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Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Indonesia Saga

I haven't talked about my planning of my Indonesia trip very much. There are a lot of reasons for this - I wanted to keep the travel dates private, I didn't know what to say, and I had other things to write about.  This trip is a huge deal to us.  We planned it over the course of 18 months.  Things didn't exactly go to plan, so I thought I'd share what we have been going through that I haven't really written about until now.

Summer 2009
The idea for the trip began the day after our wedding in July 2009.  Our witnesses for our wedding, Matt and Ellen, were discussing this incredible liveaboard (scuba diving boat that you stay on) boat that they were planning to travel on in Indonesia.  Matt was very excited, and Todd caught on to the excitement.  Todd asked me if I wanted to go.  The trip was to Raja Ampat, Indonesia, which I had never even heard of.  I didn't think that we could afford it, and I worried about the fact that we wouldn't be able to go anywhere else.  Where would we get the money?  Where would we get the vacation time?

Matt showed me the website for the Raja Ampat boat, called the Archipelago Adventurer II.  We went home from Little Cayman still thinking about it and pondering if we'd be able to go there.  I investigated and saw the price and the amount of vacation we'd need - the liveaboard trip itself was 10 days long, and it would take 2 days to get there, and 2 days to get home.  That would mean that we would need a minimum 14 days of vacation.  Yikes.

We continued thinking about it.  Ten days after we arrived home from Little Cayman, the JW Marriott in Jakarta was bombed.  We didn't let this bother us too much, since even if we went on the trip, we were not going to be near Jakarta.

Then, around the end of July, we watched the documentary Equator: Reefs of Riches.  Oh my goodness.  This documentary focused on Raja Ampat specifically and made it look amazing.  We began seriously thinking of how we were going to manage going on this trip, and finally made the commitment to book in mid-August.  Only a week later, my dad had a series of heart attacks and open heart surgery, and we began seriously thinking about trip insurance...

Raja Ampat
The reason why this trip is so special is that it is taking us to the Raja Ampat Islands in Indonesia.  First of all, Indonesia itself is just a terrific place to dive, but Raja Ampat in particular is absolutely incredible.  Raja Ampat means The Four Kings and is made up of over 1500 islands.  Raja Ampat includes the most diverse coral reefs in the world, and is relatively new to the scuba diving world.  We were potentially going to have the ability to dive on dive sites that had never been dove by anyone before.  We might see a species that is totally undiscovered.  Plus, the place is just phenomenally beautiful.

We were looking forward to seeing Pacific fish that we'd never seen before, tons of soft coral, sharks, and more.  This included Wobbegongs, which I wasn't particular familiar with and had never heard of.  In general, though, it was just going to be a phenomenal trip.  We were thrilled, excited and eager to get on our way.

Still, at the time that we booked, we were an incredible 17 months away from actually going.  Friends and family thought we were nuts.  Co-workers were amazed that we were asking for time off this far in advance.  We seemed crazy.  Conversations went something like this:

Friend: How are things?  What have you been up to?
Kim: Oh, well, we're planning a trip to Indonesia.
Friend: WHY?  Why in the world would you go there?
Kim: Excellent diving.  Best in the world.
(blank stare from Friend)

Fall 2009
There wasn't much that we could do after we paid our initial deposit for the Archipelago Adventurer II.  I had found some trip reports from other divers who had gone on the same boat, but Todd refused to look at them because he was afraid it would make him too excited about the trip when it was still over a year away.

We gave some thought to extending the trip, and finally decided on spending an extra week in Indonesia so that we could see the Island of Bali.  I had known others who had visited Bali, and it truly looked spectacular.  We thought it would be nice to have some additional time to get over our jet lag before meeting Matt and Ellen in Sorong (where the Adventurer II was docked).  I began looking at resorts and scuba diving on Bali. There is so much to see in Bali!!!

Winter 2009/2010
In January, we were officially one year away from our trip.  I continued to plan the Bali portion, and I began talking to our travel agent about airfare and Bali.  Little else went on, except eager anticipation of planning the rest of the trip...

