Interesting experience on Wednesday. I went to a local restaurant for dinner, and they had an incredible view of the sunset. It was pretty quiet except the muslim prayer on the loudspeakers over the city. It's a neat experience to watch a beautiful sunset over the ocean and Komodo islands while listening to a muslim prayer song.
I love how there are geckos everywhere.
I also found a really cool jumping spider. It wasn't as colorful as they can be, but it had cool paddles on its anteriormost legs that it was "dancing" with.
We regularly go to two sites that are narrows passages between two islands (Golden Passage and The Cauldron). After the full moon, the current here is absolutely insane. On one dive, I went into a little canyon between two rocks and got sent for a ride. We were moving much faster than I've ever gone underwater, and so all I could do was control my buoyancy to avoid all the obstacles. Just like a videogame! It's kind of scary, but it is fairly shallow in these spots, so I'm not worried about down currents.
Now for the main attraction... UNDERWATER PICTURES!
This is called a polyclad flatworm. I know two fun facts about them:
1. They participate in penis fencing. This group is hermaphroditic (each animal is both male and female). When it comes time to mate, both animals will become engorged, and then they fight eachother with their penises, trying to tear a hole in the other one. If one tears a hole in the other, it uses that hole to inseminate its opponent.
2. they take on their coloration in order to attempt to mimic nudibranchs which are often toxic. For any given flatwork, you can usually find the specific nudibranch that it is mimicing.
BONUS FACT 3. They are restricted in their size because they have no circulatory system. Every piece of tissue needs to be able to get nutrition via diffusion from its branched gut.
Hawkfish are often found sitting on coral heads looking out over the ocean. I'm sure there is a good reason for this, but I like to imagine that they just appreciate the ocean around them.
I don't know much about this fan coral, but when you bring a dive light in order to regain the red light that is cut out at depth by the water above, it is a very brilliant orange. I also believe the pygmy seahorse lives on a closely related species.
I think everyone is familiar with clownfish and their relationship with anemones (a bubble anemone here).
Slightly less well known is the fact that clownfish are sequential hermaphrodites, and the largest animal in any given anemone is female. When that female dies, the next biggest animal will become the new resident female.
The trevally is a type of Jack. I initially thought that it was a Tuna due to the semi-lunate caudal fin, and the keel on the caudal peduncle.
The day after I had my camera, I saw some cool stuff as well. This included the Jawfish which usually mouth broods its eggs, and completely stuff their mouths when they do. Unfortunately, no eggs in the one I saw.
There is another fish that I have seen almost every dive. One of my divers asked me "what was that fish that looked kind of like a lizard?" I told her I didn't know, but that I'd look it up. Lo and behold, it's a lizard fish.
So far I have met people from:
And I'm sure there are more, but I don't remember... Great people so far though!
For whatever reason, the past few days have had lots of power outages. It first happened when I was rehanging my mosquito net. Then when we were at dinner at the fish market. Most recently, when I was in the shower (that is driven by an electric pump). It happened right after I got all soapy too!
I also just had a great day of diving. Got my new deepest dive out here, to 105 feet at Batu Bolong. I was with good divers, so we got a decent bottom time as well. LOTS of big fish, some sharks, the usual.
Then we went to Manta Point (Makasar reef). Normally I'm a little disappointed here, but not today. We spent 25 minutes with a huge manta at a cleaning station. It was only feet away at times, and it was incredible. There is decently strong current at this site, so the mantas just swim to stay in place, keep their mouth open, and filter feed. While they do this, small reef fish hide from the current behind the mantas body and clean the manta. After the mantas we saw two interesting eels that weren't in the fish ID book. One of them burrowed in between some pretty big rocks while swimming backwards, an impressive display of strength.
When we got to the surface, there were even more mantas all around us. I stayed in the water to snorkel with them. We saw mantas that were totally black, apparently these are the oceanic manta. Very strange looking.
I needed a new shirt so I went into town. Ended up with an Indonesian soccer jersey from the Bandung team.
Now, on to the mystery of the silver biology balls. I dove at the same site (Siaba Besar) a few times in the last couple days. Each time, I have found these strange silver spheres, about 2 inches in diameter. I thought the first one was a bouncy ball, so I moved it, but the underside was somewhat more yellow, and it was clearly biological in origin. So what the hell is it??
