ALOR TRIP REVIEW
BY ERIK LUKAS
Fresh off a flight from French Polynesia where I spent a week with a group of five who joined me to swim with and photograph Humpback whales in Moorea, I was back in Los Angeles for a day and a half, just long enough to pack some clean clothing, scuba gear and hit the road again. Destination: Alor, Indonesia.
Fast forward twenty-four hours and I am having dinner in Bali. Twelve hours after that I am greeting guests before boarding another flight...a connection in Kupang, than a final flight to Alor followed by a 45 minute car ride and a 20 minute boat ride until our group is pulling up to a narrow stretch of white sandy beach and Alor Divers. The small eco-resort consisting of seven beautiful bungalows and a restaurant is tucked into the green trees that line up behind the beach. The nearest villages lie a 25-30 minute walk in either direction. We are in a truly remote area, both pristine and wild. This will be the home of the Bluewater Photo - Alor workshop for the next 10 days.
The guests made their ways to their assigned bungalows...open-air rooms built using sustainable and local materials; each consisting of comfortable beds, a large covered porch and plenty of space to unpack and feel at home for the duration of the workshop. Once settled in, the group met at the oceanfront restaurant for afternoon refreshments and snacks and to relax after the long journey. Our two gracious hosts, Nora and Amil, who served as both the resort managers and two of the three dive guides would provide a briefing for the group, going over the daily schedules and dive plans for the week. Once completed, the group was left to socialize before dinner was served.
The first dive was scheduled for 8am the following morning, so it was time to set up dive gear and cameras before everyone turned in for the night.
The dive plan at Alor Divers included two boat dives each day, along with unlimited dives at the resort on a beautiful house reef. In general we would be doing either two boat dives in the morning, or one morning and one afternoon dive, which allowed for up to three dives each day plus a night dive. Quite a few in our group took advantage of the chance to pack in as many dives as time would allow. Of special note was the fact that our dive guides never once limited the duration of our dives. I logged many 90+ minute dives over the trip, which is quite unusual, as many dive operators limit dives to 60-70 minutes in their effort to keep to a more rigid schedule.
With two boats to take us out, the groups typically went to different sites each day. Alor offers a mix of both wide-angle and macro sites. From steep walls, to gentle sloping muck sites, we had our choice of where to go and what to shoot.
Day one included dives at sites called Sulambali Wall and Red Sand, giving the group a chance to see for ourselves the range and variety of diving that would be typical for the workshop. Steep walls, covered in brilliantly colored healthy corals and teeming with fish were to be found at Sulambali Wall. The second dive at Red Sand did not disappoint for those shooting macro. Being part of a volcanic island range, the muck at Red Sand lived up to it’s name. I have dove many sites with deep black volcanic soil, but this bottom was different...dark rusty red, which made an amazing backdrop for macro subjects.
Phyllidia varicosa nudibranch photographed at dive site Red Sand. Photo: Erik Lukas
Once we were back at the resort, several divers took the opportunity to do a dive on the house reef. One of the guides joined us on the first house reef dive, essentially to familiarize us with the site...but any and all remaining dives here could be done on our own. It was a great way to explore and shoot specific subjects or practice techniques that we would be working on throughout the workshop.
After four dives completed for many of us on day one, it was time for dinner, which did not disappoint. The amazing kitchen staff turned out fresh, tasty dishes all day. Each consisting of freshly made Indonesian meals, as well as salads and fresh made breads. Breakfasts included eggs prepared to order as well as muffins, toast, fresh fruits and either Mie Goreng or Nasi Goreng to keep those of us who like to eat local foods happy.
Day two began with a visit to a site called Anemone City. Only a 25 minute boat ride away, we were warned that the site could be cooler than the 80-82 degree waters to the north. It was also a site subject to deeper water being pushed up and squeezed between the land masses, creating some potentially challenging currents. This site was simply amazing...there was hardly anywhere to look that was not covered with healthy corals, but more striking was the abundance of anemones in every color, size and shape imaginable. The end of the dive included a ride into the channel on a strong current, where we were able to drop out of the fast moving water into three consecutive shallow pools, which allowed for a few more photos and an easy safety stop. The last and smallest pool plays home to a school of Glass fish, which are a personal favorite of mine.
Schooling Glass Fish at one of the highlight dive sites called Anemone City.
Photo: Erik Lukas
Anemone City lives up to it’s name. The site is literally covered in a kaleidoscope of colorful anemones.
