This trip wasn’t even under my radar until I met Jim (whom we knew through my last lembeh trip) for lunch a week ago. I told him I wanted to go on a dive trip this week but have not booked anything yet because layang layang was full, gorontalo was off season. So it was down to Cebu and raja ampat (which cost quite a bomb). Then he mentioned Komodo and I vaguely remembered rave reviews from divers I’ve met on trips previously. The only dates I was available was on the black manta, which took us out on a 5 day liveaboard around the island of Komodo. I was offered a deal to share the bunk with another diver, which greatly reduced the cost of the trip. That’s actually one of the main reasons for picking this over a land based trip to Cebu. Within 3 days, I was on my flight to bali which I stayed for a night before taking another flight to labuan Bajo.

Labuan Bajo is a sleepy fishing village that is not touristy at all. Instead of taking a day tour to the waterfalls and caves, i opted for a self exploratory trip down the town and the village. By dusk, i was lying beside the pool enjoying the first of many awesome Komodo sunset. The next day, a taxi took me to black manta’s rendezvous point from golo hilltop resort. After a short boat transfer, i was onboard the pretty impressive mv black manta. It was way bigger and better than my expectations. From the dive deck all the way to the cabin, everything was very well thought out. My first impression was, this boat was ‘designed by divers, for divers’. Thanks to its steel hull, its incredibly stable too.

Cedric, the trip director, gave us a very detailed briefing before we set off to our very first dive site. Check out dive #1, we jumped in and landed on a turtle (it was a few meters below) and the first critter we saw, two lembeh sea dragons! A very good way begin the trip even though I didn’t fire a single shot because I brought an empty housing for the check dive. Overall the dives were pretty good with a mix of macro and pelagics. The marine life is very healthy with alot of reef fishes and corals on every dive. The more memorable dives were in crystal rock, castle rock, manta alley, pink beach (night dive) and shotgun.

Before we began our trip, I asked Cedric what was there to see at Castle Rock and Crystal Rock (both being the first two real dives of the trip). He said, crystal rock is like heaven with beautiful corals and colorful reef fishes. Castle Rock on the other hand, is like hell, where all the feeding action was. However, Crystal rock was memorable for the wrong reasons as we got caught in massive current after missing a narrow sweet spot upon entry. There were times you know you can swim really hard against the current and there were times where you know you don’t event stand a chance fighting. This was one of them and our first taste of the notorious currents in Komodo. We were battered so badly and eventually seeked refuge at a small plateau looking at reef fishes instead of the supposedly pelagic actions. That said, one of the groups managed to get to the end of the rock and had a visual feast on some shark action.

From our lesson learned at crystal rock, we handled castle Rock alot better. With a quick negative entry, we were able to get to where the action was. White tip sharks patrol the reef outcrop with plenty of marine life. It was definitely an eye feast. The reef hook was deployed and it worked really well under those conditions, freeing up my hands for the camera. After the dive, I told Cedric, I very much prefer hell:D Shotgun was supposed to sort of a drift dive through a rocky formation, unfortunately or fortunately, the currents were not really strong on that dive. But the rocky formations were really pretty. It felt like we were swimming through some underwater castle and expecting to hit the “shotgun” spot anytime. I’m sure Cedric’s awesome pre-dive briefing has got something to do with it.

Our first step into Komodo island was on pink beach. On that small sandy stretch of sand, one could see a pinkish hue under the late afternoon sun. Thanks to the small pink particles that were washed from the sea. The night dive at pink beach was spectacular. It’s a white sand muck dive site with extremely rich marine life. Among usual shrimps and crabs, we also found juvenile hairy frog fishes as well as some variation of the hairy shrimp.

I’m not sure if they deliberately put manta alley on the last day. If they did, the mantas must’ve heard their prayers. Sea was calm with manageable currents (by Komodo’s standards). The manta’s were out to party with no lesser than 12-15 of them. Some were really huge with wing spans easily exceeding 6m. I propped myself against a bare rocky outcrop and watched them circle right in front of me, sometimes coming within touching distances. As we explored the Site, mantas tend to appear from nowhere, sometimes slowing down to check us out. Manta alley impressed us enough to warrant another dive on the same site. It was as amazing as the first. Can’t ask for more for the final dive of the trip. There were manta sightings at almost every depth that we were on.

Finally, we wrapped up the trip with a visit to the Komodo national park where we did some trekking and ‘dragon hunting ‘. They were shy on this day as we only saw 2 of them. we saw more wooden ones than real ones at the souvenir shop. Did our final night at the Harbour of labuan Bajo and we reluctantly accepted the fact that this trip had came to an end. For me, this trip opened up new opportunities for further adventures around this region.

While I did not take as many images as I thought I would, I think it’s not a bad thing. Slowing down allows me to think and if the subject does not present a good opportunity for me to get a good picture, I pass. Maybe it has something to do with age.

Some lessons learned over the trip.

- pack as light as you can. It’s not everyday that you can convince airport staff that 16kg carry ons are OK for small domestic planes.

- buy equipments earlier so you can zhng them nicely before getting into the water. It’s not funny when you can’t find a place to hook up your accessories on your new bcd.

- maybe lighter fins and strobes will be helpful if I intend to do such trips more often.

