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MatthewAddison

Traveling with the pet elephant

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I’m writing this while sitting in an internet cafe in Sanur, Bali, reflecting on the past three weeks traveling throughout Indonesia with what I now refer to as my pet elephant: 160 Kilos of rebreather support and photographic gear.

To begin the story correctly and give you the proper context, I had decided some time ago to join the Wakatobi Film Festival. Since traveling this far for only two weeks seemed less than adequate, I enjoined two other trips around Wakatobi. Raja Ampat before, Layang Layang, Malaysia after.

Then I made the fateful decision to bring along my rebreather as I would be underwater for so much time, and a rebreather is a photographers’ best friend.

I began calling around and settled on MV Pindito for Raja Ampat and the Layang Layang decision was easy as there is only one place to stay and dive on that man-made island/naval base.

The owner of Pindito, Edi Frommenwiler was extremely helpful in securing the oxygen to feed the rebreather but diving grade CO2 absorbent was not to be had. So I added a 40 lb. keg of Sodasorb to my baggage list. The issue of pumping the O2 up to 3000 psi dictated I also bring my single stage Haskel booster. This is the mini booster, weighing in at 40 pounds, adding in a case and plumbing, ended up tipping the scales at 48lbs. I toyed with the idea of buying the new(er) Haskel “Baby†booster which coincidentally weighs about as much as a health newborn, but the added $2000+ investment seemed silly (at the time). The rebreather, i know from previous travels, encased with spares and bottles is 98lbs.

Then of course came the soft bag. OC stuff (in case I killed the breather), wetsuit, fins etc, and a few shorts & shirts- 66lbs. Last but certainly not least was the monster U/W photo kit box containing 1 housing, 3 ports, 2 new S & S 250’s (also each weighing in at newborn status) and all the other “stuff†- 78lbs.

5 boxes of various shapes and sizes were stuffed into the airport van and off I went to Tom Bradley Terminal at LAX, confident in my weights and measures.

I’ll just say right here that my girlfriend’s scale is a bold faced liar. About 5 pounds under but I’ll let you tell her that while I’m out of the country.

EVA airlines weighed (accurately) my 5 items and the girl at the counter called over the shift supervisor with a concerned look on her face. Some quick math and the supervisor graciously told me he would only charge me 100 kilos excess, as more would put me in some class of baggage I wouldn’t want to be in.

I really scored at the security screening, which is where I usually do the most sweating. A fellow SCUBA diver was on supervisory duty and the only questions were about how the rebreather works, what it feels like, etc. For those of you who have never seen a Haskel booster pump, to the uninitiated TSA person, it positively screams “BOMBâ€. I have never gotten the Haskel through TSA without serious song and dance, once being asked to “take it apart†for inspection. Since I know it has many moving parts and don’t know what any of them do, that won’t happen. In this case, even the keg of absorbent wasn’t questioned. Wow!

Arriving in Denpassar is where I paid the devil for my luck at TSA stateside. All my bags arrived and I wheeled them over for customs inspection.

The sheer size of the boxes and the strange pail caused immediate agitation. The young buck who initially waived me over, went and found another official with a larger hat and more braids on his shoulders.

The chief inspector asked me about the pail, so I confidently showed him the Material Safety Data Sheet and described what the contents were used for. He handed off the sheet to his underling and opened up the rebreather box, nodded and shut the lid. Then he did the same with the photo box and my carry-on camera bag (3 bodies, 5 lenses, strobe). “how much does all this cost?†he asked me. “Coolâ€, I thought, “a fellow photographer perhaps.†I gave him a low-ball figure whereupon he said “Come with me, please.†I’ve seen enough foreign travel movies to know that “Come with me, please†uttered by a Customs official is never, ever a positive thing.

We went into an office engulfed in clove cigarette smoke, the young official sat down to a computer with the MSDS and the chief got to work on a calculator. While a calculator is an evil omen, I took it as a sign that I wasn’t going to be sitting in a holding cell while they figured out if I had broken any laws by bringing so much weight onto their lands. The young official asked me if the stuff in the pail went by any other name, so I told him to try “soda limeâ€. That rang the bell and he printed out a sheet which he handed off to the chief and left the room.

The chief informed me that it was OK to bring the pail into Indonesia but I would have to pay an import tax of 120,000 rupiahs ($15.00). About the photographic gear, because I had so much, I would have to leave a deposit of 11,400.00... USA currency.

What does a traveller do with that statement?

Once clarified that he was indeed talking Uncle Sam greenbacks, I informed him I had only brought $2,000.00 US with me for spending in his country and while I could give him that, I would have to come live with his family and clean his house to pay for my food. Attempts at humor can be a dangerous thing in foreign lands, especially with government officials, but I was backed into a corner and know in my heart of hearts if I somehow managed to hand over $11,000.00, I’d never see it again. No offense intended.

Thankfully the pathetic joke broke the ice. He smiled and told me that his wife would kill me with work. I could go, but must pay the 120,000 rupiah import duty for the sorb.

Travel worn and a bit unravelled, I settled into my Sanur hotel for a day of R & R before heading off to Sorong for 11 days aboard Pindito.

My pet elephant followed me from Denpassar to Manado, Manado to Makassar and finally Makassar to Sorong, costing me about 1,300,000 rupiahs for each leg of the journey. Fortunately, once accepted into the country, other than the hemorrhaging of the wallet and a few disbelieving looks from the ticket agents as I methodically plunked each box on the scale, the drama was minimal. I do remember, somewhat fondly, the days when one could bargain down the price to be paid per kilo but now, unless you have a local travel assistant at the airport aiding and abetting, there is no bargaining. Oh, and bring lots of rupiahs. The farther you are from the big city lights, the less likely it is they take plastic. Makassar and Sorong, for example.

