The Seven Seas News - October 2012
Seven Seas Charter, East of Flores Sept. 9-20, 2012
Trip Report by Barbara Price.
After 26 hours of travel from San Francisco (having traveled from Boston, Detroit, the Cayman Islands, San Jose and the San Francisco Bay Area) to Denpasar, Bali, we settled into the Santika Beach Hotel. The Seven Seas Bali staff had helped us expedite our visas on arrival - bypassing an hour of negotiating lines - choose a hotel, arrange airport transfers, and get us back to the airport and on our domestic airline two days later to fly to Maumere on Flores. Our group of ten were met by Karl Klingeler and Seven Seas crew members who wrangled our baggage and taxied us ten minutes to board the Seven Seas dive phinisi. For seven of our group this was a return trip to the Seven Seas. We were all happy to feel at home and greet so many friends on staff from a year before. We introduced our three newcomers and all quickly felt at home. We were the only passengers on board and we could hardly believe that this was our home for 11 days of cruising, diving and visiting local tribal villages.
On the first night, Karl gave us a thorough briefing on the boat, the diving and our itinerary which would be quite different from last year's trip to Komodo (west of Flores in the Nusa Tengara Archipelago). The dive deck is so well-organized and efficient with places to store our individual gear, hang our wet suits, dry our dive skins, rinse our masks and cameras, and receive our detailed dive briefings before boarding one of two dive tenders - preloaded with our tanks, BC's, weights and fins. All the diver has to do is get on Boat 1 or Boat 2 with mask in hand.
As was to be our standard procedure, we did our traveling at night and so as we went to sleep we were motoring 15 hours to Lembata. The Seven Seas moves through the water so surely and elegantly; it is rare to experience any seasickness. I slept like a baby every night - especially when we were motoring to our next destination.
We awakened anchored in front of an active volcano, belching white puffs of ash from the top. As was to be our daily habit, we were welcomed to eat a light breakfast of fruit and bread and coffee or tea before our first dive. Our checkout dive was Lembata Nera, a lovely aquarium of blue-tipped staghorn coral gardens. On this first dive we found the splendid dottyback, a black and orange-dotted nudibranch (nembrotha kubayana), two tiny pygmy seahorses (hippocampus denise), pipefish, pinnate batfish, a huge star pufferfish, spotted ray, school of sweetlips, 2 huge coral-banded shrimp. Don't worry - I won't list all my sightings - I only list these to illustrate how rich even the first dive was. Our group would come up after each dive and compare notes, paging through the vast library of fish and coral ID books aboard, annotating all our many finds.
Following our 1st dive, Little John, who was on staff in the kitchen and salon, was waiting on the dive deck with pen in hand to take each person's individual breakfast order, whether for custom omelet, French toast, banana pancakes, mie kuah, mie goreng or any number of other choices. By the time we had hung up our wet things and changed into dry clothes and arrived in the Lounge, we were greeted with our unique hot breakfast.
Our daily schedule continued with a 2nd morning dive to Tg Bacatan, a magnificent wall leading to a point with two massive shelves over the open ocean. There were great schools of so many fish, with large sharks cutting through. Unicornfish, a star puffer, "stacks" of schools. The wall was covered with sponges and corals and ledges - all crammed with crabs, tiny octopus, swimming crinoids, orangutan crabs, many-colored nudibranchs.
We had lunch of great salads, warm pasta, chicken or fish, sometimes Indonesian noodles. There are many places on board to rest, read, chat or nap, besides the very comfortable and roomy cabins, from the covered open air lounges with cushioned banquets and individual loungers, both fore and aft, to the indoor lounge with tables for playing games, eating, watching videos and relaxing.
Following lunch, we motored 30 miles (took about 4 - 5 hours) to another active volcano named Komba. As we approached we could see it erupting with gray puffs of smoky ash, every 5 - 15 minutes. We all were on deck with our cameras and oohs and ahhs. But we hadn't seen nothin' yet!
As we got closer the sun was beginning to set, we could see red balls of fire rolling down the side of the volcano following each eruption. Captain Wahyu pulled up alongside the volcano. We see a spectacular shower of red hot rocks explode into the sky, followed by an immense rumbling. The vibration could be felt on board the boat. We stayed for several hours, mesmerized by the succeeding eruptions - sometimes waiting 20 mins; sometimes surprised every few minutes. We were all reluctant to pull away, even though a little apprehensive about the continuing explosions. Finally Karl asked us if we wanted to stay and have dinner on the upper deck, overlooking the eruptions, something they had never had - calm enough water to consider. Of course, we unanimously shouted Yes! So there we were sitting on the upper deck, under the stars, with no signs of civilization as far as we could see, eating our dinner, punctuated by successive firey volcanic eruptions. Some of them were so large, the "boom" of the explosions shook the entire boat and the shower of the red firey rocks cascaded through the sky and down the side of the volcano. It was a prehistoric experience, feeling the power of the Earth's center, erupting thru this volcano in the middle of the Flores Sea, knowing that the heat and power from deep within the Earth's center was making itself heard and felt right off our deck on the Seven Seas. To bed as we motor off to Alor.
