Unfortunately my Internet access in this part of the world is extremely limited. I thought it would be a nice break being away from everything but not having any internet access has proven difficult. I have been in Indonesia for almost a week now and so much has happened in the last six days that I have been here.
Per my last post, I was due to meet the Barefoot Conservation program coordinator last Thursday morning in Sorong, Indonesia. I am happy to report that our meeting went according to plan. Once I met Simon from Barefoot Conservation in Sorong, we took a ferry to Waisai (the ferry ride was a crazy experience...Simon and I were the only two foreigners along with hundreds of locals...the port is actually run by two Papuan families whose extended relatives hang around all day chewing this stuff called "beetle nut", which stains teeth blood red....wild). Side note, Waisai is the nearest town to where I am staying. Little did I know that we had to take another boat ride from Waisai to our island (don't think it actually has a name)....that took about 35 more minutes. I eventually made it to the Barefoot Conservation headquarters after literally two days of traveling....it is not easy to get here.
I arrived at the Barefoot base camp last Thursday afternoon around three o'clock and I was ridiculously beat....and filthy dirty. I met a few of the other volunteers, had dinner with everyone, took a cold bucket shower, and promptly fell asleep.
Friday morning I woke up around 7am and was quickly introduced to the organization....I learned a little more about what Barefoot does. Long story short, the organization I am working with has a science program that assists the local government with monitoring and classifying marine wildlife in the area. Additionally, Barefoot is launching an English education program in some of the local villages (there are dozens of villages strewn about the islands where I am with limited to no resources for anything). One of the requirements to help with the science program is to be an advanced open water certified diver so I had to start the advanced certification process last Friday afternoon.
My first dive was last Friday at around 2PM and I dove again that day at 4. Hard to put into words what it looks like underwater here....I saw five sharks and eight turtles on my very first dive about 100 yards away from our lodging facilities. There are fish everywhere and the coral is amazingly lively....so many colors...this absolutely blows away anything I have seen before, dive wise.
Friday night was pretty standard, ate dinner with the crew and then passed out pretty early. I started my advanced dives on Saturday...I completed my deep water dive along with my navigational dive. In order to become an advanced diver, there are five different adventure dives you have to complete. Friday night I learned a little more about the science program and played volleyball with some of the locals. By the way, there are about ten other volunteers here right now.
Saturday we woke up at 6AM and had to incredible back to back dives. We saw so much wildlife.....more sharks, turtles, bump head parrot fish, you name it. That afternoon we cleaned the gear and the science group got together to go over their notes. Saturday night was pretty fun...we had a bonfire and jammed out to some mellow tunes. Some of the crew stayed up really late but I was exhausted so crashed at like eleven.
Sunday is typically the day off here from activities and there are no dives. We just cleaned and took turns cooking meals since the cook also has the day off. We went for a snorkel in the afternoon and saw just as much as we do diving. I came face to face with two reef sharks who looked like they were up to no good in about three feet of water, which was interesting..thankfully they left me alone but my heart was racing once they got about five feet away from me.
Monday we were up early again....this time to see Manta Rays. One of the biggest components of the science project here is to monitor the local manta ray populations. I had never seen a manta ray so I was stoked. I had a briefing on manta rays before we went out and then we were off dive. The dive site is a cleaning station that the manta rays use to cleanse themselves of parasites (the rays swim though and little fish just munch on them as they pass). The manta rays were incredible. We only saw two of them on that particular dive but they were huge and swam so gracefully.
Monday afternoon we actually headed into Waisai for a local festival that was going down. Such an incredible experience walking around Waisai and checking out the festival. There were people from all over the Raja Ampat islands here to celebrate. There were some crazy dudes depressed up in traditional Papuan warrior costumes leading some insane drum performances. Lots of locals asking to take pictures with us....man, I really dug it. Great time.
Tuesday I did my search and recovery diva along with my peak performance buoyancy test. Both of those dives were actually pretty challenging but I ended up passing. I have to complete a drift dive and then I can participate in the science program, starting this Thursday. More volleyball on Tuesday night and I went for a run during low tide (the beach disappears during high tide so I have to time my runs out according of what the ocean is doing).
Today is Wednesday and I am back in Waisai shopping for supplies with the group. We buy groceries once a week and take them to the island. We are also picking up two more volunteers that just arrived in Sorong this morning. Should be a nice ride back to base camp during sunset later this afternoon. Man, I am loving out a childhood dream right now....I am so thankful for the opportunity. Looking forward to the next week which should be full of learning about the marine life here and a visit to the school in the neighboring village!