As for surfing in Bali.  I’m too old for nothing, I just need more practice than the younger folks, which means, more trips:) I took up surfing lessons at the Billabong Surf School over my 3 day stop in Bali. It’s great detox time away from home and office. I spent most my time in the hotel room, trying to catch up with news and whatever ‘air time ‘ lost in Komodo. The rest of the time were either spent walking by the beach during sunset or sleeping.

Here are some of the land images from this trip. You can find the underwater images here.

3′s a family and someone’s fuming:D

The pyramids of Kuta

Click to see more (image intensive)

Ade (if I recall correctly) is a Javanese whom I met on Kuta beach. He was looking for a job in Bali and specifically looking for something in the hotel tourism industry. I was told that he worked 5 years under a french chef and the french chef asked him “do you want to learn how to cook or do you want the money?” He chose how to cook and lived 5 years with minimal income. With his cooking skills now, he should be able to find a job here soon, I hope. When I told him I’ll be going on a diving trip, he said he dived too and loved it. So I suggested, maybe he can try to look for a job as a chef onboard one of those liveaboard boats.

It must be school holidays, the beach from Kuta all the way to Seminyak were filled with families and kids.

As always, Balinese sunsets rarely disappoint.

Right before touchdown at Labuan Bajo, the gateway to Komodo island. That’s where we will board our boat, MV Black Manta for the 5D4N liveaboard.

A kitten which was rescued by guests at the Golo Hilltop Resort. It’s a basic resort with an awesome sunset view.

While doing a short walkabout in the town, I chanced upon a soccer match and here are some of the kids getting their “pre match practice”.

The actual players practicing their spot kicks.

The kids at the practice. Some of them look really young but could kick some serious balls.

The rather run down jetty on the other side of town. Here, a man is seen repairing but of the collapsed jetty.

The fishermen from Labuan Bajo. A bunch of very friendly people.

These young fishermen who were about ready to leave the jetty. Smoking among young Indonesians are a common sight.

The kids (aged 3 and 5) dancing to techno music that the mum played through the phone inside a boat.

The sunset view from the restaurant at Golo Hilltop Resort at Labuan Bajo.

I took a nap beside the pool and woke up to see a gorgeous sunset right before my eyes. Hurried back to my room to grab the camera and took whatever’s left of the sunset.

The first day’s sunset while on our trip around Komodo island onboard MV Black Manta.

Wong, one of the Singaporean divers that I met onboard taking photos of the sunset on the lower deck.

The half moon provided some light on the landscape of Komodo. It’s kinda eerie, yet mesmerizing. A new moon would’ve gotten us a view of more stars I’m sure.

Pre-dawn at Komodo. Most of us headed for bed soon after dinner, which means we woke up rather early on our own.

Sunrise at Komodo. We were joined by two other dive boats, although we did not dive the same sites during the day. Most of the times, the operators will talk to one another to avoid heading the same site at the same time. That greatly reduced crowding at dive sites.

A nice lone tree sits by the beach.

The landscape of Komodo looks hilly with very few trees. It’s one of those landscapes that I would love to take wedding photos at. This was taken through the cabin window, which was just beside my bed. Pretty awesome feeling to wake up to such views.

Hilly landscapes by the beach. Almost like a scene out of some cartoon. Teletubby? Maybe.

Pink beach. Tiny pink particles filled the beach which gave it a nice pink glow during certain times of the day. The night dive at Pink beach was extremely good too. I would rate the night dive up among the best in Lembeh.

Cedric, our trip director juggling during our first trip on land at Pink Beach.

Just before our night dive, Cedric, along with Stanny (one of the diveguides onboard) gave a performance in both english and indonesian. On the left is Cedric’s dad who was on holiday and on the right was Anto, our dive guide. Both the dive guides used to work in Lembeh, so they have extremely well trained eyes.

Partially lit.

One of the very few boats from people living on Komodo itself. In fact, I have only seen one small village throughout the whole trip.

Sunset at Komodo with the moon already high up.

One of the many beautiful sunsets we witnessed on our trip. Some look almost surreal.

The famed Komodo Dragon at the National Park. We made a trip there during our last day onboard after our day dives. The dragons were pretty big, but not as scary as I thought they would be. That said, we were told a ranger was bitten when trying to protect some tourists who nearly got attacked a week ago. That was as close as I got. And that white stuff on the right are the droppings from the dragon.

Back in Bali again. I took on surfing lessons for 2 days before heading back on the 3rd. Spent most of the time doing nothing and letting my body relax and recharge. Every evening, I will take a walk along the beach and people watch.

With school holidays in effect and Euro 2012 coming, the entire stretch of beach from Kuta to Seminyak were filled with beach soccer courts.

The receding waters forms a mirror like effect on the beach.

Companionship.

My first Lunar Eclipse (partial)! I was having dinner at a Turkish restaurant when I read a Balinese friend’s facebook status that she’s looking at an eclipse. I went out to the garden and witnessed it myself! Initially, it looked like a half moon, until I realized it’s supposed to be a full moon that night. What a treat:D

During surfing lessons, we were told that the lines on the beach can tell us where the rip tides are located. Now, the lines on the beach will never look the same again:)

A surfer calling it a day.

Hindu devotees retrieving water and sand from the sea. The items were to be used for the opening ceremony for a new temple the next day. In short, the ritual is performed to ask the gods to allow them to use the sand and the seawater and to get their blessings. I managed to speak to one of the guys who patiently explained the meaning behind these rituals.

One of the men retrieving the sand and the seawater.

The bottle of seawater for the temple opening the next day.

Homecoming:D