Today is World Ocean Day. If it was up to me, every day would be World Ocean Day. Saltwater, sweat, tears, and especially the ocean, has always been my salvation. Maybe salvation sounds pathetic but looking back at difficult times in my life it seems appropriate nonetheless. Mind you, ever since I took my first breath of compressed air and discovered a real Nemo, the ocean seems to be all I need. Diving has become my highly addictive happy pill, my meditation, and often my motivation to get out of bed.
At a point in my life where it is easy to fall into the trap of presumingly knowing it all and having it all figured out (ha! who am I kidding?!), diving has taught me new skills, humility, and a newfound urge to yet again explore, learn, and get out of my comfort zone all while feeling completely in my element. I have mentioned it before but it warrants repeating: I think the little mermaid was an idiot for giving up her world for a mere mortal.
While my world consists of a suitcase, a passport, and my laptop at the moment I too am in a bad mood because of a mere mortal. No more heartbreak business, but just the simple agony of waiting for a text message while questioning if he is just not that into me. The usual stuff that never seems to change whether you are twenty or almost forty.
Just in time I bade Bali goodbye and make my way to Sorong in order to board my Raja Ampat liveaboard. Saltwater is known to clear heads and hearts.
Sorong, the gateway to Raja Ampat, is nothing to write home about and neither is the trip there. From Bali I fly to Makassar, spend a short night at the Ibis airport hotel, only to board a 4 am flight to Sorong. It seems that every other sleepy white person in my hotel is a diver too and our excitement makes up for the green tint and spooky lighting in the rooms and the short night.
Raja Ampat offers some of the best diving in Indonesia and in fact the entire world. Not only is getting there a pain in the ass but also getting around as the area is vast and remote. For that reason, a Raja Ampat liveaboard is the best option to get around the area and to explore its underwater highlights.
I am here with LiveAboard.com, a booking site solely for liveaboards, and my beautiful home for the next week is the Emperor Raja Laut. Since diving season in Raja Ampat is coming to an end we are only a small group and I get my own cabin. After meeting our crew and fellow divers, we gear up for a first trial dive. The dive site just off the Sorong harbor isn't the prettiest but that is just fine by me. I am busy adjusting and re-adjusting my BCD, my weights, and my mask and seem to have forgotten how the concept of buoyancy works - I am flopping around like a newly minted open water diver. In short - my dive is horrible and when we come up all I feel like doing is finding a comfy bed for a nap and to hide. I have to remind myself that trial dives are for trying and put on a brave face, hope for better dives in the morning and settle for noodles and a nap on deck. We set sail (not literally, the sails of the Raja Laut are mainly for decoration) and are off to explore the Four Kings.
The ocean's magic kicks in as soon as we leave the harbor area. There is something quite hypnotic about watching the waves and the world go by, feeling the wind and the sun on my face and always a slight prickle of salt on my skin. I start to breathe deeper and the further we get into Raja Ampat, the more disconnected I start to feel from ... stuff. I almost sigh in relief when I realize that I have no cell phone reception, making the concept of staring at Whatsapp and willing a message to pop up absolutely redundant (not that it was ever a very clever idea to begin with, watched pot and all...). The same goes for writing assignments, credit card bills, and general plans for the future or lack thereof. It's just me now and maybe this is more than just a liveaboard holiday. Maybe it is a brilliant chance to finally learn to be in the moment, to not plan or worry, to not fidget and overthink. At least for a week.
Our first full day of diving comes with four dives including one night dive. John, our cruise director, is our personal alarm clock and wakes us in time for sunrise and coffee. A small breakfast is followed by the first briefing and dive, a big breakfast (yes, I would do well as a Hobbit!) and surface interval. Then second briefing and dive, lunch, snooze, third briefing and dive before we sail on for our night dive which is topped off by hot chocolate when we return to the boat.
The motto quickly becomes dive, eat, sleep, repeat and it seems I am either busy putting on my wetsuit (never a fun task) or catching up on my sustenance between dives. At least that's what I am telling myself when I have eggs AND noodles for breakfast.
