Published: October 14th 2011October 14th 2011
Spontaniety has always been a character trait that has gotten me into trouble but shown me some of the wonders the world has to offer, Which is how I ended up flying out 5 days after I decided I had an urgent and pressing need to go diving.
My students were on study break, almost all of the puppies were on their way to their new homes and I was sitting on the couch feeling grey and chained to domestic beigeness watching a national geo doco about Wakatobi. In Indonesia. Awesome! So I ran out and booked a one way ticket to Bali a few days later and thought when my partner was asleep I would organise the finer details...which proved a lot harder than I thought. For a start, my contact in Bali couldnt do any better than the dive resorts servicing Wakatobi which were reached by private chartered planes that werent leaving on the days that I had up my sleeve before I had to get back to work. Plus the cost was really quite substantial for just a 4 day getaway with the small timeframe I had. Hmm..So, trusty travelblog provided me with some suggestions and through Ali's
We saw three dugongs disappear into the mangroves here.
blog I became interested in Bunaken, which seemed pretty easy to get to from Perth. I have a degree in Geography, so I should actually check where these places are and how many kms away they are before madly googling and booking at a dive resort that seemed to be what I was after. By 3am with Giant sleeping I had booked a 4 night package at Froggies and had found a return ticket. The next morning I booked air transport between Denpassar and Manado with Lion Air which involved a 12 hour stopover in Denpassar and a late flight into Manado which meant an overnight stay at the very average Celebes Hotel.
Scuba divers are strange people. Those of us who get bitten hard by the bug are forever chasing Calypso, looking for the perfect reef, a certain fish, that dive spot that was better than the best one yet. And we will lug heavy gear ridiculous distances to find it. We will subject ourselves to flying with airlines on the banned list, hours and hours on boats of all sizes and standards, and we come home exhausted with a bag of wet gear and while stretching our aching
Dormant Volcano at Sunset as a storm moved in
backs we are looking for the next spot. I just hoped Bunakin would be worth it.
I left a very unhappy partner at home who was really quite angry that I had simply gone ahead and decided to slip out of the rat race for a few days. I found this all totally baffling as I had met him while travelling alone, and had never had anyone react with such outrage. Theres a line in the song Easy that asks..why in the world would anyone want to put chains on me, ive paid my dues, ive made it...and to have someone try to put chains on me and wait for them to be able to travel made me feel the need to go even more. So I left him at home with ten dogs and two teenagers...worse things have been done. Anyone would think I had joined a nudist cult in Venezuala and was performing ritual sacrifices on monkeys.
So, I hit the airport alone. I turned off my phone and checked out of life for a few days. Bad Bad Girlfriend!
When I finally did make it to Bunakin I hadnt slept for 26 hours, hadnt eaten
My kind of place
for 16 and was just too tired to do the 9am morning dive. I had been told by my doctor to find a flat island...another minor detail I overlooked. Being a geomorphologist I knew Sulawesi was home to the Wallacea line, an important geographic divide and highly volcanic which would suggest to even a layman that the island wouldnt be flat.
157 steps up to my bungalow in the treetops.
I finally devised a clever way of lifting the leg I had operated on and swinging it up to the next step which seemed to work even though it took more time. If anything, I think the days of diving and going up and down the hill actually was good exercise.
It was a bit like setting out on a long journey in an old car hoping that the engine would hold out for one last trip.
I probably also shouldve guessed the name Froggies would mean it was a french dive operation, which proved to be rather fun as I practiced my bad highschool french and sat with the 5 other french divers, two taiwanese, and the three staff who would have big huge conversations in french and then
My Favourite Sign
At least the departures guy gave me a smile as I left Aus
turn and ask.."Did you get any of that?" Benny the manager would ask.."Ahm, you got cheese at christmas?", yes, thats right, the Antwerp fire brigade would be given cheese at christmas.
I was quite suprised at the age of the other guests. All seasoned travel divers from a french diving club who wouldve averaged in age at 65. The language barrier worked both ways though as sometimes the lovely gents Claude and Guiseppe would come and ask me to help them understand a word they had found in an english language fish identification guide. I also speak no Bahasa, but most of the indo dive crew spoke pretty good english.
My first dive at Bunakin was at Lekuan 2. Fendy, or perhaps it was Mendy, gave the dive breifing and paired us up with guides. He smiled and pointed at me and said...
"And Katie, you're with Stupid". They erupted into roars of laughter as Supid playfully grinned and shrugged his shoulders. An expert diver with fantastic eyes for spotting critters I instantly felt at ease as we slipped below the surface. I felt all the stress of home and the trip slip away as we descended down to
about 24m and slowly glided along as the gentle current took us over the edge of the shallow surface reef and down into a world of amazing underwater spires and walls dropping off into a 2000m deep abyss. A large turtle glided past out into the blue as we descended. The marine life was amazing, schools of anthias as colorful and plentiful as papua new guinea. Exactly what I hoped it would be. What I needed it to be. Suddenly I felt alive again.
