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Back in September I concluded a liveaboard tip to the Banda Sea with a stop over in Ambon before flying home. I got in 12 dives in 3 days with Critterjunkies by divebluemotion. The dive shop is pretty basic and located on the shores of Laha. And, like most parts of Indonesia, sanitation is not at levels we experience in the west. So, the rocky beach was covered in plastic as well areas beneath the water. However, many magical creatures make this area home. The water was warm enough for comfort in a 5mm wetsuit for long muck dives and viz varied from 30-50 feet, although on the last day, after a harsh rain, viz deteriorated to 2-3 feet! The top of the critter list was the psychedelic frogfish (PFF) and I didn't expect to actually see one. But, our guide had found one several days earlier and we got to see one on the second dive! There is competition amongst the dive guides and operators to find PFFs so when went to look for the PFF, our guide had one diver visit with the PFF while the others were off at a distance so other guides or boats couldn't figure out the location. It was like a secret mission. However, the PFF was in shallow water and the surge and particulate made for really difficult shooting conditions. Here's a video of what I encountered in 12 dives. Comments and critiques welcome.
Thought I would post a trip report for our recent trip to Bali Indonesia. With my wife doing photos and myself doing video, we have certain expectations when booking with an operator. With Mike Veitch being both, we figured that booking with his company, Www.underwatertribe.com would be a good idea. After researching others experiences, we felt comfortable with moving forward with them. And we couldn't have been more pleased. Our group was a mix of people with varying levels of dive experience/interest, as well as non divers as well. Everyone also didn't arrive or leave at the same time, so needless to say, the booking for our group was challenging. Mike,Miho, and Luca handled everything great, and the trip went off without hitch. I wouldn't hesitate in recommending their operation to anyone, and I don't give those kind of compliments very often...lol. They handled all of the transports from each location, the diving, tanks, guides, gear cleaning, hotels, boats, etc...Everything went like clockwork, even if some things were changed by our group at the last minute. Their main guide Derek is excellent, and mike isn't too shabby a spotter either. Although they did miss a few things on the list, like a mimic octopus, mating blue ring octopus, and orcas. Although, I am willing to forgive them for the last 2. ;-). A lot of the diving is shore diving, so the diving isn't easy. Between getting to the sites, setting up gear, and lifting everything, rinsing it, and also helping you into the water, with breaking water, and rocks that my feet aren't used to stepping on, they were extremely helpful in every way, and made the diving as easy as it could possibly get. For those that haven't been to Bali before, a lot of the dives in the tulamben area, and Pemeturan area are shore dives and you have to deal with the sand in your gear. It makes getting geared up less than ideal, but have the right mindset and you will be fine. Also, I don't know if my feet are extremely sensitive, but the rock to walk on hurt pretty bad at times. I had soft sole booties, but highly recommend thick soles, if you have feet that are less than tough.. Though Derek, and Mike would help with cameras and fins for those entries we were less than sure of. Whether it be unstable rocks, or the surf, they were always willing to help. My only complaint regarding the diving would be the tank fills we generally around 2700-2800 psi. Although this isn't the fault of the operator as there is company that delivers the tanks to all the operators, so this would be the same for everyone. Mike, noticed my air consumption was subpar, so he ordered a larger tank for me. Which helped quite a bit. We had 11 days of diving, and started in the Pemeturan area, staying at adi assri, which was a nice hotel, with nice rooms. We startied diving with menjangan island. It has some nice coral dives, with some moderate walls. Some nice fans for photography. But for video, it was just reef stuff, nothing overly exciting. 1 day was enough for us there. We then dove secret bay, which had the best viz, that mike had ever seen there, so I think we lucked out a bit there. It was 10 degrees colder than in menjangan. Still worth a visit although if viz is low, probably not. We then dove puri jati on the way to tulamben. In Tulamben, we really got in a grove with 6 days there. The liberty wreck dive is the most popular, which we didn't prefer, as it had too many people for us. We liked the liberty slope more, and it had great critters. We dive site, which I can't recall, it wasn't a popular site...but we drove in, saw a cow that was in labor, did the dive, saw 5 mantis shrimps with eggs, probably a dozen ornate ghost pipefish, a clown frogfish, and a warty frogfish, in which I got video of it eating an anenome fish, and some nudis....got done with the dive, and the baby calf was standing next to its mom...will never forget that dive. It was amazing. Did a bunch of night dives in tulamben, have to admit it, it wasn't as good as I had hoped. But still was productive. Didn't help that we went on full moon, and the current was pretty strong. As we ended our time in Tulamben, we journeyed to Sanur, to dive with the mantas, and molas. But on the way to Sanur we dove in Padang bai. We really liked it. And wished we had another few dives there. The water was again 8 degrees cooler than tulamben, but in 2 dives, we saw a rhinopia, nudis, zebra crab, 5 frogfish. Nice diving and good viz. We chose to dive Nusa penida for the last two days. The first day, the surge was poor and we couldn't get to the manta site or mola site, so we dove the reefs there. They are nice healthy reefs, but we were bummed about not being at the other sites. The next day we were able to get to manta point, and chose not to try for the mola, as the chances of seeing one, and taking photos without anyone in them was remote, we chose to shoot mantas, and for the last two dives of the day we could shoot with nobody in the shots..the last dive we were the only ones in the water. Had trains of up to 8 mantas, and in one video frame I counted 13....not bad. We then spent