|Final Statistics: Alex & Maz||Total distance: 93,550km|
|Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ||Now settled in Sydney, Australia|
|Final Statistics: Martin||Total distance: 79,698km|
|Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia||Now settled in Bristol, UK|
Indonesia, Country 24, Diary entry 2nd-5th Sept 2006, Total distance in Indonesia: 8396KM
It was late when we reached our next destination... the theme of the expedition! You would have thought 18 months was ample time to travel the world, hell we knew of one pair that did UK to Oz in 3 months... so why is it we are always chasing our tail trying to squeeze in that one too many things to see and do! I guess making the most of the moment is what it boils down to. Now however we'd planned a little RnR chill time. As the expedition name suggests we are always looking forward to the next dive and as such have worked closely with many dive centres on our route, raising money for CARE International by hosting 'Dive with CARE' days, which has proven a tremendous success to date. I'd therefore been emailing Jim Yanny from Eco Divers on and off now for some while as we were keen to spend time diving around Manado.
Now we aren't your normal average customer, booking their annual leave months in advance. Over the course of the 3 or so months that I'd been emailing Jim, our plans changed constantly, in fact every email gave an updated eta and even with only a week or so to go, we still couldn't get more accurate than a Plan A or B! Fair play to Eco Divers who took our fluid plans in their stride. Arrangements were loosely made to spend two days with them on the west side of the tip of Sulawesi diving the Bunaken marine park, followed by a further two days on the east side delving into the infamous Lembeh Straits the home of black sand muck diving. With a days diving and a days relaxing at each resort on the agenda we were really looking forward to some time out of the car.
Hence when we arrived at the Tasik Ria Resort close to 9pm, we felt that we were seriously eating into our relaxation time! Having checked in, welcome drink in hand, we were delighted to find out that we were being treated to one of their beautiful beach front cottages... one could get used to such luxury! With little time to spare, we dropped off our bags and headed swiftly down to the beach BBQ. We got ourselves a table on the beach and whilst enjoying the ambience made up for lost time with a round of G&T's the order of the day as we savoured the scrummy BBQ delights. Tinfish... who's that!
We were scheduled to dive Bunaken the following morning, however since we'd arrived late the dive centre was closed, but we overheard a British group of obvious divers on the table next to us, so we check with them what the normal plan was... 7.30am start - yuk! They asked if we'd just arrived and we said yes, it had taken longer to drive here than expected... Drive.. where from... Oh England - WHAT..?? We could tell them all about it tomorrow, but for now it was time for bed and an opportunity for us to slip into a luxury bed, with crisp clean white cotton sheets and soft fluffy pillows - bliss!
Reporting early at Eco Divers to meet Bjorn the centre manager, our kit was whisked away and setup on one of their two large and comfortable dive boats, not too dissimilar to those you see plying the Red Sea dive routes. Jim is also co-owner of Emperor Dives of Red Sea fame, so he'd turned the same professional eye to his new operation in Sulawesi which oozed similar characteristics of a slick well run machine. Diving in and around Bunaken is mostly wall diving and drift diving, but also includes several beautiful coral slopes. There are no less than 22 official dive sites within the park! The variety of both fish and soft coral is outstanding, making this area one of the top places in the world with regards to biodiversity. Our first dive was at Lekuan 3, a sandy bottom at first with pinnacles and outcroppings and at 40m a sandy chute brings you to a rock that, for some reason, often attracts sharks and right on cue a black tip cruised past below. Drifting with the current the slope gives way to a dramatic near vertical cliff which abounds with life and colour.
After a short surface interval, updating all onboard about our adventure, it was round to the other side of Bunaken Island and back in the water to dive Sachiko Point, another superb wall dive. We were amazed at just how much vibrant life is attracted to the reef with schools of thousands of small blue trigger fish buzzing around everywhere and pristine unspoilt corals, which I'm sad to say is becoming a rarer and rarer sight these days since the prolific and destructive spread of dynamite fishing amongst the reefs of the world. With great visibility and a nice warm 27C it was easy to just spend the time bobbing about watching everything going on around you. The only caution you need to consider is the odd currents around these immense drop offs as you can inadvertently find yourself being subjected to a down current trying to push you down into the dark blue below!
