North Sulawesi and Bali

It has been over four months already since we returned from our ‘extended’ summer trip. Luckily time does not only fly when you’re on holidays. Finally, now that the days are short and the nights pretty cold, we found some time and some energy to write about the last four weeks of our journey.

After visiting the Angkor Temples in Siem Reap we left Cambodia behind us and took a quick stop in Bangkok, to pick-up our dive-gear, go for a massage and even a haircut. Whoppa! All in less than 24 hours. That’s how things go in Bangkok.

The haircut, Bangkok style

It was about four weeks ago that I (Steven) had a haircut and the tropical climate is making me sweat even more than normal. So it was time for just another one. We had been passing by the hairdressers shop for a couple of times already and it was in the same street as our hotel. Actually there even were two hairdressers or hair salons. We just picked the one that was least crowed and asked if it was possible to have a cut straight away. An older gentleman, the hairdresser, I think somewhere in his seventies, made me move into one of the typical chairs you would find in salons you would find in the previous century, and made myself comfortable. Because it was bloody hot and I was really sweating like a pig he used talk powder to dry my skin and started a ritual that would take 45 minutes to complete. He started combing and cutting small pieces of hair and then showed me the results and posed for Leen who was taking pictures the entire time. Once the haircut was done he continued with an old-fashioned beard cut. All in all the result was not that bad. It was only when saying goodbye I realized the guy cutting my hair was wearing a bright black wig himself *strike*. We were laughing with it the next couple of days.

Lembeh here we come

After roughly six weeks of travelling around and moving along every three to four days in Vietnam and Cambodia, we flew out to North Sulawesi were our first stop was Lembeh. When flying in to the island we instantly fell ‘In love’, the sun was going down, the plane turned around and prepared for touch down between big volcanos, a scenery like in a movie. When we arrived at Manado airport the ECO divers driver was waiting for us at the exit. The driver’s English was not so good, but he had a letter written in English with him, welcoming us in Indonesia. Now that’s what we call customer service. The letter explained that depending the traffic we had a 2 to 3 hour drive to go to the resort. A little bit of a bummer because we were already quite tired, but hey, no other option so just had a coffee and there we went again. It was quite late when we arrived in the resort but the staff had prepared the most well know Indonesian local dish for us: nasi goreng. And it was just perfect, the best nasi goreng we evere had! Welcome in Indonesia!

The next day early in the morning we started kitting up for the first dives in six weeks. Our resort in Bitung was not very fancy and a little bit away from the water, but the rooms were nice and the common areas of the bungalows, just superb. In the morning we pre-ordered dinner from a list full of delicious dishes. At noon we had lunch on the boat and as the food came from the resorts kitchen itself, it was amazing.  Every time again the chef surprised us with amazing potato soup, sashimi of sustainable fish, typical Indonesian dishes but also the best burgers in town.

We initially decided to go to Lembeh because it is world famous for muck diving and macro photography, and that’s really not exaggerated. In just a week time we saw: a dozen of different frog fish, nudi’s in all sizes and colors, several orange and yellow juvenile box fish, tiger shrimps, a blue ringed octopus, a wonderpus octopus, multiple long armed octopus, mantis shrimps on half of our dives, 3 pigmy seahorse and so many more. The diving conditions were fabulous, water temperature 28°C, good visibility most of the time, 3 dives a day Dives ranging from 65 to 95 minutes on a 12l tank. Actually the diving in Lembeh was that good and our hosts and guides at ECO divers so friendly that we extended our stay in Lembeh with one more day and took one day less in Manado. Even then we regretted leaving Lembeh after a full week, but the plans for Manado were already confirmed upfront so after our last day of diving we just threw all our stuff in the ECO divers van and slept most of the ride to Manado. In Manado we were staying in the Mercure hotel we’re ECO divers have a dive center as well.

Adventures in Manado

The difference between the two ‘hotels’ couldn’t have been bigger actually, where the resort in Lembeh was small and rather basic (although it had everything we needed for diving) and the atmosphere was nice and cozy, the Mercure was big, quite fancy with many rooms, three course meals and a posh and overly polite and friendly staff. We were there for 5 or 6 days before we moved on to go to Bali.

