Episode 2: The Possibly Perfect Place

Last time on Mobilis Divers: Noelle and Chris spent their holiday looking at potential new homes. Nothing felt right. They got sad. Then they got an idea…

Imagine you want to set up a dive centre. You want to be there for a while so you’ve got some expectations for it. It needs to be by the ocean – arguably the most important condition. You’d like that ocean to have some interesting stuff to look at because you’ll be in it all the time and you get bored easily. It would also be great if there are other people around, a nice variety of people from different backgrounds so you can learn new things and not be the most foreign person you know. Now paint in the details around you – lush palm forests, margaritas on the beach, bustling marketplaces, the sun setting behind a volcano. Ok, got it? Can you see it? Smell it? Feel it? Good! Now go find that place!

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Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Despite our best attempts this summer we just could not find one that fit the bill. But when we reviewed our options and the Possibly Perfect Place began to emerge, it started to look more and more enticing. It’s got great diving, possibly some of the best in the world (fab!), just off the shores of a reasonably-sized city (exceptional bonus). It’s fairly close to more familiar types of civilization (when we need a quick escape to our cultural roots), and yet it is still pretty underdeveloped (potentially great for growing a business – though perhaps trickier in terms of infrastructure).

The more we look at The Possibly Perfect Place, the better it sounds. It really does seem to have it all and at exactly the right time for us. There would definitely be some challenges, but the potential feels undeniable. So we started thinking maybe we should spend some quality time here on our Hunt for the Perfect Place in January.

There are a couple of catches though. It’s expensive to travel long term. We’d spend quite a lot just in the time we need to properly look around – money we need to get our shop up and running. Also, and maybe more importantly, The Possibly Perfect Place is totally foreign to both of us. We literally know nothing about doing business there. We have no idea what we need to set up a company, how complicated it is, or how possible it even is. It could take months or years to figure it out. It could take a few weeks. We simply don’t know.

This is the point where I started getting edgy and freaked out. This whole plan felt uncannily familiar to me. The thing is, moving here would be the third time I’ve gone to a Possibly Perfect Place (PPP) to make my way and – spoiler alert! – it did not work out at all the way I hoped it would. In fact, it kind of wrecked me.

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Original art by Annie-Mae

The first PPP: I moved to London to set up my own business. By myself. Without any form of financial support to…I don’t know…pay my rent or buy my food. Which meant I was running around like a nutter trying to simultaneously earn enough to live in one of the world’s most expensive cities and also trying to get a business off the ground. Did I mention by myself? Not sure what I was thinking. I was either very brave or very stupid. Maybe a bit of both.

It was stressful. Very stressful. It made me a crazy person.

The second PPP: In Muscat, it was supposed to be easy to land there, get a job and get my life back in order. I was so excited to have a normal existence again. But alas, that was not to be. Laws change quickly these days and I found myself blocked at every turn. Let’s get a job! Oh, I can only be a lawyer, doctor or teacher? Hmmm, ok… I guess I’ll learn to teach English?… Done! Oh, now you need me to have a Master’s in Education? Hmmmm, ok… I guess I’ll just work under the table and hope not to get deported? What’s that you say? Oil prices dropped, the economy crashed and no one can afford English classes, even from charming illegal immigrants? Hmmmmm, ok….I guess I’ll just sit at home and invent ways to keep myself busy…

It was stressful. Very stressful. It made me a crazier person.

So when we started talking about dropping into another PPP without any idea about our actual chances at making it there, I kind of melted down. I’m tapped out, guys. Running on empty. Out of gas. Burned out. And any other oil-related metaphors you can think of. This big project of ours is going to take some energy. Quite a lot of it. A level of energy I simply do not have at the moment. Energy to remain persistent and excited and unsinkable in the face of constantly changing circumstances – because the game will change as we go along. That’s just how this stuff works.

Stepping right out of Muscat and into another totally new and unknown place and attempting to start a business sounds stressful. Very stressful. I don’t want to become the craziest me yet by pushing myself even further over the edge when I haven’t yet recovered from my other failed attempts at settling in. I also don’t want to ruin our chance of building something great and making our dream come true by jumping into it when I don’t have the resources available to do it right. I need a rest – a big one – so I can start this adventure with all my wits at my disposal.

So we made a decision to take a little breather before we start this adventure, some time to chill out and get ourselves ready and rested so we can face the craziness that will ensue when we try to set up a business a world away. We decided to go back to Utah for a while – it’s where I’m from, where my friends and family are, and where I can get some work without needing a visa. It’s restful, and refreshing, and familiar, just what I need for a little bit.

I bought a ticket to come home in November – in time for Thanksgiving, of course, because my mom makes the best pumpkin pie ever (it’s sweet of you to think your mom does, but you obviously haven’t tried this one). Chris made plans to join me in the spring. We started picturing our summer of fun together: diving trips with friends in Mexico, camping excursions to Arches and Canyonlands, evenings with friends and holidays with family. I was looking forward to this time of ease, immensely.

But, like I said, the only constant in this game of life is change and making plans is the best way to tempt fate into showing you who’s really in charge.

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Episode 1: The Summer of Three Places

We’re long overdue for an update. So much has changed just in the past few weeks it’s been hard even for us to keep up with.

