To sum up the trip in one word- FANTASTIC. We were blessed with good weather, good food, good dives and most importantly, great participants. The trip got off to a staggered start as divers convened in Ujung Pandang on February 20 from Jakarta (Tom, Cokro, Lille, and Mulyadi), Bandung (Kaufik and Gunadi), Surabaya (Dyna) and Bali (Erwin, Thea, Rizal, Tim and David).
The Bali divers arrived first in Ujung Pandang, and after a harried start at the Ujung Pandang airport (somehow we could find the van from the hotel, but not the driver'this even after we tried continuously to page him over the PA system) got to Makassar ready to try its famous seafood. As I had been to Makassar a few times, I dragged everyone to my favorite seafood restaurant just a few blocks inland from Losari Beach, Lae-Lae. There we gorged ourselves on a menu of grilled fish and shrimp and Tim especially fell in love with the otak-otak though we were all a little unsure of the squid cooked in its ink- Erwin ended up with lovely black lips and teeth that required the ordering of a few more aquas. After we had eaten our fill, we rolled ourselves out into the street and hailed a cab to drive to Bantimurung- one of the few Makassar area attractions. Tim decided that bed would be better than sightseeing, so as he curled up with a good book in the Anging Mammiri hotel, while Erwin, David, Rizal and I drove the 60 or so kilometers with a very funny driver who had somehow managed to pick up the epithet 'shit' from God knows where. Each time someone tried to cut us off he would mutter an audible 'shit' in their direction- strangely this was sweet'
But anyway, we arrived in Bantimurung- famed for its waterfalls and various species of butterflies. The complex is a true Indonesian obyek wisata complete with huge cement sculptures (strangely of a giant monkey, not butterfly) and deteriorating buildings. As we hiked along we were trailed by young men with boxes of preserved butterflies for sale- a good deal at 12 butterflies for 50,000 rupiah, though I'm not sure what one would do with them. Also as we walked along, David was gauging the distance we had traveled in awe- 'We've walked at least two kilometers from the car park!' We had a nice walk pass the first waterfall up to the second one which sports a lovely lagoon- a bit brown in the rainy season. The last time I had gone it was a gorgeous green-blue and I had regretted not bringing my swimsuit. This time I regretted that I had- but taking the plunge it was very refreshing and Erwin and I swam around for a bit (though I was admittedly scared of what might lurk beneath me and not too keen on getting my head wet). It could serve as a good muck dive, I suppose. But it was nice to cool off after the sweat we had worked up on the way- those two kilometers were hot ones! On the way back to the car we stopped in at the butterfly museum to see examples of what (in the dry season) can easily be viewed from the top waterfall.
Having exhausted all that Bantimurung had to offer, we set off for the city. After stopping for snacks and a change of clothes at the hotel, we four walked the few blocks to Kios Semarang- a decaying Chinese restaurant overlooking Losari Beach- a great place to get some cold beers and watch the sunset. As we walked along- again David (a.k.a. Mas Malas) was measuring up the distance, proclaiming all the while that becaks would be needed for the way home! We drank cold Bintang and watched the sunset and David was suitably surprised as the place filled up with Makassarese in the know. We decided we could make a fortune if we supplied Makassar with a trendy bar- but then we'd have to live in Makassar! So forget that'
Suitably tipsy, we started back for the hotel, meeting Dyna along the way. Kaufik and Gunadi had finally arrived from Bandung after their plane had been delayed for hours, and so we woke up Tim and walked to Kayangan restaurant (just a few doors down from Lae Lae) to grab some dinner. The fare was similar to that of lunch- seafood and lots of it- but we agreed that Lae Lae had better sambals (at least four to choose from). Still, it was a great dinner. Stuffed once more, we staggered back to the hotel and set up a party in one of the rooms- let the drinking continue! Rizal had brought a bottle of Hennessey VSOP that we managed to finish off as we waited for the Jakarta participants to arrive but Kaufik and Gunadi headed for bed exhausted from a full day of traveling (another delayed flight as Jakarta was flooded- what a surprise!)
