Per an Invitation from Sea hunt: " Death Wish ", Indonesia Dive Report

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Posted by dawhale on April 27, 2003 at 06:51:15:

Death Wish

By dawhale

This is what I heard from a fellow employee at work when he heard I was going on a dive vacation to Indonesia. My wife and I had booked this trip 10 months earlier and terrioust had just bombed a nightclub in Bali and the Philippine consulate’s office in Manado our destination. The US government had just issued a travel warning not to travel to Indonesia. I got telephone calls and emails from family and friends encouraging us to reconsider our plans. I had all my camera and dive equipment serviced and emotionally was ready to make this trip when all this happened. What to do? I contacted a host of people to help me make the decision. I had heard a rumor a person I new from the Truth Aquatic dive operation in Santa Barbara was managing Kungkungan Bay Resort in Indonesia our first destination. I emailed the resort and low and behold she, Annie Crawley, in fact was managing the operation. She assured me everything was safe and encouraged us to make the trip. Turns out the timing of the Manado bombing was a coincidence and was not related to the Bali incident. It had to do with Philippine gold miners in Indonesia. The perpetrator had also been caught. We had plans to do a second week of diving with Thalassa Divers at the Santika Resort, which is a half-hour north of the city of Manado. An email to Thalassa Diver Center assured me it too was safe. I love to dive Indonesia so I had been following the political situation all year. Most of the trouble had been thousands of miles away in Jakarta. Though it is true Indonesia is the largest Muslim nation in the world our final destination, North Sulawesi, is 95% Christian. I have no problem with the Muslim world but this too had to figure into my decision to go or not. My wife and I made the decision to go.

How was this destination chosen?
I meet two gentleman, Bruce Robinson & Rod Klein on a three day Labor Day charter on the Great Escape ( Los Angeles , Ca ) in 2000. Rod is an underwater photo / video pro and Bruce shoots fantastic video. Since I am always looking for new and exotic places to dive Rod and Bruce told me about Kungkungan Bay Resort in Indonesia. I was aware of the resort because my travel agent guides groups to this location and I had read about their trips. What had prevented me from making this trip in the past was the price. For Indonesia it was pricey. In 2002 Rod contacted me and said he was going to be at the resort and do a free digital photo/video seminar. Hey that is worth something. Now the cost looks manageable. The diving is said to be muck diving, macro reduced vis, etc. I booked a second week at a resort on the West Coast of North Sulawesi because it was blue water diving. I could not imagine going all that way and diving in what I thought was going to be pea soup.

The Journey
We departed LAX on Singapore Airlines on November first 2002 and winged our way to Singapore with a short stop in Taipei, Taiwan. It had been recommended we spend a few days here to recover from jet lag. What a great place. I love to eat seafood and man have they got it. I meet a Singaporean on an Asian Diver forum more than a year ago who told me to look him up if we ever traveled through Singapore. Along with a personal tour of a city he is proud to share we were treated to a seafood diner at his favorite restaurant. I am now hooked on Chile Crab and Black Pepper Crab.

We departed Singapore on a three and a half-hour Silk Air flight over Borneo to the West Coast of North Sulawesi landing in the city of Manado. Vary nice modern airport. Except for a vary few Europeans In Singapore and Manado I noted we were the only white faces to be seen. We were meet at the airport by a representative from KBR. The resort is located in the Lembeh Strait just north of the city of Bitung on the East Coast of North Sulawesi. It is a scenic one and a half-hour drive from the airport. During or transfer to KBR the employee wanted to assure us we were safe and they would watch out for us. My wife and I appreciated his concern. He was a wealth of information and we talked all the way to the resort. We left the paved road and wound our way up a pot holed jungle road. I am beginning to wonder with all the research I had done on this trip if I had picked a decent place to spend a week. We passed a guard shack, rounded a corner and there it was. Just like the pictures on the Internet. Beautiful! Our air-conditioned van stops at the front door of the main dining pavilion and KBR employee’s start poring out to greet us. Oh I am starting to like this. We are ushered to a shaded table overlooking the Lembeh Strait. As quick as we sit down ice water and fried calamari is placed on the table. Oh this is getting good! I hear a familiar voice and our friend KBR manager Annie Crawley comes running from her office to great us. Please look at the KBR website and the pictures or videos provide. This resort is beautiful.

