Raja Ampat is not known for being a last-minute budget destination, but we tried out best to cut costs. Our journey to paradise was bumpy: boat ride from Gili to Lombok, 90min cab ride to the airport, flight to Makassar, overnight at the airport, arrival in Sorong at the crack of dawn, sweaty walk to the tourist information centre followed by a two hour wait for it to open, 30 minute walkthrough of “sold outs” and “just lefts” when going through the list of diving live-aboards, cab ride in a nice car that dropped us off at a sketchy pier far away from our destination, second cab ride in a much sketchier car that at least got us to the public ferry pier, two hour ferry to Waisai island, final ride to a remote beach on Gam island. As soon as we saw the reefs under the crystal clear bathtub water and stepped off the boat, our feet sinking into the soft coral sand, we knew it was all worth it.
I thought beaches like this only existed in the movies, Hollywood trickery to simulate an ancient natural purity lost to the plague of mass market tourism. At that moment, I thought to myself that my feet were sinking into the platonic Form of a beach, like I had been transported into a world where everything was at it should be. Clearly I needed some sleep.
The rest of the day was spent sinking into the white sand or floating on the turquoise water. The reefs just a few feet off the beach provided better snorkelling than most dives I’ve ever been on. It’s no surprise seeing as Raja Ampat houses 75% of the world’s coral species and several scientists have claimed that its waters are the most biodiverse in the planet thanks to its location at the heart of the Coral Triangle.
Exhausted from our 24+ hours of travel, long walks, and swims, we tucked into a deliciously simple dinner courtesy of our homestay and promptly fell into a deep sleep. The next morning I awoke with the sun, emerged from our basic wooden shelter, stumbled down to the beach to admire the soft light of dawn casting shadows on the legions of little crabs skittering about on the sand. I grabbed my razor, poured hot water into a giant old clam shell that acted as my sink, and started giving myself a much needed shave. I felt like Robinson Crusoe until my romanticism crashed into Georgia’s lecture on sanitation. (We compromised by her promising to take a picture so that in a few decades I can convince myself that I went through with it.)
At this point it was time to move our stuff down the beach to Raja Ampat Biodiversity Eco Resort.