Heart & Brain Underwater

Posts tagged “scuba diving

First Time to Palau! 23 Mar to 6 Apr 2012

Happy New Year (2014)!!! It is embarrassing that it took so long to publish this blog entry (there were too many photos to process)… Just received the WordPress 2013 report, it says that I have only published 1 miserable post last year… 😦 So,  here it is…

We had wanted to visit Palau, ever since she became a shark sanctuary in Sept 2009 – it was the FIRST nation to do so.  http://www.sharksavers.org/en/get-active/dive-to-help-sharks/ecotourism/ Such a small Micronesian country with about 23,000 people but all of them are equiped with wits & determination.  Shark & ray ecotourism brings in US$18 million to Palau, every year! http://www.sharksavers.org/en/education/the-value-of-sharks/sharks-and-ecotourism/  This scientific blog sums up our sentiments http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/expeditions/2013/06/12/an-interconnected-environment-and-economy-shark-tourism-in-palau/ & from looks of it, this amount would increase – there are new chartered flights from Korea, we saw high-school Korean “kids” in Palau everyday during our trip. Furthermore, we have watched so many of the Taiwanese travel shows featuring Palau (yes, there are quite many of them 😉 )… M & J were quite happy to hear that we had finally took the plunge to plan for a holiday in Palau, they have been there many times… It is high on their recommended list, especially as our dive skills improves…

We flew Cebu Pacific (CP) from Singapore to Manila, it was quite convenient, CP has several flights to MNL everyday… & it uses the new terminal – 3…

Singapore to Manila: 5J 800 Fri 23 Mar 2012, 1420H Singapore Budget Terminal -> Fri 23 Mar 2012, 1755H Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3
Manila to Singapore: 5J 805 Sat 07 Apr 2012, 1325H Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 -> Sat 07 Apr 2012, 1655H Singapore Budget Terminal

Base Fare: 396.00 Fuel Surcharge: 101.04 Passenger Security Service Charge: 16.00 Aviation Levy: 4.40 Passenger Service Charge: 15.60 Web Admin Fee – manual: 20.00
BAG25: 50.00 BAG20: 30.00
Total Amount: 633.04 (for 2 pax)

The airport staff at the boarding area of UA/Continental was very serious about their work, footwear had to be removed, carry-ons were thoroughly searched – every small pocket was searched. Guess it was the requirement of the US immigrations? That was the first time we had to go through it and it was not enjoyable.

FLIGHT INFORMATION
Day, Date Flight Class Departure City and Time Arrival City and Time Aircraft Meal
Fri, 23MAR12 CO1921 H MANILA, PHILIPPINES
(MNL) 9:55 PM
KOROR, PALAU
(ROR) 1:35 AM (24MAR)
737-800
Fri, 06APR12 CO1932 H KOROR, PALAU
(ROR) 8:50 PM
MANILA, PHILIPPINES
(MNL) 10:25 PM
737-800
1 Flight operated by UNITED AIRLINES FOR AIR MICRONESIA. If this is an originating flight on your itinerary, please check in at the CONTINENTAL ticket counter.
2 Flight operated by UNITED AIRLINES FOR AIR MICRONESIA. If this is an originating flight on your itinerary, please check in at the CONTINENTAL ticket counter.

FARE INFORMATION
Fare Breakdown
Airfare: 630 USD
Equivalent Airfare: 827 SGD
Fuel Surcharge: 87
Per Person Total: 914 SGD
eTicket Total: 1,827 SGD
The airfare you paid on this itinerary totals: 1,654 SGD SGD
The taxes, fees, and surcharges paid total: 173 SGD

