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Muck diving in Lembeh

I was on a scuba diving trip in Sulawesi, Indonesia. The first part of the trip was spent on the island of Bunaken, including my best New Year celebrations ever. Part 2 was to be spent on the island of Lembeh, known for its muck diving.

Cuttlefish
Cuttlefish

At the port of Bitung, I found myself a ferry that would cross the Lembeh Strait and take me directly to my resort. The boat first dropped off a bunch of people onto other boats. I remained the only passenger. I kicked off my slippers and lay on the roof of the boat, watching the stars. We moved past the lights of anchored boats – ferries, barges, tugs and others that I was unable to identify.

Ribbon eel

Ribbon eelI arrived at Daniel’s Resort. After checking in, I asked about the WiFi. The staff were clearly not very bright. “No WiFi. Charger broken.” The WiFi adapter’s charger had a standard USB-C port used by most Android phones. I plugged in one of my phone chargers and got internet access. Typical Indonesian service.

The view from Daniel's
The view from Daniel’s

My dive guide Aso and I went on three dives the next day and I learned what muck diving was about. Lembeh’s waters are murky and it is hard to see beyond a few metres. There is not a lot of coral, just a very sandy bottom where the creatures play. I saw horned sea stars (also known as chocolate chip starfish), very ugly frogfish, shrimp of various kinds, velvetfish, sea horses, tobys, nudibranchs, filefish, clams and others just on the first dive. On the second dive, I managed to spot even uglier frogfish, feather stars, ribbon eels in their burrows, more beautiful nudibranchs, transparent and barely visible shrimp and others.

The third dive was a little crazy. Aso and I fought the current for the first half hour, not seeing anything. We then ascended slowly. I came across a sea fan containing pygmy sea horses and decided to try to take some pictures. After five minutes of struggle, Aso observed that my dive computer was making scary noises about my time underwater and that my air was down to 10 bar (from 200). He handed me his secondary regulator and we ascended closer to the surface, at less than 5 metres depth. Still tethered to each other via the regulator, Aso proceeded to show me stuff. We stayed underwater looking at new creatures for another fifteen minutes while I breathed air from his tank. We spotted some well-camouflaged crinoid shrimp, even more absolutely hideous dragonets and the corpse of a recently-deceased sea snake.

Frogfish
Frogfish

I returned to a deserted resort. All the guests had left. The resort owners had gone off to get married and have their honeymoon. They had forgotten to close the booking system so they were forced to keep the resort open. I owned that place for a short period.

Frogfish
Frogfish

I decided to walk to the village and check out the other dive shops. Remember that the boat had dropped me off directly at my resort’s jetty. There was a steep and poorly-worn path from the resort onto the island’s main road. I walked a kilometre down the paved road to a fork in the road. I asked for directions to the nearby Two Fish dive centre, just a few hundred metres away. Two boys accompanied me. The sun set shortly thereafter. It quickly became clear that none of the resorts wanted their guests to visit the rest of the island on foot. I was wearing slippers and slipped a couple of times. I once hit my head on a low-lying branch. After about fifteen minutes, realising that I was still another 200 m away as the crow flew and sticky with sweat, I decided it was not wise to continue and turned back. I paid the boys a little for their trouble. I have done stupid things in my travels, including on this trip itself, but trekking in slippers in the dark in Lembeh was up there.

Shrimp
Shrimp

The next day I did two more dives. I had more sightings of strange creatures. Unfortunately I ran out of camera memory while diving. I improvised, taking a few breaks underwater while hovering above the sand, deleting big videos I didn’t want to keep so I could continue taking photos and videos. Deleting some videos on your camera may not be a big deal on land, but try doing that underwater in poor visibility when you are trying to not lose sight of your guide.

Spot the shrimp
Spot the shrimp

I was still a bit sore from not making it to the nearby resort despite much walking the previous evening. This time I did better. I swam. Not only was I able to swim to the nearby resorts from the water, I got to see a variety of banggai cardinalfish, pipefish and colourful shrimp as I checked out the waters.

Banggai cardinalfish
Banggai cardinalfish

And that was it. In three days, I had observed the stars while lying on top of a boat, seen tiny sea creatures while tethered to my dive master after running out of air, had a deserted resort to myself, found swimming to the next resort easier and safer than walking, been forced to review my photos and videos while on a dive and generally had wacky adventures by myself. Dive trips and Indonesia tend to have a lot of unpredictability and tell-able stories.

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