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The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
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July 2018    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 44, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Alami Alor, Pulau Alor, Indonesia

luxury resort, luxurious reefs, reasonable prices

from the July, 2018 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Dear Fellow Diver,

From the moment I donned my gear on the sturdy wooden jetty in front of the resort and took a giant stride into the warm water, I felt I'd made the right decision in coming to Alami Alor. It was my afternoon checkout dive, and a school of jacks pursued a swarm of silversides right under the dock. After my affable British guide, Pete, helped my buddy get her weights right, he pointed out nudibranchs, crabs, and shrimps aplenty on a reef jam-packed with critters, soft corals, dancing shrimp and even two mandarin gobies.

Pulau Alor, a beautiful part of the worldThe next morning we dived for an hour along an eye-popping wall of soft corals with swarms of chromis, butterfly fish, durgons, anthias, wrasses, fairy basslets, and silversides. Brilliant tube worms, nudibranchs and a plethora of sea squirts decorated the coral during one of my most "fishy" dives ever, a wide-angle shooter's dream. As the current increased, we moved to the shallows for 20 minutes, gazing at the colorful soft and hard corals and reef fish.

Getting to the far reaches of Indonesia is complicated, so I always book a day or two's layover after my transatlantic flight. Good thing. My flight from Bali to Alor was canceled, so the resort, which had booked my local air, rerouted me, eating up the extra day, but I missed no diving.

At the airport, my two friends and I were whisked away on the resort van for the one-hour, back-roads trip to the remote Alami Alor, where we were warmly greeted by Valentina, the managerin- training, from Chile. She showed me my exquisite, spacious beachfront cabin with floor-to-ceiling windows, a king and single bed (I got the cabin to myself without a single supplement, because I booked seven months in advance), airconditioning, open-air bathroom and shower (3-5 minutes of hot water and slippery tiles), surrounded by plants and trees, and two lounge chairs out front (April weather was too hot -- high 80s (27C) -- and humid to sit outside). The smiling crew kept my cabin and the resort spotless.

Pulau Alor, Indonesia - Map

Co-owner, Lauren, an American, had the cooks make me some delicious nasigoreng (noodles with veggies and an egg on top) to tide me over until 7 p.m. dinner. Beforehand, we were briefed: they cater only to experienced divers, don't teach courses and only operate mid-March to early December. Her British husband, Max, runs the dive operation and she the resort; both are dive instructors, and often joined us. They built the boutique resort -- it only holds 12 guests -- five years ago.

One of the exquisite cabinsThe cathedral-ceilinged aquatic-themed main building combined the dining room and lounge, with fans keeping the breeze going. With shoes off, we all sat at a long table for meals, served family style. The lounge had a big screen TV, which we used nightly to share photos, followed by lots of oohs and aahs. With my down time, I'd relax, read, or snorkel the house reef, where there was plenty of action, including blacktip reef sharks.

They have no dive shop, per se, but have a nice air-conditioned camera room with plenty of plugs, lights, room to work, and a big rinse tank, as well as two small rooms next to the camera room for computers, GoPros, and smaller cameras. They offer good-quality rental gear and asked me in advance if I would need anything. When my spotting light flooded on my housing, they lent me one.

The two-tank morning dive went out at 8 a.m., the afternoon dive at 3 p.m., night dive at 5:30 p.m., and you can dive the house reef all you want. While the water was between 80F (27C)and 84F (29C), a few times it dropped to 78F (26C). My five mil with a furry vest/hood was fine for every dive, which generally lasted 60-70 minutes. They chose sites according to the phase of the moon, tides, and currents, which they knew well from four years of observing here.

Morning dives were breathtaking. The pristine, diverse, and intricate corals seemed untouched. Anthias, durgons, snappers, jacks, tangs and butterflyfish abounded. Huge barrel sponges covered most sites. The visibility was 100 feet+(30M+) on our first wall dives. Alor is not a protected marine park area; there is no dynamite fishing, but there are some fish traps. When I came up from one dive, there were a dozen village kids swimming and paddling in their dugout canoes, asking to have photos taken, and shouting "I love you Mr.!"

