Tuesday, November 10, 2015
Part 5: Ambon, Bali and Home
A string of colorful houses backed by hilly jungle signals we are back in Ambon again. I had lugged a wide-angle lens all the way here in order to shoot the ship from on high, so climbed the back mast, which trembled at each step.
Herg advised keeping my weight on two rungs at all times, advise deriving from his background as a firefighter. This was easier said than done, as the rungs were so far apart that it required considerable arm effort to pull myself up to the next level. Kerri and Herg coordinated with Maluku Divers and Arenui liveaboard, there on its last morning diving, to stagger our water entry times. Reports were encouraging, with multiple frilly Rhinopius scorpionfish sighted already.
Ambon is a black sandy volcanic slope, with bottles, trash and bacteria in addition to a wide variety of strange and marvelous creatures.
I scarcely had time for one frame of a lovely nudibranch I found before being summoned over for a pair of frogfish, a small orange one and a larger spotted beige one.
Kerri’s frantic gesticulating with her flashlight from the depths signaled one of the rhinos had been found, a lovely purple example of a paddle-flap scorpionfish (Rhinopias eschmeyeri).
Eels, small and big, were free swimming and hunting everywhere.
A tiny white frogfish was nestled into a miniature bommie. A juvenile barramundi (Cromileptes altivelis) wagged across the sand.
Spiny devilfish clawed their way across the sand (Inimicus didactylus). A large purplish reef stonefish sheltered under a small outcropping (Synanceia verrucosa).
Greg and I were on our safety stop, with all the others up, when frantic flashlight signals from below summoned us. Thinking it was Kerri, I tapped Greg on the back and swam down to find Eric with the yellow-gold weedy scorpionfish (Rhinopius frondosa) in a glorious matching substrate in about 28 feet depth.
For our second dive in Laha, we started where we left off, with the weedy Rhinopius. Gail pointed out a nearby adult male blue ribbon eel (Rhinomuraena quaesita).
Someone (I think from Maluku Divers) gestured over to near where we had started, pointing out a tiny green Halimeda ghost pipefish (Solenostomus halimeda).
In the afternoon at Laha, we were dropped in where many frogfish had been sighted earlier in the day.
A small white frogfish joined up with a large hairy and a small orange spotted frogfish who were already huddled together.
Catfish schooled under the pier, and I found a trumpet fish shadowing me. A colorful “rainbow” mantis shrimp catapulted across the sand, clutching an oblong piece of building material fully its size.
It ducked into its hole with its prize, which was subsequently ejected just as quickly. As I peeked into its home, it popped out of the adjacent, rear entrance. As I switched my gaze to its second home, it beat a hasty retreat and momentarily reappeared in its primary residence. This went on for quite a while. At times, it ejected stones and attempted to block up the entrance.
Another mantis shrimp, gold in color, was busily occupied in a life and death struggle with a hapless crab, which was still alive and battling for its life. The mantis appeared to have a death grip on the crab, and the outcome seemed clear.
Down the reef, a beautiful spotted peachy-orange colored frogfish was digesting its last meal, with a fish tail protruding from its mouth.
It was immobile, and distended, and appeared unable to move, being so weighted down.
On the night dive, we found tiny cuttlefish, a pale frogfish, huge nudibranchs with Emperor shrimps, miniature flounders.
Somehow, I again missed out on the epaulet shark, but Steve saw it. Lea had said she had never seen one except in Raja Ampat, so it was a surprise to find one in Ambon.
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Most of the group did 1-2 farewell morning dives at Laha. Steve awoke feeling queasy, so bowed out. I spent the majority of the dives with 2 different rhinopiuses, the lavender lacy one and the filamentous one in the algae.
Lea asked me, in her expressive underwater sign language, if I wanted to see some big nudibranchs. She swam down the reef, me in pursuit, until I caught sight of a lone seahorse en route. I couldn’t resist stopping for just one shot. It wasn’t a particularly colorful specimen or on a nice backdrop, so I made a mental note of its depth and swam on down the reef after Lea. A flock of solar powered nudibranchs were what she had been indicating. I never did find my lonely seahorse again, despite swimming up and down at exactly 23 feet depth, looking.
A small lionfish, perfectly matched in size with my camera housing’s handles, tried to stow away and return with me. Greg was nearby, and I enlisted his aid when shaking the camera did not dislodge the winged fish. It turns out Greg contributed to the fish’s retreat into my camera housing’s handle. I was stretched out near-prone on the sand, shooting. Greg was afraid I might trap the lionfish under me, so used his prodder to encourage the fish out from under me and succeeded in driving it into my handle, where additional gentle encouragement was needed to dislodge it.
Ambon was also the site of another amusing incident involving Greg. It isn’t the cleanest site, being next to a town. The sand is studded with discards of modern life, ranging from bottles, to corn cobs to a plastic fork. Greg happened upon a rare prize, a solitary gold flat woman’s shoe, with a rhinestone buckle, Cinderella’s sensible slipper. He swam around with it the entire dive, returning to the boat with it.
“Single life is over!,” he crowed.
Just one problem, this fairy tale ended with a modern twist. The shoe perfectly fit Dani, one of the deckhands, who began mincing around the dive deck with it on.
Of 52 total dives, I missed 2 dives, and Steve skipped 4. Greg was again the record holder, not missing a single dive. I remember him pointing out years ago that doing every dive brings the average cost per dive down, an aquatic form of amortization.
The monotonous afternoon packing session was enlivened by an afternoon visit to Maluku Divers and Mr. Fred, who was trip leader on our last 2 trips to Indonesia, including our prior stay on Pindito.
