Sulawesi is an Indonesian island in the centre of
this waste country. Allegedly, it should host some of, if not simply the world's best
and as a part of my personal "Save the nature" campaign, I want to document it. It is my
belief, that people feel more responsibility and awareness to nature they have a
knowledge of, and at least have seen pictures of.
THE ISLAND FACTS. [Jump to
The earliest known settlement by modern humans is dated to 30,000 BC, found in the southern part of the island, but tool dating 50,000 years back have been found near Berru. At that time, the island was forming a bridge allowing colonisation of Australia.
Sulawesi was "discovered" by the Portuguese in 1525. Then the Dutch arrived in 1605 and soon after the English. After having worked together with local warlords, the Dutch made it part of the Dutch state colony of the Netherlands East Indies in 1905. Occupied by the Japanese during World War II, and in 1949, after the Indonesian National Revolution, Sulawesi became part of the independent United States of Indonesia, which in 1950 became the Republic of Indonesia. The peace has recently been broken by Muslim-Christian violence, but peace should been agreed in 2001, although incidents have occurred the folowering years. Today, the population have passed 15,000,000, mainly Muslims, some Christians and fewer Buddhists and Hindus.
Plants and animals life is interesting due to Sulawesi straddles on the Wallace's Line (west of the island), meaning that it has a mix of both Asian and Australasian species, although most are from the Australian nature. Of the 127 mammalian species, 79 are endemic. These includes dwarf buffalo (100 centimetres high!), "horned" pigs, monkeys, 62 species of bats and the tiny tarsiers. Of the 328 bird species, 104 are endemic and new species have recently been described.
In the surrounding sea are some real rare and odd looking creatures like pygmy seahorse, mimic octopus and ghost pipefish. Further out, whales and manta rays can be seen. Waste areas are coral atolls with a wide warranty of both soft and hard corals. New species are found on most dives by specialists!
The plants are special as well. It is dominated by tropical rain forest, but some drier mountain sides can be found in the heights. I will especially be looking for the weird epiphytic ferns, which looks like something from an other planet. Besides from these, there are plenty of orchids, carnivorous- and weird indigenous species of the plant kingdom.
Indonesia's climate is definitely tropical. Neither autumn nor winter, but distinctive "dry" and "wet" seasons share the year. The East Monsoon, from June to September, brings dry weather while the West Monsoon, from December to March is moisture laden, bringing rain to the north where we will be diving. The temperatures range from 21C to 33C.
Our diving base is placed on Pulau Bunaken, a 808 hectare small island close to the northern "capital" Manado on the top of Sulawesi. A single road leads 11 kilometres through the island. The operator is Froggies Divers. It is right in the middle of the famous Bunaken National Marine Park, covering 75,265 hectare and with numerous dive sites.
Morten have paid some of our tickets by bank transfer, and that causes a problem: The code is the last four digits of the credit card. We can get the boarding card for the Singapore-Manado, but then the diving gear can't get transferred, and we have no time doing it our selves. End up getting the boarding card in the gate, right as the boarding starts. Just another example on perfect timing...
14. Flying with Singapore Airlines is a pleasure: Service, food, films - everything is way better than first class in most other companies. It is a short day and a short night, and then we are in Singapore. Three hours to fool around and find the next flight with Silk Air. It it raining and slightly cold (20C), and we decides to continue right away.
Three hour more, and we are in Sulawesi's "capital" Manado. Slightly cloudy but the perfect 30C. Spent some time in immigration, but everyone is smiling, and we feel welcome. One of the porters are holding a paper with our names, and we pile our gear on his trolley. Man! We got a lot of gear!
A representative from Froggies Divers greats us right outside. Soon we, our extensive gear and two nice Frenchmen are are stuffed into two cars, and we head fro the harbour. It is a little less than an hours drive through some lovely landscape and open city.
Here are a lot of fast going mopeds, and they seems to do better than the cars in the rather dense traffic. We reach the harbour and one of Froggies' large dive-ships. All-aboard, and we cruses out the teaming harbour. When we reaches open water, more engines are started on the back of the boat.
