Heart & Brain Underwater

Latest

Pulau Pef – Raja Ampat, 25 Nov to 10 Dec 2011

When we met Claudia & Leon at ADEX 2011 in April 11, they were promoting a new set-up location in Raja Ampat. T & I had heard so much about this premier dive destination & often spoke about saving enough money to afford this dream… The photos of the resort & the island Pulau Pef & most importantly, the diving looked wonderful & with a 20% discount for the quad share room, the price was quite reasonable (in comparison with other locations)… & to be stay & diving at a new location was very attractive to us, so we contacted our usual dive buddies – M & J who were quick to agree to let us join them on this adventure (because they could have jolly well afforded a twin share bungalow :-P). To make the airfare worthwhile, we decided to stay for 2 weeks. We paid the deposit while Claudia & Leon were still in Sg to save on the transfer fees. 😉 So we began our 8 months count-down to our trip.

M & J flew in from SFO through HK on Cathay on Thursday, then on Friday evening 25 Nov, we flew Garuda to Ujung Pandang (aka Makassar). The aircraft was a little jaded but at least 20kg of baggage each was included in airfare ($778 for 2) & air tickets were purchased online.

Departure: 19:10 Singapore, Singapore – Changi, terminal 3
Arrival: 22:20 Ujung Pandang, Indonesia – Hasanudin
Airline: Garuda Indonesia GA849, Duration: 3:10

Stayed a night at the airport hotel booked for us by the Raja4divers (R4D http://www.raja4divers.com/) team, if I am not wrong, the cost was 375,000Rp or 500,000Rp. It was ok, clean with shower stall but shared toilets outside, they have a “real” cuppacino machine which M highly recommended… But please be warned, ear plugs are a MUST here, unless you can sleep like a log! Our flight to Sorong was at 8:40am on Express Air, which was ok, baggage allowance was 15kg. Domestic flights were arranged by R4D, total cost for 2 US$740 (exchange rate 8,500 to 1 USD & 10% handling fees)

Express Air: IDR 2,518,000 (Makassar to Sorong), Lion Air: IDR 3,177,000 (Sorong to Makassar via Ambon) Total amount: IDR 5,695,000

We met Sabine, the dive intructor & the rest of the new guests at the small, dusty, Sorong airport, it reminded me of the small domestic airport at Maldives, only that it was more rundown than that… The team was very kind to bring us to use the toilet of the Je Meridien Hotel which stood opposite the Sorong Airport. We were then driven to the port for the 2hrs boat transfer on Pef I. Dolphins were spotted, the scenery was quite monotonous until we reached the Passage area, the cliffs & the rocky islets are those that frequently graced magazines…

The R4D Pef team threw us a welcome party, the coconut drink, their friendly faces, warm smiles, joyous singing & cheerful music refreshed the tired travellers. The bungalow was rustic & huge – 128sqm, about 50% bigger than our flat. No aircon, only the fan & the natural sea breeze. The patio had stairs to the sea, lizards, crabs, birds & frogs were visitors to the open air bathroom. The tide was a little low but I tried to snorkel among the seagrass, still searching for my 1st encounter with a dugong… Island time was 2 hours earlier than Sg. After watching the sunset, we proceeded to have dinner at the “restaurant” – more like the kitchen/dining – a longhouse on stilts… Dinners & lunches were casual sit-down meals at the long table, with several dishes (fish, poultry, vegetables) shared among 4 to 6 guests…

Next morning (27th Nov), we had the checkout dive at the house reef – Karang Sembilan at 10:30am, it was a wonderful introduction to Raja Ampat! School of batfish just at the jetty, pipefish, 3 species of nudibranchs, whip gobies & 2 wobbegong sharks!

Image

Image

The usual schedule was to meet at the jetty for dive briefing at 8am,  2 dives in the morning with snacks during the surface intervals, then return to Pef for lunch, plus the 3rd dive at 3pm. My dive buddies were quite lazy, so I only managed 2 night dives during our 2 weeks there… 😉

This is the list of the dive sites that we had visited & some notes:

27/11 – Karang Sembilan (House Reef) & Yembraimuk Utara

28/11 – Wofoh Selatan, Manare & Tanjung Gam

29/11 – Day trip to Fam Island – Fam Slope, Melissa’s Garden & Climbing to the peak of Fam Island, then afternoon dive at Fam Wall.

