Above the Water Level

Diving in Manado was one of those boxes that I should have checked off long ago, rather than waiting for ‘things to happen’. Now that I’ve made the decision to relocate, I want to make time for all those dream trips, and can manage only a fraction of them in the few weeks left.

While I had no success with underwater photography, being ‘grounded’ for a day before the flight with a tour in the highlands was totally worth it, and highly recommended for all Manado visitors. 

Sulawesi, called Celebes by the Portuguese, is an island with some interesting and some mind-boggling features. Some say it looks like an orchid flower on the map. It is home to some of the most unique and diverse life forms, both over land and under water. There are fascinating ethnic cultures all across the island, and I literally just scratched the northern tip of the land.

The half day drive is near perfect, self-contained with a mix of adventure and entertainment, vast landscapes and scenic villages, the ordinary and the bizarre. No sighting of the famed tarsiers or the maleo birds though – that would take a proper trek through the forests.

There are the ubiquitous farmlands:

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The ‘Pasar Extreme’ is not for the faint-hearted, where roasted whole dogs vie for shelf space with bats fried mid-scream and pythons spilling their guts. I’m sparing you the gory sights, but after walking through the extreme-meats lane, I remember thinking that self-mutilation aka tattooing was probably the gentlest activity of this region.

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Clouds played spoilsport on the vista views, but made some nice ‘atmospheric’ shots:

 

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The villages – Tomohon and others – had this European quality about them, with highland-type blooms and cute cottages.

Then I came upon this:

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Don’t know what they use it for, but it’s my idea of a perfect vacation homestay!

Coffee by the changing-colour Linow lake was so pleasant, I never wanted to leave, even though I saw only 2 of the 3 colours.

A couple of quick stops to see the wooden houses being constructed in the village of Woloan:

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And a copra processing unit by the roadside, with a beautiful cacao pod as a sideshow:

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If I were a pescatarian, I would be over the moon at the last stop, but I’m just a live-fish lover so I let them go by.

Goodbye, dive boat. So long, Manado.

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A New Low

I’ve just got back from an exhilarating trip to Manado in North Sulawesi, diving at Bunaken 5 days in a row. After a number of plans that came apart in the past, this time I decided to not wait for anybody, and took off on my own, with an objective to complete the Advanced Open Water Certification.

…… Aaaaand…………..SUCCESS!

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Not that it is too difficult, like, for example, climbing a mountain. If you enjoy diving, and have the means and opportunity, it is simply a matter of applying yourself to the task, completing the required dives, and voilà! The certification is yours. As it is mine now. Qualification is one thing, but the diving itself is something else. An experience that transports you into another world; in Bunaken, it is one of those life events where your jaw drops and wants to stay that way, but no… you must not lose your regulator, so shut that mouth and open your eyes wide.

In this part of the world there is a wall… a beautiful wall… With the most amazing forms, shapes, colours and creatures, descending straight down into infinity. For once, I had no camera to document my journey – in retrospect that was a good thing – but I came away with no photos of that wall. If you are curious, you might want to check out the photos by a professional photographer here. Matt (http://matthew-oldfield-photography.com) was kind enough to share this beautiful picture that represents my experience perfectly:

It was my first time going down to 30m (part of the course requirement). I descended with equal parts trepidation and excitement. But the deeper I went, the calmer I got; deep steady breathing helping a lot. At this point, I wasn’t looking at the reef, just feeling my own presence at that depth. Bunaken is special. One plane is this wall, and the rest is deep blue nothingness above, below, behind and sideways. Stunning. My instructor had a slate with a few arithmetic problems to solve, just to make sure my brain wasn’t going over the edge, as it is liable to, at such depths. At one point I was giggling at the absurdity of that situation, which might also be a SIGN, but my amusement was only because those problems were getting a little complex (with brackets and all) and I could be doing better stuff down there like admiring the fish!

Actually, in the larger scheme of things, not having a camera was a blessing. Hands free, I could focus on developing and improving my diving skills, and really looking at everything, rather than chasing photos. The pranayam breathing practice came in handy; with my breathing technique well-regulated, almost all dives went up close to the limit of 1 hour with 50 bar left in the tank. Buoyancy control much better too, and marine life spotting and identification skills improved slightly. I am still terrible at remembering what I saw while logging the dive (which is where the camera helps, bad photos notwithstanding), but when I close my eyes, I can relive the feeling.

Yes! Qualified for Breathing, Diving and Arithmetic!!!