a couple days off gassing in ubud, which is a must do....although two of our group members had to visit the first aid, after getting bitten by the monkeys in monkey forest. Dont take water bottles in there if you don't want a monkey to bite you..trust me..lol. Make sure you take time away from diving to experience the culture and sites, we didn't do too much of that as we had been there before for just land sightseeing a couple years ago, didn't do diving that trip. Also. Beware that if you try to take a drone in there they might cause you problems. They claimed a new law was passed an you needed a permit for one....they wanted me to leave a $3k drone at the airport....I had to promise not to fly it...;-). My overall impressions of Bali as a dive destination are good. It doesn't has as much critter density as Lembeh or anilao, but still very strong. Mike mentioned he thought it was strange that we didn't see more nudis on our trip..the muck diving is still one of the tops in the world, and the combine with nice reefs and manta diving, it really is superb. On top of that, it excels at the topside beauty and the richness of the culture that no other destination can compete with. Everyone should dive Bali at least once In their lives. I'm sure this won't be our last time, and when we come back we will be using Underwater Tribe. Dustin
I just got a friendly reminder that my trip report was 6 months overdue. Don't you hate it when live swallows you up again. Anyway, here goes, and with thanks to all who helped me pick this dive spot. Let's start with what sold me on Anilao in general - Easy to get to (direct red-eye Vancouver/Manilla flght) - Affordable cost of diving and living - Good macro and fish diversity Anilao, or better Mabini, has a large number of dive operations stretched along the coastline. Some with names familiar if you have been following discussions on wetpixel, but there are many more, probably without web presence and catering to local divers (but that is just my guess). Towards the end of the stretch is Planet Dive. I chose PD for one main reason, it was said to have the best house reef on the strip and unlimited shore diving. Normally I would add one more priority and that is the ability to solo dive but this time I was lucky to meet up with a UK buddy who likes to dive as much, as slow, and as long as I do. I believe officially they have a buddy diving policy, but one person was solo diving I after they got to know us I could have gone solo if I had wanted to. However, check before you go if that is important to you. We visited at the end of May/start of June, which is the transition into the rainy season, and the low season for diving. Apparently conditions are best in the Feb/Apr, which is not an option for me, but on a next trip I will aim for early May. That said, we were diving every day averaging almost 5 dives a day. One good thing is that on many occasions we had the entire house reef to ourselves, especially during the week. We also had a panga, captain and dive master just for the two of us much of the time with 60-75 minute boat dives. The rates vary depending on the number of divers but even with just two it was only ~US$60 for a two tank boat dive plus unlimited shore diving, going down to ~US$40 for four divers, and $15 for just unlimited shore diving. Hard to beat prices. I don't remember the all-inclusive accommodation cost but it was equally affordable, although accommodation and food are pretty basic. However, it is clean and save, and if you are like me all you need is a place to sleep and charge batteries. Another advantage is that you get to meet a lot of local divers, unlike most other places I have ever been to. The shore diving starts right in front of PD. The dive locker is on the beach with tanks always available. We would head down just after 5am and be in the water by 5:30 for our pre-breakfast dive. Boat dives were either two tank trips leaving right after breakfast back by lunch or one after breakfast and a second after lunch. Two more shore dives filled out the day. The beach and shore entry consists of rounded large pebbles/rocks up to hip deep followed by a bank of shallow corals sloping down to about 4m, followed by a slight drop to about 7-8m. That is where you have to make the hard choice, go right on the more scenic route following the slight drop-off towards twin rocks or left to areas of staghorn and other coral with many damsels, cardinalfish and other critters. It is really a fish lovers site and you can probably find well over 200 species on your trip right there. If you like grand vistas and wide angle then twin rocks themselves are the only standout feature but on the whole you are going to be disappointed. Big fish lovers will enjoy the ever present bigeye jack school that can darken the sun if they move like a tornado over and around you. It is hard not to get excited by that, even after you've seen them a dozen times. Friendly batfish, a half-dozen spiny lobsters, giant clams, one hunch-backed turtle and the odd grouper make up the other large animals. Not everyone will enjoy many repeat dives on one site but I dove PD 21 times in two weeks and would be happy to go back for more 90-100 minute dives floating around and observing live as it happens. Boat dives were 10-20 minute trips to various sites along the coast or across a channel. There were two muck diving sites, mainit muck and coconut muck, the latter is prettier the former is muckier. We dove both several times and they always offer surprises. Another site I liked a lot but I don't think gets used that much is Danilaut. It is highly protected behind an island and has a shallow sandy plateau running to a slight drop-off that slopes deeper to where there is the metal frame skeleton of a former casino boat. I found a lot of fish there that I didn't find anywhere else, which is why I liked it. There are many other sites, many of them have been discussed here before. My only "Pacific" comparison is with the Marsa Alam area in the Red Sea. Visibility, reef structure, and general UW landscape beauty is much better in the Red Sea. But when it comes to fish life I've never seen as much variety as in Anilao. The final count is not yet in but well over 300 fish species in two weeks. Twice a typical harvest in the Caribbean and 50% better than the Red Sea. So if you are a fish lover who wants unlimited and varied house reef diving at a good value it is hard to beat PD. Cheers, Bart