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Published: January 24th 2012
Bangka/Sauhong island lies just to the north east of Manado, across the banka strait from the Lembeh Strait. I went there to dive a particular spot which was as stunning as I had been told - I often ask dive guides there favourite spot and this one kept coming up, so I knew I had to get there.
Bangka isnt the easiest of islands. There are three dive resorts and liveaboards do visit. Trips from Bunaken and Lembeh and vice versa are available. Your resort will arrange pickup from the airport and take you to Pantai Surabaya (which of course is nowhere near Surabaya) where your boat whisks you away to one of those rare places still largely devoid of bloody tourists.
I spent a night on the mainland due to my Lion Air flight being the late night one getting the absolute crap scared out of me when I arrived around midnight and two great danes came bounding out to welcome me when I went for a walk along the black sand beach of manado. Luckily, they were friendly - I found out the next morning how playful great danes can be, and what a handful they are
when theyre being playful.
The gardens on the mainland resort were nothing short of stunning. I found myself wandering around for hours, taking photos and just marvelling at how lush and tropical everything was, which kind of stands to reason as this part of the world sits 1 degree from the equator making it..well..tropical. I met one Aussie guest who was a regular there and had lots of helpful tips and was working in PNG so we he was really interested in the photos I had from diving Milne Bay. The other guests - a guy who looked like a young John Cleese and spoke like Commander Schultz (VOT is ZE time
!!) and a couple who just didnt speak at all generally ignored me which was generally Ok by me.
I zipped into Manado mega mall to get some supplies like a hairbrush and ties so when I dived I saw more than the orangutan crab and orange kelp and noticed a couple of funny things. Manado has lots of Albinos. When was the last time you saw an Albino? theyre getting thin on the ground where I live nowdays, I havent seen one since I was a
kid. Just walking around the mega mall and the mikrolet trip home I counted 9 - an inordinate amount. What happened here to make that particular chromosone mutate in so many people? How long have there been albinos around here? I pondered these questions whilst queuing for beautiful baked croissants and pastries from one of the dutch pastry houses here - at least the dutch left something here of value for all the misery they caused. They couldve left good cheese too, but Manado has some beautiful pastries.
The other thing I noticed about people in Manado is walking. Walking generally is a pretty straight forward thing to do. Straight being the operative word. We generally walk because we are going from point A to point B..not the Manado folk..they meander..slowly..frequently stopping for no visible reason (perhaps to further enjoy the experience of taking another step?). They weave all in and out of eachother like a pit of vipers writhing around except without any malevolence. The people here are nice. Tourists are generally still a bit of a curiosity. They take pictures of you. Lots of them. Dont be suprised to find yourself pinned against a wall while people
snap pictures of you on their Nokias or Ipads..theyre just..curious. Friends who have lived in Indonesia for 3 years still get their picture taken. Its just with the combination of walking and picture taking, it can make going to the supermarket a three hour challenge.
I was glad to be heading for Bangka. The road out from the mainland was pot holed and in need of repair, underwater in some places and under piles of rocks someone had shoved to the side after a landslide in places. Bullock and pony drays are as common as cars and scooters still around here. We bounced along for about two hours when we finally came to a beautiful little beach and waited for the boat to Bangka. I met a lovely family who fed me lots of corn and rambutans and mangosteens and laughed a lot and took a lot of photos and found I had a desirable nose. One lovely lady said she wanted to buy a nose like mine because .. its big. I agree honey, its not far off freakishly beakish.
My arm almost falling off from all the waving goodbye we finally loaded everything up and within
Manic Botanic Shrooms
Make you head dizzzzy apparently.
minutes were on the very very beautiful island of Bangka. This isnt an island to come to if you want room service, this is an island to disconnect. You have no choice but to disconnect. Theres only generator power in the afternoons and through the night and there is no wifi. You are not getting on the internet so deal with it. There are no watermelons, so deal with it. We dont speak english, so deal with it. The villagers dont want you going and visiting them, so deal with it. Is it worth it?. YES!.
The diving was spectacular..my diving was spectacularly crappy for the most part for some reason!. There are some pretty savage currents and upswells at Bangka but the pinacles like Sauhong are spectacular. Descending down to 37m you go around some huge boulders that form a shelf and into a cave and massive wall crevass before slowly working your way up and around the pinacles which often break the surface depending on the tide. I can see why dive guides list this as one of their favourite dive sites.
Of course the pygmy seahorse lives there as does the pygmy manta ray and
a lovely crocodile fish in residence at another dive site but there are also bigger fish. Unlike Bunaken, Bangka is not a national park. It is a commercial shipping lane and it is also a commercial fishing zone. We came up from a dive and noticed a boat badly listing in the distance. The boat man must have known what was happening so he steered towards them and we suddenly found ourselves becoming Tuna fisherpeople. The bugis, a local people up here on these islands, people of the seas, were on the catch. Teenagers were in the water with the Tuna in the net and the boat was full of men hauling in the net with their hands. No machinery, no winches, fishing as it should be done because these people need to eat. This tuna isnt going to end up in cans on supermarket shelves its to feed the people of the village. What is left over will be taken to Manado market and sold.
Its not every day you end up in the middle of the Celebes sea fishing with the Bugi Men (They were the originally boogey men that you worry about under the bed -
adept sea people the spice trading ships often fell prey to an attack by the bugi men which is where the term comes from). Along with a lovely californian couple who were the only other guests at Bangka with me we pitched in..literally..our boat was pitching like theirs as they used our boat as leverage with their long poles - and helped haul the net. We were paid 4 tuna for it..of which we three guests were given a small plate of sashimi....ahm....excuse us?
I spent my days at Bangka talking with Danni and Wayne from California and decided to check out a day earlier as they were leaving and I didnt feel like being the only person with staff who spoke basically no english for another day and tried to organise transfer to Lembeh. The one staff member who spoke a little english explained when Danni with her great bahasa stepped in that they would transfer me back to manado airport and thats that. Sighh.... here we go again, the manado way of doing things.
I loved the few days on Bangka. I loved the serenity and the absolute quiet..except for the ocean which was "A bit
noisy" as Wayne remarked before cracking up laughing at himself for whining that the ocean was too loud while you were trying to sleep. We couldve been at work.....there are worse places to be than Bangka Island.
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