The 21st started early with a briefing by Jan, the owner of Marlin Dive and boat Ciska. While not terribly informative, it gave us a sense of just how relaxing the trip would be. What I got out of it was 'Do whatever you want, have fun.' When Tom asked if there were any do's or don'ts, Jan couldn't come up with anything. Super cwek! So, we piled into three vans (along with two of Jan's other guests who were going to Bira) and set off on the five hour journey. The women went in the first car, and despite a flat tire along the way, we beat everyone else to Ciska, thus being in the prime position of picking the first rooms.
Ciska can hardly be said to be a luxury liner, but the boat is extremely functional and well-equipped. There are two main sleeping cabins, one in the stern with three door-less bedrooms (two with twin beds and one with a double). This is the preferred space as it is a bit farther from the engine room and has some very small cabinets as well as floor space for personal belongings. The other cabin has six beds in bunk bed style extending back along the main cabin with the last beds close to the engine. This is where Tim was stashed, to ensure his snoring would be drowned out by the sound of the engine. Each sleeping cabin is equipped with a/c and each bed has its own small fan. Up on deck, there is a nice covered area that houses the TV and VCD player, water and coffee/tea station and a little lesehan type seating area. There is also a table that folds out and can just manage to seat twelve. There has been clear consideration of space on board, and everything has its place. From this area, you can head out to three sundecks, the second to top one complete with tables and chairs fastened into place. So, even with twelve of us on board you could find space to relax and be alone. At the back of the boat there are three bathrooms, and as there is a machine to desalinate seawater on board, there is no worry of using up the fresh water. There is also an oven and fridge in the kitchen, the former used by Jerome (French divemaster on board) to bake us fresh bread for breakfast- yummy!
Okay, enough of the boat- if you want more details, you can look at the pictures! Back to the first day on board' After getting first picks of the rooms, Lillie, Dyna and I waited around for the men to arrive sipping our fresh papaya juice welcome drinks as we waited. After we all got settled and set up our gear we had a nice lunch (steak cooked with mushrooms- a bit rare for Indonesian taste) and set off for Pulau Kambing (Goat Island) and our first dive.
Luckily this dive was not indicative of what was in store for the rest of the trip. Unfortunately, this dive can really only be described as a small disaster. There were twelve divers on board, plus two divemaster/guides (Jerome and Pipit). There was a very short briefing that did not at all prepare us for what was to come, and all twelve divers jumped in the water at practically the same time. It was unclear who was in which group or if there even were groups to be in. The first bit went okay- there was some beautiful coral and I saw three sharks, quite a few scorpion fish, giant clams, and schooling trevally. Right at twenty-four minutes into the dive, however, we met a strong current that whipped us along rapidly. To watch the trevally, for instance, we had to cling to the coral to keep from being blown right along. As stressful as this might have been for some divers unaccustomed to current, the real drama began at the end of the dive. As there had been no real dive planning or insistence on staying with a group, we became separated during the course of the dive and divers were coming up in buddy pairs. This would not have caused a problem if we had been in a small calm lagoon' We weren't. When we ended the dive we discovered that we had been pushed out into the ocean from the safety of the shores of Pulau Kambing, the sea was fairly rough with large waves (earning Gunadi his later nickname- see photo). There was only one chase boat, and it was not big enough for all 14 divers and their gear. There was also confusion about whether every buddy pair had a safety sausage and some buddy groups were stuck doing long safety stops to make up for their decompression dive styles (read Mulyadi, a.k.a. Decoman)' Needless to say this led to a very stressful situation for all of us, Ciska dive guides included, and there was an unfortunate incident of Jerome losing his cool unjustifiably with Pak Tom.
As we reconvened on the boat we thought about ways to remedy the situation. We were already a fair distance from Bira, so returning for another chase boat wasn't really an option. We finally agreed that someone needed to talk to Jerome and Pipit to diffuse the situation and also explain our safety expectations and goals. The most logical solution was to divide into two groups, and stagger the dive entrances so that all 12 divers would not be ending their dives at the same time. By separating the two groups' entries by 15-20 minutes, we could ensure that a similar situation would not recur.