Sept 11 - We awoke in the Pantar Strait. Dove the House Reef. My notes recall endless soft corals, with endless juveniles and small fish. A juvi peacock razorfish with a little lure bobbing off the top of its head, two blind shrimp gobies in side by side holes, a juvi clown coris. Second dive was at Babylon, off Reta Island. What a beautiful coral garden - every kind of soft coral in two huge ledges; caverns tucked in all along the way. Yellow and blue nudis (chromodoris Elizabethan), blue ribbon eels, checkerboard wrasse, fire dart gobies, xeno crab on a wire coral, a light brown lion fish; yellow leaf scorpion fish with mirrored eyes. So many fish, I didn't want to leave.
Back to the boat for lunch and tale-telling. Then to Croc's Tail off Ternate. Again so many fish amid lots of corals, fans and sponges. Highlights were a blue-spotted box fish, a huge puffer fish all puffed up, big school of convict blennies pouring into a small hole in the coral, minute filefish in a soft coral bush (known in Flores).
Once we returned to the boat, a boat full of local women from a local village pulled up alongside our boat, holding up their ikats for us to see. We all ran to our rooms to get our rupiah and returned to bargain for individual women's handiwork. Even with a huge language barrier and with a little help from Karl, we managed to communicate, laugh, share thanks and appreciation, as the women left us with a number of ikats from that small fishing village.
Sept 12: Dove The Ledge at Pantar Island. A beautiful wall dive loaded with soft corals which were closed because the current was down. Still there were large schools of yellow damsels, copper and lavender anthias, sweetlips with big tuna off the wall, many mantis shrimp out running about, and so many elaborately colored nudibranchs (Chamberlini, Gloomy Tamja).
Next we dove a pretty wall in front of a small fishing village named Pura Solongbali. Blue ribbon eels, big bright orange nudi, tomato anemone fish - 1 in each anemone, clown coris, tiny turin chromodoris, flabellina, school of striped catfish.
After lunch we dove in front of a small village named Pura and did a critter dive named the Board Room in the shallows. The young kids of the village watched us from a few concrete steps into the water, until they couldn't stand it any more and started jumping into the water and swimming slightly above us. It was kind of funny. Nevertheless we found a ghost pipefish in a crinoid, a green nudi with a red top, and a tiny pink octopus with a crown on its head among other critters on the dive. It was the site of the evening night dive that was reported to be loaded with great critters.
Sept 13: We awakened in Kalabahi Bay, studded with the local large triangular fish traps. The Bay is a main thoroughfare for very large swimming dolphin that we spotted from time to time, as many as two dozen at once. We did two dives near Pura before lunch - both incredibly beautiful. Clown Valley, an anemone dive with fields of anemones of every type crammed together - totally beautiful. Large Napoleon wrasse, Queen Angel, magnificent fire urchin, large red mantis shrimp, several scorpion fish, Spanish Dancer egg ribbon, 20' long tunicate strand, a field of blue branching coral swarmed with copper damsels; red, lavender, blue, pink sea apple with gold lines - could have been a marvelous piece of Venetian glass.
Second morning dive, School's Out, was a wonderful easy drift dive over fields of green and lavender leather coral, followed by rust and orange soft corals, followed by short stubby blue corals - a museum of corals!
In the afternoon we did a critter dive called Ghost Town off Alor. This was a very "productive" dive as Karl would say. School of rigid shrimpfish, Box fish, Hairy Crab, leaf scorpionfish, blue ribbon eel, snake eel, razor fish, ringed pipefish, school of cornetfish, anemone crab, golden slender filefish, pleurobranch berthelina - a large red nudi.
