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Traveling and diving in the Moluccas Part II

During Part 1 of our journey to the Moluccas we already explored Ambon and Saparua Island; on land, as well as under water. In Part 2, we will travel to the main island named Seram, where we will cross the Manusela National Park and discover muck diving back in Ambon. But let’s start at the beginning.
Alexa Neuhaus
14/12/2015 09:00

During Part 1 of our journey to the Moluccas we already explored Ambon and Saparua Island; on land, as well as under water. In Part 2, we will travel to the main island named Seram, where we will cross the Manusela National Park and discover muck diving back in Ambon. But let’s start at the beginning.

Arrival in Masohi and preparations for the drive to Seram’s north

Thanks to a speedboat, we travelled comfortably and fast to the south of the island Seram, where we arrived in Masohi, a picturesque village right by the water. Just like in Ambon, it seems like we’re some sort of attraction, as the locals look at us curiously. Our destination is the north coast, where tours of the national park are offered. But until we arrive there, some hours will pass. Our cab driver is a nice young guy, probably in his mid-twenties. Unfortunately, he doesn’t understand any English and we don’t speak Indonesian. We try our best to explain him, where we would like to go, yet, he doesn’t understand us. But he is quite a clever guy and drives us to a local school. Two of his female friends work there as English teachers. Both are super happy to put their English skills to practical use. They send us to a supermarket, a bank and to the tourist office, where we obtain the permit for the national park. Because the cab bus got a little crowded as more passengers boarded, we change the vehicle and ride with a newer model of a befriended cab driver. He doesn’t hesitate and joins our little group. Because he doesn’t want to see anybody go hungry, he brings some lichees from his own garden. Very delicious! Before we depart towards the north, we quickly stop at the school where the girls teach English. They are very eager to introduce us to their colleagues and students. We are curious about the school and agree to the meeting. Who would have thought that 2 German tourists are such an attraction? We are surrounded by students and teachers; everybody trying to get a picture of or with us. We enjoy the event and let everybody take their pictures. We then take a peak at the class rooms and the teacher lounge and engage in a quick chat with the principal. We return to the cab and our journey commences.

A welcome distraction for the students while visiting Masohi

Crossing the national park with a minibus

The road leads through the Manusela National Park, where we drive up a mountain chain. Every now and then, we stop briefly and take some pictures of the jungle and enjoy the view above the rain forest. The further we drive, the harder the road gets, as the road isn’t built completely. Once we reach the peak, the street turns into a gravel path. Deep potholes, puddles and larger stones turn our trip into quite an ordeal. Our bus is taking on the provisory street. We use our time wisely and talk with the girls about anything that comes to our mind, while they teach us some Indonesian. After a few hours, we arrive in a little coastal village. The local fishers offer to take us to the resort for a few bucks. We are having a hard time saying goodbye to our group and we take a quick picture together before embarking on our boat trip.

Our small tour group: On the left our driver, on the right the two English teachers and the owner of the taxi.

The boat ride takes only ten minutes. The view is breathtaking. We can already spot the stilt bungalows ahead of us. To our right, there is a massive mountain chain, full of trees and birds that circle it. The mountains go deep into the turquoise water. To our left, we have a similar view, spotting the north west of the island of Seram. We have a hard time realising our luck, as we leave the boat and walk to our bungalow.

Ora Beach Eco Resort – Paradise on earth

If there is a paradise on earth, we just entered it. White sand beach, surrounded by palm trees and tropical plants, crystal clear water and a lively coral reef. We can’t get enough of this view and decide to relax a bit underneath the trees. We order a beer and enjoy the view. In the evening, we go to the bar, enjoy the buffet, get amazed by the sundown and watch the schools of fish underneath us.

Not a postcard! This picture shows the restaurant of the Ora Beach Resorts.
The entrance to the resort. How much eco is in it?
The amazing atmosphere invites you to play with your camera.
Food is ready at any time. In indonesia they like their food spicy and hot.
For approx. 10 euros more you can purchase a bungalow on the sea. However, we have chosen a cabin near the wood.
After our first walk, we enjoy a beer.
An ordinary sunset in Ora Beach Resort.

The next day, we decide to do some snorkeling. I could spend hours laying on the water and watch what happens underneath me. The water is rather shallow and one can continuously discover new things. We walk up and down the beach and enjoy the outstanding view.

These gorgeous flowers fall down from the trees at the beach.
A view over the idyllic bay.
We could not resist and took pictures of our Bubbles tee for divers.

