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Published: July 11th 2013
Hadn’t it for my friend Nina’s persistence, I would not have set my foot in this tiny, idilic island of Alor. This was my second dive in a year after Raja Ampat early this year and I have not gone diving frequently in the past few years. It is also my first time taking underwater photos using my brand new Canon Powershot S110 camera, and I must say the result was not so bad for a beginner!
When people asked me where Alor was, I had no idea where it was located exactly until I got into the plane and saw the map. It is actually located on the north of Timor island. I did my liveaboard trip in 2003 around this area but didn’t reach Alor (it went all the way to Maumere and Ende from Labuan Bajo). According to Wikipedia, Alor is the largest island in the Alor Archipelago located at the eastern Lesser Sunda Islands that runs through southeastern Indonesia, which from the west include such islands as Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa, Komodo, and Flores. To the east of the island across the Ombai Strait lie the islands of Wetar and Atauro, the latter belonging to East Timor.
To the south, across the Strait of Alor, lies the western part of Timor. To the north lies the Banda Sea. To the west lies Pantar and the other islands of the Alor archipelago, and further yet the rest of the Sunda Islands.
The thought of going to Alor was so exotic and remote even for Indonesian, and I can understand why this place does not attract many domestic tourists: it's simply cumbersome to reach, airfare is not inexpensive and it's less developed than the rest of the country (after living in Singapore for more than 11 years, I feel obligated to know my country and explore more remote places).
I had looked forward to the trip and had booked my Merpati flight from Singapore to Jakarta earlier; later on I was informed that Merpati had changed their schedule and had to purchase another ticket with Garuda. I left Singapore on the night of June 27 with Mandala Airlines, run by Jetstar, landed in Terminal 1 and took a shuttle to go to Terminal 2. I had booked a night at Transit Hotel at Terminal 2 so that I didn't have to rush catching the flight to Kupang
It's so peaceful
that you don't need your iPod!
on the next day. On the morning of June 28, Yohana and I joined the group at Terminal 2 and met some of them for the first time. Out of the nine participants including myself, I had known only my friend of 20 years Nina, Nova - an ex colleague of my husband, and Yohana - who used to be my diving buddy when I just moved to Singapore.
We spent the first day of the trip literally in the air but were too excited to feel tired. Our transit in Kupang was less than an hour, and we had to catch Trans Nusa Air, a connecting flight to Alor; thankfully, it's only a 45 minutes flight with a propeller plane, and in no time, we landed at Mali Airport, Alor! We were greeted by Pak Kris who is a business associate of Donovan Whitford, the owner and dive master of Dive Alor, and were transported to the hotel after getting all our luggages in two cars, one of which is the red minibus that had disco music at full blast (it seemed that the entire island was fascinated by disco music and had a habit of turning the
who was happy that we bought his catch of he day
volume up to the highest possible wavelength that your eardrum can absorb).
We're relieved that we finally arrived at Hotel Pelangi Inn, which is more like a bed and breakfast accommodation, but seemed to be the best available accommodation in town (it was was fully booked!). I and my room mate Yohana were lucky that we managed to upgrade our room to a Royal Suite, which offers a more spacious room and sofa, and we're thankful that the hotel has a running heated water!
As we had some free time before our dinner, Yohana and I decided we visited the wet market near the hotel to have a glimpse of the daily life of Alorian. Life is much simpler in this part of the country as the pace is much slower and people are naturally friendlier. We had a visit to the local barbershop, which was quite popular judging from the queue, and were surprisingly invited inside the shop to have their pictures taken. Our walk to the wet market was equally pleasant as the fresh fish sellers were approachable and friendly. They had enjoyed the conversation and attention from the outside world.
Before dinner, we got
to meet Donovan and were made sure that all of our scuba gears were complete to be transported to the boat (he told me his is motto was 'Never Again' - tattooed in Chinese on his wrist - not to forget anything before any trip, which was why he had always been thorough in checking our gears before we leave). Our dinner was a delicious home cooked food served at Pak Kris’ house and cooked by his wife. We all retired quite early for the day as we were drained by the long flight and were reminded repetitively to get ready early so that we could leave by 7 am the next day.
