Saturday, November 26, 2011

Maluku Divers in Ambon

Our departure from the Damai on 22NOV was accomplished by the dive boat from Maluku arriving at the Damai and our gear being transferred onto their dive boat! The Damai tenders later delivered our luggage to the Resort and when we arrived at the Resort after our two morning dives, everything was already in our cottages!

Maluku Divers Resort is a two-year old property on the south side of Ambon just outside a major harbour. It's comprised of 10 guest cottages, a lovely outdoor covered dining/reception area, huge camera room with lots of space to set up your camera gear. They have a covered lounge area with lots of comfortable seating and an outdoor seating area to enjoy sunsets from. They have 3 dive boats and can accommodate 20 guests at a time. Their dive storage/preparation area is well organized as well and they handled unsettling gear issues with organized competence and we had some major personal gear issues on this long trip! Marcel is the Manager there with a staff of 37, and his partner, Lili, was our dive guide for our 3 days of diving there, and what critter eyes she has! The first thing she asked us was "would you like to see a rhinopias"? and away we went! We had 9 wonderful dives with her at various sites that were muck slopes, mini walls, diving under the fishing boats at the big pier and a lovely wall across the bay. We saw more on each dive individually than we've seen on many, many, many dives combined. Ambon is "muck heaven" as far as we were concerned!

We left Maluku on the 26th and flew back to Bali for one night...tonight is our Bali departure and the five weeks I've been here in Indonesia have literally flown by! All of the dive operators here have been top-notch and we've had so many wonderful dives....thank you Scuba Seraya; MSY Damai and its fabulous, marvelous crew; and Maluku Divers for a wonderful ending to our Holiday. Can't wait to come back and do it again and again and again! Terimakasih from my heart to everyone!

MSY Damai

I have to say that this was the easiest arrival to a dive boat we've ever had! The plan was for the Damai to sail up the east coast of Bali from Benoa Harbour and have the tenders come right to Scuba Seraya and pick us up and it worked to perfection! After our 2 morning dives on 08NOV, we just bundled each of our dive gear set-ups into a neat package and left them right at the edge of the dive area; the tenders motored in from the big boat and loaded dive bags & camera boxes along with dive gear and took them off to the boat! We stepped into the tenders and disembarked right onto the boat...dive gear already situated in our individual dive stations! We didn't have to break down camera set-ups; we just carried camera/housings right onto the boat like we were returning from a dive....can't get any better than that!

We set sail for Satonda but currents were running against us in the Lombok Strait so we ended up doing our first 2 dives the next morning at Moyo Island with a dusk dive at Satonda...then we headed for Bima. We covered 2200 nautical miles in 14 nights from Bali to Ambon, diving muck slopes, pinnacles, walls, exploratory sites and even 4 dives off of Komba Island which is an ACTIVE volcano! Imagine waking up one morning and looking out your cabin door to a volcano erupting 1/4 mile away! We enjoyed its rumbles, belches and burps all day long! We could see the ash trailing down the mountain slope which got greyer and greyer as the day went on but it was spectacularly impressive as dusk set in! A bunch of us opted to skip the night dive and just watch the volcano from the upper deck....erupting with showers of red sparks, ash and lava flowing down the slope about every 30 minutes. The image I'm including is courtesy of Linda because she pulled her camera out of the housing to catch the spectacle! How many of you can say you've been diving next to an erupting volcano?

We were lucky enough to be able to spend 2 nights in South Komodo in Horseshoe Bay, home of Cannibal Rock and many other signature dive sites there. The water was unusually warm (79 degrees instead of being in the 60's....brr) so we had some awesome dives there....I was able to find again and again the tiny ladybug amphipods that are ONLY seen there at Cannibal Rock, along with sea apples that had the amphipods on them and were profusely feeding. I wish we'd had more time to spend in the South/North Komodo region and we all hated to leave there, but we had a lot of territory still to cover! We were even able to get close to the beach to see the Komodo dragons walking along the shore!

Another signature dive was Gunung Api which means volcano (or fire mountain) in Indonesian. It's famous for its immense population of sea snakes, green ones that we'd never seen before and the "usual" banded sea snakes. We dove with dozens of them over 3 dives that day.....I have to say, they were very curious and came right up to our masks and camera ports and it was a bit unsettling at times, but it's another signature Indonesian dive site and we all managed at least two dives with the snakes!

Our crossing across the Banda Sea was absolutely fabulous with dives at atolls, walls and islands along the way. We had flat calm seas, light breezes and sunny days...and knew we were very fortunate because they are heading into the rainy/windy season and it could have been very uncomfortable for us. Our final dives were at Ambon before we disembarked and again, had a tender transfer with our gear to Maluku Divers cool is that?

Our 4 night stay in Ambon will be in the next post update!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Ubud to Scuba Seraya

On Saturday we traveled from Ubud to the NE Coast of Bali....visiting a local village doing loom weaving, entering another of the nine major Bali temples called Goa Lawah (Bat Cave Temple), a Bali Aga traditional village and Tirta Gangga, a water garden that used to be part of a Royal Palace.....ending up at Scuba Seraya.

