Due to the Corona virus, our resort is closed and the island of Pef shut down for external visitors until further notice. All tourism activities have been banned by the Regent of Raja Ampat, and we had to put ourselves into self-quarantine to protect the island and our employees. At least the ones that are still here, since half the staff chose to go back home for an undetermined period of time.
So, the island is rather quiet at the moment. And this time it’s not the same as when we close for cleaning and renovation three times a year. Nobody knows when we will be able to reopen the resort. On the one hand, we are all very happy to be here and feel comparatively safe on our remote little island. On the other hand, we don’t know how long we will have to stay here and whether we will still have a job once this crisis is over. The financial loss is huge and for a small resort like ours, this is dramatic.
For now, we are still busy trying to teach our employees how to stay safe, e.g. how to wash their hands correctly, to keep their distance and most importantly – not to mix with anybody from outside the island, not even with their family or friends from the villages. This must be very hard for them as they are used to living in big families, and the ones with relatives in nearby villages used to have them come over to Pef to visit on a regular basis. This will not be possible for an indefinite time, unless they go back home and don’t return until the crisis is over.
This also means that we will not buy any more fish from local fishermen and no fruit and vegetables from the village nearby. Bad news for me since my diet mainly consists of fish and vegetables and fruit… We have rice and dry foods for quite a while, so we are not going to starve, but the meals will definitely be less varied.
You may think: «What’s her problem? She’s on an island in paradise and she’s complaining about the food?!» You’re right, of course. I shouldn’t be complaining. But it’s probably more the underlying feeling that this crisis may take a lot longer than we think, that gets to me. I feel, Indonesia may take a while to fight the virus because it’s such a big country with comparatively few medical resources compared to western countries that are struggling already.
So, what do we do in the evenings, now that there are no guests around to entertain? Dinner is a rather quick event now, and afterwards, most of the employees go to their rooms to watch movies or call their relatives and friends. The first evening, I felt a bit lost, as I like to be around people, and I am not an early sleeper. And there’s no TV or streaming of movies here as the internet is too weak. But I will soon get used to the new rhythm and probably read in my room or have a chat with Maya or someone else that speaks English well enough (as you may remember, my Bahasa Indonesia is still not at a level to have a proper conversation…). Time will tell, and it will be ok.
Having no guests around also gives me more time for sports after work: workout, jogging or go for a snorkel at the house reef. I used to think, our island is small and there’s not enough space to move around. Now, it has suddenly become rather big compared to the apartments and houses my family and friends are currently confined to. I guess, it’s all a matter of perspective…
It’s pretty hard to believe, but I just spent 10 days on a dive vacation in North Sulawesi. I had a wonderful time and the best thing about it - everything seemed normal at the resort, we just didn’t shake hands or get close to each other. But we went diving, laughed and had meals or drinks with other guests at the same table, as if nothing had happened. So far, Indonesia is not hit as hard by Corona as other countries, but they may just not really know…
I was very curious to check out another dive resort and see how they run their business. I hear from our guests that Raja4Divers is a unique and wonderful place, like no other. And I strongly believe this is true. But I was never able to compare us to other places since I started here, so I was very much looking forward to this vacation.
The biggest difference is that the island the resort is located on is not very far from Manado and the mainland. And there are other resorts and a village on the same island. So, it doesn’t feel like you are at the end of the world as it does on Pef. We are in the middle of the jungle, there is only us on the Pef. This has its disadvantages, but it also has its charm. We are one with nature, and I really like that.
The resort I stayed at is very nice, about double the size of ours and features more luxury than Raja4Divers (A/C and sweet water showers in all the bungalows, a big swimming pool and a beautiful spa). The dive center is bigger too, very well run and their dive guides speak good English and have a very good knowledge of their marine life. And their staff as well as their management are extremely friendly and go out of their way to make you have a wonderful time.
But – I still prefer Raja4Divers! OK, you may say I have to because I work for them. Of course, I do, you’re right. But it’s also a very personal feeling. After only a few days, I started missing Pef: its nature, its birds, its wilderness, the sound of the waves at night and its people! The bungalows of the resort I stayed at have brick walls, so you don’t hear any sounds from nature during the night. There are also no birds which was surprising to me, as we have so many on Pef.
