Hello, I’ve tried using a new gallery function. I quite like it but it does occasionally cut off the edges of some photos and seems not to work well in Windows or Reader so I became less enthusiastic as the report went on. If you are keen you can click on the photos to view those edges, meanwhile hovering your mouse over the photo reveals the captions. Apologies in advance if none of that is working.
2012 Wetpixel Indonesia – Gosh everyone’s American
This is the trip I booked almost as soon as I arrived back from Wetpixel Indonesia 2011. Settling back into a routine was tough. It took a while to ditch that horrid boss and booking the next trip was an important part of the deal I made. Shows worrying signs of a possible lack of imagination? In my defense the 2011 trip had been spectacular and the 2012 trip covered parts of Indonesia I hadn’t dived yet – haha – early 2012 and most of Indonesia would fall into that category
2012 Indonesia was made up of three trips – Ambon to Kaimana in Triton Bay; Triton Bay through Raja Ampat to Sorong; and then the classic Raja Ampat 11 day Sorong to Sorong. I signed on for the first two and settled back, squirrelled away my pennies, ticking the weeks off on my whiteboard as 2012 drifted rather pleasantly by. An unexpected trip in July turned out to be a real treat and also meant that when it came to getting organised for this end of year extravaganza, I pretty much felt like an old hand.
Three breakthrough additions to my dive kit – running skins and top to dive in (these were genius, thank you Mandy for a great idea), Mare full foot fins (also genius especially in the strong currents we were diving in a lot of the time) and air integrated dive computer (which I am now officially in love with). I also added some stackable diopters but these turned out to be more frustrating than useful.
Getting there is never easy …
There is just no way around the awfulness of travelling to remote dive locations – wonderful but that bloody awful travel. I had two options for getting to Ambon, 12.30am flight from Jakarta or 6.30am from Denpasar. I hadn’t enjoyed the long wait at Jakarta for the midnight flight to Sorong in July, so chose the Denpasar option. Normally an easy flight from Sydney, I had not reckoned on it being Schoolies. Long, long flight.
I also didn’t properly calculate that the flight to Ambon would still require an ungodly 4 am wake up call or that getting to Ambon included changing planes at Makassar and an extra endearing “every man for himself” boarding scrum. I know it’s not personal, but it’s confronting to be pushed out of the way by both men and women and to find yourself, eventually, giving as good back. Then there’s the scramble for overhead locker space – seems to me that most domestic passengers are running import/export businesses on these flights and surely there are more places to buy donuts than Makassar and Denpasar. Luckily I can squash my backpack under the seat in front, but really – people!
I would have happily snoozed my way from Makassar to Ambon, except that my neighbour on the plane periodically crinkled and crackled a loud plastic bag all the way. It was torture – each time I would start to nod off, she would scrabble around in the bloody bag.
Enough whinging – sure the travel is a pain, stopovers in Bali a trial, frustrating to sit in a hot car for an hour while the agent who collected me at Ambon tried to find a Sim card for someone on the boat and kind of weird to arrive alone while the others were happily under water. Oh dear, more whining, I’ll stop now.
The soothing rhythm of setting up dive and camera gear worked its magic and as soon as I met the other guests I knew the effort, and more, would be worth it. And so it was. These two trips covered a fascinating range of marine environments, from the pretty nasty muck of Ambon harbour through to the clear fishy dives at Cape Kris in Raja Ampat. And while the diving was fantastic, equally wonderful were the people I had the fun of travelling with. Disembarking in Sorong three and half weeks later was very, very hard.
Trip 1 – Ambon to Triton Bay, My new first best Californians
So this is a part of the dive map I hadn’t been to yet, both iconic in their own way and I was very happy to discover we would also be diving in and around Banda Island along the way. I think this meant we would be diving in the Banda Sea, Ceram Sea and Halmahera Sea – how exciting, not that I’m counting but fun to add these to Flores, Bali, Savu, Celebes, Sulu, Solomon, Tasman, Arafura and Coral Seas.
Ambon harbour is counted amongst the very best muck diving sites in Indonesia. Quite a few people in our group had dived Ambon before and were pretty excited to be spending two days diving the harbour.
Our skilled dive masters spotted plenty of interesting creatures, mimic (I missed that one) and long arm octopus, cuttle fish, leaf scorpion fish, pipefish, frogfish, harlequin shrimp (first for me) and even one Paddle flap rhinopia.
My feeling though is that we didn’t see Ambon at its best. A storm a few months earlier had washed a significant amount of sediment into the harbour and this seems to have disturbed some of the usual residents or at least made it much harder to find them. I had quite of lot of difficulty getting the right camera settings and when I look at my photos in grid mode in Lightroom (I know, practically a professional now), most are a pretty awful green/yellow hue. On a serious note, anyone reading this and planning a trip to Ambon, you need to be aware that I am a rank amateur wielding a Canon G12 – others in my group took some remarkable photos.