30/11 – Manta Sandy, Arborek (Jetty) & Apibok Wall. Lovely manta cleaning station, up to 8 mantas! Arborek Jetty was also very beautiful, great place for photography.

01/12 – The Passage x 2 & Selat Yembraimuk. *The 1st dive at The Passage was quite easy & delightful, colourful soft corals, 3 cute cuttlefishes, flatworms, nudibranchs & even a electric scallop, then we drifted until the end. For the 2nd dive, we 1st visited a cave system, when we joined the “main traffic”, the current was quite strong, it was quite hairy “flying” through the “river”. However, there was not much danger, as the area was quite shallow…

02/12 – Mandy Sandy, Batu Dalam. Last dives for B & M, they had requested to revisit Mandy Sandy & who would say no? 😉 Another wonderful dive with the beautiful reef manta rays.

03/12 – Wasrer at 11:30am & Rep Pef at 3:30pm, then night dive at 6:30pm.

04/12 – Yes Bekar, Sop Ikan & Rep Yembraimuk

05/12 – We lost a dive day due to the bad weather… It was  a scary storm.

06/12 – Batu Meka, Rep Krupuk & Batu Deka East. The eye of the storm had passed but the sea was still very rough at the front, so we had to launch from the mangrove area.

07/12 – Nikson’s Garden, Rep Jembatan & Batu Kapal

08/12 – Tanjung Teening, Ref Pef & Nikson’s Garden. Night Dive at house reef. Last day of diving & it was wonderful to dive the beautiful Nikson’s Garden with the dive guide – Nikson, 1 of the 1st, if not the 1st Papuan dive guide.

Other guides we dived with laughing & singing Danci, serious Yoris & Yolda, all well trained by Sabine & Armin. Although the visibility ranged from 10 to max 20m & average at 15m, the beauty of the dive sites was unforgettable, the colours dazzling. Wobbegong sharks at most of the dives, as Armin said, just follow the glassfish. 😉 There was a school of juvenile black tip reef sharks at the shallow lagoon at Pef. We met schools of large barracudas, bumphead parrotfish, numerous large lobsters & some very large (but very shy) groupers & Napoleon wrasses [reminder to self: they were able to grow huge because they are smart & avoid humans]! Macro stuff like cute nudibranchs, pipefish, pygmy seahorses etc.

The resort & operations were well managed by Maya. Yanni & the rest of the staff from housekeeping & kitchen were always so friendly & warm. The other guests at the resort were mostly Europeans. It was a huge surprise that they hadn’t heard about the “Sound of Music”, a movie that was about Austria, the Alps, WWII (a little)… I was in the school choir & “Edelweiss” & all the songs from that show are my all-time favourite…

The staff gave us a warm send-off, most of them were also leaving for their holiday as the resort was closed for 1 week before their peak season. We stayed at the Je Meridien Hotel, Sorong for 1 night, which was quite nice… When we were boarding the very early morning flight, it was raining heavily, the work ethics of the Papuans was impressive, they tried to keep the passengers dry, although they were soaked…

Wonderful introduction to Raja Ampat, how we wish we could afford to join M & J’s 2nd trip to Pef in Nov 2012… Guess they would have another delightful fortnight at the magical island…

Cost of 2 weeks: USD 4175 (not inclusive of the 20% discount), Boat Transfer USD120, Raja Ampat Marine Park Fee  IDR 500, 000. Airfares as above…

Other photos here: Photos on FB  (FB account not req’d) https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150441214288052.372546.694213051&type=3

 

This is new! Virtual Tour of Raja4Divers Pulau Pef (22 Nov 12)

Watch Shark Eden!

Watch NatGeo’s Shark Eden to get the FACT: MORE Sharks = More of Other Fishes.

