Lembeh, North Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 2009

After a grueling 36 hour, 4 flight ordeal getting to Manado, North Sulawesi, we were picked up at the airport by Rob, the owner of Diver’s Lodge Lembeh. ([url]http://www.diverslodgelembeh.com[/url]) After arriving at the port of Bitung, about an hour’s drive along winding roads in traffic conditions you really wouldn’t want to drive in, we met Rob’s wife Linda, her sister Belgis and the rest of the family, and boarded a water taxi to the hotel on the island of Lembeh. The hotel is isolated from other hotels and houses, on the far end of the island. This makes for a longer boat trip to the dive sites, however by going past the harbour every day you see a lot of interesting things and photo opportunities abound.

The cottages at Diver’s Lodge are large, airy and comfortable. Each one has its own porch overlooking the water, with comfortable outdoor furniture and a drying rack. The room is tastefully decorated with silk throws and curtains, and contains a desk & chair as well as another table and chairs perfect for setting up camera gear. The large bathroom is fully tiled with a hot water shower. The toilet is manual flush (translation: there is no handle to flush — instead, you take a ladle of water and pour it in the toilet to flush it). It works well and is not an inconvenience. There is no AC in the rooms, only a ceiling fan, but there is also a breeze through the bottoms of the windows that are only screened. I was initially concerned about the lack of AC however I found the ceiling fan was more than enough to keep me cool at night. The geckos’ chirping at night and the birds singing in the morning just added to the ambiance.

The view from the front of our cottage:
Upon arrival, we assembled our dive gear and put it on the porch where the boat crew would pick it up. Dive gear stayed on the boat all week; baskets were available on the boat for smaller items such as computers, boots, masks, etc. Upon assembly every morning, camera gear was placed out on the porch where the crew would pick it up. After the last dive of the day, the crew would carry it back to the porch! This proved very convenient, as our cottage was the furthest away.

We had selected the unlimited diving package plus nitrox. My friend and I shared a boat, but we each had our own dive guides. There were two other crew on the boat. Having my own dive guide was at first odd, but I quickly realized that I really had it made! Andris was the best dive guide you could ask for. Nearly everything we asked for, he found. The first dive I wanted to see a hairy frogfish: there it was shortly after the dive started. Pygmy seahorses? Right this way. Blue ring octopus? Of course! By mid-week I was finding many creatures on my own, and I actually found a larger blue ring octopus (on my 500th lifetime dive, no less). The thing I found strange about Lembeh was that the creatures were basically out in the open on the sand. I was used to Caribbean diving where the frogfish and other creatures were on coral heads or sponges, but not here. It was odd at first, but I got used to it pretty quickly. Some sites had nice coral and sponges in the shallows, which made for picturesque safety stops.

At the hotel, we started the day with breakfast, which included eggs cooked any way you like, toast, crepes, fruit, cheese, tomatoes, rice, juice, coffee, tea, and spreads like peanut butter, nutella and jam. If you were still hungry after that, there were plenty of tasty baked goods and shrimp chips available 24/7 in the lounge, in huge sealed containers, just ready to be eaten.

Because we had an unlimited dive package, we stayed out on the boat all day; our hot lunch was packed when we boarded. Lunch consisted of fried noodles, rice, protein (either chicken, fish or eggs and sometimes tofu), vegetables and occasionally fritters. There was always a tasty sauce with the protein dish but it was never too spicy. However, there was plenty of hot sauce and soy sauce on board, if you so desired. Between dives, there was always fresh fruit, cookies or crackers, hot tea, coffee, pop and water. We were never hungry.

Every evening we would arrive to a special treat in our room, freshly baked that afternoon. If you’re not doing a night dive, the daily treats are available in the lounge every afternoon.

Dinner was usually at 7pm. We would arrive from our twilight/night dive after dinner had already started, showered quickly and were at the dinner table by 7:30. The food at dinner was very good. There was always chicken and fish, occasionally beef. Rice, vegetables, potatoes, sometimes some tasty vegetable fritters, and fruit for dessert.

We usually did 4 dives/day. The dive time was unlimited: come up whenever you’re done. A few times I stayed down longer than my guide but that was due to him being cold. I was toasty in my 7mm suit, however most others wore 3mm or 5mm suits. I only went into deco a couple of times, but cleared it quickly. There were no issues with that. Diving with a computer is necessary here, as you’ll get more bottom time that way. Some of the creatures were deeper, around 90ft, but others were quite shallow. You didn’t have to go deep if you didn’t want to: that was the advantage of having your own dive guide. Between dives we had a 1hr SI and at lunch we usually had a 2hr SI. This made it convenient to have a nap on one of the benches. The boats were wooden with two motors, with full cover and a modern toilet. The floors were covered in non-slip mats, and the tanks were held in racks. The crew would set up the dive gear between tanks and help you in and out of it. If you wanted to get some sun you could sit out on the bow of the boat. The covered boat proved useful for the first 4 days of the trip when it rained hard most afternoons. It was the beginning of the rainy season.

It really sunk in that I had made the right choice in resorts and dive packages when I saw divers from other resorts, up to 6 to a dive guide. If only I could always have a private dive guide, wherever I dove!

The week went by too quickly. However, I had seen all the popular creatures I wanted to see, and more! The big five to see were the: hairy frogfish, wonderpus octopus, mimic octopus, blue ring octopus and ambon scorpionfish. By the middle of the week we had already seen all of those! I finally saw clownfish; many types of them. Unfortunately I found out the hard way that they are not always cute little fish. I was taking photos of a pair of porcelain crabs in a huge anemone that contained a colony of clownfish when I felt something bite me. I looked away from my viewfinder and found a large black and white (panda) clownfish attacking me. It did not stop biting me and it actually drew blood! I’d been bitten by damselfish before, but never this hard. Who knew the cute little ‘nemos’ could also be nasty little buggers? From then on, whenever I saw clownfish swimming toward me, I would make a wide circle around them.

Vicious clownfish:

We also did a couple of dives right at the mouth of the Lembeh Strait, where it meets the ocean. There were soft corals and a ripping current. Andris and I had entered a few minutes before my friend and his guide, and we only had to endure swimming (and pulling on the rocks) against the current for about 5 minutes, after which we encountered an eddy and continued our dive, ending with a fast drift through the channel. I saw a sea snake and some napoleon wrasse, among other fish. It was a nice change from the muck diving and I had a chance to use my wide angle lens. At one point Andris pointed out a feature in the water above us that looked like a very long and thin horizontal whirlpool. Apparently this is a feature of the strong current in that area. The boat followed our bubbles and picked us up when we were done. My friend was not so lucky. He and his guide entered an area with very strong current and were not able to get out of that area so they aborted their dive.

My last dive in Lembeh was memorable in its own way. There was a remora circling Andris for a while but he manage to keep it away. Later the remora swam towards me, but I managed to stave it off with my camera. However, later on in the dive I felt something odd: some pressure and resistance on my thigh. I normally keep a horizontal attitude in the water, so I simply looked down at that spot. The remora had succeeded in attaching itself to me! It felt quite strange, and whenever I was finning, I could feel some resistance from the remora, even though it was finning too. Now I knew how the poor turtles, fish and sharks feel!

Lembeh was fantastic. I was very lucky to see creatures that many divers don’t see in a 2-week trip. Even so, I would someday like to return to the hospitality of Diver’s Lodge. Besides, there are still many more creatures that I haven’t seen or photographed! 😉

Here’s the link to the gallery:  http://scubagirl.smugmug.com/Tropica…96424067_vpM4Q

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