Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Komodo below

Every day we dived three to four sites to sample the view of Komodo underwater.
Cold, current swept pinnacles allowed a bit of wide angle and even a visit from mantas at Manta Alley, but were mostly macro dives. I saw two brightly colored Rhinopios, a myriad of nudigranchs laying eggs, fire urchins and sea snakes. The warmer northern muck dives near Moyo Island were a pleasant change for the chilly ones at Cannibal Rock.

The top of the hill at the preserve afforded a hazy panoramic view of the bay and sparsely covered hills with eagles and cockatoos flying by squawking. The harbor water was dotted with boats and twinkled under the morning sun . We stopped for a group photo and began our descent to the beach. Back at the village I collected some souvenirs at the covered market area where one can find dragon carvings and all sorts of trinkets and local pearls.
Over the next few days we sailed south to Rinja and Horseshoe Bay. On Rinja Island we went ashore for brief encounter with more dragons who roamed the beach unrestricted by a park environment. These animals are more aggressive and curious than those at Loh Liang on Komodo . We made a wet landing in the panga and scurried up above the sand to a slight embankment, armed with tree branches as the dragons approached to check out the latest visitors. One dragon took off and chased a diver in our group, but he was stopped by a couple of large sticks planted in his path. A large can of tuna was proffered to distract the dragons, and we headed back to our boat.
The crew headed to Rija a few times after the end of the dive day to play soccer on the beach, and the dragons approached and watched from closeby, doubtless fascinated by the humans darting about kicking a round object across the sand.

Love those dragons

Our group made an early morning visit to the park to observe the famous Komodo Dragons up close. As we reached the landing pier around 7:30AM, the island was already teeming with tour groups. The heat and humidity were already cloying and intense.The visitor center is well organized with guides, maps and story boards of facts about the island and its wildlife.We were given excellent reference materials and information pamphlets that helped us get the most out of our brief time ashore.
We encountered a pair of dragons almost immediately on the trail. Sometimes they stay hidden from view, although there are deer, wild boar , cockatoos and flowers and other animals to see. A large pair of males engaged in a singularly amusing tussle as they warmed up in the morning sun. When the dragons awake they are almost comatose from the cooler evening air, but then they warm up and move about. They can run up to 15 MPH! One dragon lay outstretched in a small clearing as another male approached from the rear, climbed on top of him and began wriggling and scratching his flanks with long fearsome claws. The crowd of onlookers laughed with amusement, we quickly shot images and moved on along the scanty forest path. Hidden in the trees , a timid deer nibbled grass and leaves. One interesting tree was a cotton tree. From its boughs hung large soft fluffy balls of material that looked like cotton candy.The trail looped around and up a hill ; we trudged along the slippery path in the soaring heat. Every few yards we came across a set of tracks, marked with long, deep grooves from claws...the dragons had been there.

In the Land of the Dragons Oct 14-23, 2009

Indonesia is one of my favorite regions of the world for diving and exploring. Its rich diversity above and below water makes it ever mysterious and full of enchanting surprises. Having visited dive sites around the perimeter of the Moluccas "Spice Islands" in Sulawesi,Banda Sea , Raja Ampat and the Lembeh Strait, I joined friends from Brazil to head for Komodo and the Sumba Sea to the east of Bali. After a rendez-vous at the palatial Hotel Intercontinental in Sanur we spent a blissful night by the beach and set out on our journey. Komodo was a total departure from the other areas I had visited in Indonesia. The landscape is barren, brown and arid. The dry rolling hills resemble slumbering dinosaurs that might suddenly awaken and amble down into the placid aquamarine waters. Small colorful fishing boats glide across the sea, back and forth in the bays and straits, the mirror like surface hiding swift currents that flow around the reefs and sandy bottom.
Komodo National Park is a World Heritage Site and consists of two main islands: Komodo and Rinja, with a few smaller islets sprinkled in between an to the east and north. We spent our first night in the park area by Pink Sand Beach, its lovely expanse the color of a conch shell's interior. My mask fogging plagued the first two days of diving on macro sites which contained a treasure trove of new species to observe. Crystal Rock was a welcome change for sensational wide angle shooting full of fish and rich yellow soft corals like Onemobaa.
We spent time on land surveying Komodo and Flores nearby, and wandered about at the crest of a breezy hilltop overlooking quiet bays on either side. Returning to Mermaid I and swimming off the fan tail was a welcome departure from gearing up and riding out to a dive site in a crowded panga. As I soon discovered this was my last opportunity for days to swim in warm water. As we ventured south the temperature dropped to a chilly 70*F. BRRR! More weight, more neoprene, darker and colder dives.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Komodo 2009

On October 14, 2009 I depart for a nine day charter to Komodo on Mermaid I.

