The Ankh-Morpork Times
David Eggerschwiler
Ankh-Morpork Times
A Dugong in Paradise
2'000 kilometers of Biodiversity
Komodo National Park
Diving the Liberty Wreck in Tulamben
Olive Ridley Sea Turtle Nesting Protection Program...
Movies on a Plane
Board Game Weekend
French Polynesia 2016 Summary
The long way home...
Large Schools of Fish in North Fakarava
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Friday, October 07, 2016

A Dugong in Paradise

From Sorong I headed to Pulau Birie, home of Papua Paradise. One of the first things I noticed after arriving was a sign saying "Welcome to Paradise" and I spent indeed a couple of unforgettable days there.

Right after checking in and inspecting my beautiful bungalow built on stilts in the ocean, I noticed the sea grass in front of my balcony. I was informed that the day before a Dugong was sighted by my neighbors. So I decided to keep a lookout, since Dugongs are still on my list of things to see :).

And indeed, shortly after sundown, my neighbors spotted the Dugong again as it was slowly making its way across the sea grass, right in my direction. Since the sun had now finally set, I fetched a torch and managed to observe it for a couple of minutes and snap a couple of pictures :).

The next day I went diving. After two nice dives on nice reefs with a large amount of fish live, I headed out again for a Mandarin-/Sunset-Dive. The first thing that crossed my path was a juvenile Barramundi, and for once it wasn't shy!

The Mandarinfish were also present, but rather shy if lights were used. After seeing some dashing around the rocks, I noticed a couple that slowly mounted upwards together before swimming back down again. They repeated this several times. And so I was able to observe the mating dance of the Mandarinfish on my second Mandarin-Dive!

The next highlight of this dive were the Picturesque Dragonets, that looked a bit like the Mandarinfish and were found very close by. One of them was eaten by a Scorpionfish while I was watching! (Poor Dragonet!) I was so baffled, that I didn't record the event.

After mostly seeing Bluespotted Ribbontail Rays during this dive trip, I encountered my first Bluespotted Stingray in quite a while.

The next morning held another adventure. We dove down to 30 meters to inspect the wreck of a P-47 D Thunderbolt "Razorback". This fighter plane crashed on 21st October 1944 because it ran out of fuel. The plane is structurally still intact, even if it lays on its head, and it is possible to look into the cockpit and see the guns on the wings.

On the second dive I inspected a crevice under a large bommy and was very surprised to see a Brown Banded Bamboo Shark.

In the afternoon I used the opportunity to explore the island. Even though I didn't spot many birds, which there normally are but I chose the wrong time of day, I encountered spiders, crickets, butterflies and lizards.

Even though I only stayed three days, I had a terrific time and was incredibly lucky to see so many interesting things :).
Should I return to Raja Ampat then Papua Paradise will definitely be on the short list.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2016

2'000 kilometers of Biodiversity

I had three days of resting in Maumere, which I used for a short excursion to the Kelimutu vulcano. Kelimutu is famous for its three crater lakes. Every lake has a different color and the colors change from time to time to blood red or pitch black. When I was there the lakes had a more or less normal color, ranging from turquoise to yellow.

On Monday, I boarded the Pindito again for the second leg of my trip, covering the 2'092 kilometers up northwest to Sorong in 17 days.

Our first stop was the island of Kawula where we had a magical night muck dive. It started with me discovering something strange that was moving through the sand. An Indian Walkman, also known as Spiny Devilfish.
Then we came across a large Winged Pipefish, a Broadclub Cuttelfish, and a tiny Bobtail Squid! Shortfin Lionfish and a Giant Box Crab were next and if that wasn't enough we finally found the fabled Weedy Scorpionfish (Rhinopias), that the other divers had spotted throughout the day :).
Definitely one of the most varied and captivating night dives in my diving career!

On the next day we had a surface interval near Padar island, when Blue Whales were spotted. Some of us took a Dinghi and tried to follow them. I stayed on board. Soon after someone shouted Mola Mola! And indeed a Sunfish was surfacing and waving it's fin out of the water just 50 meters from the boat!

