Exploring Indonesia – Below the surface and above – Bali

As we journey to our last destination our group of creatives have all grown to be friends. For me this trip was very productive, except me being sick! The travel staff at Indonesian tourism made it so easy for all of us to focus on creating images and video. Not once did I need to check my flight, touch my bags or worry about where or what I would eat next.

Bali is a unique place. The diversity of people traveling here compares to the world class waves and underwater marine life. The people are of Indonesia might not be the richest in the world but they are the happiest. One the reasons I love visiting Indonesia. Bali is a great place to get your feet wet before exploring outside of the Island. This leg of the trip would be short in Bali. We would start our trip to Bali with a 3 hr drive to the eastern, less populated part of the island. Tulamben is an are known for diving and exploring the underwater world. I had never been to this side of the island, since there are no waves, so I was excited to see another part of Bali. Of course they put us all up in a really nice hotel call Scuba Seraya Resort, directly on the ocean. On our way there I chose to sit it in the front sea of the bus to embrace the rollercoaster ride of traffic. Like many asian destinations it kinda a free for all driving. There are constant chicken wars of who will pass who and try to avoid on coming traffic during a pass. I would prefer to be the one driving instead of gripping the every time a close overtake would happen!

Just after arrival we would get our first dive after traveling all day. It was a muck dive, which usually lends itself to macro photography. The visibility was unusually bad while we were there. They were not sure why, but I still enjoyed the dives. Throughout this leg of our trip my goal was to get more images of clown fish and anemones. It is images that everyone has asked for years as a photographer. That night was great as we all had a somewhat western choice of food. Not that I don’t like traditional Indonesian food, but I was ready for everything to not be spicy. I really wish I wasn’t so weak when it comes to spicy!

The next morning we would head to the liberty wreck, famous for this area of diving. It is over 300ft long and in up to 20 meters of water. Not the best for my fragile shallow water ears at the moment. I still had a sinus infection so I would only free dive in shallow areas. Visibility was poor again and we went at rush hour as the snorkeling tourist where there. I explored for just a short time before heading back to the boat. Definitely one of the places I was bummed not to be able to dive and the best was deeper. The next dive would be Amed where the shallows were filled with bright blue starfish to photograph! That evening there was also a night dive, which I would not go on since I didn’t shoot lights or was diving. That evening we had ice cream after dinner! Boy was that good!

The next morning would be a sunrise dive! My favorite time to shoot, right at sunrise! We would head back to the Liberty wreck in hopes of spotting the schools of bump heads! I would opt to a place called coral garden only about 400 yards away from Liberty. It is know for a carpet of anemones! It took me almost 40 mins to find the anemones but was so worth the search. The morning light was great and visibility was a bit better than the days before! I shot nearly 700 images of clown fish! lol. Afterwards we would head back to the resort, eat breakfast, pack and head back the western side of Bali were would spend the last 2 days of the trip. That afternoon/evening we headed to Uluwatu Temple, famous for its monkeys. The temple sits along a huge cliff above the ocean, where I usually would be surfing or shooting surfing. The group splits up and our little crew go explore. The highlight of the the temple are the monkeys stealing visitors sunglasses and hats. It says everywhere to put them away yet people ignore it, including people in our group!
As the sun begins to meet the horizon we all head to the small amphitheater Kecak dance. It is a traditional dance that tells the story of Ramayana. The end was the best….. of course when they light things on fire!
That was our last activity! The next day we enjoy our first day off, kinda. In the morning I got a few friends to go surfing with me. Quicksilver Bali hooked up some boards for us to use. We only had about an hr before we had to meet the team for lunch. After lunch I had a spa massage at the resort. I fell asleep drooling on the floor! lol After catching up on some edits and prepping files for the Ministry of tourism it was time for our last dinner. Saying good bye to all these amazing people I am now friends with was sad but knowing I was close to being home and seeing my family was bitter sweet. Another amazing adventure in Indonesia. I can’t thank the Ministry of tourism enough for inviting to join an amazing group of creators to explore Indo!

For more on where I went and how you can go visit: indonesia.travel

Exploring Indonesia – Below the surface and above – Komodo National Park

You wonder where they came up with nemo!

