Alor Island, East Nusa Tenggara
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It may not be the easiest place to access, and facilities are very limited in comparison to other areas, but this is one of Indonesia's most stunning underwater archipelagos. Alor seems to have everything: sharks, critters, rays, dolphins, whale sightings, pristine reefs, adrenaline-pumping currents, astonishing visibility. Diving in Alor is well worth every bit of the journey to get there, and more.
Though a network of new roads now cover the islands, boats are still common form of transport. The few visitor who landed here tend to to linger on nearby Pulau Kepa. The only town on Alor is Kalabahi which has a population of around 185,000. There are couple small range of shops and warung. Facilities for tourists are extremely limited.
The people of Alor are predominantly Christian and the way of life is generally subsistence farming and fishing. The main industries on Alor are pearl farming in Kalabahi Bay and agriculture. Corn, coconuts, vanilla and almonds are grown here. Despite the phenomenal diving, tourism has yet to develop, perhaps due to the limited facilities currently available.
More than 15 different indigenous languages are spoken on Alor, the majority of them classified as Papuan or non‐Austronesian. These include Abui, Adang, Hamap, Kabola, Kafoa, Woisika, Kelon, and Kui. In addition, Alorese is a Malayo‐Polynesian language which is spoken along the coast of western and southern Bird's Head (West Papua) of Alor island and in places on surrounding islands.
Many of the Papuan languages of Alor are endangered and are no longer being actively acquired by children. Some languages have fewer than 1,000 speakers remaining. Significant linguistic documentation efforts have been taken recently by Leiden University. The language of daily communication is Alor Malay, a unique Malay variety with some similarities to Kupang Malay. Bahasa Indonesia is taught in the education system and used widely by media. Basic English is understood by some but not many.
When taking domestic flights in Indonesia, most airline require you to arrive at least one hour before departure time. Always allow extra time for traffic delays en route. For international departures, you should aim to be at the airport 2 to 3 hours prior to departure, but check for any additional time requirements on your ticket.
By air: You can reach Alor via Kupang from Jakarta, Surabaya, or Denpasar (Bali).
Access to island is via Sorong, which is served by Garuda Indonesia, Sriwijaya Air, and Lion Air daily.
By bus: There are direct buses from Bali and all the way from Java to Lombok by crossing the straits on ferries.
By sea: PELNI offers connection from many harbours around Indonesia. It is the biggest ship company run and owned by Indonesia's government. Check their website for their time tables.
You can also going to Alor by ferry. From Kupang to Kalabahi port. This port is quite busy because it serves the marine traffic for passenger ships, merchant, and cargo as well as traditional boats.
PELNI branch office:
Pelni Medan : Jalan Sutoyo Siswomiharjo 127, Medan, +6261 4574176, +6261 4574140
Pelni Jakarta : Jalan Palmas 2, Tanjung Priok, Jakarta, +6231 4393106
Pelni Surabaya: Jalan Pahlawan 112‐114 Surabaya, +6231 3293197
Pelni Denpasar: Jalan Raya Kuta 299, Denpasar, Bali, +62361 765758, +62361 763963
Flight delays and cancelation are relatively commonplace, but services are improving, particularly in major airport such as Jakarta, Surabaya, Bali, and Makasar.
Most domestic airlines allow a baggage allowance of 20kg, plus your carry-on bag. However, some airlines that operate smaller planes only allow 10kg to 15kg, so consider your packing carefully. Overweight baggage fees are not expensive and range from IDR 20,000 to IDR 50,000 per kilo.
When booking domestic flights via the internet, some Indonesian airline do not accept non-Indonesian credit cards. If you have problem, try using different internet browser. If you continue to have problems, it may be that your foreign card is not recognized. If you are booking a sequence of flights, try to use the same airline for all flight. Whilst this is not always possible, it means that if you miss a flight due to an earlier flight being delayed or cancelled, the airline will assist you to reach your final destination.
Alor is known for strong currents, making it's best suited to expereienced divers. However, some sites, if timed correctly, are suitable for divers all levels. But currents here are unpredictable and can change with little warning. Experienced sports divers, a tough lot to satisfy, dream about this. Whence the site name "Kal's dream." Grey sharks, white tip, and black tip are often make a brief appearance and also groups of tuna.
Kal's Dream located in between islands of Kepa and Pura, was named after Indonesian diving pioneer Kal Muller in early 1990s when he first explored the Alor area with Donovan and Graeme Whitford. The schooling fish, passing large pelagics, sweeping currents and diversity of marine life that appealed to him back then still make this site a dream today.
