By Lida Pet-Soede.
Just before 2022 was over, Jos and I managed to start our much anticipated ‘nomadic’ life. And what a start: as our original plans for a month-long stay in South Alor fell through, Mark Heighes offered us to join the new year’s cruise to Raja Ampat: this was the best Christmas gift! From December 25, we joined two returning families, returning well-travelled diver Christian, Guteri – who wanted some good time away from the office (and from her race-bike!), cruise director Sebastian, his love Alice, and, of course, Captain Rivai (Pai) and his professional crew.
Travel in Indonesia during this time of the year is always a bit uncertain, as rain and stormy conditions cause flight delays and make it hard to plan an itinerary too long in advance. We were lucky with the flights to and from Sorong and we were under safe and quiet command of Sebastian and Captain Pai, who made sure to follow weather forecasts closely, pulling up the anchor – when needed – for short shifts to less exposed, equally beautiful bays. Aside from one day, when we crossed some distance to get to another amazing part of this extensive area, we managed to do lots of dives, snorkelled all around, kayaked, AND did a couple of outstanding hikes.
During one morning, we managed to go to all the remarkable caves that I remembered in the Tomolol area. While we had visited several of them only a few years before Covid hit, there was one huge cave that we had almost forgotten. The last time Jos, I and little Eva visited it was with Stew Esposito – which must have been nearly 10 years ago! As Christian and Jos quickly explored the area the afternoon before with Pai while the rest of us climbed the 1000 steps to one of the Instagram-famous views of Raja Ampat, the guys found the entrance again! With high hopes, the young adventurers, Guteri and I went there in the next morning, but it looked like nothing I remembered……… While this cave was also impressive, and had a water pool at the very end, it was not the one I had hoped for. Or was it? As started to feel a tiny bit sad that I could not return to the place that created such amazing memories for our family, Pai scratched his head and remembered what our old dive guide Tommy used to say: “once in the cave, keep right and find a dark low passage through the rocks.” So, and as we started to turn back to re-assure the parents and speed boat crew that we were all fine, Pai and I took one more look, turned around some huge slippery rocks – and found it! In the pitch black, the freshwater dive pool was there after all. The blue knotted rope that would get us out of the pool again was still there and all of us jumped in the coolest cleanest freshwater – new magical memories made by Heidi, Andrea, Aude, and Hadrien!
The different island groups of Raja Ampat made for beautiful back drops to excited stories of the younger, newly experienced divers, to who Alex pointed out many different pygmy seahorses and the cutest nudibranchs, as they doubled their number of dives ever made. Christian, a very experienced diver, who visited so many of the top dive spots in the world, had Papuan dive master Kelvin all to himself and added remarkable unique underwater pictures to his already amazing collection. Claudia and Kevin hit their 100-dives under great conditions, and personally, I could not tear myself away from the mesmerizing swarms of silvery anchovies, gathering in the gazillions around so many of the islands during this time of the year. Snorkelers swam with a dugong (!), a huge manta ray, several fully-grown black tip reef sharks, and many schooling different fish species – all in the brightly coloured and easily accessible reef shallows. As we always say and Paul and Christine can confirm from this cruise: often one sees the most in the shallows, so there is absolutely no need for ‘FOMO’ when on snorkel only! Novice live-aboard guest (and city-girl 😊) Alice, spotted the cutest couscous during one of the island hikes, the bird lovers in our group witnessed 8 (!) red birds of paradise during their mating behaviour, and all of us enjoyed the sun setting on many hornbills swooshing above our heads to spend the night at a little island in the middle of a beautiful bay.
Important for Jos and I, throughout this amazing adventure, we also managed to keep our fitness trainings on-par and worked out on the Seven Seas matted roof either with the TRX tied to one of the masts or doing isometric workout sets provided by Swen de Ruyter. All workouts were perfectly designed for liveaboard conditions. While other returning Seven Seas friends raved about the quality and selection of the food prepared by Niko, we were also blown away by the super yummy and healthy lunches and dinners. While tempted to go back for seconds, this made it easy to maintain a healthy food regime as well. As internet was not available for days at the time – making for excellent discussions and catching up with reading lists –, I also managed to work and submit 2 proposals as Jos fine-tuned a literature review of the impacts of climate change on Indonesian grouper and snapper populations.
To top this already perfect cruise, and as Captain Pai turned the Seven Seas back towards Sorong, we spotted large pots of dolphins and multiple whales. One of them, a Bryde’s whale, crossed our bow, not in the least bothered as we jumped and screamed and filmed it. Truly incredible. Jos and I will visit some of our favourite places in and around Bali for the last time before we leave Indonesia in May 2023, but this experience will be impossible to top: thanks to the entire Seven Seas team.