This trip started with 5 lovely days in Bali up in the Tulamben region staying at the beautiful Villa Markisa and diving the highlight sites of Bali's northeast coast. Villa Markisa is a lovely 8 room boutique property located right at the famous Seraya Secrets dive site. Their on-site dive operation is well managed, well-stocked and features friendly, well-trained dive guides and comfortable boats. Three boat dives are offered daily, most days featuring the nearby Liberty Wreck as the early-morning dive.
The Liberty Wreck will never disappoint you…from the stunning wide angle structure covered in hard and soft corals to the amazing amount of life surrounding the wreck and well hidden along the edges and inside the structure itself. The normally sighted school of jacks has apparently moved down the shore a dive site or two but a large school of bumphead parrots have taken their place. The parrots also shelter within the wreck itself in numerous cleaning stations so close-up images are easily obtained. It's also not unusual to find pygmy seahorses or numerous species of ghost pipefish for the macro enthusiast!
Villa Markisa's dive site listing features numerous other sites as well as guided or unguided shore diving on their house reef, Seraya Secrets, which is a macro photographer's private heaven.
Villa Markisa has a lovely on-site spa with traditional Balinese massages and the other spa services Bali is so famous for. Their fabulous kitchen produces savory breakfasts, lunches and amazing dinners with all juices and ice cream desserts homemade from seasonal fruits. We thoroughly enjoyed our five quiet days in NE Bali away from the Holiday crowds and traffic….I'd highly recommend spending several days there prior to or after any Liveaboard trips to other remote Indonesian locations.
On December 30, we flew from Bali to Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores to meet up with the rest of my charter guests and the Dive Damai staff. It's a less than 10 minute van ride from the LBJ airport to the dock where the Damai tenders were first loaded with guests and then used to transport our luggage to the Damai I, our home for the next 11 nights. The gorgeous Damai I has undergone an extensive refit since our last visit in November, 2011 and looks positively radiant! The enlarged dining area is more comfortable as is the more “relaxing” area of the salon. The cappuccino machine is still operating at optimal speed and Riko was a master cappuccino maker and Restaurant Host. Meals onboard the Damai consist of “early breakfast” before the 1st dive, 2nd breakfast cooked to order after the 1st dive, plated lunch, afternoon sweet or savory snack and dinners cooked to order by the 1st Chef, Suroto and 2nd chef and long-time Damai staff member, Wayan. Specials diets or special requests are easily accommodated. Spicy, extra spicy or not spicy???? Your wish is their command…they even ran out of the hottest chilis toward the end of the trip because this group LOVED everything extra spicy!
The refit involved re-configuring the lower cabins to accommodate single travelers in two of the rooms and couples in the other two. All of the new rooms feature ensuite baths as well as comfortable bedding and ample storage. The two “master” suites at the stern of the vessel feature king beds and extremely large cabins. One of the master suites also features its own private balcony!
The dive deck has been reconfigured to accommodate two extra divers and each dive station features gear storage bins as well as your own private rinse tank for cameras or other “stuff”. Each diver selects a custom embroidered towel upon arrival and fresh towels are provided after every dive. All wetsuits/booties/gloves are rinsed with a sanitizer after each dive and hung up to dry, folded and placed at individual dive stations prior to the next dive. Dive briefings/site maps are diagrammed on a large whiteboard next to tender assignments. Damai features two well managed tenders, driven by Ghani & Udin, and three dive groups for each dive. After group one has reached the specific dive site, the first tender comes back and picks up group #3. Our dive guides for this trip were Anton, Adri & Patris….all were fabulous! Dive guide ratio is 4 guests to 1 guide and all the guides are well versed in specific sites, great critter finders and wonderful, fun guys to dive with.
Each charter group can choose to dive either 4 or 5 dives per day. 4 dives per day pretty much permits dive times only limited by air consumption; 5 dives a day would limit dive times a bit.
