September in Komodo: The Critters

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Komodo surprised me by throwing up plenty of critters. There were plenty of nudibranchs, as usual, eggs included.

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Some of them I still can’t identify though I see them occasionally.

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Others, I think I know the names, like this spanish dancer (I think).

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And then there are the ones that I’d seen for the first time in Komodo, and had no idea what they were.

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There were some that were plain bulbous and gross. If anything can tell me what this is, I’ll be quite grateful. I think this is more of a sea snail of sorts because I think our guides said something about the shell being on the inside and the soft stuff outside.

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There were also much prettier ones with delicate tendrils.

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Then there were the crustaceans that lived in the delicate tendrils of corals, like this coral crab.

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Others, like the orang utan crab, lived on cabbage coral.

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And there were the hard to find whip coral shrimp, which was a beast to photograph. I remember this little critter took me 10 minutes and a good 20 bar of air to get a not-great photo.

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And the highlight of the critters was Oscar the smashing mantis shrimp. This fella lived in a hole and whenever we’d visit, our guide would knock at the entrance of his hole. Before long, two little fish would rise out of the hole, smartly realising that the safest place would be in the cosy hole where Oscar couldn’t extend his smashing pincers.

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Check out how Oscar would come out and peer at the outside world.

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Don Quijote

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Don Quijote is a little gem of a Spanish place tucked in a little corner in the far flung west side of the island. It’s hard to get to because it’s not really near to a MRT station and parking is practically impossible here. The food here is pretty decent. We started with bellota ham at the request of the jamon-loving DC. It was fairly cheap for bellota ham and I guess you pay for the quality. While it certainly was very tasty and good ham, it was too greasy from being left at (hot, humid) room temperature. In the world of bellota ham, this was but a pretender.

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The ravening pack then moved on to the clam special. They normally have a clam tapas on the menu but that night, they had a special clam dish. Presumably they managed to get their hands on a good batch of imported clams and boy were these good! They were sweet and briny, full of the sea and picked up the wine, herbs and garlic in the sauce very nicely. These were swiftly mopped up with plenty of bread.

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Finally, the ravening pack of two came to a standstill with the squid ink paella. The good stuff came al dente just as we requested and was enveloped in a black and almost solid sauce. The flavour was somehow of intense savoriness, though not overwhelmingly salty. It was crammed with squid and prawns and with a squirt of the lemon, came together to give a very comforting yet not quite stodgy dish.

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The food here was really decent. Just don’t bother with the sangria if you’re like me and not fond of syrupy and very mildly alcoholic drinks.

[P.S. Pardon the poor lighting, it’s one of those places with dim yellow lighting. Almost impossible for food shots.]

Don Quijote
17 Lorong Kilat
Tel: 6465 1811

Layang Layang: Reef Life and Macro

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Don’t think that Layang Layang is only for the pelagics. There’s plenty of macro to be found here, it’s only that sometimes the currents and the wall can be a bit challenging for finding those critters and also getting the perfect shot of that tiny little creature. There was a lot of reef life here, such as this rather surprised looking tomato grouper.

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I was also quite pleased to see one of my favourites, a juvenile black snapper with its characteristic black and white stripes and dots.

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Then there were the fish that insisting on posing for a picture, like this slightly constipated looking pennant bannerfish.

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There were also bottom dwellers like blue-spotted stingrays.

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They always seem to stare up so malevolently at us.

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There were also other fairly amusing fish, like this doublebar goatfish. They like to rest on coral and pretend that they are not there, innocently spacing out, as if if they can’t see us we can’t see them!

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Others showed off their colours beautifully against the coral, like these panda butterflyfish and peacock grouper.

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DC is obsessed with the pufferfish family, just like I’m obsessed with hawkfish. His favourite shot of the whole trip is this seal-faced puffer that he cornered in a coral niche. It’s cute, isn’t it?

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Not so cute is this giant frogfish that has its mouth open in wait for unsuspecting prey. In a split second, it’ll pounce and the prey will be in its belly.

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Far less grotesque were pretty nudibranchs slowly making their way across the coral gardens.

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They were surprisingly hard to spot among the colourful backdrop of coral, but once found, a joy to photograph.

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Far harder to photograph were the pink anemonefish, who were so skittish, this is probably the only decent one I got amongst the tens of shots I took.

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Going down to the seriously macro-level, I found some large whip gobies on a sea fan and thankfully this one wasn’t as shy as my next subject.

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The Denise pygmy seahorses were such a pain to photograph. My camera had great difficulty focussing on the tiny creatures smaller than my fingernail. This one is pregnant and had the tendency to swim to the underside of the sea fan, making it impossible to catch on camera.

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DC got this picture that’s far superior to mine, it’s so beautiful how he managed to capture the eye and its almost serene expression.

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We had some good luck on sandy patches at the house reef at night. There was a flamboyantly coloured Spanish dancer.

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There was also this strange blob of a sea slug oozing its way along.

