Snake Island

The crew untie the boat and sail to Manuk after a third dive in the Banda Sea. Emotions run high after we meet a swarm of hundreds of hammerhead sharks and later on there is a cruise which will take all night long. I still haven’t adjusted to the time change, so I try vainly to sleep. It’s half past three. I climb out of my lair and am staring incredulously at the sky. I can’t describe it. I haven’t seen such a sky with numerous stars – and especially the Southern Cross – anywhere other than on the Sea Lady. I stare at the star theatre for a moment and then return to my lair. We are really fortunate to have good weather, there are not waves at sea and I don’t know if I was asleep when the engine stops creaking and the boat slows down. It’s half past five and we are here. I can see the tip of the island from my lair, which at the morning’s dawn is covered kitschy with palm trees. I climb out again, pack a pipe and look at the volcano cone that rises from the sea in front of the boat. There is nothing but water for an eighty-kilometre radius, and I can’t imagine the power which heaved this piece of earth out from the sea’s depth.

But now on the horizon the sun rises from the sea, and after a while everyone is on board. Junior gives a short briefing and my curiosity grows. We put on our wetsuits, get on the boat and head towards the island, where hundreds of birds fly above. At first, I am a little bit disappointed because there aren’t many snakes here, but I am still full of expectation. Finally! I can experience what I’ve been waiting for years. My dreams have come true and once again in my lifetime I see beautifully intact coral reefs. But I am apprehensive that some coral might be broken, either damaged by dynamite fishing or otherwise! But there is nothing like that! It is pure, virgin nature! Although there are some dark lava sand flows moving down the hillside of the volcano, it is still pure nature. There are many fish everywhere you look.

Junior beckons me to follow him. He shows me something under a rock which sticks out of the mountainside and is bare and yellow. I don’t get it at first, but when bubbles burst from a crack under the rock and Junior tells me to hold my hand there, I feel the water is much warmer. These are gases from the volcano. It explains why the rock is bare and covered with sulphur. Life is here. Snakes approach us from every direction. Really hefty specimens! According to Wikipedia, these are blue-banded sea snakes and banded sea kraits which are the most poisonous snakes in the world. They are not shy and swim straight to us. They look at us for a moment, and then continue on their journey. As long as you don’t have anything yellow. If you have yellow fins or neoprene, they show serious interest. They stop near Kvetka because she is wearing a neoprene t-shirt with yellow stripes on her shoulders. But we tell her about that on the boat. She is very “happy”. Jožko’s and Maja’s fins are also interesting to them. They are biting them curiously and we have great fun watching Maja panicking and kicking her feet desperately. The snakes finally realise that there is nothing to eat and continue on their journey.

They really are everywhere. Both in the water and on the surface. And so, after our dive nobody wants to jump in the water again and swim. I lay on the top deck for two days. We are fascinated by the volcano in front of us and we send a drone there. All the time we wonder if any of the birds will attack it and knock it into the sea. There are moments when some birds nearly hit the drone. We go for six dives plus another one at night. After the last one we sail around the island. When a little Indonesian starts the engine, a snake comes out from under it. From time to time, we see more snakes swimming towards us, hundreds of birds flying overhead; and if I could, I would like to spend the whole safari on this island in the middle of nowhere.

The next morning, we’re back in the Banda Sea and I can see the difference immediately.  Fascinating coral reefs are often interrupted by coral grit. I get a little higher above the cliff and see circles in which the coral has been completely destroyed. Dynamite fishing! Or rather fishing with home-made explosives. It is not long before we hear three explosions in the water. It is unmistakable proof that we are back in civilization.

Text: Jaroslav Blaško, Videofoto: Jaroslav Blaško, Milan Junior Musil