Monday, February 19, 2018

Diving Raja Ampat on the Liveaboard Ilike

Today we are boarding a magical Indonesian boat for a liveaboard tour of different parts of Raja Ampat including Misool. I wish. 

Today I am just reliving the experience with you. 

After two weeks in Raja Ampat, we were sad to leave Kri Eco Resort. Reluctant but excited, six of us from our group boarded a speedboat to take us to Sorong where we would meet up with the Ilike for an 11-day voyage.

My husband likes to joke it is his job in life to buy me all things "i", iphones, ipads, etc. This was the best i-present ever, a trip on the I-like. What a gift it turned out to be. 

Our dives at Kri Eco Resort were mostly limited to the surrounding area as we were diving from day boats. A liveaboard covers a lot of ground, or ocean in this case. Often the boat will do the crossings overnight while guests are sleeping so divers wake up in a completely different area to explore. 

Once on board, the Ilike's sassy, funny, and extremely competent Steward greeted us with fresh watermelon juice elegantly presented in martini glasses.

Anto at the ready with sass and a smile
Over the course of the trip, Anto proved to be a class act. Elegantly setting our dinner tables every evening while surprising us with different creative napkin folds from Manta rays to roses. 

As we filed past Anto, we were greeted by the kitchen staff preparing a meal.

The boat itself is Indonesian showpiece. It takes two years to build and involves a high priest and a chicken sacrifice. Really. 

Inside, the craft is beautifully decorated with carved traditional Indonesian woodwork. Airconditioned cabins with private marble bathrooms house the divers.

The Lounge on the Ilike
We had a special guide on this trip that once upon a time worked for the two members of our group, the founders of Sinai Divers. 

Rolf, Petra and Edu (Left to Right) showing off the Sinai Divers flag flying on the back of the Ilike

Edo, the Dive Operations Manager, was onboard to guide us to especially spent time with our Sinai Diver friends. Coincidentally, Edu was our dive guide in Sharm El Sheik, Egypt on a liveaboard trip Husbandfish and I took in 2009. The diving world is small. 

Edu (left ) & Me (center) onboard the Ghazala Voyager in Egypt, April '09

Dr. B & Edu on the dingy off of the Ghazala Voyager April '09
After our welcome and boat briefing, we unpacked our dive gear, handed it over to the crew, then settled the rest of our luggage into our cabins while the Ilike set off on a long southern journey to Misool. 

Our first five days of Diving were in the area of Misool starting with the Daram Islands. We then explored Penemu and Yangeffo before heading back to the Dampier Straight. 

During our stay onboard, we found the Ilike's upper deck to be spacious and comfortable, a great place to tuck oneself away and read a book, listen to music or podcasts or just to relax,  gaze and photograph sunsets. 

The total group of divers was split into three groups. Edo took our group of six with him. His knowledge, passion, and skill as a dive guide are exceptional. Equally Impressive, he speaks Bahasa Indonesian fluently. This inspired me to scrape together the few phrases I retained from my last trip to Indonesia years ago. 

Every day each group rotated who would be first in the water. The second and third groups followed. This way everyone got a chance to have the coveted position of jumping first.

Captain Roni at Ilike's wheel 
Upon waking up the next day, we sipped coffee or tea and nibbled on some toast with peanut butter and/or jelly. As we prepped for our first dive, Anto took our individual order for our full breakfast served after the first dive.

After breakfast, there was a short rest, during which the crew may or may not move the boat, then a second dive. Lunch followed and then a third dive. Every night we had the option of a night dive as well. 

We all happily settled into the liveaboard routine of eating, sleeping, and diving over and over again for days. It was heaven.

Continental breakfast and lunch were served buffet style. We were served our preordered full breakfast after our first dive. Dinner was delivered a bit more formally.  

Our meals, varying between Indonesian and Continental dishes were 
fresh and delicious.

The dive sites were so different from those in Kri. One was filled with anchovies, we did that one a few times. It was spectacular. Here's a bit of video Husbandfish took on the Go Pro. 

Our Indonesian crew couldn't have been more helpful. In truth, they spoiled us. 

From providing warm washcloths and hot cocoa after night dives to helping us in and out of our suits to expertly loading our gear in and out of the chase boats, everything was done with a smile. 

Speaking of which, here's the joyous greeting we received coming back from each and every dive.

The diving itself was so incredible, most times our group flat out refused to surface. We were seriously messing up Edu's schedule. He may or may have not thrown more than one full-on underwater Spanish tantrum (very funny to watch) trying to gather us up to ascend.

I have so many new favorite dive sites from this trip. Melissa's Garden where we made several visits is high on the list. 

Edu conducting a Dive Briefing
We frequently passed the 75-minute mark on dives, sometimes 80, and were still pleading for more time. The poor chase boat drivers are supposed to start a search if we are not up in 60 minutes. 

We were securely under the spell of Raja Ampat's breathtaking underwater paradise and like human barnacles, no one could pry us out of the water. 

Here's a glimpse of the trip and some of the underwater wonders:

The Ilike carries two hardshell boats. My embarrassingly lame pulling myself into the dingy skill was thankfully not put to the test as each boat had a ladder to climb for exiting the dive. 

If the boat is only moving a short distance, they are towed behind. For longer journeys, they are hoisted up and place on the rear part of the upper deck. 

One evening, the daily schedule announced there would be no night dive. Instead, we were treated to a beach party expertly produced by the crew. 

The crew boated us over to a deserted island.

They prepped the area with candles, providing beautiful ambiance to go with the dinner.

The crew served snacks and cocktails while building a fire for cooking. Edu spoiled us with a spread of Iberico ham from Spain. 

Edu took over the role of chef that evening and prepared a traditional Spanish paella with a pan and ingredients he had imported from Spain. 

By the time the group sat down to eat, it was pitch dark so a large bonfire was lit to dine by.

Like the beach party, there were other excursions to break up the schedule. Neither of them, however, further disrupted the dive schedule.  All were planned around surface intervals.

Entrance to the bat cave
We explored a bat cave which turned out to be a fantastic series of caverns with gorgeous formations. 

On the way back from the cave, the water was so clear we were able to spot and photograph a wobegone shark from the surface.

The third trip was Penemu Island in the Fam Islands. On Penemu we climbed stairs we were told were built so the president of Indonesia could visit. We schlepped up the presidential stairs and marveled at the gorgeous view. 

Sunburned much?
Even though our trip on the Ilike felt like an explorer's adventure, there were several other liveaboards in the area. Edu kept in constant contact coordinating with the other boats to make sure when selecting the day's dive sites, each boat's divers had the sites to themselves.

One boat we saw several times but had to contact to. was Paul Allen's yacht, The Octopus. We had no idea who was on board, what they were doing in Raja Ampat but they seemed to end up at the same places we were. 

In retrospect, I am beyond grateful we got to spend so much time diving on Kri. We repeated a few of the most famous of those dives on the last day of diving off the Ilike. However, the chance to both explore the wonders off of Kri and all those other beautiful dive sites are only possible from a liveaboard was an incredible experience.

Finally, it was time to say goodbye to Ampat and thank her for her gifts of astounding reefs, wondrous creatures both above and below the sea and most of all, for her kind-hearted people. 

I logged 60 dives between Papua Diving - Sorido Bay & Kri Eco Resort and the Liveaboard Ilike Indonesia and would do it all over again tomorrow. I left with tears in my eyes and a grateful heart. An adventure of a lifetime. 

Selamat tinggal.

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