Southern Raja Ampat on Damai 2: February 2020 (Part 3)

Sunday, February 9, 2020

We were heading into the final week of our 3-week idyll. It had been a fantastic trip, beginning for us with a week at the lovely eco-resort Papua Paradise, followed by a circuit of northern Raja Ampat.  Now we were heading south, where more delights and sights awaited us.

Rolling on a gentle sea towards Misool introduced a new sound to Damai 2’s soundtrack.  Layered over the expected creaking of a wooden boat was a scudding, gently thudding sound which reverberated intermittently in the walls of the camera room. I imagined small animals scurrying through the walls but never did hear a satisfactory explanation of this recurrent noise.  Tonight a new noise emerged, like a tiny incessantly barking dog in the distance. Clever Kevin quickly made the diagnosis-the guitar hanging on the wall of the camera room was gently swinging, making its own music as it rubbed against the paneling.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Misool

Proof of failing eyesight: I didn’t even notice the scorpionfish poised below the red seafan and purple gorgonian combination that drew my attention. (Misool, Raja Ampat, Indonesia)

Fiabecet, Misool, Raja Ampat, Indonesia

 

#1 Fiabacet (Fiabacet) (63 minutes 80 feet)

Misool, Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

#2 Tank Rock (Fiabacet) (65 minutes 85 feet)

Kevin discovered underwater that his tank was only partially open. Steve was able to wrestle it open the rest of the way.  A turtle appeared at the beginning and again in the middle of the dive.  Glancing up towards the surface,  its distinctive silhouette cued me in.

I glanced up just in time to see this turtle soaring overhead as a silhouette, but there wasn’t enough time to turn my strobes off for an actual silhouette. (Fiabecet, Misool, Raja Ampat, Indonesia).

The shallows were very pretty with the island well seen at the surface.

Tank Rock (Fiabacet), Misool, Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

#3 Whale Rock (Fiabacet) afternoon (68 minutes 74 feet)

As I admired the brilliant orange bouquet of soft corals on this pillar, the large zigzag clam in the center suddenly spewed clouds of ephemeral yellow spawn (left of the clam). Check out the video clip to really appreciate this phenomenon.

As I admired a soft coral studded outcropping, a zigzag clam in the colorful profusion suddenly began exuding billowing clouds of yellow spawn.  It happened so quickly I didn’t have a chance to alert anyone else.  Only Steve was in the vicinity, but 20-30 feet away, but it was over very quickly.  I didn’t even have time to white balance for a video clip, but just flipped on the video knowing it would be better to capture the phenomenon even with the color wonky than to run the risk of it being over by the time I got the white balance right.

A beautiful underwater bouquet of soft corals, Whale Rock (Fiabacet), Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

Very special scenery at Whale Rock (Fiabacet), Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

#4 Yilliet Kecil (Yilliet) (72 minutes 43 feet)

The boxer crab has a pair of anemone pompoms for boxing gloves, and a shifting stance mimicking a boxer staying light on his feet.

This was my first dive using the snoot at night; no surprise, it is easier than during the day!  One of the best finds by our eagle-eye guides: a boxer crab, only the second one I have ever seen, the first being years ago at Lembeh.  Then I was surprised to see that its name must derive not only from its two anemone festooned claws, brandished pom-pom style, but from its weight shifting stance, back and forth, very like a boxer staying light on his feet.

A collection of colorful Christmas tree worms adorn a sponge at night.

Blacktop sharks were patrolling, approaching much closer than during the day and there were multiple large free swimming eels, all way too big for my macro rig.

Sea squirt à la snoot, Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

#1 Boo Window (Boo) (75 minutes 76 feet)

Even iconic dive sites are not static-the pillar subdividing the windows at Boo fell since the last time we were there.

Boo Windows has undergone a major structural change since the last time we dove it, in 2015. The column forming a subdivided swim-through collapsed, so now it’s just singular Boo Window.  It’s still a spectacular site.

I can’t seem to swim past or ignore red sea fans! Boo Window, Boo, Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

A manta swam by, not close enough to shoot, just close enough to admire.  Yellow snappers were schooling and a turtle was feeding at the end of the dive.

Turtle on a lunch munching mission, Boo Window, Raja Ampat, Indonesia

#2 Magic Mountain (Warakaraket) (62 minutes 79 feet)

At this famous underwater sea mount, the visibility was limited and no mantas came out to visit. Two small white tips took cover under a table coral.  An elusive walking shark streaked from one hiding place to another. Yellow snappers were schooling, as well as giant trevallies.

Schooling yellow-tail snappers pour over a reef in southern Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

#3 Neptune’s FanSea/ Gorgonian Passage (Waiylbatan) (72 minutes 70 feet)

Such a dazzling profusion of colors and textures to delight the eye at Neptune’s FanSea, southern Raja Ampat, Indonesia

This sandy channel was studded with bommies and the channel walls were festooned with a panoply of sea fans and soft corals, a visual explosion of color.