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Much prettier was this variation of a reeftop pipefish that wiggled its pretty pink tail and didn’t seem to mind the many flashes from our cameras.

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Then there was the bizarrely shaped longhorn cowfish that seemed to have difficulty navigating its way out of this patch of seagrass.

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Back on the coral reef, there were other oddities like this leaf scorpionfish with its glassy white eye staring out at us while swaying back and forth in the water pretending to be a leaf.

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In the anemone were some porcelain crabs, which were quite shy. This one kept scuttling towards the underside of the anemone and it was really hard to keep up with it before it disappeared from sight.

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A rare sight in the coral was this peacock flounder. Normally associated with muck diving, I was thrilled to see this one swim along and then try to rather unsuccessfully camouflage itself on some maze coral. Its googly eyes and patchy colouration gave it away immediately!

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There were also quite a few shrimp and other crustaceans hiding out in crevices. Here’s DC trying to get a good snap of some shrimp.

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They were some kind of orange cleaner shrimp that I have yet to identify, very pretty though!

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Other cleaner shrimp like these commensal shrimp also hung around the same area. Both kinds would come out onto my hand and pick away at dead skin. I suppose it makes good eating for them. And round goes the circle of life!

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There were also these spiny rock lobsters in another hole. I was so tempted to pull them out by their feelers but of course resisted. It’s a pity they were so shy though!

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Back on the surface of the coral reef, we were happy to see the bigger fish thriving. There were plenty of sweetlips about, including these adult harlequin sweetlips that seemed to love giving a mirror mirage by going in pairs above and below the coral.

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Then there was this emperor angelfish that came up to pose for a picture on my last dive. Such an obliging creature!

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And last of the fish, there was this white mouth moray looking out for prey.

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Unfortunately, as this video shows, it’s a bit of FAIL because it got slapped in the face by a passing fish. So much for being a lean, mean predator.

The nicest finale to our dive was getting up close to this turtle. As we approached, the green turtle was facing us and knew full well of our approach. Somehow it didn’t swim away.

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DC got in close enough for a really macro shot of it.

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But then we noticed something odd about the way it was rocking back and forth.

We realised that it was stuck in the coral! For the sake of this turtle, I broke one of the laws of diving – don’t touch any creature – and tugged it gently out. It got free and immediately coasted up towards the surface for a good breath of fresh air.

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It was such a lovely feeling to end our successful series of dives by helping out a stranded turtle.

April in The Philippines: Intramuros

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I spent my last days in The Philippines exploring Manila, the most interesting of which was Intramuros. It’s the old part built in the Spanish walled-city style.

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I enjoyed how faded the area looked. Somehow none of the buildings in the area looked very restored at all.

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The decay reminded me of the faded decadence of Havana.

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To me, the highlight of Intramuros was the San Agustin Church, supposedly the oldest church building in The Philippines. Its baroque facade was beautiful despite the decay and overcast day.

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The interior was even more breathtaking with its domed ceiling and trompe l’oeil paintings. It’s amazing that this cathedral is still in daily use.

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There were other nooks in the place with more beautiful decorations, like this side chapel.

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What impressed me most was the area towards the back of the cathedral, where the organ was.

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See the huge music books on the stands? There were four of them.

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While not illuminated to the degree where it’ll be a treasure to be kept behind glass, these music books showed the art and incredible workmanship involved. Beautiful.

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An Unorthodox Carbonara

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I had some orange zest and two egg yolks left over from my orange clove cake and knew that I had to take this rare opportunity to make pasta carbonara without having to contend with egg whites glaring malevolently at me every time I opened the fridge door. There was also some chorizo Mum brought back from (of all places) London, so the orange and smoked sausage turned the pasta into something decidedly un-Italian.

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To make things slightly less sinful, I seared thick slices of zucchini on the grill and dressed it with a simple vinaigrette. The vinaigrette was something Mum took back from London (yes mums can be slightly eccentric too). If not, I’d just sprinkle a touch of balsamic or wine vinegar over and top with some crumbled sea salt and ground pepper.

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Ingredients:
5 slices of skinny chorizo, cut into thin strips
linguine
2 egg yolks
3 tbsp + extra parmesan cheese, grated
1 tbsp yogurt
zest of ½ orange
1 tbsp orange juice

Method:

  1. Fry the chorizo in a dry pan over low heat till fat is rendered and chorizo is crisp. Set aside. Also set oily pan aside.
  2. Boil the linguine in salted water till al dente.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the egg yolks, cheese, yogurt and orange zest. Stir in the orange juice.
  4. When the pasta is just about ready, warm the rendered chorizo oil. Drain the noodles and toss them in the hot oil. Immediately transfer to the eggy mixture and stir, stir, stir till the cheese melts and the sauce thickens and clings to the noodles.
  5. Sprinkle over the chorizo bits and extra grated parmesan cheese.
  6. Eat immediately.

Serves 1 or 2.