After everyone had been safely picked up, we started on our way again with high seas, causing some to realize that they did not yet have their 'sea legs' and leaving a few people staring at the horizon trying to keep their lunch down. We motored along to Pulau Pasi and rested. During the surface interval a few of us took the chase boat along the coast of Pulau Pasi and around the island to see the local village and get a sense of the island's layout. Luckily Ciska was in a nice calm cove so we had no fear about the night dive logistics and could enjoy a stunning sunset before the dive. The dive was good- though Lillie and Tim didn't join it- crustaceans abounded and there was a beautiful huge spotted nudibranch (asteronotus cespitosus), slipper lobsters, baby cuttlefish, dancing flatworms attracted to the light from the torches, tons of crabs and shrimps and a reported sighting of my personal favorite, the psychotic sponge crab. I am convinced this crab suffers from a mental disorder- not satisfied to be a crab, it longs to be a sponge and dresses up as one every night- the transvestite of the crustacean family. After the dive everyone was pooped. Dinner and bed were in order. After some chatting and star gazing I was asleep by 9:30 so can't attest to any shenanigans that might have gone on (though I was goaded into one shot of Jose Cuervo tequila by Pak Tom ' the accusation that I am too weak too drink always gets me in trouble).
The 22nd began with a drop-dead gorgeous sunrise for those of us who managed to get up for it and a special crash course in the sun salutation (yoga) for Erwin by yours truly. We geared up for a dawn dive at Tanjung Tepo, hitting the water at 6:49 am, minus Tom, Dyna, Kaufik and Gunadi. Tom must have been feeling the effects of the previous night's tequila intake and Dyna was catching up on her beauty sleep. It was a lovely dive, with beautiful corals, clown triggerfish, napoleon fish and some pretty funky worms. Next, breakfast and inspiring those who slept in to wake up for the second dive. On the 22nd, there were five dives offered, so they all have blended together a bit. What stands out is that we implemented the plan to dive in two groups, thus making diver pick-up a less stressful event. Also, this was the day that each person's personality really started to come out. Tim would retire after every dive or meal to his bunk with his book for a quick read (or snooze?), Tom would head for the sun with his tanning oil ('bule time'), and Erwin would search through Ciska's CD collection for what soon became the trip's theme song, Sheryl Crow's 'All I Wanna Do'. This was also the day that we watched 'Finding Nemo' between dives and adopted various lines from it into our speech ('Sharkbait, ooh ha ha').
We were in the water for the second dive at 9:50 am again at Tanjung Tepo where we saw a big green turtle, the ever-present blue-spotted stingray, and tons of corraline alga (an algae that resembles a yellow ivy). Back up for a surface interval, lunch and the first half of 'Finding Nemo', then it was time for more diving, this time at Tanjung Labur which is also referred to as Tanjung Cumi. We were in the water at 13:16 and Pipit found a really nice pink leaf fish for us (having proclaimed the day before that he would definitely spot one- I asked to order a manta and a dugong if he was giving out guarantees, but alas those never appeared). There was also a napoleon, another blue-spotted stingray, a chameleon parrotfish, a beautiful spotted boxfish, and a napoleon fish. We surfaced again and snacked and lazed around while finishing the last half of 'Finding Nemo'.
The third and fourth dives were again at Tanjung Labur/Cumi. We were in the water at 15:55 and then again at 19:48, though I should mention that not everyone was in the water for all five dives. The afternoon dive was lovely with fourteen barracudas schooling (Erwin, a.k.a. 'the dive nerd' counted them), and really gorgeous table corals in pristine condition. The night dive was a little rough- and those who missed it (Mulyadi, Rizal, David and Tim) didn't miss much- there was a strong current which caused a lot of confusion and while one group made it to the wall, our group spent the whole dive in the shallows with a frustrating average depth of 4.9 meters! Despite our inability to locate the wall, we saw a nice painted rock lobster that Lillie tried to catch in vain, a tiger cowrie, sleeping porcupine fish, coral crabs, squat lobsters and a nice large filefish/leatherjacket.