Spring 2010
Finally, in March we were only 11 months away from our return trip.  The travel agent let us know that the best course of action to add on Bali would be to go to Bali at the end of our trip rather than the beginning.  This was still a great idea, since it would allow us to rest and relax some after our Raja Ampat adventure.  We worked out travel plans, and booked the airfare.

The downside was that the best route to get to Sorong was going to be via Jakarta.  That's right, the city that we were happy to not be visiting because of the recent bout of terrorism was now part of our itinerary.  The upside was that Hong Kong also became part of our itinerary, and we planned a stop over there on our way home.

I planned our hotels and found that best place to stay for our one night in Jakarta was going to be the JW Marriott.  So, we would be staying in the same hotel that was bombed in 2009.  (Commence freak out from my mom).

We planned to visit Tulamben for diving while we were in Bali, followed by a relaxing few days in Ubud (which some of you might know from Eat, Pray, Love).  Plan of action was set.  Hotels were booked.  With the exception of the domestic Indonesian airline tickets (which must be booked less than 90 days in advance), our trip was planned.

Summer 2010
July found us back in Little Cayman again with Matt and Ellen.  We had an excellent week on the island, and it was funny to hug them at the end of the trip while saying, "See you in Jakarta!"  We were getting so excited.  Everything seemed wonderful.  Todd was starting to look at some of the trip reports from the Archipelago Adventurer II, and I'd found some other reports from Villa Markisa, where we'd be diving in Tulamben.  We made plans about equipment.  We bought new dive computers.  We tried to expose ourselves to more challenging dive conditions so we'd be ready for the currents that we were sure we'd find in Indonesia.  Things were good.

Fall 2010
The problems started the end of October.  Although, for me it was the following week - the first week of November.  I was at work, daydreaming a bit about our upcoming Indonesia trip.  It was now less than 90 days away.  I was looking for more photos or trip reports and instead I came across a post on Scubaboard entitled "Adventurer 2 liveaboard accident (no injuries)"

Uh oh.

It is with a heavy sense of disappointment that I must tell you of an incident which occurred with the Archipelago Adventurer II in Raja Ampat on the 26th October 2010.

At 8pm in poor conditions close to Kri Island, the Adventurer II vessel sat at anchor after a night dive, due to a combination of factors to do with weather and current, the vessel dragged the anchor and struck the reef stern first, sustaining damage to the driveshaft and propeller. The vessel was upright, but due to the propeller damage it proved impossible to dislodge her despite our efforts. As this became clear, the guests from our charter disembarked and have been graciously assisted by the team at Papua Diving, to whom we are very grateful. All guests and crew departed the vessel without incident, along with their belongings everyone remains safe and the group are continuing their dive adventure in Raja Ampat.

Currently we are assessing the damage to the Archipelago Adventurer II, as a result of the damage to the driveshaft, water did enter the engine room, however the vessel has been towed back to port and will enter dry dock to repair any issues caused by the impact. Due to extensive insurance, the machinery will be replaced as necessary and Archipelago will cruise the waters of Indonesia again as soon as possible. At this time however, we don’t know the extent of the damage to the machinery or the vessel itself until we enter dry dock for a comprehensive inspection and assessment of the damage.

As a result of the uncertainty, and due to our desire to continue providing our divers with a quality experience in Indonesia for the same itineraries, timeframes and durations already agreed with our groups and individuals, we have chartered another vessel for the duration of the repair until we can cruise once more with the Archipelago. The dive crew, chef and service team from the Adventurer II will board the new vessel and will provide our trademark service, diving and food. We will utilize our custom built aluminum tenders too. We do realize this is not ideal, however after such an incident, we are working as quickly as possible to provide the best possible solution for our divers.
As you might imagine, I started to panic a little.  At least things sounded under control.  I contacted our friend Matt, our travel agent and the Archipelago Fleet themselves.  All of them assured me that things would be fine, and that there was a substitute boat, Sea Safari III.  Or, if things went as hoped and planned, we would be on the Archipelago Adventurer II as planned...

