Patorikku

Patrick Dahm – That German-Singapore Lawyer

red crab

The Shire of Christmas Island

TIt was time for me to go diving again, so I betook myself to Christ­mas Island, this extern­al ter­rit­ory of Aus­tralia in the Indi­an Ocean. Under water I encountered sharks, dol­phins and oth­er creatures of the sea. Above water I went hik­ing, climb­ing and bird­watch­ing in hon­our of the words of someone very dear to me: ‘Take many pic­tures, do many things you don’t get to do in Singa­pore and remem­ber each and every one of them.’

Christmas Island

Mah hood

Adven­tur­ous days indeed, but the many things I don’t (or hardly) get to do in Singa­pore include enjoy­ing tran­quil­lity. Now, you can find calmness in Singa­pore, say, to read and med­it­ate. But you either have to live some­where nice and quiet or you have to know where to look. But nev­er have I been sit­ting on the lawn, look­ing at the Indi­an Ocean, in the com­pany of chick­ens.

Best trip ever.

And yes, I took many pic­tures.

Christmas Island

Diving

For want of a water­proof cam­era I couldn’t take pic­tures under the sea, but there’s a short video of my dives to places with illus­tri­ous names such as Coconut Point, Daniel Roux Cave, Lost Lake Cave, Thun­der­cliff Dome or The Morgue (hee hee). My favour­ite spot was Per­pen­dic­u­lar Wall, or should I say mile as we covered a great dis­tance just by drift­ing in the cur­rent. Think of a vast under­wa­ter moun­tain face with lots of inter­est­ing over­hangs. The foot­age was taken by Inge, who was in my diving group for the bet­ter part of a week. Which means (most of) her dives were mine and (most of) what she describes in her blog was exper­i­enced by me too. No idea where the music in her video comes from, though, I didn’t hear that down there.

Christmas IslandThe first week of my stay I was doing two to three dives per day, and some open-water snor­kelling from the boat in-between. I nev­er thought I’d even men­tion that. Because when you scuba dive to reefs and caves and ship­wrecks, why would you both­er about snor­kelling at the sur­face, right? Well, on the third day I swam cor­rec­ted, and that was because of the sharks.

Sharks!’

I had seen a lazy leo­pard shark once before, one and a half years ago, and I’d been super-happy about that. And while diving here, I had already seen from dis­tance grey reef, white­tip reef and sil­ver­tip sharks passing by. But I had not ima­gined what would hap­pen while snor­kelling.

Dur­ing a sur­face inter­val Hiro, one of the diving instruct­ors and our skip­per on that day, took us to this spot where, if I remem­ber cor­rectly, fish­er­men throw offal into the water. Which attracts pred­at­ory fish.

True enough, when we reached the place you could see dozens of giant tre­val­lies from the boat. They weren’t massive, but many. Now, adult giant tre­val­lies are dark in col­our, almost black. Per­haps that’s why I didn’t see a bet­ter cam­ou­flaged creature when I jumped into the water. It so happened that I was ready a few moments before the oth­ers, so I was the first one in. Adjus­ted the snorkel and put my head under water, expect­ing to see up close these dark mack­er­els that are giant tre­val­lies.

Instead I was eye­ball to eye­ball with a silky shark. Lit­er­ally. It couldn’t have been closer. Had I almost jumped on its head or had it approached me, fast, when it saw me plunge into the water? It was one and a half to two metres. I could have touched it.

There were five or six of them circ­ling around me, estim­ated dis­tance one to five metres. I was floored and remem­ber hav­ing pro­found thoughts like ‘Oh wow. Oh boy. Oh wow.’

Then the close-up shark put some dis­tance between itself and me. I put my head out of the water and let my fel­low divers know. As they joined me in the water, the silkies kept a great­er dis­tance, but they were still circ­ling around us and occa­sion­ally came closer (I think Inge caught one of them on video in seconds 20 to 33).

It was a stun­ning exper­i­ence.

Instructors

Hiro and his wife Sandy are the man­agers of the diving centre on the island. Dave is/was an instruct­or there; I take it he’s on his way to Malta already.

Christmas Island

Dave is awe­some

Wal­ter, who came over for a few dives with us, is the own­er. Their under­wa­ter con­sump­tion of breath­ing gas is next to noth­ing. I know because I heard their stats. And one time, dur­ing an elev­en-minute decom­pres­sion stop at six metres, I saw for myself as Hiro was shar­ing his air with me. Thank you, Hiro, much obliged. And sorry.

But the real boss is Cav. Cav doesn’t breathe under­wa­ter at all.

Solo Hikes

I was diving so much for the bet­ter part of my first days on the island that I was down­right exhausted when I came back home. I went explor­ing the vicin­ity of my place a bit, but not for long. Each night I slept like a log. It’s so unbe­liev­ably quiet.

As a con­sequence it wasn’t before day five till I ven­tured out a bit farther, down­hill Set­tle­ment to Fly­ing Fish Cove and uphill again to Tai Jin House, the ori­gin­al home of the admin­is­trat­or of the island, and bey­ond. That’s when at last I saw the red crabs that Christ­mas Island is fam­ous for. But as soon as I did see them, they were every­where. In the forest, because they’re land crabs. Checked out some cliffs too, care­fully. First bird sight­ings on day five as well.

Christmas Island

A golden bosun

Anoth­er day, out on my own again, I went to Daniel Roux Cave in the morn­ing, but tak­ing it on from above this time. As inter­est­ing as that was, what will stick in my memory was this hel­luva speed climb up a vol­can­ite hill, all rocks and jungle and more rocks, along some fuel pipes, as fast as I could, as if some­thing was chas­ing me or wait­ing for me at the top, but really only in search of that cave, which as it turned out wasn’t even there because I had taken a wrong turn in the woods! When I reached the hill­top or plat­eau or whatever, I sank to my knees, lit­er­ally. Remem­ber­ing the days of my nation­al ser­vice I wondered what had happened to my pledge nev­er to exhaust myself like that again. Then I had to climb down.