Night of the Turtle:Puerto Vallarta part 2

As a brilliant full moon lit up San Francisco Bay last night I thought of the balmy beach down in Mexico where the Olive Ridley turtles were hatching and gazing up at the same night sky. Photograph courtesy of Dr. Gustavo Danemann, Pronatura Noroeste

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Night of the Turtle:Puerto Vallarta

A full Aquarius moon peaked from behind a cloud curtain onto the beach in front of Peninsula Towers on Banderas Bay. What a fortuitous moment, as the sea turtles would be out laying eggs on the shore that night.I skipped down the concrete steps to the beach clutching my camera , accompanied by a "Federale" to watch a large female turtle digging at the water's edge.We approached the nest cautiously. There lay a beautiful Olive Ridley turtle, nestled on the ground, her fins outstretched , her neck arched and head resting on the ground with a look of exhausted satisfaction. She had just finished depositing more than 100 ping pong ball sized eggs into the burrow beneath her. Her eyes glistened with streaming tears and a bit of sand, and she occasionally raised her gaze as she surveyed the visitors arriving to witness the nesting . Summoning a bit more strength the turtle began to rock her carapace from side to side, smacking the ground sharply as she packed sand into the burrow to conceal the precious eggs. The Federale explained that the process lasted about half an hour for egg laying, then the turtle would return to her ocean home.
Special attendants were called to fetch the eggs and remove them to a breeding sanctuary for hatching. Turtle eggs are not only popular for food to pelicans and other predators, they are also prized by locals who dig them up and sell them as aphrodisiacs or ingredients in beauty products and food.
A small group of people gathered around the turtle's nest. She began to spin around on the sand , and her nest was soon completely covered and camoflagued . She headed off toward the water line, gaining speed as she inched into the surf and disappeared below the murky waves. Another clutch of eggs was laid, another family of beautiful sea turtles would emerge soon. The eggs would hatch at the next full moon, the beach coming alive with hundreds of baby turtles poking up through the soft warm sand , feeling the damp breeze and smelling the salt air in their first ocean home.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Dinner in the Jungle Restaurant

As my trip to Raja Ampat drew to a close, I spent my last few days at Minahasa lagoon Resort. Arrival at this boutique hotel near Manado was a welcome respite of luxury after a "Lonely Planet" boat charter. Minahasa lagoon is quite literally a place which makes one's jaw drop at its exquisite beauty and fabulous jungle locale.
Following a lazy afternoon by the infinity pool and a long massage, I decided to try dinner at the resort's much touted Jungle Restaurant. I prepared carefully by dousing myself in insect repellent and wearing long loose clothing, and carried a dive torch to light the way.I strolled through the grounds up a path through the security gate. The loose gravel crunching beneath my feet was drowned out by the shrill chirping of cicadas and night insects. Clouds from the afternoon's thunderstorm cleared for a glimpse at the indigo night canopy filled with constellations. The guard showed me a small entry gate across the road, and motioned up the hill into the trees. Perched atop a steep slope, I saw a balcony and faintly lit wooden structure. I began climbing the rickety wet stairs as they creaked and swayed under my weight. One flight led to another, and then more. I now understood why all guests were asked to sign a liability waiver to stay here and venture up the hill.As I climbed higher the stairs grew increasingly steep and narrow, tapering to a ladder. I felt clammy from the intense humidity, and was wary to brush aside what felt like wings or webs of insects.
I arrived at last at a platform outside the restaurant, which resembled a large tree house with an open kitchen and a fire pit on the top level. Three small tables lined the outer balcony peering out into the darkness that was the sea. In the distance tiny lights twinkled on the horizon, probably small boats moored for the night, or another resort on a nearby island.The ambiance was exotic and stunning. A waitress appeared and asked only one question"Spicy, or not spicy?". A traditional Indonesian feast appeared: raw grated cucumber and carrot salad with pineapple and ginger and sugar crystals, wood grilled lake fish,chicken satay with peanut sauce,fried pork, and the ever present fried rice with water spinach.I could barely finish the delectable morsels.No alcohol was served, obviously to ensure my safe descent back to the main resort. As I finished the platter of intricately cut tropical fruit, I just sat and absorbed the buzz of the jungle night sounds, the crackling fire and billowing smoke when the fish was grilled, the sizzling bursts of the ingredients in the wok,and the clanging of cooking implements.I wanted to keep that magic interlude long after the plates were cleared away and the last bit of dessert consumed. It was in every sense, a dinner in paradise.

