Labuan Bajo Days

Ladt week Unspun spent five days in Labuan Bajo, Flores. Three were spent in the client’s office teaching te staff communications skills and two were spent outdoors and underwater as Unspun went diving with a friend in the fabulous Komodo National Park.

Where and what is Labuan Bajo? It is a small fishing village on the north western tip of Flores.

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It has an airport that, if you’re vested with a healthy dose of imagination, you could fool yourself into think its your own private airfield. Its that small.

LBJ Airport
LBJ Airport

The airport (access to the outside world!), as well as the proximity, makes Labuan Bajo or LBJ the staging point for tourists visiting the Komodo National Park, which recently made it to the finalist list of the 7 Wonders of the World competition.The Komodo National Park, of course, is the home of the Komodo Dragon, huge, primitive lizards that kill their prey by iting them, letting the toxic saliva take effect and they prey collapse from toxic shock, before making dinner out of them.

The Komodo National Park, however, is not just barren dry islands and lizards. It is also home to many islands, volcanic mounts and fantastic dive sites that are probably one of the best int he world for the variety of undersea flora and fauna, but more of the diving later.

LBJ

LBJ itself is nothing much where villages go. Unspun‘s seen it described as a picturesque fishing village but if you take off the tinted glasses and unclog your nose then its not so romantic. Take a stroll along the waterfront where the fishermen live and you are greeted with the sight of rubbish and the stink of decaying fish and whatever else.

It has virtually one main road that runs parallel to the coast and loops upwards hugging the hills that hem in the village.This is what the main drag looks like in LBJ.

LBJ main st

As I said, not much. But change has already begun to sweep to LBJ. Partly because of increasing number of tourists because of the park and partly from the proliferation of NGOs (mainly Australian ones helping out in birdlife, the handicapped and other good causes), LBJ now has decent boutique hotels and guest houses.

Unspun stayed in one of these, the Bayview Gardens that’s run by a Dutch Guy who came to Flores and didn’t leave. It is located in a beautiful spot, perched just above the village and overlooking the sea and ilands beyond. The views are stunning.

Here’s what it looks like from my hotel room that was air-conditioned, clean and reltively new.

One of the good things about the place was also that they fed you well. Unspun’s daily breakfast looked like this:

Breakfast

In the town dive centers and restaurants catering to foreign visitors have cropped up and provided a contrasting modernity to the basic buildings of LBJ, the kind you see in any small remote town in Indonesia. With names like The Lizard Lounge, The Corner and Gardena, most of these places have the essentials of what a traveler needs – WiFi (srprisingly quite fast) and cold beer.

When the weekend came Unspun was all excited because it was time to dive. The dives were interesting not only because the marine life in the Park’s waters was one of the most diverse and best in the world but also because th conversations with our dive operator made you think about the delicate balance between tourism and conservationand  the local politics and forces at play that make the place a delicate balance. Do it well and the Park and its surroundinggs can be a wonderful showcase a destination of the best of concervation; do it badly and a disaster is waiting to happen. More of the diving and the environment in the next posting.

Sunrise, sunset

In Labuan Bajo, West Flores. In town for a few days of training client’s staff on interpersonal communications and crisi communications so no time to go running about, except to catch the spectacular sunrise and sunsets at my note, Bay View which is perched on top of a hill above the fishermen’s village in labuan Bajo.

Plan to go diving on the weekend, where Unspun‘s been told there are Giant Mantas a plenty. Can’t wait. In the meantime, here a sunrise and a sunset photo. Woohoo!

Sunrise over Labuan Bajo
Sunset over Labuan Bajo
Sunset over Labuan Bajo

Mola Mola!

Went diving yesterday at Crystal Bay, Nusa Pernida near Bali and lucked out in the third dive: Unspun and friends saw the coveted mola Mola or Giant Sunfish (pix by Unspun, touched up in Photoshop by Biji Jawa who’s good at these things)

These creatures are fantastic and weird of shape. From fin to fin they are about taller than an adult. They are deep water creatures but come up close to the surface to get cleaned – like the cleaning station in the animated film, Nemo.

Great to behold and they usually are sighted in the morning. But we got there by 8am and saw nothing in the first two dives. Then, after noon, we decided to dive one last time even the chances weren’t good. But we saw it. Had to go deep though. Unspun’s divecomp said 39.8 meters deep.

Tried out my new idiot-proof camera and underwater casing too. Well, it IS idiot proof.

Just remembered that it was Independence day in Malaysia yesterday. What does one do? Wish the guys back home Happy Independence Day? What’s there to be happy about in Malaysia. Well, a lot but the government is not one of them.

