A Trip To Raja Ampat In West Papua.
Raja Ampat – a place that not only sounds magical, but most people don’t even know of. Raja Ampat is situated on our beautiful planet and was on our travel list a few years ago.
After diving trips to Komodo Islands and Alor (both in Indonesia), it almost seemed that our list could not be topped with a better (dive) vacation. We got curious after reading an article about the discovery of unknown species and the hidden skulls on the islands around Raja Ampat. After getting together all available information, we finally bought the tickets to Sorong in West Papua (also known as Irian Jaya). You have to know, flying in Indonesia is not always the smoothest (plus I’m a little scaredy-cat when it comes to planes) and getting to Sorong needed a change of planes in Makassar. We stayed in Makassar in Sulawesi for a two day stop-over until we continued our journey.
The Merpati flight to Sorong was quite bumpy and you couldn’t see much because the sky was covered with thick clouds. No land could be seen during the descent, therefore the landing approach was going to be difficult (I might add at this point that Sorong Airport does not have landing lights, so if the pilot can’t see he even won’t be guided by those lights). After circling for half an hour, the pilot braced himself and went down through an air pocket that opened up – it was one hell of a hard landing!
Sorong is a prospering jungle town focusing on upcoming oil findings. We booked into the hotel opposite of the airport (because it was first of all the “nicest” place and we would be picked up from there the next day) and started to explore the area.
We were lucky because on this day, the town hosted a national motorbike event … a little bit like the local Formula 1. It was a 125ccm motorbike competition and everybody (male) between the ages of 8 to 80 was there to cheer for their favourite racers. It really was a great thing to watch these guys dressed in full gear, racing on their tuned and chipped up scooters. Quite entertaining.
After that we (of course) walked around the local market and I think that we must have been one of he few white people there to do so (ever). The market was as colourful as elsewhere and the busiest place in town. The minute we arrive, we were the talk of the day and we were followed by a huge crowd.
On the next day our boat was ready to leave. It took about one hour to get to Pulau Kri. Back then, there were not that many resorts in Raja Ampat but we booked ourselves into a very beautiful resort, which was run by a Dutch, called “Kri Eco Resort“. It really turned out to be a great choice; everything was organized, all the dive gear (I only brought my own Octopus & BCD) and dive boats were in order, the staff was fantastic because they looked after everyone’s well being all the time and the food was delicious. The bungalows where also very nice – simple, but nice. They were built right above the water as you can see in the picture. It was wonderful!
Diving around the islands of Raja Ampat is … how can I describe it … simply breathtaking! Literally, after the first dive you want to immediately do the next one or never even leave the water at all. I was busy diving 3-4 times a day, always with one dive guide and group of maximum 4 people (nice!). I did cave dives, current dives (where you get sucked through small waterways between islands) & night dives. It was simply an unforgettable experience to dive with great Manta rays, sharks, or turtles. The reef is untouched and I couldn’t explain what kind of colour explosion happened down at 40 meters. Truly fantastic!
But not only the underwater scene of Raja Ampat was magical; we went on boat tours to uninhabited islets, walked along untouched beaches, ate freshly picked coconuts by our dive guides and we visited villages hardly ever seen by western people. If you know hard-core divers you’ll know that they are usually not very interested in things above water but we wanted to get to know the paradise we stayed in for three full weeks. The villages were surrounded by virgin jungle and the locals were more than friendly. Everyone greeted us with open arm, smiled and especially the kids were so excited that we were there with our video- & photo equipment. They had a blast when we showed them their pictures. But, even at these remote places we met one Chinese man who traded for coffee, exotic birds, sea cucumbers, and other strange or protected animals (that have a high price and are used as Chinese medicine). He was definitely not happy to see us wandering around there…
With the boat we also passed strange looking rock formations with little caves where human skulls were places … nobody really knows how and by whom they were brought there. The people of Raja Ampat are afraid of the dead and therefore cemeteries are far away from the villages. The graves are usually covered with a little house and these constructions really did look a bit spooky even to us…
All in all, the trip there was one of the most memorable ever. Whether you’re a diver or not, Raja Ampat will take your breath away.
If you want to see more photos of Raja Ampat, check out our set on flickr.