Healed by Adventure Travel on the Way to Raja Ampat
Story by Julia Hubbel, photos by Jeni Kardinal



Can Nature truly heal? One man finds out as he goes on a snorkeling trip through the islands of Indonesia between Ambon and Raja Ampat.


Snorkeling in Indonesia

In October 2017, John, a British man in his sixties, landed in Indonesia with his daughter Jen. They were about to head out to the far eastern regions of this enormous island nation, far from the bustling environments of Jakarta and Bali. John was a lifetime conservationist. This trip, from Ambon to Raja Ampat, was a gift both to himself and his daughter, who had never been on such an excursion before.

A large, energetic and effusive man, an opera singer by hobby and a businessman by trade, John had recently been laid low by difficult and painful surgery for bowel cancer. He was still in recovery. In boarding the 42-meter sailing ship, the Ombak Putih, their home for nearly two weeks, John struggled just to get up the ladder to the deck.

The SeaTrek crew and other adventurers worried not only for his health, but also for his safety.

What if he fell?

What if he couldn't get aboard one day?

They would be miles out to sea, exploring the storied Raja Ampat region near Papua New Guinea. This part of the world is renowned for its lavish coral and sea life, unmatched anywhere else on Earth. Called the Coral Triangle, it's one of the few places where snorkelers can see everything that a scuba diver can enjoy but without the diving equipment and training. SeaTrek specializes in such snorkeling excursions, as well as plenty of shore trips on many of the thousands of isolated islands, each with its own unique culture and heritage.

What if all he could do was sit on the deck? While that would certainly be lovely by itself, the real adventure of an adventure cruise is the contact with locals and exploring the forests both on land and below the ocean's surface.

Snorkeling in Indonesia

One of the most important elements of a trip such as this is decoupling from our devices. It takes a few days before people have adapted to the lack of a signal. After a few days, the sound of birds, the soft susurration of the waves, and the whistling wind all replace the nattering and demanding of electronic devices. Ads and push notifications fade away. The mind relaxes. People begin to once again discover each other and the pleasure of good company.

Into the Tropical Island Waters

John instantly made himself popular with both the crew and the other guests. He entertained them, was designated the spokesperson any time they needed someone to be their voice to the crew or captain, and he thoroughly enjoyed having an audience.

Yet, initially he struggled physically.

The cruise includes on-shore excursions which required John to walk. He initially passed on some of these activities, not quite trusting his healing body to handle the demand.

travel mobility

Jen, for her part, had never snorkeled. She was nervous about putting her face into the warm waters that held such treasures. However, neither allowed their fears to keep them away from the beauty of their surroundings for long.

Both the crew and guides on board took extra care in helping the father and daughter get comfortable with their snorkeling gear. As with many others who are neither accustomed to the ocean or with the sometimes-intimidating vastness of the open sea just off a reef, John and Jen took steps to get comfortable. Eventually, both earned their sea legs.

They started with noodles, which allowed them the security of a Styrofoam float. Jen soon ditched hers, having learned to trust her body.

Snorkeling in Indonesia

On board, their expert trip guide was providing the kind of detailed, rich insight into their surroundings that increasingly made John determined to master his discomfort.

Balinese sunset
© Julia Hubbel

As John and Jen's skills underwater improved, their confidence increased. The educational backdrop provided each evening to better understand and appreciate the magical worlds that quietly unfolded before their eyes motivated them to push themselves a bit more each day.

In the meantime, Nature provided a bounty above the waters.

Each morning, the sun would tint the inky, starlit sky in its silent rise. The ship rocked gently as the crew toiled to provide the fresh seafood, Balinese dishes, and dense breads and breakfast foods that would be laid out on the large table at the front of the ship.

The sweet calm of the rising sun, matched with the endless good humor of the crew and fellow passengers, was a balm for John's healing process. Entertained by the crew, the stories and adventures of the day, his daughter's pleasure in her newfound skill, John began to engage much more in the daily activities. He'd go ashore, even though there were occasions when movement was challenging.

He explored anyway. He walked, rested, walked again. The dense humidity caressed his face, dampened his shock of white hair. Surrounded by birdsong, the laughter of village kids, he was immersed in...somewhere else.

Balinese dining
©Nita C, SeaTrek

As with so many of us past a certain age and certainly after a major operation, John still needed a bit of assistance on occasion. But something else was afoot.

Healing by Doing

John never missed a single day of snorkeling. As the Ombak Putih made its steady, quiet way through the waves island to island, spot to spot, John found himself increasingly eager to get into the water.

While snorkeling, John was in Wonderland. Unlike anywhere else in the world, the Coral Triangle, where the Ombak Putih had carried him boasts more than 600 different species of reef-building coral. All around him swam more than 2,000 species of fish, brilliantly-colored, curious, glorious.

As John floated, sometimes for hours at a time, he gazed in fascination at what he cared most about in the world: the natural beauty, the wonders that so many never see and can't appreciate.

Hour after hour, day after day, he swam out to watch the fish, the turtle species which are nurtured in this part of the world.

At one point, John was so immobile on the water for so long that crew members began to get a little concerned. He lay completely still, his white hair waving in the light current.




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Read this article online at: Healed by Adventure Travel on the Way to Raja Ampat

Copyright © Perceptive Travel 2019. All rights reserved.


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