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Bunaken & Lembeh Trip Report


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#1 vkalia

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Posted 27 June 2008 - 08:24 AM

I recently got done with 2 weeks of diving in Bunaken and Lembeh - one week at each location. We had 2 of our friends/staff members doing their IDC at Two Fish Divers, so my wife and I decided to join them.

The plan was to meet up in Jakarta - I hadnt been there since the 97 currency crisis and was looking forward to checking it out. But as we landed in Bangkok, we found out that Air Asia had cancelled the night flight to Jakarta and we had already missed the afternoon flight. So we ended up having to spend the night in BKK, losing out on our Jakarta hotel for that night. We took the next day's afternoon flight to Jakarta, getting in at night. Immigration was painless - after reading the reports here about harassment in Bali, I was a bit worried about how customs would handle my camera bag and sure enough, they pulled it aside after X-raying it. However, after a cursory look revealed only camera gear, they waved me through. Phew. That's when we had our second surprise - our Jakarta hotel had, not surprisingly in hindsight, cancelled our second night's booking due to our no-show. Thankfully, we arranged a hotel at the airport and got in late at night, crashing immediately after a very bland meal.

Next day, we met Ev and Sayeed at the Jakarta airport and off we went to Manado. The flight was late, we got in past midnight and sure enough, it was too late to transfer to Bunaken so we had to spend the night in Manado. Finally, after 3 days of travelling (5 if you count the 2 days it takes us to get from our island in the Andamans to mainland India), we were ready to dive.

This was relatively slow season in the region, and the dive boat only had 4-6 people. Pritha and I had our own guide, which was great for me as I like to take my time when diving and shooting. I dont remember the names of the dive sites, but we hit up all the popular sites in the Bunaken NP, doing 3 dives for most of the days there. The typical schedule was: up around 7, leave at 8 after breakfast, do 2 dives with 1 hour + surface interval on the boat and then back for lunch by 12:30. After lunch, there were choices of dives at 2:30, 4:45 (mandarins) or 5:45 (night). I did 2 afternoon dives and 2 mandarin dives (I like diving, but 2 dives/day is my preference, especially for typical reef diving).

The diving in Bunaken was very nice. The walls were covered with soft coral, there were plenty of the Indo-Pacific reef fish around and the vis was quite good: 15-20m for the most part. However, it didnt really blow my mind, as it wasn't too different from what I am used to diving at home. Actually, there were fewer pelagics and big schools here than what we are used to. Still, big walls are always nice although drift diving and photography can be a bit of a challenge. I got a nasty hydroid burn on the back of my wrist due to a momentary lapse of concentration and this ITCHED like a mofo for the entire duration of the trip.

One of my goals was to get a shot of the mandarinfish mating, and the first dive was a debacle for me. I had the 50mm lens on, for which I dont have a focus gear yet and it was a nightmare trying to get it to AF at night in the low light needed in order to encourage amorous mandarin behavior. And this was the only time I got frustrated with the 45 degree finder on the Aquatica - focusing on the mandarins was simply impossible. I went back a second time around with a 100mm lens, and got better results with manual focus - although the fish stubbornly kept porn-starring in front of the guys with the P&S setups while steadfastly staying away from me. I felt like squishing the little b#$^@#s! :D

Two Fish have a very nice setup - like us, they are an owner-run dive center (which was a big reason why we chose them), and their new rooms are quite good value. They were short of a cook while we were there, so the food was a little on the basic side, but otherwise, no problems. As mentioned, we had our own dive guide who paced the dive in a manner where we rarely saw the other dives on our boat, let alone from other dive centers. Dives were nice and long (typically 60-75min), ending whenever we ran low on air or got cold/tired. The dive staff took care of all the gear - all I had to do was carry my camera back and forth.

I had taken my Sigma 50mm and Canon 100mm (both are 1:1 macro) lenses with me, along with a Backscatter 2x Macromate Adapter. My plan was to use the 50mm in Bunaken and the 100mm in Lembeh, but as it turned out, other than 1 mandarin dive where I used the 100mm, all the other dives were with the 50mm. It really is a great little lens, isnt it? All the photos I post for this report were taken with this rig, except the mandarins.

Some of the photos (I'll be posting a lot more on my website soon):

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Cheers,
Vandit

DIVEIndia - Dive the Andaman Islands
Instagram:  @vanditkalia

7D, Aquatica case, Inon 45 degree finder, 2 Inon Z240s, Stix arms, Tokina 10-17FE, Sigma 10-20, Sigma 50 macro, Canon 100 macro and Macromate 2x macro adapter


#2 mreid

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Posted 27 June 2008 - 06:15 PM

Very nice images. Looks like you had a very successful trip. I will be visiting Lembeh in December staying at the Kasawari. Any recommendations on where to spend a night in Manado? Thanks for sharing. :D

#3 vkalia

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Posted 27 June 2008 - 11:14 PM

To be honest, I dont know. We stayed the first night at some hotel that 2Fish booked for us - it was quite nice and charming (set on a hillside within Manado with individual cottages and lots of birdlife), but a bit out of the way.

We had booked a hotel for the last night but ended up staying at Tasik Ria, where the IDC was being held (got a good IDC rate) - that is a really nice resort although it is really out of the way. Unfortunately, I dont remember the name of that hotel.

Sorry to not be a lot of help!

Vandit

DIVEIndia - Dive the Andaman Islands
Instagram:  @vanditkalia

7D, Aquatica case, Inon 45 degree finder, 2 Inon Z240s, Stix arms, Tokina 10-17FE, Sigma 10-20, Sigma 50 macro, Canon 100 macro and Macromate 2x macro adapter