Wake up with the sunrise, go to island schools to teach English a few times per week, get your gear ready, 15 minutes boat ride, dive in the courant and see loads of mantas, eat rice/veggies/fried omelette twice a day, everyday for 3 weeks, except Sunday when we cooked – God be blessed, get ready for second dive, clean the camp, get a salt-water shower, watch the sunset, put loads of mosquito repellent to avoid getting dengue, malaria or why not even chikungunya, go to sleep in your shared hut, and do it all over again for 3 weeks!
This was basically our routine for the past 3 weeks, with the other volunteers from Barefoot conservation. We were in a small island called Arborek, in Raja Ampat.
Raja ampat, West Papua, is known for having the most diverse marine environment in the world. It is at the heart of the famous ‘coral triangle’.
As a scuba lover, well you can imagine this is exactly where I wanted to go. Just there. And I did shorten my Latin America trip (first part) to go there in the right season. And crossed almost the whole planet to go dive there.
So here I went. Buenos Aires to Santiago de Chile to Paris to Dubai to Kuala Lumpur to Makassar to Sorong to Waisai to the island of Arborek! After 6 flights and 2 boats, well that was already a week of traveling with a quick stop in Paris, I was finally there.
With all these flights I catched a cold so I could not dive the first day, imagine the state I was in… so I went snorkelling at Manta Sandy while the others were diving, and there I got to see my first mantas in Raja Ampat. Paradise found. I was ready to just get rid of this cold and jump into the water!
Let me tell you more about our island, Arborek. Arborek is a small island on which basically leave 200 people. The island territory is divided between 2 families. There is one school, one church and 3 shops that basically sell water or juices, biscuits and noodles.
No internet if you do not have a local sim card, no electricity except a few hours at night, and no running water. But to dive one of the best places in the world, you would have to make a few concessions wouldn’t you?
By the way, Arborek was also elected as the most beautiful village in Raja Ampat last year. This is to win this contest that the families painted all their houses in blue and put these fences which is quite funny when you think of it, living on an island.
Diving in Raja Ampat means being extremely wealthy (one night on a live aboard costs 450 dollars) or stay very little time. But who would want to get there and just stay a few nights?
As one of my objectives was also to do some marine conservation I looked for some volunteers programs in Raja Ampat and the only one in the area was actually Barefoot conservation.
Our jetty with the camp at the back and the girls getting ready to dive:
There is definifively a before and an after Raja ampat/Arborek/Barefoot conservation. Leaving with a small community of people 24/7 on an island, with little resources has some advantages.
You get to know your own limits, what really matters to you and what does not. You need to be empathetic or everyone would just end up killing each other. But you should also know when to take some distance because other people moods can really affect you quickly. You must be patient and let go when you have one of these days in which you are just fed up with something, as simple as eating the same food over and over again.
But most of all, you learn more than ever to make the best of what you have, and you realize life there is actually pretty good!
Below on a day trip to Pianemo.
Teaching some English to local kids. That meant singing, drawing, and running after them in the class room. Quite different and refreshing when you think of the western way of teaching.
And of course, the D I V I N G. Definitely a highlight.
On a single boat ride to Blue Magic, we got to see dolphins, a Spanish mackerel jump 10 meters out of the water, mantas, and… orcas!
Super healthy corals make the dive sites amazingly beautiful. Loads of Mantas, Black tip sharks and what was new for me the wobbegong shark, a walking shark just under our jetty, a crocodile fish and many other marine creatures!
More than ever I know I love diving and I just can’t wait to jump in the water again.
I will definitively come back one day to Raja Ampat. To dive again with loads of mantas at Rob’s Sandy Bottom, just one meter above me. To go back to Mayhem, do more Arborek Jetty to Jetty reef dives, have a chance to see oceanic mantas at Blue Magic, do exploratory dives and hopefully guide groups in these fantastic dive sites.
What to bring: mosquito repellent, any food/drink that can cheer you up on a bad day, vitamin tablets, betadine, a positive attitude, some diving equipment if you can. I only had the mosquito repellent, the attitude and a mask & dive computer. A fork! (ok, or just a reef hook…) but a fork might be more effective against crocodiles, don’t say I did not warn you!
Also, if you are interested in going there for the conservation part, you should know that you need to stay at least 4 weeks. You will first need to learn all the fishes and corals, get between a 80 and 90% to pass, and only then you are able to survey the marine environment. Happy I passed the Butterfly fish and the Coral morphology tests. Wish I had stayed more to actually have the chance to do some proper research dives.
Next stops: Kuala Lumpur followed by Vietnam.
Now looking for a good diving place or a liveaboard in Asia/Pacific to do my divemaster internship. I am open for – affordable – suggestions! Please post your ideas in the comments below. Many thanks!