Sept 14 - We left the boat on a village outing on the outskirts of Kalabahi. The tenders took us ashore. We scrambled up a sandy bank and walked up a wooded path to a waiting van. We were greeted by a local guide named Achmed. Some of the group wanted to change money to Rupiah so we had a stop at the Chinese moneychanger in Kalabahi, which was a part of our cultural experience. She was all business and had a very precise way of counting and wrapping the money as she changed it. Then we drove up into the hills to the tribal village of Latifui of the Aboi Tribe. We walked up a stone path and were met by two men in full ceremonial garb swinging machetes. Historically these tribesmen were head hunters and much of their dance and song ceremonializes that cultural history. They were accompanied by at least a dozen women in ceremonial dress who sang and danced with them. I have learned that all tribes in this area, send members up the path outside their village to threaten approaching visitors until they can ascertain if they are safe visitors and to establish their fierceness as due warning, before they are allowed to enter the village. The greeting villagers dance and sing the visitors into their village center. And so it was for us.
Once in the village center, the dancers set up a circle dance with a chant and steps. The older man singing the verse and women chanting the chorus. The women wear metal bangles on their ankles that make a rhythmic beat. Then they invited us to join them and four or five of us stepped up and were warmly taken into their line, wrapping their arms behind our backs and continuing the repetitive slow, hypnotic song and dance. While the dancing was going on there was a tribal man rethatching a roof in the background which was just as fascinating as the dancing.
After the dancing they invited us into two of their traditional homes where we sat on an elevated floor, while they prepared food, coffee and tea for us. One woman was grinding coffee beans between two flat rocks; three women were pounding wheat and invited one of our group to help them, again to a rhythmic chant. They served us coffee made from the ground beans, and platters of banana, cassava, and another starchy tuber. We took pictures and laughed with the children. Then we were invited to a third hut set up with a selection of their arts and tools: ikat weavings, old traditional baskets, natural jewelry made from banana seeds, bamboo and nuts, carved wood and metal drums, called moko. Their traditional moko drums are sacred and ceremonial and used in dowries and for other valuable exchanges. Finally we left and some of the members walked us to the road, taking pictures together as we went, before we waved goodbye and boarded our van. We stopped at Achmed's home to see several of his ancient family ikats, at the Museum of Moko drums and ikats which was very interesting with lots of ancestral family pictures, and finally at an open market where we walked through mesmerized by unfamiliar fruits, vegetables, dried fish and herbs. An amazing photo opportunity. We returned to the Seven Seas for a lunch of soto ayam followed by a critter dive.
September 15: We awakened to a lovely morning. First dive was at TriTop off Alor, a little drift over endless fields of soft and hard corals. Saw black juvi blue ribbon eel, a blue-spotted ray, 2 large solar-powered red nudibranchs, a leopard wrasse, sleeping boxfish, red hairy crabs and much more. The second dive we returned to the Ledge at Pantar during a rising tide so we could see the wall with the corals open. It was great fun and very beautiful; we were flying along the wall. We saw several very large bumphead parrots (called double headers in Indonesia), and a very large sea snake.
After lunch we had an outing to Solangbali, the fishing village we had earlier dived in front of. One of the elders named Arnold greeted us and led us through the village, trailed by 20 or 30 kids, aged 2 - 10. Very cute. They all wanted their pictures taken and loved seeing the playback. As did the older ladies of the village. We stopped by some men mending their fishing nets, tending their home stills, climbing coconut trees to cut down coconuts, lifting water from the single village well. All the women were chewing betel nut. Their homes were painted very creatively. They shared their village center with us that had been demolished by a storm in April. The village was founded around an ancient iron anchor left by the Dutch 100's of years ago and found in the hills. Seventy years ago the villagers brought the anchor down to the shore and founded their fishing village here. It was a very sweet day and a great outing.
At the end of the day we dove Babylon at Reta Island. Such a gorgeous wall, just crammed with corals soft and hard and sponges and so many fish. All kinds of eels, leaf scorpion fish, scorpion fish, another Spanish dancer egg ribbon, nudis, schools off the wall. We worked our way up to the top of the wall that was beautiful and we continued for 20 mins at 20'. This was an exceptional dive spot.
Sept 16: the boat moved from the northern waters to the southern waters and the Savu Sea of the Indian Ocean so it was much colder. We dove BeangaBang, a critter site discovered by Larry Smith. For the second dive Boat 1 returned to BeangaBang and Boat 2 headed for Pantar Point, a little drift dive with lots of coral and fish. Saw square spot anthias, very small 3' scorpionfish, longsnout red plaid hawkfish. There was a little current and we drifted by areas of open orange cup coral and bright orange bulb anemones with anemone fish. Both boats were happy with the difference. On our third dive the boats switched spots and my boat did a critter dive at Lava Flow. We saw so much we could hardly keep track. Juvi warty frogfish, called a clown frogfish which was darling.
