Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation made from a post originally written in French. My apologies for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have been generated during the process. If you are reading French, click on the French flag below to access the original and correct text:
Fancy Indonesia? I take you to dive in the waters of Sali Kecil, a small island far from everything located on the west coast of Halmahera. It's a beautiful place!
COVID-19. Can we travel to Indonesia from France? As of this writing (June 7, 2022), foreign travelers are again allowed to enter Indonesia without quarantine. There is no need to present a PCR test upon arrival if one is vaccinated. The 30-day tourist Visa on Arrival (VoA) is reinstated at all airports (500,000 IDR, about 35 €, renewable once), the B211A-tourism visa is also valid again. The following are still required: a certificate of vaccination with two or three doses for at least 14 days (one dose for the Johnson & Johnson), an insurance covering Covid-19 (for an amount of at least 13 400 €), as well as the registration on the application PeduliLindungi for smartphone (iOS or Android). For regularly updated information on the health situation and tourism in Indonesia, I invite you to visit this page of BaliAutrement agency.
Head to Halmahera
July 2018, Indonesia. I know, I am very late in my stories... 😜 That summer, after the Alor archipelago (see previous articles: All to the water in Alor! and A Strange Mermaid Called Dugong), I set course for Halmahera, located in North Maluku Islands (Maluku Utara, in Indonesian).
HalmaheraThe island of Sulawesi is a large, twisted island located between the huge Sulawesi, also called Sulawesi Island (to the west) and the huge Papua (to the east). It is usually reached via Ternatea movie island-volcano, flanked by an airport at water level.
I don't have much to say about Ternate, as I'm just passing through (with a brief cab ride between planes from the airport to the big central pharmacy to buy antibiotics to cure a nasty infected palm blister... 😱 #nocomment). To learn more about Ternate and its region, I refer you to on the excellent blog One Chai.
For this new Indonesian trip dedicated to diving, I chose to stay for a week a little further south, in Sali Kecil, a tiny island located in the Strait of Bacan.
I did not come here by chance. A hotel with divers, Sali Bay ResortA new restaurant has recently opened on this island far from everything. It is here:
Luxury, calm and pleasure in Sali Kecil
I made the crossing between Bacan Island and Sali Kecil at dusk. So I arrive on the island at night and discover my new environment only the next day: a dozen huge bungalows facing the sea in a beautiful garden shaded by coconut trees, all in length, at the foot of a hill covered with jungle. 😲
The manager of Sali Bay ResortI was greeted in French by a very nice Swiss-Italian multilingual man. He tells me that the work is not finished in the building of the resort at the end of the beach called Divers Lodge, where I had booked a room (smaller and less expensive than a Beach Front Villa).
Result: I was graciously upgraded for the duration of my stay in one of these huge bungalows!
This time, I'm not the only one privileged. An Italian, who solo trip like me and who will be my dive buddy for the duration of my stay, received the same special treatment, for the same reason. In short, we can say that we fell at the right time... There is even wifi (intermittent) and a small pool. I confess: I am blissfully enjoying this incredible luxury in such an isolated place.
The few tourists who decided to make the long trip to Sali Kecil are mostly divers who already know Indonesia. As the days go by, I am chatting with the other sub photographers in the Camera Room, installed in front of the pontoon that spans the coral.
But there are not many of us in this mid-July and almost all my little bubble buddies only dive in the morning, so I often have the boat and my guide all to myself in the afternoon... A little extra luxury, which is very welcome.
We are thus in small committee, which makes the atmosphere very nice, almost family. In the evening, we meet before the meal around a drink in the room of the restaurant opened on the beach.
This so far World Soccer 2018
A little parenthesis football, before you talk about coral and fish ... the World Cup final falls on July 15th, at the end of my stay, the day before my departure from Sali Kecil.
I'm the only French person and my lack of passion for football makes everyone laugh. The Indonesians who, in the past years, talked to me about Zidane as if he was my friend every time I declined my nationality, now adore Mbappé!
But with the time difference, around 11:30 pm, the game still hasn't started. We go to bed and get up early here. Only a few soccer fans (Indonesian employees of the resort and a German diver) are waiting around the only TV near the staff's lodgings.