The soft coral colors were mind-blowing at Neptune’s FanSea.

Neptune’s FanSea vignette with a huge barrel sponge.

Late afternoon, we had a short but steep hike up to Love Lake (Karawapop) viewpoint, up a wonky wooden staircase, with steps of different heights and cants, anchored by a rickety railing.  The railings were sloppily painted a maroon color.   Dripped onto the stairs, the stains looked like spattered blood.

Worth the leg shuddering climb up: Karawapop, or “Love Lake”, Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Dinner was served al fresco on upper deck, a nice treat.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Southern Raja Ampat coral reef scene with a large anemone and resident clownfish.

#1 4 Kings (pinnacle, Waiylbatan) (62 minutes 70 feet)

On the first dive, I struggled trying to even out my lighting.  The best subject I found was a clump of lionfish perched on a mound.

 

#2 Wedding Cake (Waiylbatan) (83 minutes 76 feet)

Awesome underwater arch, in southern Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

Another group of divers descended onto the site as we were finishing our dive in southern Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

#3 Barracuda Rock (Waiylbatan) (79 minutes 73 feet)

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Our last full dive day, wah!

 

#1 Andiamo (Daram) (67 minutes 59 feet)

Colorful Indonesian coral reef, Raja Ampat.

The colors and textures and variety! Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

#2 Warna Berwarna (Daram) (75 minutes 47 feet)

Hingebeak shrimp in a colorful sponge-covered alcove, Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

Who can resist? Clownfish, Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

#3 No Contest (Balbalol) (49 minutes 72 feet)

No Contest proved to be a challenging dive, with a gorgeous profusion of fans, soft corals and colors.

We entered up current, heading down to intersect with one of two pinnacles, but ended up in the channel between, requiring a major effort against a medium-strong current to reach the second pinnacle and some cover.  I barely made it after seeing Tanya dart down and realizing being swept through the channel would be a one-way ticket.

Against the second pinnacle, on a sandy rubbly ledge at 65 feet, I panted and caught my breath for what felt like minutes before regrouping and mobilizing enough to position the snoot.  It was sheltered enough I could actually lay on the ledge and adjust the snoot using a stationary coral for a test subject.

 

Goniobranchus coi raises and lowers its mantle as it crawls, Marilyn Monroe style.

Scorpionfish portrait, No Contest, Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

The beach at our last land excursion, Raja Ampat, Indonesia, quintessential tropics with one lone palm tree jutting up from the jungle.

Island life: a steep climb to a viewpoint (left), learn a new dance step (mid-field) or stand around chatting (right).

Friday, February 14, 2020

Valentine’s Day, our last morning of diving and Wes and Kelly’s 25th wedding anniversary.

My recently developed carpal tunnel symptoms woke me at 5 am and wouldn’t readily abate for what seemed like forever.

Two Tree (Sagohf) (75 minutes 64 feet)

I took the TG-6 down for the first and last and only time this trip and Steve dove without a camera.  This was also my first tryout of our new medium wide angle accessory, which isn’t very wide angle at all.

Wide angle fan scene with the Olympus TG-6, my second dive with this rig. I’m still getting used to this rig, trying to decide if I like it.

What a beautiful wide angle site.  Tanya showed me an undercut in the shallows full of lobsters.  We both had a faceful of jellyfish stings ascending through the shallows.

A scenic cruise gave us a chance to fly the drone over these islands, which are spectacularly beautiful from the air.

Raja Ampat area of Indonesia, even more gorgeous from the air.

The grand finale to our trip was a special meal of Indonesian specialties.  We completed a total of 53 dives on this trip, 22 with Papua Paradise and 31 dives off Damai.  To relive the trip, Tanya put together a slide show with images submitted from the trip.  Steve had some real beauties, many of subjects I hadn’t even seen.  Here’s some of my favorites of his:

Pygmy seahorse perfection by Steve!

Clownfish in bubble-tipped anemone by snoot.

I love this quirky fish portrait of Steve’s!

The orange frogfish seems to be trying to mimic a clump of tubastrea.

Most of the time I find white sponges distracting, except of course when there is a sizable white frogfish sheltering in place within them.

Steve also did a wonderful job with the small subjects, like this alert-looking flatworm.

Nembrotha milleri.

Chromodoris strigata.

Chromodoris willani.

This was the only day aboard I didn’t manage to snag one of the coveted massage slots.  I can’t complain-I did have a massage 9 consecutive days in a row, which is not actually my record.  On a long ago trip on Damai 1, in the glorious old days of a “daily” massage for every passenger that wanted one, I once had a massage every day for 11 straight days.  The policy has, sadly, been changed to only 4 massage slots/day, even though there were 2 masseuses on board. Thankfully, Steve is not as into massage as I am and is usually fine with me monopolizing his opportunities.

Damai 2’s buxom figurehead-hope to see her again someday.

