August of Dragons …
The idea to be found at the crossroads of Pacific and Indian Ocean, where Indonesia is situated, one of the countries with the richest biodiversity in the world, certainly looks charming! The 17,000 islands, make up the largest archipelago in the world by gathering 17 % of world flora and fauna. Many of these species one can find only in Indonesia, for example, the largest lizards in the world, living in KomodoNational Park!
In order to reach this faraway paradise we had to take an 9 hours flight to Bangkok, which was the intermediate station, and then another 4-hours flight to Denpasar in Bali, where we would spend one night before leaving for the famous island of Komodo!
During our transfer from the airport to the hotel, we came into contact with the everyday life of the green capital of Bali, Denpasar, which suffered from traffic. Smiley faces welcomed us at the hotel, treated us with local drinks, as a token of hospitality. In the evening, we enjoyed our dinner accompany with the four-member orchestra opening the program with “Children of Piraeus”, the famous Greek song…
Having travelled, in the distant past, at the island of Bali, we knew that the island was consisted of, apart from exceptional diving sites, abundant natural beauty with lush green paddy fields to stand out, zoos which impress the tourists with the multitude of their inhabitants, mountains and rivers that offer countless opportunities to escape, towering churches that support the spirit of mysticism which is famous for, and purchases of textiles, woodwork, furniture and so many other species, are famous the world, and we wish we had more time to spend again there … As we were unable to do so, we had a few hours to rest in order to be able to cope with the demands of the next days.
The car transferred us to Mermaid II, where we were to spend the next 8 days. Happy faces of different ages and nationalities welcomed us, and informed us about the procedures. We both were impressed by the methodical organization and the willingness of staff. The vessel was based in Benoa harbour and sailing east along the cluster of reefs of Nusa Tengara. Passing several small volcanic islands, we would reach Komodo island! The national park, was protected by UNESCO, promised, besides the underwater treasures, moments literally pulled out from Jurassic Park movie!
Particular emphasis was placed on environmental awareness, such as recycling, protecting the reef, etc. We were informed that recently, in the region, dead turtles were found with inumerous cigarette butts in their stomachs. So the crew asked for careful management of our garbage, in order to minimize the burden of flora and fauna to the ecosystem!
« Broken coral is worth no picture» was the last sentence of the briefing and we all knew very well what it meant!
After having travelled for many hours we reached Moyo island. During the briefing, dive masters, once again, pointed out the need to show the necessary respect for the sensitive ecosystem, and this comment was referred to any kind of activity there. During our first dive, on the one hand, we had the chance to familiarize ourselves with the surrounding, the equipment and our team, and on the other hand, we obtain our personal opinion about the underwater surrounding.
First dive was a wall dive, with good visibility, max depth 26 meters in length and duration about an hour. The presence of corals was impressive and expansive, at the same time. The current had facilitated us without causing any problem . Large pieces of tunes were passing by sporadically. Corals were a refuge for lionfish, scorpion and batfish. Reaching the plateau, the current was stronger as we were not protected by the wall and suddenly we seemed to be carried away unwillingly, but pleasantly at the same time. Careful use of “stick” was obligatory, to be able to stay firm and to get some good photographs. Anemone fish were emerging in a shy way from anemones and inumerous garden eels were posing for us in the sandy part of the reef. A small white leaf scorpion fish and a blue ribbon eel came to seal the first dive, leaving to all of us a pleasant but discreet taste of a very unpredictable bottom.
Lunch was waiting for us at the boat, while we were sailing to the next destination, Satonda island. This island was famous for its volcano, which erupted in 1815 and this eruption was responsible for one of the most famous horror stories in the world. Its dust caused significant changes in the climate of the world, transforming it in grey, cold and dull. Due to this Europe did not have summer in 1816. It is said that, when Lord Byron arrived in Geneva Lake with a group of authors, were so unhappy due to the weather, that challenged them to write a horror story. It was then, that Mary Shelley wrote the world famous story of Frankenstein.
