Trip Report Underwater Tribe Komodo AUG 2013

A split shot showing the underwater and the island of Gili Banta

A split shot showing the underwater and the island of Gili Banta

Underwater Tribe Komodo Liveaboard Trip 2013 [Report and Review]

A month has passed since we disembarked from our incredible trip to Komodo National Park on board of the Damai II luxury vessel.

It was a very special trip for us for many different reasons:

First of all, it was during the planning of this trip that Mike and Luca decided to join forces to create the Underwater Tribe!  In November 2011, we were discussing ideas and plans for our future in Bali as well as Indonesia, as we were both looking to achieve the same goals, we decided to work together and this Damai trip became our first ever joint venture; who knew it would become such a resounding success!

After nearly two years of planning, it culminated with trip leader Luca and our group of intrepid guests boarding the Damai II on the 6th of August 2013 in Benoa harbour, Bali for an 11 night adventure to Komodo National Park.

Our journey started in Bali and included diving in the following locations: Sumbawa and Moyo, the volcanic island of Sangeang, the island of Gili Banta, Gili Lawa Laut and surrounding sites such as Castle and Crystal Rock, and of course the amazing diversity found in Horseshoe Bay, south Rinca.

As with any Underwater Tribe trip, Luca conducted several informal photo classes along with answering any photography based questions.  He also presented several evening presentations about wildlife and underwater photography in general.

The diving itself was outstanding, here are a few of the highlights:

Reef and coral fish

Reef and coral fish

We started with a very beautiful dive in Moyo island called Angel Reef and experienced clear blue water, huge sponges, plenty of soft corals and colorful crinoids as well as a plethora of schooling fish.

A cowrie feeding on Black Coral

A cowrie feeding on Black Coral

The black sand of Sangeang Volcano presented a great mix of black sand “critter diving” along with two amazingly varied sites in Bubble Reef and Deep Purple.

At Gili Banta we enjoyed at least 40 meters of visibility everywhere with “Roller Coaster” being a particularly memorable dive showcasing a sleeping shark, frogfish, rainbow runners and a lot more!

Castle Rock and Crystal Rock were packed with the usual suspects: schooling fish and loads of white tip sharks.  “Shotgun” was at it’s incredible best as we had perfect conditions with a mild current pushing us through the channel past snappers, batfish, corals, and a few trevally out hunting. These sites were rocking, so we did them all at least twice!

Down south in Horseshoe Bay, we definitely felt the water temperature drop to a chilly  22.C – 23.C but this seemed to bring out even more marine life.   Cannibal Rock was impressive as usual with big schools of fusiliers, bannerfish, snappers, and glass fish attempting to avoid the hunting trevally which were blasting across the reef in search of prey.  If that wasn’t enough, for those with an eye on the bottom they were rewarded with three giant frogfish, feeding sea apples, and of course the tiny “Ladybugs” which are a constant in the area.  As an interesting surface interval we also visited a few Komodo dragons that were basking in the sun alone the beach in front of Cannibal Rock.

A frogfish hiding between sodt corals

A frogfish hiding between sodt corals

a sea apple feeding

a sea apple feeding

Batu Bolong and Golden Passage were two more favorites among the guests featuring lots of schooling fish such as bumphead parrotfish, barracudas, and big eye jacks.

A school of rainbow runners

A school of rainbow runners

Soft coral on the wall of Batu Bolung

Soft coral on the wall of Batu Bolung

A hawksbill turtle from Tatawa Besar, Komodo

A hawksbill turtle from Tatawa Besar, Komodo

A white tip shark and soft corals from Crystal Rock, Komodo

A white tip shark and soft corals from Crystal Rock, Komodo

For those with itchy feet, we also did a few hill climbs when not diving; the hike to the top of Gili Lawa Darat, with Luca, Roger, Nathalie and Bartus, was a memorable one as after enjoying a beautiful sunset the trip back down ended up getting rather dark! (luckily they had a few torches to light the way)  The second hike was to the hills of Rinca near the ranger station and featured a bit of a show as we stumbled upon a pair of dragons mating!

In conclusion, it was a successful trip on all counts: the boat and service was fantastic and of course the diving was as amazing as it always is in Komodo.  However, the best thing of all was the camaraderie and friendships that were created between everyone on board.  We really enjoyed each others company and are proud to say that everyone is now a member of the Underwater Tribe!

