My friend Mark, the English Language Fellow in Makassar, is also a diver and came up to Gorontalo this past weekend for his first visit, lured by my blog posts about whale shark sightings. Although we didn’t see any whale sharks this weekend, Mark enjoyed his time here tremendously and said the diving here was the best he’s ever done – and he’s dived the Red Sea, Bunaken, Bali and, of course, Makassar. He was thrilled with the colorful and abundant corals, the swirling schools of fish, the deep caverns, and the “swim through” at Sand Channels. The phrase he kept repeating with awe throughout the weekend was, “You gotta be kidding me!” Yep, that’s Gorontalo!
We also had two very memorable surface intervals between dives. On the first day after the second dive, we pulled into the fishing village of Olele to eat our lunch of tuna and rice, which had been prepared for us by the boat captain’s wife. Not long after we arrived, a small traditional fishing canoe pulled up next to us with its catch of the day – a very big yellowfin tuna! And the men had caught it with a hand line, imagine that. We followed them to the cleaning station where they gutted and weighed it. It was 62 kilos, which they said would fetch about 1.5 million rupiahs at the market (about $165). They asked us how much such a fish would get in the America but we had no idea. So we just posed for pictures with the tuna before we watched the men expertly cut it into pieces. Tuna is a very big part of the local diet in Gorontalo.
The next day we had just climbed back on the boat after our first dive when we heard one of the boat crew cry out, “Lumba-lumba!” This is one of the handful of Indonesian words I know – dolphins! There was a pod of Risso’s dolphins swimming off in the distance. The boat crew carefully maneuvered the boat a bit closer and we spent a good part of the surface interval watching these beautiful creatures swim and dive around the boat. I counted at least nine but there may have been more. It was hard to tell because they kept going underwater and resurfacing. For Mark, this moment was extra special because it was his first time seeing dolphins in the wild.
Even after the diving was over, Gorontalo continued to impress. On the way back to the dock after the last dive of the day, we passed pristine beaches and majestic limestone cliffs. As we pulled into the river, an extremely large bird flew overhead. Mark took one look, shook his head in disbelief and said, “Of course”. I smiled in response as I watched the Brahminy kite soar above the river. That night, after a bit of jalan-jalaning in a bentor, we went to a seaside restaurant to enjoy some ikan bakar with dabu-dabu iris by the ocean. We just missed the sunset, but we had plenty of time to linger over our food and chocolate ice cream while enjoying the cool ocean breezes. Mark confided that he thinks I quite possibly have the best site out of all the ELFs this year.
Unfortunately, he had to return to Makassar after only two full days in Gorontalo. On Sunday I went diving again and, wouldn’t you know, on my 50th dive I saw a blacktip reef shark! I posted this sighting as my Facebook status and Mark was the first one to comment: “You gotta be KIDDING me!!!!!” He will be back again soon.