After a great lunch... Thai flavoured today... the final dive of the day was Tanjung Labasong a 'new' dive site that the guys had recently started diving. In truth, I don't think it'd really matter where you plopped into the water around Bunaken, you'd almost certainly be guaranteed a great dive. What marked this one out from the other two, was the way the cliff undulated to form crevices and overhangs, giving great photo opportunities with my model posing in front of huge sea fans and colourful sponges. Maz has really taken to her role as model and I hardly ever get the sign from her anymore which either means 'just two more minutes' or 'just two more photos', regardless, it's something to do with two that she used to keep flashing up at me constantly..!
There's something quite unique about being suspended mid-water with the fever of life and activity going on the length of the cliff, whereas directly below you there is absolutely nothing except the abyss! Why then did we decide it was a good opportunity to swap roles and pass the camera over to Maz to become the photographer after an on the fly lesson and me the model! Not the smartest of moves with the camera being passed back and forth and the nothingness below waiting to swallow it up if we dropped it! Fortunately we were spared that embarrassment!
Back on land we finally met up with Jim and his wife Cary and talked at length about our expedition over an obligatory beer as we watched a beautiful sunset sink over the marine park. Jim was really interested to hear all about our exploits and given their affinity to Egypt were pleased to hear that we'd visited one of the CARE projects there in Beni Suef along the Nile. We were also introduced to Danny, the Food and Beverages Manager for the Tasik Ria Resort and before long one beer turned to three and I was still sat in my damp smelly swimmers (three long dives in a wetsuit & everyone knows what goes on in one of those!) at the bar as the time fast approached when the restaurant would be closing. We took our leave, showered and changed, then enjoyed another romantic dinner under the stars. Although we were transferring to KBR tomorrow, Danny had already convinced us to spend as long as we wanted relaxing by the pool and not to rush off.
So we did just that. The midday transfer came and went, but we were sure we'd be able to find our own way over to KBR, otherwise known as the salubrious Kungkungan Bay Resort, the it place to go if you are diving Lembeh Strait. After lunch, a quick massage, for which I thought about reporting the masseuse for GBH and a final swim, we met up with Danny for some photographs around the resort. We then went down to Eco Divers to get a photo of the team, where I asked a passer by if he wouldn't mind taking the shot for us. Thanking him for his help, I asked if he worked here too... only to find out he was the Tasik Ria Resort owner, another Daniel as it happens... so a huge thanks to both the Danny's for making our stay so pleasurable.
Reluctantly we said our farewells and set off across the tip of Sulawesi in search of the Kungkungan Bay Resort with detailed instructions scribbled on a scrap of paper. We needn't have worried, after all we had made it this far just about and soon arrived at our second dive resort. Whereas the Tasik Ria Resort is also a destination in itself for non-diving holiday makers, the Kungkungan Bay Resort is more exclusively for divers but with luxury still served up in large quantities. Perched at the waters edge of Lembeth Strait, all the infamous dive sites are just minutes away by boat from the resorts own jetty. They cater seriously for the underwater photographer here, with huge wash tanks of fresh water and our very own room to store all your camera goodies and charge the infinite number of associated batteries... however I thought it looked more like a case of everyone showing off their cameras with a certain degree of mine's bigger than yours - mine being the bottom of the food chain!
Once again the resort had gone out of their way to ensure that we enjoyed our break from the road and they'd very kindly given us the Hillside Villa! In their own words.. Located on a secluded hillside overlooking the resort and the Lembeh Strait is the Hillside Villa, an intimate and exclusive accommodation on two stories. This is KBR's version of the 'penthouse suite', with a stunning view and all the privacy a romantic couple could wish for. The upstairs bedroom offers a unique view over the Strait - and it is set amongst the treetops, to ensure that your dreams are full of tropical exoticness. Poor Tinfish was starting to turn green with envy under her layer of dirt... not to worry we'd be back in the tent soon enough, but for now we enjoyed!