We will be back in Komodo soon for another fantastic experience, (perhaps in 2014?) but for now we hope to see you all for our Underwater Photo Spectacular in May 2014 in North Sulawesi or in March 2015 in Raja Ampat aboard the Mermaid II liveaboard trip.  You can also join us on our home island of Bali where we conduct exclusive dive safaris and regular underwater photography workshops throughout the year.

Komodo Trip coming up in August 2013

This August from the 6th tp the 17th of August I will be leading Underwater Tribe’s trip to Komodo on board of the Damai 2, which one of the boat and service in the region .

The Beautiful MSY DAMAI 2

The Beautiful MSY DAMAI 2

Frogfish in W Reef, near PADAR

Frogfish in W Reef, near PADAR

During this trip will have a great itinerary starting from the island of the Gods, Bali and will end in Labuan Bajo, the gateway of the Komodo National Park.
Such an itinerary will give us plenty of opportunity for both macro and big marine life. One of the first stop will be Bima Bay , where we will be able to dive a divesite with huge concentration and diversity of critters. Yes, we will be able to see Nudibranchs of different colors and kind, Ghost pipefish, Giant and small frogfish, octopuses of many kinds, including Mimici and Wonderpus as well as Coleman Shrimps and Zebra crabs, just to mention a few. In Moyo Island we will try to find some interesting decorated Dartfish. So far I have scored 100% with this subject which should be at around 25m depth.

Manta Rays in cleaning Station in Komodo National Park

Manta Rays in cleaning Station in Komodo National Park

The Decorated Darthfish

The Decorated Darthfish

At Sangean Volcano, we will try to find pigmy seahorses, nudis and keep an eye into the blue for sights of Sharks and Rays. When we will arrive at Gili Banta we will dive a very nice coral reef as well as one of the best Night Dive of the Trip with very good chances of seeing Stargazers. Then will be the time to dedicate ourselves to big Marine Life. We will be in the Gili Lawat Region and will try to hit the water with the best conditions to dive Castle Rock and Cristal Rock, where will be able to see tons of fusiliers hunted by Giant Trevally. In August Castle Rock has got a very nice visibility which should make us able to admire the beautiful Grey Reef Sharks. Golden Passage and Shotgun will be a nice drift dive and who knows , we might will find something special like last year when a beautiful black Manta swam right by us. Talking about Manta Rays we will try both Mawuan and Kerang Makassar where in this time of the year we should have good chances to find them. Before leaving the Gili Lawa region I will be totally up for a hike to the top of the hill, for those that would like to have a stunning view of the bay and the surrounding islands.

The view from the top of the mountain of Gili Lawa

The view from the top of the mountain of Gili Lawa

An other interesting hike will be by the island of Padar where will be able to access a deserted white beach and go across to the other side where a beautiful scenery will be waiting for us. Padar island will be also home to a fantastic Night Dive.
Hopefully conditions will be favorable to access the deep south and finger crossed the water will be not too cold ( it will be probably 22.C :) )

On the last day we will set our foot on land and go for a nice dragon walk into the Savana of Komodo Island.

The Mighty Komodo Dragon

The Mighty Komodo Dragon

A white Belly Eagle from Komodo

A white Belly Eagle from Komodo

All the itinerary mentioned above it is just some of the many opportunity that we will have in Komodo National Park. As you know, nature and the weather cannot be controlled , however, with our knowledge of the islands in Komodo National Park, we will have great chances to have a wonderful trip together.

At the Moment we do have still availability for 3 people, for more information contacted me directly at info@underwatertribe.com and visit our website at http://www.underwatertribe.com/damai_august_2013.html

The Trip of life time is waiting for you!

March 2013 in Sulawesi

I have been quite lucky to have to spend good part of last month in North Sulawesi.

View of the harbor with the mount Klabat in the background

View of the harbor with the mount Klabat in the background

Every time I go back to the Land of the Smily People it feels like going back home. The reason why I went back to North Sulawesi this time was because I had an assignment as local expert dive leader on a beautiful yacht.

The route we have worked out with the Captain of the Yacht was: 2 Days in Bunaken, 2 Days in Bangka and 4 days in Lembeh Strait.