Although the diving was very good – lots of turtles, beautiful walls and interesting muck dives - Raja Ampat is just a whole different league in my opinion. The abundance of corals and fish we have here is simply spectacular. I’m not sure you can find this anywhere else in the world, but then again, I haven’t dived in that many places yet.
I still take home some ideas that I think are worth looking into, because there’s always room for improvement. It’s little details sometimes that give you this wonderful all-round experience and if we could add some to the many we already offer, this could only be a good thing. I’m glad, I got to experience a different resort, because I don’t consider them and us competitors. They are different and so are we. And both are great places to spend your vacation.
But I’m also very happy to go back to Pef tomorrow – back home to «my» island in Raja Ampat, our paradise at the other end of this currently very crazy world.
Every once in a while, we have visitors from a yacht that’s passing by Pulau Pef, looking for a safe and peaceful place for mooring. Our mangrove lagoon at the back of the island is the perfect place for that and features two moorings that can be rented for the night. The owners of the yachts and their guests or crew sometimes also like to have a few drinks at our bar and chat with us or our guests. Or they go for a snorkel at our house reef or explore the island by foot. It’s a change from their yacht routine.
Some of these yachtsmen or -women have been cruising for years, sometimes all by themselves, sometimes with family members or changing guests. The single-handed sailors fascinate me the most. How can they bear to be alone for such long times - just them, the boat and the ocean? What if something happens? This always reminds me of the film «All Is Lost» in which Robert Redford plays a single-handed sailor getting into distress at sea. Absolutely wonderful movie, you should check it out if you haven’t seen it yet. But terrifying too, as he is absolutely by himself with no one to help!
I think it’s not so much the being scared part of sailing, but the being alone all the time that would bother me. I like being around people and couldn’t bear the thought of being by myself for such a long time. On the other hand, they get around and tell us about all the beautiful places they have been to. This, of course, is the part that’s appealing to me. I love travelling and have also been sailing a few times. The feeling of cruising just using the wind is incredible. And to be able to get around the world like that is amazing. I envy yacht people for this.
But I realize that I like to have the comfort of my house (or room in the case of my current situation) and enjoy the company of my Pef family and our guests. You are never alone on a small island like ours. This can be an advantage and a disadvantage at the same time, as there’s no privacy either. But I prefer to accept this and have people around me - to talk to and laugh with when I’m feeling good, but also to give me comfort, when I’m feeling down.
I would love to go sailing again, for a few weeks maybe. But then I would also love to come back and enjoy the company of people. This is why I work at Raja4Divers and don’t cruise the world on a sailing yacht.
Back home, I used to work out regularly at the fitness studio and go jogging once in a while, whenever my knees and the weather would allow. I have always needed to exercise on a regular basis in order to feel comfortable. So, coming to work at a small remote island seemed like a challenge, also in this respect. How was I going to even walk enough on this island when «getting to work» would only take me 30 seconds? Let alone jog or work out with hardly any place to hide from the guests?
I quickly found out that the back part of the island with the beautiful mangrove forest and the peaceful lagoon were the perfect place for some exercise. I started out by simply walking along the jetty, back and forth a few times as it’s not very long, and also along the narrow footbridge towards our spring and a little chili garden. I soon came to love the peace and the different noises you find in the mangroves after work in the evening before it gets dark. The front of the island, where the resort and the bungalows are, is the spectacular side of Pulau Pef, with its gorgeous reef and the beautiful sunsets. But it’s also the wild side with quite some wind and waves on certain days. The back of the island is the charming side with hardly any wind nor waves, a mystical touch and a calming silence.
After a while, I started doing some exercises on the footbridge where no guests could see me. And I also started jogging on the mangrove jetty – back and forth until my workout lasted for about 45 minutes in total. It felt really good to move again, as I had the impression, I was only sitting at my desk all day and getting lazier and lazier…
But then I found out that even on the days I didn’t have time to jog or work out, I still walked my 10’000 steps. How come? I was surprised, since it didn’t feel like much walking. On the other hand, I walk about the resort quite a lot, going to the restaurant to get a tea, coffee or more water or walking to the printer in the climatized room, because the other printer we have in the office is currently not working. Then I also walk our kayaking guests to the lagoon in the back to help them board the kayaks and take a picture as they take off. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but the short distances here add up, because I walk them more often than at home.
