The Seven Seas News - May 2013
East of Flores
Trip Report by Jane Barron.
Diving is really wonderful I concluded after our amazing trip East of Flores, Indonesia (19th April - 3rd May 2013). Even though we are avid snorkelers, I had been anticipating the trip for a year, since we had postponed a similar trip the year before due to sudden onset of breast cancer! That made me even more determined to go, and this time, with encouragement and two short lessons from Valerie Taylor on a previous super trip to Banda, enthusiasm for diving took hold and I completed my Padi Open Water diving course in January (at Frog Dive in Willoughby, Sydney) ready for the trip. I enjoyed 24 dives on this trip and I only wish I had done it 40 years ago!!!
Our small group of eleven eager passengers met at Bali Airport with Mark our highly experienced tour leader, and his son Ben (at 11 already an accomplished diver). After a memorable flight over vents of smoking volcanoes and beautiful coral reefs, we made a bumpy landing at Maumere, Flores, then Mark led us onto the Seven Seas ready for a once in a lifetime adventure. The friendly Indonesian crew quickly dispensed with the bags, and provided a welcome late lunch.
The following day we awoke to beautiful weather and wonderful scenery amid huge active volcanoes and delightful island reefs near Lewotola, Lembata Island in the Banda Sea East of Flores. Everyone was getting ready for the first dive and I was a bit nervous with little experience, but Valerie and her brother Greg (Mark's dad) were there giving heaps of sage advice and encouragement to novice old divers.
Our group comprised five friends who were also novice divers compared to our travelling companions, especially Valerie, Dieter and Alice who were sporting serious underwater camera equipment. The next dive (near Pantar Island, Alor Island Group) revealed a new underwater world of astonishing creatures. Our two Indonesian dive masters were masters indeed, able to find quite minute and carefully camouflaged creatures indicating millennia of selective evolution. A night dive was the first for me. It was also our first large scorpion fish, a truly ugly creature matching perfectly its blotchy and knobbly surrounds. Elsewhere were small delicate black and white lobsters, a huge red hermit crab and thin flounder decorated with alphabet letters upon its back. Dancing blue nudibranchs completed the array.
On most mornings we were greeted by outriggers with friendly fishermen, some mending their nets after early fishing forays. An early morning snorkel near Buaya Island, also in the Alor Island Group, revealed abundant fish near a fantastic reef edge, a blue ribbon eel and a large black and white striped sea snake carefully handled and displayed by Frengki our dive master. Later dives revealed four delicate orangutan crabs. At our next "Mucky Mosque" dive site, near Dulolong Alor Island, Irwan revealed two amazing large mantis shrimps (one green, one brown), minute dancing colourless shrimps, lion fish and abundant 'cauliflower trees'.
We then moved to the nearby Island of Pura where more orangutan crabs, a stout golden spotted moray eel, a spotfin lion fish, three types of scorpion fish and mantis shrimps were uncovered. One was carrying a batch of eggs. We marveled as a lizard fish slowly devoured a large anthea fish tail first, so it was alive until the last.
We soon settled into the rhythm of two breakfasts between dives, snorkels, fabulous lunches and then the enjoyment of afternoon tea and late afternoon drinkies before yummy dinners served on the balmy deck under wonderful starry skies. One night on the horizon the sillouhette of erupting island volcano Komba produced menacing puffs of ash and a spectacular sunset. This lured us into an exciting excursion a few hours to the north, where we watched in amazement and awe as a series of spectacular eruptions spewed glowing red rocks and lava into the air at the crater, and also in a stream tumbling down to the sea. We were close enough so the most violent explosions vibrated through the boat and even rattled its windows.
Next day we awoke to a beautiful bay filled with dugout canoes and happy village children. Marion cleverly brought some little yellow goggles for them to try some free diving, since they were already excellent swimmers. On the shore their mums walked by with heavy bundles of clothes washed in nearby streams. Thirteen ladies arrived on an overcrowded outrigger with beautiful traditional 'ikats' for sale, made from home spun cotton tie-dyed and woven on hand looms.