The Diving

The resort runs four boat dives per day. Beach diving on the house reef is possible depending on the current. And believe me when I say it can and will rip. Tanya liked the house reef so much she did it four times at 6:00 am before breakfast. I did it once and saw one of the biggest angle fish I have seen any where .The boat dives are at 8:30 am, 11:00-11:30, 2:30 PM and 6:00pm. A Mandarin fish, dusk dive, is at 5:00pm. It is possible to do five dives a day. We averaged four. KBR has one of the best camera rooms I have ever seen. Each diver has a workstation with charging outlets 220 or 110 volt. Camera wash / rinse stations are located at the dock. You service your camera, put it in a plastic basket in the rinse tank and the boatmen carry it to and from the boat. You set up your dive gear once and the rest of the week the boatmen setup and swap tanks. Your gear will also be washed and dried for your departure.

I have to admit muck diving was not what I expected. I was really making this trip so my wife would get digital photo help from the visiting photo pro Rod Klein. I had some reservations I might get bored. The diving was some of the most interesting I have ever done. It was like landing on Mars. I saw so many amazing creatures many that walked on their fins, that it would vary difficult explaining what they all looked like. You just personally have to see it to believe it. The muck is not silt like I had imagined. I would liken it more to the insulation you might have blown into your attic at home, soft and granular in texture. The visibility was anywhere from 40’ to 100’. Average was 30’-50’. Amazingly their are coral reef spots in the strait with vary good blue water wide angle photo opportunities with loads of tropicals.

The Creatures

The dive will start at the dock with a dive briefing that has been drawn on a board with structure, max depths, and length of dive and what you might see on this dive. Because of the Bali bombings the resort had only five divers and that included us. Bad for business but great for us. On our first dive we had three dive guides in the water with us. I went from video op to video op to video op non-stop for the whole dive. I swallowed alot of seawater as it is hard to keep it out of your mouth when you are smiling from ear to ear with excitement. I have had to buy a couple of new fish Id books for this part of Asia. Some of the creatures in North Sulawesi are only found here and in New Guinea. Some of the more interesting sightings included, Spanish Dancer, Snake Ells, Stargazer, Long Armed Octopus, Reef Squid, Flamboyant Cuttlefish, Broadclub Cuttlefish, Frog Fish (clown, harry, yellow, black, white), Glass Shrimp, Manta Shrimp, Smasher Manta Shrimp, Prawns, Cleaner Shrimp. I got a shot of a crab one with an upside- down jellyfish on its back and one with a Sea Urchin on its back. Cockatoo Flounder, Swimming Crabs, Pygmy Sea Horse, Ornate Ghost Pipefish, Yellow Sea Horse, Robust Ghost Pipefish, Stone fish, Scorpion fish, Leaf Fish. I can not even estimate how many Nudibranchs I saw. All I can tell you is I was there for a week and could have stayed for a month. There is that much to shoot. I must and will return to this area.

Lembeh Dive Sites

I can honestly say I did not dive a spot all week that did not offer good photo / video opportunities. I do want to share a couple that I logged as exceptional. I made three trips to the most northern dive spot called Batu Kapal. This site is a pinnacle located at the Northern opening to the Lembeh Strait. The current can really rip here but that is really the best diving as the visibility is the best. What I liked about this dive site was the large quantity of schooling fish. I like to think of it as eye candy. I love to work my way into a mass of schooling fish. They would circle me like a tornado. I saw one spot that was home to half a dozen moray eels. Another spot that had eight lion fish the size of basketballs. Butterfly fish, barracuda, triggerfish on and on and on. You get the idea. Great spot. Because of the currents I only managed one dive at Critter Hunt. Great spot for Nudibranchs. Nudibranchs are every where but this spot I felt should be dedicated to a macro lens and Nudibranchs. Batu Merau was memorable as a cleaning station. Loads of cleaner shrimp cleaning fish. Police Pier is another dive that is a must. Just watch out for the stinging Hydroids. They got me on the hand, as I was not using gloves. I believe this spot also had a large school of Cardinalfish. They were in shallow water so you can take your time to photo / video them. California Dreamin is one of the few coral reef dives in the strait. It had hard and soft corals with loads of schooling fish. Great wide angle spot. I might add that we did not miss a night dive all week because they were so darn good. I am partial to Cephalopods. I had never seen reef squid before and I wanted to see and video them. As it turns out they are not that easy to video. As you may know they change color. When they are dark my video looks pretty good but when they turned white my lights would blow them out. Hey it was a lot more fun then being a road warrior on the freeway in Los Angeles. I got some great footage of a red colored octopus I have not yet identified.

