[simage=627,200,n,left,]Over the Lebraran (Idul Fitri) holidays Andy and I spent 10 days in North Sulawesi.
The first 4 days were spent in Bunaken National Park, which is a marine park just off the coast of Manado. Our aim was to learn to dive and get our Padi Open Water certifications; I have dived before but it’s been a long time and Andy has never dived. Bunaken is about 1 hour by boat from Manado and after an early start from Jakarta we arrived in plenty of time to order a sunset beer and make ourselves comfortable on the beach at Bastianos Dive Resort.
The next morning we started our dive training by watching a video giving some theory about diving and impressing on us that the only really important rule for beginners is “don’t hold your breath or your lungs might explode”. In the afternoon we went out on the boat with our instructor Maartin for the first dive; we started out in 5 m of water and performed a lot of safety drills including taking masks on and off, and simulating losing our regulators and running out of air. We passed that part and the next day we were ready for 2 open water dives out on the coral reef including, of course, some more drills. The diving was great, it is mostly wall diving off Bunaken so basically you swim along an underwater cliff and cannot usually see the bottom below you. There are lots of corals and other small fish and sea creatures to look at and on these dives we also saw turtles. In the afternoon it was more videos and then another shallow water dive to practice drills, this time involving swimming without a mask (not my favourite!).
On the third day we had our final two open water dives, with one of these being on a flat reef area that was teeming with fish. We saw lionfish as well as lots of shoals of larger fish. After lunch we did more theory and then it was time to sit the exam; at this point I am wondering why I am doing an exam when i am supposed to be on vacation, but we passed and got our certification.
After all that adventure on the high seas were headed back to mainland Sulawesi and spent some time on solid ground. Our first trip was to Tangkoko National Park, which is famous for Black Macaques, which are endemic mammals, as well as tarsiers, the smallest primates in the world. We went into the park one evening with our guide to view the tarsiers; they are quite easy to see as all you have to do is wait quietly outside the tree where they sleep in the day until dusk and then they will come out. We were lucky to be the only visitors to the tree that day, and were also able to see a baby, which really was very small! During the walk in the forest our guide heard the macaques nearby so we were able to return the next morning at 5 am to see the macaques come down from their sleeping tree and head off into the jungle. It was quite interesting to be surrounded by a troupe of 70 macaques including lots of young ones playing as they set off for a day of foraging. We also saw a a hornbill and nest, with the male bird feeding the mother and chick inside.
On our final two days we bagged two more volcanoes, Gunung Lokon (1,580m) and Gunung Klabat (1,990m). Both were something of an endurance test, with the Lokon summit being covered in 8 foot high razor sharp grass (yes, grass) meaning that we weren’t entirely sure we had actually made the summit, and ended up covered in scratches! Lokon does have an interesting crater about halfway to the summit which is very deep with a small lake at the bottom and is constantly puffing clouds of sulphurous smoke. Klabat was also a tough hike, with an 1800m elevation gain; the path is similar to Salak and some of the other West Java volcanoes. Apparently you can see the whole of North Sulawesi from the top but unfortunately we missed this as it was raining at the top!
Our final night was spent in Manado, which is not a particularly lovely town, but we did get a chance to sample the local breakfast specialty, bubur Manado, a sweetcorn porridge with cassava leaves that is served with fishcakes and smoked tuna on the side – delicious!