Our original plan was this: get to the end of January in Muscat then head out to parts unknown, looking at various places where we might want to set up shop. In preparation for this, we made a list of three places we felt had good potential and planned a trip around them this summer. When we got on the ground, however, things weren’t quite how they appeared on paper.

Place Number One had the best potential. It is already connected by flights to two pretty famous diving destinations. It has some very special stuff there, including one particular fish that, out of the entire world, is only known to exist in about a 10-square-meter patch just off the shore. It’s also got a great potential for a mix of muck diving as well as reef diving and there aren’t many shops there yet. Perfect! Why isn’t everyone setting up here?!

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When we spent some time here, however, we saw why this place hasn’t picked up. Between the rubbish EVERYWHERE, the odd tensions in the air and the general lack of anything else to do except diving, we just did not vibe with the place. It had a strange aura. One that the fanciest dive center there worked around by taking people completely out of the awkward surroundings and creating a total escape far from any of the villages. Not really our thing. We want to be part of the community we are working in, not trying to pretend it’s not there. So Place Number One came off our list.

Place Number Two was gorgeous. Beautiful. Stunning. Awe-inspiring. Incredible. And all the other adjectives you can think of to describe that absolutely stereotypical tropical island (replete with volcano) in the middle of the ocean. It is full of friendly people (Place Number One had a strange aggression we weren’t fond of), has a wide selection of foods (not just fried chicken from street stands), and is teeming with interesting history. It’s a truly special place and one that in moments of unbridled excitement I could happily see myself living in.

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The catch here is that it is so, SO far from anything. To get there we took a Pelni boat (a unique experience if you haven’t yet been on one) that took eight hours. I don’t mind the time it takes, but the sensory overload was too much (see image below). There is a flight we could take instead, but only if the weather is good. And there is a faster boat option, but only if the weather is good. It would be one thing if the Pelni was something we’d choose to take if we had to, but due to the island’s remote location and the area’s two rainy seasons, it’s a boat we would most definitely be spending a lot of time on. Additionally, the diving was decent, but not incredible, which meant that the hassle of getting there (and getting anyone we want to visit us there) would not be worth it for what we’d see in the water. And so Place Number Two was crossed off.

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I make it sound like this was just a quick flick of the wrist and another place was casually dubbed A Place That Won’t Really Work For Us. The truth is, it was far more existential than that (for me at least). I mean, our plan is to find a place to build a dive centre – a place where we want to settle for quite a few years. It’s not a quick, set-it-up-and-sell-it-off business thing for us, it’s a lifestyle. We want to become part of the community, to train up locals and create new jobs, to raise a garden full of papayas and jasmine trees. We want to stay. We want to settle. So to start with an already short list of possible places for this dream life of ours and find ourselves crossing them off one by one was… how can I put it… utterly crushing.

By the time we got to Place Number Three, I was struggling with the idea that maybe we were never going to find something that ticked all the boxes for us. I know we’ll have to make adjustments from our ideal place – perhaps we can forego the view of the sea out our front window and the volcano out the back, or maybe we can scrap the idea of our own resident whale shark who shows up when he hears the sound of our boat – but there are some things I am just not willing to live with on a regular basis for years. It was a hard realisation for me to admit to but one I think was important to be honest about now instead of two years in when it drives me crazy and I run away screaming. Still. Not easy. Not easy for me to say. Not easy for Chris to hear. Not easy for us to find our way through. There were a lot of not easy conversations at this point in the trip. Conversations I hope we’ll laugh about in the years to come when we’re nestled into our Perfect Place and can’t imagine having settled for anything less.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We were just arriving at Place Number Three.

Place Number Three is phenomenal. Not in the resplendent, idyllic, endlessly lush and tropical ways of Place Number Two, but in it’s own bizarrely sparse and martian kind of way. This place is weird. In fact, that is what it is known for. There are so many odd creatures here you’re just never going to see anywhere else. Some because this is their only habitat on earth, some because the landscape itself makes it easier to find them than any other reef would. It’s a great place. I would happily dive here every day of my life because you know you will always see something funky. Every day our log books spilled over with all the fabulous things we saw. It’s amazing. Genuinely outstanding diving.

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The best photo I took on the whole trip. A mama blue ring octopus holding her babies.

It’s just that we got here a little too late. Had we been in a position to open a place ten years ago, we would absolutely choose this one. We both love it immensely and we will certainly go back to visit because we cannot wait to see what other weird stuff we can find. Alas, there are already seventeen (SEVENTEEN!) very established dive resorts here already. Not just casual little places with a couple huts and a rented fishing boat. Resorts. Ones with very established reputations and deeply experienced guides. We’d struggle to make a place here. It would be a very uphill battle to even get into the market and an even more uphill one to get a big enough slice of the business to make it worthwhile. *sigh* Place Number Three will live on in our hearts but we sadly cannot find a way to live on there.

And so, our Summer of Three Places ended with all three spots being struck from the record. It was a pretty down time for us. We kept looking at what it was we liked about these places and what it was we didn’t. We made lists of our criteria again and again, trying to figure out where we might be able to go that would work with all of our requirements. We got frustrated and sad and worried. Nothing seemed to fit any better than the three we had just visited. But as we kept looking into the murky waters of our dream future, a name began to emerge. Slowly, slowly it rose to the surface, bobbed around for a minute and finally settled at the top of our list: The Possibly Perfect Place…

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