On day three, we discover the unpleasant side of our hotel. We are looking for a trail that might lead us to the nearby mountains. While doing so, we discover a mountain of trash by the bungalows, full of cats searching for something edible. During our vacation on the Moluccas, we discover that garbage disposal is an iffy topic. We don’t find a way into the mountains and our we feel a bit bad due to all the waste. One of the other guests tells us that Sawai, the neighbouring village, might be worth a try, mentioning the guided tours through the national park, as well as the snorkel trips available. After three great days, we leave the hotel and take the boat eastward board. Off to our next stilt bungalow. ☺

Sawai – Small but nice

Sawai is a small muslim and rather poor village. We arrive at the hotel’s boat ridge. The neighbouring houses are also built on stilts. We move into our spacious room, which includes a salt water shower and a toilet. While peaking through the cracks of the wooden floor, we discover some reef fishes. We book a tour through the jungle (including a guide) for the following day and explore the village. We cross a small bridge with a flagged canal underneath. Stairs descend into the water. It seems like there is a natural well in the nearby mountains. The local women wash their clothes and bathe in it. A vivacious elderly woman signals us to take a picture and jumps, while still wearing all her clothes, right into the water. Everybody is amused, while we are slightly confused. Some kids approach us and pose for a picture. As a thank you, we give them some candy from the nearby kiosk. We finish the evening on our cozy porch with plenty of black tea. The muezzin underlines the mood with his prayer.

This approximately 60-year-old woman shows us that she is a true diver.
We were accompanied by many children who ask us to make photos of them.
Sawai is quite a simple fishing village.
Our accommodation Lisar Bahari Sawai is one of the largest employers in the area.

Touring the Manusela National Park

We rise early the following morning. Our local guide is very motivated and guides us through the cemetery to the outskirts of the jungle. We walk uphill for a while; luckily slowly and over a narrow path. Our guide clears the way with his machete. The sunlight makes its way through the dense forest, the birds are singing and the leaves move with the wind. The further we enter the forest, the higher the humidity. The first sweat pearls stick to our foreheads. The guide shows us different kinds of insects, fruits and birds. We enter a small cove to look for bats and a few seconds later, they fly towards us. Don’t look around, because there are plenty of palm-sized spiders. Our last stop is a shelter for parrots and other birds. The injured or otherwise sick animals receive great care and are prepared for their return into freedom. We feed them with fruits from the surrounding trees. Some are very trustful and eat from our hands. We leave a small donation and head back to our hotel. Luckily, a truck takes us along.

A small path leads deep into the jungle.
Again and again, the path is blocked and our guide uses his machete.
Our guide is very trained to discover small animals in the jungle. Here you see a lizard.
A stick insect.
And another one.
Spiders are also included, but we prefer keep out of their way.
At the edge of the jungle Americans have built a bird rescue center.
Sick birds are kept in quarantine, nursed back to health and then hopefully released.
We were allowed to feed this big bird.
These cockatoos are close to reintroduction.

The following day is a rainy one and we decide to stay in our hotel. We chill on the patio, read and take a look at our pictures from the prior day. In the evening, we book a river trip for the following day. The weather promises to improve.

Exploring the Salawai river

We leave at 10 a.m. sharp. A small wooden boat with an engine waits for us and food is also available. In addition to us, the tour boat was packed with a driver, a guide and two boys from the village. We cross the open sea; on our right is a promontory, which we circle. After about 20 minutes, we reach the mouth of the Salawai River. The water is muddy brown from last day’s rainfall. Huge palm trees and unknown tropical plants cover the shore. Our guide uses his machete to clear the way. Looking skywards, we discover red and blue parrots, which are jolted by the noise of our boat. We really are in the midst of the jungle.

Fallen down trees block our path, but our guide knows how to get them out of the way. Until we reach a point where too many trees have fallen down. We take on the remainder of our journey to a waterfall via foot, right through the jungle. There is no clear path and our guide once again uses his machete to clear the way ahead. The ground is swampy, almost half of our legs are descending into the swamp and we have a hard time moving. Our legs are covered with leeches. In addition, we are somewhat grossed out by the huge spiders who are everywhere. After what felt like 10 km, we finally reach the water fall. We eat a bit and explore the vicinity. Some take a bath in the water falls pool. Others climb up to enjoy the amazing view. We cross the jungle again and return to our boat. On our way back, our guide discovers a longest tree with ripe fruits. He climbs up the three and gets a few branches from which the delicious fruit hangs down. Now, we have enough fruits for a few days.

Last station: Muck diving in Ambon

We spent the last 5 days of our vacation on the Moluccas at the diving base Bluemotion. The diving base is close to Ambon’s airport. Right on our doorstep is a stony beach, perfectly suited for muck diving. The team is very young, and helpful and the atmosphere very friendly. Not even 100 metres away, we find a Bed&Breakfast, which can be booked via the diving base. The surrounding area is not very picturesque. From the balcony of our B&B, we look at some kind of boat cemetery. It is surrounded by the locals tenuous abodes. It’s dirty. Wherever you look, you see mainly one thing: trash. In the backyard of a house, we spot a tiny bird cage, which is inhabited by a disturbed parrot. The view is heartrending.