As we approaches Bunaken Island, the relaxation hits hard (along with many hours of awakennes. A short introduction meeting, and we get our rooms. Morten have been here before, and he have booked the on on the top, over viewing the entire bay. The island next to it reminds me of the "King-Kong_-Island".
We arrange a test-dive: I'm keen to test the gear I have selected and assembled my selves, my weight and my camera house. Morten joins to test his gear as well. As a bonus, I get my ears through the first dive, which always causes problems, and we see some interesting animals like lionfish.
The sun sets and it is dark when we get back to the beach in front of the cosy resort. The water is 30C and the visibility around twenty or twenty-five, but we was on the lover part of the sandy button. W just leave our gear at the compressor sheet, and the crew will careful wash it for us.
Time to take a shower, upload photos and write diary. I start to feel the lack of sleep, and my internal clock are still more central America-time than anything else. Dinner at half pass seven; nice buffet. Having a hard time feeling tied in the evening, and end up sitting talking with Morten and the manager Benny till pass midnight!
There are a lot of night geckos in the camp area. I can find ten around one light bulb at our porch. Great little creatures; the eat the tiny mosquitoes. Besides from those, I have not seen anything else, except from a rather large hermit crab on the sandy floor of the restaurant.
14. Even though we only have slept for little more than four hours, we wake up with the first light of the day a little passed five. There are a surprisingly large numbers of roosters in the bushes between the bamboo huts! We are living 20 meters from (and above) the beach, and the sound of the small waves have a calming effect. Breakfast is only served from half pass seven.
The bushes between the huts looks like a florist gone mad: Huge Cycas, Crytons, bananas, Hawaii flowers, Sansevierias, and other familiar plants grown in culture for their decorative appearance. All are sheltered by large trees, which might be the indigenous plantation.
We are trying to plan our diving: I find the prices rather steep, but it have to be taken into consideration: It should be the worlds best coral reef diving. Two dives a day cost 65€, additionally dives 25€ and a night dive 20€. After two days with two dives, we get a night-dive for free. After some days, I get 10% discount while Morten get 15% as an re-visitor. We will be here for twenty days, and both my inner botanist and bank account would like me to set several days off to explore the islands rich flora, and fauna while I'm at it.
It is a slightly cloudy morning, but the temperature at seven is 27C, and the humidity is high: Just my kind of weather! The sun comes out while we enjoy the breakfast. Hare are pancakes, fresh fruit, serials, eggs fried you way and toast with cheese and several sprays.
The first dive is a nine. We walk out to the boat and already here, we spot a school of time catfishes. We are divided into three groups: Jesper and Amira, the French couple and Morten and I. I have a hard time getting down, but then is is a smooth dive. The site is Fukui, a sandy slope and a small coral hill.
Plenty of corals and fish of which many are new to me. We use the air rather fast, and have to head back to the boat after 53 minutes. This should improve during the next few dives. The water have an average temperature of 29C, and even I don't get to freeze!
Here are some huge seaanemones with different clown fish, giant clams (130 cm!), parrotfish, tubefish, bluespottet stingray and - a lot of other creatures. When we are back in the boat, a huge mantaray jumps right in front of the boat. It is around 10 centimetres in diameter, and I hope we meet it again, while we are in the water.
We sail back to the resort, and have an hour to lunch. My ears are plopping in many different ways, but it usual stops after a few days. Don't know how, but I'm happy as long as it do stop. Lunch is too good, I better be careful. At half pass one, it is time for the second dive, this time to Likuan II, one of the vertical wall sites.
It is packed with corals and fishes! In a cave, we see a nurse shark, there are colourful lobsters, clown fishes, several species of nudibranches, toadfishes, puffer fish, hogfish and many other fishes that are new to me. Well over an hour, and just as we are at the boat - and I'm out of battery, we spot the huge green turtle. I have taken 200 photos on these two dives, and I'm real hard on the first look through.
Morten and I have booked a night dive, which starts at six. It is right out in the bay at Raymond's Point. We go down to fifteen metres, and are along a vertical wall with huge caves. My camera refuses to turn on, and I locate the problem: It is full with water.
