Finding critters “by accident” at Papua Paradise Eco Resort
by Janice Nigro
Even after five flights (three international and two domestic) and a 1.5 hour boat ride, we managed to be up at the right time for the first day of dives at Papua Paradise Eco Resort in raja Ampat. But our first glimpse into the underwater there perhaps overshadowed the rest of our dives, and we did not even have to get into our dive gear for this.
We were told to look and listen when it was high tide which was evening through early morning when we were there. I didn’t believe it, but the sea grasses surrounding the island attract dugongs (or in Bahasa Indonesia, duyung). Like so many creatures from the sea, it hardly seems possible that such a thing could exist-in a fairytale maybe. Sure enough, one was there for breakfast when it was still high tide. And proof that maybe our imaginations are not really that great-many things we dream up are stolen directly from nature.
Divers get a dive consultation, as I would call it, the afternoon of their arrival. You are given an overview of the dive territory covered, and then Papua Paradise tries to make a dive plan that fits your interests. We were there for only three days and a liveaboard for the next ten. They know the itineraries of the liveaboards, so on that basis they recommended dives sites they thought the boat would not do. I was impressed with this style of dive planning as I found another resort in the area to adhere to a strict program without much improvisation.
The structure of a dive day is two dives in the morning from a small but covered boat. The surface interval near the dive is usually at a local island (with donuts) unless close to Papua Paradise. Back for lunch. A dive in the afternoon, and a sunset or night dive in the evening-at your discretion of course. It’s tough to fit it all in because, after all, you have to make it to dinner as well. If you miss it, there is nothing again until breakfast.
There is a huge cultural component to any trip to Indonesia if you are open to it. Your ambassador usually turns out to be your dive guide who most often knows the most English. Indonesia is a country made up of around 17,000 islands so they all come from some place that might not even be on maps.google.com, and yet they have better command of the English language than we do. Our guide Andy, or Andex as he liked to be called-like an Incredible with a superpower-comes from an island close to the Philippines. He was like a lot of the best Indonesian dive guides: from northern Indonesia, a funky haircut, tattoos of underwater creatures, and of course a good sense of humor. We check-checked double-checked our gear, and we were off.
It was a short boat ride to Ayof, a local dive. Raja Ampat is sprinkled with small islands so that all of our dives were done around islands. It also makes for spectacular scenery no matter what your status is, underwater or topside.
We geared up at Ayof and backrolled into the water. The first thing to notice was that the water was warm. Important to know coming from the West coast of the USA. It’s embarrassing to say I don’t remember much from the first day of diving, but I don’t. Other than the first three dives were on sandy slopes dotted with coral bommies. And that out of all of that, Andex showed me possibly one of the smallest creatures ever, a hairy shrimp. Something he claimed to have found accidentally when he was looking at a sea cucumber. It was good to know this on the first day because Andex would find a lot of things “by accident” in only three days of diving.
My other problem with the first day was with my camera equipment. I only realized at the end of the day that I had accidentally bumped up the ISO blowing out all of my photos. I didn’t exactly need the strobes while photographing a trio of yellow ornate ghost pipefish bouncing around near the very white sandy bottom at New Point.
The second day of diving was an excursion tour meaning we were out all day for three dives, and lunch was on the boat. Our dive consultant Alight (who was Basque in fact) suggested the three jetties tour, as she was sure that the boat would not go to two of them. One of them is a raja Ampat classic and nearly every dive boat goes to it. Although you go to see what is underwater-a lot of fish-, Arborek comes with a Papuan village topside that you cannot miss.
Andex got right down to business at the first jetty, Yenbuba, pointing out cuttlefish both of the normal size variety and the pygmy size variety, crocodile fish, and a lot of nudibranchs and flatworms. The last jetty of the day, Sawandarek, was by far to me though the most beautiful. We struggled against a bit of current on this dive, but where there is current so is there a plethora of soft and hard corals. I spotted some of the easy stuff (in addition to the corals), like a can’t miss it turtle swimming to me, and a blue spotted ray skimming across the sandy bottom like a Frisbee bouncing off the grass until it stops. Andex meanwhile found more animals “by accident, ” including two pontohi seahorses, one dark and one light.
I was partial to the last day of diving at Papua Paradise. Or I was finally waking up. The last three dives, Sauyador, Urun East, and Wai West, were still sloping but they were lush with soft corals. It was hard to believe because we were never so far from an island shore.
Creatures ranged from big-wobbegongs (yes, with an “s”), giant clams, and a sleeping white tip reef shark-to the microscopic critters-more hairy shrimp and a cousin to that which I think should be called the “My favorite martian shrimp.”
I also had managed to take a shot of a beautiful anemone and clownfish which was convenient to have during the surface interval. It was at an island where many of the workers for the resort were from. We were greeted by beautiful children grinning and jumping in the sea from their jetty to cool off. And they ate our donuts. I asked them their names in Bahasa Indonesia-Siap nama kamu (I think)-and they replied. I showed them the photo of the clownfish, and without hesitation, they screamed in unison “Nemo!”
Like I said, diving in Indonesia is as much about the culture as the underwater world.
PS Thank you to Lisa M. Thiel for the photograph of the dugong. I had 4 cameras with me including 2 cell phones but never when the dugong visited us!
©2016 Janice Marie Nigro/janikiInk.com