Wakatobi 2004

If all a KSDC trip takes is a member, then I guess this one qualifies... really, though I just want to share with you guys about Wakatobi- I know what a buzz word it is in the diving world, especially here in Indonesia.

The trip was a 12 day liveaboard on Grand Komodo's Putri Papua, there were five guests: one American suntan king, Jeff, two Swiss deep divers, Rosieshark and Martin, David Fleetham (renowned Canadian marine photographer) and myself (alternately wearing the many hats of underwater model, translator, interpreter, Bahasa Indonesia teacher and master bargainer).

We set sail from Maumere, Flores on September 20, 2004. There was a night check dive at Pasir Sari- but I opted out as I was still recovering from a cold and knew that night dives are not ideal for modeling.

We traveled all night to reach Kakabia and the winds and currents were not in our favor, so our first dive of the day was at noon. Let the modeling begin! David uses a digital camera which can take between 260 and 300 photos per dive- a blessing for him, but not necessarily for me! The first dive was a definite learning experience- I had to retrain myself our of all my dive instructor habits and learn how to position myself in the frame, so I can't say that I remember much of the reef or what we saw. Kakabia is a small island covered with thousands of birds, and as we discovered on the way back home when we stopped for a walk on the beach, it is also a turtle breeding area, with lots of dug out turtle nests along the coastline above the high tide line, I even saw cracked turtle eggs- I hope they made it to the ocean, but with all the birds circling overhead I worry that their chances were slim!

That night we once again sailed all night to reach Batu Ata- an inhabited island with a small village of extortionist locals who were intent on not letting us dive until they had gotten an acceptable bribe. This tied up things for a few hours, but we finally got in the water at 11:40 and were delighted to see the wall- a true thing of beauty with amazing gorgonian fans and barrel sponges, turtles and extremely healthy and bountiful hard and soft corals. We managed three dives depsite the late start, though the third "dusk dive" turned into a night dive fairly quickly.

Once again the night was spent in transit to reach Kaledupa Atoll on the 23rd, not to be confused with Kaledupa Island, one of the Wakatobi namesakes. Wakatobi is actually an acronym from the four biggest islands in the chain: Wa for Wangi Wangi, Ka for Kaledupa, To for Tomia and Bi for Binongko. Anyway, the atoll was nice, but the vis was certainly not perfect and there were small currents that made it sometimes difficult to line up for shots. We also spent a lot of time harassing scorpionfish and getting some good close-ups in the process.

The 24th we headed into Wakatobi proper with a mid-morning dive at Taipabu in Binongku- more wall and more beautiful hard and soft corals- a girl can easily get spoiled by this kind of beauty... and also start wishing for something different... Which is sort of what we found in the next dive at Lintea. This was Jeff's favorite as we got a nice current and drifted along the wall... and I admit it was beautiful but I spent most of it swimming aginst the current to get into the right position for a shot, drift into the frame and then repeat. Not that I'm complaining, far from it, but lunch was threatening to resurface!

The 25th found us at my personal favorite dive site name- I think I have never heard better: Mari Mabuk! (loose translation from Indonesian: Let's Get Drunk!) This is also where we met a robust ghostpipe fish and two blue ribbon eels, a banded crate sea snake and needlefish that must have been taking steroids- they were just that big. This was also the first day that I got a dive "off" from modeling (not counting the many night dives that I skipped to get over my cold). So I had fun exploring the wall and top of the reef and occasionally finding interesting macro critters to share with the others (I was the only cameraless diver).

On Sunday we were in Hoga, home to the Wallacea Project, in search of Martin's favorite site from his previous trip, the Pinnacles. He was devastated to find that our first attempt to find it was indeed not the right site... and the rest of us were wondering underwater why he had spent so much time discussing it over the past several days. But on the second dive we found the right place and enjoyed poking around- the Pinnacle is almost like a seamound with arms pointing out in different directions. We spent two days diving the site and David and I spent much of that time in search of Martin's Hole- a short swim-through on one of the arms heading out from the Pinnacle. I got a few dives off and headed to try another site nearby on Monday afternoon with Jeff. As I was tired of modeling and wanted to poke around a bit I dubbed the dive site "Thea's Freedom" and I loved it- the wall was beautiful and the top of the reef was simply stunning. There was a school of squid in the shallows and a teeny weeny nudibranch swimming, two sea snakes (better in the water than on land, but I still am NOT a fan), and devastatingly gorgeous hard and soft corals. On the second dive at the site Weka, the dive guide on board, even found a pygmy seahorse- although he looked a little anorexic compared to the fat ones in Alamanda.

The 28th we started heading back for Maumere the way we had come, stopping first in Batu Ata, where this time we did a village tour and astounded the locals. After all the trouble we had the first time it was a real surprise to see how welcoming they were. Weka handed out notebooks to the local kids and nearly started a riot.

On the 29th we were back in Kakabia where we saw something none of us had ever seen before (and we have the photos to prove it)-- tropical aquarium fish hunters. Two men on hoses linked to a compressor on a boat above. They were finless, but equipped with socks, plastic bags, hooks, masks, and yep, you guessed it, cyanide. David got off quite a few good shots of one of them (his buddy quickly scrambled up the wall and hid from us). The fish in his bag were looking a little worse for wear, and I wonder if they will make it to their final destination... so depressing.

Finally we came to our last dives of the trip, a new place, Sukun (but listed on maps as Sukur) off Flores. I found these dives to be my favorites of the trip, but it was possible that I was only biased as I had the day off from David's camera and could explore that deep diving desire of mine that hadn't been expressed the whole trip.... hehehehe. You want to know what I saw? You will have to send me an email... this has gone on way too long already.

Suffice to say that Wakatobi is in fact gorgeous, as are all the islands we visited on the way. I am spoiled for life now in terms of healthy walls (they really are much more amazing than anything I saw in Bunaken), but at the same time walls can get a little old, especially after 40 dives in 10 days!

Thanks to the great crew of Putri Papua and especially to Ibu Reno of Grand Komodo for giving me the wonderful opportunity to explore such amazing islands!