Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Raja Diving

It's hard to capture the number and variety of fish, photos just aren't the same as being down there, surrounded by them. There are so many different kinds, so many colors and shapes.


And sometimes large schools of fish. Our dive guide circled round behind this school to "herd" them towards us. 


But it's not just the fish. There are so many other amazing things to see. This is a clam on a coral.


These huge stingrays were digging in the sand, probably eating the garden eels. There were holes all over the bottom from previous digging. The fish were hanging around - perhaps to get the leftovers.


When we arrived our dive guide asked if there was anything particular we wanted to see. We asked if there were sea horses here since we'd never seen any. He said there were lots and he would show us. But they are pygmy sea horses, less than half an inch and they blend in almost perfectly with the soft coral they are on. I'm not sure how he spotted them. I could barely see them even with him pointing directly to them. Sometimes I'd just take photos blindly, assuming there must be something where he was pointing!

spot the sea horse

Monday, November 24, 2014

Raja Ampat

Here's the view of our resort from the lookout spot just behind the resort with the dive boats at the end of the dock.


One of the glorious sunsets. Love thos reflections :-)


One of our dives ended up under the mangroves with the sunlight streaming through them - beautiful.


All the diving has been great - so much to see!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Slice of Paradise



I'm writing this on the deck of our thatched hut overhanging the water. Juvenile black tipped sharks swim by just below us along with an assortment of other fish. A sting ray goes by. At low tide a heron searches for food on some exposed rocks. Parrots and hornbills are calling from the jungle behind the beach, we haven't see them yet. A lizard runs across the deck. Then a tiny hermit crab goes by in a nondescript shell; if it wasn't moving you never know it was something alive. A bright yellow little bird visits the open air bathroom while I'm brushing my teeth. A brilliant blue kingfisher lands nearby and chatters away. The ocean stretches out to the horizon, broken only by a few other small islands in the distance.

We're on Pulau Pef ("pulau" meaning island) about a three hour boat ride from Sorong, which is about a four hour flight from Jakarta. Although politically part of Indonesia, geographically it's an archipelago of islands just off the coast of western Papua New Guinea. The area is called Raja Ampat which means four kings, because there are four main islands. There are a few local villages in the vicinity but not much else.

We're at Raja4Divers. It was built relatively recently (2001) and is quite small - eight thatched huts holding maybe a dozen people. As with a lot of this trip we're the only English speaking North Americans. Everyone else is German speaking so we get separate briefings for everything. It limits our interaction with the other guests, not that we tend to be very social anyway. They even put us in the one hut separate from all the others.

There's no air conditioning anywhere except in the "camera" room. (where it's more to keep the humidity down than the temperature) Everything is built from local materials. Many of the staff are locals. Much of the food (fruits, vegetables, seafood) is also local. It's not "luxurious" from a western viewpoint. (No AC!) But it certainly seems like a slice of paradise to us.

Our first orientation dive was just on the "house reef" which starts under the dock. But it was still fantastic. So much coral, so many fish. It's a little overwhelming. We're used to pointing out the "good" fish and writing them in our logs, but here there are so many beautiful colourful fish that it’s hard to know where to start. There are lots and lots of healthy hard and soft corals. An outcrop covered with Christmas tree worms of all different colours. Giant clams, one that must be five feet across. Fish of all sizes, many big ones (which is a good sign that there's not too much fishing). And this was just off the dock!

I hate to be negative while in paradise, but it makes me a little sad to see what we have already lost (a euphemism for destroyed) in so many (most) other places.

Note: The internet here is very slow so I won't be posting many photos till we're back in "civilization".

Friday, November 21, 2014

Singapore

There's a lot to see and do in Singapore, even if you're not interested in shopping. One of the places we wanted to go was the Gardens at the Bay development with the "supertrees" and the huge garden domes. The first day we tried to go here it ended up raining most of the day and we only got a brief look. Instead we spent time at the Art Science Museum mostly looking at the huge Da Vinci exhibit. Unfortunately the "Art and Science of Photography" exhibit wasn't really my kind of photography, more political than artistic, but we still had lots to see. We attempted to go for lunch at the Marina Bay "SkyPark", but the only elevator we could find that would work for non-guests took us to a restaurant that had virtually no vegetarian food. (They offered to serve us 3 courses of salad and some fruit for $100 each.) So we ended up eating pizza in the mall :-) There wasn't much view anyway because it was so cloudy and rainy. We've spent way too much time in malls this trip (not intentionally). It seems like every subway/metro stop is attached to a mall.