I really looked forward to this leg of our journey as it would be on a live aboard boat for three days. Being on a boat going from one adventure to the next can’t be beat. After a long 2 day journey from Raja Ampat we finally arrived in Komodo. We boarded Vita with iDive Komodo. The other half of the group boarded Lalunia. Together we would journey throughout the Komodo National Park Islands for the next few days! We started the journey being assigned our little cabins below deck. My roommate Mike and I would take over a tiny cabin (with one bed) with tons of cables, chargers, batteries, hard drives. You name it. I still had a sinus issue so I could not dive. Our first spot was my favorite. As the rest of the crew jumped in I explored and magical shallow water spot with the most diverse collection of reef I have yet to see. With all the places I have been around the globe, it is the best I have seen. Sunset would cut my dive/snorkel to about 1.5hrs. That evening we would eat our first meal on the boat and motor to our next location to sleep. The next morning we woke to Crystal rock dive. I once again explored the bay reef area and was not disappointed. Amazing untouched reef!

We then headed to Manta point! Manta! Yes, we jumped in what seemed to be the middle of the ocean and drifted along the currents until we saw them, just flying along! They were pretty deep. This is one of the dives I was bummed to not be able to use scuba as I couldn’t go down past about 8ft from my sinus. Still though it was amazing to see them! Saw about 5 mantas! Everyone was stoked!

From there we would continue to Komodo Island, the largest island of Komodo National Park. Time to see the largest and one of the most deadly lizards in the world! Our group would be led by 4 rangers who carried large sticks in case of a komodo getting too close. I kinda laughed at the stick… I mean… these lizards get up to 9ft long and will kill you if they bite. They kill their prey by biting them while the saliva is the true killer. Their saliva has so much bacteria that it kills everything! The guide took us on a small trek up into the island. We saw about 4 dragons. Definitely a little scary looking! After our hike we headed back to the boats and headed to a place call pink beach. The sand it supposedly pink but it really wasn’t. None the less it was beautiful. Almost all locations like this I fly my drone up to explore! After we all took in the sunset at pink beach we headed back to the boat in the tender boats where we would have a briefing. Some of the group would do a night dive. I decided to get permission to go along and shoot some long exposures from the shoreline. I brought Alfie with me. Conditions were great except there was a full moon! Not the best for shooting stars. Being on the beach in the dark was a little intimidating, knowing that Komodo dragons live there. Luckily the locals claimed they were asleep. lol

That evening we would cross the channel and head to Padar Island. During the crossing we went through large swells. First part of the trip to hit any waves as all the islands we have visited the last few weeks were sheltered from the open ocean. Our call time the next day was 4am! We would all get in the tender boats in the dark and hike up to the top of Padar island to watch the sunrise. Vistas all around the islands for miles! We all explored the area for a couple hrs! The drone images and video were awesome! Back down the mountain and while we motored to the next dive site, we all had an amazing breakfast! Definitely best one of the trip! The last dive of Komodo was Batu Balung. It is a rock in the middle of the huge channel between islands. The current moving around the rock was massive. We were all instructed to stay on the leeward side, sheltered by the small rock island. Below was an aquarium of fish, so many! I found that while free diving my sinus was still not healed enough to dive :(. Getting back on the main boat was a mission for most as the currents were so strong that the tender would constantly swing back and forth. Once we finally were all loaded back on the boats safely we would head back to harbor. About a 2.5 hr journey and we were taken straight to an ocean front hotel to stay for the night. No one wanted to get off those boats. I wish we could of done the live aboard then entire 2 weeks! So nice! We would have about 1 hr break before we headed to a beach club location were we would see a traditional dance. Part of it was a fierce fighting dance where the males would jump up and whip the other. The dancers had scars on their back and arms from performing. They would present us with a terrible tasting concoction traditionally given. You had to chew it until your mouth turned red and then spit it out. You were warned not to swallow it! It made my gums numb! The taste lasted a while before eventually fading away. The dance was followed by dinner at the beach club. After we would head to the hotel and then finally some sleep! The next day we would rise early for our flight to Bali were our final leg of the journey would begin.

 

For more on where I went and how you can go visit: indonesia.travel

Exploring Indonesia – Below the surface – Raja Ampat

Piaynem, need I say more!

Our journey to Raja will be a 3hr boat ride, 30 min bus ride, 2 flights, 6hr hotel rest, 1 more flight and then a 2hr boat ride! Thankfully all of us on this trip are seasoned travelers, many probably much more than myself. Some of the influencers on the trip have been traveling full-time constantly for years! It takes a special work ethic to make a living doing this! These guys and girls have worked super hard to live the life they love. I have grown out of my constant traveling days. I love to travel but being at home with my family is most important. Once my little ones get old enough my wife and I will start ramping up the adventures!

