Diving in Raja Ampat

We’re a long way from Morocco (the last post), and while quite a lot has happened in the interval, not much of it has warranted a travel blog post, until now ūüôā

Our front garden

Diving in Raja Ampat has been on our bucket list since forever, and was one of the things we thought might happen in this latest episode of “Waiting for the Bike”

This is now Season 4, Episode 3 of Waiting for the Bike.

(The series history is as follows… S4 Ep 1: Flying to Johannesburg, S4 Ep 2: The RORO boat to Italy, S4 Ep 3: Container to Melbourne)

But now I digress, so… Diving in Raja Ampat, what’s it all about? Most people have never even heard of Raja Ampat, where is it, why do you go there, is it really the “greatest diving in the world??”

Raja Ampat is a marine park located in Western Papua, Indonesia (which is the western bit of the big Island to the north of Australia which includes Papua, and Papua New Guinea too). It’s about 1500km directly north of Darwin. The closest city to Raja Ampat is Sorong, and people visit the area for the diving, snorkelling and beautiful undiscovered beaches.

Since about 2012 I’ve been hearing scuba divers mention Raja Ampat, usually in the phrase “we want to go to Raja Ampat next”, and the websites and dive shops all call it the “most amazing diving in the world”, which to be fair, is also said about the Phillipines, Thailand, Malaysia etc, so i was a little sceptical.

After about 4 weeks of S4Ep3 Waiting for the Bike, we had been to Thailand (Koh Chang), Vietnam (the Da Nang area), Thailand again (Chiang Mai), the Philippines (Coron), and now find ourselves in Indonesia for a month en route home.

So we added up the flights to Raja Ampat ($1000), the accomodation ($360 for 6 nights including food), and the diving ($1400 total for 12 dives each), and decided that spending AUD$3000 between us for a week away (when we’ve already been away for 9 months and this is supposed to be the cheap bit!!) was a bad idea and disappointedly decided to stay in Bali and save money.

The following day we wandered around Kuta, Legian and Seminyak, looked at what we could do in Ubud or Nusa Lembongan for a few weeks, scratched our heads a bit, surfed the net for a few hours, and then we booked the flights to Raja Ampat ūüôā

Most people dive Raja Ampat from a liveaboard boat, but the boat prices START at $1500 USD per person so we ruled that out pretty quickly and decided to stay in one of the many homestays on the Islands.

We got lucky and somehow came across a little dive shop called Soul Divers, recently opened on the Island Kri, run by a young couple Tibo and Carrie from France and the US respectively. Usually we’d prefer to dive with local guides, but a lot of the reviews we read about the local homestay diveshops in Raja Ampat were less than encouraging, and after speaking to Carrie on the phone, we were convinced. (They’re also more reasonably priced than a lot of the other operators in Raja Ampat).

We also found beachfront accommodation at Warasnus Homestay, only 5 mins walk from the diveshop, so it all fell into place.

Warasnus homestay

Arriving at Sorong Airport we were greeted by the usual shouting touts selling taxi rides to the ferry terminal, but we had lots of time and it was only a few km so we decided to walk there instead. The Indonesian word for ‘going for a walk’ is “jalan jalan” and it’s always fun telling Indonesians that we dont need a taxi because “jalan jalan”. In some bizarre twist of linguistics and culture, the words “jalan jalan” miraculously melt the resolve of the most hardened touts and we pass the sea of men like Moses!

The walk to the harbour was made a little disillusioning by the volume of plastic rubbish being thrown into drains in Sorong, sitting there waiting for the next big rains to wash it into the ocean… sigh.

A gutter of plastic waiting to be flushed out to sea

Anyway, from the ferry terminal we took the $10 ferry to Waisai (2hrs), where we hooked up with a couple of Aussie girls going to Kri Island and split the $70 boat ride there between the 4 of us.

Arriving at Warasnus we were shown to our bungalow on the beach, a simple bamboo and wood structure on stilts, with a foam mattress, mosquito net and shared toilet and wash rooms a few metres away. We usually had rats in our bungalow at night time, but this seems to be normal for the all the homestays in Raja Ampat, and you get used to it. They only have electricity in the evenings.

Our bungalow

The toilets were cleanish (by Indonesian standards), and the wash rooms pretty basic (big plastic container usually full of water, with a scoop to throw water over yourself).

Meals were quite simple: rice, tempe, fish or chicken, and some vegetables, the usual suspects in Indonesian warungs. Not overly impressive, but not bad either. Breakfast for the first couple of days was our only real complaint, (sponge cake or white bread and chocolate syrup), but we had a chat with the ladies in the kitchen and they switched it to fried rice or noodles which was much better.