It was quite an expensive short flight… 😛

Lunch Stop at Beautiful Palau

At Palau’s airport, we were greeted by a poster of a shark & it says “Welcome to Palau, the first shark sanctuary!” – Nice!!! Immigration at Palau was okay,  the staff was quite friendly. The terminal was quite nice, there was a nice ceiling mural depicting the underwater scene – beautiful reef, mantas, eagle rays, sharks etc. We got to see all of them during our stay.  Our dive operation was Fish n Fins (FnF) http://www.fishnfins.com/v2/en/welcome.html the scuba pioneer in Palau & M & J have always been diving with them. FnF sent their staff – Norman & van to meet us & some other divers & sent us to our accommodation West Plaza Desekal, about 30mins from the airport. It was within 15mins walk to FnF. West Plaza Desekal was basic, maybe 3 stars, rooms are of good size, clean and beds were comfortable, beach towels were provided for the day trip, we were happy with the choice. 1 of the front desk staff was a Chinese lady, who had came to work in Palau more than 10 years ago, she was happy to have us to speak Mandarin with and the other was a Filippina. 🙂  So, we were always the earliest to reach FnF in the morning, before the morning peak hour started… 😉 It was nice to walk past the school & the policeman who policed at 1 of the busier junctions…

We signed up for 3 dives a day at FnF, for the 1st few days, they returned to “dock” to pick tanks after the 2nd dive, then we would go to 1 of the nearer sites for the 3rd dive. Gradually, there were more people who joined us for the 3rd dive, so we were able to skip the ride back and did those “better” dives  at the outer atolls. The staff did a good job and got us to most of the dive sites in those 11 days.

Cat meets cat

She doesn't love me... :(

Cats at FnF

Diving

The dives at Palau were all nice http://www.fishnfins.com/v2/en/dive-sites.html. My favourite was Blue Corner, having done that site, we were no longer virgin (reef) hookers! M gave us custom-made reef hooks, they were indeed handy and it was comfortable to use the reef hook.. With the aid of the rope connecting to the reef hook, our depth was only about 15m, so it felt quite safe.  It wasn’t very difficult, except to remember 1 rule – remember to deflate all air from the BCD before loosening the reef hook, or risk being blown away (or worse, up!) The guides were on hand to help move us to better vantage points for shark watching. Except on the day that there was exceedingly strong current blowing from the depth, when we felt like our masks were in the danger of being blown away and we struggled to keep our cameras in hand, we had a good experience with the reef hooks. Having said that, I wouldn’t recommend this site to new divers, or a high new divers to guide ratio and the experience of the guides to read the site was very important too, I could see myself freaking out if that day was the 1st time the whole group was deploying the reef hook. We didn’t have much luck with the manta at the German Channel. M had been trying to get Malsol to do the  Ulong Channel but the tide was always not right, until the last diving day. There were a few sharks at the mouth of the channel, I was so reluctant to leave and start the channel discovery… I felt like diving in a small drain – the sides were covered with hard corals, the bottom was sandy,  spotted a few small sharks along the way, the specular sight was the huge school of soldier fish “standing guard” at their cabbage coral fortress – they were actually resting.

Sentry at Ulong Channel

Sentry at Ulong Channel

I have a desire to do Blue Corner everyday. It was nice to enjoy the sight of so many grey reef sharks (resting – in the current), white tip reef sharks, big eye trevallies, moon snappers, red tooth triggerfish enjoying the current. Then, the cute Napoleon wrasse/s that are friends of the local guides and they sometimes play with our bubbles… :- ) I kept wondering how many sharks were there (that I missed), whenever I wasn’t there. I would also miss that Napoleon wrasse…

Blending in

Blending in at Blue Corner

Jellyfish Lake

The day that we did the Jellyfish Lake, we took the transport back to the hotel, we were too tired to walk back. To get to the Jellyfish Lake, we had to climb up a steep hill and then climb back down, it was like visiting a crater… We wished we had brought our fins with us, it was tiring to swim to the middle of the lake, where more jelly fish congregated. The sight of millions of jellyfish was surreal,  Kent mentioned that the amount of jellyfish had decreased over the years and the smell of ammonia at the Lake is overpowering and he had since stopped visiting the Lake. Although the permit to visit the Lake isn’t exactly cheap but most tourists wouldn’t miss it, having gone that far. M & J did their part by not participating, as they had been there, done that…

