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Manado revisited

by John Langford

Reproduced from in focus 77 (Winter 2003)


For the second time this year I am on my way to Manado, capital of North Sulawesi. I have become a regular visitor now, and the excitement of finding and photographing something new draws me back over and over again.

Manado airport has at last been modernised. It takes no time at all to pass through immigration, collect my bags and make my way to the taxi area. Outside the driver from Barracuda dive centre greets me and, thankfully, grabs my bags and lugs them to our transport.

It's about 40 minutes to the dive centre, which is located on the other side of town. It gives me a chance to chat to my dive guide (who come along to greet me) about what's happening underwater. He tells me he has a number of special things to show me and if I change into my gear now we con go straight into the water on arrival! However, I said Iwould hang on till the morning.

The accommodation is in bungalows positioned on a hillside overlooking Manado Bay. Mine is number six. It has an enormous bed big enough to sleep about four, TV, air conditioning and a couple of tables for the cameras. I plan to stay here ten days.

Next morning I make my way out along the wooden pier to my boot for the day. My gear is already stowed on board. It's a glorious day: clear blue sky, flat sea and the temperature already climbing.
For the first dive I have decided on a shallow drift along by Black Rock Reef. My cameras are soaking in tubs of fresh water so I lay back, apply the cream and enjoy the sunshine.

The dive boat is a small cruiser and, as I am the only quest this week, I will have the luxury of loads of room. The boat has a driver, a chap who looks after my gear, plus me and my dive guide who sleeps, between guiding me. In fact, everyone seems to sleep as soon as the boat stops.

At last I am starting my first dive. The sea is a lovely 30 degrees with vis around 20 metres. I find my first subject in the first couple of minutes, it's a pair of blue ribbon eels peering out from one hole.
The diving around Manado Bay has everything. Just five minutes from the dive centre there is a wreck. It stands upright and it is about 17 metres to the deck and around 40 metres to the seabed. Very close by is a handy shallow reef to do your degassing.

The centre has a nice house reef, very handy for those night dives and there are the islands, with a great variety of dive sites. One site I really like is the island of Bunaken, now a national park. The reef walls make a great dive. There are turtles, sharks, large shoals of fish and soft corals, but you have to pay a small fee to dive there.

I like to wait in the shallows to see the very large tuna chasing the baitfish. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you may get to see eagle rays cruising the reef.

Ten days have passed. Dive gear packed I travel 40 miles across land to Bitung, famous as a fishing port as well as for its many tuna canneries and its black sand. I will stay here for two weeks on the live-aboard Liburan and hope to do three day dives and one night dive each day.

Rudi Ring, the skipper/owner and dive guide tells me there are only two other guests, so once again there will be loads of room for me to spread out as the Liburan can accommodate up to eight divers.

So, what about this block sand? Your first impression, as you reach the seabed is black sand sloping down to 20 metres, no coral, no rocks, no weed and five metre vis but on closer examination you begin to see some odd creatures as you make your way around.

On night dives the creatures that live inside the sand emerge. While waiting for a subject to perform, I was peering through my 105-macro lens and noticed the sand heaving with tiny life too small to identify. I quess this is the attraction - they are food for larger animals.

There are a couple of wrecks and many more dive sites to visit. I just hope I have brought enough film, One of the nicest dive sites is Angel's Window, a small cave swim-through at 20 metres, opening to an area of soft corals and more noodien?

I have two more weeks and then will move back to Manado to Moles Reach. This time I will stay with NDC, they were the first dive-centre in Monado. I have been with this centre many times before. I know most of the dive guides and they all usually have something special that they keep to themselves; they will show me if I promise not to tell others.

Apparently, there are hammerheads at Barracuda Point so that will be my first dive. They also tell me that there is egg-laying involving jaw fish and squid, both in the same area. That will be worth a couple of dives.

All too soon my diving is finished. I will relax for a couple of days, using an in-town hotal swimming pool before gathering my films and heading for home. In the eveneings there is plenty to do. Eating-wise, there is a selection of cafes, restaurants and other eating places, two cinemas and quite a few night clubs.

I have already booked my next Manado holiday. See you there.

Reproduced from in focus 77 (Winter 2003)

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