I still miss a good workout or group lesson at the fitness centre once in a while, but I have found an acceptable rhythm here and feel I am getting enough exercise for now. And if I’m a little lazy but, still feel like moving it, I take my mask, snorkel and fins and jump in the water after work to admire the incredible world below the water just in front of our resort. Snorkelling or diving after work – I mean, can it get any better?
My friends and our guests often ask me what «doing marketing» at a dive resort really means. «What do you do all day, Monika?»
I usually like to answer that I just hang around a little, enjoy the beach and the sun and go diving all the time.
Well, not quite… My workday starts at 8am with the daily staff meeting. We all gather in a circle on the floor between the office and the dive centre. First, everybody gets called out to check if they are present. Without this daily routine, I guess some of the staff would just show up to work whenever they please. Or not at all. Afterwards, we are informed about the day’s events or exchange information between the various departments. At the end of the meeting, we all pray in silence, everybody according to their religion. Or – for those that are not religious – we keep silent for a minute or two.
After the meeting, I usually try to get hold of some of the dive guides to hand them the camera and ask them to take pictures of our guests during coffee break between two dives. One of my responsibilities is to manage the “Guest Comments” page on our website, including the guest pictures.
The rest of the day I spend at my desk, planning social media campaigns, writing newsletters, updating the website with new info or assets and once in a while creating ads, leaflets or other printed promotional material. I also write press releases and advertorials and deal with dive magazines or other publications and websites around the world for editorial or advertising space.
Whenever we participate at a dive show, my job is to make sure we have enough printed promotional material for our booth or to send images and videos to our partners or the organizers of the show for their website or other channels.
Additionally, I also deal with expat organisations in Asia to promote Raja4Divers to their members. They represent a target group that lives closer to Raja Ampat than our other visitors from Europe or North America and are therefore likely to visit us.
And then, there is the guest relations part of my job, which basically starts the moment I set foot in the office in the morning and ends in the evening when I leave the restaurant or the bar to go to sleep. This is not all hard work, but it just means I am constantly available to our guests whenever I am not in my room. Don’t get me wrong, I love the contact with our guests, and almost all of them are great! There are just days I wish I could «go home», close the door and spend a quiet evening on my couch watching TV.
Of course, this is what working in tourism or at a resort is like. Anybody who has ever worked in the hospitality industry will tell you the same. But for me, this is new as I have never worked in this area before. But I’m getting used to it and enjoying it. And I also love my day off, when I relax in my hammock and read for hours. Or I spend the morning diving with our guests and «work» a little…
I’m well aware that I live on a very remote island with no easy access to medical care. Luckily, I’m not someone who worries quickly. I tend to believe that everything will be fine somehow – a good quality, I guess, for the kind of life I’m living at the moment. And I’m also lucky that – apart from a twisted knee last September, which took rather long to heal – I haven’t had any major health problems. Of course, I intend to continue like that, but you just never know…
Almost two weeks ago, one of my work colleagues woke up at night because she was having problems breathing and some of her extremities felt numb. She got very worried and woke up her next-door neighbor and someone from management. They decided to bring her to the hospital in Sorong by transfer boat as quickly as possible. Once in the care of doctors and with the right medication, she quickly felt better and the tests they did on her showed nothing seriously wrong, except for low iron levels and fatigue. She was very relieved to hear this and will hopefully follow some of my nutrition advice that I’m planning on giving her, as I noted she was not eating properly lately. This may have caused some of her symptoms.
I’m glad this incident turned out well, but it still leaves me thinking about what would happen if one of us had an emergency. We have two transfer boats that could leave day or night, as one of them did for my colleague, but they still take 3 hours to get to the nearest doctor. On the other hand, if you live in the Swiss mountains in a remote cabin with no connection to the rest of the world, you’re just as far away from medical help as in Raja Ampat – and I never considered that to be too risky.
It’s probably just a matter of attitude. If you worry all the time and constantly imagine the worst possible scenarios, you’re bound to freak out and panic easily here. But if you try to be precautious and don’t take any unnecessary risks, you should be ok. Considering the risks I take back home by driving a car or taking a train every day and crossing the street in heavy city traffic, I’m probably a lot safer on the island with no streets nor traffic and only sand and jetties to walk on.
