Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Togean Islands (2) - Kadidiri and Volcanic Diving and Snorkelling

Paul captured this amazing shot
Although tiny, Kadidiri was much busier and social than Island Retreat.  We opted to stay at Black Marlin Dive Resort and we are glad we did although either of the other two options would have been good too.

Black Marlin is managed by an English guy whose management skills leave a lot to be desired.  The dive masters, Nick and Zina, are fantastic, as are the Indonesian staff but if the place was reliant upon Crispin’s customer service skills I suspect the place would barely survive. 

Food was included in the room rate and we had heard the food was awful at all the resorts here but we actually found it OK by Indonesian standards.  Yes, there was a lot of rice and fish, but it was all very nice (and I can be fussy).

Our balcony and the view
Running water was only available for 2 hours a day but at least there was something which resembled a shower - a terracotta pot with holes drilled in the bottom at the end of a pipe and this actually worked really well.  Indeed, after a week with no shower we considered this pure luxury.  We had a large bucket we had to fill with water to use during the hours water wasn’t available for flushing the toilet etc. 

Once again electricity was provided by a generator and was supposed to be available for 4 hours in the evening but, for some reason, they never turned it on in our bungalow and I had to ask for power without fail every evening.  Crispin (Mr Personality) told me that it was turned off on a rota basis to conserve energy but I took issue with this because it seemed that our bungalow was never off the bloody rota.  As a result it was almost impossible to charge anything but was a minor irritation.

Intrepid wildlife photographer
Toilet roll was provided but kept under lock and key so you had to ask for it.  For some reason you are not always provided with toilet paper in Indonesia and we have got into the habit of hoarding it when we can.  We have agreed that once we reach Australia (i.e. return to civilisation) we must get out of the habit of collecting (stealing) loo roll wherever we go.  A flushing toilet and constant running water and constant reliable power will seem like luxury after island life in Indonesia but no doubt I will be taking it all for granted again in the blink of an eye.

The crowd that were staying at Black Marlin at the same time as we were also made it enjoyable.  There was a French couple (Julien and Elise), 2 people from Holland (Ivo and Susan), a Spanish girl (Laura) and an American marine biologist called Todd.  As we all arrived around the same time, we ended up spending a lot of time together, Paul dived with them and we also took a day trip with them up to Pulau Malenge.

The divers prepare
Todd certainly looked the part of a mad scientist when we first met him;  a bit hippyish with his long hair and a beard added to his credibility.  However half way through his stay he decided he was going to go for a new look and whipped off his beard – the first time he had shaved in 20 years.  There were mixed reactions but as most people used the word “younger” when providing their opinion he seemed happy enough.  It remains to be seen whether, after 20 years, he can sustain the clean shaven look and whether his new look will affect his credibility as an eccentric scientist.  I doubt it but we look forward to an update.

Todd was an interesting character and great fun to be with (I have to say that as there is a vague chance he will read this but in all honesty it was true!).  Todd grew up by the ocean, had worked in fishing from a young age and had been diving since he was a kid.  What he saw when he worked in the fishing industry eventually drove him to go back to school to study marine biology.

The jetty heading to the bajo village
It was Todd's work that had brought him to Indonesia and he had been in meetings providing information to the powers that be of the effect of overfishing, sustainability and other factors which affect the long term health of the oceans.  He had also managed to factor in some vacation time into the trip and so was here in the Togeans for the same reason as everyone else;  diving, drinking and generally having a good time and he was clearly an expert in all three.

On our first evening Todd showed everyone a couple of slide shows related to his work.  One was about the fishing industry showing just how many fish are caught at any time and how it is produced (graded, gutted, filleted and packaged on board huge factory ships) and the effect this has on the fish population.  The other slide show was about sharks, always a crowd pleaser in the diving community. 

The jetty to the mainland
Todd was passionate about his subject and that always makes something interesting but he didn’t preach.  As he said, he provides the facts based on previous fishing practices and it was up to the various authorities around the world what they did with those facts if they were serious about maintaining fish populations and protecting endangered species. 

