Saturday, November 29, 2014

Sorong Market

Our plane was delayed by six hours so our "minder" (from Raja4Divers) offered to take us to the local Sorong market. We were feeling a little guilty since we hadn't even left the hotel on our one day in Sorong so it seemed like a good opportunity. It was a big busy market, catering to locals, not tourists. (Not many tourists here, other than divers who spend as little time in Sorong as possible, nicknaming it "So Wrong".) Local markets are always fun. We couldn't recognize half the fruits and vegetables and other food products.

Apparently the market is open 18 hours a day, 7 days a week. And we were told that despite the appearance of their stalls, some of the vendors made a lot of money and had big fancy houses.


I love all the different kinds of bananas, including one called "horn bananas" because they look like horns. It's too bad that all we normally see in Saskatoon is one generic monoculture type banana.


I liked the scaly skin of these "snake fruit", but they weren't all that tasty.

snake fruit

See all 7 photos as a slideshow or an overview


Waiting in the parking lot of the Sorong airport (sweating copiously) we were standing in the shade of a small tree. Out of habit I scanned the leaves and branches looking for insects or lizards, but didn't find anything. Glancing down I noticed something at the base of the tree. It turned out to be a small toad! My camera was still cold from the air conditioned hotel so it fogged up as soon as I pulled it out. Luckily the toad wasn't going anywhere and once the camera warmed up and defogged I got some pictures.



Love those eyes!

Our taxi driver was waiting with us and he insisted on posing the toad on a branch of the tree although I'm pretty sure toads don't generally climb trees. I was impressed though, when, after I finished taking pictures, the taxi driver carefully picked up the toad and moved him out of the sun into some tall grass under a bush. Nice to see that kind of attention to something as "uncharismatic" as a toad!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Singapore Zoo

The Singapore Zoo is one of the best zoos in the world, and one of my favorites. It was one of the reasons I wanted to stop in Singapore. With its "open concept", there are no bars or wire or glass on many of the enclosures so it's great for taking photographs. Some of the primates even roam "free" in certain areas. (Note: This post is out of sequence but it took me a while to go through the photos and then I had to wait till we had sufficient internet to upload them.)

We started our visit with "breakfast with the orangutans". It's a little hokey, but it was nice to see them up close. The orangutan exhibit (a big area) is across the path from the restaurant and a long tree trunk is lowered so they can cross over. They get breakfast too, which is their incentive, but it's voluntary for them - if they don't feel like hanging out with the tourists they don't have to. Here was one of them coming to visit.



And as a bonus you could also hold a python. Strangely, that was much less popular than the orangutans :-)

me with python


Zoos and aquariums (at least the ones we visited this trip) seem to have gone overboard on wanting to take your picture and then sell it to you. At the orangutan breakfast they told us we would each get a chance to get up close to them, but what that actually meant is that you could line up to stand in front of them (with your back to them!) and get your picture taken. Bah!

Usually you don't get a good view of the lions or tigers so it was nice to see this white tiger out roaming (and cooling off) from quite close.

white tiger

These white-faced saki monkeys were roaming free and we couldn't spot them until they came down at feeding time.

white-faced saki monkey

The elephant show was also a little goofy, but fun to watch them "in action".

"stealing" carrots
For me and the kids near us, the other excitement during the elephant show was this quite large colorful (wild) skink going by just below the seats.


These whistling ducks were at the end of the rainforest show. The funniest part was after the show when they were trying to herd them off the stage. Forget herding cats, the expression should be "herding ducks" :-)

whistling ducks

By lucky accident we arrived at the Giant Aldabra Tortoises just at feeding time and there weren't many people there so we paid to feed them. Tortoises are one of my favorite animals and I love the giant ones. They are normally so slow moving, but they were surprisingly keen to eat the chunks of carrot.

feeding Giant Aldabra Tortoise

giant tortoise

They even had a walk through reptile area, although it no longer had any snakes, and the main attraction was this lazy iguana sunning itself on the walkway. It didn't seem to mind people stepping over it.


We spent almost the whole day at the zoo and we still missed lots. I guess we'll just have to go back some day :-) And there's also the Night Safari and the River Safari and the Bird Park if you have time. (I went on the Night Safari on a previous visit and really enjoyed it.)

I didn't discover it till too late, but the zoo has a handy app. I used it afterwards to identify some of my photos.

See all 39 photos as a slideshow or overview

See also Shelley's Singapore post

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Manta Rays

On one of our dives we went to look for manta rays. We didn't really have high expectations since you don't always see them. So we were a little surprised when our guide jumped in the water to have a look and came back saying yes, there were mantas. This place can be busy but we were lucky that a large group was just leaving as we arrived so we had the site to ourselves for a while. Then a small group arrived but it was still good.

The last time we "saw" mantas was in western Australia and it was a crazy system involving a dozen or more tourist boats and a spotter plane. Once the plane spotted a manta all the boats would converge on it and try to dump you in the water (snorkelling) ahead of it. Of course the poor manta would get the hell out of there as fast as it could. At best you caught a vague glimpse of it disappearing in the distance. It left a bad taste in our mouth!

Thankfully this time was different. We went down to the bottom where there are several big coral head "cleaning stations" where the mantas come to have the small fish clean their skin. It benefits both sides since the small fish get to eat the parasites etc. (Note: the mantas were not being fed by the divers, they came here naturally.) The dive companies had made a line of dead coral and rocks that we were stayed behind so we didn't disturb the mantas.

At first there was just one manta hanging around the cleaning station. The visibility wasn't great but it was still awesome to sit and watch. There was also quite a lot of current so it was a little tricky to find somewhere to hang onto the bottom while we watched, especially when trying to take photographs!

Soon a second manta arrived. The first one was white - a reef manta, this one was black - a larger giant oceanic manta. The reef mantas hang around one area, whereas the oceanic mantas travel long distances across the ocean. The reef mantas are slightly smaller, they only get to 6m (20ft) across versus the oceanic which can reach 9m (30ft)! These weren't quite that big but they were still impressive.

It was really cool when the mantas would leave the feeding station and cruise over towards us to check us out. Then we got a much closer look as they went right overhead. Amazing to have such a big animal swimming around you.

Even better, after a while, a whole group of mantas arrived. They danced and swirled above us so gracefully, like a ballet. Afterwards our guide said he thought they were mating.

We spent about 45 minutes sitting underwater watching them. It was fantastic.

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


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)


spot the photographer
And various other sculptures:



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.


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


I think nautilus are very cool:


Jellies are interesting too:


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)


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


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:


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


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