Good or bad?

Don’t really know what to do of this piece of news. Embarrassingly although Unspun’s been diving in many parts of Indonesia and Papua, he hasn’t been to the fabled Raja Ampat area where the world’s best diving is said to be.Wakatobi is a base from which many divers in the Raja Ampat area depart from. Other operators have to sail in from other ports because the operators apparently jealously guard their turf.

So this news about opening up Wakatobi to progress, facilities and tourism is ostensibly good news. But you can’t help wondering if the authorities will muddle it up like the many, many tourism projects in Indonesia.

clipped from thejakartapost.com
Opening up Wakatobi as a world coral wonder
Andi Hajramurni, The Jakarta Post, Wakatobi

Wakatobi regency in Southeast Sulawesi is hoping to transform the area into an international tourist destination for diving enthusiasts.

An island chain spanning 18,000 square kilometers, 3,070 of which have been designated a national park, Wakatobi is home to 65 diving spots and at least 942 fish species and around 750 coral species — or more than 90 percent of the 850 coral species in the world.

Wakatobi Regent Hugua said the biggest stumbling block was the lack of supporting infrastructure such as hotels, restaurants and an airport, as Wakatobi can only be reached by sea from Bau-Bau or the province capital of Kendari.

There is an airstrip in Tomia district, but it is privately owned by one of the two dive operators in Wakatobi and only serves chartered flights.

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Dive into this blog

iman.jpgIman Brotoseno is a gifted photographer and film maker and he brings his professional skills together with him when he goes diving. Unspun was fortunate enough to dive with Iman and his friends many times and each time we were not only treated to his sense of humor but also his great photos and videos.

He’s got a very neat Flash video of some of the dives he’s made in Indonesia. It certainly shows the great diving that’s to be had in Indonesia. Anyone interested in diving or would just like to see great footage of underwater marine life should just check it out.

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Diving in Cenderawasih Bay, Papua

Unspun was seduced by the words “exploratory dive trip” and signed up early for a 12-day liveaboard dive trip to explore Cenderawasih Bay in Papua. What, thought Unspun, could be more alluring that exploring the bottom of the sea in exotic and unexplored Papua?

So on August 22 Unspun with six others – an Indonesian couple, two Americans and a Kiwi-Singaporean couple went on board the Putri Papua in Biak for what could be a dive of a lifetime. The first couple of days was spent diving around Biak, including the Catalina wreck. As before Biak’s seas had great visibility but there was not much by way of marine life to see. A few nudibranches here and there was all. The waters were calm and warm.

Then we set sail southward, into the bay. On the third day we dived at Ruras island, off Biak. On the third day we dived at Gayepi Reef, actually an atoll in the middle of the bay. Again, we had clear, warm water, good visibility but little to see.

It was only on the fourth day, when we dived at Rouw Island that we got lucky. We saw a hammerhead and a loepard shark and lots of nudibranches. In the interval we moored at a bay on the island which had a waterfall that we went to bathe in. It was beautiful. The second dive at the island we saw a crocodile fish, a dancing octopus, pygmy sahorse and lots of other critters.

After that we dived at Roon Island, Numbrat Island, Yop Island, Tanjung Dunesore, Tanjung Wanabore, Windesi Harbor, Tanjung Reweasa, Purup Island and Rumberpon. But there was little to see other than corals and nudibranches of the same species. We were begining to get a bit depressed and Unspun could not help wondering if Teluk Cenderawasih was sterile or it was really difficult to find good dive sites, even in pristine Papua waters.

Some of the places we sailed through were so remote that we were out of handphone range and we did not see anyone for days. When we got nearer toward civilization we would see papuan fishermen and their families, materializing out of the islands with their boats. Each time we moored it was the same: they would come on board and make some small chat before asking for some petroleum.

Our guide explained that the government had given many of the Papuans outboard motors but getting fuel to power them was a real problem out there in the remoter regions of Papua. There were not petrol stations and when petrol is transported out to where they are they are so expensive that the Papuans could not afford it. Therefore their only recourse was to beg or coerce passing boats to donate some fuel to them.

On the 10th day we struck gold where diving was concerned. At Haiwai Point we saw a woebegong shar, pygmy seahorses and nudibranches. Thing were looking up down below. We then proceeded to Sungei Omiand it go even better still. Sg Omi is a black sand beach with lots of rocks. The diving there was just as good as Lembeh in Manado. It was muck diving and there was lots to see – a pygmy seahorse, sea snakes, a small fish, white with an antennae on its forehead and lots more.

