americans. I have been traveling since October, and this is my third time to Indonesia.”

I’ve never been great at introductions.

There are several students quick to raise their hands and ask me more questions about myself wondering if I like Indonesia, what my hobbies are, and then one of the girls followed up and asked…

“How old are you?” she asks.

HOW DARE SHE!?

I hear the turntables scratching through my head with “How old are you?” Beat. “Erwee, Erwee.” Scratch. Beat. “Erwee, Erwee.” Followed by a dozen pots and pans falling through a glass ceiling.

Marta quickly steps in and explains to them about cross-cultural relations and what’s appropriate to ask people, and this was wasn’t necessarily polite among Western culture. 🙂

Thank you, Marta! But I answered anyway.

“I’m 34.” I say confidently.

32 pairs of eyes went big in the classroom as if they felt sorry for me. Hey, kids! I’m not that old, okay! Am I?? Well, whatever, the 30s are the new 20s in America! Take that even though you Indonesians all look like you’re 30 when you’re 60 and 60 when you’re 90. Oh, go away with your impressive anti-aging genetics! 😉

Whew! That was a digress. Ha! Back on topic. Where was I?

Oh, yes… the introduction.

As I am finishing up introducing myself, one male student walked into class late apologizing for being late and proceeded to say to me, “Sorry, sir.”

The class chuckles and corrects him before he apologizes again and accidentally calls me sir a second time.

Oh, kids. You have a long way to go, but you’re so adorable.

I take a seat in the back of the classroom and observe Marta going back and forth between speaking Bahasa and English. She then asks for a few of the students to give a presentation on a topic about a place that tourists could go but also how to make it environmentally conscious. I was interested to learn about the Bajawa Hot Springs to Cunca Waterfalls to the Batu Cermin Caves. I haven’t really even thought about the land attractions since I’ve been here. 

Then the class concludes, and Marta welcomes me to spend 15 minutes with the students and allow them to practice their English. Several of the not-so-shy types run over and ask to take photos with me. We needed to allow the next class to prepare and finished off with a few group photos of the class.

group photo

One thing I’ll say is I’ve always loved the inquisitive and warm Indonesian teen minds. I spent a month with them in Java a few months ago and now a couple of hours this morning on Flores Island, and, while adults are usually much more my speed, I sincerely love their age in this culture.

I can’t believe I got punked by one of my Wicked Diving instructors. I have spent over a month with the Wicked Diving Komodo team working on advancing my dive certifications and recently started my Rescue Diver Course.

I wasn’t initially thrilled about getting my EFR (Emergency First Responder) certification required for the Rescue Diver Course. Why? Classroom time means no dive time! Instead of a day out diving keeping cool with the manta rays or discovering camouflaged cuttlefish and scorpion fish underwater, I’d instead be spending a full day in the classroom watching guys in mullets in 80’s generation training videos. But this is a necessary and crucial step, and I knew it would be relatively easy because I’ve kept up with my CPR & First Aid over the last decade.

We go through our DVD material, and the DVD kept restarting. To get back to where were we, we had to manually fast-forward at a 2x fwd rate. I’m feeling like I’m watching a Hawksbill turtle. Slooowww!

It’s about 1/2 way through the day. We decide to take a break, and when I get back, he’s not ready. He calls one of the other dive guides down to help with the TV and I think nothing of it. I’m checking my Facebook and Instagram not paying any attention to what’s going on before I hear a loud POP!

It took me a second to register what was going on. There’s chaos, and I see our dive guide is leaning over the TV unresponsive. I’m thinking, “WTF! Is this a joke?” No way did he just get electrocuted. It would seem too obvious to pull a stunt like that when I’m working on my EFR. What are the odds of something like this happening? I mean, it is Komodo, and I can’t say that the electrical sockets are the safest.

I ask them if this an exercise, but they’re yelling at each other and fingers are being pointed back and forth to do something. I think what if this is a real accident? I immediately switch gears and run up and check the power supply and then lay him down to check for breathing, and then I finally get one of the guys to break a smile, and I’m relieved! What the hell guys!? Okay, you got me.

What I learned was that they popped a balloon from behind the TV. Since I’ve been in Indonesia, I’ve not seen ONE balloon at all in this country – let alone this tiny town of Labuan Bajo. I swear if these guys could get an Oscar, it would be well-deserved. I am happy to say I passed the exam with flying colors, probably because I didn’t want ever to have to deal with that mini heart attack ever again. 🙂

If you’re thinking about getting a scuba dive refresher course, here are 6 simple steps you’ll learn through the course.

