This trip has shown me that diving can be hell. Today, I also saw that the opposite can be true. When I saw the first 4-5 metre manta ray materialise out of the blue just ten metres in front of me, all the money I have spent on my diving, the embarrassment of being as a beginner in the water, and the fright I had in earlier dives at Komodo, all made sense and became worth it. This is what I have been seeking, this is why I started.
First things first. We get up around 6 and begin the first dive at Batu Bolong at 7am. It’s a multi-level dive, cruising up and down a steep reef wall. The current is strong and I find myself thinking yet again that perhaps diving is not for me. I fight to keep position in the water, not being pushed into the wall or other divers, or get drawn in by the current, that I can’t enjoy the dive and discover everything the others see. I do however manage to see an absolutely beautiful turtle, and a really cool red lion fish strutting his stuff. I am glad when it’s over though. On the edge of both sides of the reef there is very dangerous down current, which can suck you in and pull you down, power less, to beyond 50 metres. When we get back to the boat the ocean is wild, and we can trace the currents on the surface (see picture).
At around 10am we jump in at Manta point for our second dive. A completely different type of site, and absolutely beautiful. It’s a type of moon landscape, flat and empty, only rubble and some coral on the bottom, and bright blue water. It’s quite shallow, 8-15 metres, and lit from the sun above. There are sand dunes and a very nice mild current that pushes us along, and it feels like flying, in the space between the glittery surface and the sandy reflective bottom, weight less and free. It’s surreal and I love it even before I hear the first raps on tanks to indicate there’s something to look at. The way the current behaves here I am propelled forward, like on a highway, and right in my lane I see a huge manta suddenly materialise and come straight at me. I swim right to avoid it, and he sails gracefully past me, knowing that it is he who has right of way here. I am hooked, humbled and grateful.
A bit further on we are lucky to come across one that is curious, and we all lie down on the bottom as still as possible while it circles a few metres away for 10-15 minutes. It floats above us, beside us, showing us all angles, and feeding at the same time. Mantas don’t like bubbles so we have to be careful and stay a little bit away. All too soon my air is down to 50 bar and I have to ascend.
Given the unsuccessful nature of our night dive on Wednesday we are granted an extra, third dive. All happily jump back in their gear for the tenth time in two and half days, through the hassle of peeling on a 3mm thick wet suit (wet from the last dive, heavy, tight, unyielding and a pain in the bum), weight belt around the waist, crawling into the BCD and checking first regulator, second regulator, SPG, releases, tank, fins, mask, boots, dive computers and reef hooks – all for a chance to spend a little more precious time at Manta Point. This time Fabi and I descend before the others and subsequently lose them.
After this I truly have the best dive of my life. I am just so happy down here in this moon landscape, where we glide like parachuters through the water, twisting and turning slowly like in space to see where the next manta is coming from. We can spin, rotate, do somersaults or fly like birds on a blue highway. We catch sight of a few mantas that turn and glide away, and it feels slightly like dreaming.
Finally we find two that are willing to stick around and as the current is strong we hook on to some coral to stay and watch them. That piece of rope will always remind me of that dive. On a few occasions I look up and a manta is gliding above my head. These creatures inspire an almost god-like reverence, their characters so graceful and intelligent that it's easy to forget that they are just normal sea animals.
We learn later that the others in the group were with up to 15 mantas at the same time a bit further away. I am happy however, because of the the private moment we had with them. When we get back on the boat the Spanish couple cannot stop saying ‘madre mia’, ‘grandes’, ‘madre mia’.
Later we go to Rinca island to see the Komodo dragon, the largest living lizard in the world. Facts: there are only about 2500 in the world, living on Rinca and Komodo islands only. The ‘dragons’ as they’re called smell with their mouth, up to 3-5 kilometres. They are unpredictable and aggressive and eat mammals large as buffalo and horses. They rip the tandem off their prey so they can’t run, poison them with 25 different bacteria to be found in their mouth and then rip their guts out. We see a few lounging around both at the camp and in the wild, and they really look rather evil – although quite beautiful. When we reach the half-way point of the trek the ranger tells us about one time a dragon came down into the village and caught and completely ate on of the children. The Spanish couple quickly say ‘vamos’ and we quickly head back to the camp. The ranger has only a stick to fight the dragons with, and readily admits it would be more effective to run (very fast) if attacked.
Back in Labuan Bajo we say our goodbyes in the Dive Komodo office. I go back to Green Hills hotel, have a pizza at downstairs Made In Italy restaurant and go to sleep, pleased to have ticked off 16 dives on my little dive tracker.
Tomorrow - Malaysia.