Divers have been called the most intrepid of travelers. Just to submerge ourselves on a never-before-dived reef, we journey to more far-flung places, undergo more stress about the arrival (or not) of our copious baggage and endure more frightening landings and takeoffs from airstrips the FAA wouldn’t even think about certifying than any other group of folks pursuing a recreational activity.
Or, we did.
Two bombs exploded on July 17th in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, a smog-choked city of some 20 million people, far from the archipelago’s stellar dive destinations. A third bomb, found later in a shopping mall, did not explode. The terrorists targeted two well-known western hotels, the Marriott and the Ritz Carlton. Nine people died and over 50 were injured.
The emails, text messages, and phone calls started the next day. For weeks, we have been communicating with folks who have booked a dive trip to Indonesia, or were thinking about coming here to dive. All of them were worried about possible terrorist activity and the chance they might be caught in the crossfire. This is a delicate matter, and one that we’ve thought about long and hard. In a way, it’s sort of like giving medical advice if you’re not a doctor. We hesitate to “prescribe” because we don’t want to be the one who says, “It’s perfectly safe. Come on.” And then the unthinkable happens, like it did in 2005 on a beach in Bali while a few hundred tourists were eating grilled fish and watching the sunset. Do you tell people that it is perfectly safe to travel to a country where terrorists operate? Perhaps a better question is, where in the world can you go and be 100% sure that there will be no terrorist activity, no civil wars or coups like the ones that shut down tourism, including diving, in Fiji and the Solomon Islands in recent years?
Often we have to fight back the desire to point out that there is a much larger chance of dying on the freeway than in a terrorist attack. We just state the facts: Your Jakarta stopover hotel is far from the downtown hotels, you might want to reconsider your plan to go out clubbing during the wee hours to one of Kuta’s infamous bars, or, remember, the dinner excursion to sunset beach is optional. We recommend that people do what they need to do to feel safe and comfortable about traveling so far from home. Still, we wonder if perceived fear isn’t the worst kind, and, in a way, more disturbing than the real thing.
It’s not that we’re unsympathetic to the client’s fears. We understand that we all live in a worsening state of fear brought on by an onslaught of news reports, flashing alert signs that run across the bottom of the TV screen, and various subliminal suggestions inserted into so-called “entertainment”, whether it be video games or summer movies. But, once you’ve suffered through the indignities of the airport security checks, isn’t taking a dive trip the chance to get away from all of that? Isn’t it an opportunity not to think about terrorism, or the stock market or whatever, and just concentrate on the reef for a couple of weeks? Perhaps the challenge is to analyze the situation in the absence of fear, and from that basis decide whether to travel or not. (For the record: we are NOT against security checks, we welcome them in fact, we just dislike the way the officers treat the general traveling public.)
By the way, the day the Indonesian police announced they had caught and killed the bomber, Noordin, (also said to be the mastermind behind the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings which almost destroyed that island’s tourism industry), the messages stopped coming. And, I just heard that one of Bali’s biggest selling T-shirts has “F–K TERRORISTS” emblazoned on the front.
We live in a world whose great natural beauty has been compromised by greed, disrespect, and inconceivable rage and violence. Scuba divers are among the fortunate few who revel in some of the planet’s last remaining wildernesses, a very real antidote to what ails the planet. Our advice? Give into fear only when it is real and plausible. Choose your destinations and plan your trip with care. Safe travels.