Diving in Halmahera

This a story taken from Richard Kurniawan’s journal during North Halmahera Photo Contest, April 2008.

Day 1
We reached Ternate afternoon and we found out that not all baggage were carried by the plane (how come?) without prior notice to the baggage owner. The flight officer said that was because the baggage were way too much and heavy. I could understand that the plane should not overweight for the sake of safety, but I could not understand that the baggage weight planning was too little for the whole passengers; or might be they preferred to bring people instead of baggage for the sake of profit by reducing the passenger’s convenience. The committee took prompt action by complaining to the officers in charge and asking them to bring the baggage right away using any following flight. Looking at the condition of the Sultan Baabullah Airport of Ternate, I felt as if I opened my memory when I was going there. I did not see any major progress, if I might not say stagnation. In the parking lot, I saw big billboard promoting new and seemed nice hotel in Ternate, which was not exist while I was in Ternate few years ago.

While we were waiting the baggage, we had late lunch in Padang restaurant called Sari Bundo in the center of Ternate. I did not know exactly whether the food was indeed great or because I was too hungry, however I tasted it good. And the tomato and mango juices were really excellent. Until we had finished our lunch, our baggage did not arrive completely in Ternate, so that participants killed the time in many ways; some of them were having chitchat, browsing internet, sleeping on the chairs, etc. Right after we heard that our all baggage had arrived at Ternate, the committee sent them directly to the harbor (goz, I can not remember the harbor name). We then rushed to the harbor as well, some on foot while others used truck (that had been used to bring the baggage). The harbor was not far from the restaurant, however it was almost twilight; and I saw lots of kid playing and swimming in the harbor.

Our boats reached Sidang Oli harbor at Halmahera in the night. That harbor was chosen (instead of Sofifi harbor) due to the closer distance to Tobelo, our final destination. But then the committee and participants were really disappointed due to ‘premanisme’ of the local Sidang Oli porters even though many of participants were hand in hand to bring the baggage. The harbor itself got no light at all. So that we used our own flashlight to light up our baggage while downloading from the boats and uploading to the bus. I heard by myself that the porter leader asked for IDR 2 mio for around 45 baggage that were brought together by the participants. Gee, that was crazy. Lucky us, that Mr. D, the DKP officer, who went together with us could solve the problem by giving the good advises to the porters that we were there in the spirit of compassionate to nourish the community from the tourism sector; and bargaining for the decent payment for sure. We were also disappointed to see the boatmen asked for extra big payment with the reason that they had to wait for several hours due to late arrival of our group.

The participants and committee used rental cars and bus to go to Tobelo in the night. I wished I could see the beauty of Halmahera jungle that was well-known as place for bird watching. But since it was in the night, so I could see nothing but road and few name planks, such as the plank of mining company that guarded by the troops. I was thinking that the jungle would be easily destroyed due to the mining and the bird habitat would be also devastated. The road was narrow but with good asphalt condition, only few parts were damage. In the discussion with the driver, I knew that majority of Tobelo residents were Christians; so much different with majority of Ternate residents who were Moslems. The land journey took almost 4 hours, so that we bought snack on the way. As soon as we reached Tobelo, we took very late dinner first in Kakara Café before we checked into the small hotel near the café. The food was so and so, but the coconut ice was excellent. The uniqueness of that café was the owner, who had nine kids, all are female.

All participants and committee would then be separated into two groups since we would stay into two different small hotels. The O group and several committee members stayed in Regina hotel, while other participants (including me) and other committee members stayed in Mulia hotel. Both hotels located about a hundred meters in the left and right side of Kakara Café. We were then ready to sleep about midnight after we set up our photo gear quickly on the bed. So to me, it was almost a full day and night traveling (not to say other participants coming from Bandung who left before midnight the day before). The bed room was humble with air con and TV, but much better than the room used during Wakatobi Festival December last year. My roommate, Mr. MK, said sorry that he might be snoring while sleeping, and he advised me to wake him up if it came to annoy me.

Day 2
I believed that all were sleeping very tightly since all were really tired. However, I was still able to hear my roommate snoring, but it was not so annoying. I let him know that he was only snoring when he slept straight up, and the snore reduced when he was sleeping in the side position. We woke up in the morning and rushed to Kakara Café for breakfast. Even though I felt that I did not have enough sleep but I felt much better that morning. One thing that I was really afraid was the flu which was not a hundred percent recovered, but that morning I felt lots better, so that I decided to join the dive. To minimize the risk, I also used spray medicine to liquefy mucus in my nose.