During our sort visit at the island, monkeys welcomed us at the beach, but before long, they disappeared in the dense bush. After some walking on volcanic rocks, we reached the sandy section of beach where there were myriads of broken corals. It was plausible that the “harvest” was forbidden even if it was “dead nature”. At the edge of the wharf the sign was showing the path that led to the lake. During our ascend with the rest of the group, we were listening different sounds that came from right-left residents of the island, which were well camouflaged. Bearing in mind that, we were in the middle of “the August of the Dragons”, our imagination was luxuriant…
The steep uphill succeeded a sharp slope leading to the lake. After the eruption in 1816 a crater was created, which was filled with seawater from the tsunami that followed. Anyone who arrived there, had the opportunity, in addition to enjoy the splendid scenery, to make a wish by hanging a shell on the “tree of wishes”!
Human presence was totally absent and in marine park, fishing was banned, but unfortunately dynamites were very often! Another risk for the park, inside and outside of it, was the illegal fishing with hydrocyanic. These reasons were the main cause of the formal prohibition of fishing, for a substantial part of the park. In 2001 the Government introduced a system of “zones”, to control access and use of all marine and continental areas of the park. In order to cover the losses of the income of fishermen, there was a tax, that diving companies had to pay to them, by, of course, charging tourists who participated in diving activities. As far as, this system works effectively, can guarantee, that there will always be an opportunity for responsible fishermen to earn a living … Unfortunately, there were quiet a lot of fishermen, who trespassed systematically these restrictions ….
The second dive of the day was comparable to the first. We started from the shallow reef and focused on macro issues. A flimsy pink crab was the first protagonist of the dive. Barely, we had some time before losing it among the coral polyps. Its constant motion complicated us enormously with shooting. In the background, there was a pink frogfish, that was well camouflaged, waiting for its unsuspecting prey. Below, in violet hue, a tiny, transparent shrimp had found refuge in an anemone. The clowns which was living with them, were too shy to pose, so we sought our fortune in other parts of the reef. Dive was full of colours of different species of nudibranchs, which facilitated significantly our efforts for shooting, with moving in slow motion!
This is a really healthy reef which is submerged by a wide variety of soft and hard corals. For those who like numbers, the park is host to more than 1000 species of fish, 385 species of corals, 70 sponges, 10 dolphins, whales 6, huge turtles, dugongs and several species of sharks and manta rays! Although we failed to see the orange octopus, which was one of the famous residents, we were compensated by the presence of a juvenile-midnight snapper and a shy figure of a spotted fish that emerged under the rock. The computers have already reached the first 60 minutes and the countdown for the ascend was a reality.
After a short interval surface , we were about to have our first night dive which was also in Satonda reef. Those, who have experienced a night dive, are already familiar with the fact that it is totally different from any day dive. As far as, the night participants are highlighted by lights, they bring out the splendour of their existence, which captivates eyes and lenses.
The best moment of our dive, was the strange co-existence of a moray with a shrimp, which has evolved very quickly into a form of close cooperation. While the shrimp was standing on the side of moray eels, near its mouth, the last opened it, looking like, for those who did not know, like wanting to eat the poor shrimp … but spontaneously, the shrimp invaded into the open mouth and started automatically to clean its roommate! The process lasted for a few seconds, but was able to nail our attention! A picture worth a thousand words … always saying and this scene could not have been described better!
The rest images were filled with a huge octopus, a cuttlefish in an attitude of attack, different types of microscopic nudibranchs, many coloured shrimps, a batfish, a lot of stars of different colours and shapes, and many huge lionfish. The scenery was so impressive that we had great difficulty in focusing. Finally, the palette of our pictures was sealed by the presence of an outstanding pleurobranchus grandis. This is a huge sea slug, which length reaches 21 cm, which can be found from the Red Sea to the Philippines and Australia.
