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 will take you diving in the waters of Sali Kecil, a small island far from everything located on the west coast of Halmahera. Magnificent!
COVID-19. Can we finally travel to Indonesia from France? At the time of writing (October 15, 2021), the measures are being relaxed. International tourists from 19 countries including France are again allowed to enter Indonesia, but only through Bali (Denpasar) and Riau (Batam, opposite Singapore). The visa exemption (called visa on arrival) is still suspended, so it is necessary to obtain a tourist visa before the trip. The following are required: insurance, complete vaccination against Covid-19 for at least 14 days, a PCR test less than 72 hours old, a 5-day quarantine upon arrival. For recent and 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'm very late in my stories... 😜 That summer, after the Alor archipelago (see previous articles : All aboard for Alor! and A Strange Mermaid Called Dugong), I headed for Halmahera, located in North Maluku Islands (Maluku Utara, in Indonesian).
Halmaherait is the big quirky island that lies between the huge Sulawesi also called Celebes Island (in the west) and the huge Papua (in the east). We usually arrive via Ternate, an island-volcano cinema, flanked by an airport at the water's edge.
I do not have much to tell about Ternate, because I'm just passing through (with a short round trip taxi between two planes, from the airport to the big central pharmacy, to buy antibiotics to to cure an ugly infected palm bulb ... ???? #nocomment). To know more about Ternate and its region, I refer you on the excellent blog One Chai.
Me, for this new Indonesian trip dedicated to diving, I chose to ask myself for a week a little further south, to Sali Kecil, a tiny island located in the Strait of Bacan.
I did not come here by chance. A hotel with divers, Sali Bay Resorthas recently opened on this island far from everything. This is it:
Luxury, calm and pleasure in Sali Kecil
I cross between Bacan Island and Sali Kecil at dusk. I arrive on the island at night and only discover my new environment the next day: about ten 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 Resort, a very nice Swiss Swiss polyglot, welcomes me in French. He tells me that the work is not finished in the resort building at the end of the beach called Divers Lodge, where I booked a room (smaller and cheaper than a bungalow Beach Front Villa).
Result: here I am graciously "upgraded" for the whole duration of the 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 diving buddy for the duration of the stay received the same preferential treatment, for the same reason. In short, we can say that we came at just the right time... There is even wifi (intermittent) and a small pool. I confess: I blissfully enjoy this incredible luxury in such a remote place.
The few tourists who have decided to make the long trip to Sali Kecil are mostly divers who already know Indonesia. Over the days, I'm friends with the other photographers sub in the Camera Room, installed in front of the pontoon that spans the coral.
But we are not very numerous in mid-July and almost all my little comrades of bubbles do not dive in the morning, so I often have the boat and my guide for me all alone in the afternoon ... A little luxury extra, very appreciable.
We are therefore in a small committee, which makes the atmosphere very nice, almost family. In the evening, we meet before dinner with a drink in the restaurant room open 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 woman and my lack of passion for football makes everyone laugh. The Indonesians, who in the past years all used to talk to me about Zidane as if he were my mate every time I declined my nationality, now love Mbappé!
But with the time difference, around 23:30, the match has not started yet. We go to bed and get up early, here. Only a few football buffs (Indonesian resort staff and a German diver) are waiting around the only TV near the staff quarters.
As I have to get up before dawn to catch my flight Labuha-Ternate, I just take the predictions of each other before going to join one last time my princess bed ...
So I won't learn of Les Bleus' victory until the next day! 🇫🇷 😂
I will still find some pictures at the Indonesian JT during my stopover at Ternate airport, where I have several hours of waiting before the next flight. There is something to comfortably enjoy, in a great little restaurant-jewelry store-souvenir, with TV, wifi, large sofas where to wallow and (very) spicy food served by a lovely staff.
Let's go back to Sali Kecil ... Underwater, it's sumptuous. But on some sites, the current is not a joke and diving can become damn drifting ...
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 Google Maps above). Depending on the tides and the sites, the "juice" propels our hoist from one "corner" of the reef to the other, like pinball balls... Sometimes, it becomes impossible to stop for pictures!
Simply put, the ITF is a mega-current generated by the huge bodies of water in the Pacific Ocean that flow into the Indian Ocean, through the straits between the islands of the Indonesian archipelago ...
Here, in this strait on the south-west coast of Halmahera, the currents that can be observed from the surface with the tides are indeed very impressive: it looks like a flooding torrent, 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 brewing, Indonesia (with the Philippines and Papua New Guinea) is the region of the planet richest in marine biodiversity. The area holds in particular the record of species of corals, which is worth to him the name of Coral Triangle.
But these powerful feeding currents also have a downside: they carry countless plastic wasteThey come back to run aground at each tide, a spectacle that has unfortunately become "commonplace" all over Indonesia.
The solution to this problem? In Asia, as elsewhere in the world, it is mainly on land: it is the flow of our waste that must be dried up (avoided, reduced, recycled) to reduce the volume that ends up in the ocean. Once at sea, plastics degrade into tiny particles that cannot be "cleaned" and end up in the food chain... The Tara Ocean Foundationwho welcomed me in early 2018 aboard his schooner scientist for a report in the Philippines, launched in 2019 a new mission on this theme. To find out more, here is → At the origins of plastic pollution.
Explosion of life under the surface
But the underwater sites around Sali Kecil are splendid. Everywhere, there are armored reefs of coral and fish. The corner seems to have escaped the dynamite fishing that has destroyed so many other coasts in Indonesia.
What a life! How beautiful! 😲 As soon as we go below the surface again, I marvel.
Overall, in this season, we had pretty good visibility. At almost every dive, we encounter harmless coral sharks with white tips (Triaenodon obesus), who sleep on the bottom or walk around in the crowd, indifferent to our regulators who vibrate and our bubbles that fuse. Impressive giant gorgonians, bright orange or fuchsia pink, curl up against the current. Clouds of anthias and wriggling fish-fish benches are made and unmade, tirelessly ...
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 bottom of the substrate, to observe the small fauna that is hidden there).
The inhabitants of the region do not see masses of tourists passing by. So inevitably, when at the foot of the pontoon of a nearby village, I take to the water for a muck-dive with my "eagle eye" guide Jemmy, they observe me with curiosity.
Indonesian native of Manado (Sulawesi), Jemmy is a very experienced dive guide, who knows the expectations of underwater photographers like me. And I am able to let me fascinate very long by a huge gorgon as a tiny nudibranch ... Patient, attentive, he spares no effort under water to help me succeed my images. He leads me to strategic places when I'm at a wide angle and finds me small curiosities that are worth seeing when I switched to the macro lens.
I owe him especially 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, it was time for me to get out of my hard drive ... ???? ????