The 23rd dawned lovely. It was another five dive day for anyone interested. There wasn't much to occupy us between dives, so David, Erwin, Rizal and I initiated a boat jumping and diving competition (with David the clear winner in bravery, form and style). Tom soaked up the rays, Tim slept, Lillie gleaned recipe tips from Jerome and Eko, and we all ate to our hearts content. The first dive didn't really classify as a dawn dive as we were in the water at 7:23 having motored to Tanjung Harbaka, but despite this late start, Kaufik and Gunadi still couldn't get up in time! This was one of my favorite sites by far, and I must say that I am sorry we only got to see it once. The contours of the wall were really interesting, and though it was hard to spot much, there was a lot of fun to be had just hanging off the wall and looking up at the shape of it. We did see a green turtle, a cowrie, some very colorful christmas tree worms, sea stars, schools of neon fusiliers, and two painted rock lobsters.
After breakfast, we were back in the water fro dive two at 10:50, this time at Tanjung Tampu. This was the first of many 'bikini dives'- or wetsuit-free dives- participants included Tom, Erwin, Rizal and myself. The water was a balmy 29' C, and there was plenty of sun during the surface intervals, so it was great fun diving without a wetsuit and enjoying others' bubbles (hence my nickname). On this dive there were giant moral eels, tons and tons of pyramid butterfly fish raining down the wall, a napoleon, a phylididiiae varicosa nudibranch, egg cowrie, tosa commensal shrimp, needlefish silhouetted on top of the reef, and sleeping red tooth triggers (Erwin was really enjoying pulling their tails). The third dive was at another section of Tanjung Tampu, and started at 13:53. This spot had tons to offer: an abundance of beautiful big fans, banded boxer shrimp, an acanthozon polyclad flatworm, schooling fusiliers, a phidiana indica nudibranch, a scrawled filefish, anemone crabs and shrimp, coralline alga bleached out in some places, and (unfortunately for the bikini dive) stinging hydroids! A current came along in the last quarter of the dive to turn it into a drift dive, all in all very nice.
During the surface interval most of the group went to land for the first time. There was a small, extremely refreshing, trickle of a waterfall not 10 meters from the coast to enjoy, so we took advantage of it. As we got ready for the afternoon dive, o-rings decided to burst, first Jerome's while we were still on Ciska, then Lillie's as we were on the chase boat headed for the dive. The first group was in the water at 16:53, while the second group went back to Ciska for a new o-ring. On this dive there was another green turtle, some painted rock lobsters, a school of bluefin trevally, schools of banner fish and fusilier. When we first descended the wall was teeming with fish, but as the dive continued this tapered off into nearly nothing.
The last dive of the day was the night dive- by far the best night dive of the trip with Erwin, Tim and David sitting it out (kasihan!). Descending at 20:01, the reef was crawling with crustaceans- crabs, shrimp and lobsters of all variation. There were so many painted rock lobsters that we could have all feasted on our own (and I got bored of watching them by the end of the dive), three scorpion fish, red crabs, spider crabs, flatworms, marble shrimp and much, much more. Once we were back on deck we teased Erwin, Tim and David mercilessly for missing it (as the two previous night dives had been mediocre at best, they thought they were safe to sit it out).
After showers and changing into warm clothes, it was time for some nighttime festivities on the upper deck. Tom broke out the tequila and when one bottle proved insufficient, Cokro's Chivas whiskey was opened (a very generous offer as he didn't partake). The stars were beautiful, the conversation entertaining and the imbibing over the top- this might have been the moment when Dyna, talking to Tim, was overheard to say 'When you were young, I wasn't born yet.' Though as I wasn't there, I can't be sure when it happened, just that it did and that it kept us laughing for awhile. By the end of the night most everyone was inebriated and a little worse for wear from the combination of tequila, whiskey and beer. (Those abstaining were Cokro, Tim, Lillie, Dyna, Kaufik and Jerome). Slowly people staggered to bed, and when I decided to crash after one, David and Jerome were still at it.
