(written from the Ferry on the way to Kupang, my last ferry)
Diving in komodo national park.
We met Noon the day after arriving in Lubuanbajo while doing the rounds of the local dive shops
looking for a liveaboard dive boat. He’s an Indonesian guy
originally from Sumartra, the divemaster for Surabaya Dive, a new shop (they don’t even have signage yet) in
Surabaya Dive was recommended by a friend of mine Regis, a dive instructor from France who had been
in Flores just before me, Regis is a gun diver so I figured that if he recommended the place it must be
“what you looking for?” Noon asks…
“we want a liveaboard for 6 people, 2 nights, 3 days, including equipment” I said
“we have boat busy, but maybe can find another boat, only simple boat…”
“that’s fine, we don’t care, the diving is the most important for us” replied Chris, a diving mad
Chilean I met on the ferry coming to Flores.
Noon squints and smiles with his eyes, he looks us over and asks…
“are you experienced divers?”
“all advanced” says Chris
“because currents here are very strong, you have experience in strong current?”
We look at eachother and shrug…
“yes, some drift diving experience”
“ok you come back tomorrow same time and I let you know”
2 days later, Beatriz and Chris from Chile, John, Sammy and Me from Aus, and Alex from China are in
the foyer of the dive shop getting gear loaded into boxes to take down to the port.
One of the things I love the most about travel is the magic that happens when you get the right
group of people together, I could tell really quickly that this group was going to be fun, and after the bout
of negotiation on price for the trip, that had us asking all sorts of ridiculous questions (“is beer included
in the price? can we keep the gear afterwards? Will we go nude diving? Etc), Noon seemed to
“I can see from group that we will have very good time on this trip” says Noon…
As the Australians on the boat, John and I take it upon ourselves to arrange beers for the
group. We bring 5 cartons of Bintang cans along, reasoning that
the crew will want to drink a few with us too, and diving is hard work after all. This raises some eyebrows with the gang, but no one protests, John and I on
the other hand are still a little worried about running out.
(this is hilarious, I had ‘Sneaky Sound System’ playing on the laptop just now,
and the locals seem to like it! There are a group of 15 people
staring intently at the screen while I am typing, no one speaks English so I assume they don’t read
either. One of the guys asks me if he can have some music on his
mobile phone memory card, so I copy Sneaky for him, it takes him a few minutes to find it but then it’s
blaring at full distortion to his delight. Another guys asks for
the same, and then another. 15 minutes later the whole boat is
listening to Sneaky Sound System coming from 8 different mobile phones spread out around the boat, all
different tracks from the same album, all distorted through tiny speakers! some people are even dancing, it’s the party ferry!!
We walk to the pier and check out the boat, it’s an old 20m fishing boat with 4 little beds, some
space on the deck and a small top deck (which I quickly name the Promenade level), it has 18 scuba tanks tied
to the balaustrade on the deck, and 4 large boxes full of wet suits, masks, fins and BCD’s.
There’s that nervous excited feeling that you have at the start of any trip, and we quiz Noon with
questions about the divesites, while he double checks the gear and introduces us to Captain Roland, Cook and
Engineer. On seeing Roland and the crew, I know we made a good
choice with the beer.
Noon tells us that the first dive site will be really easy, no current to worry about, just so he
can check us out in the water and confirm that we will be up to the sites he has in mind. The dive was really beautiful, a few of us have equipment fit issues that
need solving but it’s all looking good so far.
We break for lunch and Cook brings out 6 plates of fish and vegetables, accompanied by the mandatory
Nasi (rice), it’s the best food I have eaten in Indonesia so far. On an old fishing boat without a kitchen, prepared by a teenage boy, it’s
simple but tasty and diverse, we’re all really impressed.
Next dive is another
beautiful site, visibility more than 25m, big fish everywhere, and I’m thrilled to see a turtle among other
As we pop out of the water and start swimming back to the boat, Alex surfaces in between us all and
is hyperventilating trying to get some words out “MANTA MANTA MANTA!!!!” he screams and in a moment he drops
back under the surface and disappears.
Without a word we all stuff our masks back on, check our air and dive back under for a
look. I can’t believe my eyes, it’s a 4m wide manta ray,
swimming along so gracefully, it’s like an eagle in the breeze, or a B52 bomber as Alex likes to
say. We stay down in our dwindling air supply trying to take in the beauty of the enormous animal before it gracefully
flies away leaving us.
We all surface together and are whooping and cheering,
“Manta!!!! We saw a fucking MANTA!!!” I can’t stop
I’m the least experienced
diver in the group with just 9 dives, next is Beatriz who lied on her form (after seeing that I lied on mine, I
wrote 20…), she has 13 dives (she wrote 24
J), Alex has something like 40 and Christian over 100, John and Sammy are in the
Because of this, I’m keeping a close eye on Noon to see if he’s keeping a close eye on us, and the
guy really is a sea shepherd, it inspires confidence in me and the rest all feel the same way. That’s a good thing because the diving the next day at Manta point is to be
something pretty amazing.