We capped off our dive by diving the Pillbox and Shinwa Maru wrecks off Manokwari. The Shinwa Maru wreck was quite spectacular. It is a large Japanese ship that was sunk just off Marsinam islan, off Manokwari. There were still hoses and beer bottles in the ship but the diving helmets that some other divers had said were there had been removed. Still it was interesting swimming through the shop’s bowels before surfacing to the bright sunlight.

Jakarta diving community abuzz with news of diver’s death

The diving community in Jakarta is abuzz with the strange circumstances surrounding the death of a diver in Pulau Seribu. The diver was apparently named Beatrix G and she apparently died over the weekend while diving  at a  divesite with a wreck in the Thousand Islands off Jakarta.

According to th chat in Yahoogroups Beatrixdied from narcosis and died at a depth of 35 meters. Narcosis  is caused when the body absorbs nitrogen from the water. The deeper you go the more and faster you absorb the nitrogen into your blood. A sudden ascent would cause the nitrogen to expand causing great pain or even death. That is why divers have to ascend slowly and allow time for themselves to decompress before surfacing.

One diver said he death raised several important questions, namely:

  1. Why was a dive group of 13 people in which Beatrix belonged, unaccompanied by a Dive Master or an instructor during the dive
  2. Apparently most of the divers in the group had only Open Water certification. How could they be allowed to dive to a depth 35 meters when normally inexperienced Open Water divers shoud dive to a dept of only 18 meters?
  3. How come her buddy did not help her if she was in difficulties. The talk in the diving community is that the group did not know she was missing and still underwater until an hou after everyone had surfaced.

The facts have still to be established but if what’s com up in the chat groups is true it looks like thi was a case of death by misadventure. If there were any diving instructors there then it would be a case of criminal negligence on their part for allowing such lax practices to take place.

Diving can be wonderful but it carries with it risks. A lot can go wrong underwater but you can dive safely if you follow the procedures set by the certification agencies.

Condolences to Beatrix and her friends and family. To other divers, Indonesia has fantastic dive sites but dive safely.

Dragon kills boy

Unspun was in the Komodo Islands a couple of years back for a diving trip and paid a visit to the Komodo Dragons at the Nature Reserve there.The Dragons don’t look good. They don’t smell good. But they are awe inspiring, powerful, primeval and mean looking.

The usual way they usually kill is also mean: they bite the victim and infect them with their highly toxic saliva. They they let the victim wander round until it does of toxic shock. It is only when the victim has died and a little ripe that they come and eat the flesh.

This incident where a Komodo Dragon killed the boy like a crocodile on dry land is therefore very unusual.

clipped from www.cnn.com
JAKARTA, Indonesia (Reuters) — An eight-year-old Indonesian boy died after being attacked by a Komodo dragon in a national park in the east of the country, an official said.”The dragon bit his waist, tossed him and dragged him. His right leg was badly scratched,” Heru Rudiharto of the Komodo National Park said by telephone

He said the boy had been attacked on Saturday after entering a bush for a toilet stop in a fishing village in the national park on Komodo, an island 1,500 km (930 miles) east of the capital Jakarta.

His uncle, who had been mending fishing nets nearby, tried to free him by throwing stones at the dragon, he added.

“However, the boy bled to death half an hour after the attack,” added Rudiharto.

The official said it was rare for such attacks on humans, although in the dry season that started in April the dragon’s normal prey became more scarce.

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Guest Blogger: Eric Ness

Regular readers of Unspun will be familiar with Eric Ness, son of Richard who is facing a court case for allegedly letting his company, Newmont, pollute Buyat Bay. Since Eric started blogging he’s been controversial.

Some praise him for using new media to secure the publicity for his father when the mainstream media has exhausted ints interest in the long drawn out case. His detractors, however, think that he’s just a front for some cynical PR men working for Newmont. Some even question whether he really exists. Among the allegations are whether all his activities are funded by Newmont.

Eric was in town last week and managed to meet up with two or three foreign correspondents at the Face Bar (the JFCC  “endorsed” meeting caused a flap among the squabbling foreign correspondents, but that’s another matter all together). Unspun, ever thirsty for alcohol paid a visit to the Face Bar after the meeting and caught up with Eric and his dad. Unspun also thought it would be a neat idea that Eric does a guest posting here, provided he also addressed some of the thougher questions posed by journalists. (Disclosure: Eric’s dad Richard, who was also there, was quicker to the draw with his credit card and as a result paid for the two glasses of shiraz tht Unspun consumed to improve his constitution).  Below is Eric’s posting :