The straits near the Alor Island Group are home to some amazing schools of melon headed whales and we also followed spinner dolphins feeding in swift and unpredictable boiling tidal currents. Here we visited twin villages on the island of Pura. On the beach we were greeted by a throng of happy children who followed us past the local well and school, alcohol stills and village houses and gardens. We also met a colourful character who had good English courtesy of Australian jails where he served time as a five time people smuggler! A special historical anchor, retrieved from the islands peak, was displayed in a special square.
On another shore excursion we visited the traditional mountain village of Takpala near Kokar, on Alor Island. Here the fiercely dressed warriors and women performed some trance-like dances and invited us to join in. Later we viewed the ancient bronze drums and a variety of woven ikats at the Kokar Museum.
We were offered three to four dives a day for the next 13 days. After this time and particularly from dives near Lembata Island our list of creatures was substantial. It included porcelain crabs, an incredibly long great barracuda, colourful sea apples-some feeding, fire urchins, an epaulette shark, schools of red toothed trigger fish, large round oysters, pygmy sea horse on a gorgonian fan, wriggly striped juvenile sweetlips, purple leaf scorpion fish, white egg cowries with large black mantles, a giant black frogfish, small yellow frogfish, robust ghost pipe fish, stick pipe horse, halemeda ghost pipe fish, inimicus (devil scorpion fish), thorny sea horse, yellow rhinopius (weedy scorpion fish), paddle flap rhinopius, crocodile fish, cockatoo wasp fish, black ornate ghost pipefish, banded sole, flying gurnard, razor fish, stargazer, yellow and striped pipefish, white leaf scorpion fish, unusual cuttlefish, two spot lionfish, clown snake eels (that buried themselves backwards into the sand), blue-spotted cow fish, and even a wonderpus and blue ringed octopus. Our snorkelers found two large octopus' mating, and even mating cone shells (with bright orange 'cord') and two blue nudibranchs. Rare black tipped reef sharks were small amongst mangroves near a small island. A 'happy birthday' fish was thoughtfully planted at depth for Karen to find!
We celebrated the long list of weird and wonderful critters in style with a birthday celebration dinner for three (Karen, Alison and Greg) after drinks on deck beside volcanoes in the setting sun. The stage was set with balloons and glowing bracelets and necklaces and a magnificent huge cake for dessert served to the crew band playing 'happy birthday'. We also celebrated the safe return of Dieter and Irwan after an unplanned 5km excursion in tidal currents!
Near Beang Abang we awoke to steam pouring out from vents onshore. The village lacked a jetty and therefore access to ferries; it was very poor. An adjacent thermal pool emptied via a warm stream into the sea. The local children watched as we landed on their beach and changed into walking shoes. We were led along a narrow path, past chickens, goats and pigs, that climbed up to wooded hills above the turquoise bay where Seven Seas was moored. The children found flowers, edible roots, and fruits from impossibly tall trees won by hurling stones from below. Their parents were away working in the mountainous fields.
On another excursion we explored a small fishing village (Bunga) also sustained by subsistence farming. About 700 residents lived in simple wood and grass houses and children attended an old concrete school furnished with basic desks and a blackboard. We passed some families walking uphill carrying bundles of sticks on their heads for cooking dinner.
We woke to a school of jumping tuna and a fishing foray was unsuccessful. Lunch was an artwork of riceman and prawns. Diving was superb. Our last island celebration dinner was a marvelous beach barbeque of kebabs, baked potatoes and salads served near a field of spinifex and an old fishing village. We enjoyed a sunset painted red by ash ejected from nearby Komba volcano, then danced on the beach to the crew band and Yaya's clever dance steps.
We travelled all night back to Maumere, Flores, where an excursion was arranged to a traditional mountain village to try some beetlenut and see story dance and pole dance. Karen and George were carefully dressed in traditional clothes. An informative demonstration showed the incredibly accomplished tradition of making ikats which involves growing cotton-like plants, separating the cotton, spinning, making vegetable-based dyes, tie-dying the pattern in before careful weaving using large and small looms. We bought a fabulous ikat for a throw on our bed.
We thank Seven Seas, Mark and family, Captain Pai, all the amazing crew and our fellow adventurers for an unforgettable, fun journey of discovery.