Pretty fragile

Jellyfish Lake – Pretty fragile

Food

We made sandwiches for breakfast and bento set lunch was included in the dive package. One of the benefits of staying at West Plaza Desekal was that we could walk out to get our dinners at a variety of places and also there was a minimart at the ground floor (but Desekal had no passenger lift, it only had a luggage lift). We have a list of favourites (based on taste and value-for-money) and they are:  1. Suriyothai (Thai food, of course! Pad Si Lew was yummilicious, tom yum was good too. Nice A/C restaurant), 2. Palm Bay Bistro (for the fresh Palau National Beer! & good pizzas & other western cuisines) 3. I Love Noodles (small stall near to the supermarket that sold Thai food prepared by Thai chef, Green Papaya Salad was nice! & prices were very reasonable but no A/C) 4. Emaimelei 2 (Filipino – large portions, milk fish soup was yummy) , 5. Flamingo (“next” to West Plaza Desekal, facing the main road. Nice Japanese inspired dishes – soba/udon & Filipino dishes – Adobo, ask for less salt for the Adobo dishes).  All these were within 20mins slow walk from Desekal, I Love Noodles was the furthest.  Although West Plaza wasn’t within walking distant, the food and beer was scrumptious and not too expensive, the service was good and the view of the harbour is very nice too and we got to know a cop who drives the “cab” part-time.

Thai food in Palau

I Love Noodles – Thai food in Palau

We also tried Little Beijing (non a/c) for the yuan-yang steamboat buffet, just for the heck of it, M & J hadn’t tried Chinese style steamboat but I don’t think they were particularly impressed by it… 😉 The Taj Indian Restaurant – food was quite delectable but the prices were on the high side… Little Italy Restaurant was quite nice too, quaint Italian countryside kitchen deco (with A/C), prices were on a high side… We had bad experience at the Drop-off Bar & Grill – very slow service and we waited 30mins for the 1st dish to be served, then another 10 – 15 mins for each of our order to stagger in, food was ok though.

ATV

For the last day/off-gassing day of our trip, T & I did a full day Polaris ATV (all terrain vehicle) 4WD tour! It was exhilarating! http://www.fishnfins.com/v2/en/off-road-jungle-tours.html We were glad to have Kent  as our guide for day, he was a very experience guide, who worked as a dive guide previously and he was from Peleliu. It was pouring for parts of the day which added to the sense of adventure. We had a nice time eating local snacks at a pavilion (try the banana glutinous rice cake) while waiting for the rain to mellow… One of the locals treated us to some clam sashimi – very nice and fresh!

Waterfall

waterfall

Kent asked ” do you want an eco-tourist who spend US$500 a night, or do you want a mass-market tourist who spend US$100? Which is better for the environment?”

More photos at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152070554043052&type=1&l=d4ecb01ed4

 

News: 28 Mar 2014: http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/palau-sharks-ban-commercial-fishing-tuna-industry

“banning commercial boats simply appears to be in Palau’s interests.

Even though the bulk of commercial fishing in the region focuses on tuna, sharks are frequently hauled in as bycatch. Yanking sharks out of the sea directly hits Palau’s biggest moneymaker: the $85m dive tourism industry.”

 

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2011 May 14th to 28th – Bali (Tulamben) & Timor Leste (Dili & Atauro)

I had wanted to return to Timor Leste for a long time. Took part in a marine expedition to Timor Leste in 2004, then, I was a newbie diver and had to take the AOW to be better prepared for the expedition. Better prepared I was not but my genial buddy – a dive instructor & team-mates made sure that I didn’t drown when we did the coral transect, fish count or the benthic survey (all usually at less than 15m deep) & the 10 good days or so we spent at Atauro Island – off Dili (capital of Timor Leste) was etched in my mind. It was not just the good diving, it was the pristine beauty of Atauro & the warmth of Timorese that I fondly remember.