In the after­noon I hiked from Set­tle­ment almost to the defunct resort and back. It was only at night that I real­ised I had been strid­ing for sev­en hours straight that day. Ah, the chaf­ing. You’re a fool, Patrick.

Guided Tours

Apart from these solo runs I went on guided tours with Lisa and John. Lisa runs this tour agency that can also take care of your air tick­et, John is one of her guides who can tell you the Lat­in name of everything organ­ic. Places vis­ited by four-wheel drive vehicle and on foot have evoc­at­ive names such as The Dales, Hugh’s Dale Water­fall, The Blowholes or Mar­garet Knoll Lookout. Beaches, I was told, are named after women and girls who were lost to the sea there. Dolly Beach, Greta Beach, Lily Beach. No joke.

Birdwatching

Anoth­er tour I went on was a per­son­al­ised bird­watch­ing trip with Kirsty, who oper­ates a busi­ness ded­ic­ated to pho­to­graphy with her hus­band Jon. I’ve taken hun­dreds of pic­tures of birds that day, but not many of them are accept­able. Why must the pret­ti­est birds be so fast? Kirsty and Jon, how­ever, take amaz­ing pho­tos. A few of them are on dis­play on their web­site.

Christmas Island

My Personal Hobbiton

What else? Oh, only everything I needed for a hol­i­day.

I’ve men­tioned read­ing and med­it­at­ing sur­roun­ded by chick­en. It was so relax­ing to read this intro­duc­tion to anthro­po­logy that had been lying around unread for a year. And to start read­ing The Sil­maril­lion, again, revis­it­ing my own hand­writ­ten notes from when I had read it the first time, hrrm­mty-six years ago.

I didn’t even mind run­ning into the man-sized spider web that one atter­cop had woven between two trees.

Sleep­ing in. Doing noth­ing. Med­it­ating on the lawn in front of the house. Chat­ting with my neigh­bours and hosts Tanja and Chris, who let their gues­t­house, Sea Spray Villa, to hol­i­day makers. Help­ing their daugh­ter Poppy and her friend pick mul­ber­ries, because I’m taller and could reach high­er into the tree. Eat­ing too much pasta for din­ner. Watch­ing Aus­trali­an com­mer­cial TV, eighty per cent of which con­sists of com­mer­cials for lawn mowers, util­ity vehicles and roof tilers. Sit­ting on the ver­anda after dark, listen­ing to utmost silence, look­ing at where you would see the motion­less sea were the night not so black about you. Occa­sion­ally, walk­ing over to the Golden Bosun, a pub­lic house, for a Fat Yak.

People

Which brings me to the islanders. What a friendly lot. I haven’t seen, heard or felt a single piece of malice. Instead, Aus­trali­an neigh­bour­li­ness and men­tal­ity, which is more robust than, say, the Singa­por­ean one, but that takes my fancy. Exper­i­en­cing Christ­mas kind­ness instead of CBD cyn­icism was refresh­ing to the max. Example? There’s a round­about in Fly­ing Fish Cove. By the road­side there are black­boards where people announce the next toy exchange. Or leave mes­sages like ‘To who­ever repaired the bench at the pic­nic table – THANK YOU!’ They might also ask every­one to be on the look-out for this aged gen­tle­man vis­it­ing the island who’s a bit too adven­tur­ous for his age and own good. Or advert­ise news such as ‘Tonight roast beef at Café 1888’.

Christ­mas Islanders are so few in num­ber, it feels like you meet all of them when there’s a night mar­ket. Or when the plane arrives on Sat­urday, or on sim­il­ar occa­sions when people gath­er for social­ity. The rest can be met at the super­mar­ket when open.

This is the kind of place where you don’t lock the doors but leave the car keys in the igni­tion. Every­one says hello when they see you. The second time this hap­pens, they know your name.

Crabs

Landscape and Other Things

Birds

This Happened

On the eve of my depar­ture I went on a farewell walk. And lo, right in front of me a red crab was cross­ing the road, as if to come over to say good­bye. I waited for him, and for a while my crab buddy and I were walk­ing slowly side by side as a pink and blue even­ing sky turned dark blue and the stars came out. Then he turned into the bushes and we par­ted, he to go his way and I mine.

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4 Comments

  1. Anouchka Gueye

    Nice shoots! Nice exper­i­ence!

  2. Hi Patrick,

    nice post, and excel­lent pho­tos! It was fun diving with you, but mind your com­puter! 😉 Christ­mas Island is a beau­ti­ful place, and the people are friendly… I will be back in Decem­ber, and with luck, see the crab migra­tion. I’ll also bring my hus­band, there is a lot to see and do on the island apart from diving.

    As for the music under­ly­ing my Xmas dive slide show – this is just one of the default tunes com­ing with iMovies. I would love to add my own music selec­tion to a video, but I can’t do it from the iPad. I could do it at home, but then if I would use music by vari­ous artists, I sus­pect I would thereby com­mit mul­tiple copy­right viol­a­tions… I would appre­ci­ate some leg­al advice 😉

    • Patorikku

      Thanks, Inge. I’m usu­ally averse to obey­ing a com­puter or any­thing that beeps, but now I under­stand this is its way of telling me some­thing import­ant down there.

      It’s still a while but I’m sure you and hubby are going to have a great time later this year. I look for­ward to read­ing all about it. 🙂

      As for care­free use of oth­er people’s music, you might want to check out the Free Music Archive.

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