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Monday, February 28, 2011

Indonesia Part Three: The Raja Ampat Explorer

In Part Two, Todd and I finally arrived in Sorong, Indonesia, which is the gateway to the spectacular scuba diving region of Raja Ampat.  After two and a half days straight of travel, we finally made it and we were ready to see some fish!


Our boat, The Raja Ampat Explorer was truly in the Indonesian style.  I admit, it was not as nice as the Archipelago Adventurer II where we had originally been booked.  We entered on the dive deck and then headed to the salon area where we sat and had a coconut smoothie.  We were introduced to the crew - a total of 11 people, all from Indonesia.  A lot of the crew did not speak a whole lot of English, but we did have a cruise director/divemaster named Weka who spoke a lot of English.  While Weka was introducing us to the rules of the boat, a roach crawled down the wall behind him.

Ok, so we knew that there would be roaches before we got there.  I had read a ton of reviews of the boat, and many of them mentioned that there were critters on board.  This really isn't all that unusual for a dive liveaboard.  These boats dock in third world countries and get supplies from places where there are bugs.  It's almost unavoidable that they will show up on board, and it's incredibly difficult to get rid of them.  We had fought roaches before in Bonaire (those were huge ones, 3-4 inches long), and on the Turks & Caicos Aggressor (those were more normal sized, and were frequently seen on the sun deck and kitchen/salon, but never in our rooms).  So, I was prepared for the roaches and hoped we could make it work.

Once the crew had been introduced, they pulled up the anchor and we headed out into Raja Ampat.  The boat sailed until late at night.  In the meantime, we set up our equipment on the dive deck and then I headed down to our room.  The ship had two rooms on the top floor, and Matt and Ellen and the other couple, Daniel and Nicole were in those two rooms.  Todd and I were on the bottom floor, below deck.
Manusar, Raja Ampat, Indonesia

So, I asked our cabin steward, Madi, what room we were in.  All of them.  We had the entire bottom deck, a total of FIVE ROOMS.  Ohh kay.  So, I moved my stuff into the room that was in the bow of the ship, which was the only one with a double bed  (the rest were two twins).  I like to unpack, but Todd does not, so we put our luggage into another room on the beds and I put my clothes into the cubbies in the room.  Then, I took a two hour nap.  Todd had disappeared to assemble his camera, and it was AWESOME to finally lie down and take a long, long nap.

Todd finally woke me up, and I have little recollection of making it through the fog of the rest of the night.  I know we ate dinner, and I know that I went to bed at about 8:30.

Oh, the roaches.  They had started showing up in our room after dark.  We went to bed and turned the lights out, and we couldn't stop thinking about them.  More than anything, Todd couldn't stop thinking about them.  He woke up several times in the night, turned on all of the lights, located a few roaches (3 or 4) that had crawled out, killed them, and then went back to bed.  Then, at 5:15am, I felt a tickle on my chin and across my face...  And I was up.  Lights on, bug killed, and I decided to go ahead and just get up.  We went to brush our teeth and a tiny roach had gotten into the ziploc bag where we kept our tooth brushes.  I honestly did not know how we were going to make it through ten more nights of this, but I knew we were going to have to.
Our boat docked at the Raja Ampat Dive Lodge
No one but some of the crew were awake when Todd and I got up on deck at about 5:30am that first morning.  We had docked at the Raja Ampat Dive Lodge, owned by the owners of our boat.  Todd and I got out and walked around some in the dark.  We looked off the pier and could see fish.  Tons of fish.  Fish that were clearly bright colors.  I stood there wanting to grab a mask, fins and snorkel and jump in, but we couldn't.  The boat was ready to head out, so we went up to the sun deck with a cup of tea and watched the sun rise as we headed out to our first dive site.
Sunrise our first morning in Raja Ampat
Clownfish!
The diving in Raja Ampat made everything - the travel, the long flights, the roaches - worthwhile.  We started out around Mansuar Island.  It was almost too much to take in.  Bumphead Parrotfish, Whitetip Reef Sharks, schools of fish.  I mean schools of fish.  Hundreds, thousands of fish.  Schools of huge Barracudas - and I mean 80 Barracudas swimming together.  You don't see this stuff in the Caribbean.  And Clownfish!  I finally got to see Clownfish!  The Clownfish were everywhere, and all different types, not just the Nemo kind.  Giant clams, some that might be as much as 100 years old, and little Nudibranchs.  That night, we did a night dive near the Jetty of the Raja Ampat Dive Lodge, where we docked again.  Weka came on land with Todd and me and showed us the dive lodge, which was still under construction, but very nice.