Our first muck diving experience

The first dive takes some getting used too. White sand strand, colourful corals and a shoal of fish? Not here! Instead, we dive over sad debris and plenty of trash. At times, we spot a snail or a crab. In the beginning we have some problems with the lead. Most of the time, we only descend 2-5 meters and go back up all the time. Once this problem is taken care of, the dive becomes more relaxed.

We have to get used to this new situation. Focussing more on discovering the microorganisms. Our guide knows the area well und shows us plenty of snails in numerous colours. Sea horses and sea-devils we would have missed otherwise. The cuttlefishes and all their colours are truly fascinating. They are always travelling as a couple, with the male protecting the female. If our camera gets too close, they change their colour in a threatening manner.

Our first maritime nudibranch. Great!
Cuttlefishes wherever you look.
Great animals that move slowly over the seabed.
Cuttlefishes instantaneously change their color when they sense danger.
Cuttlefishes are also good swimmers and their partner is never far away.
A ghost moray.
A small photo session with an octopus.
The only question is: Who observed whom?
The first seahorse, which we were able to photograph.
This gloriously shimmering blue shrimp are very nimble and we only caught them from behind.

The base is well equipped. The equipment can be stored for the duration of your stay. If you like, you can have lunch right at the base. Fresh food is available every day and beverages are plentysome. Underneath the trees, there are hammocks right in the shadow, inviting everybody to take a nap. And if you don’t want to go straight to your hotel after your dive, you can stick around and talk to other tourists or play cards with the guides.

During our next dives, we are much more focussed. The taring in the shallow water also improves. We are laying in the water rated relaxed and take pictures of the amazing harlequin shrimps, the numerous slugs and even spot some batfish. We’re also glad that we don’t have to abort our dives after 45 minutes, but instead, depending on the equipment, can dive for two or more hours straight.

Between dives you relax at the base.
Your equipment is always ready at the beach.
Eating together with the team of BlueMotion and other guests.

Muck diving at night

Our first night dive through debris. Luckily, we are part of a group of about ten people. It’s a bit frightening to dive during night time. I get scared by a stargazer, who looks at me with his evil face. Huge glowing urchins pass the debris, looking for some food. Creeper snails, octopi and morays are very active. After our dive, we talk about our experience. While enjoying a chilled beer, the group becomes more chattier. We learn that the owners of the diving base take some of their revenue and use it for environmental projects. They have already build a local incinerator und support the schools by teaching kids about the environment, thereby trying to improve the current trash situation long-term. Great idea, for which we readily pay a bit more!

Heading for the first night dive since our education.
A Mantis Shrimp. I wouldn't come closer for fear of destruction of my camera housing.
Two beautiful harlequin shrimp.
Stefan's official favorite animal of the Moluccas: A boxfish.
A clown fish family in a carpet anemone.
Difficult to photograph: These urchins light up in a fantastic red when you put your spotlight on them.

Diving in the harbor basin – Loud, dirty fascinating

We spent our last dives in the harbor basin. The atmosphere is slightly threatening. Above us, heavy ships are anchored and throw long shadows. The noise of the engine is deafening. The sea ground below us is covered with old tires, plastics and fish wastes from the local fish factory. The sea animals have acclimated accordingly. Morays peak from the tires and eat the fish wastes. Plenty of fish schools can be seen. Very nice to look at from underneath. The sunbeams break through the ships and the plank. Numerous small crabs walk up and down the pillars, devouring algae and other small animals. A swarm of stripped eel catfish swims towards us. We take a few pictures of those impressive animals and their beards. Alas, not all divers keep the required distance and one female diver gets stung by a fish.

A colorful mandarin fish. What a great animal.
This banded pipefish look terrific and quite toxic. But they aren't.
How many stonefish you find in this photo?
A young diver came too close to these catfish and was stung. The poison pained her several hours.
Stefan took several attempts before he realized that this is a fish and not a leaf: Robust ghost pipefish.
Hey, don't pull such a long face :)
A longspine waspfish.
The dive was almost over, then we saw this amazing frogfish.

Upon descending a bit deeper, we discover a beautiful wrack. We only stick around briefly, as other divers arrive; it’s getting crowded. We take some more pictures. We discover some breathtakingly beautiful blue dot rays in the sand. Scared by all the divers, they quickly disappear for a more peaceful place.

This was our last week in the Moluccas and we have a hard time saying goodbye. Overall, a great vacation and a paradise for divers that doesn’t have to be very expensive. We’d be delighted to return!

What do you think? Feel free to leave your comment.

Geschrieben von
Alexa Neuhaus
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