So finally, after looking forward to diving for SO long and first contacting Two Fish Divers in Lembeh about a year ago, the time to don the scuba gear and try to get my PADI license arrived.
We crushed into a local mini bus with our ridiculously large rucksacks for the hour and a half journey from Manado to Bitung. After a reasonably uncomfortable journey and receiving various clucks from other passengers when accidentally smacking them with our bags when shuffling around to try to get comfy, we arrived at Bitung. From there we were shoved into a Bemo (this is a bright blue minibus taxi which shuttles locals around the towns, much cheaper then an air con taxi) and driven to the port where we would be picked up by the Two Fish speed boat.
After a 20 minute wait at the pier and being constantly stared at like we were aliens the boat arrived and we sped across to the diving center.
Before we came to Lembeh many people were asking why we were going there to dive and not somewhere like Bunaken where there is beautiful coral and turtles etc. We basically chose the Lembeh strait because it is something a bit different. We have seen anemone fish, angel fish, green turtles etc when we have been snorkeling elsewhere so we thought if we were going to be spending a ridiculous amount of money diving, as it is an expensive hobby, why not do it where we can see something that we can’t see when we are snorkeling…
The Lembeh Strait is the body of water separating Lembeh Island from mainland North Sulawesi.
During the pleistocene period, this area became isolated, resulting in a very high level of "speciation", i.e. the development of new species. It is therefore home to many “critters” such as the Hairy Frogfish (amongst various other species), Waspfish, Scorpionfish, Wonderpus, Flamboyant cuttlefish, various species of seahorse and loads of other weird and wonderful things.
So after a day of chilling out it was time to get down to business. We were both up at 6.30 a.m and out diving by 7.30. Whilst everyone else went off to different dive sites in the boat I stayed behind with my instructor, Dion as for my first day I would be learning in the part of the strait that was at the dive resort. As I had done the theory part of the test at home in June I was quite nervous that I would have forgotten everything and felt like a naughty school child that would be questioned and have no clue what the answers would be but it wasn’t like that at all.
My instructor was very patient and informed me that the open water instruction would only take 2 days for me to learn, I thought he was crazy and that it would take more than 2 days for me to be a diver but he proved me wrong… My first day went really well as we completed sections 1-3 of the PADI course, I learnt to put all of the equipment together, clear my mask, change my buoyancy in the water, how to stay level (it is harder than it sounds) and loads of other skills and then after the skills we got to have a fun dive around the site which was great we saw scorpion fish, puffer fish, short fin lion fish and loads of other cool stuff. After an intense morning of learning it was time for lunch, after which we had a debriefing about everything we had done in the morning, what I did well and what I needed to practice, I got a log book where I wrote down all of the fish I had seen and the dive details and then had to wait until tomorrow for more diving…
Today I got to go on the boat with all the other divers which was great but a bit nerve racking as if I stirred up the sediment or anything I could imagine that it would annoy a lot of people… Luckily though that didn’t happen and it was a great dive.
We started off by doing the skills for section 4 and 5 which went well except for when I had to remove my mask underwater and swim a few meters without it before putting it back on. As I was wearing contact lenses whilst diving this meant I had to close my eyes before taking the mask off and keep them closed whilst I swam around and could only open them once the mask was back on and had cleared it. As soon as the water started coming into my mask and I was taking it off, I panicked and immediately made a break for the surface. Water was coming up my nose, my breathing went all wrong and I was left feeling like a fool and that I didn’t want to do that again, but I had to otherwise no divers license for me! On my third attempt I took deep breaths, calmed myself, took my time and thankfully succeeded in taking my mask off, swimming blind for a few meters, putting the mask back on and then clearing it.
I think my instructor was as equally relieved as I was that my time of panic was over but just to make sure I wasn’t going to have issues he made me take the mask off again, I didn’t have to swim this time but it didn’t matter, I had nailed it :) After that drama I just had to learn to use a compass underwater, take my equipment off underwater and put it back on again, practice an emergency decent simulating that my air had run out, learn to use my buddies back up regulator if my air runs out and for them to use mine if their air runs out, hover still in the water about 1 meter from the bottom, what to do if you or your buddy gets cramp, how to support your buddy if they are tired etc etc. Then the skills were finished and it was time for a fun dive! We visited 2 sites, on the first we stayed under water for 70 minutes and it was a fantastic dive, we saw a Hairy Frog fish which is one of the most famous weird critters that inhabits Lembeh and also a Flamboyant cuttlefish which was a tiny brilliantly colored cuttlefish and another Lembeh speciality.
We also saw loads of founders, blue spot rays, ribbon eels, juvenile spadefish, scorpion fish, lion fish and so many other stunning fish. After the 2 dives it was time to head back to the dive resort for lunch, a debriefing and to record everything in the log book.
The next day I just had to go through a couple of final skills with Dion and then my training was over and I was free to buddy up with Ben. I had passed all the skills and am now a licensed open water diver yay! Just have to save some money to do the Advanced course next… For the next 3 days we completed 2 dives per day visiting various dive sites around Lembeh. Although most of the sites are critter or muck dives, there were also a few coral sites with stunning coral in an array of colours which was home to an impressive amount and variety of fish.
Amongst them, very cool anemone fish that gained much more of my respect when one actually bit one of the divers we were with and drew blood!! All in the name of protecting their young so much more feisty then Nemo or his dad, very cool!!! They looked very pretty living in their rainbow of anemone’s, some anemone fish were orange, black and white living in bright pale yellow or purple anemone’s the colours were just amazing and it was nice to still be impressed with a fish that we have seen everywhere when snorkeling. It was great to finally be diving with Ben and we saw some truly fantastic creatures, to name a few we saw: a stunning bright blue and black banded sea snake, Cockatoo waspfish, devil scorpionfish, a huge and very impressive crocodile fish, ribbon eels, Estuary seahorse, pygmy seahorse, various pipefish, blue spot rays, puffer fish, porcupine fish, cuttlefish, juvenile spadefish, weedy filefish, leaf fish, long horn cowfish, various species of lionfish, 2 species of frogfish, various trigger fish, and loads of other species which would just take me too long to list…. Diving was well worth the wait and I felt very proud as I was handed my scuba license to have finally done it after a year of waiting!! We both thoroughly enjoyed our time in Lembeh and feel very lucky to have seen some of the weird and wonderful monsters of the muck and are definitely now addicted to muck diving and will be back one day to do some more!!