Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Manado | 6-10 August 2011

Had to write an account of our trip to Manado as soon as I got back, lest the memory starts to fade and I fail to remember the tiny details that made the trip awesome.

Of course by 'as soon as I got back', I mean after having my lemon water, tablespoon of Manuka honey, prune essence, a shower (hello all my deliciously luxe beauty products, I missed you), a face mask and some random trawling of the worldwideweb.

Day 1 - Saturday, 6 Aug
We woke bright and early at 630 with every intention of leaving the house by 7am, which meant that we left closer to half past 7am of course. But we were in no real rush, as I had checked us in online the day before. Got to the airport just before 8am, and found the queue to check our bags in.

It took awhile, so we got trigger happy.

Happy hot pink holiday nails

After dumping our bags, we headed to Maccas for our usual pre-holiday brekkie. We normally eat a whole meal each, but decided to go light and have just a hashbrown (each of course, light but not that light) because for the first time in ages, we were not travelling budget. Which meant free food, drinks and blankets, yay!

Us @ Maccas

Was expecting to hear from Char at some point as we were having our breakfast, but didn't. So decided to go through immigration and go shopping instead. I'm a beauty products junkie, so duty-free shopping is like a tiny slice of heaven. I get drawn to the bright white lights like moths to a light, leave all rational thoughts about money behind and get busy surveying rows after rows of beauty and cosmetic products.

I usually shop till final boarding call, and so was thinking it was odd that by the time I had finished, I still hadn't heard from Char.

Thought that maybe she was already at the boarding gate so that's where we headed. Went through and still no sign of her so I decided to call. Finally got her on the line and the long story short, she wasn't coming.

Decided we'd still have a blast anyway.

And then we were off in a poof.


Landed, made it through immigration. There was a security guy standing near customs who checked our baggage tags to make sure that we had indeed taken our own bags, and not attempted to steal someone else's luggages. Satisfied with what he saw, he let us pass.

And we were officially in Manado.

Found friendly faces holding up a Cocotinos Resort sign and headed straight for them. Checked our names off a list, told them the Chars weren't coming, got our bags tagged and ushered to the side to wait for the other guests who were on the same flight.

They even offered us chilled bottled water whilst we waited - a far cry from the dodgy, immigrant'ish middle-of-the-night arrival at Dayang, that's for sure.

Manado airport where Boo's new Raybans made a guest appearance

It was indeed a rare appearance. I think he's probably worn these all of 2 times since he got them, and only for about half an hour or so each time. It's like he's afraid of wearing them out or something.

Saw this on the way to the resort.

How many villagers can you fit in/on a truck/pick-up?

Check-in at the resort was again quick and painless. We were taken to the cafe for iced tea and sandwiches, whilst we filled out the forms and got briefed on our respective dive itineraries.

@ the only cafe/restaurant in the resort

Guy in white in the background is James, apparently DM extraordinaire according to my cousin, but unfortunately he was teaching a basic open water course whilst we were there and so wasn't able to come out with us

After filling out the requisite forms, we headed to the room to unpack and roll. Him unpacking, me rolling.

Discovered there was E Entertainment on the telly, and decided it was going to be an awesome holiday.

Our room

The room was clean enough on the surface, and seemed to offer all the requisite amenities. But closer inspection and 4 nights will tell you that there are bed bugs and at least 5 other types of flying insects lurking at every corner. Still, it was a dive resort and at least 8 steps up from Dayang so you really can't complain. Besides, they had E!

After settling in, we took a walk around the resort. Didn't take us more than 15minutes to cover the grounds. It was essentially just pool, cafe, dive centre, jetty and front desk.

View of the village from the jetty

I booked a massage for just before dinner, so with some time to kill, we decided to take a walk around the village with the intention of getting some snacks.

Our resort is located right smack in the middle of a tiny fishing village, with huge padlocked gates. As we were waiting for security to unlock the gates, some of the little village kids ran up to press their faces against the grill. They smiled, said "hello" and followed us on our little walkabout.

We got to the first warang (Bahasa Indonesian for tiny stall, or something to that effect) that was just across from our resort. Discovered that there wasn't actually very much on offer by way of snacks, aside from a small selection of local keropok that looked quite suspect.

The one time we decided not to stock up on snacks, we find that there are none. It was a dramatic moment in my head. How was I going to survive the next few days! But then I decided that perhaps it was a sign from the big guys above that I was pushing 30, and should not be snacking so much. So I decided to take it as a blessing in disguise. It was either that, or spend the next few days scowling at him for not being better prepared.

After the dramatic outburst (in my head), we decided to walk a little further down just to see if we'd find more. The next few warangs we passed all had pretty much the same things on offer, so I resigned myself to 5 days of no snacking.