Reaching the 60 minutes we had managed to empty the two basic lenses, we carried with us and, fortunately, due to the foresight of Billy, we were using the spare ones during decompression. There, we turned off the lens and shaking our hands, creating bubbles that glowing. Playing with “the magic dust” that would say Electra(my daughter) influenced by her tales, we completed the required three minutes of safety stop. Then returned to the boat and soon were enjoying a wonderful dinner on board. The evening ended seeing photos and looking, in diving books, for the strange creatures we had encountered. The morning awakening and the four dives during the next day, did not leave much room for sitting up late.
Sangeang island, lighthouse: it is another volcanic island. Because the volcano was quite active, people had moved and lived on the other side of the island. From 1512 to 1988 exploded 17 times and one of its two cones reaches the 2000 m high. Eruptions caused the black sand that had inundated the sea.
Someone could argue that having seen the beaches of Santorini(a Greek volcanic island) has nothing to envy from those of Sangeang and to some extent, this would be true. However, our entrance into the water rushed to contradict our thoughts, and the experience was terrifying to see the contrast of colours of tropical fish and corals on the black sand … It was something that simply could not have been described!
Diving direction would depend on currents. The first part of this dive was «muck diving». We were swimming slowly, looking for tiny creatures in the sand. At first glance someone would be disappointed, thinking that there was nothing at all there. But after a careful focusing, someone could discover such a wonderful world, so different from ordinary standards. Part of this strange world, was a goby fish accompanied by its partner shrimp, which went in and out the tiny hole. The shrimp was blind, so the fish was using its tail, to notified it, of any potential risk. Furthermore, an anemone full of panda anemone fish claimed so far, our best snapshot. This would be a present for Electra and Hector, both our children, who were waiting for us back to Athens, and whom naturally loved the famous movie, «finding Nemo».
A huge cuttlefish was a dissonance in the world of small pieces and looked like even more awkward to our presence. As much as we were going deeper (max depth 30 m.) presence of corals were much more impressive and plethora of marine life accompanied us. A yellow frog fish and its neighbour, a white leaf fish pulled out of «the fashion lights» . A flabellina, an extremely distinctive creature, was trying, without any success, to avoid us. Next photo meeting included two saw blade shrimps, which, finally, we did not manage to shoot as we had great difficulties in focusing.
The abundant beauty of reef had boosted our confidence as photographers and the moment of our completion was a fateful meeting with three pygmy seahorses, which were an unbreakable set with a sea fan coral. For me the journey could have ended at that time, concerning that one of my diving dreams was fulfilled… to be met with a seahorse! Of course, without dive masters’ help, it would have been impossible for us to distinguish them, due to their tiny size. So small but so unique at the same time, the only thing left us to do, was to admire them! Their presence was a spectacular closing for our first dive, leaving us full of incredible impressions, colours and emotions!
The second dive of the day was at a different region of the same island, called Hot Rocks. The name was derived from the existence of hot water that comes from specific parts of the reef. Immersing one hand in the black sand someone could feel how warm it was. In addition, there were spots among the corals where the water came almost hot! Also impressive was the presence of bubbles in a continuous flow emerged from the sandy track.
For one more time, currents would decline the direction of our dive. Their force was much more intense than we expected and complicated our photographic attempts. Colours of feather corals was a temptation for us to approach too close, which could be very painful if there was a direct contact with our body. Nearby, a yellow barramundi cod and a grey frog fish were well camouflaged in a huge soft coral, which also hosted an incredible variety of nudibranchs, one more impressive than the other.
Once again, the most distinctive feature was two tiny seahorses, which were barely distinguished from coral. The excitement never can be the same as the first time, but certainly someone feels grate, knowing that he or she is one of the few in the world, who had the opportunity to encounter something so beautiful! At plateau that followed the slope of the reef, we met two small reef sharks that were hanging around well camouflaged beneath a table coral. From what we learned later, these corals were a common hiding place. Finally, just before closing our second dive, a blue ribbon eel and several species of colourful crabs came to add their own touches of fancy.