Our second day started early. After breakfast, we were transported to the beach where the speedboat had waited to take us to the dive boat ("Dive Alor" does not own a boat and had to rent this dive boat from “Alor Dive” owned by Thomas). We were also joined by Heru of Dive Mag and his business partner, Iryanni who came with his daughter and her son respectively. After one and half hour of cruising which gave us a chance to enjoy the beauty of this
My first underwater shot
Yay, I saw a cow fish in Alor!
untouched place and to take numerous photographs, we reached our first dive destination and was told to get ready and back rolled at the same time (yea right, I got a bump on my head for bumping into Nina's BC). The check dive at Tri-Top was alright as everyone seemed comfortable with the dive and I was happy with my first real underwater shot of a cow fish which I had not seen it before.
Seeing that we were competent, Donovan felt that we were ready to go to Step by Step as the next destination for the second dive. Upon descent, the first thought that came through my mind was that “Wow, this was a fun dive as I barely moved my fin” (I hope I didn't jinx it by saying so). The drift dive was really fun at the beginning but ten minutes after descent, we felt that the current moved faster than expected. I saw Yohana moved downwards, followed by my buddy Mona, but when alerted, Mona stayed close to me, while Donovan swam down towards Yohana. By the time Donovan reached Yohana and looked up, we were no where to be seen (later on we
It took me 10 clicks to get this shot!
I didn't realize that I'd need my bifocal lenses underwater when taking photos!
learned that Yohana was swept by down current but thankfully, she was not panick and had stayed put until rescued). Somehow, the current had pushed the three of us ahead of the group: Pak Hermanto, Mona and I. Whilst enjoying the drift wall dive, I realised that I was the furthest away from the wall and tried to swim closer to the wall with all my might -- without much success - and felt horrified. I gave a hand signal to Pak Hermanto who initially didn’t realise I needed help until he saw the horror look in my eyes and pulled me closer to the wall (in hindsight, I should have bought that new pair of Mares fin that enable me to swim against current without much efforts). Relieved, I stayed near to the reef throughout the rest of the dive but realised soon that oxygen ran low and had to start doing our safety stop before we ascended.
When the three of us surfaced, we were the farthest away from the boat and tried to swim towards it with difficulty as the current on the surface was as strong as the one below (thanks to Donovan who swam and pulled me to the boat). Interestingly, on the shore, there were a group of children waving at us and greeted us “Mister, Mister”, which made me embarrassed as my earlier fear of being swept by current was probably over blown out of proportion! Nina and Nova were the last pair being picked up by the boat at the other side of the direction. That's the end of my first day trip; I was too shaken to join the third muck dive.
Glad everyone was safe, Donovan decided to be more careful in choosing the site for the next destination after lunch. After the third dive, we headed back. Dinner was served also at Pak Kris house which became a tradition that we reviewed the events happening and photos taken in the day with lots of laughters.
Our third day started as early as 7:30 am and we went to the beach. This time, we were joined by the two brothers from Switzerland who were in this part of the world for their summer vacation and decided to dive in Alor! They were the guests of Thomas who owns the boat (we had to share the boat as there are limited dive facilities in the island). The dives on the second day was my best dives of all as I got to see a sea snake in a such close proximity and was able to get a good shot of it (I didn’t realize that I needed my reading glasses underwater!), saw two turtles (one is bigger) and a scorpion fish. I didn’t see the white tip reef sharks unfortunately, but were thankful that we spot a few dolphins on our way to the dive sites. Our dive veteran on the boat, Pak Bambang, gave us a treat by buying fresh fish from a fisherman for Rp 50,000 (USD5) and had it fried for all of us; trust me the fish taste so good when they are fresh! I had only two out of the four dives in the day but was told that the third dive was the coldest of all. My energy usually runs low after second dive but had enjoyed the scenery as well as the cruise.
The fourth day of our trip was our last day of the dive and we started to feel sad that we had to leave the following day. Fortunately, we had a highlight of our trip at Pantai Sebanjar, a white sand beach with crystal clear water, where we had our lunch. Out of no where, this fisherman popped up as if he was God sent as a perfect subject for our shot; you can imagine the frenzy camera clicking happening in the next ten minutes. I must say I had a great time diving with Dive Alor, thanks to the great Dive Master, Donovan who was attentive and careful in making sure that safety is on top of his priority list, and I had a great time meeting new friends during this trip: my saviour Hermanto, Opa Bambang who was kind enough to treat us with the catch of the day and our Diva of Alor, Lolo (we're not supposed to say her name while we're in Alor) and her buddy, Felix.
Tot: 3.03s; Tpl: 0.018s; cc: 31; qc: 132; dbt: 0.0378s; 3; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.7mb