THE WEEKLY #60: REACHING MY DREAM DESTINATION
The second week of exploring Indonesia with the Indonesia Tourism Board was absoultely mental.
On the fourth day of our scuba trip through Indonesia, I woke early before taking a walk down the streets of Alor. Friendly locals took photos with us and said good morning as they began another day on the island. For our crew, the day involved two flights, which would have us arriving to Labuan Bajo by late afternoon.
I had been to Labuan Bajo last year and it remains one of my favorite regions in the world. Beautiful mountains cover the islands bound by crystal clear water and an abundance of sea life. Last year I hiked Padar and visited Komodo island but only did a bit of snorkeling. This year we have five dives planned for the region and they are known as some of the world’s best dive sites.
When we arrived to the live aboard my main focus wasn’t the size of the bedroom, my diving gear or the welcome drink but how high the roof was. Fortunately, the canopy was about 6-7 meters high, which means for the next three days I am going to jump into the warm water several hundred times.
Tonight we messed around and it was so awesome to have everyone joining in jumping in just having a blast while the sun slowly set. Once the sun hit the horizon it was time to focus on the skies. Our boat was anchored right next to Bat Island. Each night thousands of bats wake from their slumber and mass-migrate to the mainland of Flores. We watched the sky turn fiery red and fade to a soft purple as thousands of screeching bats streamed overhead. This is island living and I love it.
It is the middle of the Trip of Wonders and the late nights of editing are starting to catch up with me. However, the relentless adventure chasing hasn’t slowed in the slightest, in fact, it has accelerated if anything. Today I woke as the sun shone in through the windows of my second-floor bedroom on our liveaboard at six in the morning. It’s amazing how a wake-up call from mother nature provides you with the energy you need to jump out of bed.
Breakfast aboard the boat with everyone with the salty air blowing through the open dining area was a beautiful kick start before we boarded our smaller boat and headed to Rinca Island. We came in search of Komodo Dragons and were lucky enough to not only find them lounging the common areas but to also witness some territory wars. One komodo dragon was guarding a nest when another approached before a crazy chase all the way up the hill ensued.
After hanging out with the dragons we hit a small viewpoint on Rinca Island and three of us pulled out our drones and sent them out over the cerulean waters. I am still learning how to fly but it’s so freaking cool checking out landscapes like these from 500m in the air.
The morning was sweet but we were here to scuba dive. Our first mission of the day was to check out Manta Point and swim with some Giant Manta Rays. After swimming a few kilometers in total in less than an hour I was dead! However, we had another dive at Batu Bolong. Huge underwater cliffs were crowded with thousands of fish and we saw a few turtles and even a small shark.
Day 6 on the Trip of Wonders in Indonesia began a little earlier than your average day. At 3:40 am I rolled out of bed, jumped in a boat and then hiked up a hill to catch what would be one of the best sunrises of my 2017. At around 5:30 am the sun rose over the horizon as I stood atop a hill on Gili Lawa in Komodo National Park. It was one of those sunrises that just keeps on giving. The pre, the rise, and the post were all phenomenal.
A quick breakfast back at our live aboard and then we were off to scuba. It was an awesome dive in a bit of a dangerous spot with a notoriously wild current. As soon as we dropped in and made our descent, I was yards away from a White Tip Shark, the first shark I have seen underwater. Our second dive was more of a float 20m under the water as we let the current do most of the work. We hung out with giant Manta Rays and Turtles before completing our last dive in Komodo.
After our last dive and even in between the two dives we had plenty of time to chill on the live aboard and snorkel, jump from the roof or just hang out. It’s been awesome to have constant sun without even having to check the weather. I’m feeling pretty tired from 5 hrs max a night for a week but simultaneously feeling full of life and buzzing for the next day.
Tonight we cruised back to Labuan Bajo town and will begin our journey to Raja Ampat tomorrow!
Day 7 & 8
Day 7 & Day 8 on The Trip of Wonders were transit days so I combined them into one post here on my blog and on Facebook. We were heading from Flores to Raja Ampat, an unlikely route that required four flights in two days. I think I’ve flown on over 40 fights already this year! Before our flight, we visited a local village in the hills of Flores. They performed a traditional dance before we hung out in their village for the morning.
The performance was awesome and if you follow me on Instagram and watched my story you would have seen me in action. The older women of the village took a liking to me, which isn’t the first time on this trip! They were all staring at me and giggling before one of them pointed at me and called me Jesus. As usual, I photographed the performers, people and children of the village on my 55mm.
I’ve been challenging myself on this trip to think more creatively, shoot more creatively and to chase unique angles and shots. It’s easy to get stuck pointing at the main attraction, so like most aspects of my life I look at what everyone else is doing and try and do the opposite. I’ve also been pushing myself to edit and curate the photos each night. It means some nights I sleep less but it’s all part of the adventure and I feel great having produced something at the end of each day.
Next, we flew to Makassar for the night. Two more flights the next day and we were in Raja Ampat. This is a destination that has been on my bucket list for a long time now. It’s quite an isolated destination to get to, which makes it a more lightly traveled destination compared to many spots in the tourism mecca that is Indonesia. Our second flight was only 15 mins!! Surely that is one of the shortest flights in the world!
