Once you put your face into the water, a bizarre, colorful and somehow tranquil underwater world is ready to captivate you. Indeed, time will be the first thing you’ll forget once you’re under.
“It’s like having your own world down there,” said one visitor, while another fellow snorkel said: “Whenever I’m under the water, I just wish I had gills so that I could stay longer.”
During my recent visit to Manado, the world-famous diving destination of Bunaken was on the must-do list in my travel itinerary.
I am a novice in snorkeling, with very limited underwater experience, only diving to the bottom of the swimming pools and a brief encounter with snorkeling off Phi Phi Island in Thailand.
However, being a novice did not deter me from discovering how addictive this underwater activity can be.
Bunaken, which was declared a national marine park in 1991, is about 45 minutes travel by boat from Manado. Smaller catamaran boats are available for visitors who are reluctant to get wet. However, observing the colorful corals and lively fish through the catamaran’s glass window can do nothing to replace the true experience of being underwater yourself.
The special characteristic of Bunaken’s waters lies in its amazing vertical wall of coral reefs, which in some spotsvary from 40 meters to 1,500 meters deep. More than 390 varieties of coral and 91 species of fish call this vast area their home. It was a jittery, yet delightful, feeling snorkeling above these seemingly bottomless waters.
Despite the scenic colorful corals and playful fish that can still be enjoyed off Bunaken’s most visited shore, Tawara, to the west of the island, boatman Fandy Yusuf, who is a native of the island, estimated that around 50 percent of the corals in the area had been damaged. According to www.bunaken.org, damage of the island’s precious corals was caused by coral mining, inexperienced visitors, boatanchoring, fish bombing, cyanide and trash.
“Luckily, on the eastern side of the island, off Pangalisan Beach, the corals are mostly still preserved, because fewer tourists go there,” he said.
Hearing this, as a cub snorkeler, I was taken up with guilt at being responsible for coral damage myself, because, honestly, I occasionally still stepped on them.
Indeed, snorkeling in Bunaken was a very memorable experience, which gave me a couple of mementos to bring home: Currently recovering scars as I hit my knee on the corals, and the important lesson that I had to better prepare with proper diving training before I jump into any other remarkable dive sites. Being in Bali, Tulamben Beach and Padang Bai Beach in Karangasem regency are surely on my next must-do list.
Time surely flies in Bunaken. What was planned as a one-hour snorkeling trip ended up in a four-hour long session. My friends and I were left behind by the ferry that took us out there in the first place. Nevertheless, an authentic boat hitch-hiking experience back to Manado on a boat rented by a pair of our generous new acquaintances wrapped up my snorkeling adventure in Bunaken with a nice twist.
Published in Bali Daily-The Jakarta Post | Saturday, February 16, 2013