And there’s clean muck and dirty muck and then there’s really disgusting health hazard pollution – on our last dive a surprisingly strong current blew up and swept some of us under Air Mannis Pier and some large fishing boats and it was definitely a health hazard under there, although I think a bit of the Molucca Sea may have been pulled in on that current!
And despite all that, it was pretty clear that Ambon will be a great place to go back to. I think 5 days diving Ambon ahead of a trip to Raja Ampat would work really well. I have no idea how those flights might go, although I am now fully committed to midnight flights out of Jakarta.
After two and half days in Ambon we needed to start making our way towards Triton Bay. This would take 5 days with stops at Nusa Laut, Banda, Koon and Mommon.
Having motored in the very early hours of the morning from Ambon it was a shock, and joy, to back roll into the clear blue waters off Nusa Laut. The pleasure of the blue was written on every face as we emerged. From here on the dives were all blue or milky blue and when we weren’t searching for (and finding) various types and shade of pygmy seahorse, we were watching streams of fish, rivers of fish, clouds of fish. Swim throughs, beautiful walls and reef tops. I was happy to put the diopters away and proceeded to take quite a few very classy photos of my strobe and lens shade.
A very good photographer shared some important advice with me a little while ago, he said “Jenny, don’t show your shit photos to anyone”. Generally I’ve been following that advice, in part because it would just take too long, I am though sharing this next rather dreadful picture to demonstrate just how fishy some of these dives were. Such a large school of Batfish seems impossible. I followed it down to about 33 metres, trying to get a decent shot but eventually my computer insisted I give up the chase. Apparently while I was busy with the Batfish, a hammerhead shark cruised by at about 25 metres.
Diving on the way to Triton Bay turned out to be anything but time fillers.
And not just fish, beautiful soft corals of every shape and colour imaginable open to the currents. I got so accustomed to them I started to feel peeved when, on the occasional dive, they were closed.
In amongst all this fishiness we launched the great Pygmy seahorse hunt and between arriving at Mommon on the west coast of Papua and farewelling Trip 1 at Kaimana, managed to find Bargibanti, Pontohi, Coleman, Severen and Denise. Actually, I think the Denise were found in Raja Ampat.
Diving Triton Bay was fascinating. Milky pale blue viz for the most part and quite a lot of current, we covered most of the well known sites – Namotote Wall, Little Komodo, Tim Rock, David Rock, GT Rock and Noname Rock. Rumour has it that David Doubilet lost track of a very expensive camera set up at David Rock somewhere. I kept a sharp lookout but no luck finding it. We did though find beautiful Pygmy seahorse, a large school of bumphead parrot fish, blue/green tunicates endemic to the area, fields of black tree coral, wobbygong shark and masses of fish.
Really – everyone was Californian
On Trip 1 most of the others had travelled and dived together before but it didn’t take long to settle into that easy, relaxed camaraderie that develops on these trips. I had half expected not to get so lucky twice. It seems that the effort involved in dive trips to exotic locations weeds out the half-hearted and half arsed.
Mind you I often find Americans completely baffling and sometimes incomprehensible and on Trip1 – they were all Californians (I include world citizens Douglas and Emily) and compared to me, a little driven, in a good way. What can I say – intense conversations about where to find the best ice-cream in San Francisco, an obsession with green coloured food, “reaching out”, “being hosted by”, “sodder”, at times I felt I came from another planet.
While we didn’t have the heart stopping excitement of being seen off by Komodo dragons, nor the perfect sunset over a pink beach, Kozy’s yoga classes quickly became a highlight, as was jumping off the sun deck railing in the hope that Eric’s photo of the underwater landing would end up in one of Kozyndan’s remarkable panoramas. A shore trip to Banda, and particularly a wander through the local food market, was great fun. Dan did a credible job filling the show tune gap left behind by Phil, Chris and Julie shared the entertainment of a battery operated ear dryer (I’m probably the only non-Californian in the world who owns one of these now, although I wouldn’t be seen dead with it) and I just loved being asked by Douglas “so Jenny, what new thing did you see that dive”, it really made me very attentive.
As trip leaders Douglas and Eric were very generous with their time. I managed to master (sort of) the blurry background and came to appreciate the thrill of getting a macro shot with a blue background. What’s not to love about Emily and I got to meet a very successful, kooky geek. How much more Californian can you get!
My assumption that most people would stay on for at least the first two trips turned out to be sadly misplaced and before I knew it, and much sooner than I preferred, it was time to farewell my new first best Californians.
Trip 2 – Kiamana to Sorong – through Raja Ampat,
The turnaround of guests took a day and it was fascinating to watch the boat crew reprovision. No surprise here, but every crew member worked flat out to get the boat provisioned, cleaned up and organised.
