The waves tossed around the rubber boat that took the six of us to the dive point. Doubt and hesitant started to emerge, but the flowing adrenaline then overtook, as we were expecting to meet one of the most beautiful marine creatures. And we didn’t have to wait for long at all. As soon as we back-rolled from the boat and started to dive, we were immediately greeted by one, two, three, four of 2-3 meters wide manta rays. We continued to descent to 27 meters depth, and more manta rays appeared. The healthy coral reefs around us with all its occupants were momentarily forgotten as we enjoyed the beautiful performance of dozens of manta rays that come and say hello. Komodo archipelago waters was really spoiling us..
Manta Alley, one of the dive points in the southern waters of Komodo archipelago, is one of the points that we planned to visit in this trip. The waves in these waters were quite strong lately. Wilson, our dive guide in this trip, and Pak Makarudin, the captain of MV Tarata that we were onboard, have already arranged the sail route with the northern and central parts of Komodo archipelago got the bigger portion. But still, Manta Alley in the southern part of Komodo waters should not be missed because it is widely known as one of the favorite dive spots in the area.
It was a very sunny day when Wings Air ATR 72-500 aircraft which took us from Denpasar landed in Labuan Bajo, West Flores, East Nusa Tenggara. Wilson & Robert had already been waiting at the arrival gate of Komodo Airport. After all baggage were collected and got up to the bus that would take us to the port, we immediately departed. A quick stop at a minimarket for a snacks supply for the next four days (hey, this is important! 😀 ) and some personal items, then we headed straight to the dock where Pak Makarudin, nicknamed Captain Meko, and the MV Tarata crews were waiting. After all the preparation was complete, MV Tarata slowly left the dock. Captain Meko piloting the phinisi ship, which has already become his second home, to the west toward Sebayur Kecil, our first dive spot of the day..
As usual, the first dive was also the check dive, for us to test and make sure that all gears & equipment are functioning properly. My fellow divers who brought along their underwater photography gears also used this first dive to test their equipment. The ten of us were then divided into two groups, with Wilson and Robert as our dive guides. After quite a while since the last time I touched the sea, the first dive was quite pleasant. The water temperature was quite warm and the visibility was quite good as well. The current was also very friendly, made us all enjoy this first dive. After about an hour of diving, we all returned to the ship to freshen up & dinner, and MV Tarata started to move toward Gili Lawah Darat..
It was slightly over dawn. Madon & I were already busy preparing our photo gears and then took the rubber boat to the island of Gili Lawah Darat. Our target was the sunrise. For “non-underwater photographers” like both of us, such a landscape photo hunting opportunity in a dive trip like this was certainly not much, so we should take the opportunity when it arose. And there we were at the seashore of Gili Lawah Darat..
Errr.. where the heck is the sun..?
It turned out we were not too lucky this time. The thick clouds were everywhere along the east horizon, the sunrise was not too good, so we went for other objects instead. I always find the hills of Nusa Tenggara’s islands – part of lesser sunda chain of islands – very unique and offers a beautiful scenery. And there we were, right in the middle of such a view that nobody would want to miss the chance to enjoy it. The yellowing grass, due to the dry season, could only make the scenery unfolded before us even more stunning. The Sail Komodo 2013 event that had just finished, attended by our country’s president, played us another advantage: strong cellular phone’s signal! So we could be able to directly share the beauty that we witnessed to our friends, live & online via social media apps. Well, the intention was more to make them jealous on us, haha.. 😀
The first dive of the day was at a dive spot called Crystal Rock. The current was quite strong here, so we had to descent quickly in order to reach the coral slope without being drifted too far. Kasim & Vita were busy looking for the object to be photographed. Sansan, Erika and I, accompanied by Wilson, drifted down the slopes enjoying the views of the corals and its inhabitants. After breakfast and surface interval time, the dive continued in the second spot of the day: Castle Rock. This time I chose not to dive, instead I was busy filming the others’ dive preparation, geared up, until they back-rolled from the boat and disappeared into the water. Immediately after the second dive was completed, the ship slowly moved again. The next destination: Pink Beach.
“It’s cold..!” Instantly after backrolled and touched the water, that was the first thing that jumped on my mind. I immediately checked my dive computer: 24 degrees Celcius! That was the first time I dove in such temperature (well, everybody said that Nusa Penida is much cooler, but I was not in a hurry to prove that, I’d prefer warm waters :p ). The coral reefs in the Pink Beach looked healthy, but it was just unfortunate that the visibility was not too good. Perhaps because there were quite numbers of divers took the spot before us, sands rose and floated in the water. Less than an hour diving, we all immediately went up because the next plan is no less interesting: sunset at the Pink Beach. Madon, Ihsan and I went down to the beach bringing our full gears, hoping to be able to catch a beautiful sunset view in frames. The rest of the gang chose to walk around & spend time at the beach until sunset, before returning to the ship for dinner and rest..
We went to Manta Alley in the next day. The waves shook our rubber boat and my stomach at the same time. But it all paid off when dozens of manta rays appeared and danced around us. Vita was busy photographing the approaching dancers, not shy at all to show us their beauty. Strong currents did not disturb us even a bit to enjoy their performance. This time, even two green turtles – which in normal circumstances will be able to seize our attention – who were enjoying their morning meals must have been jealous to the manta rays because we did not even glance at them because of such a rare display. It was one full hour performance, and I was one of the last who went back up to the boat that picked us up. Madon was even still busy holding on a reef and playing with a manta ray, until Wilson reminded us that we need to get back to the ship and headed to the next destination..
To be continued..
- Photos from Komodo trip are stored at http://www.ismawanismail.com/gallery/index.php?/category/komodo
- Several airlines provide flights to Labuan Bajo. The easiest way would be flying from Denpasar, Bali. There is no direct flight from Jakarta to Labuan Bajo. Check Merpati Airlines at http://www.merpati.co.id/, Lion Air at https://lionair.co.id/, TransNusa Aviation at http://www.transnusa.co.id/
- Several dive operators provide dive trip service in Komodo area, either live onboard (LOB) or land-based. We used Grand Komodo in this trip, similar operator with our Raja Ampat trip. Detailed information can be found at http://www.komodoalordive.com/. For budget trip, you might consider to rent a small boat with 6-pax capacity, available at Labuan Bajo port for approx. IDR 2,000,000 per day. Local dive operators at Labuan Bajo would have more details on this.
- Strong current are common in Komodo archipelago waters. Advance diving license would be required.
- No pressure chamber available at Labuan Bajo local hospital. The nearest would be in Denpasar, Bali.