I wouldn’t choose Pulau Pef as my first destination if I had a condition or any type of health problems. But as long as I’m healthy and feel fit, I will not worry too much and try to keep a more or less healthy lifestyle. Which would be a good advice for anyone in any place on the planet, by the way...
This week, I got to play the priest! A couple staying with us wanted to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary here and renew their wedding vows. They asked us if we could organize a little celebration. We said yes, making sure that it was not going to be just a «little» celebration.
Our whole team was eagerly planning and organizing the event for weeks. It had to be perfect. The guests had sent us the vows they gave each other 20 years ago, as well as two wedding pictures to give us an idea. We were all asked to wear white clothes or at least a white t-shirt.
At some point, someone had to re-write the vows, and guess who had the honor to do this? Since I like writing in general, it was a pleasure for me to do this, although I had no idea what to write about in the beginning. It had to be solemn and meaningful, I thought. And something that would fit various lifestyles, as I didn’t really know them and what they may have experienced during their 20-year journey together. I managed to come up with something and was actually looking forward to holding my speech in front of the entire group of guests and employees that were all invited to the ceremony. I even got to ask the famous question and luckily, they both said «I do»!
After the ceremony, there was singing, dancing, food, cake and party time until the wee hours. All in all, it was a beautiful event and all the guests were very happy.
We celebrate many events here, but never before such a big one. Usually, it’s birthdays, a marriage proposal once in a while, or public holidays, and we always try to come up with a new idea to make it special for our guests. We also like it to be a surprise for them, so we don’t tell them before or have standard procedures. Even though there is always some planning or preparations involved, we try to make it look like a spontaneous event.
Our staff is very good at improvising as well. You have to be if you live on a remote island with no easy access to shops or other providers of supply. But it’s always done with a lot of joy. Our employees never give the impression that they are forced to make an extra effort. I think, they are enjoying these celebrations as well and most of the times, they keep on playing music and singing much longer than they have to. As there are not many distractions here, these are also fun times for them, one of the reasons probably being that they always get a special treat, such as free drinks, sweets or cigarettes.
But even though we enjoy celebrations, Pulau Pef will never become a «wedding island» or any other kind of party place. As much as we like to have fun, we also enjoy our peace and quiet times again, listening to the sound of the waves and the singing of the birds. And remind ourselves that this is exactly what our guests come here for.
I love languages and have always learned them rather easily, although most of the five that I speak at a young age. So it felt like a natural consequence for me to study translation at university. My goal was to become a simultaneous interpreter after passing my translator’s diploma, but then I started working in communications and marketing and drifted away from languages. I never actually worked as a translator, but every office I have worked at was very happy to have me translate short texts and letters or check translations for them. I didn’t mind that and enjoyed doing it.
When I applied for the job as Marketing Manager at Raja4Divers, Maya asked me if I was prepared to learn some Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian) and I answered that this was one of the things I was really looking forward to. I was very eager to learn a new language and naïvely imagined it would be as easy as in my younger years. I guess you know where I’m heading – it turned out a lot more difficult than I thought!
Grammatically, Indonesian is not a difficult language. There are no tenses and no declinations and plural forms are often created by simply repeating the word twice. But even though the vocabulary has some Dutch and English influence, it has no common roots with any Latin or Anglo-Saxon languages that I speak. This makes it hard for me to remember the words, even after repeating them many times and trying to learn them by heart. At the beginning, everybody told me to be patient. «It’ll come in time, you don’t have to rush», they said. Well, I’m not a very patient person, so I wanted to speed up things and ordered a textbook to study in a more structured way. I was convinced, this was going to do the trick and started studying enthusiastically during my lunch breaks. At least for a few weeks.
Unfortunately, the words didn’t stick with me any better than before. The fact that I work at the office here, surrounded by Indonesian ladies who speak perfect English, as well as our German Facility Manger and Maya, with both of whom I speak German, doesn’t really help. I feel a little ashamed of not being able to communicate with our local staff who doesn’t speak English. And it doesn’t make me proud to sit at the staff meeting every morning listening to my colleagues speak a language that I only understand little bits and pieces of. Every day, I tell myself that something has got to change! And then I have a million excuses why I didn’t have time to study again…
A few months ago, I started teaching English to our dive guides. They need to improve their English in order to communicate better with our guests. When they sometimes struggle to pronounce and remember the words in English, I catch myself thinking «Come on guys, it’s not that difficult! Just try a little harder!». But for them, English is just as far away from Bahasa Indonesia as Indonesian is from English for me. Or even further. Who am I to judge them for struggling to learn a completely different language? I’m in no position to be judgmental as long as I don’t speak their language. So I better get down to it and study harder.