Today we did 3 dives, first one to the Liberty Wreck, second to a site called Coral Garden and last to do a dusk dive on the house reef, Seraya Secrets. All three were awesome with a huge school of jacks off the wreck, nudibranchs, frogfish and soft coral on top of the wreck and Coral Gardens lived up to its name....lots and lots of soft corals....many with resident soft coral crabs....delightful! We also saw a robust ghostpipefish, crinoid squat lobsters, many varieties of shrimp, juvenile Emperor Angelfish and lots of other cool critters....even two ribbon eels in the same blue and the other almost changed over to yellow.

Seraya Secrets had more nudis, coconut octopus, two giant black-spotted moray in a big cleaning station, more juvenile Emperor angelfish and too many other subjects to list! We can't wait to dive again tomorrow! Bob, Dave and Roberta will finally complete the group; Mike & Linda arrived safely this afternoon....enjoy the images!

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Serenity of Ubud

If one can't find their inner spirit in Ubud, something is wrong! Alam Indah is a gorgeous, small boutique-style hotel set in the rolling hills just outside Monkey Forest and away from the craziness of City Centre Ubud. This is a family owned property with an attentive, caring staff. Their meal offerings are simple but superb and there's restaurants and cafes within a few minutes walking distance (shopping too!)

After a restful sleep last night, we were up and raring to do some shopping today! The Ubud Market is a conglomeration of vendors selling everything from t-shirts to food items to high quality handcrafted wooden carvings, handmade woven items and's more than enough to make your heads spin! Bargaining with the vendors is a learned art and Loretta mastered it very quickly....we all decided to let her negotiate our pricing for us! After we were shopped out, we walked along Monkey Forest Road gazing into the "regular" shops; designer clothing, art galleries, silver shops, and lots of restaurants and cafes. We decided to stop at Cafe Wayan, also owned by the same family that owns Alam Indah and lunch was delightfully delicious. We just wished we'd had more time to spare because they offer traditional Balinese cooking classes there and that would have been something we all would have loved to try.

Next on our agenda was the spa across the street from the hotel...traditional Balinese massages, reflexology, facials were enjoyed by all and after returning to the hotel and a relaxing swim in the pool, dinnertime is approaching.

Tomorrow is, fortunately and also unfortunately, a day of travel. We'll sadly be leaving Alam Indah but traveling along the East Coast of Bali, visiting some "not to be missed sights" on our way to Amed and Scuba Seraya. Over the next three days we'll start our diving and the rest of the group will join us....our pick up by the Damai is on the 8th of November so our Bali "land time" is drawing to a close......

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Mengwi to Ubud

Deni, Loretta, Mardel & Michele all arrived safely on the 1st of November and joined me at Puri Taman Sari....they loved the villa and the private pool! After a quick dinner, it was off to bed for them because I had a big day planned for the 2nd! I strongly feel that anyone visiting a new country should at least absorb a bit of the culture and at 8:30 the next morning and we were off!

First stop was a silver gallery where we watched silver jewelry being must have very good eyesight to be able to work on the tiny pieces of silver they were etching and carving out in the workshop. After a quick stop in the shopping area, off we went again! Next stop was a batik factory and we got to watch the ladies hand applying the wax to the fabrics in preparation for dyeing. There was also a lady working a foot loom weaving gorgeous fabric that could be made into tablecloths, napkins, placemats, etc. Some serious shopping was accomplished here! Third stop of the morning was the woodcarvers studio. There was a lovely elephant carving that was about 5' tall and maybe 2' wide...wonderful detail. They told me that it would take one man 4-5 months to carve such a beautiful piece.

We also visited the family temple of the Resort Owner, Pura Taman Sari, which is the only temple on Bali surrounded by two outside the main walls and another one just inside the temple walls. We couldn't visit inside the temple walls of this one, just walked around the walkway and were able to look in to see the beautiful temple buildings and carvings.

After a FAST lunch back at the Resort, we were off to Uluwatu Temple, which is another of Bali's nine main temples surrounding the island. Uluwatu is situated up on a very high cliff overlooking the beautiful ocean. The temple is "guarded" by some very naughty, aggressive monkeys! Everyone is advised to remove their glasses and hang onto their bags/backpacks. We spotted several monkeys grabbing sandals and shoes off of folks and jumping up onto the rooftops! They are bribed by bananas to throw the stolen objects back to the owners!

We then proceeded from the temple area into an arena area where the traditional Kecak Dance was performed, accompanied by a chorus of 70 men chanting throughout the performance. Long story short, the guy gets in the girl in the end, but the costumes and dancing are a fabulous introduction into the culture.

Today brought us to a coffee plantation where we sampled Bali cocoa, Bali coffee, ginseng coffee, lemongrass tea, white ginger and red ginger tea. We were able to also sample the Luawk coffee which is the "poop" coffee...the animal eats the red coffee beans and once they are digested, the beans are harvested off the ground, cleaned & dried & roasted and honestly, I was amazed at how delicious the coffee tasted! Deni and Loretta bought a couple of bags to bring home! Indonesian coffee is traditionally very, very strong coffee....

Enjoy the images...we're shopping the markets of Ubud tomorrow and getting massages in the afternoon. Alam Indah is a 10-room property just outside of Monkey Forest and it's our beautiful home for the next two nights....sweet dreams!