Once again, I have succeeded to kill a camera on its third dive. I have to realise I can't afford to continue like this, and from now on, I just nick Morten's photos - which are great anyway. I might spot some creatures for him... I did bring two spare cameras, but they only last two days, at the statistic shows, and it is not worth it!
I can't recall what we saw at the dive, I was a bit low! Back at out cottage, I optimistically washes the salt water out the camera and take it apart. The dinner and chatting in the restaurant till late. And photo sorting, dive log and diary to real late!
15. Wake up half pass five, and assemble the now dried camera. As no surprise, it does not work: My days as underwater photographer is over! Real annoying: It is one of my few pleasures. No doubt it will take a lot of the fun out of diving in the future.
The day's first dive is at Sachiko's Point, on the outer side of the island. Twenty minutes sailing, round the eastern point, and we plunges at the wall. It is covered in soft- and hard corals, and the water is a fish-soup. Especially the blue triggerfish are plentiful swimming upstream.
And the current is a story of it selves: In some places, it passes the reef with five or even seven kilometres an hour - a bit too fast for exploring the reef. Other places, it is slightly downwards or calm, and then there are the upstream areas. Here, a real cold stream, like 20C, arises from the dept, and bring not only nutritious, but also sharks.
I am teamed up with the French couple, who are not only divemasters, but very experienced. Our guide; Jimmy are good at spotting everything from the tiniest shrimps to the sharks underneath us. Here are ghost pipe fish, nudibranches, morays, leaf scorpion fish and a wide array of colourful fishes and strange creatures in general.
After an hour - fighting with my mask, I'm done with air, and joins Jesper, Morten and Amira at the boat. I brought the empty camera box, and it is perfectly dry inside... Back for lunch at Froggies, where the rain starts to pour down. I get my broken flip-flop glued, and then out to Mandolin.
This site is located on the western side of Bunaken, and offers an other wall with some large stems, cowered with sand. I join the French, and Jimmy leads us down the wall to 23 metres dept. Here are still a full cover of corals, and in the small caves, large fish like puffers hide.
The current is real strong in some places. When I try to hold on to a dead coral, I really struggle, not only to find a dead spot on the reef, but also to maintain my grip. Some places, cold water arises from the deeps, others places, the current is against us.
We also see some fantastic black and blue nudibranches along with others, lionfish, whitetipped reefshark. I don't know how the French do, but I have to surface ten minutes before them and Jimmy again. The weather have improved, and back at Froggies, the pouch need company.
Out laundry are back, nicely ironed and with a blue ribbon around. I wish a had a basked like that at home... The "hummingbird" is back in our Hawaii flower, and the area oozes with calmness - and a few mosquitoes.
After dinner, we sit a chat in the restaurant, and retire to our cottage at nine. I steel several of Morten's dive photos and start making captures of the graphic logs.
16. Try something completely new: Eight hours of undisturbed sleep. Not bad at all! It is a fantastic morning with full sun over the bay and not a wind. Makes one grab the camera and go diving straight away - or not... I have to admit I now only spend like ten seconds seeing a new creature while I before spend ten minutes.
We start out at Mike's Point. It is on on the north-western corner of Bunaken, offering almost a amphitheatre on the real steep and rather deep wall. The top is up in the big waves, and that gives room for huge corals; ascidians. My mask is working perfectt for once, and I'm able to stay down with the others for 85 minutes.
Here are new species of nudibranches, huge Napoleon fishes, stingrays, shrimps, "things" and a wall packed with soft- and hard corals. We start on the deep part and end up in the shallow top reef. I misses my camera...
The afternoon dive is at Likuan I , in the bay. It is once again a wall. This time with seven to ten green sea turtles, most of them more than a meter in the shell. Here are plenty of corals, fish and creatures, some of which I won't even guess the kingdom! Of the more familiar, things: Nudibranches (of new species), dragon fish, plankton eaters in large schools and 100 other species of fish. We end up at a canyon with a cold current from the deep.