That afternoon we walked the steep ‘path’ over the hill to the Soul Divers shop and met Tibo and Carrie, tried on our dive equipment and started to get excited for the next days diving.

So… is Raja Ampat the “best diving in the world”? Well, in our experience it’s pretty close ūüôā In any single dive we would usually see reef sharks, wobbegong sharks, turtles, barracuda, giant trevally, shrimp, nudies, sting rays, and all manner of reef fish. Several dives also have oceanic mantas which are pretty awesome, octopus, giant napoleons, sea horses, dugong, sweet lips… the list goes on.

My new favourite underwater animal, a Wobbegong shark

Until now our favourite diving has been Komodo National Park, and Raja Ampat comes pretty close to it. The reef in Mexico and Belize was next best, and everything else is grouped into “nice diving”, with the exception of Sipadan which was really nice, but everything else about Sipadan was a bit shit. To put it into perspective for the Scuba divers reading this, we both have 100+ dives, in some of the more well known sites in Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Mexico, Belize, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Zanzibar etc.

Lots of little islands in crystal clear water

Anyway, we had an amazing time! Soul divers usually came right to the pier at our homestay to pick us up in the morning, we’d do a couple of dives, return for lunch, then were picked up again for the afternoon dive. The dive briefings were super professional, and Tibo and Rocky were great dive guides, who really care about the reef. So if you’re thinking about diving in Raja Ampat we’d definately recommend Soul Divers. (and no we didn’t get a discount, and usually never recommend anyone!)

After 3 days diving we’d initially planned to move to another island, but were having such a good time that we extended our stay in Warasnus and dived 2 extra days with Soul Divers. After the diving we’d usually spend a few hours with the other divers and the staff at Soul Divers, watching the sun set and drinking a few almost cold Bintangs. Pretty cool.

Another beautiful sunset

Diving aside, the nicest part of Raja Ampat was the beautiful little island, with no cars or moto’s, not much electricity, patchy phone signal, and no running water, it really felt like we were a world away from anywhere.

If someone is considering diving Raja Ampat we’d recommend avoiding the liveaboards… you can dive the same divesites for less money, and spend your nights sitting on a beach watching the sun set instead of being stuck on a boat with 20 other divers. The other advantage is that Soul Divers was able to organise visits to the more challenging divesites for experienced divers only, which many of the liveaboards skip altogether as they need to please the masses. We also witnessed liveaboard boats throwing waste into the ocean, (which we’re told is commonplace), when we reported the issue to the owners of the boat, their response was “everyone does it”. Not cool.

Out of Indonesia

So we found a way out of Indonesia without the famed Mr Lim’s Onion Boat, using the soon to be famous Mr Ade’s high speed ferry!

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I’m still not sure what Ade really does, but I think he’s at least a part time fixer, that is someone who matches needs and solutions for a fee.
In this case the fee was aud$300 for us and the bike plus aud$50 (he wanted $100!) for loading and unloading services.
He’s one of these shifty guys who carries a bum bag everywhere, he knows everyone, and works out of nowhere and everywhere.

We’re not in Malaysia yet so there may still be more costs, I’m expecting an argument when we arrive for extra money to unload the bike… We’ll see.

The ferry we’re on is quite small, 25 rows of 6 people, and by Indo standards quite luxurious. It’s non smoking and came with meals and water, and the toilet doesn’t make me want to vomit when I go in there. ¬†From the inside it looks a bit like an aeroplane, reclining seats, domed roof and narrow centre aisle.

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Betsy wouldn’t fit inside so they put her on the front, where she’s currently being jet blasted with salt water. ¬†Hopefully not much goes in the exhaust pipe or we’ll have a long afternoon getting going again!

To get her into the bow of the boat, they used a rickety old ramp, half of which was on the Jetty, and the other half in the boat (with a gap between rhe boat and jetty just wide enougb to swalliw a bike).

Betsy was wheeled onto the first half while being held onto by about 8 guys, then the ramp was tilted like a seasaw with Betsy in the middle, skidding along the oily railing of the boat, and she was then wheeled down into the boat, lifted up and the seasaw was extracted.  The reverse should be interesting (scary).

Last night we stayed in a very small room above the office of the ferry company, just big enough for a bed with no windows or bathroom (public mandi downstairs), but for $3/night we couldn’t complain… not much anyway.

For all the time we’ve been here I still expect things to happen just because someone told me they would, like a man coming this morning at 7am to drain my full fuel tank. ¬†I waited until almost 8 before the guys in the ferry office eventually helped me. ¬†The tank is supposed to be completely empty before liading on a boat (“safety first”) – I’d forgotten this rule yesterday and filled up with cheap Indo fuel (73c/lt), so was a bit miffed about having to empty it again, knowing we’d get nowhere near full price for it.

