Bitung, Sulawesi Utara, Indonesia
November 2007

index

Bitung

It is my first trip to Indonesia flying trans atlantic. The transatlantic flight is always more expensive than transpacific, but for me, the schedule is better. I arrived early morning in Amsterdam and spend the day there, coming back to the airport in the evening, and boarding the flight to Jakarta. The flight was completely full. At that time I was too tired to stay awake. Before dinner was served, I was asleep already and I didn't wake up until a few hours before landing in Kuala Lumpur. I had just enough time to walk around the KUL airport, but too short to eat, drink or shop. Most people seemed to be gone and replaced by other people. The flight was full again for the last hour and a half to Jakarta.

In Jakarta, I am awaited by Pak Suparman. They quickly checked my pasport and I was waived through. A woman from the Dutch consulate looked at me in surprise while she was waiting at the counter for diplomatic passports. My luggage came out quickly. I waived to the girl from the seat next to me, and I went through customs. There they wanted to check my bottles with vitamins. They are for Ibu, Bapak and Puni, but Pak Suparman had a good idea: he told them that I'm going diving and that I need to be strong. That's why I need the vitamins. The customs officials accepted that idea and I stepped outside, to meet Puni, say bye to Pak Suparman, and we're on the way to Puri Indah.

At Puri Indah, Ibu is already waiting for me with fresh rawon, mangga and duren. There is more food than I can possibly eat, and I already made sure not to eat much in the plane. We talk, and Har already starts making kopi: clearly my reputation has not waned. Jeannette arrives too, and then it's off to bed. The next morning we leave at 5:20. It's still quiet on the road, but at the airport, traffic is backed up and we don't arrive at the terminal until 6:15. Pak Suparman was waiting for me and thought I would not arrive. Check-in however is quick. I still get a chance to ask Pak Suparman what exactly he does. He tells me he works for the protocol, and sometimes picks up guests for Ibu Jeannette. I think Jeannette already told me that, but only now I understand what exactly that means. He escorts me to the security check, gives me his nomor HP just in case, and at 6:30, I'm at the gate. Boarding starts almost immediately after that. All hundred people try to get to the door first and are then bussed to the plane. Once in my seat, I dose off and a quick two hours later we land in Makassar. I see that they have made quite some progress with the new terminal and it looks like they will open soon. Another two hours later, at 12:15, we land in Manado.

I pickup my dive gear and expect to see someone from Two Fish. However, nobody is waiting for me, and I call Rifka. When she finally understands who is calling, she tells me to wait and that the driver will be there soon. Indeed, ten minutes later, while I'm waiting for Roland who should have just arrive on the flight from Singapore, the driver finds me. It turns out, he does not speak English, but that is fortunately not a problem. Roland leaves the terminal as one of the last, and as soon as he appears, we get in the car and on the road to Bitung. I know what to expect, but I believe Roland is not yet at ease on the narrow road and the zigzagging through traffic.

In Bitung we are dropped at the harbor. Our driver already called ahead and the boat from Two Fish arrives just a few minutes later. We drop our gear in the boat, sail across Lembeh Strait and reach the resort in just twenty minutes. The resort is located on a black sand beach in the shade of Pulau Lembeh. It consists of three simple wooden cottages, an open air dining area and a building for the staff and compressor. There are several fruit trees on the property. Other guests are 4 Germans and a British couple. With Roland and me, it's booked full.

We drop our stuff and get ready to dive. Most dive sites are within twenty minutes from the resort. Right across from the resort is the famous Kungkungan Bay Resort, hidden from view by a large rock in the strait. Slightly to the south is Bitung, and behind it the cone shape of a green volcano. We dive with the British, and the four of us are guided by Opo. We quickly find out that Opo has a keen eye for the little creatures of lembeh. On this dive, we see some banded and ringed pipefish, schools of razorfish, lots of frogfish and stonefish, blue-spotted rays, and crabs hidden in the black sand and rocks. It's also the first time I see a flying gurnard. I think they are interesting, but nobody seems to pay attention. Makes me think of the porcupine fish I saw in the Twilight Zone. I was excited, but Claire and Nus didn't seem to pay attention. I saw some porcupine fish here too, but there was so much else to see, I didn't have time for them.

After the dive, sun sets rapidly and diner is ready. Diner actually is simple, and after that, I get a beer from the fridge and I am ready to sleep. Roland is a bit disappointed, because we haven't seen any pretty corals or schools of pretty fish. It's all digging in the sand.

The next day I wake up early and get out of our cabin at 3 am. I'm reading a bit in the dining room, the newspaper that I got in the plane yesterday, and later sat on the beach watching the sun break the day. The next six dives in two days are all long dives on the black sand. We see lots of tiny crabs, mantis shrimp, octopus and cuttlefish, seahorses and numerous frogfish, stonefish, lionfish and scorpionfish. I still have a hard time telling the latter apart, but I find all of them fascinating!

Two divesites stand out, the Police Pier and Nudi Retreat. At Nudi Retreat, as the name implies, we saw a lot of nudibranchs, and a gorgonian fan with pygmy sea horses. I had trouble seeing them, and I think it's really time to get special lenses for my mask. Next time I see them, I want to be much closer! We also saw a pulsating mollusc in the rocks of Nudi Retreat. The police pier is a jetty used by the police, with of course the usual garbage and lots of unusual fish. One of the highlights was a big octopus that squeezed himself in a hole in the rocks where there must have been fish eggs: a small damsel fish kept attacking the octo fiercely. Another awesome sight was a school of banggai cardinal fish on top of a small staghorn coral. I never thought the fish on the back of my open water card where that special, but seeing them here live, I realize they are extremely cute and pretty.

On the evening before our departure for Bunaken, we did a night dive right on the House Reef. The night dive wasn't too interesting, and apart from a few red crabs, we didn't really see anything we hadn't seen yet during the day. Actually, I think we saw less than on our daytime dives.