Later that evening we briefly met Jim and Cary in the restaurant, however they were feeling a little worse for ware as they had moved on to another social engagement after meeting us the night before and were suffering as a consequence. We then got talking to two other couples, Mel & Sean and Nicola & Andrew that we'd met the day before over at Tasik Ria who managed to make the midday transfer unlike us and had been worrying that we'd got ourselves lost. Apparently some of our dive kit which had been transferred for us had ended up in each of their respective rooms in turn as the confused staff tried to reunite it with the rightful owner. We really enjoyed the banter with you guys and thanks Mel & Sean for having a go at the Thailand Live-aboard raffle which raised an excellent GBP545 for CARE International and sorry your names didn't get pulled from the hat... better luck next time... did I mention our latest Indonesian dive raffle.. a 5 day package of diving in the Komodo National Park with accommodation and a trip to see the Komodo dragons!
After an early brekkie, we met with Steve the resort manager down at the dive centre for our brief on how things operate at KBR. I was putting the finishing touches to my camera setup so was cautioned when I rocked up a few minutes late, as the boat waits for no one! Fair enough, but I knew the others on the boat hadn't arrived from their breakfasts yet, so I wasn't last for a change! Eco Divers again run a slick operation here, with a selection of smaller boats to ferry small groups of divers to and from the dive sites. Briefings are conducted by the jetty and then you join your kit onboard which of course has already been loaded for you for the quick run around the corner to the twilight zone of muck diving otherwise known as Lembeh Strait!
Our first dive site was Nudi Retreat, a small-protected cove where the reef slope starts in only 3m of water gradually working its way deeper and to one side a colourful wall abuts the slope in the shallows. It is indeed like entering a new world here, with the fine black sand giving a real contrast to the burst of colours clinging to every rocky outcrop and surprisingly a noticeable few degrees cooler water than in Bunaken. Of course the real attraction here is the little weird critters that look as though they're visiting from Mars! Here a guide is definitely needed as their trained eyes scan for the resident beasties. As the group moved on, I was always left trying to persuade the found critter to pose in front of the camera, not so easy as it sounds. The old Nikonos underwater camera I have yet to upgrade to digital, uses extension tubes to allow macro photography, which results in a protruding 'framer'. This gives the one behind the camera the exact distance and size for the subject and theoretically the perfect shot... however try convincing a nervous beastie to smile and say cheese when it's having a metal framer stuck in its face!
I persist nevertheless and after 'capturing that shot' would race off after the group to find the next subject. Maz acted well as chaperone, ferrying back n forwards between the guide and me, making sure I didn't loose my way or miss a willing subject desperate for its 5mins of fame! After a bizarrely interesting dive, capped by the overload of colours in the shallows, the sunlight streaking through the water and highlighting mer-Maz posed elegantly above this collage, it would have made that amazing shot, had I not had the fixed macro setup on the camera set to focusing on 1 inch sized critters, 3 inches in front of the lens! Back onboard the cool wind blowing up the Strait added a chill to the air and made the snug towels handed around eagerly appreciated.
The boat returns to KBR between dives, which allowed me to shuffle batteries and films in the photographers room (kind of like the executive lounge at the airport!) and rub shoulders with some of the pros... Scuba Zoo were in town, the authors of the fantastic Sipadan-Kapali-Mabul coffee table book and were building up their stock of muck footage. I reported ahead of schedule for our second dive and met with Miranda, Steve's wife to say hello. Soon we were heading back out into the Strait for our next dive at Hairball. A true muck site in every sense. Home to some of the most unusual critters, there are no corals, only black sand, algae and an occasional patch of sponges. Some of the critters found here grow skin filaments to blend in with the algae. Once again a guide is essential otherwise you truly are just diving in muck! We saw some of those ugly frog fish, a shoal of tightly knit catfish that moved as one and the amusing razor fish which hang around vertically in gangs nose down, until you get up close then they all turn horizontal and dart off together, dropping vertical to hang out again.