Paul went out diving with everyone three times and I joined them on the second trip to Una Una where I could snorkel.  Una Una is a volcanic island which last erupted in 1984.  At that time of the eruption there were 11 villages on the island.  Everyone was evacuated and when it was deemed safe for them to return many people decided to remain either at Wakai, the nearest town on Pulau Togean or in Ampana or Gorontalo which is at the eastern end of Sulawesi at the far end of the major ferry route through the Togean Islands.  There are now only 4 villages on Una Una but nowhere to stay so dive centres arrange trips there.

Strange underwater landscape
The diving was amazing according to Paul.  They dived a wall (a massive deep drop-off) in one place and in another area, they dived a pinnacle which was formed during a volcanic eruption.  I snorkelled alone at these sites and although it was deep the visibility was amazing, the volume of fish and variety of fish was impressive, and the coral landscape like something from another planet.

At the first site I was able to see beyond the wall and it was as impressive as the drop-offs we had seen at Pulau Derawan.  The coral beneath me sharply gave way to an amazing deep blue of the ocean where beyond there were larger fish which seemed to be circling for prey.  Because I was on my own, and the surface of the sea was a little choppy I was wary of not venturing too far from the boat.  I was happy swimming among the groups of smaller fish and gazing at the waters beyond the drop off and steering clear of the larger predators. 

Beautiful scenery
I stayed in the water for about half an hour at the first site but only about 10 minutes at the second because I saw an enormous barracuda.  Have you seen a barracuda?  Have you seen their teeth?  I tried to snap a quick photo (and failed) before I quickly climbed back into the boat.  I had seen enough anyway and settled down to wait for the divers with the boat’s skipper.

The trip back on the speedboat was horrendous.  It took about an hour and for the whole trip, the skipper was going full steam ahead and as we were at the back of the boat we got drenched and were freezing (a novelty in itself but one we could have done without).  But at least we could have a shower when we got back and get into some dry clothes before settling down to watch another spectacular sunset with a beer.

That big fish looked hungry to me
Paul also dived the B52 Bomber wreck just off the south coast of Pulau Togean.  The plane was crash dived by the crew after being hit by the Japanese towards the end of Second World War.  All the crew survived with minor injuries and the plane is apparently in amazingly good shape.  Visibility wasn't great but it was interesting all the same.  Apparently you could enter into the small hold but the entrance was guarded by lionfish so you had be very careful.  It was a very new plane in the US fleet and hadn't yet been painted on the nose as with all US warplanes with the name "Woody Woodpecker".

Paul decided not to go on a night dive as he says he doesn't really see very much that interests him but he was did go on a muck dive to see what all the fuss was about.  Apparently a muck dive involves you skimming the sea floor poking about for interesting, weird looking critters such as frog fish, and Paul has decided that this really isn't his thing.  The landscape is pretty dull compared to coral reef and on some occasions, if you are looking for one species in particular, you don't find anything so it can be very disappointing.  This actually happened to Nick the dive instructor when he went out one day specifically searching for a species of pygmy seahorse which had last been spotted in the seas in this area.  He rather bitterly reported that after rifling through the sandy seabed the only creature he encountered was a shrimp.   

Swimming into the deep
One day 8 of us went on a day trip to Pulau Malenge toward the northern end of the Togeans where we visited a bajo (sea gypsy) settlement , and also a couple of other resorts along the way.  We also did a spot of snorkelling off a couple of beaches and went to another stingless jellyfish lake.

There were 8 of us in a small local boat powered by two very old and very loud engines.  Once the motors were running there was no chance of any conversation and the benches which ran along either side of the boat were about 6 inches wide so the smallest child would have struggled to sit comfortably inside the boat, never mind 8 adults.  The roof was so low that we all had to hunch over so as you can image it was particularly uncomfortable for Paul who ended up lying down in the well of the boat with his legs dangling overboard.  We all ended up shifting about uncomfortably on the interminable 2 hour journey to Malenge. 

More jellyfish
Once there we went for a wander around the bajo village which is arranged around a network of jetties and walkways around a small island.  The Bajo people make their living on the water, usually living in family groups, diving for pearls and sea cucumbers (a Chinese delicacy).  There are a few of these permanent settlements but many still live in nomadic small groups through the islands.

However, despite living a traditional way of life which has remained unchanged for years the large satellite dishes propped up next to the wooden stilt houses seemed incongruous with that way of life.  I suppose that’s progress for you!