Shark Eden (ABC’s broadcast 6+mins)

Addition: 17th March 2014

Where the Shark and the Snapper Roam

http://ocean.si.edu/blog/where-shark-and-snapper-roam 

“two marine scientists compared the fish communities of the main Hawaiian Islands, where people live, with communities near the uninhabited northwestern Hawaiian Islands. To their surprise, they found that where there is no fishing, top predators ruled the waves; in the uninhabited areas, top predators made up more than 54 percent of total fish biomass compared to just three percent in areas near human settlement. Later, a series of expeditions to remote islands of the Pacific have confirmed that this pattern of seeing more top predators than prey can be found on other uninhabited reefs. On Kingman Atoll, for example, sharks and large snappers and jacks represent 85 percent of the total weight of fishes!”

2011 May 14th to 28th – Bali (Tulamben) & Timor Leste (Dili & Atauro)

I had wanted to return to Timor Leste for a long time. Took part in a marine expedition to Timor Leste in 2004, then, I was a newbie diver and had to take the AOW to be better prepared for the expedition. Better prepared I was not but my genial buddy – a dive instructor & team-mates made sure that I didn’t drown when we did the coral transect, fish count or the benthic survey (all usually at less than 15m deep) & the 10 good days or so we spent at Atauro Island – off Dili (capital of Timor Leste) was etched in my mind. It was not just the good diving, it was the pristine beauty of Atauro & the warmth of Timorese that I fondly remember.

Come 2011, I am 200+ dives more experienced and a lot older… haha… However, I was still not better prepared! As in, I didn’t spend much time planning for the trip, as we were busy with a shark conservation awareness event until end of April. At least, I knew that flying Merpati Airline from Bali would be cheaper than flying directly from Singapore. So, we planned to dive in Tulamben for a few days before flying to Dili and my “newbie” diver brother & “to-be certified” sister-in-law joined for the Tulamben leg. We booked discounted flight to Bali on KLM @S$253 and embarked on our dive trip on Saturday, 14th May. We were very pleased with the in-flight food & the personal entertainment system provided and of course the generous leg-room of a full service European airline was also much appreciated.

Tony Medcraft – owner of Tulamben Wreck Divers once again gave us (even my bro) a free upgrade to the Penthouse – lovely view of the coast in the front & view of the majestic Mt Agung from the back. Remember, this was T & I’s 3rd visit to TWD – this unexpected gesture really ensured that us felt like coming home!

Ghost Pipefish at the Liberty Wreck

Pygmy Seahorse at the Liberty Wreck

The next day, dive guide Nyoman met us at breakfast and asked where we wish to dive at & at what time? That was why we loved diving at Tulamben, we always got to choose our preferred dive site & when we wanted to dive it. Of course, for our 1st dive we had to greet the famous Liberty Wreck. Nyoman knew that we were “experienced” divers & proposed that we plunge to the depths to find the pygmy seahorses. At more than 30m, we saw the 1st pair of pygmy seahorses on this trip. I think pink is the true colour of these tiny lilac pygmy seahorses & their gorgonian seafan home. In the 52mins dive, we also saw 2 white leaf scorpionfish, nudibranch, flatworm & a huge school of big-eye jacks. I enjoyed swimming with the huge school of jacks, found it a very calming & therapeutic experience. After lunch, our 2nd dive was at Coral Garden, it was another good 54mins dive that yielded a poor moray eel with a huge gash on its head, plus its entourage of cleaner shrimps and a few huge groupers were hanging around – hoping to make a quick meal from the wounded moray eel? A blue ribbon eel & a black one, crinoid shrimp & orangutan crab. The 3rd dive of the day was our 1st night dive at Tulamben! The bumphead parrotfish were resting at the bow of the Liberty wreck & they were pretty annoyed at our torches. We saw 2 mantis shrimps – Golden & Red, several hydroid decorator crabs, cleaner shrimps, a beautiful ghost pipefish & a large Spanish dancer.

