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Broiling seas

July 10, 2009
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The blood orange sun sets an hour before the rising of the moon, cold and pale but big and bright enough to read by. Two days after full moon the ocean is churning with plankton and galaxies of small fish that attract the bigger crowd: sharks, oceanic mantas, 6 metres across, and schools of hunting barracuda.

We cross the black seas in a small wooden boat captained by Jai Abdulla, a man who also ferries the group of paleoarchaeologists that discovered the Flores Hobbit, so I probe him for gossip on our 2-hour ride into the Komodo national park. (Too little battery left to report here.)

We stop in waters boiling with current and dive below. The dive is a fight against fast waters thick with life. Gulping air, we see grey sharks, white tipped reef sharks, manta rays, eagle rays, tuna, turtles, and more.

The marine world here supersedes any I have seen before. We watch larger fish hunting smaller, slicing murderously through shoals of small fusiliers, whose perfect geometry is broken and reformed in a seemingly coordinated dance. Human tragedy also lies beneath these waves. Two days ago, a boat carrying more than 80 refugees from Afghanistan sank here in a storm that prevented us from diving here that day. It is thought that all aboard perished. They were en route to Australia to, as Mudoch’s newspaper, The Australian puts it, take advantage of Kevin Rudd’s new lax immigration laws. Most of these desperate people pass through Indonesian waters, and we are told harrowing tales over our nasi goreng lunch.

We are on the island of Rinca, tracking the world’s largest lizard, the Komodo dragon, when the news comes over the radio that the election has certainly been won by Yodhoyono, the current president. It’ll take at least two weeks for the last of the poll results to come in from the far-flung islands, but SBY has 69% of the votes so far – twice as many as next-in Megawati. People seem unbothered either way, whether they voted for him or not. ” We knew he would win,” our captain says as we head back to shore.

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