Despite the rain, we enjoyed wandering around (after we bought umbrellas). There was a green walls that formed a map of the world:

green wall map

And a cool reflecting sculpture beside it. (The colored chairs are part of the PubliCity public spaces project)

sculpture

sculpture
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And various other sculptures:

sculpture

sculpture

The Art Science Museum building was shaped like a lotus flower (or an open hand):

Art and Science Museum

They had pools with lotus flowers around the base of the museum that formed the roof of some of the exhibit halls so they got natural light.

lotus flowers

Here's the Marina Bay Sands resort with its rooftop Skypark (which I call the banana boat) and in the foreground the Helix pedestrian bridge:

Helix Bridge & Marina Bay Sands

There's even a floating stadium (configured as a soccer field at this time):

floating stadium

Where we had coffee at the mall was below a huge glass bowl full of water draining into the canal in the mall (complete with venetian style boat rides), leading to some interesting reflections :-)

mall water feature

A couple of days later we made it back to see the actual Gardens at the Bay. Many more photos to come from that day, which I'll post when I get through them. Although we're now heading to Raja Ampat to scuba dive and the internet may not be that good. (We're currently on a layover in Jakarta.)

See all 19 photos as a slideshow or overview

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Singapore Sentosa Island

On our first day in Singapore we decided to go to the aquarium on Sentosa island. We were a little taken aback to discover that Sentosa has pretty much turned into a Disneyland type place. Luckily for us, that meant there weren't many people at the aquarium. It's a big and modern and quite good, although we've been spoilt by some of the really good aquariums we've been to.

It's always tough taking photographs at aquariums given the glass (often dirty or scratched), the reflections, and the dim lighting. I only managed a few decent shots. One highlight was the octopus out roaming - usually they are just hiding in a corner, motionless.

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There were a couple of big groupers, this one wasn't the biggest but he was the most cooperative:

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I think nautilus are very cool:

nautilus

Jellies are interesting too:

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This was just after feeding, which is why there are so many fish congregating: (note people texting and talking on their phones rather than looking at the fish)

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We also went to the butterfly garden on Sentosa island but it was nowhere near as good as the one in Kuala Lumpur.

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They had a monitor lizard in an exhibit, but the glass was so dirty you could barely see it. This one was roaming free, presumably wild:

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We took the monorail to the island and then left by the cable car.

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As we passed over, I was pleased to see the Hard Rock Hotel had some green roof. Singapore has an impressive amount of greenery.

green roof on Hard Rock Hotel


Monday, November 17, 2014

KLCC Park

On our last morning we wandered around the park between the convention center and the mall. Quite a nice little park. Shelley spotted the giant carpenter bees visiting the flowers on a trellis. These were definitely the largest I've seen, about 1.5 inches long, fat, with colorful iridescent wings. The trick was that the only time they stopped moving was when they crawled inside the flowers, at which point you could only get butt shots. I did manage to catch one just as it was leaving a flower.

carpenter bee

carpenter bee

There have been so many flowers around that I'm started to take them for granted. Wait till I get home to Saskatchewan winter!

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And there were views of the towers, of course:

Petronas Towers

And reflections of the towers:

Petronas Towers

And then I was lost trying to capture all the reflections. (Shelley found some shade and waited patiently.) I often substantially adjust the contrast and color, but since they're just abstract I don't feel guilty about it.

Sometimes it's the color that stands out (this was the reflection of a sunlit green bush)

reflections

Sometimes it's not the color at all, but the pattern of the light and shadow:

reflections

And sometimes it's both the color and the pattern:

reflections

reflections

The conditions seemed to be just right for reflections - interesting shapes and colors around the water (buildings, trees, etc.) with enough movement in the water to make shapes but not so much that the water got rough. Moving around and adjusting the angle and zoom give you infinite choices.

See all 21 photos as a slideshow or overview

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Thirty8 and the Chocolate Box

One night we went across the street to the Hyatt and ate at Thirty8 - which is, not surprisingly, on the 38th floor with great views of the Petronas Towers.

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One of the highlights was the delicious "Chocolate Box for Two" desert which came in a box made of chocolate and contained raspberry & dark chocolate mousse, crispy meringue, mixed berry granita, and chocolate pearls. Here's the deconstruction:

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