days seventy-six thru eighty-seven: december 14 thru 25:
On our first day, we set course thru the Dampier Strait. Johannes spent several years on the boat Pindito (the original live aboard that discovered Raja Ampat for diving), which had a well-known marine biologist on board. He learned how to spot and approach large marine animals. He proved his skills on our first day, allowing us to spend time with a pod of 100+ spotted dolphins surfing our bow wake, several bryde's whales, and a second pod of 100+ spinner dolphins. Definitely a great sign that this was going to be a great trip.
That night we were introduced to the sunsets of Raja Ampat, which did not disappoint for the rest of the trip.
12:00 PM - Lunch
2:00 PM - Third dive
4:00 PM - Excursion
6:30 PM - Dinner and then a night dive or sunset dive and then dinner
Our typical day would go as follows:
6:45 AM - Wake up call and first breakfast
7:30 AM - First dive/snorkel
9:00 AM - Second breakfast
10:30 AM - Second dive/snorkel
Of course, sometimes our schedule would be adjusted based on different excursions. On the third day, we were near the island of Penemu and hiked 307 stairs to the viewpoint above Secret Bay, also sometimes referred to as Mini-Wayag. You'll see later on in the post why.
After snorkeling the first few days, I was really amazed at all fish and coral underwater. It was like something I had never seen before. I decided to do a discovery dive course with Johannes to see what diving was all about. If you know me, this was a major step. As much as Jonathan loves to dive, I could never build up the courage to try. I was too scared of what I would see underwater and didn't think my swimming skills were good enough. I was happy with snorkeling and seeing Jonathan's pictures after all his dives. Buuuut, I have to say that I really enjoyed diving and it didn't hurt that there was just so many beautiful things to see. I was able to do three proper dives and already looking forward to getting properly certified!
On our fifth day, we arrived in Alyui, where the Atlas Pearl Farm is located. As part of our visit, we received a short tour of the facilities and were showed how the farming is done. The oysters are grown, cleaned and fed in hanging nets that float at around 15M deep, which is the perfect depth and temperature for the oysters.
Oysters are delivered to the farm already as juveniles and already implanted with a small nuclei inside the stomach of the oyster with some of the mantle tissue grafted inside the stomach. This tissue, shown below is removed from one oyster and grafted to others. Since their immune systems are very primitive, the tissue is not rejected. This tissue contains the only cells of the oyster that are capable of producing the mother of pearl that eventually creates pearls.
When an oyster is of the right age, the pearl is removed. If the pearl is of high quality then typically a new nuclei is inserted after the pearl is removed to continue the process and have the oyster generate additional pearls.
The next day, we arrived in paradise, Wayag. After hooking up to the buoys in the bay, we spent some time relaxing, visiting the beach nearby and jumping off the bow of the ship before enjoying a sunset dive.
The next morning we woke up bright and early to climb Mt. Pindito to check out the view over Wayag and the surrounding areas.
Afterwards, we enjoyed the beach we landed on earlier that morning and cooled off in the crystal clear waters.
After the first dive of the morning, we went for an afternoon speedboat ride around the bay and islands finally setting ashore at another paradise beach.
After another day of diving, we decided to spend the afternoon visiting a Papuan village, Kampung Tapokreng. There, we met some of the locals and hung out with some of the kids.
With the next morning being our last full day, we woke up early to watch the sunrise, something we didn't make time for earlier in the trip. Probably our only mistake of the trip.
We spent the last day on the Dampier Strait again and spent some more time with dolphins and a group of six bryde's whales, one of which came up for air right in front of our bow.
And to end our trip on Christmas Eve, we were treated with an incredible sunset just before our Christmas dinner. It was the perfect ending to an awesome trip!