Come 2011, I am 200+ dives more experienced and a lot older… haha… However, I was still not better prepared! As in, I didn’t spend much time planning for the trip, as we were busy with a shark conservation awareness event until end of April. At least, I knew that flying Merpati Airline from Bali would be cheaper than flying directly from Singapore. So, we planned to dive in Tulamben for a few days before flying to Dili and my “newbie” diver brother & “to-be certified” sister-in-law joined for the Tulamben leg. We booked discounted flight to Bali on KLM @S$253 and embarked on our dive trip on Saturday, 14th May. We were very pleased with the in-flight food & the personal entertainment system provided and of course the generous leg-room of a full service European airline was also much appreciated.

Tony Medcraft – owner of Tulamben Wreck Divers once again gave us (even my bro) a free upgrade to the Penthouse – lovely view of the coast in the front & view of the majestic Mt Agung from the back. Remember, this was T & I’s 3rd visit to TWD – this unexpected gesture really ensured that us felt like coming home!

Ghost Pipefish at the Liberty Wreck

Pygmy Seahorse at the Liberty Wreck

The next day, dive guide Nyoman met us at breakfast and asked where we wish to dive at & at what time? That was why we loved diving at Tulamben, we always got to choose our preferred dive site & when we wanted to dive it. Of course, for our 1st dive we had to greet the famous Liberty Wreck. Nyoman knew that we were “experienced” divers & proposed that we plunge to the depths to find the pygmy seahorses. At more than 30m, we saw the 1st pair of pygmy seahorses on this trip. I think pink is the true colour of these tiny lilac pygmy seahorses & their gorgonian seafan home. In the 52mins dive, we also saw 2 white leaf scorpionfish, nudibranch, flatworm & a huge school of big-eye jacks. I enjoyed swimming with the huge school of jacks, found it a very calming & therapeutic experience. After lunch, our 2nd dive was at Coral Garden, it was another good 54mins dive that yielded a poor moray eel with a huge gash on its head, plus its entourage of cleaner shrimps and a few huge groupers were hanging around – hoping to make a quick meal from the wounded moray eel? A blue ribbon eel & a black one, crinoid shrimp & orangutan crab. The 3rd dive of the day was our 1st night dive at Tulamben! The bumphead parrotfish were resting at the bow of the Liberty wreck & they were pretty annoyed at our torches. We saw 2 mantis shrimps – Golden & Red, several hydroid decorator crabs, cleaner shrimps, a beautiful ghost pipefish & a large Spanish dancer.

Bumphead Parrotfish inside the hull of the Liberty Wreck

A school of Jacks

On the second day, we had an early morning dive. By 7am, we were already in water heading to the Liberty Wreck. Spent a lot of the time in the 1 plus hr dive with the school of jacks again & this time there was a giant trevally trying to blend in with its “lesser” cousins. We also saw orangutan crab, garden eels, nudibranch & bumphead parrotfish. 2nd dive at Coral Garden yielded an unexpected visitor – a black tip reef shark! Contrary to “popular” belief (aka lies), sharks are not ferocious! This 1+m shark scooted off into the bad viz when it was 50m from us. Ketut showed us a crutch of anemone eggs on a pebble. I spotted an octopus. We had another night dive at the Liberty Wreck, that yielded soft coral crabs, crinoid shrimp, zebra crab & ghost pipefish.

