Santas with Mantas

This Christmas break was our first big holiday since arriving at the school.  A whopping three weeks!  For the first part of the time we went to Indonesia scuba diving.  The total travel time to Sorong, which is an island in Eastern Indonesia, was about 20 hours.  However, as there was only 2.5 hours time difference and because most of the travel time was airport layovers the travelling was fine.  There is another factor which reduced the stress for me which is to do with the holiday time we get at the school.  When I worked in an office, this trip would have been the big holiday of the year.  Now it was simply two weeks of a three week holiday which is a short holiday in comparison with our summer break.  For me, this takes the pressure off and reduces the necessity for every moment to be perfect.  In general the holiday was great but the little things that weren’t great were less of a big deal than I think they would have been otherwise.

We flew to Bangkok and had a long layover before flying to Jakarta and then finally flying to Sorong.  The dive boat company picked us up from the airport with three other divers from our boat and took us to the harbour where would be taken by dinghy to our liveaboard.  There was a screw up on the dock and we were amusingly taken to the wrong boat at first with a group of other divers who did not seem the ideal boat mates for a 10 day trip.  Fortunately, Lindsey pointed out the error and the crew kindly took us to our actual boat called Calico Jack.  We made up a very international group on our boat with three Germans, two Brits, two Slovenians, two Swiss, an Aussie and a Pole and the main dive guide was French. 

The diving was largely located in two areas of an area known as Raja Ampat.  Firstly we motored south to Misool which was the whole of the first day.  After that we settled into the usual dive routine which consisted of an early dive before breakfast, breakfast, a late morning dive, lunch, the afternoon dive, a snack and then either there would be a fourth night dive and then dinner or simply dinner.  In between all this diving and eating was obligatory napping.  We were diving on air  as opposed to Nitrox which is a little more tiring so we all slept a good deal. 

We were split into two groups and we were in the less experienced group much to Lindsey’s annoyance.  In fact there was little difference between what the groups saw although we probably got slightly less actual diving time as some of our group were not as good on air consumption as Lindsey and I.  In general though the diving itself was great.  Similar to our experience in the Maldives the crew put together our equipment and helped us into it which is a real treat.    

We have been spoilt by excellent visibility in the Red Sea where we did most of our diving in the beginning so at first I wasn’t super impressed with what we were seeing but as the dives racked up we were constantly seeing great things in much higher numbers than we have seen before.  Personally I always love to see octopus while diving.  We have seen them before but not very often.  Here I would say we saw an octopus on most days and sometimes two.  We also saw several cuttlefish which are like squid.  Two of them were babies that Lindsey spotted but the other two were about the size of a rugby ball (that’s slightly bigger than an American Football). 

We saw sharks probably every day we were diving.  Mainly we were seeing black-tipped reef sharks and some larger grey reef sharks but the real treats were seeing a walking shark, which are endemic to the region, and best of all the Wobbegong sharks which look like they have goatee style beards.  Normally you only see these sharks hidden under rock ledges but we saw them swimming twice and one almost buzzed me once. 

Everyone’s highlight on the trip and one of the top diving experiences you can have was seeing an Oceanic Manta Ray.  They come in to ‘cleaning stations’ where other smaller fish will pick off the bacteria and other unwanted things they pick up from the ocean.  This is the perfect opportunity to see them and we were lucky enough to be there at the right moment, in the right depth and in the right conditions.   They are huge and this one was certainly bigger than the only other time we saw them in the Maldives.  Afterwards, the general consensus was that the ‘wingspan’ was between 4 and 5 meters (or 12 to 15 ft).  It stayed with us for a good 8-10 minutes circling round several times to go back in to the cleaning station.  They are simply majestic.

Overall, it was a great trip and I would definitely do it again.  Check back in on this post for the video which I’m currently working on.

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