I was met in Sorong by Mike, the cruise director for Pindito, and ran into an old friend from another Iran Jaya Pindih boat, Seahorse. We arrived on the boat and settled in for a good rest after a short introduction to the operation of the vessel.

So much has been written these past few years about diving the Iran Jaya area so i will not bore you with my take on it, other than to say it is worth the travel.

The Pindito is not a true Pindih boat in design, so is a spacious and comfortable vessel and showed its great design by its low pitch and roll in the one night of less than perfect seas we experienced.

The crew were wonderful, cheerful and gave us unintentional evening concerts of traditional Indonesian songs, the melodies drifting quietly from the back deck to the foredeck where the guests spent their after dinner social hours. I’m sure Edi Frommenwiler hired his crew for their seamanship, but they also harmonized impressively when the anchor was resting in sand.

The diving was always well organized and Mike’s evening briefings, alerting us to the next days plans kept us feeling informed and never rushed or caught unaware.

We had one day of land excursions which was a welcome break from the diving. We explored some beautiful caves, cruised the pearl farms and had some knock-about fun on the zodiacs, with Adrian our zodiac pilot finally showing his true need for speed as he flew around the mazes of small islands, outcroppings and sand bars with a mischievous glint in his smiling eyes. Mike told me later when I mentioned the thrilling ride that it is continual battle to keep the zodiac crews from making every ride to the dive sites a money bet. But if Mike were to lose that battle, my money is on Adrian!

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Thanks Matthew! I don't feel near as bad hauling my now meager 100 lbs of cameras and gear around. So was it worth it hauling the rebreather? Have fun, dive safe.

 

Steve

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Great story, and as Steve said, makes me feel guilty about b%^ching about lugging around my 150 lbs or so I usually have between carry on and checked luggage.

 

How'd the shooting go?

Edited by TheRealDrew

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As an avid rebreather diver, the union forces me to say, "oh, absolutely!" Insofar as I am combining a bunch of trips into one longer journey I must concur with the party line. However I always feel like this must be similar to Open Circuit foreign travel in the 1960's. "What, you didn't bring a compressor? So sorry, no dive."

Fortunately I can tell you a new day is dawning for the rebreather diver. I am seeing more places offering the consumables and tanks on site, so one day my rebreather box will weigh just slightly more than my OC bag.

I also find that while diving a rebreather in places where the marine life is less used to seeing us strange, noisy, clumsy creatures, I get less "Fish Ass" portraits and the bigger animals allow me to get closer before they bravely run away.

 

Thanks Matthew! I don't feel near as bad hauling my now meager 100 lbs of cameras and gear around. So was it worth it hauling the rebreather? Have fun, dive safe.

 

Steve

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Matthew

Thanks for the travelogue. FYI, sorb lime is available in Bali. You pay a premium for it but Olivier in Kerobokan (can't remember the name of his ops) has it. AFAIK, he is one of 2 rebreather course teachers in Bali. He does the voyager scr and ccr.

You can also send the lime ahead via mail, which is what we did years ago. Things to note for the next time :) Saves a lot carrying and it'll be waiting for you on the boat.

You should've read Tim Rock's post of Bali customs before you took off. You only have to pay a bond if you have 2 identical professional camera bodies. You didn't really get lucky, they were just trying their luck. It always pays to do a lot of research about custom duties before you travel with a lot of equipment.

Btw the boat design is called pinisi.

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Thanks for the spelling clarification Drew. I believe we tried Oliver but he was out of the country, somewhere in Europe is what I was told.

Thanks for the link to Tim's post. I'll definitely give it a read. I did ask at the consulate regarding the amount of equipment when I was applying for my two month Visa, and even brought along my insurance docs listing every piece of equipment, but was told there was no problem. I know in some countries you must fill in forms listing the equipment you will be bringing in, so they can check on the way out that you have not been doing some profiteering during your stay. Oh well, I thought I had covered my bases!

 

Matthew

Thanks for the travelogue. FYI, sorb lime is available in Bali. You pay a premium for it but Olivier in Kerobokan (can't remember the name of his ops) has it. AFAIK, he is one of 2 rebreather course teachers in Bali. He does the voyager scr and ccr.

You can also send the lime ahead via mail, which is what we did years ago. Things to note for the next time :) Saves a lot carrying and it'll be waiting for you on the boat.

You should've read Tim Rock's post of Bali customs before you took off. You only have to pay a bond if you have 2 identical professional camera bodies. You didn't really get lucky, they were just trying their luck. It always pays to do a lot of research about custom duties before you travel with a lot of equipment.

Btw the boat design is called pinisi.

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Matthew

That is the problem with some consulates. They have to paint a pretty picture of their country and often have no idea of the working practicalities in their own country. A lot of times it pays to check with production companies about their transport arrangements as they tend have to deal with a lot more crap.

In that same thread, you'll find that the customs guys will try their luck on anyone. It's really their real income on top of their salary. :)

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Drew. that's a great idea and one I hadn't thought of... checking with Prod. companies! I usually don't do much internet trolling, just pick up my mail, read wetpixel and off I go. from now on I'll check the travel thread for real world experiences well before I pack my bags.

I'm off to Wakatobi tomorrow AM and will post a report if they have internet up and working.

 

Matthew

That is the problem with some consulates. They have to paint a pretty picture of their country and often have no idea of the working practicalities in their own country. A lot of times it pays to check with production companies about their transport arrangements as they tend have to deal with a lot more crap.

In that same thread, you'll find that the customs guys will try their luck on anyone. It's really their real income on top of their salary. :)

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Thanks for the entertaining read :lol: Looking forward to seeing the images.

 

Dive safe,

 

Colin

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