TURNS OUT, it is a giant single cell algae that often appears silver underwater, despite being green. It's called bubble algae or sailors eyeball. To me, it is incredible that this is a single cell! It must be similar to the xenophyophore, the largest signle celled organism in the world (if I remember correctly). Not surprisingly, you only find giant single celled organisms in marine/aquatic environments, since the water supports their body eliminating the need for a supportive skeletal structure.
Now for some more pictures!
A lionfish. It's hard to get excited about these since they are such a destructive invasive in the US, but they really are pretty. There are also many species here that we don't have at home.
A hawksbill turtle busily munching away on the coral. It's funny how we make such a big point of not touching the coral, and then we do a dive and see the turtle running into all the coral and eating it. Doesn't help us convey the message very well...
I bevelieve this is an anemone, although it's not very clear from this angle.
The colorful anthiasfish. There are many different varieties that have different coloration, but almost all of them are very bright and beautiful.
More diving, and this time it was really special. The first dive was at batu balong (literally means rock hole because there is a little bit of rock sticking out of the water, and it is a big arch). We saw LOTS of really cool nudibranchs, and these ones were very active.
More importantly, I saw my first wild Odontodactyllus scyllarus, aka peacock mantis shrimp. They are just so cool... This one was very adventurous,coming out of his hole and running all over the wall that we were diving on. Didn't see him strike anything (aka punch anything).
Later, we went to Wainiloo. This site is known for muck diving, i.e. look around on the bottom to find small stuff. It was also a great dive, with lots of banded pipefish! Even better, we saw another peacock mantis shrimp. I got to watch this one for quite a while, and I tried to "play" with it, but it just kind of looked at me like I was an idiot... The ones in the lab would always strike at any stick you put in front of them, I wonder why these ones are different?
Tuesday evening was capped with an Indonesian wedding! I'll detail this in a separate post, because it truly deserves its own distinct section.
A few days ago, Alvaro (another instructor) and I were invited to an Indonesian wedding. Of course we said yes! we went with Gary (A great British guy that dove with us for 13 days) and Andrea (Another guest from Colombia).
We got to the wedding via moped, specifically on the back of a moped while one of the local shop employees drove (Maxi, a great guy who is always smiling, laughing, and having fun). It took us about 15 minutes riding into the island to get to the wedding, and it was a beautiful but crazy ride. On the one hand, the island outside the main town is so different! We saw a lot of houses and smaller shops, and since there was so little light pollution (and the headlight on the bike was so weak), I could see the stars over the mountains really well.
After we parked amongst the hundreds of mopeds that were there, we walked towards the house to see that everyone was already seated in plastic chairs all over the bride's family's yard. There was cover provided via large sticks and tarps. There were probably 200 people there.
When we first walked in, we thanked the parents of the bride and groom to be, and were immediately ushered to a table heaped with food. We piled up our plates, each took a sealed cup of water, and then were taken into the house to eat. The sister(?) of the bride, Dihna, was tasked with entertaining us, and she did a great job. She is in high school where she studies English (and must do quite well!). We hung out with her as well as a bunch of the kids, and had a blast.
While we were eating, I pulled out my camera, and Dihna took an immediate interest in it. I showed her how to use it, and handed it over. After a few shots of the ceiling, she figured it out and started taking pictures left and right. I actually ended up just letting her keep it for the night and take all the pictures she wanted (so most of the pictures in this post are from her).
When we finished eating, we went back outside to the lawn where everyone else was getting food. It turns out they served us first! This doesn't actually surprise me though because everyone here is so nice. We also found out that the wedding had already happened! It's too bad we missed it, but they were happy to have us for the party. After we took pictures with the bride and groom (of which all mine are horribly blurry), we took our seats and waited for everyone to finish eating so the party could start.
Very soon after, the first dance began. Unlike American weddings, their first dance was a line dance involving the whole wedding party! And even calling it a dance was generous, it was more like a slow shuffle with some arm waving.
Soon after, other people started to join, and we were immediately dragged on to the dance floor (everyone wants to dance with the lanky white guy). It didn't take me long to understand why they danced so slowly, it was incredibly hot and humid even though it was 9 at night!
A quick side note: There are videos of me dancing, but I don't have any, and I don't intend to get them. No one needs to see that awful sight...