As it was almost a year for me, without visiting North Sulawesi, I have taken the chance to go to Lembeh Strait a week in advanced and visit my friends Simon, Zee and Bella at NAD LEMBEH RESORT so that in the same time could brush up my knowledge of the Strait, before I had to be on the Yacht.

one of the dive guides of NAD is enjoying th eview on the way to the dive site

one of the dive guides of NAD is enjoying th eview on the way to the dive site

NAD LEMBEH is a very nice and cozy resort aiming at satisfying the eager of Underwater Photographer. Even if at first glance the place looks quite laid back, I must say that the service it is top notch with nice and clean rooms and top-end dive guides able to spot so many of the intriguing critters that the Strait has got to offer. The food is good and the internet works pretty well considering that we are in a “remote” island of Indonesia.

A Purple Frogfish from the Lembeh Strait

A Purple Frogfish from the Lembeh Strait

At the end Simon and Zee had to go last minute to England, so I could not meet them until my assignment on the Yacht was finished, but in the main time while I was having a great time diving the Strait with NAD and photographing some of the most amazing marine life that the world had to offer.

I have also got to meet some very nice people that were sharing my same diving and photo passion.

Once I have arrived on the Yacht , I could tell from the beginning that I was going to have an awesome time with great people. The crew was very friendly and we got well along from the beginning . I have spent the first couple of days diving some local site near Kima Bajo Bay as the boat was moored there. I knew the place very well as I have been managing Eco Divers Dive Center which was in Kima Bajo Resort since 2008 until the end of 2011.

Two yellow Gobies live inside a bottle. One of them Yawning

Two yellow Gobies live inside a bottle. One of them Yawning

A Vivid Green Frogfish from Jahir 1, Lembeh Strait

A Vivid Green Frogfish from Jahir 1, Lembeh Strait

The reef of Kily was excellent, with all the soft coral blooming and feeding and at Budo I could find some of the tinniest seahorses ( hippocampus pontohi ). During the first couple of days I was taking diving the crew, that when not a work could have some real good fun enjoying watching the great variety and bizarre marine life found in Indonesian waters.

Once the guests arrived we went to have a first check dive at Kily on the main land and then proceeded the next couple of days diving the great walls of Bunaken Island , Siladen and Mantehage Island.

These three islands are part of the Bunaken Marine Park. The coral life is excellent, the water is once and warm 28-29 C. ( 82-3 F.) and the sight of reef sharks is not uncommon.

When we arrived in Bangka, the weather and the conditions were just great. Until then we could not really tell that we were on the tail end of the rainy season.

At Sahaong we had a couple of great dives enjoying the most beautiful soft coral that North Sulawesi has got to offer. At Batu mandi dive point we had some very nice nudibranchs and other interesting small critters, not to mention a crinoid full of ladybugs. Until that moment I have seen ladybugs only in Komodo National Park. I cannot hide that I was very surprised and happy to see them in the Bangka Region.

Lembeh Strait has been just great! We had frogfish, ghost pipefish, octopuses, flamboyant cuttlefish, pygmy seahorses, Harlequin and Tiger Shrimp.

The Strait was really delivering, as usual, some top macro marine life!

Last but not least we had a nice walk to the Tangkoko National Park, which is located at just 20 min by really fast speed boat and could see the smallest primate on earth the Tarsius Spectrum.

Once the guests left the yacht I have spent few more days on board enjoying diving with most of the crew, that after a nice 10 days of hard work could relax and get the chance to see what the Lembeh Strait had to offer while diving.

When the time for me to get off the boat had arrived, I went to spend a couple of days back at NAD where, in the main time Simon, Zee and their daughter Bella had returned from England.

I enjoyed a nice evening chatting with Simon and then I caught my plane to return home in Bali.

A Pair of Harlequin Shrimps

A Pair of Harlequin Shrimps

Right now as I am writing, my good friends Mike ( my business partner at Underwater Tribe ) and Matt ( amazing photo journalist and underwater photographer based in Bali ) are in Nad getting ready to present the best UW Photo Workshop that will be held between the 15th and the 20th of April at Nad Lembeh Resort. I am sure they are having a great time as I did during the month of March.

Remember to follow our updates on the Tribe’s FB page http://www.facebook.com/underwatertribe

as well as visiting our website to keep up to date with our trips and events. http://www.underwatertribe.com

Komodo Trip December 2012

Ombak Biru or Komodo Dancer Liveaboard

Ombak Biru or Komodo Dancer Liveaboard

At the beginning of December last year, I went on board of the Komodo Dancer as cruise director. It was a 10 days trip starting in Labuan Bajo, Flores ( the getaway of Komodo National Park ).

Most of the Liveaboards during this time of the year move to Raja Ampat, therefore the months from November through March get wrongly perceived as not being the best time for diving in Komodo.
Yes, the weather might be slightly overcast and occasionally 10-20 min rain showers, but other than that the conditions below the surface are just great.

