Raja Ampat - part 2

Feb 11th 2020

We spend our second month in Raja Ampat making short hops between its many islands, mainly motoring in glassy seas and most definitely avoiding overnighters.

But first we return to Sorong to renew our visas and provision - again.

Irene, Sayo and I spend a good two hours at the Saga supermarket in town loading trolleys full of cartons of milk, pasta, noodles and a wide assortments of crackers. By my estimate, about 2/3rds of every Indonesian supermarket is filled with junk food. Isles of chips, crackers, biscuits, instant noodles, canned drinks and an endless stream of plastic packets containing powdered drinks of all sorts. It is a miracle they appear to stay relatively thin.

After purchasing their entire stockpile of burrito wraps, we walk out with 7 trolleys worth of groceries between us. This qualifies us for a free ride in the back of a Saga ute to Marina Star where our dingies are parked. The fun doesn’t stop there, with hours of packing away and storing to come. Exhausting but more bearable when done as a group.

We submit our visa extensions at immigration after some to and fro with our sponsor, and everyone gets to be finger-printed for the first time, even the kids.

Serious business
We somehow find time to also get a massage and go out for a group dinner at a great seafood restaurant along the waterfront. It’s more of a tent really, with gas cookers dangerously close to our table. The place is steaming hot and loud but when the food is absolutely delicious, you compromise.
Shiny faces

After a few days of filling various tanks and jerry cans with gases and fuels required for cruising we are ready to escape the city and head out to the islands again. First stop, Frewin.

In Frewin, we anchor near a beautiful little beach with huts selling local wares, swing ropes over the water and pristine coral reefs to snorkel just metres away. Blue Magic dive sight is a short dingy ride away and we dive it several times. Huge schools of colourful fish, giant tuna, wobbigong sharks, manta rays, barracudas - it had it all. No wonder we return to this dive a few times. We meet Sunny Girl, a beautiful couple from Perth who regularly cruise this part of the world from their home base in Australia. Sunny Girl lets us tag along for a couple of dives with them (they have a dingy driver), so we dont have to worry about tying up which is a real pain when on a reef miles out in the sea.

We spend several days in Waisai, a small town only a short skip to the best diving sites in Raja Ampat. It now has a fancy new marina to boot and some very nice charter catamarans to feast your eyes on. When we try to tie up our dingy there, we are met by the owner who gives us a look of disdain from his elevated pier position and shoos us over to the public pier a few hundred meters away. Not for the likes of you aka us, this Waisai Marina. Waisai itself has everything a cruiser needs, including a very nice veggie market, and Olin dive shop where we pick up some second hand dive gear since we’re doing so much diving. It takes several trips back to get the gear in workable condition but the dive shop is very accomodating.

Then it's onto Air Borek, where we snorkel with over 20 mantas of giant proportions. They are so big it gets a bit scary when they swim towards you with their mouth open.

Jake celebrates his 8th birthday - we do a treasure hunt for presents in the morning (meagre I might say as we did not plan ahead so he only got what could be purchased from a supermarket in Sorong) and snorkel in the afternoon. The day ends with a party on Toc to mark the occasion. I make a chocolate fondant cake which is a big hit with everyone. Jake declares it the best birthday ever so my job here is done.

Happy birthday Jake

We stop in Yanwenapur on the island of Gam to organise a bird of paradise tour in the jungle rising steeply just behind the village.

View from Yanwenapur village
When we dingy over to the pier in the centre of the village, we use our best Bahasa to enquire about the tour and after an extended period of wild gesticulation and smiles all around, we are finally told to come back tomorrow at 5am. Who is our guide, we ask? Nico, they say, said Nico not being presently available to confirm his attendance. But you gotta have faith. In my travelling experience, it is the most loosely organised activity that often delivers the highest dividends.
The pier
The next morning we get up at the ungodly hour of 4.30am and dingy over to the same beach. A couple of the guys we spoke to are asleep on the large bench just outside the hut but cannot be gently woken, despite Graham’s persistent prodding.

We hang around for a while hoping Nico will show but after 20 minutes we are ready for bed. As we dingy away, a torch light a bit further down the beach makes us turn back, damn! As we pull up to the long peer, we meet Nico, our guide. He strikes me as a kind village elder and gives off a nice vibe. All is quiet as we follow him on a long walk through the village, hearing the first stirrings of babies awakening while trying not to step on the odd dog asleep on the path. I find myself comparing this village to the PNG villages we visited and Jake correctly points out this one has electricity.

It's a half hour walk up the hill in the dark jungle to reach the bird watching area with only torch light to guide the way. I am acutely aware of (possible) Papuan spiders lurking in the canopy above me just waiting to pounce. Once there, we take our seats on reclining wooden benches and look into the trees just as light starts to permeate the thick canopy.

The kids to this point have been really excited and keen, but sitting around quietly waiting for a tiny bird to show up isn't Jake's specialty. After about 5 minutes, there are murmurs of discontent and mumbling that sounds something like 'this is boring'. I try to enjoy the sounds of the waking jungle while ignoring the squawking next to me and a muesli bar I cleverly packed aids with this. Eventually, two male birds show up in a tree right in front of us and flap around making bird noises. The guide makes movements indicating this is what we were waiting for, so we observe for a while. I can't really see much (it's a very tall tree) but I visualise that National Geographic documentary and now I hear David Atenborough's voice and see the bird dancing clearly. Bird of Paradise - tick! Graham gets a single decent shot, so at least there is proof.

Spot the bird of paradise

At another small island I have forgotten the name of, we visit a bay with a tree platform exhibit up the steep hill, rewarding the brave with stunning views over the extended lagoon. The tree platforms are exactly that, a wooden ladder up the tree trunk ending in a simple (and fenceless) platform around the tree just below the canopy.

Lara and Mia enjoying the view

It was a bit scary I have to admit but worth it for the views.

The kids of course did not seem bothered.

Top of the world
The actual view from top platform

Here we also go on a mangrove dingy tour where despite hoping to spot a few crocs we only get attacked by pesky mosquitos. The water is emerald green and the coral looks like it's trying very hard to imitate the mangrove colours above water.

Dingy driver for the day

Who wants to come for a mangrove dingy tour?

Green below and above the water

As if three kid boats and 7 kids wasn't enough, we then meet up with a new kid boat, Rainbow Safari with 4 kids of their own. We have a huge raft up in a quiet bay (where we all tie up together) and spend 48 hours binge socialising (credits to Stefan from Rainbow Safari for the term). It really was. With eleven excited kids it was definitely happy chaos and really sad to say good bye as they are heading in the opposite direction.

The mat was a hit
The raft up crew minus most of the kids

We say farewell to Raja Ampat at Misool, a big island and the fourth king in the south that looks like it should definitely have a few dinosaurs around.

Amazing cliffs

We spend a couple of days here snorkelling and diving, and of course dingy touring around its many coral bays.

Bay exhibit A
Bay exhibit B

Eagles circle high above us as we move between the bays, and the sound of cockatoos echo in the jungle. It would be really cool to go bush walking but most of the jungle is inaccessible without a machete.

See what I mean?

We do manage one walk up a gentle hill and the views almost make up for the mosquito attack we endure on the way back. Savage.

Never, ever go bush without repellent is the lesson here.

We've barely scratched the surface at Misool but as we only have 6 months in this country, we must move on.

Now it's onto Triton Bay and the whale sharks!