Anyway, the siphon hose they had was quite short so we only got about 8lt out (it takes 33) which they seemed happy with, leaving me with an almost still full tank ūüôā Fortunately no one checked at the harbour.
It’s such a huge relief to be on our way, if this hadn’t worked out we may have needed to ride back to Jakarta and crate the bike to send by container, with the obligatory days of waiting and total screw around that pervades trying to get something accomplished here.
So it’s good, now we have a couple of days to look around southern Malaysia before heading to Sepang for the Motogp.

Looking forward to seeing my bro there too !!

Tira Valentino!!

Do we get frequent flyers with this?

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We just processed customs, waiting for the ferry now. Apparently it’s quite small so we probably won’t get onto it.

Bigger boat tomorrow they tell us. ¬†In the meantime we’re good staring material for the locals.

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So why are we even here if today’s boat is too small? Very good question, we don’t know, sometimes you just have to go with it.

Random Pics from Sumatra

Bukit Lawang

 

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The Punk Monkey, (otherwise known as a Thomas Leaf Monkey).

We’re sitting by the side of the river in Bukit Lawang, Sal is writing her journal and I’m writing this, there’s half a bag of unshelled roasted peanuts between us, a cold bintang and the smell of insect repellant in the air.

The beer is terrible, but the scenery, peanuts and company make it quite nice, and we’ve just had an unforgettable couple of days walking in the Taman Glucier National Park, one of only two places remaining in the world where you can see an orange orangutan.

Orangutan is an Indonesian word, which literally translates as person of the forest, or jungle people, and seeing them up close it’s really clear how closely we’re related.

We set off yesterday morning on a 2 day trek as they call it, really it’s just a walk in the forest with an overnight camp and then a raft trip back. ¬†Based on the experience I had here last time, along with the persistent sales pitches from the annoying guides we’d met, I didnt have high expectations. ¬†As we were setting off, with Sal asking how we so often get ourselves into these situations, I regretted suggesting the whole thing.

But about an hour into the walk, the guides quickly ushered us along the forest paths in a new direction while making strange noises and muttering things  between them in bahasa, and there was Sandra, one of the Ornagutangs that lives close to the Bukit Lawang village.

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She was quite tame, obviously accustomed to having people nearby, and the guides gave her some small pieces of banana and sugar cane while we took some pictures. ¬†High in the forest canopy there was another shaking and we were showered with leaves and bits of tree as another adolescent orangutang approached playing with Sandra’s baby, a tiny male. ¬†He then came over and hung off Sandra as she chewed some food and passed it into his mouth from hers. ¬†Pretty amazing to see from a few metres away. ¬†She eventually retreated back into the canopy and we continued on our walk.

Up very steep tracks in single file, and then down the next ravine, up and down all day.  Holding onto vines as we lost our footing, left dangling in mid air a couple of times, once I looked up hearing Sal screaming, to see her swinging from a vine like Tarzan, a few metres off the path and about 5m off the ground!

We frequently spotted Orangutangs, Pig Tailed Macacs, Thomas Leaf Monkeys, Long Tailed Macacs, Baboons, and many others I don’t remember the names of, but it was the last encounter with an orangutang that we won’t forget.

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Jackie is a rescued Orangutang, reintroduced into the forest about 7 years ago, who likes to hold hands with other girls. ¬†She came down from the canopy quite late in the day to see us,¬†and as the guides tried to make us run away towards the next clearing, she took hold of Sally’s arm and walked with her to sit down on a fallen tree, together with her tiny baby hanging onto her back.

Jackie¬†held Sal’s wrist with her left hand, while eating bits of potato and banana with the right. ¬†Her baby then followed suit and grapped one of Sal’s fingers while trying to suckle on Sal’s elbow!! ¬†I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen such a broad smile on Sal’s face, she was in heaven!

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We were in a group of 6 people though, so after a while Sal tried to get Jackie to let go so someone else could sit next to her, but Jackie didn’t want¬†a bar of it. ¬†She just held on tighter and kept munching away while her baby swung around her head and shoulders.

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Once the food ran out, Jackie took Sal’s fingers into her mouth and started to bite at her finger nails! ¬†It was priceless. ¬†The guides seemed a little concerned, after all, an orangutang is a wild animal, and an incredibly strong one at that, so they put a little pile of food about ten metres away to try to distract Jackie.

