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The definition of serenity. Photo by Hannah Richter (2015/16 Semester Photo Contest Finalist), Indonesia Semester.

Going with the Flow in Banyuwangi

I counted to three then, after a moment of hesitation, jumped into the water. I closed my eyes as I hit the surface out of routine, forgetting I was wearing a mask. I found my bearings quickly and opened my eyes to the deep blue of the Banyuwangi ocean. A swarm of blue and yellow fish sped by our group, rushing towards the bread a few tourists were throwing into the water. I pulled my head up above water and immediately started taking photos with Jacqueline’s camera, wanting to document the excitement and vibrancy of life.

Our first day snorkeling was slightly chaotic for me: I couldn’t figure out how to breathe through my snorkel without eventually inhaling salt water and feared that I would kick and damage the coral by accident. I didn’t think I would have an issue with snorkeling, but as we followed a guide east to find the coral reef, my head began to hurt and anxious thoughts ran through my mind. That discomfort and worry faded away as soon as we reached the reefs; I was engrossed in the elaborate structures of coral, pulsing with rainbow colored fish. Memories of when I snorkeled and scuba dived years ago came back to me with my family, and I felt so grateful to have another opportunity to experience this disappearing underwater universe.

The second day of snorkeling was even better; I consulted Olivia about my mask complications and learned I was not “exhaling sharply” to push the saltwater out of the air tube. That morning we picked up trash from a nearby island, then in the afternoon, snorkeled while learning about sustainable fishing techniques. We walked out to the coral reef from the shore this time. Gradually, the ocean floor became deeper and small clumps of coral dotted the sand, until the bottom dropped off. The water at the surface changed from crystal blue to a navy color, and the coral stretched down for hundreds of feet with sea urchins spiking the landscape. I loved the way the underwater life seemed to continue on forever, building on top of itself, and time faded away as we observed the ecosystem.

We returned to the same reef as the first day on the third day. This time, I was confident with my mask and snorkel and followed the guide with no fear of swallowing salt water. He took us to the other side of the raft, more towards where new coral reefs were growing that BISA Indonesia, the non-profit we were touring with, and other groups planted. As the group swam forward, I stretched out my arms, fully buoyant, and let the current take me towards the coral. I felt like I was floating, steered by just my will and the waves. I let go of my worries and absorbed myself once again in the underwater world.

In a way, snorkeling is like my experience on Bridge Year so far. I am floating in a new land, a place that I am just starting to understand and interact with. The coral is the sambal I’ve tried with almost every meal, the interactions I’ve had with locals, and the midnight hike up Ijen Crater. My time has been exciting in every way, occasionally uncomfortable, and somewhat daunting at first. I hesitate and hold back, but then I allow the currents take me and become engrossed in the experience.

Later that evening, while waiting for dinner, the group was hanging out and listening to music together in a canopy. It was a full moon that night, and Elliott, Jasmine, and I took a small detour to the ocean before dinner to catch a look at it. I didn’t turn off the speaker, letting  Daniel Caesar’s Streetcar play out with the sound of the waves crashing. His words stuck with me for the rest of the night: “All the streetlights, glowing, happen to be just like moments, passing, in front of me… See, I know my destination, I’m just not there…”

I realized I don’t know my destination on this journey. I hope to reach a place of self-growth, but for once in my life, I don’t know really where I’m heading. For once in my life, though, I am comfortable with that fact. I am letting the current take me in a new direction, trusting that I’ll come upon a coral reef.