The third dive of the day is at Alung Banua, in the western part of the bay. It is first at quarter pass five, and it turns into a night dive real fast. At the shallow first part, we find several Mandarin fish, which are real colourful with orange rings on a dark purple background. Then some ringed pipefish, cleaner shrimps, harlequin shrimps, different craps, small dragon fish, a tiny moray and the others see two pygmy seahorses. These ten millimetre creatures was discovered in 2002.
17. It is a windy morning, and while I try to maintain my cheese toast on the plate, I anxiously watch the sea. I am the worse excuse for a Viking: Always freezing and have to hold a glass of water real calm not to get seasick! While I try to pull my selves together, I ripe Morten's camera for his diving photos.
Our first dive of the day have changes into Pangalisang, located on the eastern side of Bunaken, it is sheltered. Morten and I share a "new" guide, which remembers Jesper and Morten from they were here six years ago. Wonder why...
We go down to fifteen to twenty metres on the vertical wall. Here are not that much new, but there are a abundance of it! After an hour, we go up to five to seven meters, and this is the most beautiful reef I ever have seen! All kind of corals and a fish soup between them with the sun playing from above. Unfortunately, Morten is low on air, but I hope to get back here one day.
While we eat lunch, I spot several animals. One is a large skink, which reaches its den before I get close. Then there are some insects, among them a magnificent blue bee. A walk on the tide dried beach reveals some interesting mussels and snails.
The afternoon dive is at Tengah One, in-between Likuan II and Likuan IIl. Although the reef have been damaged in few places, the overall is great. We find a few new species of nudibranches and a real dark and narrow finned lionfish. Out on the deep water, a blacktipped reefshark passes bye while some bigfin reef squid hovers over a sandy part.
I have to steel the camera from Morten when I find a porcelain snail, significantly larger than my fisted hand. The wall have some large cracks, forming cannons five meters vide and 50 deep. On other places, large caves gives room for a swim in the dark. The top reef is a bit of a disappointment: warn down by waves.
A bit of relaxment in the late afternoon - with the PC on the lap, and then down to greet the newcomers. A Brit from Scotland and a German from Shanghai. Then Benny make a presentation on our Lembeh Tour, which starts tomorrow. We sail with Sanny - a liveraboard - up and around the northern tip of Sulawesi, and in-between Sulawesi and Lembeh. We will be six divers, two divemasters and six crew members for the five day tour. Four dives a day, in a completely different area, dominated by sand bottom with few but very popular boulders.
18. It is a real windy morning, and both the morning dive and the Lembeh Strait tour is cancelled. I lure Morten into a walk into the inner of the island, and everybody else joins in. A narrow concrete path leads in to the town. We passes nice houses in-between banana and coconut patches. Some huge bamboo and other tropical plants are scattered in-between.
Most of the gardens are real nice with lawns and colourful flowers on bushes and trees. I'm having a hard time figure which plants are indigenous and which are cultured. A few cows and a goat stands calm along the path while ducks catch flies in the grass. In the trees, epiphytic fern and orchids can be found, although they are not common.
Most people we passes greats us real friendly. Here are no cars, just mopeds, some with three wheels and a flatbed. I get some photos of the plants and insects while the skinks elutes me time after time. Due to our photo shooting, Morten and I are rather slow, and we turn back before the others, when we reaches the dive lodges and mangrove on the other side of the island.
Lunch and a bit relaxation, and we are off to Jere, right out in the bay. A relatively low wall, offering a great warranty of corals and fish. I'm along with the French and Jimmy, and we go relatively deep. Here are nudibranches,, lionfish, pipefish in different sizes, the usual suspects and as a real treat: The tiny Pygmy Seahorse. This newly discovered seahorse is only ten millimetres, and real hard to find.
We did book a night dive, but they claim it is rough and the sight will probably be too bad. All right with me, we will get diving enough the next five days, I guess. It starts to rain in the afternoon, and Amira and Jesper pops bye for a chat and a view from our porch. The temperature drops to - 28C. Thunder roles in - right on top of us - and the porch seems real cosy!
I'm warn out after the late dinner, and crashes on a dry spot of our cottage, little over eight. The palm leaf roof that looks so cosy are not as efficient as I would like it to be, when the rain really start to poor down - literary in buckets.
