2016 was seen by many as an ‘Annus Horribilis’. Attacks in Brussels, Nice, Berlin, deaths of Prince, Bowie, war in Syria, political upheaval with Brexit and the US elections…
I’m happy to say that 2016 hasn’t claimed me as I’m still here to write you this. But I must admit I was glad to close the door on 2016 as it wasn’t my easiest or happiest year either. It was a year in which circumstances changed, challenges arose, and my goals in life and persistence were tested.
But it all turned out well (as it usually does..). As 2016 was slowly nearing it’s completion, I started a great new adventure in the Caribbean. An adventure with many interesting new challenges. With 2016 being a bit of a rollercoaster year for me this turned out to be quite a long, and sometimes personal, update.
TL’DR: If you don’t want to read it all, in a nutshell: stuff happened or failed to happen, I had many doubts, decided to do something different, had trouble making it work, but all ended well with a great new job…
Picking up where I left you
So now the long version… When I left you in my 2015 update, I had been on the sailing ship Infinity for about 9 months. We were docked in Cebu in the Philippines for planned maintenance on the ship. I was just about to fly off to Bali for a long overdue reunion with my family. Before that happened I sat on a local bus for about 7 hours as I managed to squeeze in a long weekend of diving and relaxing in Moalboal. This is one of the diving highlights of the Philippines. It provided a nice change of scenery and pace compared to maintenance in a dusty noise shipyard!
Off for a family vacation
On February 17th, my birthday, I flew from Cebu City to Singapore. There I was surprised by a birthday BBQ at my cousin living there, where I stayed the night. Thanks Sjoerd! The next day it was back to Changi airport were I met up with my parents who had just flown in from Vietnam as part of their SE-Asia vacation. After almost 20 months apart it was a bit of an emotional airport reunion. Although within 5 minutes this time apart seemed to have vanished as the usual friendly family bickering started, in this case over what airport coffee shop to go to…
In Bali we met up with my brother Govert who has just flown in, and we made our way to Lovina in the north of the island. There my parents had rented a beautiful villa for a week. That was our base for some quality time together, and some activities and sightseeing. My brother and me finally did our long overdue first scuba dive together. This as the year before he had a foot injury which prevented that in the Cook Islands. Of course we also did some usual temple and volcano sightseeing tours. Together with just relaxing by the pool the week flew by. It ended with a bit of a low, as my noble efforts to rescue a puppy from a ditch resulted in a bite. With rabies being present in Bali a doctor was quickly called to get vaccinated.
As the week ended I said goodbye to my parents and brother. My plan at this time was to do a technical diving course in Bali. And by mid March to head back to Infinity in the Philippines to start sailing again to the Pacific. In the late summer I wanted to fly back to the Netherlands as by that time I would have been gone for about 2 years already.
Changing plans – part 1
But at this time the first of many twists in my plans happened. This was to become a recurring theme in 2016… Needing to finish my rabies vaccine treatment and getting a good flu as side-effect meant I missed my slot for the diving course. At the same time it became clear that the Infinity refit would most likely not be finished till late May. So suddenly I was presented with two months with nothing to do.
While traveling a bit through Bali I did some thinking. My logical conclusion was that it was best to use this downtime to do my long overdue to visit the Netherlands. Also as flying to Europe from Bali is a lot cheaper than from some remote Pacific atoll! But after almost two amazing and exciting years on the road I was so hooked to the adventure, new fresh inspiration everyday, different environments… So emotionally I had a very hard time with the feeling that I was saying goodbye to that life by returning to a familiar place like ‘home’. Even though I missed the people and places of that ‘home’ that I also love.
‘Home’ in the Netherlands
So with very mixed feelings I arrived back in The Netherlands late March. And was just in time to join the family for a traditional Easter brunch, after just saying goodbye to my parents a few weeks earlier in Bali…
My time in the Netherlands quickly filled itself with catching up with many friends, and a multitude of errands to do. I was lucky to be able to housesit for almost two months in a friends apartment in the center of my Amsterdam. Having my own place in the city that I love and that will always be my hometown, was something truly special, and I can’t thank my friend Mark enough for that.
Whilst back living in Amsterdam, I worked on sales, e-mail, itineraries and the website for Infinity. But being away from the ‘bubble’ of living on the ship doubts about my future started to grow. Being on the ship was probably the best adventure in my life. I had left the ship with full intention to return and I actually had bought a return ticket. But I started to want more professional growth in the dive industry. The vagabond, laid-back style of Infinity was maybe not the best place for this.
At the same time having my comfortable ‘own place’ in my beloved Amsterdam also started to backfire in a positive way. I truly started to love living in the city again! Meeting friends in familiar restaurants and bars. Enjoying the comforts of a well appointed apartment and the western civilization. Being amazed by the beautiful city and it’s joyous inhabitants coming to life in the approaching spring.
My mind was at this point completely split up. I could clearly recall the strong emotion of saying goodbye to my adventurous life when I left Bali. Now the reverse happened, I felt so at home again in this familiar environment and I seriously doubted my life choices at this point.
Adventure is calling… or not?
So in May I again found myself at an airport with very strong emotions. Seduced by the familiarity of home, but also recalling the lure of adventure. Going back to to a ship with personal doubts whether it was the right place for me to stay. And also a savings account that started to look somewhat low, as Infinity was a volunteer job. I love pushing the comfort zone but all this added up was a bit too much for me. My mind wasn’t very much at ease!
