Our plan for the day was to find a Weedy scorpionfish - Rhinopias frondosa, in a new dive site called Bethlehem (named to mean BEtter THan LEMbeh). Our dive guide Kennedy did not take long to find it. I think we could have stayed here for while as obviouslly the critters found here are quite promising on the quality of the dive site...and it is not as frequented as Lembeh which starts to look like the Bahamas (ok, not quite, but it's on the way)
Despite the plane being one hour late, we were picked up yesterday night at Manado airport by Bob's friend, Andrew, manager of the newly built Kima Bajo Resort & Spa. He kindly invited us to stay at his resort for the night. The bungalows are resort-style villas with stylish Balinese furnitures with private terrace, outdoor sunken bath and shower. All the resort is made of iron wood that gives a truely unique aspect. The pictures speak for themselves.
I'm in Balikpapan right now. We arrived this morning from Berau and had tpo pay an excess baggage of 450,000 rupiahs (56kg excess). We checked in for the afternoon in the Grand Senyur hotel (blatant luxury). We'll be in Manado tonight, so don't expect any pictures before I get back to France on October 5. Sorry. But it should be worth the wait
Only Mike and I decided to go for this dive, we left at 7:30AM to try to get the mantas. We got our best dive ever with the mantas. We slowly drifted from the boat to dive within a group and follow slowly the sandy 'avenue' by sticking to the bottom. We separated quickly and amazingly met at the same location: a coral head to be used as a shelter to protect us from the current. It was located at where the big sandy 'avenue' was splitting in 2 smaller one. The mantas were flying on each avenue and passing over us during more than 30 minutes.
The hundred mantas were lining again in several small groups. I bumped again into the wounded manta that has 2 hooks in her right wing and a trailing fishing line. I still did not have any knife to attempt some quick line cutting.
We were supposed to go to Maratua at the Nabucco resort today but we are finally staying to Sangalaki for various reasons. In the morning there were over a dozen groups of manta rays lining up to feed on planktons. As each group is about 10 individuals, do the maths: over a hundred mantas in one location ! Camera settings were again challenging due to the variation of weather conditions in a short time: cloudy with no sunshine, cloudy with sunshine, blue sky with sunshine, rain, ... all that during an hour.
Ron, Manager of Sangalaki Dive Lodge took us along with Ian (dive instructor) to the Blue Light Cave at Kakaban. He restricts this to experienced divers as this is a deep dive in pitch black conditions: no light at all and that it happens that some people discover that they suffer from claustrophobia in those conditions. So better be cautious here considering the depth. The entrance is a vertical shaft on top of the reef in about 50cm of water. There are 2 exits from this cave, one is apparently located at 44m, the other one is at 64m. I took the camera for this dive and literally forgot about it...despite that the housing is rated to 40m ! It worked without a hitch though and was able to take a picture at the exit point (looks like a gate). I wanted to take a shot without strobes but did not have time to do so. It is quite amazing as the exit looks like it is carved.
Now that we are the only customers at the dive lodge, we can go back to longer bottom times. It does not change much when this is a manta dive as it is most of the time quite 'physical' when I have to follow them or going up and down, but it is nice when doing a shallow macro dive.
Manta shots are starting to improve, but I'm still relatively unsatisfied. All shots are taken by intercepting the trajectory of an approaching manta on its side and slowly moving under their belly. Note that all this is generally done against a slight current, with the manta flying effortlessly while I'm sucking air by pushing the whole ocean with my Mares Quattro fins (highly not recommended for such things). I'm putting so much energy swimming, that it is a challenge to be able to shoot at the same time while trying to adjust settings depending on the sun position.
I had a pleasant surprise today as there were quite a good number of mantas today, especially appreciated as a birthday present. This did not stop here, as the whole Sangalaki staff surprisingly came during the evening singing a happy birthday to me and Aima (Ron's wife) offered me a birthday present as well. Thank you so much for the nice attention !
Sangalaki is breeding ground for turtles. About a dozen turtles come each night to lay eggs and a hundred babies hatch from each nest about 50 days later and crawl directly to the ocean. Sangalaki Dive Lodge historically established a baby turtle nest adoption program where divers could act as sponsors by buying eggs from collectors. At the time the program was founded the indonesian government was allowing egg collectors to dig up every nest and sell eggs for human consumption throughout Asia. Fortunately this has stopped since january 2002 and Ron, founder of the Sangalaki Dive Lodge should be thanked for establishing such a program that probably avoided the island from being emptied from turtles.
Turtles decided to nest under the bungalow around 3-4AM. The beach in front of our bungalow looks like a battlefield with huge holes about everywhere. On the dive side, we did our first dive around Samama island located about 15mins from Sangalaki.
Kakaban is a coral atoll about 30 minutes from speed boat from Sangalaki. What is particular about this place is the land-locked lake: the world's largest jellyfish lake. There are 4 species of stingless jellyfish as well as tunicates, sponges, tube worms, bihalves, crustacean, anemones, sea cucumbers, sea snakes and at least five known species of gobies.
Since I haven't been using the camera for a while, I'm not expecting stunning pictures for a couple of days. Especially since I upgraded from a single strobe to a dual strobe system, therefore modifying (and complicating) the solution. I now have a more flexible and powerful lighting system but at the same time, strobe positioning is more challenging and as these new strobes output much more power than the last one (and that it's a manual and not a TTL system) I have to get used to it and go through various range of settings.
We arrived at the Sangalaki Dive Resort after a hectic trip (for me at least). After landing to Singapore at 6:45AM, I met Heather, Bob and Mike at the Changi Airport at Singapore to take the Silk Air flight to Balikpapan leaving at 7:55AM and with ETA 10:15AM. At Balikpapan, Bob and Heather were stuck for a while at the immigration to get a visa. We grabbed all our diving gear and rushed to the departure gate to check in to the DAS/Kalstar flight to Berau..we checked in at 10:55 while the flight was leaving at 11:00...
I just arrived in Singapore from Paris. Excellent flight so far, I'm boarding to Balikpapan in about 30 minutes time. Just taking advantage of the free internet access in Singapore Airport to check emails.
Oh yes, I forgot to say... I'm going diving in Sangalaki (Borneo) and Manado (Sulawesi). I'll be back on October 5.