WWe had been preparing for this trip for over a year, and we were almost there. This was the first dive trip where Rick and I would be enjoying it as a full holiday, it was not a working or training trip and it seemed kind of eerie. How do you relax while letting others plan your daily diving?
We would be traveling to Raja Ampat, Indonesia, with 12 of our regular dive buddies from Dive Centre Bondi, spending 8 days on a liveaboard. Our expectations were to be able to shoot as much wide angle as possible and hopefully get in some big pelagics.
Once we had packed almost 100 kilos worth of camera and diving gear, we were ready for our three flight trip. Nothing could stop us, aside from an active volcano that was just about to erupt in Bali. A few days before the trip we were told that we might need a plan B to get to our destination as one of our flights landed in Bali and part of the island had already been evacuated.
On October 3rd, with contained enthusiasm we headed to Sydney's airport and had the greatest news, the flights were going ahead! We had decided to allow for one extra day on arrival, after working on the liveaboard industry in Egypt and having seen so many people miss their flights or not have their luggage arrive on time, we wanted to make sure everything ran smoothly, and it did!
We were extremely happy to see our dear friends from the Western Australia, Erica and Ned, in Makassar; just one more flight and we would arrive in Sorong, our final destination.
I could only describe the heat we experienced once we arrived as nothing short of a steam room. Upon touching land sweating is an understatement, you can only be amazed at how much water your body can hold on the inside and just see it pour out trough your skin. I love the tropics though, I can't get enough of them!
The following day, we travelled from our hotel in arranged transportation and headed to the marina, we were greeted by two speed boats and headed to La Galigo, our home for the next week. This boat is the closest thing that I've seen to a pirate boat, it's a dark wooden ship with big masts and large red sails. Once onboard the excitement sinks in as you open your luggage and you start assembling your gear, your camera and get ready for two dives in a few hours. The first will be a check out dive followed by a night dive. I have decided that not matter what, my daily dives will be wide angle and I will concentrate on macro for the night dives. This will also be my first dive in a wetsuit in over a year, I am being bold here and I will be hitting the water in a 3/2mm with a long sleeve hooded Lavacore, water temperature expectation is 29 degrees and I can't wait.
Our cabin is on the top level and sleeping with the door open meanwhile you look at the Milky Way and the ocean sounds like an incredible plan.
Ok, all of the 14 divers are now on the boat and it's official, we are heading out for a 4 hour boat trip to our check out dive. The heat and humidity is brutal and we know we're in for a week of warm stickiness while donning our suits; it doesn't matter, we are just about to hit the water.
If you have never been on a liveaboard I can pretty much sum up the experience in the below:
Wake up, dive, eat, dive, snack, nap, dive, rest, dive, eat, repeat! It's paradise for the avid diver and I might have forgotten to mention that you will only have to set up your gear once. This is the most comfortable type of diving in the world, we are privileged to be here in so many ways.
So it's crunch time; after dividing us in 3 different groups with rotating guides, we look overboard and the water is as flat as a pancake, you can see the bottom from the surface and I can already see large sponges and corals. We were greeted by big schools of shrimpfish that seemed to move as a single unit; these guys spend their whole life upside down and are as thin as razors, hence why they're known as razor fish as well.
img src="/images/rocketlauncher/pages/blog/Reef-and-fish-2.jpg alt="Raja Ampat Reef">
What transpired from this dive onwards can only be described as magical, each dive site will be embedded in my brain by its own uniqueness. We had calm, glass looking waters which revealed a myriad of colours; soft, hard corals, long thin whips behind massive sea fans hiding minuscule Pygmy Seahorses. It was the land of the opposites and we were just struck by the beauty of the chaotic biodiversity. These reefs looked in the healthiest condition I have ever seen in my life. There was such a fine line between one species of coral to the other that in so many occasions I was left wondering where did one animal start and where did it end. They seemed to be all coinhabiting and pulsating as a big creature that covered yards of sea ground. If you stop and look you might be surprised by a big wobbegong shark or a turtle just sitting below you, hidden and camouflaged by the array of coral, rocks and sponges. Look even closer and smaller creatures like nudibranchs, pipefish, frog fish and shrimp seemingly pop out of nowhere. The amount of species in Raja Ampat is breathtaking and it reinforced my beliefs that there is still hope, we have to preserve the oceans and education and conservation are the keys to achieving it. We need to protect the legacy of this underwater world!
In a sharp contrast, I was very surprised by the lack of big pelagic, we did see some dog tooth and yellow fin tuna, a few reef sharks and had a quick visit from two mantas but the encounters where sporadic and left me with a worrying feeling. Are we too late for them?
I would like to make a note on the fact that this recollection of my trip was done over 23 dives, visiting targeted reefs, so I could not say if this is the general condition of the underwater landscapes in this remote side of the world. It's still a common practice to use cyanide to collect fish, a terrible practice that begun in the Philippines in the 60's due to the enormous demand of tropical fish for aquariums. If you want to see what this is about and the impact have a look at this article.
After seven incredible days of diving I can honestly say that we couldn't have asked for a better group of divers in our team, diving with similar minded people can make or break a dive. You'll be able to see them in some of our photos from the trip, they were great models, with and without their knowledge.
The trip back home was bitter sweet, knowing that the diving was over but comforted by the memories... and the hundreds of photos waiting to be edited.