Updated: Aug 30, 2022
Today marks the fifth day I have been off the boat in Raja Ampat and I can honestly say I am still swaying, gently, feeling the ebb and flow of the tides. Here is my story of Raja Ampat and how I came to be there in my 56th year.
When I moved to Bali, I decided to fulfill a life time dream and to conquer a fear of scuba diving. My main motivation to learn to dive was so I would be able to travel to Raja Ampat as I had found the images so alluring. The images almost calling me to the islands. (I do believe I have lived in Papua in another life, that is another story perhaps for later).
My then-current husband Rob, is a highly qualified diver who had dived to 80 meters, encouraged me, and I will say here that without his love and support, my dream may never have materialised. Why? Because I had always had a fear of diving. Partly because I could never equalise when snorkeling and partly because I am Australian and we have a very good reason to be scared of big things in the water (Cequalizerocs, Great Whites, Sting rays).
I have dived in Ahmed, Bali, Gilli Air, Lombok, Nusa Penida, Bali, Moyo Island, Sumbawa. I had experienced drift dives, deep dives, shallow dives, and wrecks. A whole myriad of experiences that I believe prepared me for my trip to Raja. And then came the event that shut the world down. It seemed that life could become very uncertain at a moment's notice and I was concerned about travel and becoming marooned on a remote Indonesian island, unable to return home, so my dreams of diving Raja went on hold.
Until May 2022. May is my birth month and I have never really ever asked for anything from anyone in terms of gifts for my birthday.
I’ve had a belief from early childhood that I didn’t expect gifts as our family was not in a position to buy gifts, at least not like other families. I remember one Christmas, receiving only one teddy, I was five years old. Nowadays I am still reluctant to receive a gift, however, a shouted meal on my birthday or an experience shared is always appreciated.
Since this birthday I was on my own, recently separated from my husband, I decided to buy myself an experience of a lifetime. Luckily for me it was also my girlfriend, Emma’s birthday and we decided that it was time to treat ourselves for our birthdays in a lavish way and get back to nature in Raja Ampat, deep diving as it were.
We booked a luxury room, the one and only states room no less, on a 40m liveaboard Penisi, named Damai 1 https://www.dive-damai.com/ . A magnificent boat that can only be described as the upmarket sister of the Black Pearl. Made entirely from local timbers, teak mostly, this boat was watertight, strong, and proud in the water.
The trip began in Denpasar Bali, where we all flew to Makassar, Sulawesi, waited for four hours then landed in Sorong, West Papua. I have heard people call ‘Sorong’, ‘So Wrong’, however, it was not like that for me. I felt safe, comfortable, held, loved, and embraced by the locals. Once checked into our flash hotel, the only one in Sorong apparently, we made our way to a local fish market where we selected the most exquisite seafood and ate with the locals. We then ventured into the streets where it seemed everyone wanted a photo with us Bule’s (white people), the joy in the air was palpable. Our new Damai tribe of 14 began to bond through a new experience. Navigating your way through a new town like Sarong could be confronting for some, especially if you are straight out of suburbia, where everything appears perfect, clean, and laid out. Sorong is not that. It is organised chaos, and I, as I can only speak for myself, felt nothing but love.
Up super early, we made our way to the Damai 1, and after A quick briefing by the manager of the boat, we set off on our 7-day adventure on the calm and exquisite waters of Raja Ampat.
Raja Ampat has been named ‘the last paradise on earth and I can tell you after traveling to many remote corners of the world, I believe this to be true. I will attempt to tell you why, from my perspective.
Firstly Raja Ampat is remote and not too difficult to get to, however it seems just enough to level of difficulty, as tourism is there and definitely making an impact. There appears to be no urgency or sense of overdevelopment, yet.
This remoteness, not being able to buy everything you want, like almond milk for your latte, for example, is going to, in my opinion, keep Raja safe for a while.
Sarong is emerging in some ways, yet wholesome in others. My hope is it stays a healthy balance of both.
Naturally during the world situation in 2020 - 2022, there were not many boats operating, so as we left the dock, there were only a few scattered boats in the harbor harbor. Apparently many were still in anchorage in Bali or Flores waiting patiently for the world to change.
The captain told us that on a good day, they would communicate with up to 30 boats arranging dive site visits, for our trip there was no such communication. In fact, we saw only one other boat on the odd occasion.
So off we set from Sorong harbour, northward bound for a world of dreams and watery experiences.
There is something exquisite about being under the water. First of all, it is so colorful. The species of corals, soft and hard and marine life make it a campur of brilliant colors that seem almost impossible for nature to have created, yet she has. No horrendous toxic chemicals here. Mother nature CAN create blues of all colors, yellows, reds, oranges, pinks, blacks, browns, actually the whole spectrum of the rainbow.
When I first put my head underwater, that is what I witnessed. Cleverness of nature in her most beautiful display. I quite literally cannot think of another landscape that is so beautiful and literally breathtaking, (lucky I had a regulator in my mouth).
The next is the diversity. The literal numbers of different species of flora and marine fauna are mind blowing.
Then the symbiotic nature of the way sea life operates. It's like everyone understands that they are not without the other. Organized chaos, just like Sorong, yet here it is the type that is so overwhelming to the senses, my mind just comes to a screaming halt. That's right, for me it is the most profound underwater meditation experience, to be surrounded by so much beauty, unfathomable really, my mind just cannot compute, so it switches itself off.
And then, I become one with them. Well at least that is how it feels. Originally a flailer of arms and legs, I have managed to find my sweet spot under water (most of the time) and surrender to the ebb and flow of the tide. A lot like the fishes do, only I’m much less graceful. I’m going to say it, I feel a bit like a mermaid. An Ariel mermaid variety, not the Dugong, which the legends of mermaids allegedly comes from. The story of the Dugong is a an odd one, yet believable for men lost or away at sea for years upon years, missing their wives and girlfriends……
The other extraordinary thing I have noticed is you rarely ever see decomposing fish underwater. I imagine that everything is part of the environment and as I said before, the marine life seems at ease with their fate. Unlike us who fight until the death to defend what is ours, only to find it will be taken one day from all of us. I guess what I witness underwater is surrender.
In Raja Ampat, I managed to surrender fully. I imagine that is partly why it has taken me five days to stop swaying, oh oh, hang on. I just did it again. Not sure when it will end, but the lack of equilibrium keeps bringing me back to the lost paradise that is Raja Ampat.
And then there are the wild dreams of waking up on the boat, here in Bali, the room filled with seawater. Panicking to find my regulator only to discover, that I don't have one. Oh no, I’m going to drown. literally. Making my way through the rooms to put on a light, go to the toilet, then realize I am no longer underwater, all is well. I can breathe. In, out, in, out. Phew.
Thankfully those dreams have stopped, yet the reason they were occurring got my overworking mind into overdrive.
Most days in Raja we completed 4 dives, 3 days, and 1 night. The average amount of time we were underwater was approx 60 minutes, although we did extend to 75-80 a few times. Literally every time I closed my eyes for the whole trip and even the past five days, all I could see was corals and sea life.
This got me thinking. What we pay attention to most, is what we see. I’m wondering if we pay more attention to all of the beauty around us, rather than focusing on what is wrong, how different our world would look. It's a bit like if you sat yourself down and viewed a continuous slide show of happy faces, it would be very hard to invoke sadness. Or would it?
I am a proud Taurean and we Taureans like to be surrounded in beauty. My aim in life, each day, and my absolute promise to myself is that I will seek beauty and see beauty in all aspects of my life.
Raja was just the start. Watch out beautiful world. I am on my way.