Ouch !

I am more adventure some then my wife. I had been invited to take a tour of the central market in the city of Bitung and Tanya said she preferred not to go. It is about seven or eight miles south of the resort. The plan was to go early before breakfast and the first dive of the day. I wish I could remember the name of my friend who worked the night shift at KBR and got me coffee every morning, as he was to be my guide. About 6:30 am the resort made a boat available to transport me into town. Off we went. When we got to town we landed where all the fishing boats sell their fish. I got some video and we caught a taxi to the central market. This is a vary interesting place. You need to understand vary few people have a refrigerator so food is purchased daily. Everything you can imagine was being sold. There was a lot of raw meat on the tables and I asked my guide what it was and I thought he said duck. I thought to my self, as I looked at a hindquarter that is one big duck. As we ventured around the market I saw more of this product and a man with a machete in one hand and a dead dog in the other. I then realized my guide had said DOG not duck. I got it on video but have not decided weather I will include it in my final vacation tape. The market was vary colorful and most of the people friendly. As I was taking it all in I walked into someone sitting on a motor cycle with no muffler guard. I burned my leg some thing good. I tried to play it off like it was no big deal but it stung like heck. As we continued to walk I did hear some one holler Osama Bin Lauden. No I did not think it was funny. At this point with my leg burning and the unwelcome comment I felt it was time to head back to the resort. I did my best to not be a baby about it but it was a nasty burn. I now had an open wound one-inch by three inches. I paid for a dive vacation and I was going to tough it out as long as I could. I expected it would become infected and I would end up in a hospital in Singapore for a few weeks. Believe me when I tell you it was hell putting on and taking off my wet suit. The suit was like sandpaper on the wound. At the end of the day I would scrub it with soap and pore alcohol on it. A doctor from the US showed up as a diver at the resort and looked at my burn and thought I was doing ok so I stopped worrying about it.

The Resort

I admit to being tight fisted when it comes to spending my vacation money. I want the best deal and value for my hard-earned cash. We can only afford to make a trip like this once every two or three years. As pricey as KBR was I would go back in a heartbeat. The rooms are beautiful and well maintained. When we returned to our room after dinner our bed would be turned down with a mint on the pillow. You order your food off a menu. It is all you can eat. Food was vary good. I meant to get a photo of the exotic fruit we would get at breakfast and never did. The dive staff was friendly and experts at finding the most exotic creatures you will ever see in your life. When you climb back on the dive boat at the end of a dive you are handed a large towel to dry off with, a glass of fresh water and fresh fruit as a snack. The main dining room is a beautiful two-story building. Up stairs is where the TV is located. I am an early riser. At 4:00 am I would preview my video from the day before while drinking coffee. There is someone in the building all night if you require any thing. I Like getting up early. I am usually alone drinking coffee and watching the sunrise. I love it! It was not unusual to hear the resort staff singing. I love this part of the world and for the most part the people who live there. It is true there is significant poverty but they are a happy, hard working people quick with a smile. We were made to feel welcome and asked when we would return. We had such a great time we did not want to leave but that day came and it was time to move on. Our van arrived, our bags loaded and about ten employees came out to sing us a farewell song. I looked at my wife and she was tearing up. I was struggling myself. You know it’s a macho thing. When they finished their song I hugged them all. It was a fairytale week made possible by all their hard work.

