Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Eleven days of heaven onboard the Damai! It's a 5-star floating hotel with beautiful rooms, a crew of 18 to cater to the 10 guests' needs, 4 dive guides for the divers, food that could easily be served in any fine restaurant anywhere in the world! Wow, it was an amazing trip!

From the black sand "muck" dives in Ambon right under the main pier with eels, frogfish, shrimp, gobies and lots of other critters to the schools of jacks and snapper circling around us....then on to Air Laut & Banda to dive coral slopes, sheer walls, hard coral gardens and more sandy rubble slopes looking for critters! Off the island of Banda we dove the volcano lava slope. The hard coral gardens there are acres and acres of gorgeous, unbleached, corals. Scientists have been amazed at the sheer amount of the numerous varieties of hard corals that have covered this slope in a little more than 20 years since the last eruption! While on Banda, Paul & I took a break from diving to visit the little town of Banda Nasaira and a lovely spice plantation, the local Museum and the Dutch fort built in the early 1600's! We saw cinnamon trees, nutmeg trees, almond &cocoa trees and other amazing growing spices. I bought a bag of nutmeg, mace, cinnamon and nutmeg candy for just under $10!

After leaving Banda we visited Koon, Run (roon), Momon and then finally arrived at Triton Bay. We visited a fabulous waterfall along the shore, saw petroglyphs carved into the limestone wall 40' above the waterline from many hundreds of years ago and, of course, did our last 3-1/2 days of diving the fabulous dive sites there. Larry's Heaven, GT Rock, Tim Rock, Davids' Rock, Little Komodo and a few exploratory "green wall" dives were logged in Triton Bay. Lots of critters were seen, huge schools of fish including some of the largest varieties of sweetlips surrounded us at times and the hard and especially soft corals were gorgeous. Everyone was excited to see "wobblies" (woebbegong sharks) under a lot of the coral heads, some blue-spotted stingrays and too many creatures to name. Another one of the highlights was a great encounter with a blue ring octopus as well. You name it, we saw it here! It's not easy to get to/from but the diving is amazing!

Yesterday was a long day of travel...from Kaimana to Ambon to Makkasar to Manado..none of the flights are longer than 1-1/2 hours but the waiting times in hot, un-air-conditioned airports make it seem longer! We were happy to get back to the Novatel in Manado last night and snuggle into a comfortable bed after a long, cool shower! This morning we're just hanging around the hotel until late morning when we all make our way back to the Manado airport for our flight to Singapore and then we'll all split up for our homeward journeys. It was a wonderful group to spend 3 weeks with...we had a lot of fun, good food, great drinks and amazing diving! Next trip onboard the Damai is this coming November and we can't wait to get back!

Terima kasih to Capt. Alwi; our always smiling First Officer, Sofian; Chief Engineer Joko; our 3 wonderful chefs, Rudy, Wayan, & Brida, our skiff drivers Udin, Sabang; our masseuse Hendrik; our 3 engineers Indra, Achmadun & Holan who kept our rooms cool and the compressors running smoothly; our wonderful "restaurant stewards", Ketut & Kadek, who remembered all our weird meal requests and served us always smiling; our fabulous dive guides Ketut, Chris & Inyo (with the AMAZING critter eyes) and, of course, last but not least our Cruise Director, Mike Veitch! You dealt with all the little and big glitches seamlessly and with great Canadian humour! See you all again in November...sempa jumpa lagi!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Transit Day!

This morning we left Manado on a 6:45 a.m. flight to Makassar and then will travel onwards to Ambon. Garuda has a wonderful lounge here in the brand-new Makassar airport so we're hanging out here for a few hours in between our flights. Final destination today is Ambon and the beautiful MSY Damai....can't wait to get there and get onboard!
Our itinerary for the next 11 nights will be diving Ambon's black sand muck, the Banda region and onwards to Koon where the signature dive site is called "Too Many Fish", and then ending up in Triton Bay for 4-5 days! These are all new areas to us so we are anxious to explore and share our findings with you.....

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Last dives at Lembeh!

Well, today we finished our diving at Lembeh...two wonderful wide-angle morning dives...first one at California Dreaming and 2nd one at Nudi Retreat, which is a mini wall that is covered in huge sea fans and soft corals. Last dive was a "muck dive" of course...can't leave the Straits without finishing off in the black sand! We weren't in the water 2 minutes and our guide, Iwan, found us another wonderful Wonderpuss! This one hung around until all the photographers got their fill...it was fabulous! Then the guys found us not one, not two, but THREE hairy frogfishes! Last but not least was a juvenile zebra batfish...they are spectacularly gorgeous....what a way to end a great week at Lembeh!

Tomorrow we're off to Manado for the night and then an early, early morning flight to Ambon on Friday morning to board the Damai. Thanks for a wonderful time, Lembeh Resort and the critters@lembeh crew. You make it so easy to have so much fun...can't wait to come back again...and again...and again!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Mandarin Fish Dive

Lembeh Resort has a house reef with mandarin fish living on it but they found a new dive site just two minutes out into the Straits so they are currently giving their "own" mandarin site a rest. We hopped onto the boat and quickly arrived at the dive site. The corals there are rubbly, which is what the mandarin fish prefer for a habitat, but there were some very pretty encrusting pink sponges as well so there was some contrast. We departed the dock at 4:45 so it was still very light and as soon as we dropped into the water and swam down to the corals, we could see the mandarins already starting to roam the reef to do their courting ritual. For over an hour in 16' maximum depth we watched them court....it was amazing! These are large males, a lot of them were 5" long! I had lots of opportunities to capture close-up images which was lots of fun! There was only one actual mating that I observed and this pair only rose a couple of inches into the water column, rather than the 15-18" we've observed before, so catching them "in the act" was difficult. I managed two shots but they were out of focus, darn it!

As well as the beautiful mandarin fish, the reef there is covered in various varieties of cardinal fish, including the colorful pajama cardinals! We also saw lined pipefish and a very, very cool orange Tiger mantis shrimp peeping out of his hole watching all the action...I'm sure he managed to snare a few cardinal fish for dinner!

Today is our last day of diving in the Straits..we're going a bit north to California Dreaming and Angel's Window for some soft coral and wide angle diving...more later!

Lembeh Days 3 & 4

We've been so darn busy diving that I haven't had time to do any posts...sorry! Flamboyant cuttlefish, tiger shrimp, frogfish in different colors and shapes....we've been having a BLAST! We did the mandarin fish dusk dive this evening and we had the biggest mandarin fish running around the reef in front us that we've ever seen! Four dives yesterday including an amazing night dive; four dives today....we hardly have time to eat & sleep! We have 3 more dives scheduled for tomorrow including some wide angle soft coral dives in the morning and then it's time to dry the gear for our flight to Ambon early on Friday morning....I'll try and update the blog one more time before we lose our internet connection!