Lunch time was full of diving topics from the last two dives and then followed by moments of relaxation on deck, sailing for the next destination, the island of Gili Banta, which was the edge of National Park of Komodo.
Our entrance into the water was welcomed from a snake, which rushed to be hidden near a mushroom coral in order to avoid the curious eyes of sudden intruders. Current was strong enough, so we did not have the luxury to wait and see it again. None of us attempted to go against the current, which in any case, was absolutely futile. We quickly realized that any effort to shoot was almost impossible, so we put aside our cameras and enjoyed the spectacle. The lucky ones were those, who had video cameras, which could easily capture the beauty of reef slope.We did not exceed 18 meters as there was no good reason to do the opposite. Trying to avoid currents, we were stuck on the wall till the time of decompression, where once again we found out, how unpredictable and exciting, at the same time, can every dive be, even a few minutes before zero times in computers.
A manta ray was such a protagonist! The solitary black figure suddenly appeared through the waves, which ended up fiercely at the top of the reef, making a mix with bubbles of all divers, who were undergoing their safety stop. Just 3 meters below sea level, the gorgeous creature was making an exploratory move among a lot of amazed faces ! Some of us managed to remain calm, in order to take some photographs… with extreme difficulty due to the abundance of bubbles, while others simply admired the wonderful creature. But strong currents and restricted time in computers deterred us from further stay, so we abandoned the show for the sake of security. It was extremely difficult for us to remain on the surface, as we became part of washing machine phenomenon till our embarkation on the inflatable. Sea can be unpredicted and fatal, at the same time, especially in case we don’t show the proper respect.
In next dive we had witnessed human brutality, as the reef was completely destroyed by dynamites. With the exception of a huge crocodile fish, which was trying to stay invisible in the remains, the other animate beings seemed to prefer the sandy part of the reef. This huge lionfish was undoubtedly the centrepiece of the underwater life. Pointing dive masters their lights lenses out to smaller fish ahead of lionfish, the latter made ruthless attack devouring the unsuspecting victims. For us it was definitely a very fun experience, but it stressed with brutality the natural law according which … the big fish eats the smaller one! Among other over night guests, we met some hasty crabs, a yellow moray trying to be hidden in a tiny coral, a frightened young blue-spotted sting ray, and a number of star gazers. These fish were buried in the sand, leaving only their eyes outside, that seemed to be looking at the stars. Due to this habit, they got their name.
What is important during live aboard, is that, apart what ones watch under the sea, it is equally important how many things ones learns, not just for underwater life, but also for the places ones visit, as well.
The next diving site was Taka Toko. The area was famous for its strong currents. Due to this fact, there were a lot of “large pieces”. During the briefing dive masters gave emphasis on the fact that we should be disciplined and concentrated throughout the dive to avoid any unexpected bad situations. Having emptied as much as we could the BCDs, we had a negative entrance till to 20 meters, where we reached the reef and we were relatively insulated from the currents. Swimming with tremendous difficulty till the edge of the reef, put our hooks in rocky areas, trying to avoid causing any damage to corals and with our hands free, we could photograph or video the endless “passage”.
The strong currents “deliver” food, that is why the concentrations of fish and sharks were inumerous. Apart from the white tip sharks, there were still large groups of tones and trevally, with which we were filling a whole new page in the log book of memories. The presence of tonnes was responsible for the absence of dolphins, which are used to hang out in the reef searching for surgeon fish. Although in diving there are no “watertight”, nevertheless, Taka Toko point was highly reliable for the promising spectacle, so we had planned a second dive at the same point in the process of return.
The process of ascend and decompression was characterized by the same degree of difficulty like descend. In order not to be in deco time, we carefully removed hooks and left the stream drag us fiercely. When we approached the huge rock, where we could have our safety stop, we put our hooks on with great difficulty and struggled with currents. At that point, I had an unpleasant contact with something that was painful for several days. In these places, they are reluctant to using gloves, so we are willing to be in compliance with local data! Fortunately this was the only adverse incident and then, we returned safe and sound on board, where we enjoy a rich breakfast in order to cope with our next diving efforts.
