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Published: October 17th 2017
Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps. The sleeper must awaken.” – Frank Herbert
Enigmatic Indonesia. It seems as though every person I have spoken with since I have planned this trip has a different opinion of just what Indonesia is. Is it a country, a region, a series of islands that make up that area in the South Pacific? I too have learned a great deal about this huge country while I have started trip planning.
Indonesia is its own sovereign country made up of over 17,000 islands, the more famous and larger of which are Bali, Komodo, Java and Sumatra. It is the most populous Muslim country in the world even though it is a secular state with 6 recognized religions, of which Christianity and Hinduism are the second and third largest ones.
I have been wanting to visit Indonesia in recent years after hearing about some of the worlds best diving there but it did not rise to the top of my list until I saw some flight deals early in the year in the $400 range, which is impossible to ignore and begging to be booked. Of course there are many places that try to claim
this title of worlds best diving but Indonesia is so remote and some areas so untouched that it is hard to doubt these claims.
We left Tucson early morning on Oct 9th and had an eight hour layover in LAX, for half of which we could spend in the KAL lounge enjoying their buffet and open bar thanks to my free Priority Pass I got through the American Express Platinum card that gives me free lounge access for a year. Yay.
We left on Qatar Airways for our 26 hour flight to Jakarta, stopping in Doha, Qatar after 16 hours and then backtracking and flying back to Jakarta for another 10. All in all our flight wasn't too terrible considering, we were given exit row seats, the food was delicious and the stewardesses were generous with the alcohol. I read, slept and watched 3 of the 4 Alien movies, Beetlejuice and Hitchcock's the Wrong Man all on the extensive movie collection they had on my personal tv set.
We finally arrived in Jakarta at about 0800, 2 full days after our departure, which is a record for our travel books. We had a flight to Sorong in West Papua
at midnight that night so I had booked a hotel (J Hotel/$25) close by so we could stretch, relax and shower before departing again on another flight. Dennis picked up a local SIM card at the airport so we could get some connectivity at some of our more remote locations that do not have wifi.
Our flight to Sorong was a red eye which they happily served a full meal for us at about 0200. Dennis and I are little foodies so you must understand the joy we get being woken up with some delicious mysterious airplane meal to break up the monotony.
We arrived in Sorong, West Papua early that morning, starting our first section of our trip. West Papua is part of the larger island of New Guinea, which in recent years has been divided in half to Papua New Guinea, it's own independent country and West Papua, belonging to Indonesia. Tourism has just only started in this area in the last five years or so, and is still difficult, long and expensive and in some parts impossible and dangerous due to guerilla conflicts.
I have always had a fascination with New Guinea since I was a
child pouring over maps with my father. This is a place where there are still uncontacted tribes and cannibalism and headhunting were practiced well into the 20th century and rumored to still be practiced in remote areas. My father had an obsession with New Guinea, and always spoke about how he would want to travel there more than any other place in the world. My father loved all things outdoors, and this part of the world has numerous species that are only indigenous to this area with new ones being discovered regularly.
We took the 0900 two hour long ferry from Sorong to the island of Waigeo ($9),which is part of a series of over 1000 limestone islands covered in dense jungles called Raja Ampat. Marine biologists consider this area to be the worlds epicenter of marine life, often called the "species factory" or "nursery" for the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
We met with someone from our resort and they drove us about a half an hour through rolling dense jungle, the thickest and wildest I have ever seen. We arrived to our small "resort" ,Scuba Republic ($170/day pp inc. 3 dives/meals), which was about as rustic and remote as
I would want to be after long wet days of diving and is known as the most professional dive operation in the area. I considered doing a homestay, which are the only real accommodation options in this part of the world, but they generally don't have running water or sit down western toilets, and their idea of a shower is a mandi bath (ladle with a bucket of water). Our place had a shower (albeit cold), a western toilet and even AC when the generator was on at night, which was truly a luxury.
As the week went on more guests came and eventually filled the 6 small cabins. They came from Holland, Poland, Singapore and believe it or not New Jersey of all places. We dove with our fellow Jerseyian for most of the time and spent our evenings playing cut throat games of Monopoly cards around the communal table where two resort dogs named Roman and Prancer kept us company, longingly begging for scraps from our delicious meals. Our dive guide was 19 year old Deys from Komodo who was taught to scuba dive as part of a national work education program encouraging Indonesian youth to work in
tourism instead of handing over their jobs to foreigners.
We dove at all the popular sites in the surrounding area to include Cape Kri, Blue Magic, Sardine Reef and Chicken Reef. To call the diving here sublime would be an understatement. The water was a constant 86 degrees, the over 550 types of corals and sponges vibrant, diverse and plentiful, and the 1459 different types of fish huge and numerous. While the reefs are dying around the world here they look like what would have been found many places 50 years ago. It was like traveling back in time to see what the likes of Jacques Cousteau or Sylvia Earle may have seen in their youth. For instance at dive site Cape Kri a world record was set for 374 different species of fish being identified in a single dive.
Throughout the week we saw scores of black and white tip reef sharks, hawksbill turtles, moray eels, spotted rays, garden eels, lion fish, scorpionfish, tuna, barracuda, grouper, porcupinefish, blennys, bumpheads, trigger fish, unicorn fish, anemone fish, giant clams and countless others too numerous to name. We spent our surface interval breaks on remote and uninhabited islands that looked straight from
There are two species of sharks, the Wobbegong and Epaulette "walking shark" that are only endemic to Raja Ampat and were discovered within the last decade and are highly sought after by divers. We saw both and an abundant amounts that. We went on a night dive on the great house reef right off of the beach at the resort and were lucky enough to finally see what we have been wanting to see forever, an octopus! It was a tiny little coconut octopus and disappeared inside a piece of coral quickly. We also saw our first cuttlefish and walking shark on that dive, along with a lobster and a sponge crab.
On our last day we took the day off of diving to explore around and took an afternoon walk to the local village a couple miles away down the only road on the large island which felt more like a hiking path than a road. We saw tons of birds while walking through the jungle, including what we thought might have been the highly sought after Bird of Paradise that birders from all around the world come here to see. We met many dogs and friendly
children looking for high 5's along the way. Everyone was extremely friendly and truly genuine in these villages that have remain untouched and unspoiled by tourism and western culture. Im sure in the coming years this will change but for now we were able to enjoy this paradise largely to ourselves, enjoying the quiet and solitude and having the dive sites completely to ourselves.
On our ferry trip back in a reversal of the norm, I became the center of attention with a group of young local Muslim women who took turns having their pictures taken with me, a white foreigner being a unique and photo worthy sight for them. I need to remember these times when I feel a bit guilty or hesitant asking locals for their photos.
And with that we finished the first section of our trip and onward to Bali and Komodo next for some more diving and adventures.
See below for more photos at the bottom of every post.
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