The fourth dive was a night dive. There were five night dives, but I did only two, both of which were fun and full. Following the dive we had dinner on the upper open deck as usual which was always so fun and pleasant with us all sitting together at one table. All the meals were wonderful and dinners included fish, turkey, beef, lamb, shrimp, chicken with salads, vegetables, and casseroles, usually begun with delicious soups and always ended with a delicious dessert. On this night at the end of the meal, the whole crew came upstairs with two guitars and sang a congratulatory song in Indonesian for Kathryn who had made her 500th dive today. It was very sweet and unexpected. The crew comes from many different islands in Indonesia and are all so friendly and helpful, from the boat crew, to the chefs, the captains who always were on hand to welcome us back to the boat following the dives, to the engineers and the dive masters. They all knew all of our names and just created a warm and personal atmosphere on the boat.
I spoke too early, it maybe the last day, but Slave Master has more adventures up his sleeve .....we are off to Watubelapi, a traditional Ikat weaving village in the hills above Maumere. A gentle forty five minute drive into the hills and we were greeted by the villagers in the traditional way... an Ikat for the first guest, and then we walked through a line of dancers to the performance area, where we were treated to various interesting dances, and of course we were invited to join in, and so we did with gusto. Kodok, again being the lead dancing visitor, caused havoc with his mis steps, and was so successful in livening up a traditional dance, they asked him to lead the singing, which he did again with gusto!
Sept 17: The boat moved to the SW point of Pantar so that we could dive a freestanding rock called Alcatraz off a wall named Tg Ikankotang. What an incredibly beautiful wall and mount, covered in soft corals all opening or opened. Pretty morning light. We came around the back side of the mount to find a large sea fan. Irwan was my diveguide and he immediately spotted a pygmy seahorse - the Bargibanti. And then we found and counted at least 14 of them all on this one sea fan. We were so excited. They were small and large; pregnant and several together. A whole community of pygmy seahorses! This was a fantastic dive site!
Followed this dive with another fabulous dive, Hungry Eel. What a gorgeous dive! A beautiful wall and reef. There was some concern that there would be ripping current but Karl checked it out and it was an easy drift dive. A platoon of 5 mobula rays swam past us and came back to check us out three times, punctuated by a giant manta that swam by and into the Blue. We repeated this dive and the mobulas repeated their fly-by.
There was no night dive and most of the group stayed in the Lounge to play the nightly Canasta game or to join the nightly Mexican Train domino game. Even Karl got brought into dominos and won after learning the ropes.
Sept 18: We were up early and most of us went ashore to visit a traditional whaling village called Lamalera. The people of this village have been doing traditional whaling for hundreds of years, passing down their culture to each generation. They have special permission from the World Conservation organizations to hunt whales in their traditional wooden boats for their own sustenance. They go armed with handmade spears, hammered with a handmade bellows. Their boats use hand-woven sails made from palm leaves. So far this year, they have caught one whale last March. It is also a fishing village.
The beach was ringed by a series of open boat "garages" holding a family whaling boat, each one individually painted with ceremonial images and brightly colored images. The boats are handed down from generations. When they are built it is a sacred ceremonial endeavor. Each plank of the boat has a personal name by position and prayers are said over the addition of each plank. It is very rare for a new boat to be built. "They have their boats."
When we visited they had caught a large mola mola. A young man hauled it up on the beach and cut off its fins. He then sent another young boy to return with an elder, who demonstrated to him how and where to cut up the fish. Then a man from a middle generation arrived to actually do the very precise cleaning and cutting. All the fish caught is shared with the village, in order of the family who made the catch, the elders, neighbor families and then by need. We also watched a woman come down to the beach to clean a large catch of fish from a net , dispense some of the fish to a few elders, and then lift a very large and heavy bucket of fish onto a wound cloth on her head and walk up the steps to the village center.
We followed up the steps to the first level of community houses in the village square. One was open and invited us in to see their ikats. Each village has its own set of distinguishing patterns. Lamalera features dark colors and images from the sea like whales, mantas, boats and fish. We found beautiful pieces and negotiated good prices and came home with a variety of weavings.
As we were walking down the hill to return to our boat, someone called out that a whale had been sighted. The whole village sprang into action and we could see people pouring out of their homes all the way up the hills and hurrying down to the beach. They grouped together and hauled out their boats across the beach. We were so lucky to have been there to see this ritual and we stood out of the way, taking pictures as the 15 or 20 boats launched themselves and headed out to sea, all in about 20 minutes. They disappeared over the horizon. We returned to our Seven Seas boat so blessed to be able to witness this centuries-old practice that is just about extinct. One of our boat crew had been born in Lamalera and his brother still lives there and is a whaler. He accompanied us to the village and shared his sacred culture with us as we visited. The intersection of cultures from across 100's of years. We felt very lucky and appreciated the Seven Seas for arranging this visit.