Small Hawksbill Sea Turtle at Amed

Scenic Amed

For the third day, we (all 4 of us) booked a 2 dives day trip to Amed with Ketut of Marta Dive. Ketut had been with a dive shop at Amed for many years before striking out on his own. The drive to Amed was very scenic & Amed seemed to be a serene place too. We stopped at a village pavilion, suited up & waited for the 2 small local fishing boats to take us diving along the beautiful coast. The dive site was abt 15mins away. In the strong current, Ketut showed us to a huge patch of garden eels at 20m and a pygmy seahorse, and then we saw a school of trevallies. We also saw an octopus, blue spotted stingray. During the 2nd dive at Pyramid there was an installation of several artificial reef structures made in the shape of what else but the Pyramid, adorned by colourful soft corals & served as hiding place for snappers. A small hawksbill turtle tolerated our presence for awhile, it was wonderful to finally meet a turtle in Bali, hope that it will be safe, grow old & reproduce. Glad to see that my newly OW certified sister-in-law managing these 2 dives well. We dived at the Liberty Wreck again upon our return to Tulamben, saw the pair of pygmy seahorses again, said good-bye to the big-eye trevallies & met a friendly good-size napoleon wrasse! I think the Tulamben area is still a safe haven to these valuable fish – trevallies, bumphead parrotfish, sweetlips, groupers & napoleon wrasse! Hopefully more sharks will return…

Tulamben Sunrise fr TWD's new Villa room

Tony gave us another upgrade for our last night to the new villa rooms at the new wing about 5mins drive away. The guys had to give us a drive to the main stretch for dinner. My bro went for a night trek to Mt Agung, he reported that it was quite a hard hike to the peak of the highest mountain on Bali. When he got back, we grabbed a quick lunch and started the long drive to Ubud when they spent a couple of nights at & we spent 2 nights at the small, intimate Golden Elephant Hotel at Ulu Watu, all the villas have their own pools.

Photos from Bali – Tulamben & Amed

After 2 restful nights, we boarded the morning Merpati flight to Dili – the capital of Timor Leste on 20th May. A Balinese ex-colleague helped to book the Merpati tickets (@ less than USD 450 for 2 pax) through a travel agent.

View fr Golden Elephant Ulu Watu

Timor Leste Celebrating Independence Day

Timor Leste – 20th to 28th May

We paid for our visas upon arrival & passed the customs office quick enough but the enthusiastic officers checked our luggage quite thoroughly… Kathy was the new trainee DM from Dive Timor Lorosae who picked us up.

Dili was much busier than I remembered it to be, the houses looked more tidy though. Even the building that Castaway Bar of Dive Timor had become more solid, we had most of our meals there (not cheap but the portions were Australian). We didn’t do much the rest of the day, just read whatever there was & dipped in the very nice (but deep, also used for dive training) pool & walked along the water front & discovered that the Chinese & Japanese Embassies had huge compounds. The next day, we got to dive at Atauro! There was supposed to be snorkellers on board but due to the strong winds & big surfs, DT advised them to cancel, so there was just another 2 leisure divers & us with DM Will & Greg the captain. It was a rough crossing & T got pretty sick.

Lobster at Atauro

Coral Reef at Atauro

We dived at the west side of Atauro, it was inhabited, probably due to further distant from Dili. The 5 of us were the first people to dive at Will Wall, it was named after Will, who had completed his DM training & leaving service. There was strong surface current, so we dropped down quickly. The underwater conditions were great – good visibility of 30m & not much current. The reef was pristine, large sea fans, lots of red tooth trigger fish & anthias in the shallow, not unlike the pristine reefs of Gorontalo. We saw a nice size painted spiny lobster hiding in a crevice at around 20m, hope this painted spiny lobster will be able to avoid all of its many predators & hungry, greedy humans & live a long life (>30years). 2nd dive was at another section of Will Wall. A curious & big dog-tooth tuna came by to check us out, I spotted many juvenile Giant Clams at the shallow. As we were leaving Atauro, there was a large pod of pilot whale, 1 of them surfaced very near our boat & made me jump! That evening Dili celebrated the Timor Leste 9th Independence Day.