The farewell captain’s dinner was a buffet style blow-out, with introductions of the 22 crew members (3 dive guides, 3 captains, 3 cooks, 4 deckhands, 2 stewards, 3 speedboat captains, and 4 engineers). We had taken the behind-the-scenes tour in the afternoon, down into the steamy, hot and small, but well ordered kitchen, and the even more noisy and furnace-like engine room, so we had a much better appreciation for the number of people and skills it takes to operate a vessel like this.
George, the most senior of the divers on board at age 77, was selected by the crew as the guest of honor to lop off the top of a cone of yellow rice to kick off the feast.
After Ronan spear-headed line dancing, the disco ball was lit, the volume turned up and Pindito became Club Pindito, a good opportunity to exercise some other muscles.
Thursday, November 12, 2015
Bali Grand Hyatt in Nusa Dua, is a sprawling water garden complex with beach access, multiple pools and restaurants. I spent most of the afternoon trying to undo 3 weeks of lackadaisical grooming with an afternoon spent being massaged, facialed, manicured and pedicured.
The night market restaurant, with multiple food stations, featured a traditional dance presentation, so we cruised by to reserve the table with the best sight line for photography.
The dance was fascinating, more subtle and expressive than other versions I’ve seen, with exaggerated eye movements, head bobs, and strumming of taut, butterfly-like fingers.
We were to have the unexpected opportunity to compare this dance recital with another hotel’s version the very next evening.
Friday, November 13, 2015
I’ve never put much stock in superstitions, but it’s worth noting that these events took place on a Friday the 13th. This one was our intended departure day, and up until our flight cancellation announcement while waiting in the lounge after checking in, all went smoothly. We took an early morning beach stroll, returning glistening. Steve headed to the gym and I took a stretching class before leisurely showering and packing. After lunch, we headed for the airport.
All was smooth going through security. We settled in for a 2 hour wait in the comfortable lounge. Steve expanded his footprint, working on his memoirs, laptop plugged in, a glass of white wine beside him. I perused the massage menu, and having exactly 100,000 rupiah left (about 7.50 USD), decided to use it up on a 15 minute neck and shoulder massage. I was still smarting from the disappointment of a second cruise on Pindito without an on board masseuse (my benchmark being the Damai, where a daily massage is included in the tariff, on which I thoroughly enjoyed being massaged 11 consecutive days).
Approaching the young masseuse, imagine my disappointment to hear that the listed tariff didn’t include a 10,000 rupiah tax. I retreated and took my little travel PacSafe purse apart, to discover exactly one last 10,000 rupiah bill, just enough to have my mini-massage after all.
I was still in the post-Mr.-Strong-Fingers-massage afterglow, when I caught an announcement, something about cancelled and Hong Kong. Rushing the desk, it took a few tries to ascertain that our Hong Kong flight was cancelled, due to ash from a volcanic eruption.
What next? This was our second thwarted overnight attempt to discover Hong Kong. On our inbound flight, the train into town wasn’t running, thanks to the first ever collision of a ship with the bridge connecting the airport to Hong Kong. It seems we were never destined to see this town.
Hoisting our backpacks back on, completely undoing all the good of my massage, we made our way back to the check in desk. Cathay Pacific couldn’t tell us when service would be resumed, or when we would be rescheduled. We found ourselves on a bus with 5 other passengers (4 of whom were concluding diving holidays), heading to the nearby Holiday Inn in Kuta, so close to the airport that a short walk down the beach yielded an excellent view of the runway.
This is how we had an unexpected opportunity to compare two hotel’s versions of traditional Balinese dance presentations on consecutive nights. The Holiday Inn’s was cheesy by comparison with the Grand Hyatt’s. Balinese dance is performed every night at the Hyatt, on a purpose built stage with a temple style architectural backdrop of stone and lighting which beautifully highlighted the fluttering hands and flashing white eyeballs of the dances. Balinese dance is a once a week affair at the Holiday Inn, with a cardboard temple backdrop for the dancers and mediocre lighting. The one dance which was somewhat interesting at the Holiday Inn was the Fire Dance. This was not the circle of chanting and swaying men of my memory from a prior trip. Rather, this was Bollywood crossed with a girlie bar, with a touch of belly dancing, enlightened with swinging flames, including encircling the dancer on a fire-studded hula hoop.
The most crushing aspect of the day was the news filtering in from Paris about the horrifying coordinated attacks. With nothing to do but wait to be rescheduled and unable to wander very far lest the rescheduling be sooner than expected, we were at loose ends, reading, working on images, writing and trying to comprehend the horrific news we were learning about the assault on our favorite city, one we’ve visited nearly every year in recent years.
After the dress rehearsal, our actual return 24 hours later was uneventful. I was stunned to see business class to Hong Kong practically empty (6 of 45 seats occupied, a travesty!). There was a familiar face, attached to a distinctive voice, in the group boarding with us in Hong Kong: Cheryl Hines, the actress who played Larry’s wife Cheryl in Curb Your Enthusiasm. She ended up sitting behind me. She returned the earphones I dropped (accidently) in her pod. Sadly, my only taste of Hong Kong was Hong Kong style tea, served on board our Cathay Pacific flight. If my sister hadn’t mentioned really enjoying this, I would have missed that too.
This was our 8th, longest and most remote trip to Indonesia. Although bookended by annoying travel hiccups coming and going, both man-made (ships striking bridges) and natural (volcanic ash and wind in the wrong direction), it was photographically most satisfying. The color was mind-blowing, the critters improbably wonderful, the manta interactions other-worldly, all with enough time to savor the experience and really settle into the dive trip rhythm of eat-sleep-dive. Of course our photographer version was somewhat expanded, to wake-tea-dive-rinse off-fried rice breakfast-dive-rinse-lunch-change batteries-dive-rinse-snack-put light on camera rig-night dive-dinner-charge batteries-download, making for sensory overload, but very satisfying days!