Asking Real Questions
About a week ago I was asked by Unspun to be a guest blogger at his site. I thought it would have been good to share the experience of my trip to Manado to attend my Dad’s trial in court and my subsequent diving trip at Buyat Bay. The diving was actually amazing; in fact probably the best dive I have ever done.
Along the way I did interviews with a couple of reporters. Some of whom have asked to meet me. For example, a meeting with the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club (JFCC) was set up after my Dad did an interview with the head of the JFCC and they thought that it would be a good opportunity for some reporters and me to finally meet. There have been some reporters/bloggers I’ve wanted to meet like Unspun and there are some reporters my Dad recommended me to meet. I’ve really enjoyed talking to everyone I’ve met and having the opportunity to engage with a variety of people regarding my site and my Dad’s case. Overall, it’s been a huge learning experience for me.
However, about two days ago I received an email from Unspun in which he reported that some journalists have suggested that among other things Newmont paid for my ticket to Indonesia. This is not true and Unspun could be contacted for any verification. I flew economy and paid for the ticket myself. If I am in Jakarta and interact with a few journalists or the staff of Newmont because my Dad works there, it should not be misconstrued as some sort of a well organized PR plan. Initially, I have to say I was a little perplexed as I’ve tried to make myself available to answer any question from anyone and found it odd that no one has asked me directly. So if anyone would like to contact me directly I can be reached at eric .:|at|:. richardness.org.
Where is the forest?

And this leads me to the main issue. Continue reading “Guest Blogger: Eric Ness”

Priyadi in the flesh

Workshop Indocomtech 2006

We’ve always admired Priyadi’s Place and when my colleagues and I, who are also bloggers, got the chance, attended the Indocomtech workshop on advanced blogging with WordPress. Priyadi is second from right.

That event has promoted us to think that we should perhaps organize a gathering for bloggers, which will be conducted both in English and Indonesian. Is there any interest out there for it?

Togian: a plane/car/boat ride too far

crab.jpg

It is a very long trip from Jakarta to Togian to dive. We left Jakarta at 5.30am and reached Togian only about 1am – more than 18 hours on the road. The diving was so so, the food was mediocre, the lodgings did not have AC but the people were friendly.

apollo-4.jpg

All in all, its not a trip for all but the most ardent travellers/divers. Here’s our story for the beneift of divers intending to dive the Togians:

There were six of us who caught the Lion Air flight to Gorontalo, via Makassar four hour flight counting stopover. There we were whisked on another 3 hour journey by minibus to Marissa, about 3.5 hours away, where our diving gear and us were bundled into a 15 meter boat that chugged its way to Kadidiri Island in the Togians – 8 hours away. The boat was nothing luxurious, we had a roughly a 3 meter square space to sleep/sit and stew. Continue reading “Togian: a plane/car/boat ride too far”

Gone Diving!

Some will celebrate Indonesia’s Independence Day tomorrow in parades but not me. Tomorrow I shall be in the Togians diving.

Where’s that, you may ask. Don’t worry if you don’t know. I didn’t either until my diving group Orbit decided to go there. Since then I’ve mugged up on the place and the Togians are a group of island is the midle of Tomini Bay, in central Sulawesi (see map to righ, its SSW from Gorontalo).

To increase the diving envy factor here’s a description of the diving and some photos from the Dive the World website:

Perhaps the greatest feature of diving in the Togian Islands is the incredible diversity of reefs to explore here. It is the only dive destination in Indonesia, and one of the very few places in the world, to boast coral atolls, fringing reefs, barrier reefs, as well as artificial reefs – wreck diving.

Schooling trevally - Dive the World - Togians

The wealth of riches the Togians possess is enough to make any other travel destination jealous. As well as the reef systems, there are 30 or so coral gardens, reef slopes, deep walls, sandy slopes, deep water features such as The Crack – an awesome swim through at 50 m, mangroves, sea grasses, muck diving, and easy house reefs – all easily accessible from the local resorts. The quite isolated Togian Islands receive very few visitors and there are only a small numbers of locals, so the reefs are in exceptional condition, and have terrific diversity.

Almost completely surrounded by the protective arms of central and north Sulawesi, Tomini Bay is reputedly the calmest deep water bay in the world. This is home to the undeveloped and remote Togian Islands.

If you are looking for an idyllic tropical setting, with great diving right on your doorstep and little else to distract you, you’ve come to the right place. The Togians are an excellent, and in no way inferior, alternative to other more popular Sulawesi dive destinations, no matter what your diving interest.

Will report on whether the diving lives up to the hype when I return next week, hopefully with some good photos as well. In the meantime Happy Independence Day to land lubbers and, if you’re a diver, dive safe.