Sunday, June 19, 2016

Friwin, Cape Kri, and Birds of Paradise

After our great day at Penemu, we left Yangello early in the morning and motored about 15 miles east to the island of Friwin. We opted to go via the reefy route, past Arborek and the north coast of Mansuar to get a look at possible places to stop and dive. Boy there is a LOT of current in this area! The reefy route was easy, even in imperfect light. The water is either 100+ feet deep, or 2 feet deep. It's easy to see where to go and not to go.

We arrived in Friwin in the early afternoon--the last in our 5-boat fleet to arrive. Verite had arrived first and got the most picturesque spot off the pretty beach on the NW corner of the island, and everyone else was anchored around the north coast in about 60-70 ft. We found a nice spot off the eastern end of the north coast, with a direct line view to the island that has the cell phone towers on it, off Waisai. Not finding any shallower water a reasonable distance off the island, we anchored in 22 meters--about 70 ft. Better deeper and in sand than tangled in coral and destroying the beautiful coral. And a little offshore reduces bugs and increases breeze.

Since everyone was together again, we called everyone up on the VHF and invited them to Soggy Paws for Happy Hour. We ended up with 12 people in the cockpit (with a couple in chairs on the side deck). This was the biggest gathering so far on the new boat.

The next day, Greg and Wendy on Verite invited all the divers to go with them on Verite to do a dive off Cape Kri. This reputed to be one of the best dives in the area. Sirius and Verite had already dived it a couple of times, and had tides and best spots to go in and come out figured out. Greg put us in at the perfect spot, the current was barely moving down the coast, and we drifted down the wall marveling at all the fish. It just got better and better as we went down the wall. Toward the end of the dive we got to the confluence of the currents where all the big fish hang out. Amazing! This was definitely our best dive yet. And it was the most relaxed because we had someone manning the boat on the surface, ready to pick us up no matter where we ended up with the current.

A few days before, our friends on Sirius had made contact with Simon, the guy who does guided "Bird of Paradise" tours. They arranged for the people off their two boats to go one morning, and sent Simon over to talk with us about arranging for us to go the next morning.

Simon is a character. He doesn't speak much English, but he came with Nelly, who speaks good English. Nelly has a homestay on the south coast of Gam, just across from Friwen. We had heard that Simon could only take 2 people per trip in his small canoe. But since he's hooked up with Nelly, they have a boat that can accommodate 5 or 6 people. The price in previous years, dealing directly with Simon, was 100,000 Rp per person. But with the help and management of Nelly and her husband Martin (plus I think due to tourism inflation), this price had gone up to 300,000 (about $22 US) per person. Dave argued a little but Nelly pretended not to understand his question about why the big price increase, while Simon eyed our "yacht" and fingered one of our $300 dive outfits that was drying on the railing. So when Nelly threw in breakfast at her guesthouse, we agreed to pay the 300,000 Rp fee, and set up a pickup time for 5am (!!).

Several people had told us that Simon had showed up early--he showed up at Sirius the day before at 0420!! So we were ready by about 0445, and of course Simon didn't arrive until 0515!! But we were ready with sturdy shoes, a headlamp, and cameras and binoculars. We motored up the "river" in the dark. It's not actually a river but a saltwater lagoon in a river-like configuration, caused by the geographical upheavals common in this area. It was nearly low tide, and the boatman had to turn off the engine and pole us along a few times.

Finally we came to a rickety dock, where we clambered out onto the muddy bank. In following Simon up into the forest, we realized what some of that extra money went to--building handrails up through the forest, making it much easier to climb up the steep track. I am sure that when it was just Simon on his own, there were no such improvements. Simon did the whole climb barefoot, but I was glad of my Keen sandals with toe protection and good tread.

After about a 20 minute climb through the forest, Simon sat us down on his bench, pointed up at the bare limbs sticking up high over the forest, and started making bird calls. When nothing happened in the first 5-10 minutes, I was afraid we'd been too late, with a late start, the low tide impeding progress in the lagoon, and a bigger than normal group. But with patience, we finally got to see the drab female and fancy-feathered male do their dance. I took a couple of snaps with my cellphone, but others had better cameras and hopefully we have one or two good pics of the male Bird of Paradise's fancy costume (haven't had a chance to review all the pics we've been taking--with activities every day, amazing scenery, 2 smartphones, a dive camera and a land camera, our pics are numerous and scattered all over!).

We spent about a half an hour gazing upward, trying to see what the birds were doing behind the foliage. But every now and then, the female would jump into the clear spot, and a male would jump next to her and do his dance. Well worth $22 and getting up at 4am to see. And afterward, we had a nice time talking with Nelly and Martin. Nelly's coffee, tea, and breakfast cakes was a nice way to end the trip.

As soon as we got back to our boats, Verite and Sirius headed for Waisai to send off some guests, and us and Evia Blue and Sapphire motored up into Kabui Bay for a couple of days.
At 6/12/2016 7:40 AM (utc) our position was 00°28.25'S 130°41.45'E

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