The second dive was quite similar to the previous one. Significant difference for us, was the “determination” of our photographic camera to learn to swim in its housing … Fortunately for us there is always a backup, so we were able to cover the rest of the journey.
We had already entered the national park which is surrounded by a cluster of islands, of which the most significant are: Komodo, Rinca, Padar & Gili Montang islands, and many smaller islands in the surrounding waters in the Sape Strait between the islands of Flores and Sumbawa. The park encompasses 1817 sq. km. of spectacular land and underwater life!
The next dive would be at Taka Makasar, in the channel of Komodo. We were supposed to have the third dive of the day, but in fact we made the first “flight” of the live aboard. We covered a substantial part of 25 minutes duration literally “flying” with our bodies being like free fall. For those who have not experienced something similar, we strongly recommend it…The morphology of seabed was similar to a bombed avenue with rocks, in quiet hours! Few living organisms interrupted the desert landscape, giving us, the dimension of the absolute. The truth is that in such experiences, it does not matter what you see, but how you feel … and this could not be described better than using the phrase of Kalvos( Greek famous poet) « freedom demands virtue and courage»!
Just before the last light of day went out for good, we had already invaded the aquatic world for the last time of that day. We were at Pink beach, in the island of Komodo. Local people informed us, that water was still quite cold, as it had not been greatly influenced by the greenhouse effect, yet and that was good and explained why the bottom of the archipelago was quite alive.
Bill and I, like very much looking for underwater creatures by ourselves. For this reason, we rarely rely only on dive master’s services. The biodiversity which was hidden in the wall covered a great variety of shrimps, lobsters, crabs and fish of different shapes, sizes and colours! The greatest satisfaction, however, came the time that Bill had identified a large snail which, due to its slow movement, enable us with the opportunity to have great photographs. We spent enough time to admire that strange creature, which was not so often, as we, later, learned from Debbie, who was impressed as much as we are.
During next day, we were about to meet the notorious dragons, those we were accustomed to hear in ours grandmother’s stories.
“August of Dragons”
“In previous days we travelled enough in the world of Poseidon and now was time to travel to the dragon’s world…
“Once upon a time, there were some islands, where someone could meet some huge lizards, real dragons! In this rugged landscape with steep hillsides of anhydrous savannah and frightening forest tracks, that were in contrast with the glamorous beaches with white sand and sparkling blue waters, which were poured over the colourful corals, one might encountered apart from the terrible dragons … deer, wild boars, snakes, spiders, monkeys, wild horses or buffalo! Loh Buaya and Loh Liang were two points, from which one could start for the fatal meetings, always followed by the rangers, who were well aware of nests and habits of wild beasts! Nobody would like to wish for privet encounters with the dragons of the fairytale!
So during an august morning, it didn’t have come the dawn yet, that some curious tourists would start for a tour in the mysterious park, looking for moments of intense action! Their short journey lasted half an hour and combined a small path in the forest and then, rise in Frigate Hill for an unforgettable look at the sea. The greatest journey, would last 2.5 hours, provided a better spectacle of dragons and their prey, would be rather tedious, and require a good preparation to cope with a steep climb under the hot sun …So they had chosen the middle route, with duration 1.5 hours, in order to give to themselves the opportunity to be encountered with deer, wild boar, and, of course, with the “bad” guys of our story, in their natural environment!
Rangers with silent voices informed the group that although human presence was not intense, there were 4 small villages, where the number of those who have connected their fate and their lives with this huge natural park, was some thousands. These people despite the fact that they very well knew, how difficult it would be to maintain balance with the ecosystem, in order to ensure their livelihood, nevertheless, they often fell into the traps of poaching and overfishing causing irreparable wounds, which in near future it would be catastrophic for themselves and the next generations…
The forces of the forest seemed to have a strange impact over the small group of tourists, who were a little bit afraid and curious! Respectful silence would have been in the hour of browsing, where only the sounds of nature were allowed to disturb it. Any discussions would be held under whispers and the step would be light and aligned. Unnecessary delays or deviations from prescribed path should ideally be avoided, in order to avoid adverse encounters with strange creatures..