The dive refresher takes about one full day. I’m not a dive instructor (yet), so please always follow the direction of your instructor, but I did recently go through my dive refresher course around Komodo National Park in Indonesia after 15 years since my last dive. I’ll try to explain it in laymen terms without all the technical talk about the simple steps you’ll review when going through your dive refresher.

1. Buddy Check

In the buddy check, your instructor will show you how to safely check your buddy’s gear and essentially being their second set of eyes. This requires checking their BCD (the jacket that keeps you afloat) and seeing that it inflates and deflates properly, making sure the breathing apparatus is functioning on the regulator, and making sure all the harnesses are in place for a quick release, and that their weight belt is on.

2. Giant Step Entry

This is an easy step, literally! If you’re on a dive boat, or I imagine on a pool ledge, you just take one giant stride into the water holding having one hand on your weight belt and the other holding your mask and regulator. Once you fall into the water, you inflate your BCD and make clearance for the next diver after you.

3. Regulator Clearing

There are two methods of doing this. The first one is you take the regulator out of your mouth (pointing the breathing part down, so air doesn’t escape) and then placing the regulator back in your mouth. Once the regulator is back in your mouth, you’ll want to exhale as hard as you can until the regulator is clear.

The second method is following the exact same method, but instead of blowing air into the regulator, you use the purge button on the regulator. The purge button clears this for you.

4. Regulator Recovery

Again, there are two ways to recover your regulator if you happen to lose it. The first is to lean to the right and, then in a sweeping motion, use your right arm to grab it. It’ll likely come over your shoulder making it easy to recover.

The second method is to reach over your head or shoulder with your right arm and recover it that way.

Don’t forget to clear your regulator as needed.

5. Mask Clearing

There are 3 ways to clear your mask. I don’t know why I had such a hard time with this. Maybe it was my new mask and the silicone.

Partial mask clearing is you allow a little water to clear into the mask. Once it’s 1/2 filled, you open the bottom of your mask breathing out until the water clears. Repeat as necessary.

Full mask clearing is pretty much the same as the partial mask clearing but instead of filling your mask with only 1/2 the amount of water, you fill it completely.

Open mask clearing you take the mask completely off remembering to only breath with your mouth and not your nose then putting the mask back on and clearing the mask as above. You’ll want to make sure you always take a deep breath before clearing so that your breath is more powerful clearing out all of the water.

6. Neutral Buoyancy

Buoyancy is one of the most important skills you can learn while diving. If you can master your buoyancy, you can avoid damaging our ecosystem when diving underwater. In this step, you’ll essentially learn the difference between positive buoyancy (too much air in your BCD), negative buoyancy (too many weights or not enough air in your BCD), and then neutral buoyancy, which is what we want to strive for. In this step, you’ll observe your buoyancy and how to control it when inhaling and exhaling under water.

That’s about it! There are YouTube videos to give you a better visual. Just type in one of the 6 simple steps to getting your dive refresher. And, remember, to always follow the instruction of your guide when taking a refresher course.

Auckland’s city landscape is breathtaking. It maintains a balance between nature and modern structures. It is known for its high culture, food, and beautiful sights. It is also the home of playful dolphins and whales.

From the Airport

It is best to take the shuttle from the airport to your hotel. This could cost you around $23.75. But if you are in a hurry, it may be a good idea to take a taxi which could cost around $53 to $64.

You can exchange your currency at a reliable money exchanger called Travel Money, which is located at the ground floor of the Auckland International Airport. It is open from 4 a.m. to 12:59 a.m. every day.

You can buy Vodafone, Two Degrees, and Spark NZ SIM cards at the airport. SIM cards usually cost $3.60.

The Auckland airport has a baggage storage system that you can use to store your luggage which will cost you around $13 per day.

How To Get Around Auckland

You can go around Auckland via bus, train, taxi, shuttle, or ferry. You can also rent a car. You can also check https://at.govt.nz to find out which transportation option is best for you. This website allows you to plan your day and get discounts. The Auckland Transport System also has a text messaging service which you can use to find the next bus, train, or ferry.

