Published: April 11th 2012October 27th 2010
I left off with Bunaken: Storytellers and Salp
and saw much more.
By the end of my first trip in October 2010, I had seen various chromodoris nudis and some tinier ones I still can't identify (any help appreciated--refer to tiny nudibranch photos).
There was one dive spot I particularly loved when the weather, current and visibility permitted. We followed a rope, around which razor fish gathered with their noses pointed to the ocean floor, down to the sand. As we quickly equalized, Raf and Reiko dropped close to the ocean floor without disturbing a grain of sand.
Where I saw only seagrass, Raf and Reiko spotted Skeleton Shrimp (Caprellidae
) as thin as fine hair. The little guys crawled like worms arching their mid-sections and pulling forward. The skeletal creatures looked like acrobats when they clung to the grass, sticking out their limbs as if exclaiming ta-dah!
Raf hadn't seen the funny little creatures in the last two or three years, he later explained.
Situated right next to the funny skeleton shrimp was a dark craggy rock, or something easily mistaken for one because of its infamous camouflage. The stone fish looked all the more
sinister due to its dark maroon coloring.
Another time, coming down the same rope, Reiko and I shimmied enthusiastically in the water when we saw approximately twenty squid floating in a line. Their mantles softly rippled in the water until they broke formation and drifted at different angles. They reminded me of a flock of birds, even their suckers were pointed like beaks. I could have floated there all day watching them, but they slowly drifted with the current beyond our reach.
One coral wall had so many red tooth triggerfish, they rained in the water, if the contradiction is possible for the mind to imagine.
Orange-haired orangutan crabs hid amongst equally hairy, orange terrain.
Great trevallies swam quickly by while lone barracudas occasionally rested closer to the walls.
Another time, a juvenile yellow jack followed Raf's yellow fins as if they were fellow jacks. When we reached the coral, it began swimming back-and-forth between Raf and Reiko as they took photos. It stuck with us as we headed back to the boat, trailing behind until we exited the water.
Return to Bunaken
After that visit, I was determined to return
Acrobatic Skeleton Shrimp
You can spot both of them if you look for their antennae.
The opportunity came in April of 2011 when my boyfriend insisted that I check out Lembeh, and I insisted that he visit Cha Cha (he had already dived in Bunaken before, but stayed at other dive spots). This trip was very different from my first, but it wasn't any less enchanting.
We headed to the island from a different port decorated with mangrove trees. There was a mother and daughter who were also heading to Cha Cha based on a friend's recommendation, and a ginger-haired man and his Thai girlfriend of many years, both of whom had wonderfully wicked senses of humor. I presented quite a sight with grotesque mosquito bites all over my face from our preceding Lembeh visit (great dives, but horrible blood-sucking mosquitoes with no mosquito-netting in our accommodation).
Raf, Reiko and the Cha Cha family gave a great welcome and, classic Raf, he took one look at my face and cried, "What happened to you?!" I explained that I was suffering from mosquito bites rather than any contagion, which relieved some of the guests who had been eying my face, or maybe I was projecting.
Finally, the big baby of
the Cha Cha family, Chiko-chan, possibly one of the only great danes living on a small island, swung her big gentle tail and accepted any attention that was offered.
Our DM was Yuko, a very short and thin Japanese woman with a hearty laugh whom I would recommend without hesitation.
The Night Dive
Out of all the dives on this second trip, the night dive took the cake.
I'm not the greatest fan of night dives. I usually do an obligatory one to confirm I'm not missing out on much. The best night dive I ever experienced was Muck Diving in Mabul
. Since then, I hadn't been impressed.
. . . until this Bunaken night dive. The creatures were thriving in the water, too much for me to handle. Let me start from the beginning. We were dropped off in the blue, away from the coral . . .
When I jumped in, a large turquoise triggerfish had displaced itself from its usual coral territory and its trigger was already raised high in defense, and, in this case, offense.
I had little time to move sideways out of its territory just in case that was
the problem (a fish's territory tends to be an upside down cone, so heading up is a bad move, not to mention a risk of the bends). The trigger fish wasn't satisfied in the least. It charged with its trigger piercing through the water like a sharpened blade. I'd heard stories of their muscled bodies being so strong their ramming causes bruises equivalent to being punched by a boxer.
I couldn't possibly escape, so I swam with my fins as a defense against its mean teeth. Those teeth casue plenty damage, too (i.e. lost ears, chunks of skin, all the good stuff). I rapped my metal stick on my tank, so my buddies would know something was wrong. In a split second, my boyfriend surged past me and charged back at the fish.