We continued on with our planning.  We were disappointed that we might not be on the boat that we had intended, but we assumed things were going along fine.  I kept in touch with my travel agent about when the domestic Indonesian airline tickets would finally become available.  Apparently these things happen very last minute.

I finally called my travel agent in early December to find out about the tickets.

Travel Agent: Well, they have asked me to hold off on ordering those tickets because there might be a problem with the boat.
Kim: Wait, what kind of problem?
Travel Agent:  Well, the substitute boat...  It may have hit a reef also.

Hard to believe, but true.  We weren't sure what exactly was going for several more days, as communication between us in the states and those in Indonesia was somewhat spotty and hard to get.  Basically, when you send an email to Indonesia, you have to sit and wait a good 12-14 hours before you hear back because our daytime is their nighttime.  My travel agent was on the west coast, too, which didn't help, so she wasn't in the office until 3 hours after me.

We finally heard from the Archipelago Fleet almost a week later, on December 13.  They let us know that they were going out of business as of December 20...

Uh oh.
As most will know, the Archipelago Adventurer II vessel was damaged during the storm in October 2010. In order to meet commitments to guests and valued agents, at considerable expense Archipelago chartered, relocated and fitted out another vessel, the Sea Safari III, to operate cruises while the necessary repairs for the Archipelago vessel were assessed and completed. Our service, chef and dive crew were stationed on board, the captain and officers were from Sea Safari and, although the facility was not the Archipelago Adventurer, divers enjoyed the diving, food and service of our team on board, and were happy to accept partial refunds for the lower quality facility. To those understanding and patient divers, I am very grateful.

Unfortunately, on 5 December 2010, Sea Safari III was also involved in an accident and was grounded in Raja Ampat. All guests and crew disembarked safely, but the Sea Safari vessel was lost and has since been destroyed in a fire.

This second incident proved to be too much and Archipelago has been forced to cease operations. Regardless of previous successes, it is clear that no company can survive successive disasters such as this. In a matter of days, the company went from having significant cash reserves and good cashflow to being on the verge of bankruptcy. The cost to charter the replacement vessel and relocate it, to purchase new compressors, to pay for guests replacement diving and accommodations, in addition to other significant recovery payments made in response to the Archipelago accident, wiped out the company's ability to respond effectively when the Sea Safari incident happened. At this time there is no money for Archipelago to charter a new vessel and continue operations. The shareholders and Board of Directors in Jakarta have no other choice but to cease operations.
Oh boy.

So, there we were, five weeks before our trip and no boat.  Our itinerary went like this:  Go to Jakarta.  11 days later, there will be a hotel reservation in Bali.  Not good.

We scrambled and tried figuring out what to do.  I honestly don't know what we would have done without our travel agent.  A week after we found out about the incident, after much back and forth, we had some solutions.

I had flat out rejected an idea of Matt's to go on another boat in the Lembeh Strait/North Sulawesi region of Indonesia instead.  Even though that is spectacular diving, it wasn't what I had been daydreaming about for many months.  We did find two other boats who might be willing to help us out.  One was going to change its dates by two days, and was not nearly as nice as the AAII.  The other was a brand new liveaboard willing to create a trip just for us, but it would only sail with 8 passengers.  We were only 4 passengers.

And so, the waiting game continued as we waited for our travel agent to contact the other Archipelago passengers who were booked on our charter to see if they would want to go on the other boat.  We waited, and kept putting off the one boat that wanted an answer from us.  Finally, the answer came - the boat we wanted had a broken watermaker and it would not be ready to sail in time for our dates.

And so, we were booked on the Raja Ampat Explorer, which was gracious enough to move their entire itinerary to our dates.  And so, we went.

I've been so nervous about this trip.  The planning has been a roller coaster of emotions, like no other trip before it.  I don't truly know what to expect, but hopefully I've had a great time.  I'm sure you'll know soon, as I should hopefully start posting real-time again within the next day or two.  (This post was completed January 14)
The Raja Ampat Explorer

1 comment:

Jenny said...

wow! what drama! I hope that your trip was wonderful and made it was all worth it, though - I look forward to hearing more about it!

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