We are staying at Raja Ampat Dive Resort, which is an incredible beachside resort in the middle of nowhere. With only a couple of hours to explore before sunset, we enjoyed the pier and went for a swim before I headed back to my wooden bungalow to write a Facebook post and add a photo blog.
Our first full day in Raja Ampat was quite relaxed by the standards of this adventurous trip. We did 3 scuba dives throughout the day and visited a secluded island for lunch. I’ve figured out my favorite part of scuba diving is watching sharks, of which we saw many today. We also spotted large schools of fish in the warm waters of Raja Ampat. I’ve now down over 20 dives. Who would’ve thought a month ago that would be the case when I hadn’t done a single dive in my life. It’s still warm, there’s no rain and we are on an isolated island so no complaints here.
The weather has been quite overcast so instead of shooting the beaches, I worked a few portraits with some of our guides/photographers for the trip Leya and Uca. I’m shooting with the Zeiss 55mm 1.8. Capturing the essence of a person is something I have been working on for a year now. Combining that with capturing the shot in a sharp well-composed image is something that takes time to master and is a skillset I am slowly improving. Exploring India definitely helped me to develop my portrait skills.
I’m overwhelmed right now. I know why I’m overwhelmed and this positive overload of emotions is under control. For the last two years, Raja Ampat has been on my bucket list. I had seen photos all over social media and the internet and heard that it was quite isolated. I had never even considered diving here, but it was the amazing landscape that had me dreaming of standing at a viewpoint overlooking islets in cerulean water.
Today my dream became a reality. After a scuba dive with sharks, amazing coral gardens and gigantic schools of fish, we were headed to Piaynemo Island. You have likely never heard of this island but I can imagine it will be edging its way up your to-do list if you continue to read this blog post.
As soon as we passed the first islet, I had a strange feeling running through my body. It’s not often I am overwhelmed by a location or so emotional about an attraction. When you travel nonstop the wow factor inevitably rubs off slightly. It was one of those awesome moments where a tingle strikes and ripples throughout your entire body, awakening you to your being and your life. In that moment I couldn’t believe that I was sitting in a boat in my dream location, surrounded by great people and this was considered ‘work’.
Our boat pulled into the dock and we were offered coconuts on arrival. Most of our group stopped to have a drink and relax but I wasn’t here for a refreshing drink. I started to ascend the stairs to the viewpoint and I felt full of adventure as I leaped up each stair.
When I reached the top and ran across to the edge of the viewpoint I was honestly feeling quite emotional. Most of my close friends will lament and complain about my lack of excitement or emotion. Usually, a good view doesn’t elicit much of a loud reaction from me, but I think I had built up this destination to the point where it was a momentous occasion to be here, alone at the top of the view looking out over the most stunning landscapes I’ve ever laid eyes on.
We hung out at the top for more than an hour shooting, enjoying and flying drones before cruising back down to the dock to test out the GoPro dome and hit up some cliff jumping on the sharp rocks. All the time I’m slapping myself, wondering how this all happened. It’s something that’s happening more and more often lately.
I put in a ton of hard work but days like these, awesome days like these, wouldn’t be possible without the support of those who read and support my content, my friends, and my family.
Today one of my dreams came true and I am lost for words looking at the images on my screen while I consider just how lucky I am.
I woke up on day 11 wondering how 24 hours could be better spent than our diving adventure and exploration of Piaynemo the day before. Somehow we almost managed to match this incredible experience with another crazy day of unexpected wonders.
After breakfast at the Raja Ampat Dive Resort, we all crammed on the boat headed to our first dive spot. We did 18 dives on the trip and it is safe to say I was on dive overload but each underwater experience was unique. On this dive, I dipped down to 35m and while resting on the ocean floor I came face to face with two black tip sharks. This was definitely the highlight of the scuba diving on this trip for me and I remember laughing while underwater at how crazy the experience was.
In rough waves, my dive buddy and I clambered back on the boat before we headed to an unreal spot for a surface interval. We rolled up to a giant sandbar in the middle of the ocean. A small island sat at one end, seemingly floating on water. This was one of the craziest spots I’ve been in a long time and flying the drone here was unreal.
After the sandbar, we headed to the island of Arborek, a small village where we were welcomed with a traditional dance by the children. I was then kindly nominated by my group to take on the village leader in a traditional dance performance. Those that know me well are aware I do not dance… kind of ever. Peer pressure is a strong force and before I knew it, I was armed with a wooden stick and shield dancing around in the sand.
We danced through the village before enjoying lunch and hanging out with the locals of the village. I sat down with a few ladies making baskets as they told me about the different dyes they use and how long the process takes them. One of the brown colors comes from soaking the leaves in mangrove tree roots for several months.
Our last dive of the trip wasn’t very deep or very far. In fact, it was right underneath the Arborek Pier. Huge schools of fish congregate below the pier, circling the pylons. I chose to free dive in and out of the pylons, swimming straight through schools of fish. This was an experience I had only ever seen in National Geographic. Ducking under and playing with thousands of fish was a great way to end an awesome trip.
This was a non-stop two weeks of adventures by the ocean and it was one of the best times of this year for me! Can’t wait to get back to Indonesia later this year for a longer stay!