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
#1 Fiabacet (Fiabacet) (63 minutes 80 feet)
#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.
The shallows were very pretty with the island well seen at the surface.
#3 Whale Rock (Fiabacet) afternoon (68 minutes 74 feet)
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.
#4 Yilliet Kecil (Yilliet) (72 minutes 43 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.
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.
Tuesday, February 11, 2020
#1 Boo Window (Boo) (75 minutes 76 feet)
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.
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.
#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.
#3 Neptune’s FanSea/ Gorgonian Passage (Waiylbatan) (72 minutes 70 feet)
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.
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.
Dinner was served al fresco on upper deck, a nice treat.
Wednesday, February 12, 2020
#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)
#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)
#2 Warna Berwarna (Daram) (75 minutes 47 feet)
#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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.