The dry season that characterized the park, leaving trees bare, adding in this way to the wilderness of the landscape. The crackle of fallen leaves from the passage of human presence, sounded creepy, breaking the silence that followed the group. In the realm of fantasy, the era of the dinosaurs seemed not to have ever disappeared from the planet, creating the illusion that it would be the next picture … and not unfairly, as a few minutes later, the show took flesh and bone. The creature in frond of them, was belonging to modern times, and was quite familiar to our tourists … It was one of deer that was leaving in the forest, which, on the one hand, would be an excellent prey for large dragons. On the other hand, could be a coveted prey of unscrupulous hunters, who could even burn up to the forest, in order to force them to reveal their hiding places. Although the animal was removed quickly, the sweetness of its facial features created images that reminded to the tourists, those stories of cute Bambi.
And because everything in nature are governed by equilibrium, the form of good was succeeded by the form of evil … a huge lizard, which definitely exceeded the 3 m long, seemed ready to attack a boar, which seemed desperate, and knew that had no hope of salvation. The bodies of the crowd stopped instantly, looked frozen and their fast heart beatings were similar to those of the trapped animal … The scenes of violence that evolved was fully justified on the basis of the primitive instinct of survival!
After the mythical moment, everything and everyone were returned to normal rhythm and… they lived happily ever after!”
After fairy tales with dragons, they followed these with mermaids and huge undersea monsters who were living in Cannibal Rock! Cannibal Rock, was the first diving point of the day, which according a lot of foreign diving magazines, it is one of 10 top diving sites in the world. The visibility of the reef was modest because of plankton. But, that was the main reason for huge concentration of marine life, that made this point so popular. Indisputably, it was a really small paradise for lovers of macro photography.
Diving fantasy opened impressively with a yellow scorpion fish, which looked like more a small tree, rather than a fish. Its willingness to stay steel, despite our close approach, had greatly facilitated our photographic attempts. Throughout the dive, we met several nudibranchs, proudly showing the splendour of their colours. Moreover, biodiversity and variety of corals, was something that someone could hardly remember, because of plethora gathered in the reef.
During our second dive, we met a juvenile shaded batfish, for which we learned later, that despite the fact that it is extremely beautiful while it is juvenile, when it grows up, becomes just an ordinary fish. Because of this exquisite beauty while its young, is often found in covers or back covers in diving books! Impressive photographic subjects were also, sea apples (holothurians), which are related to sea cucumbers, but remain stuck in rocks.
Amazing encounters were a long nose hawk fish, which was well hidden in a bush black coral, and a huge grey frogfish, which we couldn’t have seen without Debbie’s help. Both of them were magnificent macro issues. Frogfish, was one of the few fish that no one rushed to photograph, as it remained stuck on the rock waiting for its prey, regardless the fact that someone could come too close.
Next dive was also scheduled at Cannibal Rock because of its huge biodiversity. We left the boat with a negative entry and we stopped as we were approaching around twenty meters. We stayed close to each other, as the visibility wasn’t so good and exploration had began. First “targets” were new members of family of nudibranchs, which were so fancy as those we had already encountered. Next, we met two strange fellows … a sea urchin, who “ran” desperate to get rid of the “intruders”, carrying on his back a zebra-crab, which seemed to be quite calm towards flash of publicity …
Then, we met a huge puffer fish, an enormous box fish and a giant scorpion fish which, at any time, can be an unexpected hazard for the careless diver. Undoubtedly, the high light of that dive, was a coral cat shark, which was really hidden below a narrow rock. With the companion of sunset colours, we were thinking about underwater protagonists, anticipating for night players to impress us.
The night dive was in another part of Rinca island, Banana island. The almost perfectly round moon raised so tempting that seemed like it was trying to seduce us. But we were determined to go for that night underwater exploration without having any second thoughts..