The next three hours were a blur of dancing with everyone, some locals actually leaving to buy beer for a couple of the guys with us, and more food being pushed at us. Whenever I tried to just walk somewhere new, someone would step in front of me dancing, and block my way until I started dancing too. If we ever tried to sit down, someone new would grab us and pull us up to dance!
We found out after that many people at the wedding came from further east, and very rarely saw white people. For them, we were a huge novelty! But that was great for me, because I didn't have to be outgoing in any way, I was pushed into full participation, which let me have so much more fun.
Gary also pointed out that there was a guy there (who we called Flores Bob) who was a total rastafarian. He had dreadlocks, as well as red, yellow, and green everything. Yet when a bob marley song came on he didn't dance! But we gave him a hard time for it, so when the song came on again, he danced with us.
At around midnight, the rolling blackouts hit the house, and everything went black. No one let it ruin the mood, but we decided it was a good opportunity to slip out. Once I found my camera, we rode back to the shop to dive in the morning (and miraculously didn't drop the bike even once (but Alvaro, the other instructor, wasn't so lucky)).
It has been quite a while since I've written anything here, so I'll record some highlights.
We did an incredible dive at golden passage. We found a place (about 18m) where the site restricted greatly and the current got really strong. When we first got there, there was a school of giant trevally, so we dropped to the bottom and held on for dear life. Soon a napoleon wrasse showed up, followed by two sharks! While we were watching them, the people behind me started screaming through their regs. We looked back, and they were looking straight up. We looked up as well to see over 100 devil rays blocking the sun! And saying there were over 100 is not an exaggeration, we found someone that was there that had a camera and took a video. I'm trying to figure out how to get a hold of the video to share. It was incredible! After that, we finished the dive with 10 minutes spent hanging out with three cuttlefish that were antagonizing eachother. I'm not sure if it was mating behavior as well as male-male competition, or something else, but it was pretty funny.
I also had a really rough dive at Batu Bolong where the currents were insane and constantly changing (left, right, even strong down). To make it worse, I had divers with only a few dives each, which makes it really hard for them to deal with the currents while still trying to master bouyancy. Even the fish were having trouble dealing with the current, and I saw a sea turtle swept away into a whirlpool off the dive site.
Dinners have been interesting. One night I ordered "garlic steamed clams." What I got was a mass of egg with clam shells embedded in it and rice on the side. I think it was the saltiest thing I've ever eaten! More recently, I decided I wanted a really American meal, so I got fried chicken and loaded fries. My favorite part was that the fries said they had "bacon bits." Since all the "western" food out here is massively artificial, I was expecting the crappy little red crumbs that they call bacon bits. Instead, I actually got crumbled bacon! So Indonesia beats us there for western food.
Gary (the British guy that we went to the wedding with) was on his 13th and last day of diving with us. Every third day we give people the option to do a dragon trek instead of a third dive. He was going, I hadn't seen the dragons yet, and I didn't need to guide anyone, so I decided to tag along.
Every time we drop people off on this island (Rinca) they come back saying that it was neat, but the dragons didn't do anything. They always say that the dragons just hang out at the ranger station and sleep. I was a little hesitant to go, because I'd rather take a day off and go to Komodo island to try to find the really wild ones. However, I decided that I can do both. Why not.
I made the right decision.
When we got there, the guide asked us if we wanted to do the short hike (which is what our groups usually do). I pushed for the medium hike, and since no one objected, we did that. Although the path started very nicely maintained, it soon turned into a simple dirt path up a small mountain. The landscape was very strange because there was nothing growing except grass and palm trees. The palm trees were very sparse and VERY tall, but spread in a very even way (presumably competitive inhibition of other plants). From the top of the mountain/hill, we got a nice view of the island and the bay, and continued on our way.
On the way down, we still hadn't seen any dragons, but had the promise of passing their "nest" later. Apparently, they lay their eggs in late October, so our timing was perfect.
