Gorontalo 02Jan 2011
What a way to start the new year eh? ‘Hidden Paradise’ of Indonesia, that’s the catchphrase given to Gorontalo.
I did a little research on how to get here and it was either a SilkAir flight from Singappore to Manado and then a 10 hour bus ride from Manado (there is a flight from Manado but it has a low baggage limits) or 3 flights from Singapore. I chose the easy way out…
I took SQ from Singapore to Jakarta, then Sriwijaya Air from JKT to Makassar-transitted-then Gorontalo, Be aware that SQ lands in T2 and Sriwijaya Air operates from T1B. there is a free shuttle bus between the two. Shuttle bus runs regularly. Domestic passenger charge 40,000 rupiah The Sriwijaya flights ran smoothly on my trip. Trivia-Makassar is the fourth largest city in Indonesia. The transit there was only 20 minutes. Baggage allowance was 20 kg per pax. On the return leg, I took Lion Air from GTO and again we had to transit in Makassar. Baggage allowance on Lion Air was 25 kg. Domestic passenger charge from GTO was 11,000 rupiah. Journey from Oasis Hotel to airport on a Saturday took 50 mins. Its good to know that the transit in Makassar is very short, just enough to buy a snack for the flight as Lion Air does not serve food like Air Asia. Sri Wijaya gave us 2 bun with a packet of water ( they bill themselves as full service airline).
We were met on arrival at GTO by a driver sent by Miguel’s Diving. I am not sure about this but on this occasion, we shared taxi with 2 others and a 32 km distance turned out to be 01:25 journey. He dropped off the other 2 first…the unpaved sections of the road reminded me of going to Tulamben or Padang Bai.
Finally we arrived at Miguel’s Diving office or Oasis Hotel. (one other guest stayed at Melati Hotel). The forums were right—this is mosquitoe country folks! Be prepared-bring long pants if you are going to be surfing the web in the dining hall. Because the mozzies will be waiting for you 24/7. Room 6 is very basic, bed was firm, air-cond worked, water heater is very hot, the WiFi signal is strong at the lobby (if you request for room 1 or 2, you will be able to get WiFi in your room). There is also a fridge, TV with plenty of channels but no safe. You will need to ask for a stand for drying clothes outside of your room. Did I tell you about the mosquitoes? Keep your room closed at all times…
Ok, what Rantje does (how come he is not Miguel? Later…) is ask that you give him all your dive gear which will be transported to the jetty. Then the necessary indemnity form. Housekeeping rules and hey! A map to get you acquainted with the town. Pay attention! Food and tummy health at stake here,ok! Oh if I did not say it earlier, you have to change all your money at Singapore or latest JKT, cuz it is very difficult to change here. I scouted around the airport at GTO, but no luck.
So I decided to shower later and eat first, right sequence mah, the stall next door is clean and the owner is a Chinese from Sumatra, so naturally Sumatran food-Pempek. It is like egg prata with different fillings. The seafood koay teow was tasty. And the mandarin orange smoothie was a good way to wash down the food. Dinner for 2 with 3 drinks came up to 75000 rupiah. Not bad. Further down the road is a stall sellin roti bakar, chocolate with peanuts and enough bread to feed a family of four cost 10,000 rupiah. And some more Martabak stalls, but they only operate at night…
Woke up at 0645 hrs, and prepared my camera, last minute checks and then b’fast at 0700 hrs. simple affair, noodles or bread, unlimited supply of drinking water, hot or room temp. Pick-up time was 0730-0800 hrs. Rantje will drive you to his shop and the jetty. Its about 7 mins away.
It’s a very bare shop. It is having its second floor done. The jambu ayer tree at the driveway is delicious! There are 26 hair rebonding shops along the way to his shop. So if you ever, ever considered rebonding your hair, now’s your chance.
The name of the river is Bone (Bo-nay) no it does not have a ‘r’ at the end. Into the boat down the river and out into the sea….the murky teh tarik of the river soon turns into aquamarine blue of the crystal kind! Most of the dive sites are to the east of GTO. No towels (remem to bring from the room), plenty of drinking water. The soaking water for your camera is very minimal. Lunch is provided with sambal and a local kind of chilli concoction. Very tasty and very spicy! There is no battery charging on the boat.
Ok now to business, on our first day there were 6 of us, so the boat was packed, but somehow everything went like greased swiss clockwork. Besides Rantje, another DM-Eunis, guided us. You can use integrated weights pocket if you want. Backward roll or donning your BCD in the water is fine. The sea was calm and it looked to be a good dive..when you come out, the BCD is taken off and the boat boy hauls it out of the water.
The water temp was 30 degrees but no sign of damage anywhere. The underwater landscape is out of this world!! The sponge is big enough to scrub a whaleshark! The gorgonian fan is 3m across. Never have I seen such dimensions. And the ferns come in a variety of colours. Cigar sponge.. The octopus sponge is huge as well and it crawled all over the wall. Cabbage coral is in abundance and you could probably serve salad with the amount available. Rope sponge dangled from caverns in such abundance-Tarzan would have been pleased! There is a blue fern at 40M that you have to go see…the size and spread of it really made for a memorable dive. Check your deco time ok…
Jinn cave was jaw-dropping. It was not so much the caves that took my breath away but the canyon !!! It is from another planet! And it goes deep, very deep. All adorned with healthy, colourful and varied corals.
