I had been told about Raja Ampat many years ago now, but I hadn't looked into it seriously enough until now. It's a bunch of Islands that are part of Indonesia, but really are close to Papua New Guinea (the east side of the Island actually belongs to Indonesia, along with a share of the malaria mosquitoes). Raja Ampat is known to have pristine waters and apparently the biggest variety of fish in the world.
So, I made plans to go and it's it's booked well in advance, even 11 months early, the choices were already a bit limited and we ended up with the best and likely most expensive boat, WAOW. Quite frankly, this turned out great, the boat, crew, cabins, and amenities were fantastic, and it also turns out to be the only liveaboard so far to have satellite internet for all in the boat (apparently about 1Mbit/s).
Getting to the boat is a bitch though, you have to fly to Sorong, which is a small little airport which requires 2 flights from Bali or Jakarta, which in turn required two more flights from SFO, or 4 flights total. As a result (and to get business award tickets), we flew to Bali a few days early before doing the 2 extra flights to Sorong.
Since there are Malaria mosquitoes there, then the airport looked more like a bus terminal, and someone from the boat told us "whatever you do, make sure you do not have to go to the So Wrong (Sorong) hospital, trust me, you do not want to go there".
Given that, Jennifer and I had taken malarone against malaria just in case, and had long sleeves and pants in hot humid weather filled with anti mosquito spray. As a result, we were happy when the Waow staff picked us up quickly at the airport and had us on a boat towards the Waow in fewer than 30mn after we arrived. The boat soon after left Sorong for its 12 day voyage.
Here is where we went:
The Waow is a new wooden luxury sailboat that was built just a few years ago. While we didn't much wind during our trip, they still put the sails up one day because why the heck not :)
The staff was truly fantastic (and plentiful, they were around 25 or so, for barely 20 divers). The cabins were huge, we had an upgraded one and it wasn't even the biggest one:
Jennifer was very happy with the hammocks :)
As usual, I had my triple GPS logging setup to get the route and dive sites:
A few other pictures from the boat and divers
The dive guides were top notch (and so was the rest of the crew)
Oh, did I mention the boat even had a masseuse?
I also managed to get a coconut from land on one of our visits:
we got a few fresh fish deliveries :)
this is why I'm happy to have saw on my swiss army knife
Before I finish with the diving pictures, we had several excursions during the cruise that were other than diving, and were a nice occasional change compared to just diving 4 times a day every day for 11 days. Here are some pictures from them.
One morning, we went to see some beautiful small islands:
they also got some fresh green coconuts for us later
Another day, we went to an island for a arduous climb to the top, great views, and a picnic on the beach after that:
Another day, we got to visit one of the best pearl farms in the world (the water in Raja Ampat being so clean, apparently yields better pearls):
we got to see how a pearl gets extracted
Another day, another island visit:
we climbed to the top too
And around the end, we went to a great cave you could snorkel through, and get out the other side, by briefly swimming under water:
yes, top of the world, Arturo :)
we picked up an escort from a local village to make sure we wouldn't steal fish or pearls (and pay a fee)
cave birds built nests in there
the local tribe buries their deads in caves by the water
Ok, but those were many non diving related pictures, so let's go to diving now:
our divemasters were zen :)
Day #1 started very well, 4 dives including a night dive, and some very good stuff already:
Thanks to Arturo for this one
Day #2 was only 2 dives since we had a lot of motoring in the afternoon to get to the next sites:
Day 3 was a 4 dive day, including a fantastic night dive where we got to see many critters, from sharks, to crocodile fish, Flamboyant Cuttlefish walking on the ground (fantastic, had never seen those before), and much more. Very very nice.
Since the pictures were taken with a crappy panasonic point and shoot, even with crappy gear, I got lucky once in a while :)
Day 4: nice variety of fishes:
Day 5 was pretty epic, I got my first pygmy seahorse pictures, which is no small feat with my camera, more crocodile fish, batfish, giant head parrotfish including one shitting sand, and much more. The walls of fish, and soft coral are still very nice too:
this is where sand comes from :)
Day 6: Got some great clown triggerfish shots, I love those things, and another pygmy seahorse:
Day 7: Got another really nice red and blue pygmy seahorse amongst other things:
Day #8, we only had two dives due to some other activies in the afternoon. One of the 2 dives was fantastic, orang-outang crab, puffers of multiple colors, big lobsters, pygmy seahorse, and more:
Day 9: I elected to only do the 3 day dives and skip the night one due to a cold, and I still got to see good stuff, including big manta rays getting cleaned, several big bunches of fish, and giant clams. I love the pissed off clown fish too :)
Day 10 was the last day diving in Raja Ampat: 2 dives in the morning (to allow for flights the next day). By the 2nd dive, my ear really didn't want to equalize anymore, so it was a good thing that we were done. I still got to see good stuff though, especially on the first dive, we got to see a giant manta (too far to picture), I saw my first manta shrimp, and we even got a super zen cuttlefish (pictures aren't great, it's a very twitchy thing) that just stayed in the same place for everyone to take as many pictures as desired:
And that was it, 11 days, 32 dives, many of which good or great. It was tough, but someone had to do it :)
A big thanks to the crew who was fantastic with us.