Even more jellyfish
After we walked around the village wewalked back and followed the jetty in the other direction which led to the mainland.  The jetty must have been about a kilometre long and in places was very rickety but the waters were shallow either side and the coral very pretty.  It wasn’t until we had almost reached the other end when Todd and Ivo who were walking ahead of us turned back to inform us that there was a gap in the jetty so we couldn’t actually reach the island. 

So we headed back to the boat, we all squeezed on board and set off to our next stop at a small beach resort a short distance away where we were to have lunch (rice, noodles, cold fried eggs and cucumber).

We were already dreading the trip back but happy to learn from our skipper that each trip we took now taking us closing back to Kadidiri.

Kids in the bajo settlement
After lunch we did a spot of snorkelling and Paul and I saw 3 huge bump head parrot fish.  They were in quite deep waters and I couldn’t really capture them on camera but they were about 3 or 4 feet long, and a foot wide and high respectively.  If I had been on my own I know I would have freaked out but we just floated above them and watched them graze along the sea bed oblivious to our presence a few metres above them. 

Next stop was another resort which was lovely although the name escapes me.   Paul, Todd and I decided it was Bintang time so we ordered a beer and we chatted to some of the people who were staying at the resort before it was back on the boat again to head off to jellyfish lake.

Note the obligatory satellite dish
As we had already snorkelled a jellyfish lake I was in two minds whether to bother or not.  The short walk over the top to the inland lake was hard on the feet and there was no jetty to climb in from.  However, I did end up going in and I’m glad I did because there were lots of jellyfish although we only saw 2 varieties (as opposed to the 4 varieties in the lake near Derawan).    

Using the underwater camera Paul got some really good shots of the jellyfish but after about half an hour we had had enough of jellyfish and were ready to head back to Kadidiri.  However, the skipper had other ideas and stopped at another beach about 10 minutes ride away.  By this time, just getting on and off the boat was a huge chore.  Everyone seemed to have injured themselves in one way or another, either by scraping their back on the wooden struts in the roof, banging their head trying to manoeuvre in or out, or slipping on the unsteady boat.  Our necks were stiff from being hunched over and we all had sore bottoms.  We really didn’t know whether we could be bothered to get out of the boat to do a bit of snorkelling but we decided, as it was the last stop before heading back, we really should make the effort.

Trying to find a comfortable position
So off we climbed again, crawling through the boat on all fours once more, and jumped off the side of the splashed boat into the clear waters below.  We were rewarded with some beautiful coral and lots of lovely fish.  The waters were quite shallow, clear and calm and afterwards we all agreed it had been worth the effort.

After that, we just had to brace ourselves for the final leg of the journey back.  It was only about an hour and getting a bit chilly on the boat with the sea breeze.  By the end of the day we were all somewhat relieved to get back to Kadidiri, in time to shower and then head to the bar for a well-earned Bintang.

A coconut crab
It was Paul’s birthday while we were at Kadidiri which I only mentioned to Finlay, one of the Indonesian dive guides who was really lovely.  I knew Paul wouldn’t want a fuss but Finlay managed to muster up a small cake with a candle which was presented in the darkness by a group of locals who played something resembling “Happy Birthday” on various instruments.

Finlay then mixed some arak into a cocktail of some description (arak with lemonade and slices of lime) but nothing could disguise the distinct aroma of petrol.  We managed to avoid drinking too much of the stuff but they had ran out of beer so we drank it more just because we wanted a drink.  This was the second time they had run out of beer during our stay which was very bad planning and we were not impressed.

Yet another sunset
Paul entertained with a bit of dancing and ended up throwing various Indonesians over his shoulders which seemed to delight them no end but after that exertion we retired relatively early.  However some of the others partied until the early hours.  At about 1 o’clock in the morning Paul was on the balcony having a cigarette when he saw Ivo heading off in the darkness to the resort next door in search of more beer.

Despite our attempts to temper our consumption we still woke up with fuzzy heads the next day.

Another evening one of the locals produced a coconut crab.  They are the biggest crabs you can get and not surprisingly are absolutely enormous.  They are easily the size of a large football and look like they could take a chunk out of you with their massive pincers.  The dogs looked very interested in them but I wouldn't have reckoned their chances with that bad boy!  I'm not sure what the crab's eventual fate was but Paul reckoned he looked quite tasty!