Then just when I thot it could not get any better, the Salvador sponge. Let me pause a moment here to choose the best description…lest I do injustice.
It looks like somebody carved a Maori totem pole and sank it underwater! No… I kid you not!! And it comes in 3 colours. Green, brown and red. And it is huge! Even after the third day, I am still amazed at the intricate pattern nature has etched into the coral. Or did some celestial hand carve this from limestone? Hmmmm…. White point has the biggest, it was like a serpent slithering out of a cave. I was speechless…Rantje knows how to put on a show! If I had seen it on somebody else’s album I would have said,’ photoshopped’, but there it was silent, serene and absolutely stunning. The green variety look like some jade carving at Sim Lim Sq in Spore.
The crystal clear waters really make you lose all track of tank pressure and depth, so keep your guard up. Most of the dives are wall dives but minimal current, one of our dives was during the full moon but the currents were not so strong. No sign of any turtles during any of our outings. We normally take a rest at Olele beach and there we saw eagle rays jump clear out of the water. Whalesharks have also been seen cruising off the point at Olele beach. The water temp is 29 deg throughout and yes, rash guard and boardshorts are good diving attire here. Oh yeah, we learned a new way of ‘flushing ‘ our wetsuits ! Kewl! Swirling steps had the best encounter with surge and currents, first it was behind us, then it was against and as we did our safety stop it kept pushing us down.
The lunch that we had on board on 4 days consist of rice, veges, chicken or fish and derba-derba. No hot drinks, as it’s a small boat, but tea is served at the jetty when you return. Rantje will ask if you are diet specific.
The dive-shop does not have a lot of stuff, so things like mouth-pieces, straps, zip-ties should be checked before leaving home, or bring a spare. Nitrox is not available here at Miguel’s. You can have shower at the dive centre before the ride home if you want. A toilet. Your gear will be washed daily here by the crew. And on your last day, it will be dried as well. Very basic rinse. No chance of a thorough wash of the air bladder. No basin to rinse the camera here. Miguel’s is open from Nov thru April, Oct and may much depends on Rantje…
Beer is available at the supermarket. So is mosquitoe repellant. Transport here is by bentor, a curious cross between a Honda motorbike and a trishaw, where the pax sits in front. The fare has to be agreed before you are driven off. Carry lots of change if you plan to take many of these. But Oasis is located strategically, so you could walk if you want to.
‘Yes all this flora is well and good but what about the weird and wonderful ?’ I hear you say? Sand castle and Mystic point are good for macro life. Critter count is high, 2 per minute. Mohawk goby ? Coconut octopus, baby octopi (??), non-stinging jelly fish, very big gobys’, dozens of lionfish, porcelain crab,Sea-horse, ghostpipe, nudis. We were advised not to night dive as storms have been frequent at night, what to do? The muck here is even finer than Lembeh, a small flick of your fin will stir up dirt. At Mystic I saw the biggest moray ever! Too big for any crevice so it stayed coiled over a small coral clump.
So 6 nights stay and 14 dives with b’fast at the hotel and lunch on board, transport to/from the airport, own equipment, cost US$525/-. Dinner is about 50,000 rupiah per person each time. Plenty to choose from…Martabak, Roti Bakar being regularly touted. The best meal we had was at Mawar Sharon, order soursop juice..and the ayam bakar MS (barbeque chicken) set meal. It is really good. It is usually sold out early evening. It has one piece chicken, rice, tau fu, tempeh (both fried) , kangkung (stir fried) and the best sambal I have ever tried in Indonesia. 45,000 rupiah for the meal. The ikan bakar is also good so is the fish cracker. We tried the mee goring, it was unusually good, then we found out why…it is full of MSG. There is a bakery a walking distance away from MS, it is called Purnama…it sells bread, buns and kueh (local dessert), remem the hotel does not serve a good choice of b’fast, so this would be a good alternative. Ester’s was also a good place to eat. Same fare. Golden Fish is a pricey seafood restaurant, live seafood often is pricey. But they had a heavenly tom yam that they called ‘Kuah asam seafood’ I thot I was in Phuket, it was that authentic.
This is a muslim community, so ladies should preferably be fully cothed in the hotel and in the transport until you are on the boat. As a token of respect. In fact, besides Rantje, I was the other guy around walking around in shorts.Prayer times are called out at stipulated times of the 24hr day. It is relatively safe to walk around town, or so we have been told.
In closing, if you are have seen enough fishes and creepy crawlies, then this will be exciting..if you have ever wondered,’hmm I wonder if these sponges and ferns grow any bigger ?’ you detest any other set-up other than wide-angle, huh what is a Salvador sponge? then this is for you. There was a wreck at the mouth of the ferry terminal that we did not do. So you may want to enquire…so who is Miguel ? Apparently, the owner’s son is Miguel. Not Rantje. Yes I would recommend divers to come, and yes Oasis Hotel is good enough, you could upgrade to a higher end hotel, but Oasis is conveniently located especially if you need beer by the gallons ? My wife and I have never seen such growth of corals, ferns and sponges before, we thot Sipadan and Bunaken were great, but this was outstanding. Well worth the airtravel and the yes, even the mosquitoe bites.
we paid for all our dives, food and stay at Oasis Hotel