To see the manta rays evolving, from close up, c'is an extraordinary spectacle... (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)
To see the manta rays evolve, from close up, it's an extraordinary spectacle... (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)

The majestic Manta rays of Sangalaki (and the atrocious bite of the stingray)

  Borneo [Malaysia and Indonesia] - July 2009

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation made from a post originally written in French. My apologies for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have been generated during the process. If you are reading French, click on the French flag below to access the original and correct text: 


I left Derawan and its archipelago today. I realized this dream that I had since the beginning of this Indonesian journey to Borneo : swim with manta rays,, in the waters of Sangalaki !

From graceful giants

I give you some images of these magic moments... These graceful giants are powerful, fast. You must palm them dry so you don't lose sight of them!

To see the manta rays evolve, from close up, it's an extraordinary spectacle... (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)
To see the manta rays evolving, from close up, is an extraordinary spectacle... (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)

At ground level or deeper, they seem more aerial than aquatic. They hover and split the wave of a fin flapping, stretched like a wing.

You can easily go to meet them, simply by snorkeling (PMT), or by scuba diving. I've tested both with pleasure...

😉

Added October 25, 2009 : I published a new post on the Sangalaki Manta Rays, with the video mounted → Excursion to Sangalaki. I give it to you below too:

Swim with mantas in snorkeling

The first time, it was from a big boat with powerful engines, chartered by pilots and mechanics of the MY F (Mission Aviation Fellowship). It is a Christian American organization that has bases and planes all over the world. True missionaries, who do not forget to say the blessing before swallowing their nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice). They rally the isolated populations for humanitarian and religious purposes.

Based in Tarakan, they were a small group of people who came to spend the weekend on the island of Derawan, with women and children. Paul and Becky, my English fellow travellers, bumped into them the day we arrived on the island. The Americans kindly offered us to take advantage of their boat for a snorkeling trip in Sangalaki. We obviously jumped on the occasion!

I don't do much snorkeling, and it's not at all the same feeling as diving. I'm not as good a swimmer as I am a diver, and I always feel a bit "naked", vulnerable, without my wetsuit or regulator, moving around on the surface, tossed around like a small cork in the swell. Much less comfortable for the pictures...

Manta rays are easy to observe in snorkeling. (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)
Manta rays are easy to observe in snorkeling. (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)

It's a funny thing to jump into the water, like that, just with his snorkel, to approach the black fins seen spurt in the foam between two waves.

But then... When you put your head in the water, what a show! A real ballet.

It's all about keeping up with the rhythm, between the twists and turns of the mantas. I give you below some small raw video sequences, so that you can appreciate the majestic "flight" of the beast.

When one of them decides to keep you in the curve of its trajectory and approaches right, gaping jaws, all at his feast of plankton, a little shiver runs down your spine. You drink the cup in your snorkel and stop palming so as not to break the spell.

The beautiful continues its momentum and evades you smoothly, without effort, offering you its milky belly by way of goodbye.

Several mantas rays flutter near the surface. (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)
Several mantas rays flutter near the surface. (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)
Manta rays swim gracefully just below the surface. (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)
Manta rays swim gracefully just below the surface. (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)
Her mouth wide open, she filters the water to feed on plankton. (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)
Her mouth wide open, she filters the water to feed on plankton. (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)
Manta rays pass and repass ... (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)
Manta rays pass and repass ... (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)

Meeting with the mantas in diving

The second, more stealthy encounter was made by diving a few days later. I was underwater with a ski instructor, Philippe, and his son Julien (I never met as many French people during this trip as in Derawan!).

We crossed a little too far, alas, the road of an enormous manta, all black, this one. Like a real sea devil, with rolled "horns", it did not deviate from its trajectory, and continued, impassively, its slow flight in the blue...

We were lucky to be able to admire the manta rays. They are, it seems, less numerous than in the past. The previous week, tourists went several times to the site without noticing one.

Stingray sting (sting ray)

Finally, this beautiful first day in Sangalaki ended in pain for me. A stingray (in other words, a beast stingray with blue dots very common in these tropical waters, miniature cousin but venomous harmless large mantas-rays), stashed in the sand, at the edge of the beach, stuck me his poisonous sting in the left foot while I regained the boat.

I had my diving boots and I was walking carefully. The dart is on the side of the foot, near the little toe, just above the rubber of my sole.

The guys who guard the island since the Sangalaki resort is closed have brought a tub of hot water to relieve the excruciating pain (ah ... that reminds me of my classes in Rescue).

Only remedy to soothe the pain of a stingray sting: very hot water. (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)
Only remedy to soothe the pain of a stingray sting: very hot water. (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)
Just under the small left toe, we see the sting left by the sting of the ray. The left side of my foot is a little swollen. (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)
Just under the small left toe, we see the sting left by the sting of the ray. The left side of my foot is a little swollen. (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)

Then I gritted my teeth on the boat until I got back to Derawan. It does not show at all on the photo below, but I hurt, really badly.

I'm brave in the midst of all these caring Americans, and I even find the strength to wince and smile like Indonesians every time they get their picture taken, but this return has been a torture .

I know, it does not show on this picture where I'm brave, but I'm in pain. Very bad ... (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)
I know, it does not show on this picture where I'm brave, but I'm in pain. Very bad ... (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)

I was the attraction of the day, in the village. A nice lady carried me on her motorcycle to the small clinic, where the doctor, a young woman speaking perfect English, took care of me.

Hot water, anesthetic sting, incision to properly clean the inside of the wound. Medoc to avoid infection and prohibition to go in the water for three days, time to heal ...

Convalescence... dry!

Three days of forced rest, therefore, watching the turtles from the pontoon, without ploufs nor snorkeling... what a torment!

I have to stay dry for three days so that the foot scar, and just admire the turtles of the pontoon ... (Derawan, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)
I have to stay dry for three days while I heal, and just admire the turtles on the pontoon... (Derawan, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)

But I'm doing well. My foot has slipped off and returned to normal. Marjolijna young Dutch woman who is doing her doctoral thesis here (she studies Derawan turtles and even cleans the beach edges of garbage) was less fortunate than me.

He had the same misadventure with a stingray the day before yesterday. Except the doctor wasn't there. And it was the dispensary assistant, less gifted, who butchered his foot, less carefully.

As a result, his wound looked worse than mine... Stingray stings are common here, it happens very often, to islanders and tourists alike.

I gave Marjolijn what I had left of sterile compresses. We all went to our little travel pharmacies to allow her to disinfect and soothe the pain in the meantime. I hope she recovers as quickly as I do!

In the end, it's more dangerous than it seems, tropical beaches...

Updated August 26, 2009 : Marjolijn tells on her blog about her ordeal... Badly treated, she ended up with a gunshot infection 😱À read here :
 → About infections and stingrays

????

  Borneo [Malaysia and Indonesia] - July 2009

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