We have set a great Itinerary including:

  • Gili Lawa region in the North
  • Lintah Strait in the middle of the Park
  • Lan Koi Region ( Manta Alley) and Horse Shoe Bay in the South
  • The North of Gili Banta
  • The south of Padar Island

Being the right time in terms of sea conditions , I planned to spend at least 3 days in Horse Shoe Bay, where the water was 27-28 degrees Celsius and the visibility was 20-25m opposed to the months of July/August where the water can be cold as 20 Celsius with low visibility.

Frogfish in W Reef

Frogfish in W Reef

We started the trip in the north and visit the nice dive sites such as  “Cristal Rock”  “Shotgun”  “Golden Passage”.  Then we moved to Gili Banta where, at “Roller Coaster” we had great conditions, with beautiful deep blue water and many fish.

The Night Dive at Circus was very exciting with few Stargazers fish and many other critters.
We then head down south and arrived at Lan Koi, Manta Alley.

During both dives at “Manta Alley” , we had Mantas cruising along the reef and into the blue, however, we could not see them hovering while getting cleaned.

In Horse Shoe Bay, South Rinca, there were no other boats (very common during this time of the year), so we could take the best mooring line just in front of the beach where the wild Komodo Dragons like to hang out.

Horse Shoe Bay is one of my favorite places in Indonesia archipelago. The Steep green mountains, eagles, monkeys, wild boars, deers and  mighty dragons make this place stunning and gives you the feeling of going back in time.

The diving is superb with lots of fish in “Cannibal Rock” & “Rodeo’s Rock”, huge soft corals in “Yellow Wall”, tons of crinoids at “Pelican Head”  an infinity variety of nudibranchs, frogfish, shrimps, crabs and coral fish everywhere.

When the current is moderate and you jump in the right spot in places such as Cannibal or Rodeo, you can witness thousands of fusiliers moving back and forward in ball formation, while huge Giant Trevallys hunt them down.

We have spent 3 days in the bay and repeated few time Cannibal Rock as it was a very nice and rewarding dive.
Of course we did not miss the chance and paid few visit on land to see the Dragons. As usual, they came to give us the welcome as soon as we arrived on the beach. ;)

When we arrived at Padar Island and dived “W Reef” also called “3 Sisters” we had the best conditions with mild current and clear blue water. We could find a huge Giant Frogfish right in the middle of the pinnacle surrounded by nice red soft corals.

The highlight of the trip was on the last day  when we decided to skip the dive at Batu Bolong and instead try our chances and dive at Mawuang Island to see if we could find some Mantas.
As soon as I descended I received the best of welcome as a Dugong came towards me and swam right by . That was a fantastic experience. I have seen Dugong in the past during some special occasions, but never as clear as this time.

The Mermaid!

The Mermaid!

Mantas were not too far ahead of us circling around in formation, taking their time hovering on top of this rock where many cleaner fish were all of the sudden called to duty.

8 mantas rays in Cleaning Station. :) :) :) :)

We slowly approached them and we stopped far enough to do not disturb them, but close enough to admire them in all their elegance and beauty.

We had 3 Black mantas and 5 Commons. We spent the entire dive watching them as they were swimming back and forward passing on top of our head, behind us and in front. There were Mantas all the time everywhere. I thought I already had a great dive down in the South at Manta Alley, but this was by far one of my favorite Manta dive ever. When we got low on air we ended the dive and left the beautiful display by that time has been on for a good hour.

What a way to end our amazing journey around the Komodo which for me is one of the most amazing and complete area for diving in Indonesia. Whether Big or Small marine life , Komodo National Park has got it all with the addition of the Komodo Dragons and other interesting wildlife.

Mantas circling at the cleaning station

Mantas circling at the cleaning station

The Creation of The Underwater Tribe

Logo Underwater tribe

The Logo of The Underwater Tribe

Wow! It has been really a while since I have been writing my last post in my blog.
Well, the truth is that so many exciting things have happened that I would not know where to start.

First of all, I have started the most important project of my life and opened a company in Indonesia called “Underwater Tribe”. The idea started back in the beginning of 2012, when I was sitting in my house in Bali, still thinking about the beautiful adventure on board of the Damai on the trip from Bali to Ambon in 14 days. (see my previous post about that trip).

