Finally, it was time for something we'd been looking forward to for months - a liveaboard scuba diving safari in Komodo National Park. For the next four days we'd be living on board Uber Scuba's beautiful boat Amalia and experiencing some of the best diving in the world.
After nine months of backpacking, we're basically just used to living in squalor by this point - cheap rooms, cockroaches and street food. This meant the luxury of being on Amalia came as a welcome shock to the system - a beautiful boat, a clean room, four fantastic meals a day and being waited upon hand and foot! We tried out best to hide our stained clothes and pretend we fit in...
After getting settled in, it was time for our first dive, meant mainly as a check dive to ease back in for those who hadn't dived in a while. We were already getting very excited after this, as even the check dive was a stunning site of pristine corals, huge sea fans bigger than a person and colourful fish everywhere you turned. During the ride to the second site, we were treated to a pod of dolphins leaping around
the boat as we relaxed in the sunshine over a delicious meal. The second dive was a lot of fun - we descended and then swum against what to our inexperienced legs felt like a fairly strong current (and oh how wrong we were about that, as we were to find out the next day...). After saying hello to a big school of batfish at the end of our swim, we turned and did the enjoyable bit of a current dive; drifting lazily with the current all the way back along the reef. No effort, no swimming, just float along and watch the world go by. My kind of diving! We drifted along past a load of colourful corals, zoomed under turtles and floated by beautiful tropical fish, until our air was up and it was time to surface. As it turned out we'd puffed our air at just the right rate, as we lucked out and spent our safety stop chilling with our first ever manta ray; an amazing experience. That evening we climbed a small island and sat with a beer watching the sunset over Komodo while getting to know the other divers on the boat. A perfect
first day aboard!
On day two the diving was taken up a notch. Komodo is famous for its currents; strong, unpredictable and very dangerous if you don't know the area in a lot of detail, the currents can switch from left to right, create whirlpools, drag you down or force you up with little or no notice. Fortunately all of our dive guides were very experienced and knew the sites like the back of their hands - so we stuck close behind them and enjoyed the positives that the currents bring; exciting diving and lots of very cool stuff to see. Having said that, our first dive on the second day turned out to be a little too much for us... One of Komodo's most celebrated sites, Castle Rock is very exposed and the currents swirl and batter you around. Our guide kept telling us that the currents were about as low as they ever got there, but it certainly didn't feel it - we would swim a few kicks while being pushed back by the currents, then grab a rock and try to catch our breath before swimming a further few kicks. Unused to the currents, we worked
very hard and used up all our air within 25 minutes, before surfacing exhausted, out of breath, and with fingers cut to pieces from holding on to the rocks. We were vaguely aware that there had been a load of big fish around while we dived, but were in no state to really notice what any of it was... An amazing site for an experienced diver, but not one we were quite ready for yet!
Everything very quickly got better on the next dive though. Another of the most famous of the Komodo sites, Crystal Rock is famed for spectacular visibility and variety of sea life. And it did not disappoint; almost immediately on descending a pod of dolphins started to swim all around us - a very rare experience to have while diving, and one we felt very lucky to have had. Seconds later, a good sized reef shark meandered past - the first of many on that dive - and then we swum on past turtles, big napoleon wrasse and giant grouper, sea snakes, moray eels... We peered into corals to see some very cute little pygmy seahorses, lifted up our feet rather nervously to avoid getting
in the middle of a fight between trigger fish, and generally spend an amazing hour or so seeing just about everything you could ever wish to see underwater.
A hard dive to beat, but the final dive that day managed it, for totally different reasons. The Cauldron is a site with a big sandy bowl, protected from the current, which we swam around for a few minutes searching for things hidden in the sand. Then comes the fun bit - you come up out of the bowl, and your dive guide signals something that isn't in the normal list of underwater signals; he mimes cocking a gun, as you arrive at the famous 'Shotgun'. A shallow section where the current suddenly accelerates from zero to exhilarating speeds, the theory is that you grab on to a rock at the entrance, peer out into the blue for a while to spot some big stuff floating in the currents, then let go and take the rollercoaster ride to the other end. However, our dive didn't quite go to plan... Our guide, Phil, and the other diver with us, Caroline, didn't manage to get a good hold on a rock at the
entrance, so signalled to us to swim straight on with them into the Shotgun. I saw this and dutifully followed, and enjoyed the adrenaline-filled ride as I was swept along at great speed - unaware of the chaos going on around me. It turned out that Tania hadn't seen the signal to follow, and grabbed on to a rock as originally planned, only to almost lose her regulator and have her mask fill with water as the current blew them around her face, forcing her to let go and try and sort out her mask as she was blasted along. At the same time, Caroline almost had her fin taken off by the force of the water, and bent down to re-attach it; putting her in the perfect position for the current to push her into forward rolls while she desperately clung to the flipper. Poor Phil was left trying to keep everyone together as I floated by one way, Tania did 360 spins behind with a mask full of water, and Caroline somersaulted along veering off in the other direction. We reached the other end, re-grouped, and surfaced with big smiles on all of our faces that didn't rub
off for hours - definitely the most fun and exhilarating dive we've done.
The next morning it was up early and off to Batu Bolong, otherwise known as 'The Aquarium' - and we quickly saw why. The quantity of life was incredible, especially near the surface; we carried out our safety stop among literally thousands of brightly coloured little anthias, a shimmering mass of red, purple and green darting around us - stunning. The second dive that day was one we'd been really looking forward to - Manta Point. While we'd briefly seen one manta ray on the first day, proper diving with these spectacular creatures was something we were desperate to experience. On the ride from the boat to the site in the tender we saw dozens of tantalising glimpses of them, the tips of fins pointing out of the water as they swum past just below the surface. The dive that followed was everything we'd hoped for - we would settle into a spot and hook on, and just sit and watch as one manta after another would drift majestically past. Huge, graceful and otherworldly, we could have stayed there watching them for hours if our air
had allowed... We finished that day with two muck dives, searching for some of the weirder things the sea has to offer along the muddy sea floor. The second was a night dive, which was a lot of fun - all the weird stuff comes out to play once it gets dark. We spent an enjoyable dive staring at bizarre, colourful and misshapen (not to mention highly venomous) little creatures, most of which I still have completely no idea what they were - a completely different world.
We woke the next morning with heavy hearts - our last morning aboard. Just time for one last dive, on another spectacular site filled with vibrant colour everywhere you turned, and that was it for our diving on Amalia. The trip wasn't quite done yet though - on our way back to port we stopped in on Rinca to see the mighty Komodo dragons. They were certainly built up by our island guide (who slightly worryingly was sinking a beer at 10:30 am and was armed only with a big stick) who told us that attacks and maulings are pretty common, but that the guides aren't allowed to tell people about them,
in case tourists get scared and stop coming... It was very hard to tell if he was joking or not. The dragons were pretty impressive - huge and very prehistoric looking - but it was somehow a little underwhelming, as they really did nothing much except lie there. I'm not quite sure what I wanted - I certainly have no desire to be chased through the undergrowth by a vicious Komodo dragon on the hunt - but seeing them didn't quite do it for me. But then maybe any experience just wouldn't quite do it compared to the amazing diving of the previous few days...
And far too soon, that was the end of our liveaboard. An amazing few days - thanks a lot to Uber Scuba for probably the best experience of our entire travels so far. Hopefully we'll be back again some day!
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