By the second dive I have fewer weights, a different BCD, and have forgotten all about my trying trial dive - there is too much to see and explore. Raja Ampat is known for its biodiversity and is therefore considered the place for the best diving in Indonesia. Before each dive we come up with our own personal 'what do I want to see today' bucket list. The list usually includes something quite elusive and we get lucky on almost every dive: pygmy seahorses, mantas, wobbegong sharks, my favorite - batfish - and huge shoals of everything a diver dreams of. One of the contestants, a blue-ringed octopus, is also high up on my list though John is adamant they don't exist. With over 10,000 dives under his belt, his explanation for not ever seeing one is that they don't exist. They are his underwater unicorn. And if he hasn't managed to see one during one of all these dives, how is there hope for a mere little mermaid like myself?
H owever, Cape Kri is not hailed as one of the dive sites with the most species in the world for nothing. It is day three when we get to explore this marvel and while it is the first that we have to share with other divers, one carrying a professional camera set up, we get promptly rewarded for sharing our dive site with them. The camera has indeed spotted a tiny blue-ringed octopus and after they leave it is our turn to take pictures of the little guy. I keep a very safe distance and not only to not bump into any corals: blue-ringed octopuses are incredibly poisonous and can kill you with one small bite.
It is a dive I don't want to end because on top the most beautiful group of Sweetlips await, making me quite emotional. Have I mentioned I cry when watching Blue Planet? What an honor to see such beauty up close and for real!
Once we come up, we quickly agree that telling John about our discovery makes the whole experience only better. Needless to say, he doesn't want to believe our pictures and blames photoshop as well as a conspiracy amongst his guests.
After this, the days and the dives start to merge together, only interrupted by a trip to Arborek Village, a tiny Papuan community in Raja Ampat, and Pianemo, one of the area's famous landmarks. Here I once again question my own sanity by posing for an Instagram shot. While I don't fall onto the steep cliffs below when getting off the railing, I do end up on my bum, legs up in the air in front of a few tourists and their cameras. No injury but definitely some added insult - that's what happens when I try being that travel blogger (even without the floppy hat!).
The embarrassment stings. I take it as a lesson in 'things that I am not and won't ever be' and focus my energy on finding more blue-ringed octopuses and going with the flow. I used to be scared of drift diving and drifting in general, rather struggling then just letting go, holding on tightly instead of relinquishing control I only thought I had. Here I learn how much fun it can be, how easy it is to just let go. With each current we encounter, I learn to stop fighting against it, loosen the grip a little, and realize what a great lesson it is to learn - for the world below and the world above the surface.
Raja Ampat Liveaboard with LiveAboard.com
Looking for the best Raja Ampat diving? I highly recommend a liveaboard as the area is rather remote and by being on a liveaboard you can cover a lot more ground and explore the best dive sites in any given season.
Liveaboard.com offers dive trips all over the world with an expert team of diving professionals to help you select the best boat and destination for you. You can view my trip on the Emperor Raja Laut here.
Raja Ampat, Indonesia has a few airports, the biggest one being Sorong. You can fly here from Makassar or Jakarta. Depending on the length of your trip you will begin your journey in Waisai and end in Sorong but Liveaboard.com will advise you on travel arrangments.
Some of their Indonesia liveaboards cover only Raja Ampat while others also take you to the Bando Sea. If that is not enough you can always add some Komodo diving to your trip (something I am super keen on doing next - more mantas!!).
Onboard the Emperor Raja Laut
The Emperor has six cabins with either twin bunk beds or a double bed, a common room, sundeck and dining area as well as diving/equipment area upstairs. While cabins are spacious for a boat they are still not very big compared to a regular hotel room so pack wisely.
Trips include 3 meals per day including snacks, coffee, tea, and water as well as a room on twin sharing basis. My trip also included a trip and entrance fees to Pianemo, Arborek Village and a beach BBQ on the final night. It also includes all dives with dive guides, tanks, and weights. Nitrox and 15l tanks are available at an extra charge.
Wine, beer, and sodas are available at extra charge. There is no wifi on board and cell phone reception is patchy at best - expect to disconnect!
Raja Ampat has some challenging dive sites and a minimum of 30 dives is strongly advisable. You can either bring your own equipment or rent it - just let them know beforehand what you need.
You will need to pay a marine park fee as well as port fees. The marine park permit is valid for a whole year.
Unfortunately, Indonesia's waters are quite polluted so I was very happy to see that the Emperor does its part for conservation. You get filtered water on board and a bottle to use during your stay; breakfast smoothies are served with bamboo straws.
Thank you to LiveAboard.com and the Emperor Raja Laut for an unforgettable trip!