19. Ten hours of sleep brings me to a great morning without a wind. We are scheduled to leave right after breakfast at nine, and I sincerely hope the calm water continues all the way to the Lembeh Strait. Here, it should be calm all the time. Our stuff is packed, some in a little bag for the next five days onboard Sanny; the liveraboard.
Sanny is a 29 meter vessel, build in 2004 as a diving boat. Here are six cabins for passengers, a large saloon with a big shadowed porch on the top.
The whole back of the lover deck are flat and end few centimetres over the sea, easing the returning of divers, either from the small boat or directly from the water. Here are compressor onboard, a cook and beds: All we ask for, if the diving is good enough.
When we get free of Bunaken, the waves tend to be a bit rough, and from an odd angel, and I focus on the horizon and Sulawesi. Lunch can wait...
When we make the corner, is eases down, and we get some great views into the national park on northern Sulawesi. I'm only able to recognise some Cycas from the distance, but the dense and lush vegetation promises more interesting adventures.
Small rafts with little shelters are seen way out on the sea. Here, the fishermen's lives and catch their fish while some other comes and collect them. Not my dream position! Frigates collect their part, and terns make a meal of the smallest fishes.
At four, the Lembeh island occurs from the slight mist. A few settlements are seen on both coasts, without road access. It seems like coconut are the crop of the volcanic slopes. combined with fishing. We anchor up in a bay outside Bitung at five, but have to wait until six for the first dive. Then the creatures of the night have set the stage. We are in the southern end of the strait, and will work our way op north during the coming days.
I it s slightly falling sandy bottom, going from four to fifteen metres. The upper part covered in eel-grass while the lower part are almost bare. After we have made a return for the boat to get diving mask (won't say who forgot it - but Morten would be the one missing it the most), we plunges into the cold water - 28C. Even though the bottom are rather bare, here are a lot of animals.
Different lionfish, frogfish, angler fish, coconut octopus, the rare Ambon scorpionfish, large nudibranches, sea urchins, swimming crabs, stargazer, spiny devilfish, devil scorpionfish, neetlefish, sea anemones with clowns, false stonefish, conck Hapar articularis, filefish, flounder, worm with legs and a lot more I have no names on.
Back at the ship, we are served a delightful dinner with grilled fish and calf. Then I admire Jack's photos with his flash: They are absolutely amassing, and just like Morten, he willingly share his goodies. This way, I got some photos for this diary - and my ever failing memory. Morten's photos of the day have been affected by a lack of weight - literally.
Even though the weather is real calm, the boat is all over the place. It was designed by Christine - who had no background for it at all. It is, more or less, a giant scale of the local boats. It is way too high, and the bottom are shaped like a cigar, giving it no stability at all! And I'm the one suffering...
Cosy evening, and in the bunks at ten. The temperature have dropped to around 26C, and the waves gives me a nice lullaby.
20. Wake up early, but stay in bed. At six, there are some activity on board, and I join in. A beautiful sunrise from the ridge of Lembeh island into the bay, spiced with a jumping eagle ray. A fast cup of coffee, and we set of to the sandy bottom and coral reef next to the Sulawesi bay: Rumah Indah.
Here are first single columns and rocks, hosting a great spectre of fish, corals and creatures. Here are lionfish, puffers, sweetlips, yellow boxfish, dragon seamond, pigmy seahorse, nudibranches, clownfish, sea pen, cardinal fish, - I don't get to finish the list before we set out on the next dive.
Just a bit further in the straight, Pante Parigi is a sandy bottom with few boulders. Those few "anchor places" are real popular. Here are some current, and in some areas, the temperature drops to 26C - bit to chill for my comfort. We find - among others - many different lionfish, puffers, sweetlips, nudibranches, clownfish, cardinal fish, spearing mantras, conch, painted frogfish, stingrays in a huge school, cleaner shrimps, thin black moray, fat yellow moray, huge hermit crab and - I need my camera!
My diving computer claims I have to decompress, and that give me time to explore the five meter deep top-reef. Here, huge cussing of soft corals cover the sand bottom entirely. When I reach the surface after an hour, the rain starts softly. We swim to the big boat, and when we are onboard, the sky opens.
It is over before we finish the delicious lunch, but the sun are a bit slow. When it finally kicks in the temperature rises to 36C shortly, and not a wind to ease. The rest of the party crashes in the shadow on deck, while I do some catching up on diary and dive log. If it wasn't for the large generator, if would have been perfect! I end up doing a single "granddad nap" too.
At two, just as the sun disappears, we head for the next dive. This is next to some tiny islands where the sandy bottom are home for a vide variation of life forms. Here, in the shivering cold water (which my diving computer claims are 28C, but my body feels like 10C), different lionfish, new nudibranches, small red Warty frogfish, a huge sea pen, stonefish, false scorpionfish, ringed pipefisk, sweeplips, shortailed pipefish, puffers, goatfish, cleaner shrimps and many more have found a home.
I'm not really enjoying the last bit, due to my shivering body, and feel relived when my air are slowly running out. The French stay for extended time while the rest of us returns to Sanny for cold showers and hot drinks. While the rest sit and sort their photos - I just sit and feel sorry for my selves. Slight improvement when Julia make a chocolate-raid at a local shop.
The sun have disappeared, but we still wait until six for the night dive. Or; they do, I have frozen enough for one day and stay put at the top deck. A few raids down to the saloon for coffee and snacks, and I feel fine - at least till they returns with their stories and photos to prove it.
21. After a fast cup of coffee, we head for Nudi Fall, next to the policestation's pier. A ten meter vertical wall leads to a rather flat sandy bottom. Besides from two or three new species of nudibranches, here are not much news. I observe a beautiful praying mantra shrimp for some time, here are plenty of sea anemones with large clownfish, lionfish, a single cuttlefish and quite a few sweetlips.
A the end of the dive, we return to the wall, and the water have some real cold areas. It looks like a curtain of smoke where the different temperatures meet, and the temperature changes five degree or more in 25 centimetres. I've been in for well over an hour, and take it as my clue to get up.
Back at the mother ship, breakfast is served with eggs, toast and pancakes. I take my daily five minutes in the sun. That, and the few minutes I spent in the dingy, is enough to ensure me my nationalistic colours: Red & White. A quick nap, and it is time for the next dip.
Left of the police station, Pante Lipi is a slightly polluted sandy bottom, but here are still quite some animals in-between the rubbish. We see a bright yellow moray and a couple of greyish ones, two or tree new nudibranches, one huge and the usual suspects of lions-, crocodile-, clowns-, puffers-, cardinal-, sweeplip-, and other fishes.
At the end of the dive, we reaches a wreck of a huge wooden vessel, overgrown with soft corals and sponges. A huge crocodile fish is lying on deck while other fish are scattered around the entire wooden structure.
Back at the mother-ship, we all grab a nap, and then pull the anchor and go north to bunker water and do a dive in the area, known as Aer Prang. It was made by the Japanese during the occupation in WWll, and are still functional.
Here we find a big, flat sandy bottom, but is is completely covered in different sea anemones. A bit further out, there are fewer, but here are still a lot to look at. Some huge sea cucumbers are large enough to host colourful crabs and a new nudibranche. Two other new nudibranches are found here too, as well as some different morays and lionfish. I decide to quit after less than an hour, and save some warmth for the night dive.
Sit at the top deck to warm up until six, and then out with the dingy to a spot called Jahir. This sandy and rather barren area are home to several different squids and octopuses. We are even lucky enough to see several of the Flamboyant cuttlefish. Small but colourful! A eel , several lionfish, a devil scorpion fish, crabs including the decorated, a cow fish, different conchs, ouches, cockatoo wasp fish, flounders, spiny flathead, sea star and a lot more species of fish and creatures in general.
I end up being cold, although my diving computer claims it have been 28C. Sit under a blanket during the delightful dinner, and eventually, I get my natural heat restored, just before bedtime. We sail a bit further up north before anchoring up for the night. The television is on, and it seems like there are 90% commercials, 10% soaps.
DUE TO THE SIZE OF THE PAGE; THE DIARY CONTINUES ON PART 2