Noon does the dive briefing for Manta point and explains that there will be a little current so we
may need to hold onto the bottom for support once we find a cleaning station. I’m wondering what the hell a “cleaning station” is, but Alex soon
“they swim along in the strong current eating plankton, and sometimes stop in one place for the
cleaning fish to eat the muck off their bodies”
“when they do that, you can get a really close look at them because they don’t move for like 5 mins
at a time”
We all jump in for the Manta point dive, quickly settle and drop to the bottom. A little current! What the
fuck? The water is moving so fast it makes a whoosh noise past
my ears and I can’t swim into it fast enough to remain in one place. I see the rest of the group all holding onto the same rock and look forward
to see an enormous manta hovering a few metres in front of us all.
I don’t want to get swept away so I’m really working hard to stay there, scrabbling at the sandy
bottom to try to get a hold on something but my fingers pull through the sand and small stones. I’m swimming hard and consequently breathing hard too, this is bad for my
air, I really don’t want to run out early and force everyone to surface.
Eventually I figure out that there is still some air in my BCD and purge it, dropping me lower and
making it easier to grip something on the bottom. I swim over to
Sammy who is holding onto Noon’s fin. I put a hand on her
shoulder and she makes an OK signal. So there we are, a few
metres from a 5m wide manta ray being cleaned by a bunch of small fish, Noon holding a rock, Sammy holding
him, and me holding Sammy.
What a thrill.
This scene repeats for the 47mins we are under, we see more than 20 mantas before running low on air
and surfacing elated again. We swim to the boat and get off our
gear, all smiles, then Roland yells…
“MANTA!” and points to the front of the
There are a line of mantas swimming along next to the boat, we all scramble to find our fins and
masks, add a snorkel and jump in for one last look. They pass us
like a series of aeroplanes in the sky, every now and then one of them flies out of the water and flips back
in. One of the most amazing things I have ever
We eat breakfast amid excited
conversation, looking at Alex’s pictures from the dive and wondering what could possibly top
The next dive that’s
Noon explains that we are
diving around a sea rock, the currents either side of the rock are fierce enough to grab us and pull us down to
60m so we need to stay close to him, close to the wall and stay behind the wall.
“Do you all understand?”
“Yes, but if we do get caught like that, will you come and get us?” I ask a little
“no way man, you just keep fighting, fill your bcd, do whatever you can to get back up, then try to
stay at 5m for your safety stop, it’s no problem for breathing, but sometimes can have blood from the ears if
you don’t equalize on way down”
Now I’m a little worried.
The water is really churning as we drop into the clear space behind the rock, but I’m surprised at
how little current there is. We swim to the bottom and along the
rock in awe of the fish and sharks we are seeing, until we arrive at one end and Noon motions for us to turn
I notice Alex seems to be swimming backwards a little ahead of us, and as his kicking increases to a
fever pitch, and his bubbles float down instead of up, I realise he is caught by a
current. Noon motions for the rest of us to move back from the
edge before swimming to Alex, grabbing him by the collar and hauling him back to the rock. Just like a little kid getting picked up by their stronger brother, only
Noon is smaller than Alex…
“I was swimming as hard as I could but still going the wrong way!” says Alex in a slightly manic tone when back on the boat.
Noon smiles and makes some comment about Alex trying to take too many pictures and not concentrating
on staying close to the wall.
Noon seems to have decided that we are all up to it, and carefully goes through the next dive
plan. We are to do a negative entry, (I don’t know what this
means at the time…), dropping off the boat with empty BCD, flipping over and swimming down to the bottom as
fast as possible. Navy Seals style I exclaim! When we get there
we are to hold onto a rock and wait for Noon to round us up.
Do we understand? –
“Do not go looking for each other” stresses Noon.
The fishing boat is not ideal for this type of entry as we can’t all jump simultaneously, so the
current is likely to separate us a little. We all get ready and
as quickly as possible in pairs we drop in and swim to the bottom.
The current is daunting… I spot a rock on the bottom directly below me and swim head down towards
it, equalizing as I go, while trying to spot the others. I get
to the rock and try to control my breathing as the current pulls hard at my body. I check my depth gauge, it reads 29m. I can’t see anyone else, but eventually I notice bubbles coming from
somewhere just the other side of my handhold and claw my way around to see John and Alex nearby. We give each other the OK signal, shrug our shoulders then wait for Noon to
I’m wondering how he will be able to swim against this current to find us all but when he arrives
it’s obvious. The guy is a freaking fish. Effortlessly he swims towards us and makes eye contact with us all one by
one, we all OK and he then makes the “don’t move” signal before swimming off again.
A minute later he returns with Chris and Beatriz, ok now just Sammy… once again Noon makes sure we
are all fine and stresses we need to stay put before disappearing once again.
John looks a little anxious, I think we all are, but a few moments later Noon reappears towing Sammy
along, puts her on the same rock as John and points in the direction we are to head in. Bit by bit, we swim, claw and will ourselves forwards against the current
eventually arriving at a vertical drop into the blue.