That wasn’t helped when I arrived in Manila in the Philippines. It is not the nicest city in the world by any means and my hostel was pretty awful. All-in-all the first few nights weren’t the best sleeps I’ve had…
Life in Manila
The reason I went to Manila was that Infinity was docked there. But also I wanted to use the opportunity to do some marine training courses there. With a year of sailing I had build some practical experience, I now wanted some certifications to accompany that. As a large sea-faring nation the Philippines offers these international recognized courses at a fraction of the cost you would pay in Europe or US. So I spend three weeks doing the training during the weeks, and at the weekends helping out on the refit of Infinity.
Setting foot again on Infinity was like coming home. Straight away I felt the familiar warmth and excitement of all the amazing adventures and people I was fortunate enough to experience. In that sense the doubts about leaving the Netherlands where quickly put to bed.
But life on Infinity was different with hard work refitting he ship. Anchoring at remote beautiful Pacific islands had now become a dry-docked ship in the most dirty shipyard you can ever imagine. On the upside we had a great time with all the crew, becoming friends with the local yard workers and we managed to sneak in a few nights out on town.
Changing plans – part 2
But other doubts remained, further fueled by the choice of to run the ship more as a ‘community’ and less as a commercial operation and with less diving planned in the next few trips. I felt ever more clearly that my future was not on the ship. So again after many internal debates I went up to captain Clemens and told him that. Although I now presented him with the problem of his dive instructor suddenly leaving he said in a very supporting and positive way something along the lines what I expected: “if that is the way you feel then that is what you should do”.
Then the moment came to say goodbye to Infinity with the traditional ‘see you in a minute!’ as they sailed out of Manila mid June. It was very hard to close one of the best chapters of my life, with my next one still unknown. Leaving some great adventures behind and saying ‘no’ to many new ones. But at the same time my gut feeling told me it was the right choice for me to make.
With one single decision I had now lost both my job and home. I was facing a wide open and unknown future. My first refuge after leaving not so loved Manila behind was a week in Singapore with my cousin. Again thanks Sjoerd!
The next step of action was to pick a place to base myself and work out a plan. I decided I first wanted some time to think about a longer term future. So I was looking for an environment with an entrepreneurial ‘vibe’ which stimulated looking forward. Also I wanted to start something I had in my head for over a year, to start working on creating an online presence. And learn myself associated skills such as social media strategy, photo/video editing. At the same time I had to manage my finances. I wanted to be able to find work locally or be able to relocate to work somewhere easily and cheaply.
Thus my priorities were an thriving entrepreneur / digital nomads scene, a low cost of living, good flight connections, decent internet, and the possibility for some freelance (dive) jobs. A place that met all these requirements was Bali. So after enjoying my stay there earlier in the year, I found myself back on ‘the island of the Gods’.
Straight away Bali provided me with a warm welcome. The evening after arriving I was already introduced to the local diving (and bar) scene by a friend I know from Komodo (thanks Ollie!).
Bali can be very busy and touristy, but it is also such a nice place to live. The variety of the island is just amazing. You can visit beautiful beaches, hop on your scooter and 30 minutes later you find yourself at a temple on the flanks of a volcano. The one night you can enjoy Michelin star quality food at the most trendiest restaurants, and next day visit a local warung for some amazing local food at ridiculously low prices.
I decided to live in Sanur, a more laid back area next to the beach with a nice mix of locals, tourists and longer term expats. And it also has a thriving diving scene as many dive trips are run from Sanur.
I did some house hunting and found a great little apartment. The great thing of the complex was that is had a contract with two dive shops. Therefore a lot of divemasters and instructor in training were living there. That made for a great social setting.
But from a social perspective I had no complaints anyway. I hung out a lot with my friend Ollie, and had my friend Mark from the Netherlands (whose Amsterdam apartment I used earlier) visit. My good friends Martin & Marieke (and kids Merijn and Mink) also dropped by on vacation and I visited them in Amed and Ubud. Also at some point my friend and colleague from Bonaire Tim relocated to Amed with his family so we met a few times too.
A lot of my time in Bali was spend on working on setting up a blog, playing with photo and video editing, and getting more to grips with social media in a professional way.
But next to that, I also took enough time to enjoy living on Bali. I rented one of the ubiquitous scooters (50 EUR per month!) to explore. I visited Ubud, Nusa Lembongan, Bukit peninsula and a few trips to Amed. Also I finally managed to hike up Gunung Agung, a 3,000 mt high volcano. A great experience, although it was maybe not so smart to do it after a big night out with Ollie… Athough I was pretty proud that out of a group of 10 young 20-somethings, this 42 year old with a hangover was one of just three who made it to the summit!
During my stay in Bali I also had to leave the county as my Indonesian visa expired. What was planned to be quick ‘visa run’ to Singapore escalated a bit when I saw bargain basement flight tickets for sale to Vietnam. A county I hadn’t been to yet, so I was easily convinced to add that to the trip. And passing on the way back the Singapore F1 Grand Prix was on only a few days later so would be a waste not to visit that, wouldn’t it!
Changing plans – part 3
As much as I enjoyed living in Bali, unfortunately some things didn’t work out as planned. I had hoped to pick up some freelance dive work and generate some more return from my Amsterdam apartment through AirBnB rental. With both these ideas proving troublesome, I directed my focus on a new job in the diving business. My earlier blog post tells you all about that. So click that link to read how I ended 2016 living and working in Caribbean again!
Menno has had the travel bug ever since spending his childhood in the tropics. In 2013 he left his office career and is now diving and sailing the world.
He enjoys sharing the beautiful underwater world and exploring remote islands. He gets his kicks when he can help fellow travelers have an amazing life-changing experience.