Beneath the big-blue-wet-thing

With the dragons ‘ticked off the list’ and the self-inflicted defrauding dealt with we were to set off, once more, under the sea.

Our original plan of a live-a-board had come to an abrupt end and so we were left contemplating three consecutive days diving that would start and end in Labuanbajo and not on board a boat… We decided to call it our live-a-land!

Whilst this prospect was not what we had wanted – as we had a real desire to expand our diving experiences – we found the perfect place to call home…

The Flores Diving Centre. We had heard from another dive master that their ‘strap line’ was, ‘the most Latin dive centre in Flores’ (said in a very exaggerated Italian accent). And whilst they never said that this was their strap line, we certainly experienced Latin hospitality.

The owners – Kiara, Mikhail, Andromeda and Leonardo – who are the managers and instructors of the centre have a real zest for diving and ensured great dive after great dive for us! If you are in Labuanbajo call in on them and say, ‘Ciao’. They’re a fun bunch and will make your stay a good one!

Anyway, enough about above land. What about under the sea?
Komodo national marine park is revered as a top dive area, not only in Indonesia but, in the world. In the park two major seas meet – the Indian and the Banda. They bring with them their own powerful currents. And currents bring life. Big life! So basically Komodo is a huge melting pot of underwater awesomeness!
All-in-all we undertook 9 dives with FDC, and each one was magnificent in its own way. Each dive we saw or experienced something new. The coral life and fish life was always beautiful and abundant. There were of course a couple of highlights, which I’ll talk about in a minute, but to give you an idea of what we saw, here is a list from what we wrote in our logbooks (bear in mind these are things that stuck in our mind. We saw lots more than we wrote. Lots more…)
Angelfish; Batfish; Blue dragon (awesome nudibranch); Clownfish (many many specieis, including the Nemo variety); Cow boxfish; Fusilier fish (schools of); Giant trevally; Greenback turtles (many of them. Yep. Many!); Groupers (many different kinds); Jellyfish; Leaf scorpionfish (very rare); Lionfish; Lobster; Longface Emperor fish; Moray Eels (loads, and they were massive); Napoleon Wrasse (huge 1m long fish); Seasnake; Spanish dancer (nudibranch eggs); Spotted box fish; Sweetlips; Titan triggerfish (the biggest I have ever seen); Tobys; Tuna; Whitetip sharks (babies and adults)
To non-divers, I am not sure what you will make of this list. And words, and even our pictures, are a poor substitute to being there. It is a hard experience to relay.
But there were two experiences I will try to relay adequately. Two other creatures of the deep that we saw, that I have purposefully left out of the list above.

The first of these came on dive 5. Crystal Rock. Our briefing on the boat was short and to the point. ‘We will be diving against the current. We need to descend quickly or we will miss the spot we need to reach – the current will push us away from the site. Once we reach the spot. Hold on against the current.’

Hearts fluttering a little. Not wanting to fluff the dive and miss the ‘spot’ we kitted up. Open tank. Check air. Wetsuit on. Weight belt. Mask around the neck. Fins on. Strap into the BCD (the thing that has the tank strapped to it). Releases tight. Regulator in. Mask on.
3. 2. 1. Splashdown. Dive master shouts, ‘Everyone okay’. ‘Okay’. ‘Okay’. ‘Okay’. And down we go.

Swimming hard against the on-rushing current we descend quickly. Our ears going through the rhythm of: Pressure build. Pressure release; as we descend deeper and continue to equalise. Still pushing against the current. Deeper and deeper. Quickly. 5 metres. 10. 15. 20. We can see the rock outcropping. The point we need to hit.

Hands grasp for the rock, carefully avoiding coral and fish life. Taking care not to damage this fragile ecosystem. And then slowly we push toward the front of the outcropping for the best view.

At first. A vast expanse of blue extended before us. The cold water rushed against our black skintight suits. The bubbles of our fellow divers rippled skyward in front of us. The slight pounding of our hearts, from the exertion against the current, vibrated our chests. And the rhymthic, Vader-like breath of our own regulator. The only sound.

But then. Out of the blue it came. A grey shark. 2.5 metres long. It swam without menace (to us at least) towards and away from the rock outcrop we clung to.
It was curious.
It was majestic.
It was breathtaking… But we kept breathing!

It stayed for 20 minutes. And we just watched the show. If only they could make waterproof popcorn!

So what could possibly be better than this?

Well. Another day. Another dive. Our last dive.

The dive site itself is not remarkable. Broken coral interspersed with small coral bommies where fish congregate. Divers come here to see one thing and one thing only… Manta Rays.

We had been in the water for over 50 minutes. Our air was starting to ebb closer to zero and we would have to break the surface – No manta seen.

But then, as we rose over a broken coral hillock in the sea floor we came slowly to a cauldron of broken coral. And lying close and still to the seafloor, our eyes scanning the blue once again, we saw what has to be the most graceful swimmer in the ocean. A Manta ray. It was huge. From wingtip to wingtip it must have been at least 4 metres.
Like a slow motion bat its wings rose and fell, keeping it steady against the oncoming current. One tip down, spiral to the left. The other down, to the right. It continued to bank for a few more fleeting seconds before it turned and let the current take it; away from prying eyes.

We had seen one. Just. And if even for only 20 or 30 seconds, it felt longer. Time had slowed to the pace of its rising-falling wings. A moment etched in our minds. A moment that continues to play through my mind’s eye.

It was a surreal moment and one that we want to experience again… So it might not quite be the end of our Komodo diving… if we can help it!

But for now I have rambled enough. I hope divers are rushing to book flights to Komodo and non-divers are signing up to a PADI course.

Get out here. Get under the waves. We’ll see you down there.

And here are the details for Flores Diving Centre. Check ’em out.

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