Before that trip I was thinking that my time in Indonesia was up and eventually start a new adventure moving to Okinawa Japan as I thought that after 6 years of North Sulawesi, it would have been nice to change.
WRONG!
Visiting a good stretch of the Indonesian Archipelago show me new things and made me feel new excitement. So it was during this time back at home in Bali, that I was thinking what I could do.

Coincidently my good friend Mike Veitch ( world renowned underwater photographer and at that time 2 years Cruise Director on board of the Damai Liveaboard ) was back in Bali for a short break in between trips, when He told me that he was going to finish is contract with Damai and that he was looking for a new adventure as well.
Spontaneously we started to talk together about what we had in mind and found out that we were sharing the same view on so many points.

We both new we had to create the Underwater Tribe!!

Combined Mike and I have got more than 20 years in the diving industry as professional and a good half of those are actually in Indonesia.
The Underwater Tribe concept is that when you Join us on a trip you are becoming part of the Tribe, a circle of people that love the underwater world and Indonesia as well as have a healthy and fun time exploring Indonesia whether on a liveaboard, a land based resort or on a safari around Bali.

Being both photographers, we also love to share our knowledge and skill with anyone who is passionate about taking photographs, both Underwater or on land.

The Underwater Tribe office is in Bali, where we do organize Diving Safari all Year around.
We employ just the best guides, aiming at keeping the highest level of safety as well as being very proficient in spotting the most particular marine life that the area can offer.

In Bali we have also created the first school of Underwater Photography. We teach Photo courses as well as running Photography Dedicated Trips and Photo Workshops.
Even though the school is based in Bali , we do run periodically trips in other parts of Indonesia. For instance you will find us In the Lembeh Strait , North Sulawesi from the 15th until the 20th of April 2013, running the first official Underwater Tribe UW Photo Workshop. see the details of this Workshop here: http://www.underwatertribe.com/expeditions_2013.html

Last but not least, we do organize Liveaboard Adventure trips in all corner of Indonesia. We do schedule some trips every year but we do also customize trips for any diver or adventurer ready to book a boat and travel in any corner of the Archipelago.

click for More information about the Komodo Trip in August 2013

click for More information about the Komodo Trip in August 2013

Click to get info about our workshop in April 2013

Click to get info about our workshop in April 2013

Visit our website for more Info and like our Facebook Page to keep updated with the latest Tribe’s news. http://www.underwatertribe.comhttp://www.facebook.com/underwatertribe

In the next weeks I will be posting several updates regarding what happened in 2012, in order to catch up. I had few trips in Komodo and Raja Ampat, with exciting Manta Dives and interesting Macro life. I was also on a photo assignment in the Mentawai , Sumatra as well as did some photo work in Bali for few companies.

Make sure you stay tuned to the future updates.

I am very glad to be back and continue this blog ;)

Japan Holiday Part 2: Sakura Time, Osaka, Nara, Kyoto

Osaka Jyo- Osaka Castle

I recently have been quite busy diving around Indonesia and visiting fantastic places around Bali and as a result I was not able to complete my second blog post about my Holiday in Japan. Here we go with part 2.

Once we left Okinawa we landed in Kansai Airport. My wife is from Nara. Nara used to be the ancient Capital of Japan, before even Kyoto, during the Nara Period. The City of Nara is between Osaka and Kyoto and in about 40 minutes, we can reach both places by train.
In the past years I have been visiting regularly this fantastic place, however, I could visit only during the winter or towards the end of winter ( JAN-MAR ), as this was the time I was not busy in North Sulawesi managing the diving center.
In addition to this I have been every time paying visit to the great temples of Kyoto and Nara and the beautiful parks of the region but I have never being able to actually be there during the Sakura ( cherry blossom ) time. Every year I have been imaging these places with pink trees around them and thought they must have been fabulous.
Do not get me wrong,  as a visit to Japan , especially Kyoto or Nara is worth during anytime of the year.
In August last year I have made the decision to book my flight for the end of march so that I could once for all witness these beautiful event.

When we first arrive in Osaka, I have noticed that the weather was colder than what used to be in the previous year and I kid you not when I say that after one week of temperatures  cooler than expected , I was starting to worry that also this year I would have made my way back to Indonesia before the start of the Sakura time.

The weather was not that great as well so I have spent lots of time preparing for my new business here in Indonesia and went jogging every second day to the old Heijyo-Kyuseki ( Emperor palace area, a UNSECO World Heritage Site ) which is very near to my parents in law house and it happened to be a very good ground to watch the Sakura as the have so many trees in the park. So run after run I was looking at the trees and checking the blooming progress.