I was pleased to be distracted because the worst possible thing had happened on the last dive of Trip 1. Well maybe the second worst. Desperately trying to catch a shot of a pinnate juvenile batfish under a rock ledge, I managed to overheat the batteries in my one and only Inon Z240 strobe … I know, I know, wrong battery brand, should have known better. That awful tell tale metallic smell back in the camera room. I tried valiantly to rub off the corrosion that had immediately formed on the contact points. Nothing worked and then, as the Trip 2 divers were unpacking their cameras, Simon the Cruise Director noticed water droplets behind the front screen of the strobe. I had to accept that it would probably never work again.
This second trip would take us back to Triton Bay for a few days and while I figured macro would be out of the question, I had probably had enough photographing tiny Pontohi to last a while – I told myself. I could just enjoy diving in those weird currents, conduct a proper search for the Doubilet camera and maybe there would be opportunities for no strobe wide angle photography in Raja Ampat.
That’s what I told myself. I put on a brave face but really I was pretty upset. While all of this was going on in my head one of the new guests reached into his large camera bag, passed me a new (still in an unopened box) Inon Z240, and said “Here use this one, try not to flood it.” Wowsers, what a generous gesture. I was completely gobsmacked and just a little nervous every time I took it underwater, but nevertheless deeply, deeply grateful, and happy to report I was able to return the strobe two weeks later in full working order. Turns out there is always one more pygmy seahorse shot to try for and I would have missed this one.
Back in Triton Bay I found I really had had enough of trying to photograph tiny Pontohi seahorse while holding a steady position in various strengths of current, so I would either potter off to investigate other parts of the reef wall or reef top –
or chase batfish around –
or spend most of a dive trying to get a good enough shot of anemone fish so that in the future I could just happily swim by with a friendly wave. No comments please, I like to think I don’t have to take photos of these beautiful, but enormously frustrating little buggers any more.
And I was especially pleased to have another look at Leopard anemones and to have a chance to get a better shot of the one and only Leopard anemone shrimp in the area –
and although I can still hear Simon telling me the edges are a bit soft – I’m pretty pleased. I spent a lot of time with Ornate ghost pipefish –
I wish I could link a map to show the parts of Raja Ampat we travelled through. My notes tell me we spent three days in Triton Bay and then motored north to Raja Ampat via Pulau Pisang. Two days in and around Misool, then Daram, Batanta (for a bit of muck diving), Arborek and finishing up in Salat Dampier.
What can I say about diving in Raja Ampat that others haven’t already. Fish, loads of fish, currents, remarkable soft corals and rock formations, beautiful topside landscapes, diversity – from spectacular oceanic Manta ray to Spiny tiger shrimp, rivers of bluestripe snapper and fusiliers, almost every variety of sweetlips and clouds of glass fish. So many firsts for me I won’t bore you with a list, it would be too long but would include – mushroom coral pipefish and crinoid clingfish, not the best snap, but still –
Despite many sightings (and these are also a regular on NSW South Coast dives), Tasselled wobbegong shark were endlessly fascinating. Sadly, I missed the Raja epaulette shark but then I’m not a really enthusiastic night diver.
Finding photos that weren’t just another reproduction of someone else’s creative idea was really difficult – Boo windows, one tree rock, children diving off Arborek Pier, soft coral with Snell’s window looking up to mangroves. It’s interesting that as photographers we are so conscious of guarding the rights of photographers to their photos, but not so much the original idea of a shot – we seem to happily rush off to see if we can reproduce it and I worry that in doing so, we unintentionally devalue the original photo.
On the other hand there are only so many ways you can capture the essence of a place – Boo windows and one tree rock shout out “This is Raja Ampat”, like the Eiffel Tower shouts Paris – whereas my photos of a variety of gobies on various corals could have been taken anywhere. I guess this is one of the boundaries that separate the enthusiastic amateur from the skilled, creative professional. So, for what they are worth, here are my photos of some iconic Raja Ampat, along with cheers to those original photographers –
Here’s my version of the One tree rock split shot
And the inevitable children at Aborek Jetty – it gets pretty chaotic but the children are charming and beautiful. Sharon came prepared with a sets of swimming goggles to hand out.
This trip to Raja Ampat ended with two remarkable, unforgetable dives. The first at Cape Kris, counted by some keen marine biologist as amongst, if not the, most fishy dive site known to man. Happy to report it lived up to its reputation. Intriguing to watch schools of fish streaming across the top of the reef, as individual fish tried hard not to be either left behind or at the front. We dived this site in current, a reasonably gentle drift along the edge of the reef and ended with a safety stop, hooked onto a rock, swaying in the “breeze” watching the fish – now that is a happy place to go back to. This dive is the first time I’ve managed to take my camera setup down without the camera in – whoopsie. On a sadder note the current also created a pretty shocking plastic rubbish gyre and a couple of divers emerged covered in a slick of dark oil.