The beautiful Atauro Island

Coral Reef at Atauro

Beautiful Atauro from the hill

The next day, we took the transport from Compass Travel back to Atauro & we spent 2 peaceful nights at the Kuo-in Eco Lodge, which was run by the local NGO Roman Luan. There was no flush toilets at Kuo-in, our “contributions” were made into compost & the bath water was recycled by the reed beds & used to water the plants. Such a lovely place! There was no traffic on Atauro, to get around the locals either depend on their small fishing boats or “motorbike-lorries”. Beach front accommodation plus 3 local meals cost less than $30 per person per day. We went “trekking” up the village hill, practicing my forgotten “bon giorno” & “bon tarde” with the locals on the way. The reward of the steep climb over rocky, unpaved road, “littered” with goat dung was the gorgeous view of Atauro & the reef. Also visited the dormitory where the expedition team stayed at, the dormitory had been converted to a “hospedaria” sewing workshop run by the UN & opposite it was a local handicraft place where the deaf/ mute could learn a skill. We spent time interacting with the kids during the evenings & even “organised” a beach clean-up, the kids were happy to labour for some sweets & chocolates. There were a lot of plastic cups & other plastic debris along the shore – affluence is a double-edge sword… With great reluctance, we left Kuo-in to get to Barry’s Place to be picked up by the Compass Travel’s speed boat. We met a pod of common dolphins in the channel between Atauro & Dili, it was such a joy! In the evening, we went to Christo Rei where there was a huge statue of Jesus Christ (a gift from the central government during the Suharto era) and enjoyed a spectacular red sunset.

Having fun

Spectacular Sunset at Christo Rei

Fun - their way

25th May was my last dive day in Timor because I caught flu after. Marianne led us to dive at Tasi Talu where we missed a dugong; we could hear it but didn’t see it… It was a good dive – a beautiful white thorny seahorse, a flabellina nudibranch, a sap sucking sea slug and a cuttlefish. After a nice lunch prepared by DT, we went to another shore dive site at Dili Rock East, the wind & surf had picked up considerably & there was quite a strong current. It didn’t stop us from having a good dive – we saw a crocodilefish, a school of juvenile catfish, 2 banded pipefishes, ribbon eel, nudibranch, marble shrimp & a 1st for us – a pair of coral mushroom pipefish!

White SeaHORSE (Prince?)

A pair of mushroom coral pipefish

Sea Slug

T dived at the Christo Rei & Sandy Bottom with Greg the next day; they saw a school of bumphead parrotfish at Christo Rei! & at Sandy Bottom, a flying gurnard, an Emperor Shrimp, a whip coral goby & lobsters. The following day, I tagged along to snorkel at Behau Village & Secret Garden, about 50km from Dili, Will is the DM for the day, it was also his last dive day at Dili.

Dive Timor Lorosae's van at the dive site

Clownfish while snorkeling

On the last morning, we went to the Dili museum to find that it was closed on Saturday. Anthonio drove us to the airport for our flight to Bali where we lazed at the airport lounge for a few hours, enjoyed a beautiful sunset & then came home around midnight.

Presidential Palace

Dili Night Food Market

Today, 4months on, as I am preparing for next 2 dive trips, I am still missing the serenity & simplicity of Atauro.

Photos from Timor Leste – Dili & Atauro

Cost of diving at Timor: 2 tanks dive at Atauro – US$160 each (inclusive sandwich lunch + water + soft drinks). 2 tanks local shore dives (w/in Dili) – US$90. 2 tanks local shore dives (outside Dili – inclusive of local lunch + water + soft drinks) – US$110. Note that usually, we were the only people diving (another 2 guys for Atauro trip, another 1 guy for outside Dili “safari”), when I was ill, T was the only paying customer…

Cost of meals – typically US$7 upwards for “main dish”, good size portion. The food at the Night Market was cheaper (e.g – US$2 for 1 fish, $0.50 for a chicken wing etc), catering to the locals the market has no electricity, water etc 😉 …
Other suggestions: get more small change like 1 & 5 usd… Oh, Bahasa works for the older cab drivers & bargain w them for short distant travels… Get the dive shop or hotel staff to help with telling & bargaining with the cab driver on other places like Christo Rei…


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


2010 Apr Maldives – Biyadhoo Resort & MV Princess Lara

Took the Malaysian Airlines to the Maldives. Airfare was S$780+ (inclusive of the booking fee for Zuji website). We had to transit in KL for 2-3hrs each way, we took the opportunity to enjoy the reasonably-priced, nice food & coffee at the Old Town  White Coffee  outlet at the KL airport.