Everyone looking a bit
glum and uncomfortable
While we're on the subject of wildlife, Julien and Elise came face to face with a green coconut snake outside their room (which just happened to be outside our room too as we were next door).  The snake reared up causing Elise to pole vault over the veranda but I would have done something similar (probably killing myself in the process).

Julien however had a close encounter with an, admittedly, very large flying beetle (the size of a sparrow) which swooped down from the ceiling onto his plate after dinner one evening and flew off with a chicken bone.  This was amusing in itself but not nearly as funny as Julien, a big burly French rugby player build kind of bloke, who jumped up about 3 feet in the air and screamed like a girl.  They make things big in the tropics.

As the week went by our group slowly dispersed.  Julien and Elise were the first to leave after 5 days followed by Laura.  Todd changed his plans several times and ended up leaving it very much to the last minute to catch his flight from Palu.  He left for Ampana Tuesday morning, relying on there being a minibus which would take him overnight to Palu to catch his 9.00am flight to Jakarta where he had meetings before flying back to the States.  At the point of writing we don’t know whether he made it but can only hope he did.

Ivo, Todd and a grumpy Wooky
I went out snorkelling towards the end of the week.  I went out with Susan and we just swam around the home reef (the area in front of the beach) but it was too shallow so when I couldn’t clear my snorkel I struggled to get my head above water to manually clear it and grazed my knee on the coral (never a good thing).  After that I was too afraid to venture out too far although there were lots of fish and visibility was really good.

Then I remembered they had told us there were lots of stone fish in the shallows (fish cleverly camouflaged in the coral but which are deadly if you tread on them).  It was while we were at Kadidiri that we also found out that lionfish are also very dangerous which we didn’t know when we were following them closely in Pulau Derawan to try and get good photographs of them. Apparently they are not deadly as long as you are able to get urgent medical treatment.

Presenting the garland and cake
In fact, one of the funniest moments during our stay was when Nick, the dive instructor, was trying to reassure us of the medical facilities in Wakai should you be unfortunate to be stung/bitten or otherwise injured by one of the many dangerous inhabitants of the surrounding sea but he couldn't quite look us in the eye as he said this.  Wakai is a tiny village and any medical facilities are likely to be basic in the extreme and as Nick was trying to reassure us he couldn't help but laugh because he knew, and we knew, that if you get stung by a stone fish, for example, you've had it.  When I say it was funny, I mean funny hysterical.  The reality is that you just hope you are not that unlucky because you would have to be be very unlucky or very stupid to be attacked by a stone fish or a sea snake or a sting ray (the list goes on...).

The Birthday Wooky being
Towards the end of our stay more people started to arrive, some of which were doing their Open Water diving course and when they were doing their training in the shallows it became apparent that a sea snake had made the area close to the shore his home.  Sea snakes are poisonous (see above and another thing to add to my ever growing list of reasons not to go into the sea).  Nick also told us about a blue spotted sting ray which was also lurking around the same place.  These are not deadly but they can hurt all the same.  Nick watched the ray bury itself in the sand and he tried to poke it to get it swim away and out of harm’s way but the ray wouldn’t budge, presumably convinced that he was safer where he was, hidden from view.

Needless to say, I didn’t go near the water after that!  There seem to be so many things in the water that can kill you or at least do you serious harm.  This doesn’t help with my irrational fear which as far as I am concerned becomes more rational by the minute!

Toasting Paul's birthday
There were a few dogs on the island which were very friendly most of the time (although one of the guests was bitten on the night of Paul’s birthday and had to go in search of rabies shots the following day but apart from that they were friendly enough!).  One of the dogs had decided that our bungalow was his kennel and Paul trod on him one night but luckily the dog didn’t bite him, he just protested with a loud yelp!

We enjoyed Kadidiri because it was busier than Bomba which was just a bit too quiet for our liking, the diving and snorkelling was great and the company good.  However, after a week here we were ready to head off back in the general direction of Palu which would involve 2 exhausting days of travelling again but that would be followed by 5 days of rest and diving (for Paul) at Tanjung Karang near Donggala.

After that it was hard to believe that we would be heading from Palu airport to our final destination of Tulamben, north east Bali, and the last week of our 9 month trip.


Add caption

Is it any wonder he is
attacked by fish?
Juvenile trigger fish

More Nemos

And even more Nemos
Stripey fish

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