At Paduar we dove a site called Baengabeng Bay and we spotted four small Octopus in very close succession. Some of them posed very nicely for the camera :).
The next day we dove at Wetar, the last large land mass we would see for almost a week, and there was a historic moment, my 555th dive! To celebrate I was honored with a special hat *g*.
One interesting aspect of this trip was to observe the changing landscape, from lush forested islands over semi-active volcanoes to tiny islands and finally the lime-stone formations in Misool. At Teun island we were greeted with a strong smell, a sign that the local volcano was still active.
The next day we dove at Dosborgh reef, a very remote corner in the Banda Sea, there I had a very close encounter with a huge Dogtooth Tuna. I turned my head and was staring right into his ugly mouth! I was so baffled I could only take a picture when he was already swimming past. But that was definitely a memorable moment!
At Gili Manuk, one of the Snake islands of the Banda Sea, I counted 50 sea snakes during the first 45 minutes of diving! The following dives it abated a bit, but in the end the count still ran up to 109. An amazing day with many close encounters of otherwise rather shy creatures.
During the surface interval we were able to observe a large number of birds that were circling the area. And i managed to capture the following moment:

Before heading into Banda Neira we did a small detour to go Whale watching, because on previous trips there always were Whales present southwest of the Spice Islands. And we didn't have to wait long until we spotted two Blue Whales, a mother and her calf! They surfaced several times and through smart maneuvering once very close to our boat! Edi, the owner of the Pindito, used a drone to capture this fascinating scene. From the air one could see the whole whale through the water surface. The video is available on YouTube.
Over the last two days the other groups, we dived in three different groups of four to six divers, were lucky enough to spot a Great Hammerhead. Today was finally our turn, strangely it was always the same dive guide, which are rotated through the groups daily, that had the encounters, which gave him the nickname Mister Hammerhead :). Our encounter was at 31 meters and the Hammerhead was very busy, thus the picture does not meet my usual standards.
 In the Banda Neira harbour we did an afternoon and a sunset dive and I spotted my first Mandarinfish there :). Those creatures are normally extremely shy, here they didn't mind the divers as long as no torch was used.
We also had some time to visit Banda Neira town the next morning. It has a very gruesome history. During dutch colonization in the 17th century most of the local inhabitants were butchered and replaced by slaves from Java. The dutch Fort from that time is still standing and stands as a reminder of this time. For tourists the fort offers a beautiful view of Gunung Api, a volcano that last erupted in 1988.
On our way past Koon into Raja Ampat we encountered the most spectacular sunset of the whole trip.
Our first time in Misool, which is the Southern part of Raja Ampat, was at Magic Mountain, where we had magical encounters with 3 Oceanic Manta Rays :)
Misool was also spectacular for the sheer amount of fish life present, at times we just hooked into the reef and watched one school passing after another. One lucky dive we spotted four Devil Rays (Mobulas) passing by.
But Misool also offered spectacular views above water with its limestone cliffs and wooded islands.
And so, after 17 fascinating dives we reached Sorong harbor and it was sadly time to say good-bye. During this leg of the trip I managed to do 48 dives and observe creatures covering the whole spectrum, from tiny Nudibranches to huge Blue Whales. I had a fantastic time and would like to thank the whole Pindito team and crew for this unforgettable journey!

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Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Komodo National Park

In Bali I boarded the Pindito for a 12-day cruise to Maumere in Flores.

The first dive was breathtaking. So much fish life! And a mostly intact reef. During the second dive we ventured a bit further and found the reef badly damaged, however, there we encountered a couple of very curious Blacktip Reef Sharks. One of them came very close to check us out.

We did more than diving. On the second day we visited Moyo island which had a nice waterfall which was perfect for swimming. In the small town we also encountered many goats, pigs and chickens.

One of my favourite fish was also present on many a dive: The Western Clown Anemonefish.

Even though the white anemone offers great contrast, it is the first warning sign of possible coral bleaching in the area. Which might be a consequence of last years El Niño.

Another highlight for me was a visit to Satonda island which features a salt-water lake. And up on the hill a Geocache. I managed to motivate a couple of guests to accompany me and so we started the arduous climb, which was rewarded by the Geocache, which was still perfectly preserved in its hidey hole, and a stunning view.

At Manta corner we did two dives hoping to see some Manta Rays. They did show up, but only for a very short visit. While everyone was hanging in the reef, waiting for more Mantas, I headed to an area where the dive guide spotted a large group of Bigfin Reef Squid. After taking the scene in for a while, I realized that they were mating! So I switched from photos to video and you can see the highlights in this YouTube clip.