We reached the Maldivian airport island Hulhule before 10pm, on 31st Mar and the baggage claim took quite awhile. It was good to see that the Biyadhoo Resort had the speed boat waiting for us. We booked our 3 nights at Biyadhoo Resort on the Vermillion website. Each night is US$250  (inclusive of 3 meals a day) & the transfer was US$80 per person. The speed boat transferred us to Biyadhoo Resort (~35km from Male) in about 45mins, under the  silvery light of the beautiful full moon.

The Biyadhoo Resort has 96 rooms, in blocks of 2 storey buildings and it has a fully equipped spa. Although the deco of the room was a little tired, it was functional & the king size bed was very comfortable.  We spent the days snorkelling, watching the lovely sunsets. and eating.  We had 7 very wonderful meals at the restaurant, the chef made lovely lemon cheese cakes, which I still miss… Biyahdoo’s house-reef was very healthy, other than the usual reef fish like parrotfish, butterflyfish and surgeon fish, large blue-fin trevallies also came into the lagoon to hunt., we also saw small black-tip reef sharks, 2 turtles and 2 large moray eels. 1 of the moray eels was out hunting & came very close to Terence’s ankle!  At the drop-off, there we saw giant travellies and even a napolean wrasse!

On 3rd Apr, we left Biyadhoo for the aiport in the morning and spent a couple of hours in the Movenpick cafe & enjoyed some the lovely ice cream. We met up with another 20 divers to take the internal flight on Maldivian Air (~US$140), bound for Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll (the most southern atoll in Maldives) to board MV Princess Lara.  It was about 4pm when we boarded the beautiful MV Princess Lara. MV Princess Lara was launched in late 2009, it was still smelling new & my favourite feature was the roof top jacuzzi! We were supposed to do a check dive but as we lusted after hammerhead sharks, so it was decided that we would move northwards to Laamu Atoll. The overnight crossing was a rough one, most of us skipped dinner and stayed in our cabins (to be near the toilet. :-))

4th Apr – 1st dive at Fushi Kandu, Laamu Atoll and 2nd dive at Dhiyamigili Kandu, Thaa Atoll. As there was a change of current, the DMs felt that we would have a better chance to see the pelagic at Ari Atoll, so we made a long crossing to Ari Atoll. 5th Apr – 3rd & 4th dives at Maamigili Faru, South Ari Atoll. The 3rd dive was forgettable, however, we got to snorkel with whalesharks! When we got back to Princess Lara, it started to rain quite heavily & the sea was rough, so the dive was postponed & somehow, Bee & Bok, in the next room & us didn’t get called for the next dive. Anyway, the captain was arranged to lead us for the 4th dive. & we managed to dive with 2 whalesharks! We had a close encounter with the 1st whaleshark, it was really amazing! After diving, we also snorkelled with several whalesharks. Diving & snorkelling with whalesharks was really tiring, we really had to finned very hard to keep up with them! 5th & 6th (on 6th Apr) dives at  Rangali , we were “hunting” for hammerhead sharks  without success but on the 5th dive, we had a short encounter with a manta and during our surface intervals, we got to admire the luxurious Rangali Hilton Resort from afar… 😉

Next we headed for North Ari Atoll. Our 7th & 8th dives were at Donkalo. These 2 dives were magical, although the viz was not very good. Donkalo was the cleaning station favoured by the manta rays, during these 2 dives, we spent the entire dives at the bottom (around 18m-20m), watching the manta rays getting cleaned by cleaner wrasses. They came very close to us & passed over our heads several times. In the evening, we had a fabulous bbq at an inhabited island, before the bbq, we had a nice swim & enjoyed watching the gorgeous sunset. The crew of Princess Lara also put together a surprise birthday party for Bok, the pastry chef baked a delicious cake.