Bumphead Parrotfish inside the hull of the Liberty Wreck

A school of Jacks

On the second day, we had an early morning dive. By 7am, we were already in water heading to the Liberty Wreck. Spent a lot of the time in the 1 plus hr dive with the school of jacks again & this time there was a giant trevally trying to blend in with its “lesser” cousins. We also saw orangutan crab, garden eels, nudibranch & bumphead parrotfish. 2nd dive at Coral Garden yielded an unexpected visitor – a black tip reef shark! Contrary to “popular” belief (aka lies), sharks are not ferocious! This 1+m shark scooted off into the bad viz when it was 50m from us. Ketut showed us a crutch of anemone eggs on a pebble. I spotted an octopus. We had another night dive at the Liberty Wreck, that yielded soft coral crabs, crinoid shrimp, zebra crab & ghost pipefish.

Small Hawksbill Sea Turtle at Amed

Scenic Amed

For the third day, we (all 4 of us) booked a 2 dives day trip to Amed with Ketut of Marta Dive. Ketut had been with a dive shop at Amed for many years before striking out on his own. The drive to Amed was very scenic & Amed seemed to be a serene place too. We stopped at a village pavilion, suited up & waited for the 2 small local fishing boats to take us diving along the beautiful coast. The dive site was abt 15mins away. In the strong current, Ketut showed us to a huge patch of garden eels at 20m and a pygmy seahorse, and then we saw a school of trevallies. We also saw an octopus, blue spotted stingray. During the 2nd dive at Pyramid there was an installation of several artificial reef structures made in the shape of what else but the Pyramid, adorned by colourful soft corals & served as hiding place for snappers. A small hawksbill turtle tolerated our presence for awhile, it was wonderful to finally meet a turtle in Bali, hope that it will be safe, grow old & reproduce. Glad to see that my newly OW certified sister-in-law managing these 2 dives well. We dived at the Liberty Wreck again upon our return to Tulamben, saw the pair of pygmy seahorses again, said good-bye to the big-eye trevallies & met a friendly good-size napoleon wrasse! I think the Tulamben area is still a safe haven to these valuable fish – trevallies, bumphead parrotfish, sweetlips, groupers & napoleon wrasse! Hopefully more sharks will return…

Tulamben Sunrise fr TWD's new Villa room

Tony gave us another upgrade for our last night to the new villa rooms at the new wing about 5mins drive away. The guys had to give us a drive to the main stretch for dinner. My bro went for a night trek to Mt Agung, he reported that it was quite a hard hike to the peak of the highest mountain on Bali. When he got back, we grabbed a quick lunch and started the long drive to Ubud when they spent a couple of nights at & we spent 2 nights at the small, intimate Golden Elephant Hotel at Ulu Watu, all the villas have their own pools.

Photos from Bali – Tulamben & Amed

After 2 restful nights, we boarded the morning Merpati flight to Dili – the capital of Timor Leste on 20th May. A Balinese ex-colleague helped to book the Merpati tickets (@ less than USD 450 for 2 pax) through a travel agent.

View fr Golden Elephant Ulu Watu

Timor Leste Celebrating Independence Day

Timor Leste – 20th to 28th May

We paid for our visas upon arrival & passed the customs office quick enough but the enthusiastic officers checked our luggage quite thoroughly… Kathy was the new trainee DM from Dive Timor Lorosae who picked us up.

Dili was much busier than I remembered it to be, the houses looked more tidy though. Even the building that Castaway Bar of Dive Timor had become more solid, we had most of our meals there (not cheap but the portions were Australian). We didn’t do much the rest of the day, just read whatever there was & dipped in the very nice (but deep, also used for dive training) pool & walked along the water front & discovered that the Chinese & Japanese Embassies had huge compounds. The next day, we got to dive at Atauro! There was supposed to be snorkellers on board but due to the strong winds & big surfs, DT advised them to cancel, so there was just another 2 leisure divers & us with DM Will & Greg the captain. It was a rough crossing & T got pretty sick.