Our last dive, and Emily’s expertly timed 1,000th dive, was Magic Mountain. In keeping with the good luck we had experienced throughout this trip – we had the pleasure of watching both reef and oceanic manta ray. Again, hooked onto some rock, swaying in the current, I could have stayed down there all day watching the manta ray at the cleaning station. If only I had gills. For those who could drag them selves away from the manta ray and through the current, there was a large school of impressive barracuda hanging in the current further down the wall.
Quite a contrast to the Gobies I had spent quite a lot of time trying to master –
The Goby shot of the trip really went to Chris from Trip 1 – you can see on the Wetpixel website trip report. And these were very sweet –
My particular thing this trip was taking photos of the boatman as they came to collect me
The boaties came to expect this and got to be quite good at modelling for me. As you can imagine I have probably about 60 too many of those shots.
Gosh, everyone’s still American
Trip 2 brought together another great group of people, all fantastic photographers, but no Californians – Indiana, Colorado, Washington (Pacific North West) and Florida. Mind you by this time I was reasonably well acculturated so hardly skipped a beat when Greg kept referring to himself in the first person singular as “bubba”. Got to be quite endearing really. Sharon from Seattle spoke excellent Bahasa which led to a morning language class from Simon ahead of the first dive briefing. Much to the amusement of the Indonesian crew we were soon asking politely for kopi putih terima kasih. Lucky by this stage they liked us.
Douglas shared some really interesting presentations on his work and it was terrific to hear from Lupo about the very serious work underway ahead of the CITES vote on the future status of some species of shark and manta ray. On this trip we also had the fun of travelling with a surgeon. Came in handy as he expertly removed (with scalpel) an urchin quill.
It is such a pleasure to hang out with people who care deeply about the marine environment, those actively working to protect it as well of those who focus on communicating it’s wonder through photography. I come back from these trips inspired.
And suddenly that was it. Time to motor into Sorong harbour. A final dinner, this time under the stars on the top deck, the very sad task of packing up camera and dive gear and worse – saying goodbye and heading through the security scanner, into the departure room at Sorong.
If you have time, you really should take a look at the trip report in the Wetpixel forum
It gives you a view of just how talented these people were, and the two videos, Eric’s from Trip 1 and Sharon’s from Trip 2 provide an excellent view of the environments we travelled through.
So top 10 tips –
- A bit obvious really, but, if you are an underwater photography enthusiast, of whatever level of skill, treat yourself to at least one Wetpixel expedition. I am struck by the wonderfulness of the people these trips attract. It is so good for the spirit.
- Try diving in running skins, it was a revelation. So much easier to put on and take off than a 3mm wetsuit; wearing less neoprene means carrying fewer weight bricks; and an added bonus, you can have them laundered and thus avoid that awful skanky “neoprene in tropical sea water for a couple weeks” waft.
- Do not leave home without antibiotic ear drops.
- If at all possible, take a spare strobe and maybe even a spare camera body. Clearly I am on the slippery slope now, but had it not been for the exceptional generosity of one of the Trip 2 guests, I would have been in a state of complete frustration for two weeks diving Raja Ampat without a functioning camera set up. It just doesn’t bear thinking about.
- Indonesian Tim Tams are a disappointing imitation of the real thing.
- If not included in the trip price (which I welcome as far less troublesome), bring cold hard cash for the crew tip, Simon created quite a kerfuffle about this at the end of Trip 1 as some of the crew were disembarking as well.
- If you haven’t dived in Indonesia yet, my advice is to knock off some of the other great dive locations on this side of the world first – Palau/Yap, Solomon Islands, Anilao, etc. because unless you have unlimited time and money, once you dive in Indonesia, chances are you will find it very, very difficult to spend your precious dive trips anywhere else.
- If you are a single woman travelling alone on an Indonesian dive trip, regardless of age, when asked, as you inevitably will be, it is better to say you are married to someone who can’t swim, hates boats and is too busy and important to get away from work. Sad but true.
- Three and a bit weeks on a beautiful boat, with fantastic people, diving on some of the most beautiful and interesting sites available will not be enough so try to have the next trip planned before you disembark.
- Whatever contribution you can make to the conservation of our precious oceans, big or small, personal or public, do it now. It is beautiful underwater but fragile and clearly under pressure.
So shout out to my new first best Californians and fabulous Americans from Trip 2, I really enjoyed travelling with you all. I’ll leave you with two photos – they are each of an endemic to the areas we travelled through –
And finally – here it is, reward for my $1.2 billion idea, actually $1.6bn recurrent last count
PS. I haven’t finished putting in scientific names but if I don’t get this report up now, I may never. I’ll come back and fill in the gaps later.