On 7th Apr, we did 4 dives, including the night dive. The 9th dive at Fish Head (south of Mushimasmigili Island) was gorgeous, the thila (pinnacle) was very colourful, there were thousands of fusiliers, a friendly turtle, hunting trevallies & tunas. The 10th dive at Kan Thila was really exciting. We stayed on top of the ridge (~21m), hang onto the rocks and watched many large whitetip reef sharks, which came very close & several magnificient grey reef sharks patrolling their ocean & a couple of napolean wrasses were also spotted at the reef top. The 11th dive was at Hafusa Thila, there were schools  various fish – bluestripe snappers, crescent-tail bigeyes and the 12th dive, the night dive was at Maaya Thila. The night dive was really wonderful, at first we saw a large resting turtle &  it was action packed at the reef-top, the bait fish were attracted by the video lights, thus attracted the predators – trevallies, a small whitetip reef shark & a large marbled ray to hunt.

It was lucky 13th for us, on 8th Apr, we finally saw hammerhead sharks at Rasdhoo Atoll! For most parts of the dive, it was dark & gloomy, we couldn’t see the bottom & was just following the DM. The 1st hammerhead shark was on our right at about 30m, it gave us a quick look & left. Soon, the DM clinked & descended quickly, we followed as quickly as we could, there were 2 scalloped hammerhead sharks which came very close to the DM but as soon as the video lights were switched on, they turned & quickly “disappeared”! Everything happened so quickly that I didn’t even bothered to get any photos… The 14th dive was also at Rasdhoo Atoll, Madivaru, it was a good dive, we saw a large school of bigeye trevallies, mixed with black snappers, garden eels, eagle ray, napolean wrasses etc. We then moved to the North Male and the 15th dive was at Kuda Haa. 9th Apr was our last dive day, the 16th dive was at the very pretty Banana Reef where we saw a turtle & honeycomb moray eel & 17th dive was a drift dive at Furana South where we encountered several napolean wrasses. The LOB package was US$1350, tips US$70.

We spent the rest of the day washing & drying the gear. I enjoyed watching a beautiful rainbow and the amazing evening sunset over Male from the Jacuzzi. We toured Male on 10th Apr, visited the main sights like the Presidential Office, Royal Burial Grounds, the Mosque, the vegetable market and the fish market. After having an expensive lunch at the recommended restaurant, walked around a little bit more, some of us bagged some discounted dive gear, then Kulen, Bee, Bok, Terence & I retreated into a very nice cafe for some drinks & the air-con. We had a very nice dinner at the Sala Thai Restaurant, which is owned by a German ex-hotelier, who flies in all the fresh & authentic ingredients from Thailand a couple of times a week.

This was a wonderful dive trip, the 1st time we came face-to-face with whalesharks, the 1st time I have seen hammerhead sharks, having manta rays coming so close to us was an amazing experience! MV Princess Lara is a beautiful, comfortable & stable boat. Maldives was as beautiful & charming as we 1st visited 7 years ago, although tourism is a lot bigger and more developed now (there were a lot more ships at Ari & Male Atolls than the southern
atolls) and the reefs didn’t seemed as colorful…

We hope to be able to go back to Maldives in a couple of years’ time, to see the manta feeding “frenzy” at Hani Faru…

Snorkelling at Biyadhoo

Gorgeous Sunset At Biyadhoo

Manta at Donkalo 6th Apr

Whale Shark - 5th Apr

http://www.facebook.com/v/401109598051
http://www.facebook.com/v/401091838051

More photos at  2010 Apr – Maldives @ Facebook
Another video at Diving at North Ari Atoll 07 Apr 2010 @ Facebook


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