By John C with photos by Geoff & Tim
I had organised this trip with the possibility of members (Neil & Kath, John & Jan, Tim & Sue , Geoff & Teresa) doing their own thing at the beginning and at the end of the trip so some people had longer in Singapore (the first destination long-haul) or other side trips. Neil & Kath went to Java and Borneo (twice) after the diving.
On 16 September 8 lucky people arrived in Manado, the capital city of the North Sulawesi province of Indonesia, for the beginning of an amazing holiday.
Sue had organised a safari through the jungles of North Sulawesi which enabled all of us to see hornbills, tarsiers – the tiniest primate in the world, the cus-cus bear and interact with a troop of black macaque monkeys which had some hilarious highlights – ask a member of the group – it is rude!
We were in Homestay accommodation which was very comfortable and the food although basic was excellent.
The resort was about 200 m off the main road so no road noise in the resort but with brilliant accommodation and food with diving in the Bunaken Marine Park.
To describe all the diving on this trip would take hundreds of pages. I cannot praise too highly the whole MUREX organisation. They have a policy of a maximum number of divers per guide of 4, but we often had a much better ratio.
The guides have a system of rattles to tell each other what beasties they have found and where it is. They also communicated when my air was about 70 BAR that a dive guide would take me up showing me a beastie every 15 seconds and then the next beastie until we came to the end of the dive.
A lovely young Indonesian woman, learning to be a Dive Guide, was my almost constant companion and was a brilliant diver. Several times when I had trouble fighting current, she pulled me along. A little embarrassing in that she was half my size but a real pleasure to be with.
If anyone hears of anyone wanting to explore this area of the world, MUREX are superb. Care and attention to detail make diving an absolutely tremendous experience. Again ask any of the divers in the group of their favourite bit and almost guarantee that they will say “Only one?” Ask a non-diver and I think the same response would come. There was snorkelling and quietude and beautiful scenery all the time. Kath got involved in some ecological awareness building which Danny Charlton, the Boss, took on board with some gusto.
Briefly, from Manado after 4 four days diving we were supposed to go by boat to Bangka Island with 2 dives on the way but a tropical storm blew up overnight and we had to go by land but we did get our 2 dives on the N. Sulawesi mainland and on Bangka.
Accommodation on Bangka was slightly less luxurious but I think most people’s favourite because it was a very small resort and it had the deserted island feel about it. I had my 500th dive where I found a plaque pre placed in the coral and they held a celebration evening including a band and choir made up of all the staff singing Indonesian songs with dancing with a bespoke cake for me and great fun was had by all.
After our third day there, we went by boat to Lembeh again with 2 dives on the way. Lembeh is famous for Muck Diving and some of the beasties were the size of a kidney bean and they were the big ones.
We had 4 days in Lembeh (which had incredibly comfortable accommodation and food) and there was an Indonesian evening with local primary children singing for us and a dance which we joined in for some more great fun.
Then it was back to Manado to leave N. Sulawesi.
The Minahasan people are some of the warmest and friendliest people I have ever met. Smiles that felt genuine were all around. One incident almost brought me to tears. When we were saying goodbye, Charlie, one of the workers on Bangka, said “I pray for your good health so that you can come back to visit us again.” It really was a Trip to Paradise.