The seamount can be subject to strong currents sweeping over the top, so stay close to the reef, descend quickly and be prepared to hold on.
The top of the seamount is a rock pinnacle which peaks at just 5 meters. When the currents are running here, a negative entry is necessary to ensure that you hit the top of the mount. If the currents are fast, enter upcurrent of the pinnacle and start descending down the west side of the mount's sloping reef straight away. Once you have descended onto the sheltered slope, the currents slackens off but can still be a powerful force. Follow the reef as it drops away to the northwest to around 30 meters and lookout to the blue. Spanish mackerel, various shark species, giant trevallies, dogtooth tuna, barracuda, and schooling jacks are frequent visitors amongst the densely populated schools of red toothed triggerfish, fusiliers, and surgeons. Watch your no‐stop time and make your way back up the slope. There is a 12 meter plateau around the southern tip of the pinnacle of which is a combination of rocky boulders and formations covered with algae, plate, and other close‐cropped corals. The plateau makes an excellent area for observing hunting bluefin trevally as well as boasting some interesting critters life hiding in the crevices between the rocks. Look out for a variety of moray eels, reef octopus, scorpionfish, nudibranchs and shrimps. Work your way back up the pinnacle for the safety stop. The pinnacle is subject to strong currents coming over the reef, so finding a suitable place to hold on maybe necessary.
Many marine mammals are poisonous and venomous to protect themselves from unwanted attention of their predators, or to catch their own prey more efficiently. Poisons are substances which cause pain, sickness, or even death if eaten. Venoms have these effects if injected.
As an example, pufferfishes are poisonous, because their skin and internal organs contain an extremely powerful toxin, tetrodotoxin. This is the stuff that African and Carribean witch doctors are said to use to turn people into zombies. Ironically, Pufferfish flesh is safe to eat, and is considered to be a delicacy in Japan, where it is known as fugu. It can only be prepared for sale there by trained and licensed chefs, but accidents do happen, and deaths from fugu posoning are not unknown.
Sea snakes are not poisonous. They are venomous, because they inject their toxins, using their fangs. Some sea anakes are extremely venomous, their venom being ten times more potent than a cobra's. Why are sea snakes so venomous? After all, they do not need to kill several elephants with a single bite! One reason is that some sea snakes prey on moray eels, which are particularly tough customers and have over millions of years evolved great resistance to snake venom. Extremely potent venom is needed to kill these morays. Another reason for using such powerful venom is that it kills prey animals so quickly they have little chance to struggle and hurt the snake. Fortunately for divers and snorkellers, people are not on the snake's menu. Sea snake may sometimes be very inquisitives, but they are rarely if ever aggresive with swimers, and in any case tend to have very small mouths and short teeth, which prevent them from biting large objects.
Other more commonly encountered venomous reef inhabitants include the catfish, and the scorpionfishes and their relatives (stonefishes and lionfishes). These fishes all have venomous spines on their backs which they use for defence. While the stonefish is the most feared of all venomous fishes, most stings to divers are caused by lionfishes and are inflicted on underwater photographers. Lionfishes turn their venomous spines towards danger. When confronted with overenthusiastic underwater photographer they naturally turn their back to the camera. This doesn't make a good photo, so the photographer will often wave their hand to one side of the lionfish. The fish will appear to oblige by turning its face to the camera. In fact it is turning its spines towards the threatening hand. The photographer, concentrating on framing the perfect shot, is too often unaware of the lionfish really up to!
Luckily, first aid for lionfish, and other fish, stings is simple. Most fish venoms are proteins, and as such they are denaturated by heat. An effective treatment for most fish stings is therefore immersion of the affected part in hot water. This should not be boiling, or it will cause severe burns. About 45 degrees celcius is okay. Keep immersed in hot water until the pain subsides.
In contrast to most fishes which use their spines for defence, cone shells have a venomous barb which they use offensively to attack and immobilize their prey. Cones that feed on fish have particularly powerful venom, which can be deadly to humans. There are many species of cones, and it is difficult for non‐specialist to tell them apart. For this reason it is best to leave all cone shells untouched.
Having a potent poison or venom as a defence mechanism is all very well, but if a predator does not know you are well defended he may bite you anyway. Some animals therefore advertise their nasty natures with warning (or aposematic) colours. Such warning colors tend to be bright, and contrasting bands are often present. For example, many sea snakes are banded, while poisonous flatworms and sea slugs are brightly coloured and often striped.
Animals with warning colouration may still fall victim to inexperienced predator that has not learnt to heed their warning. If two species have the same warning pattern, a predator has only to try one and it will learn to avoid them both. For this reason, many dangerous animals have similar warning signs.
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