Archive for January, 2010

03
Jan
10

Raja Ampat on the MSY Seahorse – November 2009

All too soon, the Lembeh portion of the trip drew to a close. After a huge send-off by the staff of the resort, we boarded the water taxi to Bitung, after which we boarded prearranged taxis to the Swiss Belhotel Maleosan, in Manado, where we would be meeting the rest of the group for the liveaboard, prior to our departure to Sorong in a couple of days. We booked this hotel online; it wasn’t too expensive and it included a breakfast buffet. We ended up eating dinner at their restaurant as well, which was all right. The next morning we met Rob and Belgis from Diver’s Lodge. They were taking some of us on a tour of of the Minahasa Highlands. This tour began with a drive to climb the Mahawa Volcano in TOmohon, where you could get a good view of the crater lake, and another volcano in the distance. After the long and hot hike uphill, we looked over the crater and then followed a path to the other side to view the lake. After completing this portion of the tour and hiking back down the path we drove to a sulfur lake, Lake Linow, which is a popular park for locals and tourists alike. We did some more sightseeing until we arrived at a botanical garden, where we stopped to view the flora and have lunch. We were tired after our long day and returned to the hotel, where we met the rest of the liveaboard group.

The next day we were up bright and early, ready for the vans to take us to Manado airport for our flight to Sorong. Manado airport isn’t that big, however it has some shops and restaurants. Our biggest find was the lounge, where you paid around $7 to enter and you had AC, free non-alcoholic drinks, hot & cold buffet, comfortable chairs, TV, and free Wi-fi or computer terminals. We made ourselves comfortable and waited until our plane arrived. Our tickets with Lion Air had been booked by the liveaboard staff, and we were ready to go when our flight was called.

The flight was uneventful and soon we arrived in Sorong. We could see the boat in the harbour along with a few other liveaboards and many other ships. The airport was a one-room affair, with almost as many porters as passengers. The porters would take your baggage claim check tickets and find your bags for you. Cedric, one of the crew of the Seahorse, was waiting for us when we arrived. All of our checked luggage was piled together and then carried off by other crew members of the Seahorse to awaiting vans. We piled into the vans and drove off through Sorong to the harbour, where we climbed through several fishing boats onto the large aluminum speedboat that took us out to the Seahorse (http://indocruises.com/indocruises-charter.htm). We were finally here!

After a refreshing tropical drink we were helped with our baggage and shown to our rooms. We unpacked and set up our dive gear and unpacked the rest of our gear. After a snack and a briefing on the routine onboard, we waited until we were given clearance to leave from the harbourmaster and were off to our first destination in the Derawan Strait.

The boat was a typical Phinisi wooden schooner. All the cabins except the large double room were in the foreward section, below deck. Each room had user-controlled AC, two beds, reading lamps, a cupboard for clothes, outlets for charging batteries and laptops, and storage underneath for bags. Each had its own private bathroom with shower and porthole. The lounge had more charging stations and was the AC hangout area during the day. There was a small library in the corner where you could borrow books and a small first-aid station for jellyfish sting relief. Crackers and candy were available all day, as was coffee, an assortment of teas and water.

After our first dive, we were broken up into 3 groups. One group consisted of Jonathan and Pierre, the ‘pros’ on this trip, with Igor as dive guide. The second group consisted of David, Jackie and me, and sometimes Cici as guide. Both of our groups were on zodiacs. The biggest group was on the aluminum speedboat. They had two dive guides, Cedric and Ongko, and were split into two groups.

Gear and cameras were handled by the boat tenders. Each camera was put into a tote by its owner, and loaded onto the boats by the tenders. We were only responsible for our masks and wrist computers, if any. All other gear was managed by the boat tenders and other crew.

From here on, the days just seemed to melt into each other. Daily routine: up at 6am, have  a light breakfast of fruit and sweet rolls or toast, dive at 7am. Before the first dive, the maitre d’ would ask what you wanted for second breakfast. The variety ranged from eggs or omelettes, french toast, pancakes, oatmeal, cereal, and various Indonesian breakfast fare, besides toast, juice and coffee. When we returned from the first dive, breakfast would be waiting for us. After that it was relax, then get ready for the second dive at 11am. Lunch would be ready after that, and usually consisted of salad, a main course and fruit for dessert. This was followed by a siesta. The afternoon dive would be at 3pm, then another siesta until 7pm for the optional night dive. Dinner would be around 8:30 each night and consisted of soup or salad, main and a delicious dessert. My favourite (and many others’) was the Mango Mousse. We had it three times during the trip.

The diving began in Derawan Strait, then Kri and later Misool. I finally got to see some Manta rays on a couple of dives. One day we dove a mangrove. Our head dive guide, Cedric, always checked the conditions and current before we dove a site. At the mangrove he was excited to tell us about a small crocodile he came face to face with in the mangrove. Apparently it swam away fast upon seeing him, but that still made me a bit nervous. Nevertheless, I dove the mangrove site and was glad to have done so. It was beautiful.

I found the visibility was the best in Misool, and it was home to some of my favourite sites. There was a site with a cavern and another with swim-throughs that were both very photogenic, and many excellent soft coral sites. I found the tiniest blue ring octopus on one of the dives, but no-one responded to my wild yelling and flailing about, so I’m the only one with photos of it. We finished the trip with some muck diving similar to Lembeh, where I found a tiny wonderpus octopus. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to take the lens cap off my lens on that dive, so I have no photos of it. However, Jonathan got some great photos of it 😉

One day during the first week some of our group decided to get up at 4 a.m. to go to a nearby island to see the red birds of paradise. We walked a mile through the jungle in the dark, then listened to the sounds of the jungle creatures waking up. The natives have set up a special viewing platform for these birds, however we never saw any of them, though we saw a few other birds. Strangely enough, there were no mosquitos, and I was very happy about that. Afterwards, we spent some time at the village with the locals. The guide refunded half of our fee, which was nice.

Overall, the trip was a success. I saw things I’ve never seen before and the entire area was beautiful. I was a little disappointed not to see any sharks, and very few turtles, but seeing all the new creatures was well worth the trip.

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