Photo: Erik Lukas
The second dive of day two included a visit to a site called Bakalang Jetty. This amazing site would be a group favorite. It was amazing to see the life that clings to any available surface...as seen by the brightly colored soft corals and sponges attached to the concrete pillars of the jetty. For those who wanted to shoot the small stuff, macro subject were in no short supply either. Many species of nudibranchs and invertebrates made this site their home. The end of the dive allowed several of us to capture images of children spear fishing over the shallow reef near the jetty.
Soft Corals of Bakalang Jetty. Photo: Erik Lukas
One of the goals I set for my workshops is to have the guests think about making an image that conveys a sense of the place we are visiting. When I think of Alor, the image in my mind always goes to the children and grown men who practice their traditional fishing techniques, and the small hand carved canoes from which they fish. At a site called Rumah Biru, we would be diving at the foot of a small village where there were two men in small canoes fishing in the shallow waters. This was the perfect opportunity for the workshop guests to concentrate on making just such an image.
A fisherman peers into the water. A time tested method of sustainably managing the need
to harvest seafood while not destroying a valuable natural resource. Photo: Erik Lukas
Guest Eunice Khoo made this incredible portrait of a local fisherman; it was one of
my personal favorite images made during the workshop. Photo by Eunice Khoo
A spear fisherman indulges our group with countless photo opportunities. Photo: Erik Lukas
As the week went on, and the workshop continued, the groups were treated to several more days of amazing dives. One of the top sites included Black Sand, a muck site which was home to multiple Rhinopias, which were high on everyone’s list of subjects to photograph. Several amazing images were produced of these fish, and it was obvious that the ideas from the workshop were finding their way into the guest photos.
My favorite part of hosting a workshop is seeing the images get better and better as the trip goes on. Daily image reviews and workshop sessions help provide instruction and ideas, and it is such a pleasure to hear guests engaging with one another over techniques and thoughts on the images being produced. The end of my workshops always include a fun photo contest of the images made during the trip. We changed things up for this competition and switched it to a Shootout format...one day of dives and only images from that day would be eligible. Winners from the three categories, Nudibranch, Macro and Wide Angle would be selected by myself and Nora, one of the resort managers.
Winner of the Alor Shootout Wide Angle category by Darren Low
Another photo made at this site was among one of the top shots of the workshop...a pair of mating Halgerda batangas nudibranchs, perfectly executed with two snoots by guest Sarah Vasend.
Mating Halgerda batangas nudibranch; Winner of the Alor Shootout nudibranch category
by Sarah Vasend
Portrait of a Lionfish, Winner of the Alor Shootout macro category by Judith Crews
No trip to Indonesia would be complete without experiencing some of the local culture. On the second to last day of the workshop, while out on a dive, we encountered a boat full of women from one of the local villages of a small island called Palau Ternate, just a few miles directly across the channel from our resort. They were selling handwoven blankets to a group on a liveaboard. It was an amazing encounter, but as we were out for dives, none of us had any way to purchase their goods. Plans were made for the women to visit our resort that afternoon.
Two boats, full of about 25 women came ashore and set up an amazing display of woven fabrics in every color imaginable. While there were too many of them for us to purchase something from each person, our guests all left with multiple pieces, and did our best to purchase something from as many of the women as we could. It was an amazing encounter to be sure!
A visit by the local women to the resort offering to sell their handwoven fabrics.
The final day started with brilliant sunshine, and glassy smooth conditions. We concluded two morning dives at two of the groups favorite sites...Black Sand and Bakalang Jetty...both which we stretched out to 90+ minute dives. It was sad to think our diving was finished, but we focused on the positive memories we made during the workshop.
It was a week unlike anything I could have imagined in advance. Everything about the trip from the remote nature of the resort, the pristine and healthy reefs and the locals we met, went far beyond expectations. From a 5:00am swim alone in the ocean as the first rays of sunlight lit the horizon, to the evening thunderstorms, to the close pass by a solitary whale just in front of the resort, there were many memorable moments. I look forward to getting back to Alor again someday.
Our amazing and talented group of photographers
The island of Ternate in the distance as our group posed for a drone portrait.
Photo: Erik Lukas
One of the benefits of waking up early...greeted by this beautiful sunrise just before
jumping in for a solo swim at 5am. Photo: Erik Lukas
Alor reef scene by David Gregg
Guests worked on topside photos as well as their underwater skills. Photo: Erik Lukas
The spectacular and healthy reefs of Alor. Photo: Erik Lukas
HOW TO BOOK A TRIP TO ALOR
Bluewater Travel can book you a trip to Alor for the same cost or less than booking any other way. We know the diving, liveaboards, resorts, rooms and when to go better than anyone else!
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