As I have to get up before dawn to catch my flight from Labuha to Ternate, I just take the predictions of some and others before going to my princess bed one last time...
So I will only learn about the victory of the Blues the next day! 🇫🇷 😂
I will discover some pictures of it on the Indonesian TV, during my stopover at Ternate airport, where I have to wait several hours before the next flight. There is plenty of room to wait, in a great little jewelery and souvenir store, with TV, wifi, big sofas to wallow on and (very) spicy food served by an adorable staff.
Let's go back to Sali Kecil... Underwater, it is sumptuous. But on some sites, the current is not a joke and the diving can become quite drifty...
The islands of Sali Kecil (the small one) and Sali Besar (the big one) are indeed in the middle of the strait between Bacan and Halmahera (see the Google Maps above). Depending on the tides and the sites, the "juice" propels our group from one "corner" of the reef to the other, like pinballs... Sometimes, it becomes mission impossible to stop for pictures!
To put it simply, the ITF is a mega-current generated by the huge masses of water from the Pacific Ocean that flow into the Indian Ocean, via the straits between the islands of the Indonesian archipelago...
Here, in this strait on the southwest coast of Halmahera, the currents that can be observed from the surface at the mercy of the tides are indeed very impressive: it looks like a torrent in flood, but in the middle of the sea... 😱 The boat that transports me with the other divers between Sali Kecil and the surrounding sites (a large fishing boat fitted out for diving and equipped with powerful engines) sometimes struggles to cross these impetuous waves!
Thanks to the Indonesian Throughflow, Indonesia (along with the Philippines and Papua New Guinea) is the region of the planet richest in marine biodiversity. The area holds the record number of coral species, which is why it is called the Coral Triangle.
But these powerful feeding currents also have a downside: they carry innumerable plastic wastesThis has become a common sight in Indonesia.
The solution to this problem? In Asia, as everywhere else in the world, it is mainly on land: it is the flow of our waste that we must dry up (avoid, reduce, recycle) to reduce the volume that ends up in the ocean. Once at sea, plastics degrade into tiny particles that are impossible to "clean" and end up in the food chain... The Tara Ocean Foundationwho welcomed me at the beginning of 2018 aboard his schooner scientist for a report in the Philippines, is launching a new mission on this theme in 2019. To learn more, it's here → At the origins of plastic pollution.
Explosion of life under the surface
But the underwater sites around Sali Kecil are splendid. Everywhere, there are reefs full of coral and fish. The area seems to have escaped the dynamite fishing that has destroyed so many other coasts in Indonesia.
So much life! How beautiful it is! 😲 As soon as we go back under the surface, I marvel.
Overall, in this season, we had quite good visibility. On almost every dive, we saw harmless white-tip coral sharks (Triaenodon obesus)They are snoozing on the bottom or wandering in the current, indifferent to our vibrating regulators and our bubbles. Impressive giant gorgonians, bright orange or fuchsia pink, are arched against the current. Swarms of anthias and schools of wriggling glass fish are constantly being made and unmade...
There are also small sheltered bays, slopes and drop offs protected from the current, for quieter dives, as well as sites to muck-dive (diving at the level of the substratum, to observe the very small fauna which hides there).
The locals don't see many tourists passing by. So, when at the foot of the pontoon of a nearby village, I put myself in the water for a muck-dive with my guide "eagle eye" Jemmy, they observe me with curiosity.
Indonesian from Manado (Sulawesi), Jemmy is a very experienced dive guide, who knows well the expectations of underwater photographers like me. And I am able to let myself be fascinated for a long time by a huge gorgonian as well as by a tiny nudibranch... Patient, attentive, he spares no effort underwater to help me to succeed in my images. He leads me to strategic places when I am using the wide angle lens and finds small curiosities that are worth the detour when I have switched to the macro lens.
I owe it to him to have managed to photograph my first nudibranch "Shaun The Sheep", Shaun the sheep : this tiny sea slug (Costasiella kuroshimae of its scientific name) is so nicknamed because of its resemblance to the character of the cartoon ...
I leave you with some underwater images brought back from there, that it was about time I got out of my hard drive... 😉 👌