Raja Ampat Indonesia Travelogue - Tom Liles

The Albuquerque "Exotic Dive Destinations" group visited Singapore and Indonesia in March of 2019.  16 divers in total with 5 from other towns (2 from Socorro, 2 from Flagstaff AZ and 1 from Boulder CO).  The trip was put together and led by Wayne Bridge as usual.  We had two nights in Singapore and 10 nights in the Raja Ampat area of Eastern Indonesia on the MSY Seahorse, a dive liveaboard boat in the Indonesian phinisi style.  Raja Ampat is one of those bucket list dive destinations so we have crossed that one off!  Of course, Indonesia has many great destinations so there is still a lot of ground left to cover/reefs to dive...

Travel is always fun (?) going to that part of the world! We were routed through San Francisco, enjoying a 17 hour non-stop flight from SF to Singapore.  Ugh.  Two more flights to get to Sorong via Jakarta.  At least there were two nights in Singapore to break up that direction.  Coming back was a LONG day, adding a stopover in Hong Kong for one extra flight.  Stef and I stayed in San Fran for an additional 5 nights.  Would not want to waste a transit through one of our favorite towns!

This was our second visit to Singapore.  Our hotel was close to the airport, but transportation to and from downtown was not hard to arrange.  We spent most of our time during the first visit touring the various ethnic quarters:  Arab, Hindu, Buddhist, Chinatown, etc.  This time we concentrated on the Gardens by the Bay park area and the two big exhibition domes:  Flower Dome and Rain Forest Dome.  Both were fabulous, and air conditioned!  The flower displays and arrangements were fantastic and the rain forest was great, with a 100+ foot indoor waterfall, along with plants and trees endemic to the rain forest.

Then there is the Marina Bay Sands Hotel (the "boat" on three towers).  It stills remains the most striking example of architecture we have ever seen!  The Singapore skyline is very unique.

The huge "Super Tree" structures are very different and beautiful.  There is an above ground walkway among several of them.  We stayed late and enjoyed an exceptional light show after dark.


We flew Garuda Airlines from Singapore to Sorong West Papua, via a connection in Jakarta.  After taxi rides to the harbor, the boat crew motored the group out to the moored Seahorse.  The boat was a great sight to behold after all that travel!  We would spend the next ten days touring the remote islands of the Raja Ampat Marine Park.  We could hardly wait to get in the water!

The boat had a very good dive deck and camera table.  There was also a large dedicated camera room for us photogs!  The indoor lounge doubled as the dining room during meals, which were plentiful and served family style.  Our room was huge by dive boat standards, lots of storage and even a desk.

The dive operation was well run.  The schedule normally included three dives a day plus a night dive on half the days.  The daily schedule board was kept up-to-date with the divers split between the two dive tenders and 4 dive guides.  There were briefings before every dive with a detailed picture, though after a while the list of creatures you might see on the dive tended to be repetitious (i.e. you might see anything on each dive)!

Dive Cruise Itinerary

The Rough Life On Board.  Not quite as leisurely for photographers and videographers, doing camera maintenance, etc, between most dives and meals.  I think Judy (Princess Leia) had a nitrogen narcosis hit!

We had several shore excursions.  The first to a "nature" park motoring through gorgeous islands and up to a beautiful tropical view.  Another visit to a market town with great looking vegetables (some unknown varieties).  We got caught in a torrential downpour, so the crew went all the way out to the boat to get rain ponchos. There was also a shore bbq with a great spread, bonfire and dancing (of a fashion!).

There are of course lots of colorful reef fish, but they will not stop and pose!  They can be very frustrating to photograph.  I usually wind up doing quick point and shoot as they go by and hope for best!  At least the Anemone fish stay in one specific anemone but are constantly flitting in and out of the tentacles.

Colorful Fish

Now my favorite photo subjects, Nudibranchs!  Basically snails without shells. Weird, very colorful and very slow!  No problem getting images though they can be in very inconvenient locations, inside corals, under ledges, etc.  And they are very easy to miss as they can be tiny.

Crustaceans are very cool!  Some are easy to see, some hide on crinoids, anemones, sea fans, etc, assuming the color and shape of the organism.  Finding these camouflaged critter is where the local dive guides can come in very handy!  Other times they are out in the open and very easy to find.  Critters in the lobster family are not always big, at times being less than 1 inch long.  Macro is king!

There are lots of miscellaneous weird creatures on the reef!  The following is a selection of those oddities.  The Pygmy Seahorse is very tiny and usually camouflaged the same color as its sea fan, but this one stood out.  The Ornate Ghost Pipefish is fabulous looking.  And the Wobbegong is one interesting looking shark!  Yes, a shark.  Just sits on the bottom waiting for dinner to swim by.  Squid and Cuttefish sometimes allow very close approaches.

More Weird Creatures in Motion

Corals come in sorts of shapes and forms.  And remember, they are live animals, not plants!  Soft coral trees are very beautiful and come in all colors.

And lastly, some images of reef scenes and divers.  The colors can be riotous and the schools of small reef fish fun to watch.  Hanging off the reef/wall is very serene.  Dangling diver legs waiting at the surface at the end of the dive is interesting looking.  You always have to pay attention to the blue when at the surface.  You never know what might swim by.

Reef Scene and Divers

Some of our bills, in Indonesian Rupees, had a large number of commas!  Here is a 100,000 Rupee note, worth around 7 dollars US.  You get a "Wow" feeling when you first see that bill  in the millions!

Indonesian 100,000 Rupees

Around U.S. 7 Dollars


As good as Indonesia was, we could not pass through San Francisco without staying a few extra days!  First place we visited was Fisherman's Wharf of course.  Then lots of walking along the bay, half way across the Golden Gate Bridge and around the Presidio along the Pacific Coast.  There are quite a few World War II shore batteries along that coast!  We enjoyed a day touring Napa Valley, visiting the town of Napa and two wineries:  the Andretti Vineyard (yes, owned by Mario) and the V. Sattui Vineyard.  Wish we had waited for that second winery to have lunch.  It had a great store with meats, cheeses, bread, etc, and a big picnic area. 

On the last day we drove out to Pleasanton CA to visit an old University of Illinois computer science nerd friend of Stephanie's.  They had not seen each other since college!  She and her husband own their own small winery Mia Nipote.

Another great holiday comes to an end.  We are already talking about another trip to Indonesia, but there are so many good places to dive.  Who knows where the next underwater adventure will take us.

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