The last two weeks have seen me aboard World-wide Dive and Sail's Indo-Siren, with Alex Mustard's latest workshop and Alex Tattersall's latest demonstration of Nauticam widgetry...
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Flying into Sorong, the scenery grows more and more dramatic as the amenities of civilisation become a little frayed at the edges. How a boat like the Indo-Siren maintains such a high quality is something of a mystery, and one made harder by the pervasive humid heat and bureaucracy that has to be propitiated in order to leave port. An even greater mystery: having eventually encountered the elusive manta ray and the reclusive whale shark (at least they were elusive and reclusive on my dives), would I wonder at the wary wobbegong?
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Wobbegongs would have to wait: Daram, south and east of Misool, was our first destination and "Andiamo" our first dive and a taste of the dramatic colours, corals, fish and topography that makes Raja Ampat so special.
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Sunshine, calm seas and surprisingly gentle currents held us entranced around Misool for several days. "Andiamo" rewarded us with shoals of fish, dancing around shoals of other fish, and wasn't by any means the only site blessed by abundance. The chaotic profusion of life in this sea is a reminder of what so much of the ocean was like, once upon a time.
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Eventually we moved north, into wetter weather and seas a little rougher, and into the haunt of the wobbegong, the tropical forest, the mangrove and the Passage, where all three are tangled together and Alfred Russel Wallace, a singularly unfortunate natural historian, was once shipwrecked.
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The weather detracted something from Aerborek jetty, the site of so many prize-winning photographs and one of the noisiest dive sites (thanks to a chorus of toadfish) I've visited.
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Nonetheless, there were fish, more fish, very small fish (Hippocampus pontohi is not best seen by ageing eyes)...
... and wobbegongs.
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I would like to say that everything was marvellous and, as far as Alex's workshop and Indo-Siren were concerned, so it was. Mark and Dince, the other guides, the chef, the other crew were without equal and no praise is too much. Indonesian air travel, however...
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... was not so great: booked onto a flight without seats, half of our party left early to arrive late, flew east to travel west and made three hops for the price of one. I can't say if the problem was with British travel agency Blue-O-Two or with the vagaries of several competing but apparently interchangeable Indonesia airlines, but I can say that it added a lot to the frustrations inherent in returning from what is still, in many ways, a wild place.
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