I can’t lie…after 10 days in the Maldives, transitioning back to anywhere is a challenge. Luckily Unawatuna welcomed us back with open arms and we quickly fell into our routine at the dive shop. As mentioned, Dilshan had only opened the shop seven months prior and was so busy right off the bat that he never had time to set up any real organization. With my experience working in a dive shop and Ian’s experience working in the marketing department of a major non-profit we focused our skills on organizing and promoting Sun Diving Center.
When we left Unawatuna the beach was beginning to show signs of slowing down for low season, but when we returned only 10 days later it was downright quiet. On top of which, it rained for the first two days making Ian and I question whether or not we had made the right decision coming back so close to monsoon season. But with the extra time we drafted up flyers and went into town to buy some shop supplies, like a whiteboard so we could start writing the dive schedule down.
As soon as the sun poked its head out Ian and I hit the beach with the new flyers. As horrible as it might sound, we knew that Dilshan wouldn’t be as successful at getting customers as two westerners. All over Asia there are people who walk the beach all day selling everything from fresh fruit, to beach blankets and cover-ups, to magnets and puppets. Some are relaxed, and when you say “no thank you” simply keep walking but others can be quite aggressive and end up guilt tripping you for 20 minutes before finally moving on. So, many travelers sunning themselves on the beach will adopt a sort of grimace/smile and a curt head shake as soon as they see a local start to walk their way. But when two westerners approach their guard is down and their more receptive. Don’t get me wrong, we got our fair share of brush offs, but we also got a lot of interested people.
Our first day we walked the beach for 20 minutes talking to people and handing out flyers and within half an hour of returning back to the shop we were flooded by customers signing up for dives. And of course, whenever someplace looks busy other get curious and come to inspect, so we got even more customers. It got to the point where we went from having no one scheduled to being worried we wouldn’t have enough staff to handle everyone. Dilshan and the boat drivers (who get paid per boat trip) were thrilled to be doing as many dives as they normally do during busy season. It felt really rewarding to have used our skills to directly see the impact of the results of our efforts.
Everyone’s good moods boosted the already fun environment of the dive shop. One of the biggest disappointments with the shop Ian first learned to dive with was the lack of community. We constantly felt like we were inconveniencing the employees and after the diving was done there was a, “pay your money and leave” attitude. We wanted to ensure that no one would walk away from Sun Diving feeling that way. We made it a point to have everyone hang out, whether before or after a dive we served tea and lunch and invited people to sit. And we always made an open invitation to customers to come sit and have a beer later in the evening. As a result customers became friends with each other and with us, and despite the impending monsoon rains and sometimes less than desirable sea conditions, we were busy as ever.
Out of nowhere we had a week of absolutely perfect visibility, so Ian and I took advantage of the occasional afternoons free of customers to explore the dive sites we hadn’t seen before. It was one of the most special things to dive side by side with Ian, just the two of us and a dive site. Though it wasn’t always easy for him, Ian had worked hard to gain confidence and comfort under water, and those dives were some of the most enjoyable simply because I watched the worry vanish and the excitment for diving take over. I am very proud of the diver he has become and his enthusiasm to continue learning.
Two weeks later Martin and Charli came back from Thailand with all their belongings to start building up Sun Diving Center with Dilshan in earnest. We all see such great potential for the shop, not only because of Sri Lanka’s growing popularity and a need for good dive schools, but also because of Dilshan and his dreams for the shop. However there have been some roadblocks. It’s a family run business with his parents as the major partners, so as in any case with family and business, there’s a lot of back and forth. What will inevitably come of the conversations with his parents to grow the business is still up in the air, but we all hope the vision of a bigger, more successful, PADI certified dive shop will ease the bumps that occur during transitions. Ian and I want nothing more than to return to a thriving Sun Diving Center next winter and dive with our friends again.
For now though, it was time to make the trek back home to the US. Having originally planned to be in the north of India our last month of travel, we booked our return flight home from Delhi. Both of us were eager to get back to the city we started this journey in and see how we felt about it the second time around. Based on multiple recommendations we booked a couple nights at the Moustache Hostel in the southern part of the city. What a difference it made. Instead of dirty buildings crammed together and looming over us, and the hoards tuk-tuk drivers and street hawkers swarming around every time we left the hostel, there were wide roads, open spaces, and green trees! Aside from the occasional passing rickshaw everyone went about their business, unconcerned with the two of us walking down the street. Had it not been for the 110°F (45°C) heat we might have even gone out exploring. We opted instead for the cooler (temperature wise) common area of the hostel where we spent the days talking with other backpackers, many of whom still had weeks and months left in their travels, and feeling jealous that we were at the end. We also gorged ourselves on all the amazing Indian food we had missed. Mostly, what those days confirmed for both of us was that we had figured out how to feel comfortable, and truly enjoy India, and that we want to go back in the future. It was a nice feeling knowing that despite some of its trials and curveballs, India hadn’t defeated us. With that in mind we made the final leg of our trip; four hours to Dubai, two hours layover, and thirteen long hours to Boston.
Now we’re home. But coming home doesn’t mean, as so many have said, “back to reality,” it’s just means a different version of reality. While it’s pretty clear at this point that if we had the choice we would spend all day every day diving, we are still happy to be home spending time with family and friends and enjoying the New England summer. Of course, we’re also back to work, both at our old jobs. But it’s not so bad going back to work because we have a goal to work towards and an end date. After hearing everyone say this past winter was the worst yet with the cold and snow it confirmed our plans to skip out on it again next year. With that said, we look forward to seeing all of you this summer and fall! Of course if anyone is interested in making the flight over to Asia we’re always happy to catch up with you there as well. So we’ll sign off for now on the blog and resume our adventures next year!