On Sunday I went diving for the first time in Gorontalo and the experience was so remarkable that I can only relate it to maybe living in Paris for nearly three months before finally seeing the Eiffel Tower. I finally had that “pinch me I’m here” moment that hits every tourist when they finally visit a place they’ve always dreamed of seeing, like the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Gorontalo may not have much to offer tourists above ground, but the underwater world here offers first-class diving and the opportunity to see various endemic species found only in these waters, many of which are still unknown to science.
The local dive shop, Miguel’s Diving, is run by Rantje Allen, an American who has lived in Gorontalo for over ten years and has done a lot of work in establishing dive sites and educating local fishing communities about the dangers of common fishing practices, such as blast fishing and potassium cyanide poisoning. He works closely with the governor of Gorontalo, who is also a diver, on marine conservation issues. It was a privilege to dive with him. Along with Rantje, there was an American from Ohio, two Swedes from Stockholm and Rantje’s local assistant dive guide, Yunis, on this trip.
Our first dive was at Swirling Steps, a site normally not recommended for inexperienced divers because of its strong currents. But on Sunday there was no current so down we went. The water looked so clear from the dive boat that I was doubtful about doing a back roll entry because it looked like I was going to hit my head on the coral! But I was reassured that the coral was actually several meters underwater. For the next 44 minutes I was submerged in a world of sheer exotic beauty. Rantje had a writing slate with him and helpfully wrote down the names of some of the creatures we saw. Not long into the dive, he turned towards me and made a punching-like motion with his fist. This is the diving signal for “danger”. Intrigued, I looked past him to the coral wall as he scribbled “scorpionfish” on his slate. Scorpionfish have venomous fin spines and are not to be messed with. In worse case scenarios, scorpionfish stings can lead to violent pain, unconsciousness and even extended comas. After taking a look from a safe distance we moved on. Some other curious creatures we saw included garden eels and jaw fish. Garden eels stick up from the sand and sort of move their bodies like a beckoning finger. Likewise, jaw fish also live in the sand and poke their heads up to see what’s going on. Other highlights included seeing a blue spotted stingray, a giant clam and the best one of all - a green sea turtle!
The second dive was at Traffic Circle, located right off Olele Beach, where I had previously gone with some students; from the dive boat I could even see the hut we sat at. More captivating than the hut though, was the pod of Risso’s dolphins that were swimming in the distance. These dolphins are distinguished by their blunt noses and the fact that their bodies become lighter in color as they age, while their dorsal fins remain dark. They also like to fight each other, which explains the scars below:
We all watched the dolphins for a while and then some of us hopped overboard to snorkel for a bit. It felt so liberating to be in the water sans scuba gear with just my swimsuit, mask and snorkel and it was exciting to know that the dolphins were frolicking just meters away.