Auckland is a car-dependent city. So if you want to get around the city easily, the best option is to rent a car. New Zealand laws allow you to drive in the city for one year if you have an international license or a license in your home country.

Culture

Auckland is the land of sophisticated people. If you’re into performing arts, it’s best to visit Edge. Edge is a series of performance venues where you can catch the performance of prestigious cultural organizations such as the Auckland Philharmonic and the Auckland Symphony Orchestra. You can also visit Galatos if you’re into edgy video art and cinema.

Spots for Foodies and Adventure Seekers

If you love food, you should definitely visit the Auckland food neighborhood called Mt. Eden or the Maungawhau Domain. It features beautiful cafes such as the Ironiqu, Frasers, and Circus, Circus. You can also visit the Return of Rad.

If you’re up for some adventure, you should definitely go canyoning and rafting in Canyonz. You can also try Auckland’s skywalk and sky jump. You can even do bungy jumping and skydiving via Skydive Auckland (www.skydiveauckland.com).

Couchsurfing is an amazing community when utilized the way it was intended. Unfortunately, some give it a bad name. Here’s what you need to know if you’re thinking about using the Couchsurfing community to support your travels and the 7 types of Couchsurfers you either need to be wary of or grateful for.

1. Your Highness

The “Your Highness” host is pretty easy to identify. They have dozens of positive references to paragraphs and paragraphs of rules in their profile. They expect you to read through their entire life story, and they run their account like a business. You fill out an application that feels like pages of essay writing explaining why you’re the right surfer for them BEFORE you even know if they have availability. If you don’t follow each of their rules, they’ll shred you a new one throwing their pompous “I’m a veteran Couchsurfer and have traveled all over the world” in your face, and it’s people like you that are the reason they’re so downright annoyed. When you apologize for not reading through the entire profile and explain you were traveling between countries, they fire back saying all the other Couchsurfers made them a priority followed by a  “Patooey! You despicable nobody!” in your face. Ouch. Forget that you’re a newbie getting a feel for the community, or that you’re in limited wifi zones with little accessibility to email. You’re scum in their eyes if you don’t follow THEIR rules!

2. The Moocher

These are the takers. They rely on the kindness of others to support their freeloading lifestyle. They will stay at your home well past the initial agreement drinking all your booze, scavenging through your cupboards, asking for rides, and skillfully using your money instead of their own because they’re just too damn cheap and entitled to have to use their own money. They’re the ungrateful type and like a leech sucking all your time, energy, and money. You don’t even understand how they convinced you to sleep on the couch while they slept in your comfy bed. But what they will offer you are “insightful” conversations on why they don’t need money to travel. Yeah, that’s because they’re taking advantage of the kindness and money of others you self-absorbed bastards! 

3. The Flake

The flakes are the inconsiderate wishy-washy type. After receiving dozens of email requests from people asking you to host, you finally select one who seems genuine and feels like cool peeps. You decline all the requests to help others because you’ve locked in this one. You give them directions to your house mapped in detail and even take a day off from work because their flight gets in the morning and you don’t want to leave them stranded with all their luggage. All is good, and you’re waiting for them to land while you finish up washing linen for them so they can have a nice, pleasant stay at your home. You’re waiting for a couple of hours after they said they would arrive but no sign of them. You’re wondering if maybe their flight was delayed or if something bad happened, but you checked, and their flight arrived on time. You email them, and then they reply, “Oh sorry. I found somewhere else to stay.” Assholes.

4. The Creeper

Eww, the creepy perverts. It was only a matter of time before the creepers found it’s way into a trusted travel community. These pieces of filth are the type who will be so enthusiastic about you staying at their home offering you a ride from the airport, show you around town and even take you out to dinner. There’s only one problem, though. They only have one bed, and it’s a twin. Somehow their couch disappeared from the living room, and that means you’ll have to share the bed with them. Oh, shucks! But, hey, why don’t you have some cheap whiskey to relax you. These situations usually turn out bad when they use Couchsurfing as a way to get sexual favors in return for them giving you a place to stay. STAY AWAY FROM THE CREEPERS.

5. The Closet Surfers

These are an interesting bunch. All is good when you arrive, but things get sketchy real fast. You come in at an odd hour of the evening and are required to stay in their room during the stay. Schedules get locked in about what time you can use the shower or even brush your teeth. You have to keep real quiet, so their roommate doesn’t hear you. Wait a minute? Doesn’t your roommate have a right to know that some stranger is staying in their home? Then it’s further explained that their roommate doesn’t agree with Couchsurfing, and they don’t want them to know. Awkward! 