We returned to our dive day and did a dive at Soangi, a stupendous rock reef surrounded by the ocean. We saw a HUGE puffer 4 - 5' long, a giant eel sharing a hole with a giant grouper - two faces side by side. Also a huge Napoleon wrasse over 4 feet long off the wall, well-camouflaged scorpionfish, many nudibranchs, a big green turtle, an immense moray eel at least 6' long along a rock ledge, a nudibranch laying an egg case, three rare semi-circle angel fish. This large rock was so full of life with many plates and ledges covered in corals and many many fish.
We ended the day back at Lembata at The Brewery - a critter dive. We saw the tiniest ½" yellow frogfish, a cool self-feeding sea cucumber, a green and a yellow leaf scorpionfish, wasp fish, anemone crabs, juvi warty frogfish.
Sept 19: We dove The Crack at Pulau Babi near Maumere on Flores which was where the '92 earthquake happened. We dove along a very large wall with a huge vertical and horizontal crack caused by the earthquake. Saw a 6" square spot anthias that was orange with blue fins.
For our last dive we moved to Deep Divers at Pulau Babi. It was a lovely last dive. A sublime last dive. Just an easy amble along the reef - plenty of corals and fans and reef fish. Saw four long-nosed yellow filefish, two small flounder, a large eel, two 6-banded angelfish and many splendid dotty backs. Plus many schools of reef fish. A nice way to say goodbye to our East of Flores dive trip.
After lunch Linda Johnston, Karl's wife, who is the boat videographer and assistant trip manager. showed us the video she has made of our trip. She has been in the water with all of us on all of our dives and has created a great document of our trip.
The beginning of our good byes started with Karl and Linda thanking the crew on the upper deck and we all had group pictures together. We've grown so fond of the crew members and they are all so sweet.
We spent our last night on the boat at a beach picnic arranged by the crew. We walked the beach at sundown and then gathered around a bonfire and ate sushi and dinner. The crew had brought their guitars and sang and dance and some of us joined them doing line dances. Finally, we borrowed their guitar and Ed accompanied us to a song we had written for the staff and crew to the tune of Surfin' USA by The Beach Boys. They were shocked and I think delighted. They cheered and jumped up and danced as we worked our way through the verses, naming everyone on the boat. We had been practicing in private so we really surprised them all. We were quite happy with our presentation. A sweet end to the trip.
Sept 20: After 11 days of diving and wonderful cultural experiences on the islands, meeting traditional tribal people in fishing villages on the coasts and tribal farmers and weavers in the hill villages. We dried our gear and packed our clothes and bid a sad farewell to the Seven Seas crew. But we had one more special treat in store. We were met by several vans and driven up into the hills above Maumere to the village of Watublapi. As we walked toward a wooded path we were met by a man and a woman elder from the village who greeted us and invited us to share their culture. They placed a ceremonial woven scarf around my neck and asked if I would accept the welcome on behalf of my group, which of course I did. They danced and sang and led us into a clearing in the woods. We were led to a raised building. The elder women had prepared trays holding small dishes for each one of us, holding the ingredients to try betel nut and a special cigarette rolled with their tobacco. Most of us tried one or both of the ceremonial rituals. Then we were led to a small stage set with chairs for us to sit in. They described tribal practices around courting, marriages, families, weaving, dances, dress and jewelry as it distinguishes marital status. Then they demonstrated a dance used to merge two families at the point of marriages and invited Gay and Ed as a married couple to dance with them, which they did. Then they invited all of us to join the dancing. Eventually we were invited to an upper clearing where they had set up a sequential demonstration of their ikat process from spinning thread, using natural dyes from plants, threading their looms and then binding the thread for dying to create the intricate patterns, and then the actual weaving. There was a woman at each position demonstrating the process. It was beautiful and fascinating. We moved into an adjacent clearing where they had all their ikats displayed. It was just overwhelming to see the beauty of the intricate patterns hanging in the woods. We all wandered around and shopped and used sign language to communicate with the weaver women. Finally we had to leave and were all so grateful for the opportunity to visit Watublapi.
We had our last meal with Karl and Linda at a local traditional Indonesian restaurant at the beach and then were dropped off at the airport at Maumere and began our journey out of Indonesia and back to the U.S. with so many memories of great dives, camaraderie and beautiful culture. The Seven Seas dive boat is the Best in the World. We look forward to returning.