Our second scuba adventure was in Flores, and it was wonderful. Unfortunately, I have no underwater photos, as I’m still getting my bearings as a scuba diver.
We dived with Reefseekers. Kath and Ernest, the owners and dive-masters, are real conservationists, and gave great lessons on the flora and fauna we’d see before each dive. Kath, from Northern England, and Ernest, from Scotland, are tough, salt-of-the-earth types, with a soft spot for sea creatures and divers.
The way the land and sea come together with all the islands and reflections is beautiful. And many of the islands are conical and were formed volcanically. The grassy hilltops emerging from the ocean are a little surreal.
The first day, dolphins frolicked around our boat. Prepping for the dive Kath poured water down our suits to cool us off, waiting for the surprised yelp, and explaining, "I like to watch ’em squeal."
On one dive, we saw an immense Morray Eel, with a head bigger than mine. A smaller, patterned eel swam out toward us; they aren’t usually active during the day. Later, a Candy Striped Cleaner Shrimp cleaned our fingernails in its tiny cleaning station cave. At one point a Feather Star, a starfish that looks like it’s made of black feathers, swam/spun gracefully by us.
Kath and Ernest are building a resort on their own small island, Bidadari, where they also live. The island’s largest fauna is a pride of sixteen house cats, so, no matter where you are on the island, you can usually spot one. We dived off Bidadari on the second day.
Ernest gave us lots of diving tips. He and Kath are kind of Yodas of the sport, and he used to dive for commercial oil rigs. Hardcore. That made it all the more incongruous when he said to Jason, "Lad, d’ya ever watch Stargate?"
I dived with Nerdin that day. Nerdin is a Divemaster working with Kath and Ernest, and he’s from Flores. Nerdin is a fisherman cum scuba diver. He went from being someone who hunted the reefs, to a dedicated conservationist. Most locals don’t understand the ecology of the reefs at all, and sometimes even fish with dynamite. Nerdin is trying to educate the young people of Flores to appreciate and preserve the delicate ecosystem.
On all our dives, we saw nudibranches. Nudibranch means "naked gills" in Latin, and that is, indeed, what they are. They’re very small (sometimes just a centimeter long) slug-like creatures that crawl along reefs, and come in amazing colors, patterns and shapes. Many divers love searching for nudibranches, as there are lots of varieties. They’re challenging to find, yet easy to photograph. Reefs around Flores also contain Sea Squirts, an animal attached to the reef that looks kind of like a bright blue and yellow human heart.
Our third and last day of diving was at two great sites called Crystal Rock and the Aquarium. At Crystal Rock, I saw my first shark, a White Tipped Reef Shark, early in the dive. We also saw a large, camouflaged Crocodile Fish; several Morray Eels; a Bearded Scorpionfish; a Red Tooth Triggerfish; two Boxfish; a beautiful Clown Triggerfish; an Oriental Sweetlips; and two largish, well camouflaged octopi (one was next to a large Stonefish); and many other creatures. A sea-snake swam by at the end of the dive.
At the Aquarium, we crawled along the sandy ocean floor, looking at coral heads protruding from it. Early on, we saw a wonderful, giant Blue Spotted Pufferfish — as big as a medium-sized dog, balanced on the sand, four feet from us. It had a big beak that it uses to eat coral. We also saw Oblique-Banded Sweetlips, Common Lionfish, Tiger Cowrie, cleaner shrimp, and a really beautiful Nudibranch, the Chromadoris Magnifa. Large Manta Rays swam near our boat, but we didn’t see them underwater. And dolphins raced our boat as we headed back to Flores.
In addition to the great diving and proprietors, we really enjoyed the people we met on the boat. Most evenings, after diving, we got together at the Paradise Bar in Labuan Bajo. Labuan Bajo is a basic little town, and the Paradise Bar is about as happening as it gets — a thatch-roofed bar on a cliff, overlooking the sea. We enjoyed it a lot. Sometimes local guys will play guitar and sing. And there’s often someone bathing in the bar’s bathroom. We drank Cassulas, is the local Caipharina, made with Arak, the local firewater. Just one can do you in.
Aside from my ant-filled vegetable soup at the eco-lodge, we loved our time in Flores.