6. The Jaded

The poor jaded people. I really empathize with them after hearing their stories. These are the early adopters who have seen the community changing and now have to put up with the “Your Highness,” moochers, and creepers. They rarely go on Couchsurfing anymore because their experiences are more often a waste of time for them because the people no longer lack sincerity. I guess this is what happens when a community gets too big. You get a lot more sour apples that ruin it for the bunch.

7. The Small Percentage of Cool People

This is the tiny percentage of cool people left in the Couchsurfing community. They’re the type who bring you a little housewarming gift as thanks for allowing them to stay at your place, offer to take on house chores or even cook you a delicious meal. Anything they can do to show gratitude. You exchange interesting stories, lots of laughs, and the type you’ll find yourself wanting to be lifelong friends with. Or if not lifelong friends, a great experience to add to the memory book with a full belly. The experience was a win-win for everybody.

I’ve been lucky enough to spend the last month with the Wicked Diving Komodo team working on my certifications from Advanced to Divemaster. It was nearly 15 years (yes, that dates me!) since my last dive and now I get to immerse myself fully at one of the greatest dive locations in the world (raise the roof!).

Because it had been so long since I’ve been back in the diver life, I had a lot of questions. What is a BCD and regulator again?? Octo-what?? I hope I don’t have any trouble equalizing. But then one of Labuan Bajo’s finest instructors, Marsel, introduced me to the underwater world again with a few simple steps in a refresher course, and since I put my mask on the right way, I knew I was off to a great start!

Our first dive was in Siaba Basar, also nicknamed Turtle City, and it was pretty easy-peasy for beginners. I’m feeling like a natural. Fins are appropriately placed on both feet, and I remembered how to breathe without using my nose again. We saw a some tropical fish and my confidence is up. In other words, I got this! Like a true champ.

Now that I’m feeling all mermaid status, it was time to step up our skills and visit a more interesting site – one with [drum rolls] MANTAS! I’ve never seen mantas before, so I know this is going to be freaking awesome!

On our way to our second dive, I hear Ilham, one of the other dive guides, screaming, “Whaaaale shark!!!” We all run to the side of the upper deck and see a baby whale shark swimming next to the boat. “Stop the boat!” The guides grabbed their masks and then jumped into the water without hesitation. I’m watching from above and then I see other divers following suit. I don’t want to miss out on this opportunity and jump on the whale shark party train with only my mask being able to see it for the last 10 seconds before it drifted deeper into the sea.

At this point, we’re feeling ecstatic. We get back onto the boat and continue to our second dive site before mantas came flying out of the water from a short distance away. Now I’m even more mindblown. What an incredible thing to witness and we’re not even in the water yet! This is surely a good sign.

Everyone is pumped and eager to get in. Andreas, one of our other dive instructors, was trying to give us a dive briefing, but we couldn’t help but take our attention off of him to see the mantas flying from different directions. But once he said the sooner we get through the briefing, the sooner we can see these mantas underwater, he had our undivided attention.

The second dive was at Makasar Reef that is known for being a cleaning station for Mantas. It started off with a light drift dive. I’m trying to be cool and mimick Marsel’s perfect buoyancy looking ever so relaxed and keeping my arms in place instead of like an amateur doggy paddling under water. I think I did okay!

We passed along some brown bamboo sharks, sweet lips, Little Nemo, and even unicorn fish – but it wasn’t until we saw four mantas between 3-4 meters circling that we decided to lay low and observe these majestic creatures for about 10 minutes.

Nothing compares to the very first time seeing a manta ray – especially when it hovers so close above you that it could touch you. I remember being in awe as we watched these guys get closer and closer to us, one of them even spouting out something from it’s rear in sets! I’ll let your imagination run wild with that one. At that point, aside from nature’s sense of humor, I knew I was exactly where I needed to be. No other world existed but this one at this very moment.

We have one more dive for the day, and we ended it at Tatawa Besar. This was another low-key drift dive with plenty of coral to see. We saw both white tip and black tip sharks, Hawksbill turtles, and many other great marine life. A nice and relaxing way to end the day after being filled with so much excitement as we chase the sunset back to Labuan Bajo.

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