Heijo-Kyuseki, the Emperor palace area during the Nara period

Patience paid off well, towards the 10th of April the Kansai region started turning into pink ;) . What a moment , the weather improved and it was time to visit my favorites sites in the area.

Sunset and Sakura match very well at Osaka Castle

The first place we visit was the Osaka-Jyo ( Osaka’s Castle ). all around the Castle there is a very pretty park with many Sakura trees. It was very nice scenery. It was also very nice seeing how this event attracts many young people and families doing picnics. During this time the atmosphere is so warm and you can really tell that everyone is happy. Fantastic!
They said that it has been Hideyoshi, one of the greatest warlord, samurai of Japan and owner of the Osaka Castle , that ordered to his people to organize a party and to bring 700 sakura trees and to plant them in the  surroundings of the Daigo Temple in Kyoto. He asked to do that in just 3 days and the people accomplished such a difficult task in 1598. His 1300 guests were very delighted to party in such as beautiful park.

Wakayama Castle during Light Up

After few days we went for a week-end to pay a visit to my brother in law, his wife and the cousins in Wakayama city . In Wakayama there was the same happy mood around and we went to visit the Castle during the night. It is very nice that during special time and festivals in Japan they organize a light up of the interesting sightseeing places.

The Park in Nara

Daibutsu, The Big bronze Budah in Japan, It seats in Todaiji Temple in Nara

In Nara we went to the park where there are hundreds of deers  and we had a nice breakfast picnic.
I have added also some pics that I have taken in 2011 about Todaiji Temple, also a UNESCO site . This temple is very ancient temple ( 8th Century ) and it is home of one of the biggest bronze Buddha in the whole Japan.
The place is extraordinary, in the entrance there are some huge wooden posts , thinking that all of this was built more than 1000 years ago makes me appreciating the place even more.

Todaiji temple is the biggest wooden building in the world.

Todaiji Temple in Nara the biggest wooden building in the world

Todaiji’s Giant Entrance

 

Kinkaku-Ji- The golden Pavilion in Kyoto

The highlight of our sakura tour was , of course, in Kyoto . We went to the golden Temple Kinkaku-ji, the temple of the golden pavilion. This temple is really made by gold and it is a very nice place to visit. After admiring the golden beauty we had a walk in the garden and there was a place where we could make a wish throw a coin and if we could centered a small pot just a couple of meters  away our wish is supposed to come true. There were few people really trying with a huge number of coin to get this done. When was my turn I could get the pot at once , with my surprise as well , and a bit of envy of the people around me trying so hard. Well, I cannot tell my wish otherwise it won’t come true :) .

Tetsugakuno-michi Philospher’s Path

After leaving the temple we walked along Tetsugaku no-michi ( the philosopher’s path ) . all along the walk (a couple of KM at least ) we had a sakura trees. There were many artist painting as well , some selling small postcards paint. A small river going along the path was carrying all the petals of cheery blossom along in its stream. A very special place that can carry you away with its beauty.

An actress made up like a  Maiko  in Kyoto

We then had a nice lunch at a local restaurant, that served us with a very tasty pork schnitzel, steamed rice , miso soup and salad and of course as a stink we had some very fine hot green tea. After getting our energies back we headed to Gion, the famous Geisha District . The wind started blowing and the petals of sakura where flying everywhere adding a surreal touch to our emotions. We could not see any Maiko ( wrongly called Geisha, the Maiko are the Geisha apprentice and they are the ones that actually have to make up with white on their faces).
A couple of year before we could actually see few Maiko walking briefly along a near by street to Gion so we decided to try our luck and see if we could see any of them in this other road with many ochaya ( the place where the Maiko belong to). Our decision proved to be the right one as we could see a couple of them quickly walking from a place to the other.

Heron by the River of Kyoto

It was around 4 o’clock and we had a bit of time before heading to Kyomizu-Dera which is a beautiful temple on top of the hills of Kyoto a perfect place where admire the sun setting behind the mountains. We sat by the river as many others did. We were relaxing our feet as the day had been quite intense for our legs until then and we still had a final long stretch to go. While sitting there we could admire few Herons flying from side to side of the river and then standing still to catch a fish in the water. In the same time there were a couple of hawks flying on top of us. Kyoto interesting wildlife was the last thing I was expecting from the trip.