Then we finally arrived in the Komodo National Park. First thing in the morning we visited the ranger station on Rinca island, where we received a 90 minute tour and were able to observe a good dozen Komodo dragons as well as deer, monkeys and birds. We then headed to Horseshoe Bay, at the Southern end of Rinca island, where we encountered a group of very active Komodo dragons on the beach. The reason for this is, that some of the other dive boats feed the dragons, which is officially prohibited, and thus whenever a boat approaches, the dragons come to the shore in hope of food. Thus going on land was out of the question.

A highlight on this trip were the night dives. Even though the majority of those dives were on sandy patches, there was so much going on that I never got bored. On one dive we encountered four small Cuttlefish, on others critters so small we needed a magnifying glass to spot them. One one dive we were crowded by hunting lionfish. And on another we spotted four large and beautiful Spanish Dancers.

Overall I had a wonderful trip.

Unfortunately, the internet connection in this corner of the world is not so good, so it will take some time until I can upload more pictures.

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Sunday, September 04, 2016

Diving the Liberty Wreck in Tulamben

I had just one day of diving in Bali, because my trip to Komodo starts the next day. So on Saturday I walked into the first dive shop I found on the internet and asked if they had anything planned. The only option was Tulamben. Even though I had been there two times before (in 2006 and in 2011) and it meant a 2.5 hours transfer each way, I signed up.

Later when I checked my downloaded Caches, I was extremely happy to see there was a diving Multi-Geocache!

Our first dive was at the wreck and even though it looked like there were dozens to hundreds divers around, we found a lucky timeslot, where we were almost alone in the water. The wreck seemed to have fallen in quite a lot since the last time I was here, but since I can't find any picture evidence for this, it might just be a trick of my mind. What was fun though, was that the one huge Barracuda, which was there the last two times, still hangs around the wreck :)

Our second dive was at the drop off, where we spotted a Harlekin Ghostpipefish, a large Spanish Mackerel and much more.

After the dive we had a break, which I used to walk to the final of the Geocache and I was able to claim my third geocache in Indonesia :).

The last dive of the day took us from the wreck along the house reef to the coral garden. The fish live was surprisingly varied. Highlight was a stingray at a cleaning station. 

In addition there were a lot of man-made installations which should help the reef grow. The one I remember most, a skeleton that looked like a plane was still there, although it lost its wings.

The plane in 2011
The plane in 2016

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Olive Ridley Sea Turtle Nesting Protection Program in Kuta, Bali

While strolling along the beach in Kuta, Bali, I noticed a huge Sea Turtle statue. Coming closer I saw a large fenced in area with many signs inside. This was the location of the Bali Sea Turtle Society.

They have a large number of volunteer rangers that patrol the beach while the Olive Ridley Sea Turtles come in to lay their eggs. Once the eggs are safely buried and  the turtle is on its way back to the Sea, they take measurements and tag the turtle, so that they can check how often it returns in following years. Afterwards they take the eggs and bring it to a safe location in or next to the huge Turtle pictured above. Their they have people guarding the location 24/7 to ensure that the eggs aren't stolen or eaten by natural predators.

Once the eggs hatch, they release the baby turtles back into the Sea. This is done as an event, where tourists can take a turtle in a small plastic bin, bring it closer to the shore and then all are released together. This is for one good for the turtles, because due to the large number of people, the birds, the natural predators at this stage, stay away. In addition it is good for public relations reasons, helping to spread the word that the turtles need protection.

 One baby turtle on its way to the Sea

 Some turtles are quicker than others

There they go! Even though only a few of them will survive, they at least stand a chance to grow up.

More information about this project can be found here.

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Saturday, September 03, 2016

Movies on a Plane

Flying with Singapore Airlines from Zurich to Singapore in the new and comfortable A380, I was at first overwhelmed by the entertainment choice options (90 new movies were added in September alone). In the end I did spend way more time watching movies than sleeping ;). I saw:
  1. Hail Cesar! (An entertaining comedy, but I expected a bit more)
  2. Allegiant (an okay ending to the Divergent-Trillogy)
  3. Now You See me (a wonderful smoke-and-mirrors drama about magicians in the modern age.)
  4. April and the Wonderful World (A French Steampunk Anime, worth watching!)
  5. Deadpool (Just amazing. The intro sets the tone and keeps the humor rolling till the end. I'm looking forward to the sequel).

