Raja Ampat: A First-Timer’s Wide-Eyed View
By Jennifer & Joel Penner
About 10 years ago, we caught the diving and underwater photography bug and were immediately hooked. We’ve frequented the Hawaiian Islands, parts of Mexico, some of the Caribbean islands, some cold-water locations and a handful of diving destinations in Indonesia, but never Raja Ampat… until now.
I’m really not sure why we waited so long to experience this northeastern region of Indonesia, known for its incredible marine life diversity. All the reports we’d heard from friends and acquaintances were “mind blowing diving”. Perhaps it was just the busy-ness of life, opportunities to travel elsewhere or wanting to travel far and dive with established buddies instead of strangers. We had no good reason. Then, well over a year ago, Backscatter Underwater Video & Photo and its travel partner, Under Exposures, arranged two trips on the MV Pindito to explore Raja Ampat; upon hearing this, we immediately snagged two spots on the 2nd trip. The time had come to just do it!
Each year, it seems travel to exotic locations just gets more challenging, especially for underwater photographers. Diminished bag allowances and increased luggage fees are the new norms, and for the sake of one’s sanity, just need to be factored into the total budget of the trip. Feeling like seasoned travelers to Indo, we were somewhat surprised at the flight itinerary – 4 flights – totaling 26 hours of flying time with an additional 36 hours of layovers! Raja Ampat is not easy to get to, but if it were, it would not be as special as it is.
If you are an underwater image-maker, then the MV Pindito is for you! Owner, Edi Frommenwiler, is a pioneer who has literally mapped many of the dive sites in the Raja Ampat area, plus he’s an extremely talented videographer, so he knows what you, as a photographer, want to see. By no means am I disparaging any of the other fine liveaboards cruising the same waters; however, they do not have the same level of local knowledge and experience, which is a huge benefit to underwater photographers.
Schools of small fish, schools of big fish, manta ray encounters and much more. It’s all there in Raja Ampat. The pretty, big picture is what I gravitate towards, so I left my macro lenses at home, figuring we’d see what we’d see and hopefully capture it digitally. Wildlife is unpredictable, doesn’t adhere to a schedule. Sometimes Mr. and Ms. Big just don’t show up to the party. Maintaining a hang loose attitude toward what you encounter under the waves goes a long way in upping the enjoyment of the expedition. Sure, more sunny days would have been ideal. More close-up manta encounters would have been beyond awesome. Experiencing pods of cetaceans and other big marine animals would have been life-altering. But the unrivaled beauty of the Raja Ampat reefs, walls and pinnacles with their explosive color and swirling fish is a veritable feast for the eyes, and the soul. No one would be able to see and capture all that was hoped for on one trip. I now have a great reason to return sooner. Sampai kita bertemu lagi, Raja Ampat!
Jennifer & Joel Penner are avid divers and underwater photographers. When not in their ocean office, they run their multimedia company, Newmediasoup, LLC in Oakland, CA. They are also the webmasters for the Bird’s Head Seascape.