Sakura by the Kyoto river

The last part of this trip was going to be one of my favorite , it is about a 40 minutes walk taking it slow stopping shooting few pictures here and there. It starts at Yasaka Jinja, ( Yasaka Shrine, an ancient, holy, sacred Shinto place ) where often there is a Maiko dressed up for the tourist to take a picture. The walk then continue through the Maruyama Park where there is on of the oldest and biggest sakura tree of the area.

Very old Sakura Tree in Kyoto

From there we went through Nene’s road ( Nene was the wife of Hydeoshi), which is a beautiful street going up the hills, all the building are still Japanese old style and there are many souvenirs shop selling Japanese handicraft as well as pottery and there are also few restaurant and shop selling japanese sweets. Once we passed the nice Nene’s street we arrived we arrived a Ko- Daiji , which is a Zen-Buddhist temple and where you can see a very ancient monastery Bell. In Ko-Daiji is nice to stop a while and visit the gardens around the Temple which are beautiful.
Once we left it took us only 10 minutes up hill to reach the UNESCO World Heritage Site  of Kiyomizu-dera. A fantastic temple built with wood. Not a single nail was used to construct this temple , all peace have been perfectly fitted one to the other, making this structure so durable. By the Temple there is a 13 m high wall. Japanese people believe that if you want to start a new business you should take a plunge and jump from the top of the wall……. surviving will ensure you success in your activity. Even though today jumping is forbidden and I am starting a new business, in no circumstances I would have taken that jumped, I actually wondered how many of the survivor crippled themselves.
At that time was sunset time and I have got the shot that I was waiting for the whole day.

Sunset from Kiyomizu-Dera with Sakura

Japan is a wonderful place to visit and I suggest to spend most of the time around Kyoto, Nara and Osaka as they have so much culture to offer and really let you bound with the Zen feeling of this fascinating place and culture.

Halmahera Trip on Board of the Damai 2 Liveaboard

At the End of April I have been once again Traveling with the Damai 2 Liveaborad. This time we had an exploratory trip around the big island of Halmahera. Halmahera is situated in the indonesia Archipelago. It is one of the main and biggest island together with South Borneo, Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi and West Papua.

The MSY Damai 2 moored near Ternate

The trip Started in the Lembeh Strait in North Sulawesi. Thanks to this I could get the chance to meet and spend some time with some of my old and good friend in the Region. Before going on board I have been at Minahasa Lagoon to visit the property and meet with Jim and Cary (Eco Divers), Jaakko (Living Colors), Danny( Minahasa Lagoon), Andrea (Eco Divers), Monica and Danny  (Tasik DIvers), Nigel and Tina (Two Fish Divers), Christian and Sam ( Scuba zoo). We all had a great time. Having spent 6 years in The Bunaken Marine Park. I really feel manado as a second home.

a very healthy reef in the outer side of Lembeh Island, North Sulawesi, Indonesia

On board of the Damai 2, there was my good friend Mike ( cruise director ) and I could meet with many nice people like Tony and his Wife Bintang ( co-owner Damai ), Mark and Arnaz ( Conservation International ) very friendly Jeff ( share holder Damai ) Monte videographer from the States and Michael a very experience Diver from Germany that , at that time, had dived everywhere in Indonesia, except Halmahera.

During the first diving day, instead of diving the inside the Strait, we have decided to take the boat in the outern part of the island of Lembeh. The diving was not bad at all. We could find some very interesting diving sites with nice pinnacles and soft corals. We have seen a Manta Ray passing by and a white tip reef shark. Outside Lembeh turned out to be a very nice coral option and alternative to the muck sites inside the Strait.
The same night we sailed towards Tifore Island which is located between Sulawesi and Halmahera.

The first morning dive at Tifore was at un underwater sea mont just next to the west side of the island.

It turned out to be an excellent one. We had a huge school of Rainbow runners and Barracudas as well as Black Snappers and Fusiliers, few napoleons were moving around the top reef and the west side had a very good soft coral formation. We did three dives there , but we could see the barracuda only on the first dive. They must have been moving out into the blue. Unfortunately the east side of the Sea mont was totally destroyed by dynamite fishing :( .

A small group of barracuda

A big vortex of Barracuda

On Day three we arrived at Ternate the capital of Halmahera.  Ternate has got an amazing Panorama with 4 active volcano visible.
I have made a couple of dives there and seen many Jaw-fish and a school of Bumped head parrotfish passing by. The visibility was very good but the coral was not in good shape at the first dive site. The second dive was by one of the Volcano, a black sand dive site with hundreds of Skeleton shrimps.  In that dive site Mark might has found a new species of walking shark we are still waiting for the results.