As I was silently processing this no-snack shocker in my mind at the third warang, he turned to me and said "baby, shall we buy some snacks for the kids?". Completely threw my self-obsessed thoughts off kilter.

I looked around and saw all the little eager faces around us. Of course, these seemingly meagre offerings were nothing to us, but such a treat to them. They got in line as soon as he said he was buying snacks, and happily each picked up a packet from the shopkeeper.

He paid for the snacks with an IDR 50,000 note (it was the smallest we had), and the shopkeeper had to run around to two houses in the village to get him change. She finally gave him the change in wrinkled, damp, notes.

It was nice being able to make them smile, if only for a little while.

Then we headed back to the big gates where it was again shut and padlocked behind us.

I couldn't help but wonder how they felt, looking at the tourists pass through day in and day out. Living a life of relative luxury behind those gilded gates, compared with the dusty streets they were accustomed to.

One of the few pictures I got of the village

Those tiny packets of snacks that brought so much joy to their faces cost us only IDR 1,000 each. Whereas a massage at the resort, just 2minutes away would cost me IDR 350,000.

We were told that at least 60% of the staff hired at the resort were locals from the village, and I wondered if the kids grew up thinking that they would one day like to work at the resort. Or if they ever resented the fact that we had such different lives.

I felt truly humbled by the experience.

We ended the night with a buffet dinner and an E! marathon before going to bed.

View from our room at dusk

Day 2 - Sunday, 7 Aug
We woke bright and early for a quick breakfast, before setting off for our first dive.

Got intercepted by James the DM along the way who asked if we had left our dive equipment in the baskets outside the room. Boo told him not to worry, and that he would carry it over himself later. I told Boo to just give it to the man already. Boo insisted. I was hungry, and James just seemed mild by nature, so neither of us bothered to argue.

Over scrambled eggs, I told him again to just put the stuff in the basket already. The dive centre needed to know what equipment we already had, so they could supplement it with whatever else we didn't.

Of course I was right. He relented and had to carry our stuff over to the dive centre himself. So much for being stubborn. Sometimes I think he just argues for the sake of it. Doesn't get that it disrupts systems that have been put in place for a reason.

After dropping our equipment off, he rejoined me to finish his breakfast.

A girl from the next table came over to introduce herself and asked if we wanted to go to Lembeh the next day. She needed a minimum of four to go.

I smiled right back and said "no thank you, we'll be diving tomorrow.". She gave me an odd look and walked off.

At this point, I noticed him giving me an odd look as well.

I'm pretty sure he didn't have a clue what Lembeh was either, but didn't dare say anything because he was Mr Nat Geo, and therefore, expected to know such things.

Anyway, turns out Lembeh was a dive site. How was I to know. I thought it was one of those trekking trips up some mountain that the resort organised.


Made up my mind there and then to file Lembeh reference away for a day when I could rub it in the face of another diving newbie.

Got on the boat.

Felt a little nervous because it was the first time we were going diving without the safety of Fazz and the school. We were like baby birds, stretching our wings solo for the first time in the company of other more seasoned birds.

And because each time we go diving I like to start it off with a little drama, I had to lose my pretty pink mask and snorkel in the deep blue Bunaken sea just before we arrived at our dive site.

I was truly devastated. It was my first mask and snorkel ever. But I comforted myself with the thought that it would drift to shore and get picked up by some young girl in the village, who would now be able to fulfill her dream of growing up to be a divemaster.

Boat guy and the DM gave me a look that said "what are you, an idiot? who dangles their mask out of a moving boat to wash it!?", and then gestured wildly at the box of fresh water sitting innocuously in the corner of the boat.

Yes yes. Next time I will wash my mask there.

I could only look sheepish and hoped that they had a spare.

Our DM, Hengky, very kindly offered me his personal mask. His mask had a tiny tear near the nose area, but it was the best I was going to get. There was only one spare on board. The DMs examined it and decided it was way too dodgy to use. So they made an executive decision to split us into two groups, instead of the original three.

3 girls were going to go with one of the other DMs, and 5 of us were going to go with Hengky.

They were soon to regret this decision.

Everyone suited up and got into the water fairly quickly. But being the newbies that we were, we took a wee bit longer. Even though all our equipment had been set up for us by the boat crew.

All through this, Boo was fussing over me and telling me repeatedly to let him know if my mask leaked at any point.

When we finally made it into the water, Hengky gave us the signal to descend.

I felt uncomfortable going down as water kept seeping in so I refused to go down further. Hengky kept asking if I was ok, expecting me to give him the ok sign back. But I kept giving him big, dramatic 'not ok' signs. Not the dive-approved ones. My regular everyday-use ones. After 3 more tries he gave up and told me to ascend.

