Two national parks within a week, four days to be precise! From Mana Pools, Zimbabwe to Bunaken island, North Sulawesi, via Joburg and Singapore! I barely had time to unpack before taking advantage of the long Eid el Fitr weekend and setting off to chart new territories.
It is a short hop – relatively speaking – to Manado, three plus hours. Efficiently met by a man in a van we weave our way through higgledy piggledy streets, very developing world compared to Singapore, crazy traffic, horses and carts, motorbikes coming in all directions, rubbish everywhere. Interestingly Manado is one of the majority Christian areas in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation, and the most densely populated. It is also the centre for dog-eating, which is not a Muslim delicacy (luckily not a dog on any menu I saw!) You might have missed the recent election results given all the other ghastly world news, but the new president, Joko, the former Governor of Jakarta, is a considered to be left-wing and the rich have taken flight for the time being, probably to Singapore where they inhabit vast mansions on Sentosa. Could be interesting…let’s hope he lives up to some of his pledges and stops the destruction of the rain forest and the corruption.
Soon we are clambering over a series of boats tied up in the stinky and polluted port area and set off with the delightful wife and son of one of the boatmen. The little boy has been bought a plastic guitar (Eid is the time of gifts) and he is enjoying playing the rock star).
Raja Laut is a tiny little resort, with four chalet-bungalows. I selected the ‘superior’ which has hot water and a ceiling fan, although its not that hot and there are no mosquitos. Run by a couple of Italians, Roberto and Amedeo, it has a slick little dive school, with excellent equipment and two good boats. I would recommend it of all the places to stay on Bunaken.The other residents are far younger than us and very multinational – Finnish, Italian, German, South African, French, British, American – some live in Jakarta, but most are travelling the islands for a month or so and we pick up useful tips on where and how to. Good fun to meet travellers at our age!
Meals are eaten communally and are ….fish, fish, fish – mostly roasted bonito, not very tasty, with lots of deep-fried accompaniments – fish cakes, fritters of the 57 variety and, being Italian, pizza and pasta, all accompanied by mountains of rice. Not a green vegetable in sight! In truth it is difficult as all food has to be imported and I think they underestimated the effect of a week of no shops due to the holiday – by the end of the stay there were no bananas, no oranges and fresh fruit was becoming scarce.
Well, I didn’t come here to eat: it’s the diving, stupid. Bunaken is renowned for its wall diving and pretty corals. It is however the busiest week of the year and although we set off early and avoid the crowds on the first dive, by the second there are usually a number of boats and annoying people splashing around. However, my wonky leg holds up well and finning with no calf muscle is OK if a bit lopsided! There are also very few big fish, although the tiny reef ones are pretty and abundant, and Ross is in geeky heaven playing with his new Sony underwater camera with flash and all sorts of macro settings – the camera he allowed me to take to Zim. No wonder I couldn’t use it properly, its very hi-tech! Onong, our dive master, excels in finding things I can hardly see, but Ross can take photos of. See more of his photos here
Massages are on offer by Roberto’s sometimes grumpy Indonesian girlfriend; not half as grumpy as I am after mine, when the towel she drapes over me turns out to be infested with tiny red ants and suddenly I am leaping off the bed, covered in great big welts all over my tum, bum and thighs…somehow the relaxing point of the exercise vanishes…and now, three days later, I still have the war wounds!
Three days pass quickly: in the afternoons, I catch up on background reading for my book ,while Ross does yet more diving, and nightly we are in bed by 9, except for on the last night, Eid itself, when the dive shop lads form an impromptu band with an indigenous bass box and serenade us. What a nice way to end a holiday!