Each diving day we took a 45 minutes boat transfer from the hotel to Bunaken marine park and when crossing the sea, for the first time we really saw the impact of plastic pollution and abandoned fishing nets, the so called ghost nets. Our boat literally had to maneuver between and around the plastic soup and look for floating nets for the propellers of the engine not to get stuck. It was horrible but eye opening and a big stimulus to start even using less plastic and look for alternative solutions. One of the main reasons of the pollution is also that there is no commonly organized waste collection, and when the rainy season starts all of these debris are washed into the sea. Of course it’s easy to criticize people living on the islands and blame them for the problem. We believe that as a tourist, you’re a guest and should be a good example, always. Don’t settle for straws in your drinks; don’t go for takeaway food in plastic bowls with plastic cutlery. It’s a weak excuse so state you have no other choice. You always have a choice. By turning down straws, plastic bags,.. you slowly can make a change.

Back to the diving

The diving in the Bunaken marine park was beautiful but totally different than in Lembeh. Most dives were fast drift wall dives. On a couple of dives we ended up in washing machine currents, those where at some point you don’t know what’s up and what’s down, and go up and down way to fast. It was exciting and beautiful diving to some extent, but sometimes it did scared the shit out of us. With Steven being a macro lover and having a rather big camera it was not our ideal circumstances. But hey, luckily we had the Go Pro and I could video a big turtle and Leen almost having a collision, clearly the turtle ignored the priority rules.

After a couple of days and some rocky dives where Leen bruised her hand and I cut my leg we were ready for the last leg of our trip Bali!!

Bali, wonderful smiles and breathtaking views

We had heard a lot about Bali, both positive and negative. Some find it beautiful others find it too touristy, too Western and too commercial. We did some research and decided to go to Amed. Amed is located North East of the island, close to the Gili islands and Lombok. The earthquakes of last summer hit both of them quite badly but Bali, luckily, was spared. Since we had been travelling and moving hotels intensively over the pas weeks we decided to just stay in one place for two weeks and just relax and dive. Adventure divers and Geria Giri Shanti Bungalows were advised to us by some good friends and since mouth-to-mouth advertising works best, we went for it. The best decision ever! The welcome was very warm, and the ice cappuccino cold, so we immediately felt home. The diving around Amed is very diverse; you can find both macro and more muck diving as well as some great walls and reefs. There’s a couple of wrecks in the neighborhood of which the USAT Liberty is probably the most famous but the wreck at Kubu and the small Japanese wreck (really small 😊) are also worthwhile a dive. We had great food, the weather was magnificent, we met nice people, in no time we became friends with Tiger the resorts house cat and before we knew it, our last 2 weeks were over. You read that right. Over. As in twelve weeks that flew by like 12 hours.

It was time pack our cubes for one last time and fly home☹Honestly it did make us a little sad. We could have travelled for tree more months easily. Sorry mom of Leen. People tend to ask, what did you miss during your trip? Actually, there’s not so much we missed, certainly not material things. It’s more who did we miss and actually with skype, face time, Facebook and all these means to connect to people that was not so bad either.  So we decided there and then on the spot, to do it again. Hell yes, we will be doing it again!

Recommendations

  • Eco Divers in Lembeh: The people  are warm & welcoming , the food amazing and the diving is out of this world: frogfish in all types, colors and formats, blue ringed octopus, nudi’s, … Heaven for a macro lover!
  • Adventure divers and Geria Giri Shanti Bungalows: We absolutely loved our stay at Geria Shanti Bungalows! From the first moment we arrived, we felt at home thanks to the warm welcome of Lisa, David & their team. Staying in the bungalows and diving with them (they are running both the bungalows and the diving school) was a perfect combo for us! Lisa and David are the perfect hosts: always around for advice, restaurant tips, places to see, …  and even the dive spots were chosen to our personal flavor!
  • Warung Enak: One of the tips of Lisa: amazing food, local and international for a very decent price. And you can walk there from your bungalow at Geria Giri Shanti.
  • USAT Liberty: If you are a scubadiver and you are in Amed, a morning dive at the USAT liberty with the bumphead parrotfish is a must-do!
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