The plan was we should depart from new Tobelo harbor to Tagalaya Island at 8 am. But we got lots of obstacle. The local people, who were given several responsibilities, did not do their jobs accordingly. The problems were coming one after another. I started to feel sorry for the committee, especially Mrs. NH, who seemed so tire but always tried to smile and made jokes. Mr. H, one of the participants from C group who said that the problems would not have ended the day before, then became reality. The tanks were not ready. And when the tank problem solved, the boat were not ready, either the boat were not in the harbor or there were no fuel in the boat. While we were waiting in the harbor, I noticed that it seemed diving under the harbor would be worth to try. We also made jokes on the harbor under sunshine, phew. We finally departed to Tobelo Dive Resort in Tagalaya Island few hours later. I started to realize that even though central government in Jakarta had promoted Visit Indonesia 2008, the local government and local people were not automatically ready for it, so ironic. However, my compassion to this country especially to the beauty of nature pushed me to help the local people to develop (if they were willing to)

Tagalaya was a small island close to Tobelo, about thirty minutes away by regular boat from Tobelo harbor. In that island, the government planned to build Tobelo Dive Resort. In the moment, there was only one building with several humble gazebos. We brought some of our stuff under gazebos. We then set up our dive gear real fast in order to catch up the schedule (I was a little slow due to my foot was not completely okay). Again we got another problem, the weights were not enough for the whole participants. So the dive leader could not dive properly, and the dive guide candidate could not dive at all but snorkeled only. Lucky me, that my group was pretty small, only five of us, me, Mr. MK, Mr. A, Mr. AD (dive leader), and Mr. I (dive guide candidate). The committee advised me that one of the goals of that festival was to develop local tourism industry; since the participants already had lots of diving experience and local community did not have proper dive guides, then we, the participants, were hoped to help dive guide candidates to be a professional dive guides. That was okay to the participants.

We dived into three different dive spots using three very humble traditional boats. My boat was the smallest and slowest one, but lucky it was completed with ladder, while one of the bigger two boats got none. In fact, according to all divers’ observation, all boats were not adapted yet for diving activity, not to say the boatmen. My boat headed to Pawole Island and my group dived right away. None of us had ever dived there, so we were not sure whether we entered in the right spot or not. It was kind of exploration dive, but in the same time we had to take pictures. To my opinion, that dive spot was not good; I saw many devastated coral and very few small fishes, nothing special. However, that was the first time for me to dive in north Halmahera and also the first time using new photo gear, except the strobe, so I was still glad. After we finished our first dive, we went back to Tagalaya. Tobelo Dive Resort did not have yet facility for divers to rinse the dive gear and photo gear, so we used Mrs. S’s plastic drum and my plastic container to rinse all diver photo gears. My gear accessories in the plastic container were moved to the committee’s bag.

We had late lunch of ‘Nasi Padang Bungkus’ in Tagalaya, and as usual, I could not finish my lunch completely during surface interval. During lunch, we had lots of joke over others. We were laughing so loud to see Mr. SW forgot to connect the strobe wire inside the camera housing, so that how hard he checked and rechecked, the strobe would never be working well. Lucky him, that even though we made jokes, we were also analyzing his problem, so finally he found and fixed the problem.

After then, my boat headed to Toputopu Island for the second dive, but one of my group members moved to the other boat to join his common group. Just like before, none of us had ever dived over there, so that again in Toputopu Island we were not sure where we had to enter. But I found that the corals down there were better than the ones in the Pawole Island. The same things were nothing special and not many fishes.

Sun was near to horizon when we got back to Tagalaya, so we had no chance to execute the third dive that day (and we did not plan for the night dive either). The committee separated the participants into two big groups for tomorrow since we only had one big and fast boat to reach Morotai. One group (including me) would go and dive to Morotai tomorrow, while the other group would still dive near Tagalaya using smaller and slower boats. My group would then have to pack up our gear and bring back to Tobelo, while the other group could leave their gear in Tagalaya.

All of us went back to Tobelo at dawn. I rinsed my gear right away and then took shower. My photo gear was left on the bed to let it dry. We went to Kakara Café for dinner. During chitchat with the other group, I knew that diving in Tanjung Timur of Tagalaya would have chance to see sharks, while the corals were so and so; meaning that dive spot was better than two dive spots which my group had dived before. We were also discussing the dive plan for tomorrow since tomorrow dive in Morotai would be deep dive to see WWII wrecks. I had never been deep deco diving for around two years past and the others might have the same or even worse. I proposed to the committee to provide one safety tank to be hanged in the five meters depth just for precaution. The committee gave the tips for us to dive directly to main wrecks target at the depth of around 45 meters, and then slowly ascend to depth around 18-20 meters to see tank (or panzer?) wreck that was almost totally covered by corals, and at last spend the safety (deco) stop by watching lots of octopus hiding in the corals.

After we got back to the hotel, we started to check our photo gear, download the pictures, edit, and then submit to the committee. Before I slept, I consumed my flu medicine and also advised my roommate to sleep in the ‘correct position’ to reduce snoring.

to be Continued.

Text and Photos by Richard Kurnawan

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