Snorkeling off Waigeo

It was stinking hot again yesterday and the idea of sitting at home with sweat pouring off me didn’t appeal at all. So after checking if the closing ceremony of the Raja Ampat festival had started (it hadn’t) we went and had some lunch. I had another delicious bowl of es pisang hijau. It was slightly different to the first bowl I had but I enjoyed it just as much. This time the banana & pancake were sliced and the coconut cream on the top was much thicker and as a bonus this warung served it with tapioca.

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Ichal then asked me what I wanted to do, so I told him I wanted to go snorkeling. He looked at me as if I was crazy. He couldn’t believe I wanted to go out in the water in the middle of the day. I reassured him that was exactly what I wanted to do! We asked Ega to recommend a spot to go snorkeling and he showed us a place in walking distance from our home stay. The first spot I tried was not that exciting but then we walked around the bay to the other side of a point and there I discovered my favourite spot on Waigeo so far. After clambering over rocks, I discovered water so warm it was like a hot spring and I wondered if the the water was heated thermally or if the hot humid weather over shallow water was the cause. To the right of the point was the most breathtaking coral I have ever seen. The variety, the colours and the size was just astounding and I was out there at least an hour as I totally lost track of time. The number and variety of fish was surprisingly small, but the coral more than made up for it. One that really caught my eye was an absolutely enormous green spongy looking coral that was growing down the slope towards the deeper waters. The size of it had me enthralled. There were fern like corals growing, antler shaped coral, a spreading coral that looked like a knobbly plastic mat covering whatever was in its path and soft wavy corals that looked as though there should be clown fish swimming in them. I then swam to the left of the point and there I found more fish and less coral however surprisingly there were many young healthy corals attached to rocks looking as though this side of the point has only recently suited coral growth.
I clambered out worried about getting sunburnt and discovered Ichal resting under a small tree and Ega on some tiered seating under a huge shady tree. We joined Ega and mooched in the shade enjoying the cool breezes coming straight off the water. It was so pleasant and so much nicer.

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In front of us were some youngsters making a sand castle using some shells they had found along the beach. I loved listening to them talking as they were making the sandcastle. The youngest one kept asking, “Bagus Toh?” and I asked Ichal about the “Toh” to which he explained it is the Eastern Indonesian version of “kan”. In Northern Australia & Canada, we say, “aye”, in other words confirming that the statement is correct or not.

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Once the midday heat had passed and after listening to me rave about the coral, we headed home for Ichal to get his bathers and snorkel and for me to take my bag home. We then walked back to the beach with nothing but our snorkeling equipment so that we were independent and could go in and not leave anything unsupervised on the shore. We decided to head in where a group of young boys were swimming and then swam around the new jetty being built. You can see it in this photo:

20131023-190224.jpgIt was mainly seagrass here and the water was so warm. We came across lying on the bottom in the sea grass what looked at first to be a sea snake but was in fact a long skinny yellowy green eel. It was perfectly camouflaged in the seagrass. We also came across several small clumps of anemone’s with a few clown fish swimming hiding in them. If we stayed still, the clown fish would come out but not far and then would dash back in suddenly. They are very flighty and timid. The strangest thing about the anemone clumps was that they were on the bottom of the sea randomly with nothing else nearby. Appeared very vulnerable with nothing nearby to protect them, or is it intentional so that pray is attracted to the anemone because there are no other options or distractions?
We then swam over to the point where I enjoyed looking again at the amazing coral. The drift was much stronger than earlier so we swam against the current to the right of the point and then let the water take us back to where we started, zig zagging backwards and forwards over the coral and the colourful fish. I can only identify a pathetically small amount of fish; angel fish and parrot fish which hopefully after a week on Bunaken in November will improve.
Later that evening we went back again to the festival to see what was happening at the festival and found the sky irresistible!

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We specifically wanted to see the traditional dancing that was due to head off the closing ceremony. We checked at the secretary’s office to be told that it would be at least another hour. Instead we investigated the loud drumming. The musician groups from the opening ceremony were parading around the festival grounds playing loudly, each making their own way through the grounds followed by enthusiastic crowds dancing using a very Papuan style of double stepping, where they barely lift their feet off the ground, while swaying to the music. Very rhythmic.
About an hour later, the traditional dancers finally appeared but there were so many people crowded around the stage that it was almost impossible to see them. They were on the ground in front of the stage and the area was in darkness. What I found interesting though was the number of tourists sitting in the VIP tent enjoying the show. After each dance they would enthusiastically clap to show their appreciation and I don’t think they realised that no one else was clapping. The previous evening when I watched a band playing, I noticed that after each song there was silence, so it obviously isn’t the culture in Papua to applaud performances. I remember years (decades!) ago witnessing this in Bali too.
We left as soon as the speeches began and enjoyed the freedom to do so. I mightn’t have enjoyed a comfortable seat in the front row but at least I didn’t have to sit through speech after speech – all in Indonesian! By the time they were finished, I was home in bed!!

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5 thoughts on “Snorkeling off Waigeo

  1. amazing to think that the coral you describe, was once everywhere in the archipelago. ..lucky you for seeing it….beautiful sunset photos. …showed some of the classes a few orang hutan photos. .rindu skl x

    • I wish you could have helped me identify some of the fish! Did the classes enjoy looking at the orangutan photos? Hope so! Did you get a chance to talk to Chris Reedy about the orangutans in Sumatra?

    • Rebecca lent me her waterproof camera but I have so many photos on the SD card that I am not brave enough to take it in the water and test it out in case the camera leaks and the data on the card is lost.

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