Despite the external drought that characterized islands of Komodo, underwater flora and fauna was indescribably rich. New nocturnal figures were, a filefish and a turtle, which was trying unsuccessfully to be accommodated in a small cave, in order to take a nap. Moreover, we very much enjoyed dancing movements of a flat swarm, which looked totally undisturbed by our presence.
Moreover, for first time, we had the opportunity to see the famous process of sea apples feeding! They stood out for their striking colours, which also betrayed how toxic they were! Their process of feeding was taking place in slow motion, but ones had to focus for a while, in order to figure out properly, how they operate. In fact, eating one after another their tentacles, they got in this way, any nutritious part of the plankton or the edible parts, that were collected there, from the water! This was one of myriad strange things that someone could encounter in the wet and dark sea world. It was really amazing how every natural element works so perfectly !
As our memory was about to enter “zero point”, we decided to return to the boat, where socializing was getting rampant… so French, British, Swiss, Swedes, Belgians, Turks and Greeks seemed to know each other from the old times…
Next morning we had an early arrival at Manta Alley, Komodo isle. Each dive related to manta rays was automatically classified as a life time experience! Their presence was so imposing that undoubtedly impressed us. Moreover, taking into consideration the presence of strong currents, we would have without any doubt an adventurous experience.
Visibility was poor and we had great difficulty in distinguishing charming “guests”, which were coming and going in a smoothly way. We pleced our hooks in order not to be carried away and miss the great spectacle, searching at the same time for any rock which could offer us some protection, in order to facilitate ourselves in watching underwater players. Some white tip sharks which happened to pass, seemed insignificant, compared with the prominent presence of manta rays…
We had already started our return back to Taka Toko, for the third dive of the day. During the briefing, we were informed that currents would be too strong. As we had already dived at that point before, we had in mind that we should have a negative entrance and swim as fast as we could until 20 meters, in order to put our hooks and enjoy underwater life. However, at least in the beginning, the predictions about currents were not confirmed and our entrance in to water, was more comfortable than expected. Our first “visitors” related to small white tip sharks, which were hanging around at 15 m. When we tried to get closer, immediately they went away. Biodiversity of the reef was amazing, including an inconceivable number of sardines, which seemed to follow our own direction. Frequently, a big piece upset the inumerous crowd, making their movements nervous and unpredictable. Among the moving volume of small fish, we distinguish the imposing figure of an eagle ray, which seemed not to be bothered by the constant movement of its fast moving neighbours.
We had already covered the first half hour of diving, when currents suddenly became too strong, reminding us how unforeseen could be the ocean. Swimming against currents demanded great effort and huge consumption, but we had no alternative in order to get close to the drop off the reef, where the ‘fatal’ meetings were inevitable … Carefully placing our hooks on sea bed, nothing but computers could spoil magic moments. Fortunately for us, the point was too “busy” and we easily fill our “hard disk” with plethora of images, before finally abandoning the reef.
Safety stop proved the most difficult phase of that diving. It turned to be one of the most dangerous instances of the journey, as well as powerful currents had spread their threats, fatigue had accumulated and bottles were something a little more than empty! Some times, even though a dive may be extremely difficult, at the end, it leaves an extraordinary delightful recollection, which can vanish any negative thoughts …
We were safe and sound back on board, while sudden voices from the front deck, interrupted our sunbathing… “dolphins on the bow of the boat”! It looked like they had regretted, that there were not consistent to our submarine rendezvous, so they were trying to compensate us by swimming alongside our vessel. It was another proof that, unexpected surprises take place during the whole voyage of a live aboard. Travelling together with dolphins, it was a quite enjoyable experience, having on board.
