By Lori Pottinger. Photos by David George.
It’s the Summer of Love all over again, flowing with psychedelic colors and random couplings under the sea–hot pink disco clams, fire urchins in a host of pulsating metallic colors, mating nudibranchs in green and red and black, spawning sponges, sexy shrimp, preening peacock mantis shrimp (their flared tail can almost pass for bellbottoms when they stand up to check you out). The waters East of Flores are surely a paradise for old hippies to relive their bohemian past. Even the crinoids seem to come in more colors than we’ve ever seen in one place.
Every dive brings something unusual, even for this seasoned group of divers (some of whom are on the Seven Seas for the fourth time). First, some macro highlights. A tiny yellow pair of dice with black dots entertain us against the backdrop of a dark crevice in the wall—baby yellow boxfish just learning to navigate as “odd shaped swimmers.” A gang of Pegasus sea moths scoot about on a night dive. Schools of tiny convict blennies form baby bait balls. Solo dragonets, their red-checked suits well set off by their bright yellow fin-shoes. Two tiny urchin clingfish do their best imitation of a free-swimming micro-eel. A stunning juvenile ornate ghost pipefish shows off its delicate tailfin and comes out to play so everyone gets a good look.
But if the land of the small was enchanting, East of Flores also abounds with super-sized critters. Three-inch-long nudibranchs aren’t uncommon. A huge cuttlefish greets night divers one evening. An especially big slashing mantis shrimp gets hold of a diver’s pointer and won’t let go for about a minute. Didn’t know that pufferfish came in extra-large. Then there’s the pair of massive lionfish we spot on a couple of dives at The Ledge. And the biggest frogfish in memory—dinner plate size—gives one photographer a jolt when it swims right after her (I’m done with my close up, Mr. DeMille).
Two experiences will surely have a special spot in our collective memory. First in terms of awe-inspiring is the Jetty, where we saw as many as five Rhinopias scorpionfish (the weedy variety were especially beautiful). Graceful in coloring and texture, they are anything but when it comes to moving about—really, it’s more of a flopping about. Nearby, their uglier cousin, the devil scorpionfish, walks about a bit more gracefully on scary spider legs. And the other unique spot is Anemone City—a veritable national park for anemones of every size, color, and shape.
The Boardroom site is so rich with eels it will forever be called “Eel-iicious” in my mind. A pair of mismatched, open-mouthed young ones in one hole are quickly followed by two holes each with a gigantic moray in them. A free-swimming black ribbon eel undulates across the reef like an extra-large bit of ribbon candy, then disappears into a tiny hole. Blue ribbon eels galore. A snowflake eel moving rocks to create that perfect entry to its lair. And everywhere, there are “plain vanilla” scorpionfish dotting the rocks. One patient photographer manages to get one mid-lunge, capturing its lunch.
Topside has its charms too, from paddling about on standup paddleboards in the shadow of a hulking volcano (quiet for now), to kayaking to a spot of an island near the boat, to watching the stars from the top deck. Buying ikat cloth from the local ladies—thanks to cruise director Karl for educating us about the different weaves and dyes and history of this lovely art form. Certainly the highlight, though, is the half-day visit to visit Latifui village, where the Aboi hill tribe people perform traditional dances. We also visit a market, which is authentic and colorful and full of oddities we’ll not see at home.
I could go on… about the gorgeous boat, the fabulous staff, the wonderful food (some of the best we’ve had on a liveaboard). Two weeks seemed a long time when we boarded, and all too short by the time the last days were upon us. Thanks, Seven Seas folks, for the amazing adventures!