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Sunday, May 01, 2016

Board Game Weekend

I spent the weekend in Tösstal playing board games. Over three days I played 24 different games, 22 of which I hadn't played before :).

It would be too much to list them all, but I'll name my favorite new discoveries:
  • The Bloody Inn: We play a member of a greedy family owing a small inn in rural France in the 19th century. We don't really care about the well-being of our patrons, but rather only about our full coffers. To achieve this we can recruit the patrons and take them into our hand, from there we can play them in our play area using them as buildings which give us immediate or continued benefits. The most money, however, can be made by killing the patrons and burying them under one of our buildings, because then we can empty their purse. But watch out for police officers among the guests, they may confiscate the body...
    The play mechanism is really intriguing (and well known to Race for the Galaxy Fans), all actions have to be payed with cards from our hands, however, if the card has the correct color we get a discount. All our games ended up really close and we had great fun!
  • Nippon: We play a member of an influential conglomerate in Japan during the Meji period. We try to grow our influence by building factories, railroads and ships, producing goods and shipping them both to the local and foreign markets.
    This was the most complex game we played this weekend and with our initial three hours playing time it might seem overwhelming, but nevertheless time went by very fast with quick turns and many interesting decisions to take. I'm looking forward to another round soon!
  • Potion Explosion: We are apprentice wizards taking our final exam in potion brewing. In order to pass we need to brew a number of potions with the available ingredients. The more efficient we achieve this the more points can be earned and at the end of the day there is only Student of the Year Award!
    The ingredients are represented by small marbles placed in a dispenser with five rows. As our turn we can take one marble out of the dispenser, if this leads to an explosion (at least two ingredients of the same color smash together) we can take them as well (and so on until all marbles are gone or no more explosions happen). The gained ingredients need to be placed in our cauldrons in which we brew the potions. Once a potion is finished it can be drunk to gain a one-time advantage (which ranges from taking more ingredients from the dispenser, to stealing ingredients from our class mates). Once all bonuses are collected the game ends and everyone counts up the value of their potions.
    A very easy to learn and play game, which is delivered with fantastic components and a cool experience. It feels a bit like a cellphone game ported to a board game, but it works wonderfully.
  • Lanterns - The Harvest Festival: To celebrate the end of autumn harvest we want to gain honor by dedicating combinations of lanterns. Every player has square tiles in hand showing up to four different colors on each side. Once a tile is placed every player gains a lantern of the color pointing in his direction. The trick is to connect identical colors to gain additional lanterns.
    A very easy to learn game with lots of depth and different strategies.
  • Celestia: We play an adventurer who takes part in explorations in an aircraft. The farther we can travel the higher the possible rewards. The clue is that everyone is in the same aircraft and the place of captain is taken in turns. The captain rolls a number of dice showing different symbols. Every player has to decide if the captain can weather the crisis by playing matching cards, or abandon ship (taking the current reward). If the captain manages the difficulties travel continues and the next player takes the helm. If the captain fails the airship crashes and no-one on board receives anything.
    A wonderful little game with superb components (featuring a three-dimensional aircraft in which the player tokens have a place and beautifully illustrated cards) and great replay value. A definite recommendation!
  • Quadropolis: We are a city planner trying to build the best city, but we have to compete with the other planners for the available buildings and institutions. Every building is scored differently at the end, but only if it can be activated with the needed energy or people. Thus a fierce competition breaks out.
    For a city-building game Quadropolis works very smoothly and can be quickly explained and played. The included expert mode promises more strategic choices, for those who can build cities in their sleep. The package is rounded up by functional, colorful and pleasing illustrations and components (the people are actually small people). A definite addition to my game collection.
I had a great time and want to thank Cäsi, the organizer, and everyone who was there and played games! I'll be back next year! :)

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Monday, February 08, 2016

French Polynesia 2016 Summary

I had a fantastic time in French Polynesia.

In this post I want to collect all the links with information and pictures from this trip

The first part took place in Tahiti, where we stayed in a nice hotel
 The second part was the main feature, a 15-day liveaboard trip with the Aqua Tiki II starting in Raroia and ending in Fakarava
Thanks for everyone on the trip for making it such a memorable experience!

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