Inside the spacious seafront cabinGreat Wall was one of the more beautiful wall dives I've ever made. From 40-70 feet (12-21m), the wall was jam-packed with hundreds of soft and hard corals, sea squirts, anemones, clownfish, barrel sponges with hairy crabs in their crevices, fans, ghost pipefish, anemone crabs, translucent shrimps and massive clusters of bubble corals. Swarms of anthias, butterflyfish, jacks, snappers, and wrasses filled the water. One could shoot either macro or wide angle and be a happy photographer. The top of the reef during our safety stop was like being in a Disney movie (think Finding Nemo), it was so rich and perfect.

All the afternoon dives were in the muck, with 20- to 40-foot (6-12m) visibility in the black sand bay, and every bit as good as Lembeh Strait (sadly, with some trash, as at Lembeh). On my firsts dive, I spotted frogfish, hairy rhinopias, stonefish, seahorses, and nudibranchs (some no larger than a grain of rice), pygmy cuttlefish, and a banded sea snake, as well as several varieties of shrimp, an ornate bristleworm, and snake eels. Our sharp-eyed guide, Nikko, found a small coconut octopus half-buried in some plant debris, put his finger two inches (51mm) from its head, and a tentacle quickly attached its tiny suckers to his finger, then tugged a couple of times before giving up and pulling back. About the only critters I didn't see were a blue-ring octopus, a mimic octopus and a wonderpus, all of which are common in the Lembeh Strait. Bad luck?

One of Alami Alor's dive boatsOur first 70-minute night dive was at Mucky Mosque, in front of a village mosque five minutes from the resort. It was full of critters, nonstop ghost pipefish, frogfish, nudis, harlequin shrimp, squid, cuttlefish, leaf scorpionfish, snowflake eel and a Spanish dancer. I got some great shots with the help/spotting by my dive guide. We surfaced after 70 minutes to a sky filled with stars, with few lights to pollute the view. On other night dives, I found a beautiful little bobtail squid, cuttlefish transforming their shapes, textures, and colors before my eyes, an orangutan crab, hairy frogfish (first one they've seen in three years), even a half a dozen octopuses: Coconut and long-armed. Because the night muck dives had so many critters, I stopped the afternoon dives and just did night dives.

I do think, however, there were too many afternoon and night muck dives. In fact, half the dives are muck. Why not alternate a few with the beautiful coral reefs? Lauren told me distances, currents, gas, and staff consideration led to them selecting afternoon muck dives within 5-10 minutes of the resort. I wasn't the only one who wished to see more of the reefs and walls, and we paid pretty good money to do that.

Alami Alor, Pulau Alor, Indonesia - RatingGuests from Germany, Switzerland, China, UK, and U.S. came and went, and we all got along well, telling our endless dive stories. An arriving English couple immediately took to their room with a severe stomach/intestinal upset that took them out of diving for three full days.

We dived a large, long, deep wall named "Current Alley," hoping to see scalloped hammerhead sharks. Within five minutes of reaching 80 feet (24m), a lone hammerhead came in from the blue, passing right in front of me. Ten minutes later, 20 appeared in front of us and passed by, uninterested. Ten minutes later, a pair swished within 30 feet (9m) of me, and then a large eagle ray flapped past, then another. But a second trip there produced none. That's diving, folks.

However . . . Motoring back to the resort, we hit some swirling currents, and the lookout shouted,"Mola-Mola!" Lauren motored us to within five meters of an ocean sunfish and, two of us with mask, fins, and snorkels slipped into the water, kicking like crazy to catch up to the 6 foot-high (1.8m) Mola-Mola gently flapping its dorsal and caudal fins. I got a full-on side view, and my buddy got some good video until we ran out of gas. I had two other Mola snorkeling encounters.

Their boats (about 24 feet/7.3m)) were nearly new -- one came to a dead stop for a short time, but a quick fuel line repair got it going -- spic-and-span and perfect for six divers and two guides. Together, we back-rolled off the gunnels, re-entered up a sturdy steel ladder after the crew lifted our BCDs/tanks up. They handled my big rig camera carefully. They provided shared plastic crates to keep miscellaneous dive accessories -- computers, defoggers, masks, etc. -- but I found it chaotic sorting through everyone's stuff to find my own. A simple mesh bag for each diver would be simpler.