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Which it did, but she tried to drag Sal over there with her, and got quite agitated when the guides tried to stop her, I was having visions of Jackie swinging in the trees, a banana in one foot, her baby holding on tight and Sal still held by the wrist screaming in the air!

“how am I going to explain this to Keith and Jules?!” I was wondering

“first the grizzly bear with Katie, and now Sal gets taken by an orangutang…”

There was quite a commotion, and the guides were all making monkey type noises and then one produced a slingshot, which made Jackie let go and Sal made her escape.

Apparently when she was captive, her kidnappers¬†used a slingshot to hurt¬†her, so just seeing one now is enough to scare poor Jackie. ¬†Jungle Book style ending averted, we continued along the path towards our camp for the night…

They dont call it a rain forest for no reason, so when the drops started to fall the guides were prepared with big plastic bags to put our packs into, and on we went, completely saturated within seconds.

“Wear sturdy walking shoes, with long pants tucked into your socks” ¬†the guidelines stated… so of course Sally was wearing shorts and flip flops. ¬†Which she’d been doing amazingly well with all day (not wanting to ruin a pair of new Sketchers we had packed), but when the rain started it all got a bit too slippery and the new shoes came out, much to her dislike.

“I dont want to wear long pants and shoes. ¬†Stupid”

We arrived at the camp around dusk, with just enough light left for a swim and a wash in the river.  The camp guides Ollo and Ali produced a feast for dinner and kept us entertained until late in the night with games and singing.

What an amazing day ūüôā

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And right on cue, it’s 6:30pm and the thunder and lightning has started and the rain is pouring again. ¬†Welcome to the rainy season!

Sally here…I’ve just read Deans entry and I just want to add that I was so excited to be held by Jackie and Dean is right…I smiled so much, it was like a dream come true ūüôā

The jungle experience has left our Indonesia trip on a high as we ride tomorrow to the port where we will get a boat to Malaysia.

Aft√©r a couple of months here we’ll miss the smiling faces, the lush scenery and most of all the sambal.

We won’t miss the trucks, the traffic or the bintang beer, (although some of the traffic did still put a smile on our faces!)

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DCIM100DRIFT

 

 

Arrived at Tanjung Balai Port


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Cleaning the bike can only mean one thing…

Yes we’re shipping to Malaysia!

After another long day battling the traffic on the trans Sumateran highway, we arrived in Tanjung Balai and went to see the ferry company.

Many phone calls later we followed someone to see customs at the port, who told us that tomorrow’s boat is too small and we’d have to wait another day… maybe.

Much pleasing and promises to make the bike smaller by removing luggage and possibly the wheels too (what the?!), and we’re back on tomorrow’s boat. Probably.

The boat is a passenger ferry so it should be interesting getting it through the door ūüôā

They’re almost done, gotta go, more on the blog soon about the amazing time we had in the rainforest at Bukit Lawang.

xo

 

 

Bike shipping problems

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We’re having a down day today to rest our sore bums before the longish ride to Bukit Lawang, looking into going to the Sepang MotoGP and organising the onward bike shipping to Penang.

It turns out that the boat we had planned to use for the shipping has been seized by Indonesian customs, and they have no idea how long it will be before it’s released.

AWESOME. ¬†Well at least the bike wasn’t on the boat when it was seized!!

Not sure how we are going to get it to Malaysia now ūüôĀ

Central Sumatra

Well here we are in shitsville again, camped out in a filthy hotel on the road between Bukkitingi and Lake Toba.

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the view from the bed.

I don’t use the word filthy lightly, and am not usually fond of particularly nice hotels, but in this case the word filth is justified. ¬†Nothing in this place has been cleaned for years, except possibly the floor, although that could be just that the parts that are walked on cant grow mould.

I won’t go into it too much, except to say that I had to drag Sal over to reception to see for herself, a¬†dark brown patch on the (once) white wall caused by the owner leaning his dirty head¬†against it over the years.

Sal has her t shirt wrapped around the pillow so she doesnt need to actually touch it, and the wall next to the bed looks like someone has been bouncing a mud soaked ball against it for hours.

“see babe, stick with me and I’ll take you to all the fancy places…”

Enough about that, the last few days have actually been a drastic improvement over Eastern Sumatra and Java, we’ve been riding in the jungle on windy roads leading to Padang, then onto Bukkitingi and the Harau valley, and today towards lake Toba. ¬†The only shame, and it’s a big one, has been the¬†constant smoke in the air from the fires in east Sumatra, it’s been gorgeous, but really hard to see anything.

What else…?

As I said, the ride today was really pretty, with the only hiccup being a flat tyre quite late in the day.  The end of a broken pair of scissors went into the rear tyre and cut a slice about 2cm long in the tube.  We arent carrying a spare rear tube, so I patched it and hopefully it holds until I can find another one.

