After living in Southeast Asia back and forth for over twenty years, I have come to realize that most of the expats living and enjoying this complication of life are just a little bit what you might say ‘off’. This is not to degrade or belittle, but rather reflects the persona of an individual who goes out of their way to leave their home country and live in a place where they never fully understand the host society or how things really work under the surface. These are people who embrace new cultures and difficult situations and most of all change.
In light of this situation, I also love change and new experiences. One of my lifelong passions includes that miraculous gas to liquid phase contact. As supposedly intelligent beings, we take for granted the significance of this phase change which places our planet into the ‘upper one percent’ category. The sport of experiencing this is just a means or carrier on the journey of fulfilment. You may say, well, what does this have to do with being a little ‘off’? Just a few weeks ago after church, my wife introduced me to a young Indonesian lady who had just returned from Gorontalo, Sulawesi. She had taken a long weekend for a short dive trip. At the time, I had heard of Gorontalo but was very ignorant of its offerings. Apparently, this young lady became sick on her trip but proceeded to do at least some of the dives. I later heard reports of her wrenching at depth into her regulator. Being simplistic minded, I got to thinking the area must offer something pretty unique if people are going out of their way to visit these sites even when sick.
I started to do a little Google search and found the answer to be the Salvador Dali sponge. Why would anyone in their right mind risk life and fly four hours out to a remote destination for a sponge? I went into action. The following Thursday was a work holiday, so planning initiated around a four day trip. My wife had just returned from a boondoggle to Singapore with girlfriends and our son was deep in the throngs of IB testing, so my opportunity materialized as family approvals were obtained for my one-person trip. Arriving at Gorontalo airport on time and with no lost baggage was a godsend. I was whisked to the ‘best place in town’ locally known as Grand Q Hotel. I can confidently recommend Grand Q Hotel for their fantastically soft pillows. They were just too good!
One hour upon check-in, I was on my way down to the 30-metre mark. Where are those raved about sponges? Being a late afternoon dive, I had set up my DSLR camera unit with a macro lens, thinking the light conditions would be too dark for good wide angle shots. I am glad I had, as that was the only dive during the following two days for which the wide angle wasn’t a necessity. The region isn’t particularly known for macro critters but they were abundant on this initial dive. It was the first time I finally got a ‘decent’ shot of an Orangutan crab all haired out. The upper fore reef and top reef were teeming with life that evening.
The next morning I was promptly met at my Grand Q Hotel by no other than Rantje Allen, the owner of Miguel’s Diving. Rantje moved out to Indonesia around eleven years ago from Miami, Florida and is one of the most well-adjusted foreigners living in Indonesia I have ever met. Rantje is very unassuming but rest-assured he has hosted a number of world-known underwater photographers and organizations to Gorontalo over the years. He started off our day of diving by giving the dive briefing in Bahasa to three local Jakarta enthusiasts before switching to English for us handicapped folks.
The first day included Jinn Caves, which is a fantastic site of multiple vertical walls, caverns and look-through cubby holes. This site, like many other wall dives in Gorontalo, can be initially intimidating due to their spellbinding grandness. Just relax your breathing and take in the sights. Black coral, white fans, gargantuan red sea fans, batfish and thousands of glass fish decorate the undulating walls, slope breaks and caverns. You don’t have to look long to find the mysterious Salvadoran Dali sponges. I finally saw for myself what all the fuss is about. These monster sponges, as fragile as they are, adorn Gorontalo like nowhere else in the world. They are truly beautiful due to their unusual brain-like texture, colour and undulating shapes.
Day one led into day two quite rapidly; three more dives and tons of fun. The day started out with a serious wall dive full of beautiful barrel, vase and purple tube sponges. Of course my friends, the Salvador Dali, were all showing off. Many of these species looked oversized like they had too much to eat. I am sure the macro critters were there, but you can’t take in everything when so much marine life is fully packed together. The second dive at West Point was particularly interesting as the morning sun’s position was prime to stream sunburst rays over the top of the wall, which was additionally littered with overreaching hard corals. These views were spellbinding.
Altogether I took over 600 photos on this two-day dive trip. I would highly recommend a visit to Gorontalo if you are a little ‘off’ and love exciting, thriving undersea life coupled with original Indonesian culture.
Location: Gorontalo is located in the Northern Tomini Gulf of Sulawesi.
Population: Gorontalo town is a mixture of around 300,000 but up to one million people live in
Getting there: Garuda Indonesia Airlines, Lion Air and Sriwijaya Air offer multiple daily flights with a normal one hour stopover in Makassar. From Jakarta, total door-to-door travel time is about five hours, not counting the possible horrendous drive out to Soekarno-Hatta International Airport. Upon arrival you can expect courteous pickup and no traffic jams.
the surrounding area.
Local transportation: The people are quite proud of their homemade vehicle of transport which consists of a motorcycle on a tricycle frame. I rode these contraptions all over town and the views were fantastic.
Diving: I can highly recommend Miguel’s Diving. This operation is excellent in all aspects; booking communication, trip logistics, dive operation and arranging secondary lodging. I found Miguel’s dive operation to be run in a very eco-friendly and safe manner. Miguel’s diving staff have a real passion for preservation of their undersea treasures, as well as making sure their visitors get the most out of the experience. Diving in Gorontalo can be seasonal so please check local conditions prior to booking a trip. The prime dive season is November to April. Whale shark sightings are not particularly rare and can occur during any month of the year.