We arrive at Raja Ampat dive resort where would spend 4 nights. Our mini houses are right on the water. The tree tops tower the path along the edge of the sea. This place is home to birds of paradise among many other parrots and species of birds. You constantly hear them up in the trees but very hard to spot them. After a long travel day we jump into our first dive and then dinner, which is always throwing us new surprises.
Since I don’t have a lot of time to blog each day I will just give a broad over view of this leg. Pretty much everyday is a full on charge. We would be gone in the boats from 7:30-8 in the morning until nearly dark or after. Some days up to 3 dives! I was definitely getting great experience learning to dive. There were a few of us just learning. I really got the hang of it on this trip, but of course my left ear (which has kept me from diving the last 38 years) would always take forever to equalize. Thankfully I had the most patient dive buddies. For those that dive, to get down to 10 meters it would take me around 5-6 mins! Lol. Once I was down I was fine!
The reefs were amazing. This place is known for being one of the best places, if not the best for underwater diversity of fish. You name it I probably saw it. The large schools of jack, sweet lips, black tip and white tip sharks, wabegong sharks, turtles, starfish, napoleon rasse were just a few from one dive!

On day 2 and 3 we were able to also see some culture and locals performing traditional dance. The first event after a long day of diving was an ocean festival where hundreds of people gathered.  My favorite part where the little kids taking turn going around a makeshift circle track on tiny dirt bikes.  No shoes, helmets or parents!   We also went to an island called Arboreck where the village had a parade waiting for us. My favorite part was interacting with a 3 year, just like my little one at home, showing him my drone and how it flies. Blue Magic was my favorite dive with the diversity of fish along with Cape Kri with the huge schools of big fish along with everything else you could imagine. I also free dove this spot on the second dive.

Here is a highlight video!

One of the surprising things I found about all the locals and Indonesians on our trip was how much they smoked, before and after diving. I learned how important it was not to smoke in my dive training…lol
Our last day we would travel almost 2hrs by boat to Piaynem, probably the most famous pictures that you would see of Raja Ampat. There are little coned shaped islands surround by turquoise water. We all hiked to the top of the ridge to overlook the amazing formation. An amazing spot to fly a drone, which you can see from a few of my images. Following the hike (and swim) we would have lunch at a homestay, a local dock/place you can stay in the area. All our meals are locally prepared, which always included white rice as a base. The term spicy here is definitely relative to the region. Back in the states, if I referred to something as spicy the Indonesians would laugh at me. Our entertainment was under the docks in the shallow water where baby black tip sharks were roaming all over. A few of us got in the muck bottom to attempt a few photos. I really didn’t get much as the sharks could detect you and were not about to get close.

After lunch we would dive Melissa’s garden. Since I had to go very slowly to equalize I was stuck with the beginner dive group. The last dive I rejoined another group as the beginner group always has a problem. This time, because of visibility we didn’t see any of the other groups thus forcing me to surface with them. The dive was only 10 mins long. I was really bummed to miss most of this dive. Safety first though!
The next morning we would get up and have our bags out front by 7am to go. Since we hadn’t had much downtime I decided to go for a hike after finding out there was a road that meandered up into the jungle. It was like I was in Jurassic park! There were all kinds of bird noises high up in the tree tops. After all, this place is known for the diversity of bird species. I heard owls, parrots and all kinds of other noises. The trees were so high! The highlight was a white cockatoo that flew into a tree above my head!
Our 2hr boat ride back to the main island seemed a lot quicker this time. Our next leg of the trip is Komodo National park onboard a large sailboat. It will be almost 2 days of traveling before we arrive. I am now onto my third time being sick on the trip. The latest is a sinus which might keep me from diving unless it gets better.

 

Exploring Indonesia – Below the surface – Borneo – Derawan

A B/W from above the deep.

Indonesia – Trip of Wonders

Part 1 – Derawan

As we arrive after a solid 12 hrs of traveling on the boat, a welcoming site is Maratua Island. A local community inhabiting a small ringlike shaped island lined with amazing dive spots along its shores.
My headache was still in full force. Very hard to think straight forward and concentrate. We would hang out, eat dinner and sleep in our bungalows. My roommate was Mike, an avid adventurer exploring the worlds untapped places (fearless and far on social media). The next day we would all get on a boat and head to Kakaban Lake where it is filled with 3 types of stingless jellyfish. An amazing twist in natures evolution. I would leave halfway to continue my scuba instruction with another attendee and dive instructor Azalia. I started my training in the states but wasn’t able to continue from an ear infection about 2 weeks ago. I will never forget the moment when I was breathing under water looking at hundreds of fish watching me. We finished up as the group was returning. We all headed back to our island and got ready for the next dive Turtle traffic. Seems pretty fitting for my first real dive! For my first open water dive I would obviously not bring a camera, since I was still training. We dove to about 8 meters (25ft) and drifted along the reef seeing lots of green and hawksbill sea turtles. I was a little hard to focus on much more than my training but a great place to learn to scuba. Of course I am very comfortable in the water so it wasn’t hard for me to learn. What I was focused on was my ears. The reason I have never scuba dove is the fact that I can’t equalize very well in one ear. With years of free diving in less than 20ft of water I have learned how to adapt and get my ear to equalize. When I grew up I had more ear surgeries than you can count on two hands, so my ears had scarring inside. Now it just takes me a little longer than others to equalize.

