My friend Annelise and I have been friends for years, and we’ve been wi-fi addicts for at least as long. We met while interning together at a Danish newspaper. We quickly bonded over our love of well-written journalism, all things French, and Facebook’s Messenger app.
We have been thankful for the internet allowing us to stay in touch; we’ve lived in different countries for the bulk of our friendship. But at some point we realized our wi-fi addiction might have gotten a little out of hand. I think the realization came when we passed 60,000 messages in the aforementioned Messenger app.
We decided to confront our addiction. We failed miserably.
Our first attempt was a weekend on Bornholm, my childhood island in the Baltic Sea. We’d agreed to go on a digital detox while we were there; Annelise was suffering from a concussion and got a terrible headache whenever she looked at a screen, and I wanted to play hard to get with a guy who wasn’t supposed to know I was heedlessly in love with him. Our detox lasted less than 12 hours, and then we caved in and dug out our phones.
Our second attempt was as ill fated. We met up in Paris for a weekend of wine and wi-fi-lessness, but predictably ended up focusing on the wine and forgetting that we weren’t supposed to go online; we shared and swiped and chatted away. That’s why we hesitated but didn’t falter when we fell in love with the idea of a live-aboard in the remote Komodo National Park of Indonesia, home to the famed Komodo dragons and some of the world’s best dive sites.
“There won’t be any wi-fi. For, like, days. So we’d have to be OK with that,” I told Annelise (on the Messenger app).
“It’ll be good for us. And we’ll be fine with a phone call a day to our boyfriends,” she responded.
We accepted the challenge and booked the tickets. Then we flew to the tiny airport of Labuan Bajo – by way of Abu Dhabi, Jakarta and Bali –and went to the dive centre to check in. We were frantically checking emails, responding to social media messages and calling our sweethearts before boarding the boat.
The first ten hours were easy; we were sailing toward a boat anchored in a remote part of the national park, stopping to dive on the way. We dived with mythical dugongs, snorkelled with giant manta rays that were more than five metres wide, and swam besides the boat in the turquoise waters. Then we got close to the boat where we’d spend the next days.
„OK, time to call your mothers and tell them they shouldn’t worry if they can’t reach you on text or phone,“ the chipper instructor said. We looked at one another with shock; surely she must be joking.
„What do you mean? Surely we can call, can’t we?“ I asked.
She shook her head.
“Nope. Better send them ‘I’ll-be-online-again-in-three-days’ texts now,” she said.
The reality sank in as our connection signals dropped. We sent the texts and looked around us. Besides the boat there wasn’t a single sign of humans ever having been here; all we could see was the ocean, the dark green jungle-clad mountains, and the blue sky.
On the live-aboard boat we were met by a group of happy divers, most of them backpacking around Asia with their iPads, smartphones and GoPros on month-long trips, and an Italian dive instructor. He laughed when he saw us climbing around the boat with our arms outstretched to try and find a phone signal; he lived on the wi-fi- and signal-less boat for months at a time.
The next morning we were up before the sun. We were sitting on the rail of a wooden boat, weighed down by our diving equipment, silently watching the dark sky over us slowly brighten. The landscape surrounding us started to change as we made our way towards sunrise and our destination, the day’s first dive site.
The ocean grew lighter, from a dark blue to bright turquoise, and the islands surrounding us transitioned from remote, shadow-like silhouettes into clearer visions. All of a sudden we could make out their deserted beaches, softly rolling hills and jagged mountain rims.
As the captain turned off the motor and our dive instructor Andrea signalled to us to get ready, the day’s first rays of sunshine shot over the horizon. Everyone oohed and aahed.
“See? The world is beautiful even when you don’t see it through the screen of a camera,” he said. I discreetly hid my DSLR camera behind my back; I had a travel story to file.
”One last thing,” he said while putting on his dive mask. ”If you get separated from the group and have to make an emergency ascent, then don’t swim over to that island. It’s where the Komodo dragons live.”
He put the regulator in his mouth and disappeared over the railing of the boat before he could hear one of the divers ask if he was joking. He wasn’t; after all, we were diving in the national park sharing its name with the world’s biggest living lizards.
The rest of us looked at each other with varying degrees of horror. We’d been told we’d need to descend fast or miss the dive, as the current is strong and might grab us. One diver decided to skip the dive; the rest of us gave the captain the ’OK’ sign and tumbled over the railing in a back-roll entry.
The dive was worth the early rise; there were giant groupers, clusters of silvery barracudas and sharks everywhere. The instructor signalled at us to follow him, and we were hovering over the coral reef as swarms of sharks swam by. Some of the other divers were holding GoPros, but when the sharks passed for the first time I noticed something interesting; I no longer had the urge to photograph the sharks and share my experience on social media. I was happy to experience them in real time, sharing the experience only with the people who were with me on the dive boat, at least until I’d be back on land and back online again a few days later.
When we got back on the boat again, high from the dive and the compulsory sugary post-dive breakfast, I heard a familiar pling. We were closer to the mainland, and a message had found its way to to my smartphone. I checked it; my boyfriend was checking in, wishing me a good day of diving.
„You’ll have to hurry up if you want to answer it, we’re sailing away from the telephone poles,“ the dive instructor said.
I put my phone back in my dry bag and started preparing my equipment for the next dive.
„It’s OK, I think I’ll wait. We’ll already be back on land the day after tomorrow.“
Alle Bilder: Michelle Arrouas