Despite our tiredness, we were determined to go for night dive and what followed during this dive at Gili Banta bay was indescribable …Parade opened with two strange participants that seemed to have followed the same direction. It was an immense cuttlefish and a grouper, which size was similar to a small baby. Just below the bottom of a table coral, a batfish was trying unsuccessfully to hide itself. We spent a great amount of time trying to captivate a nice exposure, as it was considered to be one of the most beautiful underwater creatures! Next, a giant gray crab, full of camouflage, became our new photographic model as it was in constant movement. Otherwise it would be impossible for anyone to distinguish from its surrounding, as it was transformed into “rock”! Another one smaller crab, in well disguise too, was trying to get quickly in to the hole, in order to avoid unpleasant contacts with nosy intruders. The highlight of the whole night dive took place when we literally fell onto a coral cat shark. It was an amazing spectacle which left us utterly “speechless”…
Moreover, a very beautiful picture was an anemone … full of young black clown fish, which were trying to sleep and their roommate, a well hidden crab! Along the way, we were able to admire a juvenile emperor angelfish, whose colours were similar to a complicated painting. For the finale, a huge white coloured mantis shrimp, was piping directly from the sand!!!
Arriving at Sumbawa island we were in a mood of returning. First dive would be in Sumbawa surprise, which was named so, as there were always underwater surprises. And the second one, would be at Angel reef, which was the starting point of our diving activities.
During our surface interval, we visited Moyo island, which was a green paradise! The mass of the population lived there, under extremely poor conditions. There houses were a set of wooden huts, built on sand, often with materials from the sea … ready to be surrendered by any unexpected natural power…
A bunch of youngsters was accompanied us throughout our walk around the island. They were asking for “something…anything” politely, but without being obtrusive. As we did not bring something from the vessel, we gave away cookies and chocolates that we bought from the local kiosk. All of them waited patiently for their turn to take something, with the older ones to make sure that the younger ones, at the end, were holding something in their hands. When as a joke, we asked them to give us back some of their sweets, they did it without any hesitation. Local people were very polite and smiley, despite their underdeveloped living conditions. Their school was a building that, “in civilized world” is characterized as abandoned building. But regardless of how difficult their living conditions are, the raciness and sweetness in children’s faces are always the same!
Although we remained on the island only for 30 minutes, images that depicted on our faces were shattering that managed to supplant an extraordinary seahorse, a rare clown snake eel and, also, the beauty of white sand, which were the high lights of the last two dives. Indisputably, emotions that are related to human nature are prominent and always superior compared to those arising from any other natural element …
Having a free next day , we decided to go rafting. In the evening, we took care quickly all the procedural details, such as arranging things, accounts, shopping …so we had enough time at our disposal, to amuse ourselves at the small festival that was set up spontaneously. Our pleasant mood was partly due to ouzo that we had brought together. Some of the participants remembered “piquant memories” from their own trips to Greece! As hours were passing by, it was really amazing how so many people with such diverse origins and cultures, communicated so well, as they knew each other for so long. An exceptional moment of the trip was when I asked Debbie, which was her worst experience during the 4 years that was working in Indonesia. She described in gruesome details the horrors of tsunami, leaving everyone astonished!!!
Early in the morning, all of us were moved during goodbye to the crew of the Mermaid and were ready for the last adventure of our trip. After a half hour road journey we reached the river Agung, which in their language means beautiful lady! Divided into two groups, got our equipment and followed the drivers. We had to go down about 500 stairs in order to get to the boats. We were totally surrounded by tropical nature.
Route was considered to be an easy one. Because of the drought, water level was quite low. The duration was about two hours. Among the elements that stood out, were carved designs that were made up by local people, using improvised scaffoldings, all along the river. Nature beauty was really indescribable. Our direct contact with waterfalls was breathtaking …For a while you think you are in paradise.
But once again, human contact and communication was outstanding, becoming in this way, the best part of scenery. Throwing off our masks, we were behaving like preschool children and enjoyed it very much. We all knew that, since after “ the drop off the check flag” of rafting, final countdown of our trip to Komodo would start for good. So we saved two hours of endless laugh and full of splendid images, sounds, colours and flavours, before our way home!