We weren't quite sure what we were getting ourselves into. We found the Ari Jaya on the internet, and it seemed like just what we were looking for. But we couldn't find much information apart from the website, and it seemed too good to be true. As soon as Aleksandra picked us up at the airport, we knew everything was going to be terrific. We soon boarded the Ari Jaya, our new home for ten days. We sat on deck, discussed the itinerary, and sipped avocado shakes which were surprisingly good. Aleskandra was a great host. She is very personable, responsible and accommodating. If you are looking for a trip that you can tailor to your needs, this is a great way to go. We were able to talk with her about what we were interested in seeing and photographing. She listened and offered good suggestions based on what we said. She was also very flexible when we requested repeat dives or wanted to move on. And she's a great dive master who enjoyed the diving as much as we did.
The Ari Jaya is fairly basic, but it is nice and comfortable. There is one shared bathroom on deck with a warm water shower. It was clean and easily accessible for a quick shower after diving. The cabins below are small, with curtains for doors, but we had enough room to dress and store our clothes, and that proved to be all we really needed. The boat has a unique design with a large flat area to sit or lie on in the shade. We spent the majority of our time here. It was a cool place to sit and relax on cushions out of the sun. There were also two comfortable deck chairs on the bow of the boat that I liked to sit in to read or look for falling stars at night. The sunsets and surroundings were beautiful everywhere we docked. At the Cannibal Rock anchorage, we saw monkeys and pigs running on the beach and komodo dragons swaggering at dusk. We also watched eagles fish and fight for food. They sounded like jets when they swooped close to our boat. At another spot, we saw thousands and thousands of bats flying out of their caves at dusk. It was mesmerizing.
The food was good and healthy. It was mostly Indonesian with seafood and chicken or beef. There was usually a salad and there were always vegetables. We ate fresh fruit for dessert. When we weren't eating much fruit, the cook started making us fruit shakes instead. We also had snacks during the day as well as water, tea, coffee, beer, and soft drinks.
It was just the two of us, so we had the boat all to ourselves. The crew was always there to help, but it felt private and quiet. At night we chose to sleep on deck. Most nights we were sleeping under the stars reflected in perfectly still water with no other boats around. It was quiet and peaceful. The temperature was cool, but comfortable, and sleeping outside in the fresh air was very nice.
I wore a 5mm wetsuit that I am very glad I picked up in Bali. I also wore a hood and gloves. In the south, I got cold at the end of each dive. The rest of the time it was a bathing suit or a t-shirt and shorts. At night, I wore a sweatshirt. Other things I took and would highly recommend are sunscreen, polarized sunglasses, an Ipod, a camera and several books. Big beach towels are provided. Scrabble is also on board. It's the Polish version, so that makes it interesting. The z is only worth 2 points. There are fish ID books on board and lots of scuba magazines and books mostly in German and Polish.
This trip was remote and exotic. It was pristine and beautiful, with a good mixture of peaceful relaxation and adventure. It was uncrowded, and the diving was spectacular. It was my first encounter with mantas and I could have done that one dive over and over again. We were probably the only 3 people in the water that day with dozens of mantas close enough to touch. I didn't want to leave.
We spent the first six days diving the major sites in the north part of the park, including Batu Balong, Castle Rock, Crystal Rock, and Karang Makasar. The diving in the north typically consisted of fast currents, beautiful soft corals on the reefs, large schools of fish, humphead parrot fish, napoleon wrasse, giant trevally, occasional white tip or grey reef sharks, and much more. I think there would also be good macro, but with the strong currents and large fish around, it was difficult to pay attention to the macro. We dove Karang Makasar twice, and it was magical. There isn't much to see on the site besides the mantas, but what else do you really need.
For the last four days we headed down south to anchor at Cannibal Rock and dive the surrounding sites. The water in the south was cold, but the reef was beautiful. The reef seemed to be in great shape with hard and soft corals, crinoids, and critters covering nearly every inch of rock. It was great for both macro and reefscape pictures, and, of course, we came across numerous sea apples. The night dives in the south were also fantastic. Twice we came across squid that stayed around for a few minutes and let us get pictures. The different types of crabs, shrimp, and various other invertebrates were too numerous to mention. A few times we got surrounded by groups of blue fin and giant trevally that were hunting and dashing around at high speeds. Just watching the speed at which they move is exciting and gets my heart beating a little faster.
It was a special trip for us, certainly one that we hope to do again. Aleksandra is launching a new, bigger boat in October. We are trying to plan when we can go back. Aleksandra says she has some ideas about how to preserve to intimate, private boat feel on the larger boat. My plan is to recruit a group of friends to go with us, so that we still have a boat to 'ourselves', just a larger group of 'ourselves'.