Our charter started in Labuan Bajo and our check-out dive site was only a few hours away….we dove Sebayor Slope the first day and then moved over to Sangeang Island for a day of diving, including Bubble Reef, Deep Purple and Bonto. Bubble Reef features streams of bubbles rising from the sand reflecting the dormant status of the volcano we were diving next to! Pgymy seahorses, gorgeous hard and soft corals and lots of fish life are seen around Sangeang Island. We then moved to Gili Lawa Laut for a day of diving and then onwards to Pengah Kecil and Wainilu which we met up with the last two guests who joined the charter.
One of the highlights of this charter was Gili Makassar on North Komodo where mantas are frequency seen on the top of the reef. Manta Slope did not disappoint and dozens and dozens and dozens of manta were enjoyed throughout an 80 minute dive in 18 feet of water! Next up was Batu Bolong which is a pinnacle smack dab in the middle of the channel…we dove the lee side of the pinnacle and were rewarded with white tip sharks, turtles feeding, a large octopus out hunting along the colorful reef and large schools of fish sheltering in the lee of the pinnacle.
Our main objective for this charter was to spend as much time as possible in Famous Horseshoe Bay in South Komodo. December/January are perfect months to spend there because the water is generally much warmer than the rest of the year and it features blue water as well. Cannibal Rock/Yellow Wall of Texas/Torpedo Alley/Crinoid Canyon/Rodeo Rock/Disaster Bay/Pulau Pisang/Boulders are signature dives in Horseshoe Bay and everyone was happy to spend 6 nights there diving the sites repeatedly! We dove Cannibal Rock first thing in the morning with wide angle lenses and went back over and over again whenever conditions permitted to dive it with macro lenses as well. Torpedo Alley proved a guest favorite as well and Pulau Pisang delivered lots of carpet sharks as well as other amazing creatures/critters!
While we were luxuriating in Horseshoe Bay, a large cyclone was affecting Western Australia and all of Indonesi. We waited until after our last dive at Cannibal Rock on the 9th of January and then we ventured out of the calm Bay into the wind and waves! It's only 40 miles from South Komodo back to Labuan Bajo but Capt. Iskander had his hands full navigating us through very strong currents/high waves/big winds and it took us 8 hours of rocking and rolling to get us back into port! Only one pitcher of water and one chair were broken in the melee but 4 of the connected dive stations moved about 8 ft on the dive deck – it took 6 crew to move it back into place – the power of Mother Nature at work! Everyone weathered the trip very well and we spent our last night moored in the harbor there. Small craft warnings were posted across Indonesia along with high wind warnings and heavy rain so we weren't surprised when our flight the next morning back to Bali was delayed for several hours. Once back in Bali the group split up to go their separate ways….some up to the NW Coast of Bali for a few days, some to Wakatobi for a few days, more to visit Ubud and other areas of Bali and Bob & I headed home, well pleased with another successful/happy trip aboard DI!
Simon & Andrina, the Cruise Directors, were fabulous…both are skilled underwater photographers as well as good managing partners and run a well-qualified crew onboard Damai. The crew of 16 also included Anang & Nyoman, 1st and 2nd Officers to assist Capt. Iskander, Engineers Maykel and Kuntet & Erwin who kept the tender engines, generators and the rest of Damai running smoothly and Deki & Beni who handled our rooms, our warm fresh towels and greeted us with smiling faces after every dive! Deki also was our on-board masseuse who had fingers of steel! Wayan from the Damai office is the newest member of the staff and met every single guest when they arrived in Bali, made sure all transfers were handled smoothly, negotiated excess baggage fees and just did a fabulous job of making all the guests feel special…welcome aboard, Wayan! I look forward to working with you again and again in the future.
Thanks to Chaz & Barbi, Walter & Yolanda, Lissa & Hiro, Adam, Antoine & Petr for joining Bob & I on our Komodo adventure and for making it such a fun trip. We look forward to traveling with you again in the near future. Sempa jumpa lagi and terima kasih!
Dive Travel Services, 29480 Ten Mile Road, Farmington
Hills, MI 48336