The pier at the Raja Ampat Dive Lodge
On our second night, we decided to try sleeping in the room next door to ours, which had two twin beds.  We left the lights on to discourage the roaches from visiting.  It went well, and no roaches came out during the night, but I didn't quite sleep as well because I hate sleeping with the lights on.  The next night, we stayed in that same room (which we called "The Sleeping Room"), but with only one light on and not two.  A roach crawled across the wall in the middle of the night.  I decided that if there were going to be roaches during the night, we may as well move back into the cabin with the double bed, so on our fourth night and the rest of the nights on the boat, we stayed in the bow cabin.  I never saw the roaches during the day, and my naps were uninterrupted.  We always slept with one small light on (which was good anyway because I was staying so hydrated that I was getting up a couple of times during the night).  No roaches ever crawled on us again, and with each night that passed, we saw fewer and fewer of them.  In the end, I think they'd gotten stirred up with the crew getting ready for our arrival, and things just gradually calmed down.  Still, by the eleventh night, we'd open our eyes during the night and see a roach somewhere in the room, shrug and roll over and go back to sleep.  We both developed a strange tolerance for insects in Indonesia.
A local fisherman

Each day followed the same schedule.  We would wake up between 5:30 and 6:00am, I'd go up and watch the sunrise with a cup of tea, then we'd have some toast and jam and get ready for the dive.  The first dive was at 7:30am.  After the dive was breakfast, then relaxing and reading on the sun deck.  The second dive was at 10:00am, and then we would have lunch.  After lunch, I'd usually take a short nap in the room before the third dive, which was at 2:00pm.  Next came snack time, followed by a dusk dive at 6:00pm, or a night dive around 7:00pm.  After the last dive was dinner, then bed between 9:30 and 10:00pm.

The food was good on the boat.  It was not gourmet, but I had been worried.  It was all Indonesian food, for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Breakfast was Nasi Goreng (fried rice), eggs (more like a frittata most of the time), and vegetables.  Occasionally, the cook would make french toast or Indonesian style pancakes, which were more like crepes.  No syrup, sweet breakfast treats were served with honey.  We had fruit at every meal, usually pineapple, papaya, melon or mango.  At breakfast each day, we'd have a fruit smoothie, which was always delicious.

The captain and his catch
For lunch, we'd have steamed rice, and vegetables, fish, pork, beef or chicken.  Often, we would have shrimp or squid.  Everything was served in a stir fry, or fried or in sauce.  Occasionally sort of grilled.  Very Indonesian-style.  The Captain of the boat was also a fisherman, and he would catch us fresh fish to eat.  One day, we got back on the boat to find that he'd caught a huge Wahoo.  We were served sashimi that day with both lunch and dinner, which was a terrific treat.

Dinners were similar to lunch, except that we also had soup.  The soup was like an egg drop, with vegetables and meat sometimes thrown in, depending on what was around.  We did have pretty much the same soup for dinner each night for eleven nights.  It was delicious, though.

Our second day of diving brought us to Manta Sandy.  This is a famous site near Mansuar where Manta Rays come out to play.  The first dive went rather slow.  We hooked into the sand and some mantas swam past, but they did not get close.  We tried again on the second dive, and WOW!  The mantas swooped in, getting cleaned and eating right over our heads.  They were amazing.  Todd was getting great photos, and the mantas were sometimes so close to him that he couldn't focus on them.  It was crazy.  I love getting close to Manta Rays and these were HUGE - some as much as 12 feet across.
Matt (front) and me (behind) watching the mantas at Manta Sandy
Nicole watches a Manta
Manta

Pygmy Seahorse
After Manta Sandy, we traveled to an island called Gam, where we found Pygmy Seahorses.  These things are TINY.  They are only about a centimeter long, tops.  They blend in perfectly with the sea fans where they make their home.  We would find one (well, pointed out to us by Weka) and I would keep my eye on it, but it was tough to photograph because we would lose it again if we looked away for a second.  We used a ton of time on that dive trying to photograph the Pygmies.

The diving was going wonderfully, and it was making up for whatever sacrifices we were making in luxury on the boat.


Coming up in my next installment, we visit the Wayag region, which I have proclaimed as the most beautiful place on Earth.  We do some hiking, get caught in a storm, visit the Equator, and more...  Stay tuned.
Sunset on our way to Wayag

3 comments:

Kandi said...

Those pictures are amazing! Looks like an amazing place to visit. Glad you were able to get over the roaches and still enjoy the time on the boat. Did the others have trouble with roaches in their above deck rooms?

Kim said...

They did, although never as bad as we had them that first night, and then later in the trip (about after day four or so) they actually had roaches worse than we did. We had several nights where we didn't see any at all, but towards the end of the trip, Nicole had a roach scurry across her forehead during the night...

lindsay said...

amazing pictures! i can't get over the roaches though. remind me to never sail. may as well just tow me in a raft behind the boat. i haaate roaches. we have big ones here in sc ("palmetto bugs"). these sound even bigger.

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