To try and describe the diving at Bunakin is like saying the grand canyon is big. Awesome. Stupendous. Relaxed. So relaxed guests are asked to limit their dive time to an hour for the convenience of other guests. All my dives were around the 70 minute mark. Night dives averaged at 64 minutes.
Night diving by lightning under a full moon is always going to be special, doing it in such a beautiful place made it something out of this world. We hovered by an octopus who eventually decided we had no intention of eating him and came out and did a spot of fishing. Frogfish plodded out of crevices, twinspot Lionfish walked busily
along the rubble, a huge red crab sat sagely in his hole looking very important as a decorator crab adorned with not only a sponge but a coral shrimp on his back scurried by. The cracks of lightning overhead flashed the scene surreally as we turned off our torches and played with the glittery bubbles from our hands while at our safety stop.
I quickly forgot time, dates everything and fell into the groove of living by dive times and meal times. I was called a different name every day before the dive but was always with Stupid..I remember drifting along at Fukui thinking..clowns (anenome fish) to the left of me, turtles to the right, here I am stuck in the middle with Stupid. If I had to be stuck anywhere with anyone, im glad it was with Supid and in Bunaken.
A new guest arrived on the third day, a large but lovely Italian woman who had acted in horror movies who would pair up with Supid and I for her first dive. Her first dive was a little problematic for her which ended up in my dive being less than an hour but we all have
to remember we were the diver who had a few problems when we were knew. I didnt mind. She was a very interesting lady and luckily multilingual who would always repeat a convo in French back to me in English. A woman in her mid 50s doing exactly what I was doing, looking for paradise and the perfect reef on her weeks holiday who had left her husband at home too.
She was one of those people who are loud and have that super exuberant joie de vrie. After coming up from her second dive she grabbed a guitar and handed it to Fendy, or perhaps it was Mendy, and demanded he play.
So I found myself in the middle of the Celebes Sea having a very loud jam with the taiwanese couple, the Italian lady and the Indo crew singing everything from Bob Marley to Concrete Blonde to Cat Stevens and the Beatles. Fendy/Mendy didnt know too many songs and changed a lot of lyrics...im sure Cat Stevens never wrote.."Look at me for I am young, and Sexy" but its a moment that will always stay in my mind. A little bit of awesome to remember.
Maarten one of the french instructors surfaces a few minutes later and burst out laughing at coming up to find "A bunch of hippies in the middle of nowhere singing on a boat" and asked what a guitar was doing on a dive boat. I kinda think all dive boats should have guitars.
Time between dives was spent eating and sleeping in perfect peace. Other than roosters crowing and bats dropping food scraps on my roof at night my little treehouse bungalow was just perfect. The island was blissfully quite except for Saturday and Sunday when daytripping folk from surrounding islands came over to check out this wonderful spot. I had to laugh at the visiting Ambon rugby team who insisted I pose for photos with each and every one of them. I laughed at the guy who punched the air and squealed at having his photo taken with sexy lady in bikini...even if I am 45 years old and was sporting cornrow plaits with beads to keep my hair out of my eyes when diving. I had had the cornrows done in Bali while waiting for my flight to Makassar and found the whole bali hair thing painful
Still trying to identify this one
and tedious. It did however keep it out of my eyes and attract a lot of fish who came to check out the shiny beads.
I was in awe of the turtle who came and chewed on them and accompanied Supid and I for about half the dive - to me, most turtles look old. If there ever was a young and playful turtle, she found my hair, complete with her collection of passengers in the shape of 5 remoras. I wasnt so keen on the titan trigger fish who decided they were a signal to attack, im not keen on trigger fish at the best of times so was glad Supid had fought many a battle with the titan of bunakin and sent him on his way with some fencing manouveres with his ting ting stick.
I seem to be attracting typhoons this year. My last day degassing on the island was supposed to be an early morning departure so I could spend the night in a better hotel, see the tarsiers which apparently were in a tree in a bungalo on Manado mainland and check out the Kila waterfalls but the weather had other ideas. I
View from my bungalow
Worth the slow climb up total serenity
didnt make it back into manado until around 6 that night when a window in the weather opened up to make the boat trip across. I shall get to see the Tarsiers one day, im pretty sure it wont be long until I will be up there again with Giant this time. Perhaps I shall check out bangka or gangga islands which are nearby Bunakin.
I have yet to buy an underwater camera and really took very few photos but I have pictures in my mind that will stay there forever.
So was it worth it? Yes, every cent, every long haul, every moment. I came home a much happier relaxed person to a partner who missed me like crazy and was just happy to have me home in time for his birthday...even if I did get in at 3am.
I have just realised my pass for diving Bunaken National Park is valid for a year. I think I may be looking out for cheap tickets and will take Giant to Bunaken but perhaps stay on a different island so I get to dive some new sites.
There are more photos below