It should be a requirement to visit an island where the local population, recognizing the world class underwater experiences that are possible in the surrounding waters,carved the entire island in the shape of a Starfish (albeit on that seems to be missing a limb).
We did stay above the waterline for the first couple of days and a good portion of that time was spent trying to acclimatize to the population density and traffic congestion- after the wide open spaces of the Australian Outback, getting used to the smoke spewing traffic and lawless driving behaviours was no trivial exercise
. Who knew that driving on the sidewalk was perfectly acceptable as long as you blasted your horn at any pedestrian who had the temerity to use that same patch of concrete. And after weeks of grocery shopping in the sterilized supermarkets of NZ and Australia, our first stop at the nearby Tomohon market was another shock to the senses- although even by Asian standards this market was a jaw-dropper. Apparently a couple of the larger tribes in the area, as well as the significant Chinese community, revel in the reputation they have garnered for eating absolutely everything (I'm not sure that even the four-legged tables and chairs were safe here). On display in the meat section was a gruesome selection of rats, bats, pythons, Monitor Lizards, as well as complete dog and cat carcases (DH had dropped out long before this point). The bats were offered up in messy piles, on a stick, with wings or without wings (apparently the locals don't use the wings but the Chinese use the wings for soup), and were usually sold with the hair burned off by a blowtorch. A python in the wild would be a scary sight but it was just offensive to see this rare beast chopped up on a market table, and selling dogs as food is not something I can get my head around. And just in case we hadn't been shocked enough, on the periphery of the market, we met people selling roosters for cock fighting- of course these roosters had to be given a test drive to see how fierce they were but, as a small mercy, the birds were separated before injuries occurred
. It is hard to resist the urge to judge using Western standards (and for the curious, it is not illegal to sell dog meat in Canada) but as travelers, we try hard to observe and understand.
As a word of caution, I've put the market photos at the very back so don't be looking if you think it will be upsetting!
Given the volcanic activity in this part of the world, we were able to visit hot springs, boiling mud pools, and sulphur coloured lakes that brought back recent memories of Rotorua. We even tried some boiled corn-on-the-cob which had been cooked in one of the boiling pools (confirming what should have been common sense- anything cooked in sulphur water doesn't taste good). Sharing our travels with domestic tourists only, we were re-introduced to one of the more bizarre Asian photography experiences- for reasons I have yet to fathom, it is a big deal to have complete strangers pose in any of your group photos- the bravest of a shy group will approach to ask you to pose, and everyone will then gather around you, followed by numerous "thank-you mister"s. Mystifying but endearing.
Lunch was another of those bizarre experiences- the setting, on a deck overlooking a crater lake, but it was one of those take-or-leave-it meals and included fish which was pulled out of the water as we ordered. Glad we didn't order whale meat!
Getting to the island of Bunaken involved a tightrope walk to the boat, a boat with a big hole in it, a boat with an engine that only worked sporadically, and a walk to shore because of low tide
. The somewhat ambitiously named Seabreeze 'Resort' was a bit rustic but seemed to fit with the plan for the rest of the island. The only other guests were a couple from Germany who had been at the resort for a month and had completed 45 dives in that time (we haven't done 45 dives in 20 years of diving so feelings of inadequacy were rising). I really enjoy diving but I still don't get that kind of passion. For DH, diving remains a complete mystery and a significant source of anxiety. The first day of diving, although spectacular, confirmed the need for DH to see an ear specialist- she continues to have problems equalizing and until we get clearance we've decided to err on the side of caution and put her diving career on hold so I was on my own for the remaining dives. I do recognize that I take far too many pictures (with a cheapie point-and-shoot) but it always strikes me as a very strange world under the sea.
And apparently I also take far too many pictures of dolphins and whales as we did an early morning trip to find these show-stoppers. We've done a couple of dolphin watching trips previously but I've never seen the quantities and activity that we saw here. They seemed to enjoy teasing the boat before darting off, and the breaching was just amazing. And just when you think it can't get any better, a pod of 15-20 pilot whales shows up. Not as showy as our dolphin friends they were somehow majestic in their slow swim past our little boat.
After the relative comfort and familiarity of NZ and Australia, it was time to 'dive' back in to Asia and the area around Manado in northern Sulawesi offers up some of the best diving in the world. Sulawesi is one of the less visited islands of Indonesia which, of course, is part of it's appeal.