Three hours east of Singapore, the shape of Sulawesi started to appear. A snaking green peninsula of peaks that wound its way towards the west. Three hours in an airbus A319 was a quite a distance, but our journey was not over yet. Another thirty minutes of flying saw us descend slowly over the South China Sea. The aircraft banked sharply over some small islands, and cruised in between some disused volcanoes. The clear sea gave way to tropical forest covered hills as we sped lower. By now, there were volcanoes to our left and right. We were landing in what looked like a sparsely inhabited valley. Our Silk Air airbus crunched onto the runway, and the reverse thrust started to wind up. Louder and louder the engines screamed until the toe brakes brought us to more normal speed. This was Ram Ratalungi Airport, in North Sulawesi. I have no idea who Sam was, but by African Standards, he had a great airport. Immigration was quick, customs quicker, the taxi touts polite and even the ATM worked!
Sally had not bough her ticket with us, and so she was down the back of the plane, and we were towards the
front. Silkair is universally comfortable, so this was not really an issue. When Sally popped out, she grabbed her dive kit and we all wandered off towards our driver. We were here to dive what we thought was Gangga Island. We had never heard of Gangga before.
Indeed my last visit to Indonesia was a journey perched on the lid of a series of pick up trucks that served as buses. My bum had barely recovered. We were bundled into a Suzuki people carrier and driven past the runway and through a series of asian villages. White picket fences, dogs and churches seemed to be omnipresent. The Suzuki took us over a mountain pass and down to a dreary looking deserted jetty. The jetty was concrete and had a large wooden dive boat moored beside it. We boarded and twin 115 yamaha engines powered us along at about twelve knots to a hill in the middle of the sea. Shortly the hill got bigger and we arrived at Gangga Island.
Gangga island was the greatest surprise in my dive life. The island consisted of one cellphone tower, two Kompongs (villages) bound by a footpath, and a resort called: The
Gannga Island Resort. Ostensibly this was a family run affair, run by Hanne and Gaspare Darbol, Hanne was, in effect running this show herself. Poor old Gaspare had been dispatched to run their other hotel in Lombok, after a management crisis. (the manager was useless and left). Hanne was a dainty little lady who was mature in her years, and incredibly hospitable. She briefed us all on arrival and we went to dinner.
The secret to Gangga is simple. It is poised exactly half way between the muck dive sites of Lembeh Island and the sheer walls of Bunaken Island. Both are easily accessible, but the real secret of Gangga is the diving around the Island and in the near area. The walls and reefs of Northern Sulawesi, and Banka Island are incredible.
We joined a group of two Germans and started diving with them. Ricardo, was a dive master, and owned his own company. He was absolutely brilliant, and totally mad. The rather more sedate Heike accompanied him, but she too held a streak of naughtyness. Preconceptions about towels being thrown on sunbeds were thrown out of the window, and our table joined for all meals. We
were soon joined by Petra and Michael. Two Austrians from Jakarta. What made this friendship so much more fun, was the rich, grumpy, xenophobe banker from Vienna who sat with his princess wife on the table next door.
“We call him Mundl”. Said Michael. “people from Vienna with an attitude” Soon the two Austrians joined our table and in between dives we talked. But the diving was so good, and so consistent, that our bedtimes became earlier and earlier. The bar made no money out of us, but we always did the 3rd or 4th dive of the day.
We took a day trip to famous Bunaken Island. This is an Island of walls, and because its famous it is used by divers, the walls are dramatic, and the schools of trigger fish never left us. Ricardo, our sausage eating friend wizzed down to 40 meters, to be greeted by a shark. Sally and Cisca and I stayed above 25metres and played with an enormous turtle and watched some big eyed jacks charging in and out of the surgeons. This dive was superb, but it was a little frustrating to have so many other divers around us.
next few days, we dived with Gangga Divers all over the area. Our sites were mainly Banka Island, Gangga Island and North Sulawesi. These sites were truly world class. Having dived around the world, Gangga was up there with my best ever dives. To say that they were incredible would be absolutely true. Small walls, outcrops and diverse macro sites abounded. The walls were covered in the most beautiful soft coral, the reef fish abundant, but the most impressive dives were the outcrops of rock that poked out of the surface. Sites like Sahaung Satu were full of snapper, small sharks, nudibranches and shrimps. The soft corals would waive gently in the current.
Unfortunately Sally scooter had to leave early. Her parents were looking forward to seeing her. She had been so nicknamed, because we would hang on to her tank and take us to the best macro creatures. And all too soon, it was time to do our final dive. Hanne Darbol joined the motley group of German speakers and us. Petra and Michael would be on the Garuda flight to Jakarta. Ricardo and Heike had more time to spare. Our first dive was a wall alive with
fish, but our second, was one that we insisted on. The current raged on and we stayed on the site using every skill in our dive knowledge. We were pummeled and thrown around, but the marine life was unbelievable. Eventually, we ascended, but this was a dive to end on.
All too soon, we were making the long walk down the jetty. Ricardo came as far as Sulawesi with us, and then we were back on Silk air and Turkish Airlines. But that is a different story for a different day.
Hanne Darbol can be contacted through www.ganggaisland.com
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