Seeking a new life

“I met Simon in the UK while I was working in the travel industry. He had just finished his degree in mechanical engineering and we got married early 2012. I had spent a gap year in Asia training as a dive instructor in Thailand and then working in Vietnam and Fiji, so it wasn’t a surprise to Simon that as soon as we were married I started to get itchy feet. I suggested setting up our own dive business and Asia seemed the best place to start looking.

“Originally we considered setting up in northern Vietnam, but we spent a month in Cambodia driving around on two dirt bikes

 and after checking out the snorkeling, we didn’t feel like there was a lot to see underwater.

 At the time we were also in contact with a guy in Indonesia who had land for sale on a small island called Bangka in North Sulawesi. We stayed for a week in a basic beach hut but once we were out under the ocean and saw how amazing the marine life and coral reef were, we knew this was the place for us.

“We spent the next month in Manado City, which is three hours away on the mainland, researching how we could set up our business in Indonesia. We quickly made an offer on the land and set about building our dream life. I stayed in Manado to do all the business admin and set up the website while Simon headed back to the island to start the building work with a team of guys from the local village.

“Four years on and the business, Nomad Divers Bangka, is thriving. We often have long six-month stretches of back-to-back guests, so there aren’t any days off and the hours are long. Usually we’re up at 6.30am to have breakfast with the guests and then it’s out diving for the day with a stop for lunch and back here for dinner. In between all of that I do all the admin, bookings, marketing and sales, planning and logistics, while Simon is in charge of maintenance, all the diving equipment and management of the staff. There’s also fuel and food to buy, as well as planning the dives and checking in guests. We don’t go to bed until after the guests and it’s a lot of hard work, but we get to live on an amazing beach and go diving as much as we want.”

Starting a family

“We knew we wanted to start a family but at first we decided it would be a bad idea to do it while living on an island. The nearest medical centre is three hours away and we were worried about emergency situations that might arise with a baby. But then we thought about it and realised that lots of women in the village had been having babies here for years and they managed perfectly well. Plus it would be a great place for a baby to spend his early years and, more importantly, both Simon and I would both be available for him. “I found out I was pregnant in September 2014. We were over the moon as we had only been trying for a few months. Throughout the pregnancy I went for monthly check-ups at a private hospital in Manado with a great doctor who was very reassuring of our situation. I would have an ultrasound and 3D scan of the baby at every appointment, which was surprisingly cheap at Dh60 per appointment. We were very comfortable with the decision to have our baby in Indonesia and thankfully my pregnancy ticked along nicely.

“When I was around five months pregnant we went back to the UK to visit family for Christmas. While we were there we decided to stock up on a few baby bits, which at the time felt very surreal. Even though we could get supplies from Manado it was great to have my mum on hand, who offered some good advice to stock up on things like infant medicines and shampoo for cradle cap. We had to buy a lot of terry-towel nappies as on the island we have to burn or recycle most of our rubbish, so it made sense to get reusable ones. We didn’t have to think about buying things like a buggy – we live on a beach – but we did get a sling to carry him around. We also didn’t bother with a steriliser as we don’t always have electricity so there didn’t seem much point.

“My due date was May 29 and my mum had planned to fly out on May 27. I had decided that I would go to Manado a week before and stay in a hotel and rest before the birth. Things didn’t really go to plan as my waters broke three weeks early and we were still on the island. Unfortunately, it was low tide and our boat was stuck, but I hadn’t started to experience contractions yet so I was able to stay quite calm. I rang around our staff in the village and they were able to help organise a boat to pick us up. It was one of the most memorable journeys as the sun was rising over the mainland.

“We got to the hospital at 8am and by 3pm our little Max had arrived – a healthy 2.7kg. Everyone at the hospital was wonderful and, after staying in the first night, we checked into a hotel next door. We stayed for four more nights as we had a follow-up appointment on day five. It was a wonderful few days trying to figure out what to do with our new arrival. Finally we were able to go home, which involved a three-hour car journey and a bumpy boat ride with Max in a sling.”

Settling in

“Max was a hungry baby and I was breastfeeding. Thankfully, with the internet and Whatsapp, I was able to get lots of advice online and from my friends who are mums back home. June is the start of our busiest period but, luckily, my mum was able to come and stay for three months so that really helped us out. In those early months she would take Max for a few hours in the morning so that

we could sleep or work, and she was really supportive of our situation.

“Of course, all the staff love Max. We have two ladies who are mother and daughter and have nine children between them, so they have kind of adopted him in a way. He’s also a big hit with our guests, but we’re always conscious when he’s crying and take him away – they are on holiday, after all.

“We have taken Max to see the paediatrician every month for check-ups and injections, which is a long round-trip, but thankfully he’s only been ill once with flu and we got him to the city straight away and sorted him out with the right medications.

“Generally we get to spend lots of time together as a family. After eight months he is now on formula milk and weaning so Simon helps out with the feeding when he can.

“Our ladies also take him for an hour or so every day, which means that I get a bit of time to shower, eat or work. Mostly we manage to fit the work in around him.

“We recently went back to the UK and met up with a few friends who also have young babies. Most seemed to be a bit obsessed about sleeping habits and routines. Some mums seemed to compare what each other’s babies were doing and it all felt a bit stressful. It was the first time I had experienced a baby group situation, usually it’s just me and the local ladies from the village so I don’t feel I worry as much about what Max is or isn’t doing.

“Here on the island Max spends 90 per cent of his time outside. He’s either on the beach next to the sea or in the open restaurant. He’s surrounded by plants and animals and is constantly meeting new people. At the moment he seems very curious and adventurous. Sometimes I think if we were back in the UK or leading a more ‘normal’ life then we would be indoors a lot more. I imagine that I would be stuck at home all day and Simon would be out working and not coming home until late.

“There are challenges to living on the island with a baby. We don’t always have electricity or hot water for Max’s bottles, we have to hand wash his nappies and the heat is even hard for us to get used to. It’s always around 30 degrees, which means you’ll usually find Max bumbling around in just a nappy. But I love the fact that he’s always outdoors and we’re both around all the time to spend these precious first years together. Max is already swimming every day and we’re sure he will be a little diver with an encyclopedic ability to identify marine life, reptiles and birds!”