The state of this room is quite distracting, I might add another picture…

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this is the wall I was talking about, that’s the bed in the lower lhs corner.

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and this is the bathroom…

“but where’s the shower?” I hear you ask. ¬†Well let me explain.

That little trough in the corner is filled with water, and you use the filthy green plastic scooper that’s resting on it to pour water onto yourself to wash and rinse.

I have no problem at all with this system as a concept, it’s kinda fun to splash water all over the place and yourself, makes you feel like a little kid again. ¬†However in this case the plastic scooper also gets used to flush the toilet.

Which is also not a problem.  So long as you stay a little distance away from it so any splash back doesnt get back to your hands or the scooper.

It’s the third use for the plastic scooper that leaves me feeling a little disconcerted. ¬†If you’re particularly astute you may have seen that there’s no toilet paper, not even a dispenser.

“so how do you wipe your bum?” I hear you asking…

Well let me explain ūüôā

Using your RIGHT¬†hand, you take a scoop full of water with the (multipurpose) filthy green plastic thingy, you stand with your legs apart and lean forwards from the toilet, holding the scooper in front of you roughly between your knees, and place your LEFT hand behind you, and under the scooper. ¬†Then pour some water from the scooper into your cupped LEFT hand and use that water to wash your bum. ¬†Pour more water, splash some more, pour more, splash more and so on, until the scooper is empty or you’re satisfied that you’ve got all the poo off (sorry Mum).

Then still using your RIGHT hand get a few more scoops of water to flush the toilet, and return the filthy green thingy to the top of the filthy trough, ready to be used to wash the rest of yourself later on.

You have to try it before you knock it, and having tried it myself I can testify that it’s very effective, and actually leaves you feeling quite fresh! ¬†It also keeps your right hand away from any hot spots so you can safely use it to eat with later in the day… (insert vomiting noise here).

EXCEPT THAT YOU INEVITABLY SPLASH SOME OF YOUR POO ALL OVER THE PLACE, INCLUDING ON THE PLASTIC SCOOPER.

If there were a different scooper for washing and toileting (genius?!), it might not be so bad, or if the scooper got a wash (or was replaced!) everytime the room was changed that might also be ok.

However using a scooper that’s covered in other peoples shit, to wash myself – is not cool.

Did I mention that the water in the trough has insects breeding in it?

Enough about that.

Another curious thing about indonesia is the numeber of Mosques.  They are everywhere, every kilometer of a built up area will have at least one Mosque, with as many load speakers as the local electricity supply can drive screaming out verses from the Koran at levels of distortion that defy my literary ability to describe.

And even where there are already so many mosques, they are building more mosques, built using the kind donations from passing traffic to pay for the construction.

Imagine this.

People lay lengths of thick rope across a road approximately 30m apart. ¬†The rope is so thick that you really need to slow down for it. ¬†Then this section of road is lined with people holding butterfly catchers in one hand, and a bucket full of money in the other. ¬†Cars slow down, throw notes or coins out the window, and the people¬†swoop it up with the butterfly catchers. ¬†Of course they have already invested in loudspeakers set at maximum distortion, so loud that you cant understand anything they’re saying, and anyway¬†no one else can either because it’s in Arabic of course, and most¬†Indonesians can¬†only speak Bahasa. ¬†Brilliant.

I’ve started riding directly at the people who come towards us asking for money, it’s hilarious ūüėČ

The last curiosity I’ll go into today is the holes in the sidewalk. ¬†I call it a sidewalk because technically that’s what it’s there for, but no one here actually walks anywhere… Anyhow, there seems to be a nationwide project to install or improve the stormwater removal drains, that until recently were open drains, about a 2 feet wide and 3 feet deep along every bit of road in the country.

I guess it’s for health and sanitary reasons, but they’re¬†putting tops on all the open drains, and just like magic you now have a sidewalk. ¬†Which would be great, except that at irregular intervals, usually on poorly lit streets, the top is missing for a short section, which creates a pretty big hole to fall into.

So big, that Sal and I have taken to warning eachother about them by yelling “HOLE!!” ¬† We’re both still here, so¬†far so good.

We’re both looking forward to reaching lake Toba tomorrow, (where there will be cold beer and possibly even wine!), site of the worlds largest known volcanic eruption. ¬†It’s very interesting for geeks like me, see this if you’re interested.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toba_catastrophe_theory

I think that will do for tonight, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite, which is a real possibility tonight ūüôĀ

CDC_11739_Cimex_lectularius_SEMSelamat Malam!