I did so, happily.

He signalled to the other DM on board that he had to come into the water to take us two idiots - or rather, just me, the idiot, with my innocent buddy - down.

Anyway, after some mask adjustment, it was all good. The three of us descended and were on our merry way.

I was absolutely astounded at the underwater sights. The marine life was so rich, there were just fishes everywhere. I'm not a fish person, or any sort of a Nat Geo geek, so of course I couldn't tell the difference between the rare ones and the common ones. I just pointed excitedly at everything that looked colourful and pretty. And everything amazed me.

But the one big thing that amazed me the most on that first dive was this hugeass turtle we saw. It was perched on a coral, looking calm as anything. Boo said it was getting cleaned by tiny wrasses. It was so big it must have been at least a hundred years old or something. Was later told by the DM that it was probably about 60. We observed it for a bit, and I even touched it. Very gingerly.

I gestured at Boo to take tonnes of pictures, but he gave me the 'no go' sign. I later realised that the camera screen had cracked from the pressure. Oops. Yet another booboo.

When I got back, I told my dad about the hugeass turtle we saw at 25m. He told me about the hugeass turtle he saw whilst snorkelling in Sipadan at just 2m.

After the drama of the morning, the next two dives of the day passed by fairly smoothly.

Except for a tiny part of the third dive where I almost ascended and broke surface. Both Hengky and Boo panicked. They grabbed me by the flipper and hand respectively, to pull me back down. Think they were worried I would either die of nitrogen narcosis, get run over by a boat, or both.

At the end of our third dive, I happily told Hengky that I wanted to go on a night dive the next day.

He looked a little hesitant. Ok, a lot hesitant.

He was probably thinking in his mind, "this insane girl wants me to take her on a night dive!? she's got to be kidding. first she loses her mask, then she can't descend, then she spoils her camera, then she almost accidentally breaks surface without doing a safety stop, and now she tells me she wants to go on a night dive! And has no torch! Oh my god, she's going to die and I'm going to lose my job."

Then he asked me how many night dives I had done before.

I beamed right back and said none!

Which must have sent yet more shivers up his spine.

He thought about it and asked how many dives I'd done in total.

"Only 11!", I said.

He looked at me again, and then walked away with a non-committal response.

Day 3 - Monday, 8 Aug
Our two morning dives passed by with no drama. By the end of the second dive, Hengky seemed slightly more optimistic about taking me on our night dive. Told us to meet him back at the boat at about 530pm.

Waiting at the jetty for the crew to depart for our night dive

Saw the most gorgeous sunset whilst waiting

With Hengky, our DM who was probably saying a little prayer as the boat departed

The plan was for us to perch by a coral somewhere for about half an hour, in hopes of catching the Mandarin fish mating and then going about to explore the area.

We descended, and we perched. I had serious issues with my buoyancy and the best I could manage was a precarious half-kneel atop some hard corals.

And there we waited, for those elusive Mandarin fish.

Finally caught a glimpse of them. I honestly didn't see what the big fuss was, but played along anyway since there were huge groups of grown men all hovering around, waiting to catch a glimpse of them.

It got increasingly dark, with the only light coming from our torches. Boo decided to hold on to my hand, lest I disappear into the black abyss, never to be heard from again.

Happy to report, we survived.

After our night dive

Day 4 - Tuesday, 9 Aug
Decided to take a break from diving and spent the day just lounging around the resort. It was nice, doing nothing at all.

Day 5 - Wednesday, 10 Aug
Finally, it was time to leave. Kind of bittersweet. On the one hand, I was happy to be going home to clean towels and bedsheets. But on the other, I was sad at leaving this gorgeous island with its wonderful marine life and friendly people.

All I could think about after that was where we would go on our next holiday, and/or our next dive trip.

As we were waiting for transport to take us to the airport, he asked me what my favourite dive experience was so far. I thought about it, and told him it was seeing the hugeass turtle on our first dive.

But as I am writing this now, I think my favourite dive experience - although I'm not sure if it can be called that, rather, my favourite part about diving, if you will - is that the lifestyle makes me go back to basics and appreciate the things that really matter.

It's not just the accommodation which forces me to sleep in places I would never have otherwise slept in, or eat dodgy looking food (often with flies either in and/or around them) served on dodgy plates and eaten with dodgy looking utensils. But also the local crew that we meet. They lead simple lives in the villages, yet seem so oddly happy and contented with their lot in life.

Life I said before, it's truly humbling. And makes me appreciate the many things I've been blessed with.

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