In this post, I talk to PJ about his trip to the Indonesian island, Raja Ampat. Through our chat, I learned a lot about what Raja Ampat has to offer, the rich biodiversity that he saw, and about mushroom shaped islands of Wayag. Read along.
Q. Most people have never even heard of Raja Ampat. Where is it located, how did you get there, and where did you stay?
A. Having learned to dive in 2006 in Honduras, I mostly dived in Hawaii and Caribbean on weekend trips when I lived on the US West and East coasts. I was looking for something with a biodiversity that was different from here. As I searched for the best dive sites in the world, one of them had a name that was so familiar yet I had no idea where it was: Raja Ampat
Turns out it was in Indonesia and was popular mostly for 'live-aboards' (which is where you live on the boat and dive in a new destination everyday). Since I had to be in Bali for a wedding that Thanksgiving, this would work out perfectly as an add-on trip.
However after doing extensive research online, I understood that the live-aboard wouldn't work for me - For one, I wanted to do other things besides diving and secondly they wanted a minimum stay of 7 days. I found an eco-resort on a private island in Raja Ampat that could only be reached by a boat. They had an Instagram account, check out the photo for details.
The resort seemed to be doing all their business on Whatsapp and they had one cottage available.
Raja Ampat while not terribly expensive has a shortage of places to stay so I wired my money and got the reservation with 5 dive packages and all inclusive vegetarian food.
I had to fly to Jakarta and connect to Sarong in West Papua (yes, same island as Papua New Guinea!) and then take a public ferry to Wasai. They picked me up in their boat from Wasai. Getting there wasn't easy but it was totally worth the 20+ hours of travel.
Q. So, what's so special about Raja Ampat? What does it have to offer?
A. Raja Ampat (which literally means 4 kings), is a collection of 1500 islands, cays and shoals. The one I booked was one of them. People come here to dive because of the bio diversity. It is truly a great site for people who like scuba and snorkeling too!
Wonderful Indonesia states that the 'territory within the islands of the Four Kings is enormous, covering 9.8 million acres of land and sea, home to 540 types of corals, more than 1,000 types of coral fish and 700 types of mollusks. This makes it the most diverse living library for the world's coral reef and underwater biota."
Q. Tell us about all the experiences that Raja Ampat have to offer. What were the most memorable ones? Did you use a travel company for the excursions?
A. Turns out its a lot more than just diving. I did five dives in five days including a night dive right off the island. There was a shark family living right next to the dining cottage. The resort had their own boats and diving gear and dive masters. There were ten other tourists on the island in the cottages, two from France and the rest from Asia. The owner's son ran the logistics, his wife cooked very authentic local food and he ran the excursions.
The water was so clear that you could literally just stand at your cottage and look before to see the incredible bio diversity. The temperature of the water was perfect, no dive suits required. The depth wasn't that much so we could spend a lot of time underwater.
The pygmy sea horses and the sea turtles were my favorite but for me the shoals of fish surrounding us constantly was the most exciting part.
I also loved that the corals here were alive in all their magnificent colors which wasn't the case back in the US.
The most memorable experience however wasn't diving, it was a visit to Piaynemo or the mushroom shaped islands of Wayag with snow white sand around them. Our boat trip took us around these islands and we stopped by some of the pink sand banks to take a quick dip before continuing on, it was a breathtaking experience, that I don't think I have ever had all over the world. The hiking to the top to see an aerial view was definitely the highlight!
Q. Talk to us about authenticity - Traditional culture, dress, food, people, language and family life.
A. On the island of Sarong, we saw a lot of people dressed in the namesake, both men and women. The language is almost all Bahasa Indonesian and even though West Papua used to have its own language, no one really speaks it. Very few people could speak English. The locals are not used to tourists that aren't European or Chinese so it took them a minute to figure out how to deal with me.
The younger generation is very tech savvy and were very friendly, I made some good friends that are now my Indonesian Instagram (very popular there) buddies.
My exposure to the local food was strictly based on what the resort owner's wife cooked for me. These are all the meals I had there: Potato spring rolls, macaroni and rolls with peas, jack fruit curry, tempeh and rice balls in sugar syrup, mustard greens, mushroom satay, watermelon, tempeh curry and rice. Their tempeh was the meat substitute that was in everything and it was delicious!
Q. Any tips for foodie vegetarians? Where to eat, what to order?
A. Vegetarian food is not difficult if you can adjust to the taste of tempeh. They have delicious fruits and good mushrooms. And if all fails, get the rice balls, they are filling enough to last you until a better meal!
About our travel nomad, Pranjal (PJ)
"I have designed my life so that travel is front and center of it, first via IT consulting and then gradually by adopting the digital nomadic lifestyle. I got introduced to travel via a study abroad program in sophomore year of college and then after graduation I started looking for jobs that geared towards it. What motivates me as a traveler is the knowledge that every person and every place is unique and will teach me something new. Food is something that connects me to a place and the people in it. As a vegetarian, I am always trying to understand how the locals relate to nature around them.The evolution of food through history also helps in understanding the local culture and customs. To me that is the most fascinating aspect of travel."