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October 2001 Vol. 16, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Dive Travel in These Turbulent Times

random thoughts as we go to press

from the October, 2001 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

I, like you, have been deeply affected by the events on September 11 and the aftermath. They have touched everyone personally and tragically, and will remain with us throughout our lives.

By now, each of us has thought about what it means personally and what our lives will be like in the future. For us divers, our travel is no doubt affected. While some of my friends have continued with their travel plans, many have postponed. Others have stopped planning. They just don’t want to leave home.

Besides the lessened desire to travel, economic concerns are widespread. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost jobs, an uncountable number of others are worried, and every one’s wealth, big or small, has shrunk.

Many dive operators are suffering, not only from cancellations, but from a rapid drop in future bookings. Those in the Red Sea, Indonesia and other potential trouble spots may suffer the most. Others that are heavily financed or otherwise marginal will close their doors, victims of the attacks thousands of miles from their shores.

Travelers are avoiding countries with a large Muslim population such as Indonesia (as I write this, some hotels have been visited by radicals looking for Americans to threaten). Egypt and Israel are high on the list of countries to avoid.

But, while the chances that I’ll get harmed may be a tad greater than they’ve been, they don’t worry me. Terrorists have threatened travelers as long as I’ve been island hopping. And, just eighteen months ago divers were kidnapped in Sipadan, spirited away to the Phillippines and held hostage. In mid-September, a marine biologist and diver was kidnapped in the Philippines, escaping a short time later. And, reportedly boats with European divers reportedly have been accosted by pirates in the Indian Ocean. Still, I see my chances of being caught up in this as negligible (with the caveat that as I write, America has made no response to the terrorists).

In fact, the normal risks of international travel are greater than what bin Laden’s gang will cook up for me. Some planes I’ve been on in third world countries were barely airworthy and, I suspect, that would apply to some of the pilots. A couple of tourists were murdered within months of each other in Bonaire a decade ago, and today, cars are routinely rifled. So what? The towns of Papua New Guinea are often compared with the Old West because of the “rascals.” Last year locals visited Loloata resort and, at gunpoint, cleaned out the guests. Dive boats can sink, which is what happened earlier this year to the Scuba Cat in Kauai (leaving a dozen divers in the water to be rescued) and a Cozumel boat, that left our writer Doc Vikingo and others with a two-mile swim to shore.

For the moment, I am going to believe that as a traveler, I’m as safe as ever, as long as I select my destinations wisely and keep my eyes open. But, where can we travel safely? Do we select destinations with a strong American or “Western” presence, such as Micronesia, the Virgin Islands, or Australia? Shall we stay in the Caribbean and Central America or venture off to Fiji (where someone burned down a Muslim temple)? Do we stay close to home, tiptoeing to Florida, Baja, California, or the Flower Gardens of Texas? Do we worry about live-aboards because they’re an easy mark for terrorists at sea?

Actually, I’d feel safe at any of these venues, including live-aboards, as long as they were outside potenafter tially troubled areas.

And, I’d look for bargains. Many dive operations are offering great deals just to survive. Hotels are cutting rates as much as 50 percent. For big ticket live-aboards, I’d especially shop around, even negotiate.

I’ll keep in mind that security policies will vary from airport to airport, island to island, and country to count ry. While rules will be stringent, some will be Draconian, enforced occasionally by self-important people who will wave their new found authority in my face. But I will relax, smile and do what they say without complaint.

As for travel insurance, I know it won’t apply if I get nervous and cancel a trip. In the last year, we have published two articles about how difficult it is to apply it to such vague notions as terrorism. And now, that we are on notice, it will be even more difficult, unless the destination to which we are headed is under attack. But Ido know it will cover me if my travel agent, resort or airline file for bankruptcy.

As for Undercurrent, this issue was ready for print on September 11. I set it aside to consider its content. I thought, “Should I drop the Truk Lagoon story in favor of a piece on The Bahamas that I have in the hopper?” Nope, those flights to Truk go through Hawaii and Guam, airports that should be as safe as they come. What about the piece on Cuba? Well, it might be the safest haven anywhere. While the US government has been cracking down on travel by American citizens to Cuba, the enforcers probably have better things to worry about for now. So, our issue is as relevant as it can be, considering the tragic events.

I hope you can now reclaim your lives and enjoy, as best you can, the fruits of a good dive trip. Frankly, as I write this, I’m not yet ready to leave home. However, by the time you read it, I’ll be laying plans for my next adventure, but with a heart still heavy. And full awareness that other shoes will surely drop.

— Ben

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