The Seven Seas News - September 2013
Trip Report: East of Flores, August 2013
By Milo Migliavacca. Photos: Milo Migliavacca & Ronnie Heng
This is my third trip on the Seven Seas & second to Alor. It's great to see Karl & Linda & the crew again, who I know will take good care of me. I know that I will always be safe on the Seven Seas. It's also such a pleasure to have all the crew helping me with a larger tank & fitting me with my dive gear. They even help me gear up, which is not the case everywhere else. I know from when Made got recently certified that he learned to check everything himself and this is how it's done everywhere else. On the Seven Seas, all I need to do is enjoy myself!
The location of this itinerary reminds me of a kind of Jurassic Park scenery, surrounded by volcanoes, two of them erupting. Yesterday we heard that one had actually claimed 6 lives the day before. These guys are not joking, they are very serious!
The first dive of the day was great, adapting and getting used to being in the water again. Being in the water with someone recently certified is also interesting to see how they react and how they move! The second dive was a bit more intense because the current was stronger than we expected and it took us a while to get down. I decided to go up and try again, this time more successfully. I was glad I had Karl at my side, making me feel more confident.
Next came a 3 hour steam to the active volcano of Komba, which was already spitting out some smoke. Karl told us the waters around here were very deep and we were able to get very close to the volcano. While we were waiting impatiently for Komba to perform, we had a visitor from the deep blue water - a large mobula ray came very close to the boat to welcome us before returning to the deep - a nice omen! Just after sunset, the fireworks began and all of us were in awe of Komba's strength.
Day 2 & we had a rocky night coming from Komba to the Pantar Strait. I missed the first dive because I was sleeping, so I can only tell you about my second dive on Reta island. As soon as we got in in front of the village, my buddy Bandana Karl showed me a screaming blue ribbon eel, welcoming us to the spot. After that, a beautiful coral garden with very good visibility and no current! A school of mini barracuda cruised by in the shallows & swarms of multi-coloured anthias surrounded us. Because we were diving close to a village, we could see the fishermen's handmade bamboo fish traps along the reef and suspended over the wall.
After we came back from the dive to the Seven Seas, a boat full of local older, mostly toothless, women arrived with a floating ikat market. Our hi-tec Singaporean guests really appreciated the chance to buy these homemade weavings.
I had decided to take an underwater photography course with the charming Linda. We started our practice on my first critter dive. I have to say that throughout my dive career, I had always refused to go on a "muck dive" but because this was our first underwater lesson, I decided to go. We started at 2:45 pm in front of the village mosque and as soon as we went underwater, I have to say I immediately understood why I had never gone on a muck dive! The water was cold, dark and murky with quite a bit of current and I was thinking I wanted to ask Linda if we could get out.
We started my practice by taking photographs of a moray eel but my camera settings were completely wrong and my pictures were coming out black! Thanks to Linda's expertise, she changed my settings and showed me how to take photos without stirring up the bottom, which I then tried to imitate. Neutral buoyancy and how you position yourself in front of the subject are crucial in underwater photography. The current took as away and then Linda pointed out some defensive anemonefish guarding their anemone. I couldn't really see what she was pointing at so I took some blind pictures - I will tell you later what it was!
Suddenly, I started to get into this strange, mysterious world and I started to see on the grey sand, some corals, anemones and urchins and I was excited and happy to be there! I had never expected my feelings would change so suddenly. So when we stopped at another anemone with a porcelain crab on it, surrounded by translucent purple shrimps, I thought: how beautiful! I have so say I really enjoyed my first muck dive. After we had surfaced and took out our regulators, Linda asked me: did you see that very rare fish? It was a rhinopias. It was almost invisible to me - it looked like seaweed - only our guide Irwan had been able to find it with his eagle eyes.
15th of August in Italy is mid summer's day. My 15th of August started with looking at the boiling water of the Pantar Strait and then hundreds of dolphins jumping and riding the bow wave, as we tried to intercept them. We tried our hardest to capture their antics on film. In the end Karl called us to the bowsprit, where we could film the dolphins directly under us. This was on our way to Clown Valley on the island of Pura. We were expecting cold water so everyone was layering up with hoods. But because I have a 5 mm wetsuit, I was quite warm enough, although the water was a chilly 23 degrees. The dive is in front of a village and although it seems like the locals have eaten the bigger fish. It was like a never-ending garden of anemones with their protective anemonefish - many species of anemones side by side, like a patchwork quilt.
In the afternoon we dived a beautiful wall on Buaya island - which means crococile in Indonesian. But don't be mistaken into thinking there are crocs here - it refers to the shape of the island. The water was much warmer and very clear, so the colours were sharp. We found scopionfish and lionfish under the overhangs. In the shallows, there is a lagoon with white sand where the sunrays dance between the rocks. As I surfaced, there was a dugout canoe 2 meters from me with an old lady selling homemade sarongs!