The view is spectacular. Big reef sharks come and go, giant trevally, more big fish than i have ever
seen before in one place!
We cling to rocks taking care not to damage any coral and take it all in for about 20mins before
Noon gives the signal to let go and drift with it towards the safety stop, we’re moving so fast it really
feels like flying, the bottom passes underneath me as I glide along, putting my arms out like a bird, the
other guys are in a variety of poses, from Superman to Manta impersonations, we’re all having so much
That night over some bintangs we ask Noon about his life and his experience as a diver. He’s been diving in Indonesia for over 20 years, more than 6000
dives! He’s a fascinating character, with a real light in his
eyes when talking about diving, he explains…
“I do not like diving, but I love diving” He’s dived
all over Indonesia but Komodo is the only place he can stay, why? “It is the best” he goes on
“everywhere else I stay for one month, two months, three months and then am bored, but in Komodo never
“How long can you stay down
on one tank Noon?” He smiles and says he stayed at 30m for 2½ hours
once. Then he rubs more salt into the wound by telling us that he
only fills his tank once every three dives.
I’m tempted to check him for gills but there’s really no need, i already know he’s a
The boat anchors in a protected bay for the evening, we make our night dive and then talk about the
options for the next day, the original deal was for 9 dives over 3 days, but we’re all pushing for an extra
dive at Manta point again. Noon and Roland discuss it and Roland
tells us we can have the extra dive but it will cost us another 100,000rp each because we will miss the
falling tide back to Lubuanbajo which means it will take longer to get back and use up for
It’s a no brainer, $10 for another dive, we all go for it.
On the final day we dive a site called Castle rock where a group of dolphins comes along to say
hello, and then another called Channel2, where again we’re drift diving in a strong current so it feels like
flying. Everyone is so relaxed and having an amazing time,
I don’t want this trip to end.
The final dive at Manta point is amazing again, I feel like I could swim with the Mantas every day
and never get tired of seeing them, they are like nothing else on earth.
Eventually we are taking off our dive gear for the last time, and eating another delicious lunch
prepared on the boat, while motoring our way to Crincha Island to spot a Komodo dragon before heading back to
Lubuanbajo. The short hike on the island where the only dragons
we saw were waiting in front of the canteen to get some kitchen scraps was a little disappointing, but when
that’s the only average part of a trip you really can’t complain.
We arrive back at Lubanbajo late afternoon, return to the hotel we were all staying at and then head
out for some dinner and beers to wash down the experience with.
I feel so fortunate to have gotten a glimpse of the underwater world at Komodo Nat Park, and even more
privelaged to have done it with such a great bunch of people and a divemaster like Noon. The only problem is “where do you go from here?”
You go back to Australia that’s where.
The next day I saddled up again to cross Flores, unfortunately that 550km was the twistiest and
wettest of my trip so far, all in 1st to 3rd gear, we didn’t travel more than
an hour without a downpour and consequently the ride across Flores took 3 very wet but equally happy
At Maumere the gang reunited to dive a WW2 Japanese wreck just off the beach, it was really
impressive, but with the experience in Komodo so fresh in my mind it was a little pedestrian by
I said goodbye to Beatriz and Christian, and Alex and Jessica the next day and started the last day
of my riding in Flores to reach the small port town of Larantuka in time to catch the ferry to Kupang the
next day. As fate would have it, that day the sun shone and the
road was straighter than it had been for the rest of Indonesia, a really enjoyable ride through the mountains
of Flores, passing rice fields, small villages and shouting children the whole way there.
The next morning at 9am I boarded the boat, the only Bule (white person) on board, took a seat and
worked on this blog for a few hours, before dozing in and out of sleep for the next 18 hours, arriving in
Kupang on Tuesday morning at 5am.
I checked into a hotel at 5:30am, and got a few hours sleep before riding to the East Timor embassy
to ask about the online visa I applied for 12 days prior. I
wasn’t surprised to learn that the application had stalled because I didn’t include a copy of my passport
with it… (they didn’t actually ask for it in the application).
In any case, I now have to wait a few days for the visa to be issued, so might go diving again
before the last 420km ride to Dili. I have a container booked to
leave Dili on the 13th May, so I’ll be back on Aussie soil on the
With a one week delay for the Timor visa, I started thinking about what to do with my time, usually
this would be a good chance to explore the island, but with a front tyre on canvas and an engine making awful
metallic noises all the time I wasn’t keen on riding betsy any further than absolutely
The gang I went diving with were all reunited in Bali at Ahmed, and I found a bargain priced return
flight to get there and back, so parked betsy safely in the hotel lobby and jumped a short flight to Kuta,
followed by a very long ride on a 50cc scooter, 100km to Ahmed.
The effort was rewarded by a beautiful room complete with hot running water, and some spectacular
diving for the next couple of days, before returning to Kuta for a couple of nights after the diving and
eventually Kupang again.