A Jaw-fish keeps its mouth wide opened

The next day we arrived at Selat Patientie which is a strait between Halmahera and Bacan island. Along the coast there were some small fishing village , amazingly the forest was still untouched. The landscape in the area was so beautiful.
We dived by Proco island in the south side. This turned out to be the most beautiful reef of the entire itinerary. We had many  pristine coral blocks some with glass fish, many anthers everywhere , also a very good number of ribbon eels a couple of black tip reef sharks a slight current intensifying towards the end at the corner where there were many fish.
We had two dives there and enjoyed both.

Proco Island , near Bacan Island in Halmahera

A pristine top reef in Halmahera

The days went on navigating between wild strait made up of mangroves and tropical pristine corals. To be honest the diving had ups and downs . Some are were really devastated by dynamite fishing and some times I thought that it would have been great to push a button and go back in time before they fish out the place in this way, because I could tell that this whole area must have been amazing.

A beautiful soft coral with many red-tooth trigger fish on the top. The coral could survive the devastation of dynamite fishing.

There was this diving spot on day 6  a huge sea mount rising from 500m vertically to about 5m. It was in the middle of the ocean by itself. It was totally destroyed by bombing but the fish life was still very good, with schools of fusiliers, huge rainbow runners like I have never seen, black snappers and a myriad of red-tooth trigger fish. There were few patches in the east side with some soft coral area , but that was all about it, the top was entirely wiped out. I cannot imaging how many millions of dollars of revenue they could have gained by simply protecting this sea mount and open it to tourism. I felt very sad.

A huge underwater sea mount completely wiped out by dynamite fishing.

The day before last of Diving we arrived at this spot in the northern tip of Kayoa island. There were some and big pinnacle covered in soft corals, starting from 40m rising until 18m, there were few swim through and the fish life was quite good, a gentle current was going with us towards the corner. In the sallow area around 14m I could find a small inlet in the reef where a school snapper was hanging. I decided to go towards it unaware of what it was going to happen. There was raging   current flowing into and upward that in let. I could strongly swimming on one of the side of the inlet. In my left hand I had my DSLR and with the right I was hanging on the side of the reef with even my finger nails. The current was so strong that my reg was vibrating. I took a moment and composed my thinking , definitely giving up was not an option, in fact if I had let go I would have been pushed against the island under an overhang formed by the erosion of the island rocky wall.
so slowly slowly I started kicking and pulling my self towards the corner of this inlet to catch the main current flowing along the reef and so I did, but when I arrived at the corner I have seen Michael coming towards me and as a consequence ready to be trapped like me. Well I wish I could speak underwater, I tried to signal him not to come there but………. next moment he was in a worst mess that I was just few minutes before, because he was on the opposite wall side of this inlet, therefore we would have had to come across to my side to be able to pull him self out. As I mentioned earlier, Michael is a very experience diver and during this event He showed all his skills and experience. Swimming across to my side would not have been possible, even the strongest swimmer would have been swallowed by the island in this occasion, so what Michael did, was to slowly pull himself to the bottom at 22m and make it across reef climbing to the other side. What a though diver and cool thinker !!!!
So it was like this, that Michael and I had our moment of excitement and adrenaline  during this trip ;)

big elephant’s ear sponges of different colors

The Damai vessel as usual turned out to be a very fine service. Great cabins with bathroom, the food was excellent and on the Damai 2 there is even an inside cinema with a very good film collection that we could enjoy in the evening after dinner. The Huge camera room made it very easy and comfortable to prepare and store the camera gears. The crew did a fantastic job and we felt safe at all time. There was not a single dive when we came up that the tender boat was not aware where we were. Excellent job guys! The tenders are some of the finest I have ever been.
The Spa masseuses were very well prepared and professional.  The cabin were done everyday and they even had open bed in the evening.

Even though the diving turned out to be on average below my expectation. I had some very nice dives and especially I had a great trip, visiting a wonderful landscape, passing in narrow and wild strait, resting in beautiful lagoons with virgin islands with white sandy beaches.

one of the Widi Widi Island in Halamhera

Sunset after raining, a beautiful display.

Thanks so much To Alberto and Tony from Dive Damai to have invited my wife and myself to explore Halmahera on board of one of the finest vessel in the Indonesia archipelago.