Saturday, February 15-Monday, February 17, 2020

Donna and Bill had come prepared with paper surgical masks for the trip home and had enough for all. I didn’t fully appreciate then what a scarce commodity this would be back home.  Steve and I did wear ours, at least until we checked out our seat assignments and proximity to the neighbors.  The corona virus outbreak, which had seemed so remote from us in paradise, was soon to dominate all of our lives in unforeseen, life-upending ways.  Wes and Kelly had to have their return itinerary adjusted, avoiding Hong Kong in favor of Narita, but this was about the only direct effect on our group’s travels.

Raja Ampat from the air, in a 360 degree panoramic display, looks like the center of the world. As I put the finishing touches on this blog, in mid-April 2020, Indonesia has overtaken the Philippines in having the most cases of Covid-19 in southeast Asia.

We all flew back from Sorong to Jakarta, where we parted ways, most heading home later the same day.  We had a weekend retreat planned in the luxurious environs of the Four Seasons in Jakarta, before boarding JAL flights bound for Narita and San Diego on Monday, President’s Day.  We ventured out on Sunday to Biasa, an Italian designer’s boutique, where I picked up a sleeveless white linen top and wide, high-waisted khaki linen pants.  Little did I know that would be the last elective (non-grocery) shopping I would do for quite a long time.

Jakarta is a hot, muggy, smoggy city with horrible traffic, as seen from the comfort of the Four Seasons.

From the high window of our cocoon, I could see a series of curious transactions traversing the river below, which separated the property from rickety houses on the other side.  Young men on the hotel side were sending buckets suspended above the river to the opposite bank via a pulley system.  A few minutes later, the bucket would return to them.  It was obvious a transaction of some kind was transpiring.  The cab driver who drove us to Biasa confirmed my guess, saying the security guards who worked for the hotel couldn’t afford the hotel’s restaurants and relied on home cooks across the river for lunch while at work.

The great gulf between the haves and have nots, as seen from our lovely suite at the Four Seasons in Jakarta.

Waiting for lunch: money is ferried across the river via a pulley system and food is sent back by enterprising home vendors on the opposite shore, as seen from the Four Seasons, Jakarta, Indonesia.

Back home, we would have 2 more weeks of innocence as the invisible scourge of corona virus/Covid-19 silently gained the upper hand in the US and brought travel and life as we knew it to a standstill.  As a miniscule silver lining, with dinner parties, theatre and socializing suspended, I no longer had any excuse for not processing images and finishing this blog.  Except, of course, for being stressed by being an “essential worker” in healthcare during a pandemic, having family living in NYC as it became a horrifying hotspot and developing a complete inability to stop obsessively reading the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and (thanks to Kimberly) The Week.  The March we expected to return to was already packed with events, including my 60th birthday and Steve’s spinal stenosis surgery, but Covid-19 would quickly morph into the life-upending story of our generation. At least during our suspended animation version of life during the pandemic, we were fortified with a store of phenomenal memories and images to nurture us through what likely will be a long drought.

-Marie

Magical gelatinous sea creature in Raja Ampat Indonesia

Maybe just what is needed, a magic carpet to restore our kingdom!

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2 thoughts on “Southern Raja Ampat on Damai 2: February 2020 (Part 3)

  1. Hi Marie & Steve,

    Greetings from our home in Charlotte, NC!

    Thanks for sharing some of your lovely images from your recent Indonesia trip.

    I can’t recall if I have already told you, but as you had surmised, we just missed eachother aboard Damai II. After three days in Bali, including two excellent days of birding, I was aboard Damai II from February 27th through March 24th, for back-to-back cruises from Sorong to Kaimana, and then back to Sorong.

    Carlo of Damai II had actually already shared some of your images with me, when I was on board. I just didn’t realize that they were so recent. I know from one of Marie’s previous posts that you guys have seen a few of my images, which I gave to Carlo & Shawna, presumably via Carlo and/or Dive Damai.

    Hunkered down at home, I have spent much of the past three weeks working with Nicole Nasby Lucas of the Marine Conservation Science Institute, (www.MarineCSI.org), on my Guadalupe Island white shark images from October 2018 & October 2019. I still have three more dive day’s worth of images to review with her.

    Once I have completed this project, I will turn my attention to the 17,500 images which I brought back from Indonesia. If you are interested, I plan to post a representative sample of these images on my website, http://www.seadoc.org, in the not-to-distant future.

    In the meantime, take care. Stay safe, and stay healty.

    Hopefully, our paths will cross again, after some semblance of normalcy returns to the world. We could try to arrange this, if you would like.

    With best regards,

    Steve Genkins (“Seadoc”)

    🙂

    • Hi Steve, You were incredibly lucky in your timing (as were we), as so many friends who had dive trips planned for later this spring have had everything put on hold indefinitely. I wonder if you also feel lucky to be retired from healthcare at this unusually scary juncture? I look forward to checking out your website as you update with your latest images-we are all going to be living on memories for a while, I fear.

      Stay well,

      Marie

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