I came up after the 30 min dive achieving something that I had hoped to do when I was young but doctors recommend I not do it. We all headed back to the resort for lunch and then the next dive. I would skip the channel dive as I wasn’t ready to go deep and have a ton of current to deal with. Instead myself and some others took a boat to another reef where I would free dive with tons of fish turtles and a teeming reef. Return back to the dock, fly my drone and I discover a mecca of juvenile green sea turtles feeding on grass in very shallow clear water. Check out the video in my gallery.

Day 4…. Whale sharks.
I am so grateful that my headache left before all these amazing experiences! This morning we did something I have always wanted to, in fact who wouldn’t want to!? We took a 2hr boat ride out to off shore fishing areas where the whale sharks hang out nearby. Swimming alongside and 20ft graceful harmless shark was such an amazing experience. I spent almost 2hrs swimming around. I felt a little guilty as this is something my wife has also always wanted to do. I hope I can take her with me again!
We then traveled to a small island called Manta point. Here is a breeding ground for green and hawksbill sea turtles. We explored and learned about the conservation program they have to protect the turtles. Always great to see conservation efforts around the world.
We then dove to see the Manta Rays. It would be my second dive, this time bringing my camera down with my for the first time on scuba. After a strong current would take us along the point we didn’t see one manta! Thats ok, the whale shark was amazing, hopefully I will get to see a manta in some of our other destinations. We stopped at an island to have lunch on the end of a dock. Entertainment from this crew is always happening. Chris would get a crew together for a dance party on the dock while he flew his drone up. Mike would gather the dare devils to do flips off the dock (12ft) for his channel. I usually sat back and enjoyed the show. I would take my drone up as soon as we spotted a pod of dolphins offshore. They slowly swam along the deep water channel gracefully coming to the surface to breathe.

Day 5 – Departure day.

Today we pack up and start the 24hr journey to Raja Ampat, one of the worlds top underwater natural wonders.

For more on where I went and how you can go visit: indonesia.travel

 

 

Exploring Indonesia – Below the surface – Traveling there

Heading here!

Indonesia – Trip of Wonders

During the next two weeks I hope to share my experiences here with you all, along with more images on instagram stories, along with posts on instagram and facebook.
Indonesia is one of my favorite places to explore in this world. When the Ministry of Tourism approached less than a month ago about this trip it was an extremely hard decision to make. I had never been to nearly all of the areas we were headed, all some of the top places in the world to see and photograph marine life. On the other hand my wife and I had just had our second child just 2 months ago. Leaving her with a two year old and a new baby was one of the hardest decisions I had to make in a long time. I could only do it with the help of both our parents. We couldn’t ask for better grand parents to our children. They both have bought condos within 2 miles from where we live to see their grandchildren more often. My wife did not want me to go, and I don’t blame here the least bit. So if you don’t hear from me for a while after the trip, it is because there is no wifi in the dog house with our dog carmella.

I started the journey with flights to DC, Tokyo, then Jakarta, Indonesia. There will be 24 people traveling with us. Hosted by Indonesian tourism, providing us the best opportunity possible to see the best of underwater Indo. We all met at a hotel in Jakarta, 10 of us were international influencers from every part of the world, literally… US, Canada, Columbia, Australia, South Africa, Russia and England. There would also be 4 indonesian influencers joining us, also expert divers. A handful of staff members and also a video crew documenting all our journeys. 25 total!

The fun part….
On the last leg of my tokyo flight, 3 hrs left to go. I get sick. Bad. High fever, throwing up. We land in Jakarta at midnight and they have to roll me out in a wheel chair. Checked that one off the bucket list! The crew welcomes me in baggage and then at the hotel, cameras rolling. Hey, I’m Ben, nice to meet you, wheres the bathroom… I need to go throw up. Luckily we were put up in a nice hotel and I had 24hrs before our journey officially began. Thankfully I got it all out and the fever went away. By morning I had a stinging headache, like a college freshman dorm keg standing party next morning kind of headache (although I didn’t really drink much in college). Fast forward the next morning at 2:25am. My alarm goes off, our flight leaves at 445am. Feeling good except that headache. By this time I had drank over 2 gallons of water, trying to rehydrate. Next will be two flights followed by a 3hr boat ride to get to Borneo, Derawan, Maratua. Hear we go, suck it up buttercup!