Wish me luck!
Last week, I told you that I was looking forward to going back to the island. I was, but when the time came to say goodbye and leave Switzerland again, I didn’t feel like going. It was a lot harder to go away again for six months than it was last summer.
Last year, everything was new and exciting, and I could hardly wait to start my new life at the other end of the world. I was taking off to a new adventure and wasn’t quite sure how this was going to turn out. When I got to the island, time went by very quickly, as I was busy getting used to the climate, the people and the new lifestyle. I had to learn so much that I didn’t really have time to think of home much.
Now that I knew what I was going back to – a paradise that I came to love and appreciate very much, but also a place very far away from my loved ones – I wanted to stay in Switzerland and spend more time with friends and family, enjoy the luxury of the civilized world, go to the movies and concerts or just relax on my couch and watch TV. I realized again how much I still love life in Switzerland, even though in the beginning, it was strange to be back. But I got used to it again very quickly. It will probably be like this every time I go back home: I’ll never have enough time to see everybody, never be able to do all the things I want to do and be torn between enjoying Switzerland and wanting to go back to beautiful Pulau Pef, the warm climate and the laughter of the locals as quickly as possible.
Any expat will probably talk about similar experiences and say that it gets better in time. Just as with the goodbyes on the island every Friday, I assume I will get used to going back and forth between my two lives the more often I do it.
Arriving on Pef, I was greeted with much joy from the team, as always, but it still felt odd to be back, as if I didn’t know where I really belonged. OK, I was jetlagged and had a bad cold, so I wasn’t the best of myself. But it only took one day, meeting the guests, tasting the delicious food, watching the Pef band sing their island tunes and listening to the sound of the waves, and I was back also with my heart.
It felt comforting to know that I am able to switch back and forth between my two worlds because I intend to continue doing it for a while…
If you are a regular reader of my blog, you may have noticed that there was no post last Friday. I attended the new InterDive dive exhibition in Frankfurt with Maya and our two booking representatives and didn’t have time to write. I have worked at other exhibitions before, but never at a dive show.
Working at an exhibition is a good opportunity to feel the pulse of visitors and potential guests. There are many different types of people and questions you have to deal with. We talked and talked, trying to give visitors all the info they were looking for and answer as many questions as possible. It made me feel very proud to see the amazement in people’s eyes when I showed them the images of our resort and the new trailer. I know it took a long time to get where Raja4Divers is now and it wasn’t always easy for Maya and her team. I’m lucky to work for the resort now that it’s running more or less smoothly and that we are well booked. I makes me proud to be part of such a successful team and company. And this is what I tried to convey to potential guests at the dive show.
We are operating from a position of strength and you might say, it’s easy to sell a successful resort. Try doing it from a weaker perspective and see how that works out! Well, Maya and her team once were there and worked their way up. With a lot of passion, hard work and love for what they do. Our guests feel this and so did the visitors at the dive show. Our booth in Frankfurt was part of a big Indonesia booth which means there are other resorts and liveaboards present and competing for the visitors’ attention. Most of the time, we had a lot of people at our corner while others sometimes looked a little bored. I’m sure it has to do with the way we presented our resort, the decoration of our booth and our open, friendly and passionate explanations. We are truly convinced, our resort is one of the most beautiful places on the planet and this attitude seems to be contagious.
To stay at Raja4Divers is not cheap, we are well aware of this. And I know some of the visitors we presented the resort to never thought they would spend that much money for a dive vacation. And yet, they stopped, listened and some of them even made a reservation on the spot!
As I am enjoying my last days in Switzerland with a busy schedule, I realize once more how incredibly fortunate I am to work at a place like that. For the time being, I wouldn’t want it any other way and I’m looking forward to going back next week!
I never even dreamt of working on a remote island in Indonesia, but life has a way of taking care of itself…