A part of me was relieved, another part fluttering at the thought of being rescued, but mostly, I was worried the fish would take a chunk out of my boyfriend. Instead, it hesitated, trigger was still raised, and swimming back-and-forth as if debating its next move. Whether my boyfriend's size had intimidated it, or we were satisfactorily out of its territory, it gradually returned to
My heartbeat threatened to beat out of my chest, and I was consuming my oxygen at high-speed. My boyfriend calmed me down, making sure all was good, and, gag if you must, but I was happily comforted as he held my hand all the way to the mandarin fish hideout.
We finally reached and waited for the mandarin fish to come out of their hidey spots for their mating ritual. Maybe the scene got too steamy, but a nearby feather star began seizing up and caught our full attention. We looked on with surprise expecting some finale, maybe even featherstar death (sounds like a weaker version of Star Wars), when its tendrils suddenly burst, letting loose a cloud of seed that was quite unsexy, but, hey, it was nature's way of ensuring more feather stars in the future.
We were laughing through our masks and signaled agreements to move on. Yuko led, and we followed behind. As we turned a corner, I swung my flashlight into the blue with the paranoid thoughts of triggerfish. Instead, a set of glazed eyes looking somewhat sinister flashed back. I tapped rapidly on my tank and gave a shark
signal, but both Yuko and my boyfriend shook their shoulders with where(?)
shrugs. They turned around, a little bummed out and perhaps a little skeptical about my spot.
But, wait, there it was again, the same glassy eyes cruising from the opposite direction, slightly higher, slightly closer. Again, I tapped my tank. This time my boyfriend saw the shark and excitedly signaled to Yuko who was, once again, disappointed at missing the cruise-by.
I'm pretty calm around sharks, but (1) this was my first night shark and, (2) after the earlier triggerfish attack, I was jittery. My boyfriend gave me a little squeeze and motioned me forward.
We flashed our lights quickly over the coral so as not to unsettle any sleeping creatures. Unable to ignore the nagging feeling at the back of my head, I flashed my light out into the deep, and again, closer and a little higher, the same two glassy, hungry
eyes cruised by. I tapped again. This time everybody saw the shark.
Yuko was ecstatic. My boyfriend was elated. I felt like shark bait.
My rational side knew that a black-tip reef shark would not want to eat me. A
White Leaf Scorpionfish
aka paper fish, Taenianotus triacanthus. Photo courtesy of boyfriend.
little tear squeezed out of my eye and I ignored my rationale, Nope. Not feeling this dive. I don't want to be bait
. Noticing my distress when I began shaking my head and signaling, Yuko put her hand on one of my shoulders while my boyfriend took my other to ensure that I wouldn't make a panicked swim to the surface and risk the bends. I signaled, I'm done and want to go up
We would have done a safety-stop and headed up if I continued signaling, but my boyfriend got my attention by looking me in the eyes and signaled me to look down at the coral in front of us. A hard-to-spot white leaf scorpion fish swung back-and-forth on the coral. It was serene, peaceful and exciting.
I smiled gratefully at the distraction and took a few deep breaths and nodded that I would continue. My adrenaline was still thumping and pumping, but the rest of the dive was well worth it. We witnessed a moray eel hunting its prey, various types of red crabs crawling throughout the coral, and a giant lobster strolling from its cave with its long antennae inquisitively moving in our direction.
Blue Spiny Lobster?
Great colors on this guy.
My favorite creature for the dive? The flatworm. Its body moved like an exquisite cut of glamorous flat fabric brought to life.
I don't know if it's the fullness of the moon that sets the creatures bustling like an evening metropolis during a New Year's celebration, but the underwater activity was non-stop, or maybe it was just dinner time.
After the dive, we were all manically elated, perhaps delirious with adrenaline. Both my boyfriend and Yuko are very experienced divers (800+ and 1000+) over my measly 79 at the time of this dive. This was the first time either of them had ever spotted a shark during a night dive.
I shook my head that I could have done without it. They insisted that it was the coolest thing ever, and we all laughed.
My adrenaline was still pumping as we ate dinner long after everyone else had finished.
We bought Yuko a drink for the great dives and thrilled over each creature spotted, a dull conversation for some people who get sick of "dive talk." I think it's misunderstood as bragging (though sometimes it is bragging) when, most of the
time, it's reliving the dive and enjoying the social connection of witnessing some marvelous creature(s) with a buddy or a group. I love listening to other people share what they saw on dives, and I also love sharing what I see on special dives. It's because of such stories and photographs that I was drawn to diving in the first place.
Most guests had already called it a night. We finished our drinks and returned to our room to fall into nitrogenated sleep.
Next Stop in NE Indonesia: Tangkoko National Park: Looking for the World's Smallest Primate
There are more photos below