Thursday, October 6, 2011

Bunaken Island

Before we got off the boat Frankie told us about MC Cottages and that he would give us a good price if we stayed there.  We told him we had reservations for tonight but we would come check it out later.  We check in at Daniel’s home stay after we negotiated a fairly good price.  Unfortunately this was the same as the Togeans, per person per night.  Again more than we wanted to spend.  While we were sitting on our veranda we noticed a kitten was stuck on the roof of our cottage and it was crying.  We figured it would eventually jump off but no such luck.  The next morning it was up at 5am running around making a lot of ruckus and I wanted to go up there and throw a stone at it and kill it, but I obliviously didn’t.  Not out of compassion (sleep deprivation will lead you to do many bad things in the name of sleep) but because I had no way to get up there and even if I did, I couldn’t guarantee my aim was good enough to hit it.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  While we were sitting on our veranda, we saw George, the guy from the Togean Islands.  He came over and we started chatting about how sick he was on the ferry.  It turned out he was very sick and as soon as he arrived in Manado he went to the hospital.  He had malaria.  For the fourth time.  Not for the fourth time during this trip, in his life, but it’s still a big number.  It turned out he got it at the Togean Islands.  But really he had no one to blame but himself as he walked around only in shorts all day and all night, slept with the door of his hut wide open and didn’t use the mosquito net provided.  He told us they gave him pills which helped right away and he also told us the hospital had an open sewer running right through the middle of it.  He said it was pretty gross.   We were happy he was okay, though. 

Andrew and I went to take a look at the MC Cottages and they were much nicer than the ones we were staying at and cheaper, so we told Frankie we would check in the next day.  MC Cottages has a dive shop on premises but once we went to check it out we knew we wouldn’t be diving with them.  Their equipment is all brand new, so that’s not a problem.  It’s their divemaster that’s the problem.  When I asked him about his certification (what level he’s at) he told me he didn’t have money for that, but that he’s been diving a long time.  I was a little surprised because this was the first time someone had told me they dive and lead groups but they’re not certified or licensed.  Andrew asked him if they have oxygen and he went to show him his air compressor.  Oxygen is usually kept on boats in case someone has a diving accident and needs pure oxygen right away.  An air compressor cannot produce oxygen.  I would have perhaps considered going with him if I knew the area was calm and didn’t have any currents, but Bunaken is known for its currents and I wanted to make sure we were diving with someone reputable.  We did move into MC Cottages the next day but we wouldn’t dive with their dive shop.

That night we had a great dinner at Danie’s home stay with a lot of broccoli and cauliflower, veggies I hadn’t seen in months.  We had a great time talking to George and we swapped contact info as he was leaving the next day.  The next morning, after being woken up by the damn kitten on the roof, we checked out of Daniel’s without even so much as a question as to why we were checking out.  It’s like they didn’t even care.  We were greeted warmly at MC Cottages and given a bungalow with a nice view.  Including us there were only 8 people staying at MC so the atmosphere was very relaxed.  That day we found a dive shop (next door to MC) that was very professionally run, although a little more expensive than the one at MC.  After walking around the island and comparing all the dive shops we decided to go with the one next door as they were very professional.  Bunaken divers is owned by an Ozzy and his Indonesian wife.  His staff is very well trained so we knew we would be in good hands.

That night during dinner we met a girl and her husband.  She is Australian and he’s Indonesian but they live in Darwin and were in Indonesia on vacation.  It was very interesting talking to them because as tourists we experience a lot of racism from the locals (usually in the form of much higher prices.  Everyone assumes because you’re a westerner you have a lot of money) but since they are a multi racial couple they receive a lot of reverse racism.  A lot of hotels have a strict no locals policy, meaning locals can’t stay in the hotels, and a lot of them refused this couple to stay there.  Some hotels would demand to see their marriage certificate while others, if he called and tried to make a reservation by phone speaking Indonesian, would just say they’re fully booked.  So it seems no matter what, you can be subjected to racism.

