Saturday, December 15, 2007

View from the field-

station that is! The Conservation International Waiwo field-station on the island of Waigeo. Maurine and I are now in Raja Ampat, Papua, Indonesia. Yes, we're at the end of the earth but also smack-dab in the middle of tropical reef diving's hottest spot! We've been here for almost 3 weeks but quite a few things have transpired since Maurine last wrote from Bali. At that time I was on the private mega-yacht Athena. Showing its owner the finest reefs on the planet. This was Athena's second visit to southern Raja Ampat, to southeast Missol Island to be exact. It was also my third charter as guide aboard this incredible vessel. Along with me were two of the world's leading tropical fish geeks. Dr. Gerry Allen, who if you are a marine life photographer, you'll know from his fish ID books. Gerry is the world's foremost tropical marine ichthyologist and an old friend. ( I did my first dives in Indonesia with Gerry in '92 when I was invited to tag along on the initial survey's of Komodo National Park.) Accompanying us was Dr. Mark Erdmann, who is Conservation International's head of marine programs in Indonesia (hence the reason we are presently at CI's field-station).

Jim, the owner of the Athena, at my suggestion, invited them along on his expedition to photo-document the "world's most beautiful reef". When I showed Jim the Fiabacet reef system in SE Missol last May he felt he had found the last best reef on the planet and wanted to document it for posterity. Problem was he didn't think his 16MP Canon did it justice. So he commisioned, a "rather" expensive, one of a kind housing and port for a 39 MP view camera! What really makes these photos special, besides all that detail, is the four element aspherical dome. It creates an image that is tack sharp edge to edge. He got some amazing imagery and will have a gallery show, of near billboard dimension photos, next year in New York City. While Jim and crew were photographing Mark and Gerry were finding new fish, 5 species to be exact! We had quite a time. Look for an interview with Gerry in an up-coming Fathoms magazine.

After Athena's trip I returned to Bali and Maurine and I went to Yogjakarta on the island of Java to visit the ancient, 8th century, temple complexes of Borobrodur (Budhist) and Prambanan (Hindu). We spent a relaxing 5 days photographing the ruins and shoping for old dance masks in the back streets of Jogja. This was actually our second trip to Jogja. We visited 25 years ago. At that time the temples were out in the country in a very pastoral setting. No longer! They are not only surrounded by the city, they are overrun with vendors selling cheap tourist souveniers. Fortunately the vendors are confined to the parking lot, outside the temple complex. We also discovered that going in the middle of the day was not only insufferably hot but the temples were overrun with irreverent tourists. We decided to return to Borodrodur at dawn and virtually had the place to ourselves. Very peaceful, like the way we remembered it from so long ago.

Two weeks ago, we returned to Sorong, the "lovely" gateway city to Raja Ampat and visited Max Ammer's Sorido resort. Max is Dutch and originally came to the area looking for WWII artifacts. He fell in love with the region, people and diving and decided to spend the rest of his life here. Sorido is his 3rd resort. What a lovely place, with all the ammenites, in the middle of north Raja Ampat's best reefs. If you are not a dedicated live-aboard fanatic and want to dive from a superb land-based resort Sorido is the place! The diving has been a bit disappointing due to visibility issues but the sites are wonderful, with more fish than you can count including a wonderful manta dive too.

So we are now at Waiwo where I started this blog. Even though we are within site of Sorido resort it's a whole world away. We were expecting a step down but had no idea how far down the ladder we were going! Before I tell you about conditions here (pleading for your sympathy) you need to understand two things. This is not a resort, it's a working field station for scientists. It's not built for comfort, no AC for starters, at the moment we are even boiling well water to drink! Secondly, there was a communication error, we were expected for 2 days but were coming for 2 weeks. Unfortunately the first words out of the manager's mouth were, "Did you bring food?". Not a good start, especially since our reply was, "NO". Anyway Maurine and I are diving and exploring for new sites, which is wonderful. We are eating salt or tinned fish and rice with the occasional egg thrown in for variety. No beer either!! Not the diet most of you are enjoying now that the holiday season is upon us/you. We only have 5 days to go and then we will head back to Sorong and the live-aboard MV Seahorse for a Christmas/New Years cruise. Food and accomodations will improve!

We'll post again after the New Year. Until then...

Hugs and Fishes to all (and think about us out here when you are toasting good times with good cheer!)

Burt and Maurine

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