Lobster at Atauro

Coral Reef at Atauro

We dived at the west side of Atauro, it was inhabited, probably due to further distant from Dili. The 5 of us were the first people to dive at Will Wall, it was named after Will, who had completed his DM training & leaving service. There was strong surface current, so we dropped down quickly. The underwater conditions were great – good visibility of 30m & not much current. The reef was pristine, large sea fans, lots of red tooth trigger fish & anthias in the shallow, not unlike the pristine reefs of Gorontalo. We saw a nice size painted spiny lobster hiding in a crevice at around 20m, hope this painted spiny lobster will be able to avoid all of its many predators & hungry, greedy humans & live a long life (>30years). 2nd dive was at another section of Will Wall. A curious & big dog-tooth tuna came by to check us out, I spotted many juvenile Giant Clams at the shallow. As we were leaving Atauro, there was a large pod of pilot whale, 1 of them surfaced very near our boat & made me jump! That evening Dili celebrated the Timor Leste 9th Independence Day.

The beautiful Atauro Island

Coral Reef at Atauro

Beautiful Atauro from the hill

The next day, we took the transport from Compass Travel back to Atauro & we spent 2 peaceful nights at the Kuo-in Eco Lodge, which was run by the local NGO Roman Luan. There was no flush toilets at Kuo-in, our “contributions” were made into compost & the bath water was recycled by the reed beds & used to water the plants. Such a lovely place! There was no traffic on Atauro, to get around the locals either depend on their small fishing boats or “motorbike-lorries”. Beach front accommodation plus 3 local meals cost less than $30 per person per day. We went “trekking” up the village hill, practicing my forgotten “bon giorno” & “bon tarde” with the locals on the way. The reward of the steep climb over rocky, unpaved road, “littered” with goat dung was the gorgeous view of Atauro & the reef. Also visited the dormitory where the expedition team stayed at, the dormitory had been converted to a “hospedaria” sewing workshop run by the UN & opposite it was a local handicraft place where the deaf/ mute could learn a skill. We spent time interacting with the kids during the evenings & even “organised” a beach clean-up, the kids were happy to labour for some sweets & chocolates. There were a lot of plastic cups & other plastic debris along the shore – affluence is a double-edge sword… With great reluctance, we left Kuo-in to get to Barry’s Place to be picked up by the Compass Travel’s speed boat. We met a pod of common dolphins in the channel between Atauro & Dili, it was such a joy! In the evening, we went to Christo Rei where there was a huge statue of Jesus Christ (a gift from the central government during the Suharto era) and enjoyed a spectacular red sunset.

Having fun

Spectacular Sunset at Christo Rei

Fun - their way

25th May was my last dive day in Timor because I caught flu after. Marianne led us to dive at Tasi Talu where we missed a dugong; we could hear it but didn’t see it… It was a good dive – a beautiful white thorny seahorse, a flabellina nudibranch, a sap sucking sea slug and a cuttlefish. After a nice lunch prepared by DT, we went to another shore dive site at Dili Rock East, the wind & surf had picked up considerably & there was quite a strong current. It didn’t stop us from having a good dive – we saw a crocodilefish, a school of juvenile catfish, 2 banded pipefishes, ribbon eel, nudibranch, marble shrimp & a 1st for us – a pair of coral mushroom pipefish!

White SeaHORSE (Prince?)

A pair of mushroom coral pipefish

Sea Slug

T dived at the Christo Rei & Sandy Bottom with Greg the next day; they saw a school of bumphead parrotfish at Christo Rei! & at Sandy Bottom, a flying gurnard, an Emperor Shrimp, a whip coral goby & lobsters. The following day, I tagged along to snorkel at Behau Village & Secret Garden, about 50km from Dili, Will is the DM for the day, it was also his last dive day at Dili.

Dive Timor Lorosae's van at the dive site

Clownfish while snorkeling

On the last morning, we went to the Dili museum to find that it was closed on Saturday. Anthonio drove us to the airport for our flight to Bali where we lazed at the airport lounge for a few hours, enjoyed a beautiful sunset & then came home around midnight.

Presidential Palace

Dili Night Food Market

Today, 4months on, as I am preparing for next 2 dive trips, I am still missing the serenity & simplicity of Atauro.

