Saturday, April 11, 2015

Fun holiday diving in Raja Ampat Indonesia April 5-9, 2015

My logged dives #1343-1352

I'm writing this on the restaurant veranda at Raja Ampat Dive Resort on an afternoon of pouring rain. Fortunately it was sunny and bright this morning for the most awesome day of diving we've done in a long time, and we even managed to get our dive gear in out of the sun as the first drops fell. But we didn't expect an hours-long deluge. My 1 GB data roaming package just ran out while we were stuck here, and we have to get our gear from where we parked it under a thatched roof up to our room so we can pack, pay up, sleep, and be off in the morning for the long haul back to Abu Dhabi. That seems to be our biggest concern while the world is dripping water outside, but hopefully the rain will pass.

We'd been looking forward to this holiday for a long time. Bobbi has become a good travel agent in her retirement. She spends weeks prior to my holidays finding the most appropriate dive locations for us and booking us into them, and this time it was Raja Ampat, just off west Iryan Jaya, a place from where many of our friends have been sending back glowing reports.

It was hard to book a place because it's Easter holidays in many parts of the world, many are traveling at this time, and in Raja Ampat most resorts expect you to stay with them for a week and don't want to talk to you if you can't meet their once-weekly pickup date. Of the few who are cheaper and more flexible, RADR boasted 24 hour electricity and flexibility on dates, and turned out to be friendly and accommodating. Their accommodation was basic (wooden cabins, no locks on doors, fan-cooled) but comfortable (beds to melt in, quiet apart from jungle noises). Food was great, and diving was as-you-like-it. They had a modem with blinking lights but no Internet the whole time we were there, but I managed to use my cell phone as a data hub for as long as my 1 GB pre-paid roaming lasted.

Unfortunately my body clock had wound down by the time we got to Raja Ampat. I was in Toronto the last week in March, in freezing temperatures. I delivered 4 presentations, and flew home soon after the last one, arriving home in Al Ain after midnight, purposely overslept work but got there as soon as I woke up, dealt with end of semester reports in addition to covering other people's classes through to end of week, came home exhausted, packed dive gear, etc, and got 4 hours sleep before having to get up to drive 1.5 hours to the airport in Abu Dhabi.

With so little time to recover from jet lag, my body protested in earnest the morning of packing the car at 5 a.m and I started to feel feverish, so I grabbed a thermometer, discovered I had a slight fever, and brought it with me to monitor my body for the rest of the trip. We drove to Abu Dhabi, parked at a sister college, took a taxi to the airport, and then caught a flight to Jakarta, delayed due to the previous day's severe dust storms in UAE. We reached Jakarta around midnight but had to get our bags through customs and sit with them in a coffee shop for some hours before boarding domestic at 5 a.m. So we missed the night's sleep and by now my fever was over 38.

It didn't help that we had to change planes in Makassar before catching one to our destination airport Sarong. That was tedious, but went ok, and RADR had sent a meet and greet to collect us on landing, but it was only to pack us in a car for a drive to the harbor, because we still had a 2-hour trip by boat to Waisai, the port on the island where the resort was. The resort was actually full the day we arrived so it had been arranged for us to be taken to a hotel in town to sleep and await pick up for diving in the morning. The hotel was basic and almost empty, but comfortable enough for a tired traveler, and sleeping there was really all I wanted to do, so worn out from the trip and feverish. However, we couldn't help but notice it was next to what looked to be a main mosque and we knew what that meant. That is we thought we knew what that meant. We thought it meant that although we were too tired to stay awake till sunset, we might be disturbed in our sleep. But our heads had no sooner hit the pillow and had wesuccumbed to the stress of the trip when at 6:05 p.m. the prayer call began on highest volume. We try to be understanding about these things and we know we are in another country, another culture, and we must be tolerant visitors, but this lasted for 1 hour 30 minutes, and we just lay through it, too weary to do anything else, even go out for food. It's probably a good thing we didn't because when it stopped we shut down as well and slept. We slept for 9 hours when at 4:30 the call resumed for morning prayer. This one lasted 45 min, by which time we needed to get up because our ride was coming at 7:00.

By now my fever was 38.5 and I knew I was not really fit for diving, but we had booked three dives for that day and I had found a web site to say that there was no need to seek medical help until a fever reached 103 F or 39.4 C. So we soldiered on despite a continuation of errors. We were greeted at the resort, moved into our cabin, handed forms to fill out, and shown onto a boat. The odd thing was we never saw any other divers there until the day we left, we had the dive shop and resort to ourselves. The only other divers we encountered there were the manager and his visiting daughter. However, the people in the accommodation the day before had gone on a trip that morning and taken all the weight. That was the first thing we noticed, we had to go to another resort to get more weight. When they got the boat started, that is, two 40 hp motors they tried one after another but the boatman knew his equipment and finally managed to squeeze enough gas and oil into the right places with the lid off both engines to get one puttering and we were off to pick up weight and rev out to the dive site.

