It’s 3 am on Easter morning and we are woken by gospel singing blasting out full volume. This continues until 5 am, when various competitors join in from the surrounding villages. We are near Bintung, a Christian stronghold in the majority-Muslim Indonesia and the singing marks the beginning of an Eater procession. We have come here to finish our holiday with some muck diving at Black Sand Dive Retreat. Ross has been here twice before, and I once – Manado is short hop (three hours) from Singapore and was on our long weekend itineraries.
Lembeh Straight where we are staying is the Mecca of muck diving, which is muck by name and mucky by nature. The black volcanic sand slopes are home to the world’s strangest critters and we are here to see them! Frog fish, seahorses, pipe fish of all varieties, Ambon scorpion fish, minuscule shrimps galore, tiny crabs and the rare mimic, wonderpuss and blue-ringed octopuses…and many more. You don’t see many big fish though we were lucky to see an eagle ray on the first day.
Three different types of frog fish, centre was a tiny toy-like baby
Sadly Indonesia also seems to be the dumping ground for rubbish: apparently ocean currents drive it in between the islands, explaining the rubbish we see on our sea voyage and in Raja Ampat, and this is exacerbated by the Indonesians being among the world’s greatest litterers.
The sea floor makes for unpleasant diving – old nappies, sanitary pads, Covid masks, cat litter packaging, bottles, plastic/snack food wrappers – you get the picture, but Ross didn’t take any of that!. You almost have to hold your nose going down, before you put niceties aside and enjoy the hidden life that is lurking underneath any shelter available regardless of provenance. Golden gobi eggs under a piece of old plastic, a coconut octopus hiding under a polythene sack, Mandarin fish in a junkyard, and so on. In fact Rafael on the Dewi told us that it is considered unwise to clean up the seabed after too long, as old bottles and cans have become habitats.
BDSR is very quiet, it being low season and it has rained for days, if not weeks, when we arrive. We bring luck as for four days there are clear blue skies, and it’s hot. I manage two dives in the morning before retiring to the pool and reading, while Ross does a third dive.
The resort itself consists of six wooden cabins – made from coconut we learn, which is a hardwood – each with a splendid view over the bay. The food is excellent, three course a la carte for lunch and dinner, mostly Indonesian, all exquisitely decorated with sculpted vegetables. The kgs I lost are rapidly piling on! [NB now home amazingly they didn’t!]
I’ve never been convinced about muck diving – but aficionados like the Hungarian couple we met and and an octogenarian American, all staying for a fortnight, are addicted. She pulls a first on me by diving in full makeup which is still in place by the end! But back to muck – to me it’s like going on a safari and, as an old hand tired of seeing the big five, deciding to concentrate on birdwatching. And I like that these days!
Gliding over the black seabed with its stunted sea-grass, is like cruising the savannah, eyes peeled for the merest movement – the leaf that turns out to be a fish, the seaweed that is a seahorse, bobbing along the bottom, and the tiny bump which is an octopus. These you have to stalk staying close to the seabed or they will scarper. I decide that three days is good fun and I would do it again. Such creatures are so rare to see, and so beautiful.
By the time we leave, the holidays are over, the disco bass that reverberated all Sunday and Monday (Indonesians love a beach party we are told) has silenced and the kids are back to school. And so are we – on our way back to London in the spring. Time to check the greenhouse and plant my seeds!
It’s been a wonderful three weeks, all the more so as I wasn’t sure I would enjoy them as pain free as I have. By the end of the holiday I have graduated to full breaststroke and drug-free days…who would have thought it?
PS Ross’s blog for more mucky pics is here