Santika Resort

KBR transported us to Santika Resort for six days, five nights and four more dive days. Wow what a beautiful resort. Air-conditioned rooms, two restaurants, TV, swimming pool. This resort also was suffering the results of the Bali bombings. The resort has 173 rooms and 28 cottages. There were maybe 25 guests there. We ran into one other American here. The rest were from Japan, UK and Germany. The resort upgraded us to a cottage at no extra cost. Our cottage was vary nice with a beautiful view of a volcano just offshore. Made for some beautiful sunsets. Food was vary good. Rooms were clean and the resort staff eager to help.

Thalassa Divers

By the time I got to Santika Resort I was having trouble walking as my foot was swelling on me making it uncomfortable to walk on. Because of the swelling I thought maybe I had twisted my ankle some how. When I walked into the Thalassa dive shop the manager Simone saw my burn and asked if she could help. I told her what had happened and she started me on antibiotics and asked me to clean the burn and return to the dive shop where she applied a waterproof bandage. At her suggestion I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening with my foot elevated with ice bags on it. The next day I was good to go. The dive operation is well organized and has vary stable, large and comfortable wooded dive boats. After carrying all our dive gear to the dive shop it is cataloged and stored in a nap sack that will show up on your assigned dive boat. Our dive destination for the first day was the island of Bunaken. I would like to preface my next sentence by saying we had just come from what I would honestly consider some of the best diving (Lembeh Strait) my wife and I have ever done. The diving at Bunaken was a major let down. I do not like wall diving. Bunaken is mostly walls. Lembeh was the dry side of the country and Manado is the rainy side and it is the rainy season so the vis sucked. We did three dives and returned to the dock. Remember I do my homework before I make any trip and it was recommended to me to make at least one-day trip to an island call Bangka. I talked to the dive shop and was told the Bangka Island trip could be done for $15 per person extra with a four-person minimum. This island group is an hour north east of the resort. The surcharge is for fuel. I figured because Bangka was further offshore we would have a better opportunity for better visibility. I agreed to the offer. The next day we had four divers on a great aluminum twin out board dive boat. Bangka is slopes, pinnacles and current. We did three vary memorable dives here. This area is loaded with soft corals and they were feeding when we arrived. We had a professional underwater photo pro with this day who has been to Figi many times and told me their was more soft coral on the Northern tip of Bangka then she had ever seen in Figi. We loved it. We paid the extra for the next two days and dove all round Bangka. The third day I paid the extra for the four-person minimum and Tanya & I were the only divers on this trip. It does not get any better that that .We swam in schools of yellowstripe snappers, giant KingFish, and the biggest Humphead Parrots I have ever seen. May be five feet long. Big 3’ Neapolitan Wrasse ,Pinnate Batfish, schooled by Rainbow Runners, schooling banner fish, loads of butterfly fish and White tip reef sharks under table coral . There were many Triggerfish I have yet to ID that I got on video. Thalassa will give you a dive log when you are ready to leave that will give you date, dive times, location, depth and date. They really do a nice job. I would like to return to this resort again in the dry season and try Bunaken Island again. I have to do Bangka Island again also.

We enjoyed our trip so much we are saving for a return trip in 2004. We would like to stay for a month. Yes it is that good. I hope the world situation will permit it. We did 43 dives and left knowing there was loads more to see and capture on tape. I have 10 hours of video I am currently editing from this trip. I may have to break it up into two or three fifteen to twenty-minute videos. Diving Indonesia can be a great value. I am providing you with some links you may enjoy looking at if you think you might like to try this part of the world some day. I highly recommend Island Dreams Tours and Travel out of Texas as they specialize in this part of the word. We made a group escorted trip with the owner Ken Knezick in 1999 to Sipadan Island in Malaysia. Ken was a real pleasure to travel with. This is the way to go if you do not have the courage to strike out on your own.

Island Dreams Tours and Travel .

This is a great site to research the Lembeh Strait .

This link is for the Bunaken Island & Bangka Island area Manado

Rod Klein uw photo/video pro .

Kungkungan Bay Resort Indonesia

Thalassa Dive Center .

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