We did the two morning dives at places called Mioskun and Friwen Bonda, good ones, with our first ever glimpse of wobbegong sharks. When I saw my first one under a rock, our dive guide Rocky reached in to grab its curly-queue tail and pull it out where I could get better pictures. I got a great shot of him doing that but another thing going wrong that day was the SD card in my camera was failing and my computer later refused to read it, nor could the GoPro recognize it after that, so all our shots were lost on our first dive. We have two Go-Pros though, each with an SD card and we usually use one the first dive, and then the next one the second. So we have the shots from our second dive, second GoPro. And after that we just kept switching the cards over so we had a camera working and fresh batteries every dive.

But my body batteries were in serious discharge. When we returned to port for lunch, I managed to get my equipment washed but it was all I could do to get back up to the room, find my fever was now 39.3, just a notch off critical, and take the decision to call off diving till further notice and go to bed. Forget the third, dive, I didn't even have lunch. Nor dinner. Nor breakfast next morning. Someone brought bananas, I didn't eat those. I only drank the cokes Bobbi brought me and I stayed in bed for 24 hours, monitoring my fever which hovered in the 38 range through the morning. Finally next afternoon, the fever broke in a sweat. I went to dinner. The manager Andy suggested we join him and his daughter for a three dive trip the next day. It would be an all-day outing, not sure if I was up for it yet, but manager's choice of dive sites sounded tempting, so we agreed.

They were great spots, starting with Manta Sandy, where there was a manta on hand to entertain the swarm of divers who were positioned behind a line of rocks in the sand. It was wonderfully entertaining, and at the end the manta came right at and over us, granting us the Facebook shot of the day. 

Back on the boat, we stopped for coffee at a shelter under construction or under dilapidation, hard to tell, on an otherwise empty beach. The idea in such stops was to not only consume coffee, but to vent nitrogen for at least an hour to have safe levels of absorbed gas in our tissues in preparation for the next dive, which at that moment was on West Monswar, not far from Kri Island. I don't remember much about that dive, will have to check the videos (ah, now I see, sharks :-), but it was Bobbi's favorite of the day because it was so full of fish. Lunch was passed on a ridiculously white sand bar with blue-green water all around, our launching point for Kri reef. Kri was reputed to be one of the most colorful reefs around, probably superb as a morning dive, but afternoon vis and light took its toll, I was coughing during the dive, and for my first day after serious illness it was one dive too many.

Rocky, our first-day guide, proposed another three dive day for a us next day, but I was concerned about having another 3 dive all day outing. So again we accepted when the manager invited us to accompany him and his daughter on a trip to the passage next day. The Passage ... We envisaged a channel between islands full of pelagic fish drawn to the current on the thriving reefs there. What we found instead was a landscape of mushroom islands funneling into something like a river that separated two separate land masses which, if you didn't know that, could have been two banks to a fast-running stream. There was current, but silt as well, in a flow largely devoid of fish. There were nudibranchs and flatworms and small creatures that our guides delighted in pointing out to us, on each of the two dives we did there. And both dives started in caves, which were easily silted and not all that interesting. It was muck diving and possibly worth seeing if you were getting bored with the sharks and mantas on the truly remarkable reefs in the wider ocean there. 

Bobbi and I were so disappointed with it that we agreed to a third dive after all that day just so we could see some fish. For this we were taken just 5 or 10 min from the dive resort to the 5 Rocks marking the harbor on the island opposite. Vis was not so good but we saw some sharks and rays and at the top of the reef there were beautiful colorful soft coral swim-throughs that I got on film.

Again that third dive knackered me. Bobbi and I didn't even bother with Internet. We had dinner and went to bed around 9 and slept solidly till 7. Sleep as always was fantastic at RADR.

And that brings us to today, the most remarkable dives of the week. Blue Magic and Sardines. At Blue Magic we dropped in on a black tip, a good sign, found schools of barracuda, tunas running among them. White tips lounged on the sand bottom. Wobbegongs rested where they wanted or scurried here and there. Jacks frolicked. Tiny crabs inched across anenomes. On Sardines, our dive ended in barracudas and esp. bump headed parrot fish gnoshing as much coral as they could. Relentless robot destroyers of coral, they move like a herd of hump-headed bulls circumnavigating reefs and lagoons taking days or however long they need to get from one end to the the other and start over, somehow justifying it through being one with the ecosystem.

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