November / December 2016
Last spring I spent unforgettable days in Raja Ampat, located in the Indonesian part of Papua. Few, mostly widely traveled voyagers reach this remote area. I asked these people for the best snorkeling spots in Indonesia and got a lot of tips. From these places I put together my current trip.
First I flew to the island of Alor, where a French couple with two children runs a diving resort. Thanks to European management I found a well-functioning, friendly resort. The Indonesian employees arrive on time for work and the dive boat is ready to leave in the morning. In Indonesia this is not self-evident and requires a lot of training and patience.
The underwater world was diverse, but I didn’t see any big fish around Alor, because the locals fish and go hunting with underwater harpoons. With the diving boat we passed several islands around Alor. I was amazed at the huge and solidly built churches and mosques, which contrasted with the simple huts of the inhabitants in the small villages.
Pura Lantang: Boys from the nearby village playing with the dive boat
The underwater world
A Greyface Moray
A Sea Cucmber
Because the resort became full, I spent a few days on the main island of Alor, where I visited a traditional village, the higher coffee growing area and a weaving cooperation. The cooperation naturally produces over 100 different colors to dye the yarns. In one village I could admire clothes made of wood bark, for which Alor is known. The bark is processed until it is soft and therefore comfortable to wear.
A woman from the Hula Ikat Weaver village cooperative shows the cotton-like plant from which the textiles are made.
Hoga Island in the Wakatobi Reef
The Hoga Island in the Wakatobi Reef southeast of Sulawesi was my next destination. The Hoga Island Dive Resort is managed by an initiative Indonesian woman . A Dutchwoman, who has been living there for half a year for many years, is responsible for the good organization and attention to detail. Right in front of the resort there is a diverse house reef that stretches over the entire length of the island. However, the place before the transition to the deep sea, the drop-off, which is interesting for snorkeling, is several hundred meters away from the beach. The beauty of the reef compensated me for this disadvantage. I was alone at the resort with an enthusiastic diver from the Czech Republic. Usually I went with him on the diving boat to good snorkeling places, where the corals formed reef islands in the middle of the sea.
The underwater world was impressive, as the following pictures show
A Green Humphead Parrotfish
A poisonous Banded Sea Krait
A Freckled Hawkfish
Two Clark’s Anemonefishes
Also the sunsets were fantastic
Village of the Bajo tribe
The Dutch woman has a heart for the people in the nearby village of the Bajo tribe. They are sea gypsies whose villages can be found all over Southeast Asia. When they get married, some of the girls are only 14 and the boys a little older. 14-year-old mothers are therefore nothing out of the ordinary. There are always cases of hardship that make help necessary, be it with medication, transport or money for operations. She has also founded a relief organization whose funds are used to finance a school boat. A big cyst has grown out of a boy’s head. She took great care of him and paid for the operation to remove this cyst. Understandably, she was very disappointed when he stole € 600 from her.
There is an English company operating in the area offering a reef protection program. Western volunteers can help with a study of the Wakatobi reef for a lot of money. The program has been running for several years. As the Dutch woman told us, it is becoming more and more apparent that the company is not interested in researching and preserving the reef, but simply wants to collect the helpers’ fees. The same company offers a very expensive program for children of rich parents. The children should get to know the life of poor people and therefore live in the simplest way with the fishermen in the village. They have to do without mobile phones and internet. Although the program is very expensive for the parents, the fishing families only receive the equivalent of four US Dollars a day for accommodation and three meals. Although the management of the program and the four supervisors also cost something, it is obvious that this scheme is highly profitable for the company.
Labuan Bajo and the Seraya Resort
On my Indonesia trip two years ago I visited the city of Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores. I remembered the city very positively because there were two really good Italian restaurants that competed with each other and each wanted to be better than the other. I also lived in a room with a view over the harbor and the whole bay of Labuan Bajo. In front of Labuan Bajo is the Komodo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It includes the two islands Komodo and Rinca, where the famous Komodo lizards live. But also a large sea area with countless smaller islands and a diverse underwater world is protected by this park. I wanted to make day trips from Labuan Bajo to different snorkel places. Unfortunately this was not so easy, without chartering a boat and going alone. Most tourists had little time and only made the trip to the Komodo lizards. I could not inspire anyone for a snorkeling trip. The hotel had a partner resort on the island of Seraya, in front of which lies a beautiful reef. But even there I would have been the only guest, so I asked the reception to inform me if anyone was interested in the Seraya Resort. So I stayed a few days in the city and was a regular guest in the now only Italian restaurant. The second one moved to a beach outside the city. Unfortunately, the quality of the remaining restaurant has deteriorated without competition. In addition, the owner opened a second restaurant in another city and therefore can no longer take care of his restaurant in Labuan Bajo. After a few days a German veterinarian inquired about the Seraya Resort. Immediately I was informed and after a conversation we decided to spend a few days on this island. Shortly before the departure two Spaniards joined us. The staff of the resort was also on the same boat to the resort. A cabinet key of the resort was forgotten in Labuan Bajo. After the team went by boat to Labuan Bajo to pick it up, we were able to receive the towels with a few hours delay. The reef was one of the best I had encountered before. The resort is located in a mobile phone dead spot, so that I could not access the internet from the resort. However, a short hike to the so-called “Telkomsel”-Point was signposted, where the signal of the local telecommunication company Telkomsel could be received. So I got on a hill with my laptop on my knees into the internet.