Return to Indonesia December 2007

My first foray into diving Indonesia was an organized group to Wakatobi in South Eastern Sulawesi. Suffice it to say the location did not live up to the expectations built up by a glossy set of brochures and promotional images. Still the area around Sulawesi was touted as the mother lode of bio-diversity and a true must see for an underwater photographer.
In late 2007 I booked a trip to head to the edge of nowhere and join an Equator Crossing charter on Raja Explorer to the Raja Ampat area. I did not have WIFI and could not blog as we were at sea for 12 days touring the area around Misool back up to Kri Island and Sorong, so I will offer here two handwritten journal entries that stand out from this trip. Weather impeded a fabulous dive experience, but it was still one of the most fabulous places to discover.

Finding paradise in Papua
Unable to dive due to a severe sinus squeeze, I availed myself to a break in the diving schedule and ventured onto Mioskon Island for a shore exploration. It just happened to be a quintessential tropical evening , with not a breath of air stirring the mirror like surface of the se. We landed on a powder white sandy beach, the small islet was covered in dense jungle foliage and birds called out as the sun lowered due West. The landscape glowed in a golden precious light only seen at the close of an exquisite tropical afternoon.I lowered myself over the edge of the small tender and waded carefully though warm crystal clear water , sinking up to my ankles in soft sand before I reached the shore. The narrow beach was strewn with an even ring of coral shards, broken shells, sea grass,tree and palm fronds, and regrettably, refuse items one finds everywhere, even on this remote little island jewel off Western Papua.
I had hoped to find some sea shell specimens for my altar at home. Gazing down on broken bleached shell fragments , I strolled further around the shoreline. Several trees were down and the trunks made crossing impossible.A small trail led off into the trees and I followed it . The birds were singing loudly, "sundowning", and they were obscured from view by the dense green canopy overhead.
I found a few interesting specimens: one round white coral knob with a hole in the middle resembled a modern sculpture.I continued to comb through the rubble and soon gathered a small handful of delicate striped shells.I had not taken my camera with me, although this was the most idyllic setting we had encountered on the trip.I did not want the distraction of taking images, but rather chose to immerse myself in my surroundings. I only wanted to see, to gaze at the beauty of nature with awe and reverence.I could feel the evening dissipating the heat of day, smell the plants and flowers.I felt in this setting a mystery, yet also a knowing of some order or force which created such utter perfection.
The sun slid below the horizon line as a huge crimson orb, turning the entire sky rose and lavender. As the tide was ebbing we had to leave. I waded out clutching my little shell collection, when , on the sand before me lay the most perfect and beautiful shell of all. It was a large spider crab shell like the ones I had found in the maldives.I stopped happily to pick it up. It was unblemished,colorful, intact, exactly what I was searching for . The shell had been lying there next to the pile of rubble and garbage, on this quiet beach on a perfect evening, waiting for em to find it.I cradled it carefully on the ride back to the boat.I wished on the evening star as it peeked out of the twilight, believing in all possibilities for my future.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Bonaire March 2009

Bonaire is a small banana shaped island in the ABC group ( Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) 50 miles off the coast of Venezuela. Accessed by a red eye flight via Houston, it is a tranquil place to make a quick warm water dive excursion. I dove without my camera for a change, and really enjoyed just floating in the swimming pool-like marine sanctuary. The weather was quite windy, and the water felt unseasonably cold( 77*-78*) I was uncomfortable in my 1 mm skin.
We spent time on Klein Bonaire which is an islet sheltered on the leeward side of Bonaire and home to some of the better populated and more pristine dive sites. South Bay, my favorite, was covered with elegant fronded soft corals , octopus, turtles , and two species of frog fish I had never seen.
Going home after a week made me yearn for the warm jungles and waters of Northern Sulawesi where I will return for 3 weeks this summer.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Diving in

 Part of the joy of traveling is sharing with others back home ... so here I go, sharing my adventures and images to those who wish to follow my tropical underwater journeys. Stay tuned for the next destination.