The next day we went diving with Bunaken Divers, and although it was overall a good experience, during our first dive I experienced a panic attack under water.  This was the first time something like this has happened to me and I can only attribute it to the current we experienced.  Before we went into the water I specifically asked if there was any current and our guide said no.  Okay, we jumped in, had been under for around 10 minutes when the current hit us.  That in itself might have been okay but I felt like the dive guide didn’t really have a plan on how to deal with it.  What’s more, he kept showing me hand gestures I didn’t understand, which made it even more frustrating because he should have done a dive briefing of the signs before we went in the water.  I don’t expect a briefing on the basic signs that you use during every dive, but he kept clapping underwater and I didn’t understand what that meant.  As we got out of the current, he would be swimming and then all of a sudden he would turn around.  I felt like he didn’t have a dive plan at all.  That’s when I started hyperventilating and crying.  I had to physically hold the regulator in my mouth because I felt like I couldn’t breathe.  Andrew was beside me trying to get my attention but I wouldn’t respond to him.   Finally after a few minutes it passed and I was able to continue the dive with no problems but I just wanted to get out.  We talked about it on the boat later on, but our guide never noticed anything was wrong.  After when I asked him what the clapping sound meant, he said it meant I should get closer to the reef.  Right, that made total sense.  The second dive of the day went without any problems.

We had received so many positive reviews about Bunaken that we couldn’t wait to get there.  Mainly about the quality of the diving and snorkeling.  The reality is Bunaken is full of garbage.  In the water and out.  Yes the reefs are healthy, but when you’re diving and on your right you have a wall of beautiful corals and on your left you have a wall (literally) of floating plastic bags, bottles, candy wrappers, chip wrappers, etc., it takes away from that beautiful experience.  They say the garbage flows down from Manado, but the reality is, I don’t care where it comes from.  It’s not only disgusting, it’s disturbing to see the mentality of the people.  They throw evening in the water, and I mean everything.  You can be on a ferry and you throw your garbage into the garbage bin, and then half way through one of the staff members comes along and dumps everything overboard.  If you say anything, they laugh at you.  Out of sight out of mind.  I don’t know what they think happens to all this garbage but a lot of it ends up in Bunaken.  This happens all over Indonesia (the rest of Asia too but we mostly saw it in Indonesia) and if you have ever heard about floating islands of garbage in the middle of the sea, you now know where they come from.  What’s worse for me is that tourists still provide such positive reviews for Bunaken.  Why are we encouraging this?  If tourism doesn’t suffer, no one will do anything about it.  So here is my humble opinion…take it or leave it…don’t visit Bunaken unless you want to swim with garbage.  And lots of it.  There were times when we were getting ready to go into the water for a dive and the driver of the boat had to look for a clean spot for us to jump in.  And no matter how beautiful the reef, all I remember from our experience are the islands of garbage we had to swim with.  Tourism is booming in Bunaken but at what cost. 

That evening we told Frankie we would be checking out the next day and if he could take us to Manado.  He asked us what time we wanted to go and we said around 2pm since we were diving the next day.  He asked if we were diving with his dive shop and we said no, with Bunaken Divers next door.  He was furious.  He said it’s the rule of Bunaken that you dive where you stay.  This wasn’t the first time I had heard about this rule as we had read about it but I thought it was ridiculous and we chose to ignore it.  He said if he would have known he would have kicked us out and told us to stay with the resort associated with Bunaken Divers.  He said the western owners always talk a lot and take his business away and tourists listen to them.  He said if we wanted to dive with someone else he would have called his other friends.  Probably unlicensed friends too.  He was just mad he couldn’t make commission off of us.  Needless to say that killed the mood somewhat but I didn’t care.  There was no way we were going diving with his unprofessional and unlicensed dive guide.

That evening we went over to Bunaken Divers and had a beer with Terry, the owner.  We told him about Frankie’s reaction and about the “rule” and he said the only rule that there should be is that all dive shops are licensed and unfortunately not all are.  He told us there are only 14 licensed dive shops in all of Northern Sulawesi, but there are hundreds of dive shops.  It’s really scary when you think about it.  We went diving the following morning without incident, and we saw turtles that were 150 years old.  They were huge and beautiful.  Again, the wall of garbage was there.  The Indonesian guy married to the Aussie girl came with us this time.  He was scheduled to dive with the dive resort at MC cottages but it was cancelled because they didn’t have a boat driver.  Another reason why not to dive with them.  When we finished our dives, we paid for them, check out of MC Cottages and Frankie took us back to Manado.  He was grumbling again about us not diving with him but we told him he needs to get someone more professional if he wants to maintain his dive shop.  It wasn’t the best way to part ways, but we shook hands with him and left.

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