Wrapped up snugly in our towels and heading back to KBR for lunch, everyone was swapping stories about the aliens they'd seen in their realm... was it a fish, wasn't it a fish... what was it? The fish books would get a good pawing over tonight! Lunch is served buffet style, but unfortunately Maz was feeling under the weather, so I tucked her in upstairs back at the Penthouse, whilst I tucked into the best homemade tomato soup I'd had in a long while. As Maz was going to miss the last dive I reported alone for the dive brief.. Jahir, one of KBR's newer sites, which none too surprisingly is another great muck site. Without my normal chaperone to liaise between me and the guide, the guide kept popping back to find me and see if I was alright. With only 36 shots in the camera, you'd think it'd be easy to reel off a film, but it just makes you more choosy to get the right shot... or in my case at least attempt it!
Maz had pretty much spent the afternoon asleep, but thankfully was feeling a little cheerier when I gently woke her. We met with the gang for dinner and had a great night swapping stories and going back over the dives and all the strange beasties that we'd all discovered! As we weren't planning on diving the following day a lie in seemed like just the ticket, but as we naturally woke up quite early... which always seems to be the case when we occasionally find privacy away from interested eyes, we thought we might give the KBR house reef a go. Scuba Zoo were also working on a promo video for KBR and they needed two divers to enter the water from the shore.. enter twiddle dum and twiddle dummer. Not quite the exquisite models which adorn the glossy dive mags, but out here in the middle of nowhere, they couldn't be fussy, so filmed us staggering and swaying our way into the shallows with all the grace and finesse of returning walruses. At least we'd wiped the spit away after clearing our masks... darling!
Once underwater, the scenery is different again, with a pretty little coral garden teeming in reef fish. Having gotten so used to staring at the weird and wonderful, normally on a small scale it was quite strange to re-focus. A few dives ago I'd been photographing a pair of tiny cuttlefish that both sat comfortably inside a 2 inch framer. Imagine my shock then when I looked up and came face to face with the biggest ugliest damn cuttlefish I think I've every seen, at least 18 inches long! Furthermore an equal sized brute decided on that precise moment to attack its counterpart, so tension, colours and bristling body shape were all running high! After popping my eyes back in from out of my mask, I readjusted to look for all creatures great and small!
Having received a thorough soaking and squeezed in some chill time between dives and socialising, we felt that although the time had gone frightfully quickly we had indeed achieved our initial intention to wash the dirt from the road away. Our investigations into shipping the car to Surabaya to avoid a repeat of the incredibly twisty road that winds its way down Sulawesi had come to a dead end. We'd been holding out to hear what the schedule was for the coming week as when we'd enquired at the weekend, they of course couldn't commit to times for the week ahead, being much too far in the future to predict. We had been reliably informed however that there were definitely two boats a week. No surprises then when we persisted with our enquires it transpired there actually wasn't another boat to Surabaya for nearly ten days, which would knock our precarious schedule way off track! There was no avoiding it we were destined for the long drive down Sulawesi in time to catch our next boat from Makassar to Surabaya, which had been quadrupledly checked to be leaving at 10am Monday, six days from now. It was time to leave the tip of Sulawesi, we were on our way again... But after a taster of these two fabulous diving regions only about 50km from each other, but a world apart in marine life, we will be back - more conventionally next time!
I'd like to extend our huge and grateful thanks to all at Eco Divers, specifically Jim for making this all happen, as well as all those at the Tasik Ria Resort in Manado and the Kungkungan Bay Resort in Lembeh Strait for making our stay and time so comfortable and relaxing. A BIG thanks also goes to Jim and Cary for their very generous donation of GBP200 to CARE International. Thanks guys for all your help and kindness.
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