Photos from Timor Leste – Dili & Atauro

Cost of diving at Timor: 2 tanks dive at Atauro – US$160 each (inclusive sandwich lunch + water + soft drinks). 2 tanks local shore dives (w/in Dili) – US$90. 2 tanks local shore dives (outside Dili – inclusive of local lunch + water + soft drinks) – US$110. Note that usually, we were the only people diving (another 2 guys for Atauro trip, another 1 guy for outside Dili “safari”), when I was ill, T was the only paying customer…

Cost of meals – typically US$7 upwards for “main dish”, good size portion. The food at the Night Market was cheaper (e.g – US$2 for 1 fish, $0.50 for a chicken wing etc), catering to the locals the market has no electricity, water etc 😉 …
Other suggestions: get more small change like 1 & 5 usd… Oh, Bahasa works for the older cab drivers & bargain w them for short distant travels… Get the dive shop or hotel staff to help with telling & bargaining with the cab driver on other places like Christo Rei…

Muck Diving Techniques from Steve Fish

The talented Steve Fish at Lembeh Resort made this wonderful video. I think no divers should attempt to muck dive at Lembeh (or anywhere else) before first watching this! I love muck diving and the Lembeh Straits and felt that I have to share this!

Critters@Lembeh has made copies for all the dive operators in the Lembeh Straits. Jolly Good Fellows!

Inspirational Izumi Ishii San from Futo Japan

Interview w Izumi Ishii – former dolphin hunter, now dolphin & whale tour guide Was listening to this interview this morning and found it immensely inspirational. Izumi Ishii San from Futo, Japan was a former dolphin hunter and in 2002, he became a (1st) dolphin & whale tour guide around Futo Webpage (he stopped hunting in 1997). Ishii San believes that if other dolphin hunters see his success in ecotourism, they will also end the hunt & take up the “easier/ less physical demanding” work of dolphin & whale guide. He is just 1 person, who persevered & hang onto his belief, Futo gradually stopped dolphin hunting in 2006 (also due to the decrease in num of dolphins in the area) & now there are 5 other boats that help Ishii San with eco-tourism!

During the interview, he says that culture is created by the people – people living in that era… So we, the “younger” people of this era can create a new culture where hunting for dolphins & whales is no longer acceptable, where keeping large marine mammals & fish (whale sharks) is not acceptable, where eating sharks & shark’s fin is also unacceptable. Guess we have to start somewhere! Conservation of tigers, rhinos & such didn’t just happened, come with the years of struggle & hard work of many conservationists/ scientists etc. Let’s do it!

FB page: Chinese United in SUPPORT of CA Shark Fin BAN

Create a new culture, go & LIKE this Facebook page 全球華人支持加州立法禁售魚翅 Chinese United in Support of CA Shark Fin Ban

PS. If I ever were to go to Japan, it would be to join Ishii San’s tour, Or better still, to celebrate the end of dolphin hunting in Taiji & all of Japan! I hope that day will come!

14 March 2011 – Glad to know that Ishii San is safe after the devastating Tsunami that followed the 9.9 earthquake in Japan on 11 March 2011. However, very sad to have read about the 24 Taiji Captured Dolphins Perished…

This area (Otsuchi, Iwate) that up to 10th March 2011 was capturing Dall’s Porpoises was devastated in the Tsunami

17 March 2011 – Update on Otsuchi, Iwate… Situation looks bleak... Telegraph on Otsuchi (15 Mar 2011)

Kesennuma, Miyagi, used to be the “shark fin capital of Japan”, Kesennuma, Japan (before the tsunami) it was Devastated by the Tsunami. Japan Probe 14 Mar; CNN video 16 Mar; AsiaOne 16 Mar.

A friend asked me how do I feel about all these destruction. I am heart-broken to see so many people dead, families broken, animals/pets dead. Innocents’ lives were lost to the merciless tsunami… Then there is the threat of nuclear radiation, it is really a difficult time for the people, I hope that they will be strong & recover soonest and the communities that used to hunt dolphins/cetaceans & sharks, can have a chance to rebuild their economy doing something else – maybe eco-tourism, I sincerely wish them well.

24 Feb 2014Ishii San on 60 Minutes!!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_lEa68efps