I never had to handle my dive equipment -- they put it on the boat, rinsed and dried it overnight. The dive crew, Pete and two Indonesian guides, was extremely helpful, and assisted us getting in and out of the boat, and offering sunburn lotion when I got too much sun. When my dive buddy got a bad cramp doffing her BCD and fins -- three times, in fact -- they helped her stretch her leg in the water and massaged her calf until she stopped writhing in pain. Yet all was not perfect in paradise, as one dive guide argued about something with the dive manager, abruptly quit and left. I don't think they missed him.

A dive at Black Rhino produced three rhinopias -- a red one, orange one, and hairy beige one -- the first time they've ever spotted three in one dive. I videoed the hairy one walking for more than a minute -- what a comical sight!

Alami Alor's camera preparation roomFor such a remote outpost, the food was top of the line, and the owners and expat staff joined us regularly for the served meals. There was one menu per lunch and dinner, a mix of Indonesian (rice, a saucy chicken, curries, nasi goreng, local spinach, fruit) and some western food (e.g., French fries, steak, green beans). One night we had giant prawns with coconut curried pumpkin and Indonesian spinach, another night fresh tuna with a mild pepper salsa, cassava greens, and another night chicken and vegetarian skewers with rice and green beans cooked with tempeh. Chinese eggplant, salad, and rice were one delicious lunch. And endless cakes for dessert: crumb, coconut, chocolate, and spice. They accommodated two of us who were "low-carb" eaters with extra protein (e.g., chicken) and sauted veggies. They served good French-press coffee and I brought ground decaf from home, which they brewed for me after dinners. In the morning, at 7 a.m., I could wake up over a cup of fresh coffee before a breakfast of eggs, omelets, granola, fruit, toast, and fresh pastries. Oh: an alert. Tiny mosquitos were pesky, and I had to spray up for breakfast and especially dinner (the resort provides spray).

And about that slippery bathroom tile? One diver slipped, whacked her head, and pulled her quadriceps, was unable to dive for a day and hobbled for the next seven days. Others had near-misses. The owners carefully helped her walk to/from her cabin and onto/off of the boat all week and even had a local carve her a walking stick. But, those tile floors call out for rubber mats.

One morning dive we did two nice large caves, one with a 10-foot (3m) entry and air pocket at the top, the other with a three-foot (1m) entry,so we went single file. Tuna schooled around the exit. The surge was challenging but manageable. The second dive was Apuri Bay, which was a giant carpet of various anemones -- thousands really -- in all directions. We entered at 83F (28C)and exited at 78F (26C) because of a chilly upwelling that came through, but the viz was crystal-clear: 100 feet/30m plus. I captured dozens of anemone nest shots (with some spectacular macro close-ups of the varied anemone fingers) and half a dozen clownfish types.

On my no-dive day, we toured a traditional mountain village, where nine betelnut-chewing families lived in 3-level thatched roof, open-air houses. They prepared us sweetened coffee, and our guide walked us around explaining their subsistence farming of corn, cassava, bananas, and coconuts. The town's open-air market was colorful and fragrant, but not always to a western nose! In the afternoon, a dive guide took us on a scenic boat ride along the shores of the bay, past villages with Christian and Muslim houses of worship, kids playing in the water and fishermen jigging for dinner. Dolphins played in the bow wake and jumped for sardines (another day, a juvenile manta twice leaped fully from the water alongside our boat).

So, Alami Alor is a great, remote, luxurious boutique outpost, offering some of Indonesia's finest diving. It's a destination that's hard to beat, so much so, in fact, that it's sold out for the remainder of 2018. For Indonesia, it is priced well on the high side, but, indeed, worth every penny.

-- D.S.

Our undercover diver's bio:"I got the diving bug watching Sea Hunt as a kid, got certified in 1983, but didn't start diving the world until 1991. I've logged more than 1,200 dives in the Caribbean, Indonesia, Australia, Tahiti, Palau, PNG, Maldives and the Philippines . While I love the convenience of liveaboards, I also enjoy resorts for their relaxing pace and beauty . My life goal is to dive on my 90th birthday. (Only 24 years to go!)"

Divers CompassDiver's Compass: My 12-night stay (3 dives/day included) as a single cost me US$3,300, including nitrox ... Internet in the dining room is barely good enough for emails ... Optional half-day tours run $70 for 2-4 people ... They provide free laundry service ... They offer massages, but I was disappointed that the masseuse was away all 12 days of my stay ... They sell wine and beer by the glass and no other alcohol ... The nearest chamber is in Bali.

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