For most of the walk, there was amazingly little life. Just a few trees. After a while, I saw two monkeys. Shortly after, we saw 3 wild deer ("not dragon food, ranger food" - ranger). We finally made it to the nest, and there were no dragons in sight! You could see the holes that they dig to lay eggs in, but nothing else (except a giant poop that everyone assumed was dragon poop, but the guide told me was just buffalo poop). A bit disappointed, we continued on our way. However, just up the path, there was another group stopped and taking pictures. We went over, and there was a dragon digging a big hole in the ground, as well as two chicken like birds with big orange feet (appropriately named orange footed shrub fowl) furiously trying to fill the hole back in. While we were here, a buffalo also sauntered by (these are real dragon food).
According to the ranger, the birds lay their eggs and bury them underground, then the dragons dig them up to eat them. The birds only defense is to fill in the hole while the dragon digs! From the size of their feet, you could tell that they have been adapting to this for a long time.
Unfortunately, I'm an idiot, and didn't even think to get a picture with the dragon and the birds in one shot...... Instead, I got a bunch of closeups of each separately, and video of the birds shoveling dirt (but no dragon). Luckily, one of my divers, Graeme, was a bit smarter, and took wider shots that he has promised to pass along to me.
In the mean time, I got these pictures:
This female dragon would occasionally take a break from trying to dig up bird eggs to keep an eye on us.
While she dug, the orange footed shrub fowl were furiously trying to fill the hole back in. It was amazing how much dirt they could shovel with their big feet..
After making everyone wait while I took pictures, we continued on and made it to the rangers station. As promised, there were a bunch of dragons hiding in the shade here. This was still nice to see because it gave us an opportunity to have our picture taken with the dragons (with a bit of perspective trickery) and to get some nice close-ups of the inactive dragons. Everyone else thought I was crazy for how close I got to them, but I knew that as ectotherms, they were unlikely to move too much in the middle of a hot day like that. I think...
With grad applications due, and the need for drastic revisions on my lionfish paper, I haven't done anything with this site in a while!
I guess I'll catch up now, but I'll limit this post to a brief summary of each event instead of a full write-up.
I just had a "traditional Javanese massage." I'm not really sure if this is different from other massages because I've never had one before. This one was great, and it all happened in an air conditioned building which was worth the price in its own right! I can't imagine paying the US prices, but with how cheap it is here, I could becoming addicted...
Sometimes on our boat trips we see dolphins. Usually they just have their fins out of the water, or on a good day, they swim under the boat. However on this day, we saw dolphins jumping out of the water! They were spinning in the air, and it was awesome.
indonesian starbucks - There is a coffee shop on the road here. I needed to get a lot of work done on my Cichlid manuscript, but I couldn't find a comfortable place to work (cool and quiet ideally). I walked up the street and found this little coffee shop that was a complete starbucks rip off! They had the same little display case and tried to have cutsie food items. The walls were covered in incredibly cliche coffee "quotes." Example:"Those who do not like coffee will be roasted."
Popcorn after diving - Every day when we get back, there is popcorn waiting. I think it's the hunger and just being tired, but every day the popcorn is just incredible.
Another incredible dive - Visibility was perfect (30m at least) and there were several schools of hundreds of fish, all swimming around us. They didn't care that we were there, and would actually let us into the middle of the school! Emperor fish, giant trevally, blue parrotfish, others. Also saw eagle ray on different dive. It was great because the ray kept swimming back and forth in front of us, so we got to see it for a long time.
Incredible manta dive(!) - I was eye to eye with a ~13 ft. manta for almost ten minutes. We were only a few feet apart and at times his "wings" were actually over me. At the same time several other mantas were swimming around us, including an all black one. I never get emotional from diving, and I'm usually very calm, but this dive was different. I was talking into my reg because I couldn't keep my excitement to myself. I had chills for almost an hour afterwards, and I even almost felt an emotion [joke]! Bottom line, it was incredible and unlike anything I've ever experienced before. I've done manta dives, but I have never been eye-to-eye like that and felt such a connection. And I've never said such schlocky crap...
Omlette chef: Indonesia - Got to show off my egg flipping skills to the kitchen girls. I was sick of having fish every day, so I decided to have an omlette. It has been a while since I made one, and it was fun to show off my egg flipping skills.
Renewed my visa today. One immigration officer did the business while the other one took pictures with her iphone. The first officer said that they might use it for social media or something? That would be interesting.
Finally, I almost ran into some trouble today, but I'll refrain from posting details until later (Oh the suspense).
I hereby promise pictures in the next post!