Afterwards I flew to Papua, the easternmost province of Indonesia.
In March of this year I was already in Raja Ampat and was enthusiastic about the underwater world. Travelers recommended the Deborai Beach Resort in Raja Ampat to me. It was more than three times more expensive than the resort I visited in Papua in the spring and accordingly I had high expectations. But already the booking process showed that it was under Indonesian management. I had to send back the booking documents three times because of mistakes and I waited for weeks until I received a receipt for the deposit payment. A few days before my arrival I asked the resort when the ferry left Sorong for Waisai, the main town in Raja Ampat. According to the resort’s information, the ferry was supposed to leave at 10am, but at the port nobody knew anything about a 10am ferry. The scheduled departure was at 14 o’clock, so that I had gone in vain to the port.
When I arrived, I met the owner Aswad, who owns the whole island. He apparently comes from a rich family in the capital Jakarta, but his dream was to live on an island. So he decided to buy this remote island in Raja Ampat and set up a resort. Without tourism experience he learned a lot over the years. The resort had beautifully situated, large bungalows on stilts above the water, the bed had a good mattress, the bathroom a shower and kayaks were available free of charge. This justified a surcharge compared to simple accommodations. On the other hand I came for snorkeling and was disappointed in this respect, because the visibility was barely more than three meters and a permanent green cast made the colors appear pale. Many corals were destroyed, because the island belonged before to a Taiwanese pearl breeding company. I also hardly saw any big fish. With a German couple I wanted to track down the Bird of Paradise, a colored bird with long, curved feathers. To see it, you have to get up early. Our tour should start before sunrise at 5 o’clock in the morning. The three of us were ready on time, but the boat that was supposed to take us to another island was nowhere to be seen. At 5:25 I decided to go back to sleep, because now it was already too late to see the shy birds. The last three days I was the only guest. I will not come any more.
My last destination was the Kri island, which is also located in Raja Ampat. Here I was already last March. I liked it so much that I came back. And the 70-year-old Austrian woman Helga, whom I had met in March, was there again. This place is also developing. In the last half year several bungalows were built. This time the power went out several times in the evening. As it turned out, the fuel supply for the generator had run out and the crew had to buy the fuel in the darkness on the neighboring island 15 boat minutes away. This can happen once, but if the electricity fails for 30-60 minutes on several nights because the fuel has been forgotten, it is difficult to understand from a western perspective. Nevertheless, I like this place. The underwater world here is the best I know and the resort has a family atmosphere with interesting people. Apparently I am a welcome guest, because I lived in the bungalow with the best location for half the price that other people had to pay for a worse accommodation. And at the departure it turned out that the few beers that I drank were taken over by the resort.
A Slender Grouper
A Giant Clam
A swarm of Bigeye Trevallies
A Honeycomb Grouper
A school of Big-Eye Breams
A Crocodile Needlefish
A Blue-spotted Puffer
I couldn’t identify this grouper species.
A Blacktip Shark
… and this one came pretty close.
On my trip I discussed the situation in Indonesia with very different people. In this country conditions are common which would be unthinkable in the western world.
For example, there are far too many well-paid state employees who are underemployed or do not work at all. Moreover, these people travel on business to meetings that take place somewhere in the vast country. Discussions take place, but in the end no results are visible. This fact alone is an immense waste of human resources, which could be used more usefully for the country.
Another bad habit is to sell jobs of the government, for example for teachers or policemen. The money does not benefit the country, but ends up in the private pockets of the superiors who make the employment decision. So it is not the best candidate who is chosen, but the one who pays the high amount. There are thousands of US Dollars involved and can amount to up to thirty times the monthly salary of a job. Once the job has been bought, you cannot be dismissed. Therefore it has no consequences if teachers do not appear at school at all, but take care of their own side businesses. They don’t seem to care that the children hardly learn anything. The children pass the exams anyway, because the teaching staff simply writes the solutions on the blackboard during the exam.
A traveler told me about a large field with solar collectors. Unfortunately, the collectors had never been connected to the grid and rotted away. Maybe it is a MyClimate project with which the western countries want to compensate their CO2 emissions.
Most Indonesians are Muslims who practice a tolerant Islam. But also in this country there are different opinions about the application of Islam. Sometimes the religious matter is also used to achieve political goals. For example, a Christian Chinese is the most promising candidate for the office of governor in Jakarta. Many Muslims also support him, because he has integrity and wants to take decisive action against corruption. Since this does not suit everyone, opposing Muslims rush against him as a Christian.
Afterwards I flew to the Baliem valley, which is located in the highlands of Papua and where the Dani people live.
This text is an automatic English translation from the German original by deepl.com