Bunaken Island

I departed from Yogyakarta bright and early for a long day of travels.  First, I had to fly to a random city as there were no direct flights to my ultimate destination.  From there it was a short flight to the city of Manado on the island of Sulawesi.  The island is just east of Borneo, consisting of a number of long peninsulas.  Bunaken island is then just a bit further off from the northern point of Sulawesi, about a 45 minute speed boat ride away from Manado.

The island is relatively small at approximately 8 metres squared, and it’s pretty much exclusively known for the scuba diving—-I am told that the diving there is in fact some of the best in the world.  They have seven times more types of coral than Hawaii, and contain more than 70% of the fish species known in the Indo-Western Pacific.  That being said, scuba diving is literally the only thing to do on the island aside from a bit of snorkeling.  All of the restaurants are attached to a guesthouse or hotel, and as far as I could tell there was only one bar that was not attached to either.  Aside from tiny corner stores, there are no shops on the island, everything comes from Manado.

Getting to the island was a bit of a challenge because by the time I landed at the airport in Manado, I’d already missed the last public boat to the island.  The cab ride to the pier at Chalacha only cost $8 CAD, but I then had to shell out $50 CAD to get a private speed boat to take me out to the island.  If you manage to catch the public boat to the island or even share the ride, you can keep the cost down significantly.

Shot from the boat ride over and the pier at Bunaken:

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I stayed at the Sea Breeze, a great little seaside joint owned by an Australian fellow.  For $65 CAD a night I had my own bungalow right next to the water, including three meals a day.  The place was really idyllic for my needs, but you have to adjust your expectations.  The bathroom had no hot water (not a problem in that heat) and the water that did flow from the taps was about 40% salt water (which strangely enough made for a week of excellent hair days).  We also generally only had electricity in the mornings and evenings so forget about AC, fans were the only cooling mechanism.  But it’s tough to complain with views like this during low-tide from my terrace:

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As I noted earlier, all of the restaurants and bars save one of the latter are attached to a guesthouse or hotel.  From my exploration of the island, the restaurant/lounging area at Sea Breeze was the the best around so I ate all my meals and spent most of my free time in the building right next to the water.  There are really no fancy places on the island so this was the best place to hang out for a seaside drink which meant that all of the guests got to know each other quickly. 

The restaurant/lounge cottage:

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My room, the cabin from the outside, and a shot from the terrace area:

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I got my open water certification in Vietnam so I only had a total of five dives under my belt when I arrived at Bunaken.  I figured I would go for five or so dives but once I was there the diving was so phenomenal that I did two dives a day for six of my seven days on the island, and at a cost of $50 CAD a dive including equipment, it was a bargain.  The dive sites have lovely clear water, minimal currents and amazing walls overflowing with fish and coral.  In my time diving there I saw a ton of turtles, sea horses, sleeping nurse sharks, and eels.

One of the dive sites:

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I was feeling a little dizzy one day so I decided to take the day off from diving and went snorkeling instead.  In the afternoon I walked around the island and took some shots:

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I saw a ton of interesting things underwater, but I was going too deep for cheapie disposable waterproof camera covers so I have little documentation of my hours during those awesome dives.  However, I’m not sure whether I’d want to have a camera on my dives.  There is something meditative about diving—it actually takes a remarkable amount of concentration to slow yourself down enough so that your air lasts. You really have to focus on limiting unnecessary exertions of energy and slowing down all of your movements.  I have a naturally high heart rate, so it’s quite the challenge to get an hour of air out of my tank.  And the difference between really relaxing and being agitated is significant—on my worst dive my oxygen only lasted 36 minutes, on the best it lasted slightly over one hour–the exact same amount of air.  Photography tends to hype me up so I imagine that my performance would drop significantly with a camera. 

The only diving picture of my time in Bunaken was taken by one of the instructors, Mika.  There are a ton of turtles in the area and they love to have their backs scratched (they do it naturally on rocks), but if you encounter them snorkeling they swim away fast.  However, for some reason when you’re diving, they don’t see you as a threat and let you hang out..  As an illustration, I’m told that the turtle below was a few centimeters away from my head until I turned around and noticed it. 

I’ll leave you with the shot of my encounter with the turtle:

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