Getting up the next morning on the 24th was a little rough for quite a few people, but the water at 7:42 managed to clear my head, at least. The first dive of the day was at Tanjung Limboya, Tanette, just south of the Selayar Ferry Terminal. This was a really interesting site with a combination of corals interspersed with sandy sections. Some of the marine life on display included convict blennies, a white tip reef shark swimming right for me (before he turned around one meter from me, I thought he was coming for a kiss!), a green turtle, another blue-spotted stingray, lots of different sea cucumbers, commensal shrimp, and lots of small giant clams.
After the first dive, a few intrepid members of the group- Gunadi and Kaufik included went into the ferry terminal harbor in search of cigarettes and snacks. Mission accomplished, we motored up to the Tanette Lighthouse on Pulau Pasi for the second dive of the day. Descending at 10:37, this was a great dive, we saw moray eels, I got a peek of a mantis shrimp out of its hole (which managed to disappear when I tried to show it to someone), a nice big white tip reef shark, tons and tons of red tooth trigger fish, and the first blue tang surgeonfish that I saw the whole trip (Dory- 'My whole family suffers from short term memory loss' at least I think they do.') There was also a very nice swim-through during the safety stop at just about 5 meters with a coral arch hanging over gorgeous white sand.
We surfaced from the second dive and headed for the Bira harbor as we ate lunch. For the last dive of the trip, we went to Tanjung Lasa, Bira. Descending at 14:33, it was an interesting dive, with all participating except David. The sky was already darkening and threatening rain, and the visibility was low, which lent a mysterious atmosphere to the dive. It started as a sandy slope and led to more coral formations. As we first descended, I saw a white tip shark hanging out over the wall, but as the dive continued there was less to see, though red tooth triggers abounded, and I did glimpse a titan trigger and some banded boxer shrimp. The plan was to make it over to the very tip of southwestern Sulawesi where we could peer at the big current coming down from the west and watch some big fish float by. As it was, the current was extremely tough and the vis was too low to see much of anything. There was also a lot of damaged coral from bad fishing practices, and the exit was a bit choppy, but nothing compared to the first dive of the trip. So, with that we finished our diving, having accumulated 15 dives over the course of four days, though only Cokro and myself can boast of having done them all.
With the last dive finished, it was time for gear cleaning, showers and dry land once more. Quite a few of us went into the harbor and walked into town to see the sunset and play on the beach (I was jealous to discover that Erwin can still do a cartwheel- I haven't been able to do one since I was a kid). There was also limited cell phone coverage in Bira which was a true sign that the vacation was indeed over as people received text messages from work and friends. We made it back to the boat after dark and sat down for our last dinner on the boat (a shame as I for one ate better on Ciska then I tend to do on land). After dinner, it was time for more stargazing, the weather having cleared. The whiskey came out once again and Mulyadi kept everyone in supply of beers through the night. It was amazing how fast the time had flown by! Already it was the end! So we took advantage of our last night together, staying up late, knowing that tomorrow would only bring a long car trip.
The 25th was a travel day and after breakfast and goodbyes to Ciska and her fabulous staff, we piled into two vans for the trip back to Makassar. The first van apparently had a speed demon for a driver and was unwilling to stop in Marumasa to see the traditional boat builders. We in the second boat were more fortunate, and we had a nice walk along the beach under the hulls of various boats of various sizes in various stages of completion. Arriving in Makassar, we all met up at Lae Lae for a farewell feast of grilled shrimp and fish and waited around for Jerome to stop by with the Marlin Dive stamp for our logbooks. Lillie and Dyna went in search of eucalyptus oil, a local specialty to bring back as oleh-oleh. Finally it was time to go to the airport and say our goodbyes. The Jakarta crew was lucky to get on an earlier flight, and slowly everyone trickled home leaving once again just the Bali crew in Makassar. We had a delayed flight back to Gaurda (though every minute delay was one minute closer to the no-fly time ending- Erwin and I boarded with about two hours still to go). The flight back was beautiful- rainy at first, but clearing up for an approach that included Mount Agung lit up by the setting sun and a low pass over Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan which showed the crystal clear waters below (making me itch to get back into the water as soon as possible and already thinking about the next Kapal Selam adventure!).