Airports and Anticipation

Over the past 6 weeks traveling through Indonesia, I’ve found the airports to be mildly confusing. They’re designed quite poorly, usually little signage in the terminal, and even less direction at the gate. Most airports have only a couple of gates, which every flight departs from. Often 5-10 flights from the same gate while you’re waiting for yours and frequently there are no announcements in English. On the bright side though, it’s a great way to practice your numbers in Bahasa.

One way I try to ease the anxiety of air travel in Indonesia is to try figure out who’s headed my way. It’s like a mystery with a little game of stalk and follow included. I’ll watch who sits where, which airline representatives they pay attention to, and even try to peer nonchalantly at their boarding passes, which is harder than it seems. The game does get easier if there’s another westerner, as we tend to fly to the same places. If there’s one, I’ll cozy up and try to start a conversation to figure out if they’re on my flight. I find buddying up during transit comforting and often leads to shared expenses and gives me someone to talk with during all the waiting that’s quite typical with air travel in Indonesia. Plus, if I haven’t learned my numbers well, hopefully they have.

Today was different. Today has been easy to figure out which flight is mine. The waiting area is filled predominantly with westerners; Americans, Brits, Swedes, the ubiquitous Dutch, (yes, I think they are recolonizing Indonesia, but that’s another story) and lots of Russians. And divers, like surfers, are an easy pack to spot, usually sporting a t-shirt from some far-flung dive shop or liveaboard in places like Palau, the Maldives, or Utila. Worn proudly and announcing to the world that “Yes, I’ve dived there!” and “I’m eager to talk about it”. Yes, we’re all eager to talk about where we’ve dived and what we’ve seen, just ask us and you’ll get an earful increasing exponentially depending on the number of divers present. We are most definitely a one-up bunch.

Why are all these divers clumped together like cattle in the Makassar airport waiting room? We are all eagerly awaiting the departure of Merpati flight MZ806 to Sorong. Never heard of Sorong? Sorong is located on the northwest tip of the Bird’s Head Peninsula on the island of New Guinea. Just off the coast of Indonesia’s West Papua province is Raja Ampat, meaning Four Kings in Bahasa, an archipelago comprising over 1,500 small islands, cays, and shoals that surround four main islands, Misool, Salawati, Batanta and Waigeo.

Raja Ampat is the epicenter of the Bird’s Head Seascape and the Coral Triangle; a roughly triangular area of the marine waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste. Raja Ampat is the heart of the world’s coral reef biodiversity and the marine life diversity is the highest recorded on Earth with more than 1500 species of fish and over 560 species of coral, which is more than half the world’s coral total. A survey done by world-renowned ichthyologist and author Dr. Gerald Allen recorded, on a single dive, 283 different species of fish.

After researching this and seeing photos of the reefs, it’s easy to see why Raja Ampat has become a favorite among divers around the world and is at the top of most divers’ wish lists. Raja Ampat is the place I’ve been dreaming about since I slid into the water for the first time. It’s also the reason why the waiting room in the Makassar airport is jammed and why I’m looking out on the tarmac at one of the most decrepit looking airplanes I’ve ever considered getting on with giddy anticipation.