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Whale Sharks & Dragons

Our Moby Dick Experience
. . . exploring the boundary between Genius and Insanity on our Tours.

"They called him Ilham . . .  having little or no money in his purse,
and nothing particular to interest him on shore . . ."

That's how Herman Melville would introduce the captain of the local fishing boat who in the pre-dawn light, 15 kms from shore, was gleefully throwing burley into the water to attract the whalesharks so we could swim with them. The night before, he was ridiculed by his peers when he bought kilos of small shrimp in the local market, placed them in his boat and took them back out to sea.

"Look, there goes Ilham, the dumbest fishermen in Sumbawa - taking fish out to sea".

What his buddies didn't know is Ilham had a bigger catch waiting for him - 18 well-heeled Aussies who would pay a small fortune to swim with the giant whalesharks that pestered the fishermen's nets every night.

So instead of a nightly catch of smelly krill worth about $50, he came home with $400 in cash (which, to be honest, probably smelled of krill by the time he got back) . . . Genius.

Back in the safety of our boat - while breakfasting on eggs benedict - we bravely spoke about our experience of swimming with 8 hungry whalesharks and how lucky we were that they ate krill and not middle-aged Australians.

We all agreed there probably aren't many restaurants crazy enough to take their customers to exotic locations and make them part of the food chain. It's not what restaurants do.

But here's the thing: Just like Ilham, now the smartest fisherman in his village, if we don't try new things, break with tradition then we will never discover new opportunities and adventures.

Simon, our cooking school chef, then summed it up to everyone over breakfast:

"We all get about 80 laps around the sun . . . "

He then pointed out that most of the us on this trip have around 15 to 20 laps left which was a bit of a downer.

Like most of our trips, this sailing adventure is an evolution from previous tours and some luck. We were lucky enough to meet an Indonesian marine biologist who told us about the whalesharks of Saleh Bay. These sharks don't leave the bay and pester the fishermen every morning trying to suck krill from their nets. But to get there you need a boat as there are no hotels or tourist infrastructure of any kind.

All we had to do now was expand our Komodo tour on our luxury Liveaboard phinisi - the Prana - and sail past island volcanoes and into the sunset to the distant shores of Sumbawa.



We're talking a distance of 330 kilometres!



The task at hand, as is the case with all our tours, is to now work out what we can do to fill in the gaps between the Komodo dragons near Flores and the whale sharks in Saleh bay in Sumbawa.

This is what we are really good at - filling in the gaps and creating experiences.

First port of call is a tiny boat building village on Sangeang island where they make the traditional Phinisis by hand. A Phinisi is the Indonesian version of the ancient Dutch trading boats called a pinnace - which sounds like nautical words when read but invoke all sorts of school boy giggles when said aloud.



Throw in the fact this village is at the bottom of an active volcano and we can snorkel a magic coral reef with gaseous bubbles rising out of the sea floor and we have our first stop on the way to the whale sharks.

An overnight sail brings us to Mojo island - which is home to Mata Jitu - one of the prettiest waterfalls in the world according to Princess Di who visited in 1993. It's here that our insurance company starts to panic because we have to get 18, how to put this, "more mature" people on tiny motorbikes and navigate rocky dirt tracks to get to the falls.

It was here that we all learnt the word for motor cycle helmet - helm - because though our motorbike taxi riders knew the word, none had ever seen one before. With that, the insurance company breathed a sigh of relief and 18 people, who had no business really being on the back of a motorbike, made their way up a dusty mountain track to the stunningly beautiful Mata Jitu waterfalls.



The perfect place to take a swim and wash off the trail dust from our motorbike rider earlier.

We're still not at the whalesharks yet and you may recall that there is always an element of luck when it comes to our tours. Luck, in this case, came in the form of my wife of 22 years, who just happened to be Indonesian and just happened to grow up in Sumbawa and, as more luck would have it, just happened to have an aunty who lives on Sumbawa and can organise cultural activities in local villages.

This now lead us to our next "gap filler" - Buffalo Racing.

The next morning we are on the island of Sumbawa and traded the stability of the Prana for the instability of some local vans and found ourselves in a traditional village surround by 300 villagers to witness some local ceremonies which culminates in the traditional buffalo race.



Sadly I was too busy placing bets on the race so didn't get any great photos so this screen grab from my video of the winning race will have to do.

Dinner tonight was a bbq on a deserted beach of a remote island within an easy reach of our final destination - the whalesharks the next morning.

And this leads us back to the start of the story where we met Ilham - the greatest fishermen in all of Sumbawa - who caught 18 Australians in his nets using whalesharks as bait and thus created the final highlight of this amazing trip.



You can find out more about this trip and other cool adventures at our Tour Page.

But in the meantime, here's a small video of the highlights from this trip: