Heart & Brain Underwater

North Sulawesi

Return to Lembeh – North Sulawesi, 26 – 31 Dec 2012

Lembeh Resort

Lembeh Resort

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Lembeh Resort

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Second time to the luxurious Lembeh Resort, also booked through critters@lembeh. We were arranged adjourning garden rooms, which were very conveniently near the restaurant. 🙂 SL took her advanced open water with patient Lauren, it was a good time to tune up her buoyancy and dive confidence.

Fandy was our guide for most of our dives there. It was good to see that he had gained much experience since our last trip to Buyat and still very enthusiastic about his job. 🙂 The dive guides will record all the critters we saw during the dive on the dive slate, guests can conveniently take a photo of the dive slate. 🙂 At check-out, the dive centre will prepare a list of the dive sites that we had visited.

After being transferred from Bangka, it was in the mid afternoon, so we went for a check-out dive at the house reef. Saw anemone shrimp, pipefish, signal goby, pinnate batfish, coral crab and nudibranch.

The sweet LR staffs brought a surprise birthday cake to our room for T’s bday!

27 Dec 12

Nudi Retreat 2 – strong current. Whip coral shrimp, pygmy seahorse, octopus and nudibranch. TK3 – crab with fire urchin, devil scorpionfish, stonefish, a pregnant seahorse, mantis shrimp, baby filefish, figered dragonet, stargazer snake eel, emperor shrimp hitching a ride on the nudibranch and box crab. Aer Prang 2 – coconut octopus, slender pipefish, black saddle snake eel, orangutan  crab, zebra batfish, cuttlefish, baby sweetlips, nudibranch, commensal shrimp. Dusk dive – Mandarin dive – mandarin fishes hiding amongst broken staghorn corals – only 1 pair mated, flatworm, dwarf cuttlefish.

Emperor shrimp hitching a ride

Emperor shrimp hitching a ride

28 Dec 2012

Tanjung Kubur – Porcelain crab, robust ghostpipefish, zebra batfish, napoleon snake eel, juvenile barramundi cod, juvenile bi-color parrotfish, zebra oyster, nudibranch, BLUE RING Octopus! Critter Hunt – scorpionfish, jawfish, velvet ghostpipefish, moray eel, blue ribbon eel, cuttefish, cowfish, pygmy seahorse, moray eel, pinnate batfish, solar powered nudibranch (spotted by me!), nudibranch, mantis shrimp with eggs! (finally!). Pintu Colada 2 – scorpionfish, blue spotted stingray, juvenile barramundi cod, banded pipefish, razorfish, seamoth, baby filefish, black ribbon eel, peacock mantis shrimp, pale chin moray eel, snow flake moray eel. Night dive –  Jahir 1 – carpet sole, cuttlefish, scorpionfish, blue spotted stingray, squid, painted frogfish, fireworm, flounder, cockatoo waspfish, robust ghost pipefish, spanish dancer, longhorn cowfish, moon head sea slug.

Blue Ring Octopus - BRO

Blue Ring Octopus – BRO

29 Dec 2012

Hairball 2 – Fingered dragonet, napoleon snake eel, orangutan crab, star grazer snake eel, flounder, crinoid crab, devil scorpionfish, hairy frogfish, scorpionfish, warty frogfish, peacock mantis shrimp, cockatoo waspfish, cowfish, nudibranch. Makawide 2 – banded tozeuma shrimp (1st time!), ornate ghostpipefish, fimbriated moray eel, thorny seahorse, orangutan crab, painted frogfish, spiny squat lobster, nudibranch, harlequinn sweetlips. House Reef –  double ended pipefish, pipefish, barramundi cod, LEMBEH SEA DRAGON (!!!), spiny squat lobster, unicornfish, harlequinn sweetlips.

Spot the LEMBEH SEADRAGON!

Spot the LEMBEH SEADRAGON!

30 Dec 2012 – Guide: Ramly

Pulau Abadi (a working harbour) – flambouyant cuttlefish eggs, baby flambouyant cuttlefish, sea spider, peacock mantis shrimp, nudibranch. Aer Bajo 3 – 3 tiger shrimps! A pair of ambon scorpionfishs, emperor shrimp, fingered dragonet, crab on fire urchin.

More photos here

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Tiger Shrimps!

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2010 Nov 12th to 22nd – Buyat and Lembeh

This dive trip started to take shape shortly after we (M, J, T & me) met Danny, Angelique & their lovely kids at Gorontalo in late 2009/early 2010… They spoke enthusiastically about a new dive area called Buyat Bay, North Sulawesi, just 1.5 to 2hours south of Lembeh (by boat). Critters@BuyatBuyat Bay Buyat Bay (Page 18 has a map of the dive sites of the surrounding area). New places are music to our adventurous souls. T & I wanted to include Lembeh into our itinerary & A was able to join us.  The history of this area is quite intriguing – it used to be a gold mining area, so rumours of pollution & such kept “plunders of the seas” away & left the area pristine. Alex Mustard said that it has 100% coral coverage! Dive Photo Guide – Buyat Bay & here is another by the Freuds for WWF Coral Triangle Photo Expedition. WWF Coral Triangle Buyat Bay There is a very nice new video by the Critters team (dated May 2011).

Danny & his critters@buyat & critters@lembeh teams took care of all the logistics of this trip & even managed to get Nitrox installed at Buyat Bay. We just had to get our Silkair tickets to Manado & luckily A, T & I have enough Krismiles to claim our tickets. M & J came into Sg 2 nites before our flight out on Friday morning, we had a nice dinner on Thursday.

The Silkair flight was customary full on the 12th Nov, Friday. There were many divers from other countries & many with large amount of equipments. The airline have updated the upholstery of the plane to a more refreshing beige colour. We had a nice conversation with an Filippino man from Dumaguete who was working for a mining company & he was en-route to Ternate. We reached Manado at 1:05pm as scheduled, after a 3hrs 30mins flight… There was a long queue at the Immigration Counter, Manado had also switched to finger-printing its travellers but only 1 of the machines was working! Boy, we were glad to see Angelique & team, Danny was on the flight out to DEMA. We left the airport 2+pm & 2 Toyota SUVs sent us to Buyat Bay, we stopped en-route for some local peanuts (at M’s request & Danny’s recommendation) in the picturesque highlands, the peanuts were great – especially the white ones  (putih). The scenery was quite nice but after an hour or 2, the cool highland air lulled me to sleep & I was pretty shocked that it was almost dark when I woke! Thought it was like our Gorontalo epic-journey all over again! Nay, it was just that it got dark pretty early, the drive was just slightly more than 3hrs.

Jerry & Fandi introduced themselves as our guides, actually these 2 hardworking young men were much more, they were also our hosts (they took care of many little things) cum translators, they had their meals with us & took us for village visit.  The crew at Buyat were all super nice and as we were there for a week 12-19 Nov, we had time to build rapport with them and we were pretty happy with the food – mixed of western & Indonesia dishes, guessed the kitchen crew had a lot of practise when they were the mining company’s staff. The compounds & the surrounding scenery of the bay, the hills, is beautiful, very green, lush, clean & peaceful. It was a real pity that we were too lazy to explore the nearby villages.

Good people of Buyat Bay

Our bungalow at Buyat

The quiet street in front of the compound

Buyat Bay – Lakban compound

Bay at Dusk

Buyat Bay at Dusk

We had 19 dives from the Buyat base, 17 were at unique dive sites. The dives are about an hour, maximum depth 25m. This area is not very deep & doesn’t have dramatic steep walls. The dive boat (captained by the affable Mr Benya) was secured at the Lakban Harbor – Rotatotok Bay, as the guards could get a good view from across the road. Our dive boat was considered quite big around that area, we didn’t encounter big boats during our stay, there were only small local boats (sampan) with small engines or even non-engined… As the days started quite early & got dark quite early, we started our dives day typically at 7:30am for a hearty breakfast & met at the dive boat at 8:30am, to get around the picturesque  cape will take 10-15mins. Usually we had 2 dives before heading back for lunch and the afternoon or night dives were at the nearby area (less than 20mins).

The picturesque Cape

13 Nov –  Dive 1 @ Pulau Racun aka Poison Island – wide-angle locale, the arch is the main attraction, lots of staghorn corals, we saw a friendly broadclub cuttlefish. Dive 2 @ St (Site) 2, also wide-angle, lots of pristine hard corals, the table corals were particularly impressive, we saw a large crocodilefish. Dive 3 @ Two Rocks – white-sand “muck” site, Terence spotted a large black pipefish, we encountered a Napoleon Snake-eel (1st for me), a marbled Snake-eel, stingray etc.

14 Nov – Dive 4 @ Poison Island – the group tried to locate my missing macro lens, which I dropped yesterday. Dive 5 @ St (Site) 2, we saw a school of beautiful Razorfish. Dive 6 (Night Dive) @ Napo Basaan – white-sand “muck” site, M spotted an interesting hydroid decorator crab, it had a hydroid-like  “horn”, also saw a small cuttlefish & a scorpionfish.

15 Nov – Dive 7 @ Fifty-fifty – “proper” “grey” sand muck site, Fandi spotted a tiny 1cm painted frogfish, a Napoleon Snake Eel, a pair of Robust Ghost Pipefish, a juvenile circular Batfish, we also saw a mantis-shrimp getting into a fight with a small octopus (Octopus vs Man vs Mantis Shrimp).  Dive 8 @ Fifty-fifty – I spotted a small octopus hiding in a shell, Fandi spotted a tiny 1cm squid, we saw a HUGE stingray (at least 1.5m in diameter) stirring up the sand & creating an impressive “sand-storm”. Dive 9 – The End, sloping reef, not very impressive but any dive was better than no dive… 😉

16 Nov – Dive 10 @ Pulau Tulang (Bone Island) – wide-angle haven, massive hard corals, the broccoli-like, brain-like huge coral boulder was especially impressive & Alex Mustard has a beautiful photo of it in A.Mustard Buyat Gallery 09 (#12), another interest was that huge school of small orange fish hiding in a gigantic sponge & 2 leaf scorpionfish are also residents in the sponge & I spotted a reef octopus. During the surface interval, we “visited” the floating fish farm & saw the Biggest fish of this trip in the nets – lots of coral groupers & even blue-fin jacks & batfish! Dive 11 @ Tanjung Merah Muda, hard corals & whip corals make this site quite interesting. Dive 12 (Night Dive) @ Batu Dua – hard corals & coral rubbles, T spotted a beautiful Pipefish, I spotted a bright red Reptilian Snake-eel & we also saw a cute shrimp and a white juvenile Devil Scorpionfish.

The Desa Tumbak kids

Ujung Tumbak – site drawing by Fandi

17 Nov – Day trip to further sites. Dive 13 @ King Fisher – very beautiful site soft corals of various colours adorning the boulders, strong surge, schools of anthias & other reef fishes, we spotted several peacock mantis shrimps. Dive 14 @ Pay Dirt – another beautiful soft coral site, also lots of colourful coral reef fishes. A spotted a banded sea-snake here. These 2 sites reminded me of Maldives – so many fish (although fish here were small), such as red-tooth triggerfish, butterfly fish etc…

After lunch on board, we went into a seaside village – Desa Tumbak, we passed by a primary & a secondary school & chanced upon the villagers’ Haji gathering, where the mutton/beef was being distributed. The village kids were shy at first but after awhile, a group of them started to follow us around & posing for photos. Dive 15 @ Ujung Tumbak – a totally new dive site, we were the first to explore it! Black sand, with some patches of corals & a large area of staghorn corals .  Jerry managed to spot a fat nudibranch Ceratosoma miamirana while snorkelling (as he had been unwell from flu) & free-dived down to tap me, as I was trying to capture a photo of the scopionfish yawning, imagine my shock when I turned round to find nobody, it was a relief when I saw him when I finally looked up! We had a good dive – encountered an elegant Crinoid Squat Lobster, an Orange-edged Sap Sucking Sea Slug, nudibranchs  like the Yellow Tipped Phyllodesmium (our 1st!), flabellina & Reticulated Chromodoris, a school of razorfish & a tasselled Scorpionfish among other critters.

18 Nov – Dive 16 at Kume’eke (30 Goat Slope) – very nice hard coral site with some leather corals & whip corals, there was a banded sea snake hunting & beautiful nudibranches – a Blue Dragon, 2 Yellow Tipped Phyllodesmium (spotted by M!), 2 Tryon’s Risbecia Nudibranch. Dive 17 @ Tanjung Buyat – visibility was poor with some current but we had a wonderful dive. There were 8 yellow pygmy seahorses on a seafan (yellow of course)! We also saw a very feisty jawfish & nudibranchs like Baba’s Phyllidia & 2 Loch’s Chromodoris. Dive 18 @ Mimic’s Point – it was only 5mins boat ride away, dark silty bottom, muck dive. Very interesting dive, we saw a fat & a thin emperor shrimps, a black thorny seahorse, a very cute snake blenny, 2 sea snakes (maybe it was the same one), lionfish, many anemones with their resident anemonefish & some with porcelain crabs & cleaner shrimps & there were a school of colourful bannerfish hiding amongst a patch of sea-grass. After our dive, we finally decided to find strength to climb up the hill to the lookout area, the view of the sunset was beautiful but must bring insect repellent!

19 Nov is the day we headed to Lembeh. Dive 19 – Napo Gorango, still in the Ratatotok-Buyat vicinity. Good for wide-angle, coral bommies, large sponges and a huge area of cabbage corals, encountered a giant moray & a Tryon’s Risbecia nudibranch. Then the boat sailed for another 1 hour north (towards Lembeh Straits) to Pantai Kora-kora (Turtle Beach) where we had 20th dive.  It was a shallow dive – white sandy area + coral bommies & some red-tooth triggerfish, we saw a blue-spotted stingray, a few common nudibranchs like the b&w Pustulose Phyllidiella, Reticulated Chromodoris (Chromodoris reticulata) , Chromodoris kuniei & Chromodoris annae & I spotted many spotted crabs in the cauliflower corals. We had lunch on board & reached Lembeh Straits in 30mins. We were surprised to see so many huge cargo ships in the straits, the straits was buzzing with activities, definitely busier than 2007.

Phyllodesmium rudmani @ Air Bajos3

View from Lembeh resort room

We were met by Mr Deky – operational mgr of the gorgeous Lembeh Resort & the front office mgr who showed us to the rooms 3A & 3B. We were very impressed with the huge & beautiful rooms (more like  suites), in the LR website Lembeh Resort Accommodation, they are referred to as Cabins, but cabins remind me of camps. Our “suites” are just next to each other, each has large verandah with paranormal view of the Lembeh Straits, sitting room, a huge bedroom & a toilet with 2 shower areas – indoor & outdoor. Even the well-heeled M & J said that that was the most beautiful room they had stayed at…

By 3:00pm, we had gotten ready for our 1st dive in the straits & our last dive with Fandi for the trip – he was due for a well-deserved short break. Dive 21 @ Air Bajos 3, muck diving – black sand, limited viz but the critters! Just naming the more interesting ones like the Showy Headshield Slug (Philinopsis cyanea), those 2 orangutan decorator crabs (1 yellow & 1 orange), the Star-gazer Snake-Eel (the real star-gazer continued to elude me), 2 Multi-pustuled Mexichromis nudibranchs & the star find was a beautiful Rudman’s Phyllodesmium nudibranch – Phyllodesmium rudmani, which looks like the Xenia Soft-coral. Dive 22 @ Serena Besar was our 1st night dive at Lembeh! Just realised that we didn’t do any in 2007! 😦 Anyway, it was a wonderful dive – Day Octopus, a bright red, evil-looking Spiny Devilfish, a delicate looking yellow Thorny Seahorse, a reddish Cockatoo Waspfish, a very small & cute bob-tail squid, a beautiful Harlequinn Swimming Crab, a decorator crab so burdened that it was difficult to see it, a large Tiger Mantis Shrimp & a Jebb’s Flatworm – Pseudoceros jebborum. The wonderful day was completed with an excellent gourmet dinner…

Hairy Frogfish @ TK1

20 Nov Dive 23 @ ROJOS – 2 beautiful Emperor Shrimps feasting near the anus of a fat sea cucumber, 2 Cockatoo Waspfish, a female Broadclub Cuttlefish, a green Robust Ghost Pipefish (1st green coloured one for us), a most beautiful Yamasu’s Cuthona nudibranch Cuthona yamasui (also a 1st), near a Multi-pustuled Mexichromis, then a majestic Ambon Scorpionfish,  a beautiful Serpent Pteraeolidia Pteraeolidia ianthina, then another 2 beautiful

Wunderpus (the bigger one)

Emperor Shrimps on a slim sea cucumber.

Dive 24 @ TK 1 – a strangely beautiful Hairy Frogfish “fishing” with its lure, a Pipefish, a Flasher Scorpionfish, then the much prized find – a small & stunning Wunderpus! (it was worth the 3 trips to Lembeh!), a beautiful Serpent Pteraeolidia Pteraeolidia ianthina & an white-eyed moray “rooming” with 3 other morays of different species. Dive 25 @ Jahir 1 – an Orange & Black Dragonet, a red Frogfish, an orange Flasher Devilfish, a Black-finned Snake-eel, a Black Scorpionfish, a fuchsia Spiny Devilfish, a  dark brown Cockatoo Waspfish, a crutch of Flamboyant Cuttlefish eggs in a coconut shell, then another Wunderpus! (bigger than the last one, the body was fist-sized), 2 beautiful Purple-Edged Ceratosoma nudibranchs. T & I were the only ones doing the mandarinfish dusk dive @ Pintu Colada, we saw many mandarinfishes & a few mating encounters, a network pipefish & I spotted a beautiful golden mantis shrimp.

Pinnate Spadefish

Flamboyant Cuttlefish

21 Nov was our last day of diving, A & T weren’t feeling well so they skipped the dive. Dive 25 @ Maka Wide 2 was a little “dramatic”.  Another guest on the boat had a small “panic” attack & M had to abort the dive after abt 5mins, when he found some water in the casing of new his u/w camera! So effectively, Andi only had to guide me. We had a wonderful dive at this less mucky site – a Spiny Devilfish, a Giant Hypselodoris Nudibranch (I guess in beautiful, not size), a pipefish, a school of juvenile catfish, a black ribbon eel, a beautiful snowflake moray eel, a mantis shrimp, a Reticulated Chromodoris nudibranch, many schools of cardinalfish (trying to evict the resident anemonefish) & my own star find – a beautiful pinnate spadefish/batfish! Dive 26 @ ROJOS was our last dive for this trip & T recovered enough to join & M was there without his camera… We saw a black Thorny Seahorse, 2 Cockatoo Waspfish, an Elegant Crinoid Squat Lobster, a Pegasus Seamoth, an Ambon Scorpionfish, T spotted a Black-Finned Snake Eel with shrimps, a Broadclub Cuttlefish, a green Robust Ghost Pipefish, 2 Emperor Shrimps & a Flamboyant Cuttlefish! Was really delighted to see that Flamboyant Cuttlefish feeding, such a beautiful critter! & an excellent closure to our dive trip!

We spent the morning of 22 Nov doing last minute packing, then payment at the dive centre (with the friendly Jules & Sharon) & bidding farewell to M & J, who proceeded to Bangka (where they reported 4 flamboyant cuttlefish on 1 dive!) & the excellent dive guides – Andi, Oxin, Joni, Fandi & Jerry & Hergen (mgr). What an incredible trip, we had a marvellous time! 😀 Many thanks to all the staff of critters@ buyat, critters@lembeh & Lembeh Resort & especially Danny!

Slept most of the way from the Police Pier to Manado airport. :p Met S, a fellow Scubaboarder on the flight, he went to Raja Ampat after Buyat Bay… A & T had a bad case of stomach flu & I came down with flu 1 day after & didn’t get to meet up with S…  😦

More photos can be viewed here. Facebook Album


2009 Dec 26th to 2010 Jan 9th – Manado, Gorontalo

We started planning our trip in Apr, confirmed everything by June & the destination was Christmas Island! In mid Nov, 1 mth to our trip, AIOTA (the airline) restructured, all our plans were derailed. We started scrabbling to find other suitable destinations & short-listed a few (Maldives – resorts too expensive during holiday period, Philippines – might be too crowded) & in the end, thanks to Bee & Bok’s recommendation, we decided on Gorontalo but since 2wks at Gorontalo seemed a little excessive, we decided to spend a few days in Manado too. Looked like we were having streak of bad luck with airlines – Silkair also gave us a minor problem…

Anyway all looking good, with Michael & Janet arriving in S’pore around mid-night of 23rd Dec, we did some sight-seeing (including a nice visit to the Botanical Garden & chilli crab dinner) & then flew to Manado on 26th Dec on Silkair (S$412). We stayed a night at the Ritzy Hotel (Rp660k per room, inc b/f), which also arranged for the transfer (Rp160k). The hotel was conveniently located “down-town”, with a nice pool which offered wonderful view of Manado Tua and the breakfast was quite good!

Gorontal & Manado, Sulawesi, Indonesia
Gorontal & Manado, Sulawesi, Indonesia
Gorontalo
Gorontalo

Gorontalo

Safari Tours & Travel picked us from Ritzy at abt 7am & we began the scenic drive through North Sulawesi to Gorontalo, on its very cute safari bus (with zebra stripes!). It was supposed to be a 8-9hrs transfer but in the end, it took more than 11hrs. The transfer was US$300. The good news is, Wings (Lion Air) started a daily 40mins flight from Manado to Gorontalo, late January 2010!!!

Our accommodation at Gorontalo was arranged by the talented manager of Miguel’s Diving – Ranjte Allen, the author of Gorontalo: Hidden Paradise (this beautiful book, photographed by William Tan, Stephan Wong & Takako Uno, could be bought from Miguel’s Diving & could also be found in NLB!). Hotel Oasis (the locals pronounce it as Oh-Ah-Sis) was our home for the next few days (26 Dec to 4 Jan), the rooms were comfortable & functional, with tv, a/c & hot shower. Insect repellent was essential & so was a pair of ear-plugs, if you don’t need to wake up for prayers at 4:30am. The multi-talented hotel owner – Oni, prepared our breakfast – Chinese-styled fried noodles/ rice/ vermicelli, which was really good & he also doubled as driver. We would leave the hotel at abt 7:30am & it was a 10mins drive thru the town, to the dive shop at the riverside, to board the boat. There were days when the tide was low & we had to board at the harbour, or at the beach. I preferred boarding the dive boat at the beach because it seemed much like a “proper” dive holiday! Furthermore, the beach was really quite nice. The 1st dive would be around 8:30+am, 2nd dive abt 10:30am, then lunch, after that, 3rd dive at abt 1:15pm, we would return to the Oasis abt 3:30pm.

I was a little surprised that our dive holiday was not on the beach (please refer to the map). On Miguel’s Diving website, it stated that it would take abt 10mins to get to the boat but I thought that we would be near the seaside and didn’t envisualise Gorontalo to be a such a busy town. Although it didn’t have any high-rise buildings yet, 2-storey shop-houses lined each side of the all the streets and it even had a small, air-conditioned “mall” of sorts, which housed a supermarket & games arcade. Other than mosques, there were churches and under-construction – a large Confucius Taoist temple and also a Buddhist Temple.

This was our package from Miguel’s Diving – 8 nights @ Gorontalo Oasis Hotel (air-conditioned room & breakfast), 20 dives (tanks, weights, bottled water, transport), Lunch, No airport transfers in Gorontalo, USD620 per diver twin/double share including tax, Non-diver rate (on the boat) : USD190 twin/double share including tax. Jian’s 7 nights & 17 dives pkg was USD550. Lunch was cooked by the wife of the boat captain, it was rice with vegetables & fish, and home-made chilli & fruits, way better than the ones we had at Sipadan (she had vested interest to provide a good lunch Wink )… The guide Yunis & the boat & dive-shop crew took care of setting up the gear & washing it after diving, very nice!

Diving at Gorontalo was phenomenal! The pristine reefs were very beautiful & the muck sites were great! Lots of life everywhere, we saw pods of Risso dolphins on our way to dive sites on 2 days. A fellow S’porean diver – Jovin scooped out some sea-weed/sea grapes & managed to shook a pipe-horse out! Ranjte & Eunis were expert spotters, emperor shrimps, orangutan crabs, crinoid shrimps, spiky soft coral crab etc etc… & diving with Ranjte was a good learning experience, he was always pointing things out & writing the names on his dive slate. My favourite sites were Jinn Caves Loop and Sand Castle. Jinn Caves Loop had a mysterious feel to it & the reefscape was more special than the “usual” slopes/ walls combo, read the site description here. We descended from the Cove and came to the beautiful “gate”, which was encrusted with colourful corals & feather stars, then we turned left & explored the beautiful reef, upon return to the Cove, Ranjte found a pair of whip gobies on the white whip coral. This photogenic & brave cuttlefish made this dive extra special, she was hunting at the ledge & was totally cool with me. She gave me my favorite photo of the trip. (Glad that I stopped eating cuttlefish awhile bk! Wink)

Sand Castle was an amazing muck site. The fine sand bottom required good buoyancy control. We had never seen so many anemone fishes sharing each anemone, with several porcelain crabs & several shrimps! Plus, it was the egg brooding season of anemone fish! Then there were harlequin ghost pipefishes, robust ghost pipefishes, nudibranches, cockatoo waspfish, Ambon scorpionfish, cowfish etc etc… We did 3 dives there but I could have done many more more here! Another muck site: Mistic Point was great too! “Pikaccu”, Egretta & Flabellina nudibranches, robust ghost pipefish, emperor shrimps on large sea cucumbers!

Other reef sites that we dived at: Sand Bowl, Traffic Cone x2, Mirabella, Shadow Lands x2, Swirling Steps, Traffic Jam, Sponge Wall, White Point, Honey Comb, Fallen Rock (an eagle-ray was hunting!), West Point, Sand Channels & Cliffs. The Salvador Dali sponges were very beautiful & unforgettable. We had such lively company, on the first few days, we joined Jovin, Philip, Josephine, Kylie, Adeline & Andi, who were there 1 day before us, when the last 5 of them left, Lili joined us, then Danny & Angelique & their 3 lovely kids joined us…

Ranjte had prepared a rough map of the town, so that the divers could get our dinners (we got around with the tuk-tuks). We tried many of the available options: Golden Fish x2, Sea food at the roadside x2, Mawar Sharon (Chicken Place), Padang Place, Agung & New Esther, most of the food was spicy but quite tasty!

Photos taken in Gorontalo here Gorontalo

http://www.facebook.com/v/255258973051 Video of the Risso Dolphins (Sorry for the low-res conversion…)

Manado

We had intended to return to Manado via Express Air on 4th Jan but since it was no longer receiving flight subsidy from the provincial govt in 2010, it promptly cut the twice weekly flight to once a week! So we had to take the longer route, take Sriwaja Air to Makassar & transfer to Lion Air, airfare was abt Rp 1.2mil.

Manado

Minahasa Divers arranged for our transfers, accommodation at Sedona Manado & 3 meals daily. 6D/5N (12 dives) package was US$520 per diver, based on twin/triple share. Non-diver package US$357 per person. The payment was made in S’pore to Minahasa Divers’ representative/ manager before we left for the trip. Sedona Manado had huge, beautiful grounds & swimming pool & the rooms were large & very comfortable, we could even use the wifi from the room! I would say that the room was the best we had for a long time… The buffet breakfast spread was sumptuous – bread, buns & cakes, fruits & salad, local food, egg station, noodles, porridge and waffle! Lunch choices were hotel-quality fried noodles, fried rice or club sandwich (all came with very nice fried chicken wing). Buffet dinner was good, although with less selection (it was plentiful!) – fruits, rice, pasta, vegetables, tofu, curry, beef/chicken/fish.

Diving from Minahasa Divers’ biggest boat was comfortable, the boat was stable & there was a proper toilet on-board. The guides & boat crew took care of the setting up & washing of gear, we got a fresh beach towel every morning – we were getting very spoiled. The diver to guide ration was 5-6 to 1. At Manado, we got started quite late, met at the dive-shop at 8:30am & the boat would leave the dock at abt 8:45am, the boat ride to Bunaken took abt 45mins & on 2 mornings (5th & 6th Jan) we got distracted by huge pod of common dolphins! We would do 2 dives at the Bunaken side, have lunch and then the boat would make its way back to Manado side for the 3rd dive of the day. At Bunaken, we dived at Muka Kampung (very nice wall dive & pygmy seahorse @30m, green sea turtle), Fukui (hard coral & broken rubble, giant clams), Mandolin Point, Lekuan III and Raymond Point. At Manado, we did Tanjung Pisok & 2 dives at Sedona House-reef. These were very nice muck dives with good rewards eg several Harlequin Shrimps, Blue Ribbon Eels, a small banded sea snake, a baby white dragonet, octupus and an assortment of nudibranches.

We went to Lembeh on 7th Jan, with another 2 divers from Russia. We had to pay US$30 extra each, which was quite reasonable, considering the amount of logistics involved. Lembeh did not disappoint. At Hairball, we saw a pregnant sea-horse, cockatoo waspfish, nudibranch etc. At Nudi Retreat, we saw a very small pygmy sea-horse, several nudibranches & a pair of pegasus sea-moths & the highlight was an electric clam, plus a large band sea-snake which  came to inspect his territory & scared us silly! At Jahir, it was a busy dive! A humongous school of juvenile cat-fish stirred up sea-floor & messed up the visibility! Also saw a good sized barramundi cod, a giant orange frog-fish perched on a large orange sponge, 2 banded pipe-fish, moray eel & its many cleaner shrimps & a white-eyed moray eel & its neighbour – a scorpion-fish.

We had an exciting & beautiful dive at Tanjung Kopi, Manado Tua on 8th Jan. The current was very strong (the dive guide was a little nervous) and it was cold and the visibility seemed endless (at least 30m). We saw giant trevallies, a large school of bat-fish & a small school of large barracudas hunting. At the reef, there was a good sized napoleon wrasse and nudibranches. Would remember this big current, action-packed dive for a long time to come. Open-mouthed Jackie was our fav MD guide & Rafly was also very nice.

Photos for Manado segment here Manado photos

We came back to S’pore on 9th Jan, wanted to bring Mike & J to try the chicken rice but the car couldn’t start! It was nearly 8pm, when the repairman came by to change the car battery… What a trip! We did managed to bring them to the Raffles Hotel (on Mike’s list) & the Esplanade & had some nice pizzas which they have been craving for the last 2 wks. Tongue out