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".

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