Half way through our trip, we took time out from diving for a cultural day. We went ashore at Kalabahi beach dominated by a huge banyon tree where a local Alorese bus awaited. Along the road, we could see the red and white decorations for upcoming Independence Day. After a short drive, we arrived at the village of Latafui. This was my second experience with the Aboi tribe and they look like they came out of a history book. Suddenly from the comfort of the Seven Seas, we are sent back in time and looking at the way these people live with no comfort at all. Just to get water, they have to walk 2 hours up into the hills to a spring. They performed for us a pre-war auspicious dance to cut as many heads as possible. The women have a big head of frizzy hair, from black shading into grey and into white. So, I chose my new bride with hair colour matching mine (see below photo) …… and we lived happily ever after. They offered us some organic coffee and cassava, that we reluctantly accepted. There was a small market selling ikats - some very nice, which we bought.
Next, we headed back to Kalabahi to check the market. In these islands, the markets are always so colourful and interesting - it is a must. After a quick stop at the local museum, which was opened especially for us, to see the famous collection of Moko drums, we returned to the Seven Seas for lunch.
We made an afternoon dive at the Pertamina Pier - a kind of muck dive. As soon as we went into the water, a school of batfish came by to check us out. On one of the jetty columns, we found a lionfish and on the bottom a colourful mantis shrimp, a fire urchin and a ghostpipefish disguised in the arms of a featherstar - interesting diving.
17th August - Independence Day! Underway to our first dive of the day, we passed by some villages and it was interesting to see hundreds of children in school uniform coming down from the hill, probably after their flag ceremony & parade. Our first dive of the day was a reef dive with excellent visibility and beautiful hard and soft corals. There was no current and I was able to easily video the dive. The second dive was a wall dive and a little bit of current but the best dive of the day was the third dive in southern Pura, with its fields of anemone beds. It would seem the anemones like a cold upwelling, as the water temperature here was a cooler 25 degrees C. You can lose yourself taking photos of all the different coloured anemones, their dancing in the current and the clownfish inside - so magical. Made, with his sharp eye, found a brightly coloured crab hiding in a bommie. Everybody was taking pictures and it was good to feel part of the group. It was definitely a very different Independence Day to previous ones I had spent in Bali.
As we start to head slowly back to Maumere, we spend a day at Beangabang on southeast Pantar. The beach in front of the village here is a very productive muck dive. We dived it 3 times and saw bobtail squid eggs, wonderpus, mini frogfish, mini lionfish, red seahorse, bobtail squid, spearing mantis, a huge barracuda being cleaned, snake eel, spider crab, poison ocellate octopus, cuttlefish, waspfish, amongst other weird and wonderful creatures.
The following day we stopped at southwest Pantar, where we could see stunning scenery all around from our anchorage. On the second dive we came across a forest of huge soft corals that looked like trees - Karl said they were the largest he had ever seen. After the last dive of the day, we went fishing out at the point, where the water was boiling from a strong current. First we caught a giant trevally which we struggled to get on board. On our second try, we caught 2 BIG red snapper - maybe 20 kilos each! We were screaming when we arrived back at the Seven Seas, so everyone came to take pictures of us and the catch of the day! So it's fresh grilled snapper for dinner tonight and sashimi tomorrow.
The next morning we woke up early to visit the traditional whaling village at Lamalera. I had been there before and decided not repeat the stinky & bloody experience. You can see everything from manta rays and thresher sharks to whales here. While we were with the ikat ladies, Made heard that the villagers were having a ceremony because 2 days ago 8 men had gone missing after harpooning an orca which apparently dragged down their boat to the depths. Orcas are not to be messed with. After that, we steamed on to our dive site for the day, where a great surprise was waiting for us - Linda found a yellow rhinopias at the end of the first dive and she was able to guide us to it on the second dive where we found, to our surprise, that it was one of a pair! We spent our whole dive with them, taking video and photos, and I even got a picture of Mr Rhinopias having lunch (see attached photo of rhinopias with fish in its mouth) - very unusual creatures.
After a rocky night, with seatbelts fastened, we reached Pulau Babi off Flores island - a beautiful white beach with turquoise water and colourful reefs at The Crack, which they say opened during the tsunami of 1992. We saw 2 sharks, white tips, and on the mini wall a scorpionfish and a variety of small creatures that like to live on walls. At sunset and with the full moon rising, we had a BBQ & party on the beach. The crew sang and we danced. The party continued when we got back on board and everyone had a great time.
I am a bit sad because the party signaled the end of the trip. This morning we did our last dive on Wodong wreck, which was a bit spooky as visibility was not so good. We were looking for critters but it seemed they were on holiday this time. I love the Seven Seas and I will be back!