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The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
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October 2018    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 44, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Siladen Resort and Spa, Indonesia

a tranquil place where “chill” dives are the main thrill

from the October, 2018 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now


Dear Fellow Diver:

I was fortunate to have taken my Sulawesi dive trip in early June, before the earthquake and tsunami that has killed at least 1,500 people. And now Mount Soputan, on the northern arm is ewrupting lava and spouting ash three miles into the air. While I was there, volcanic peaks were simply scenic charm along the horizon as my spouse and I, the only passengers on the dive boat, cruised around the northeastern tip of Sulawesi Island. However, I still had not enjoyed the ideal vacation yet: I had been wiped out by a bout of lower tract "discomfort" at Lembeh Resort the week before. Fortunately, I had only missed one dive, thanks to three days' worth of azithromycin (recommended in Indonesia for traveler's diarrhea, versus ciprofloxacin used in other countries), but I was now in the mindset for relaxing dives that weren't exerting. So, I was ready for a change of scenery and a slower pace at Siladen Resort, a sister hotel to Lembeh Resort.

Siladen Resort Dive BoatsMy Lembeh and Siladen Resorts package included a land transfer from the former to the latter, but when I heard about the boat transfer involving two dives in the threehour cruise, I opted for that upgrade. Why drive when you can dive along the way to your destination? I found it to be an amazing deal. We moored off Bangka Island, equidistant between Lembeh and Siladen. Divemaster Ramly outlined the dive at Sampiri 3 on a whiteboard, the main attraction being a volcanic hot spring. Within minutes of backrolling in and settling to the bottom, he found a blue-ring octopus hunting along the sand. Its rings pulsed bright blue whenever Ramly waved his tickle stick. I took multiple photos before moving on to other creatures -- a tiny hairy shrimp (alas, the devious creature was hard to catch in focus), pygmy seahorse, harlequin and orangutan crabs. After feeling the heat of the hot spring at 70 feet, I passed a football-sized giant frogfish while ascending to the surface.

As our boat nudged onto a shady beach on the tiny island of Pulau Siladen, I got the sense my time here would be as uneventful as I wanted it to be. A group of villagers sat in the sand; dogs wandered back and forth. Boat crew hopped in the water, hoisted our luggage on their shoulders, and loaded everything onto a large pushcart. A young lady from the resort met us, explaining that at low tide, their dive boats must moor next to the village's deeper jetty instead of the resort's shallower beach. A resort golf cart normally shuttled to and from this low-tide mooring, but it was out of commission. The 15-minute walk turned out to be an easy stroll on a paved sidewalk that took us past children pedaling on bicycles, and a tiny bodega with snack food and powdered coffee hanging in its screened windows.

I opened the main gate and went down the covered walkway that wrapped around a sprawling salt-water pool, connecting the front desk, restaurant and cozy bar with pool table. I was warmly greeted at the main office, then shown my home-away-from-home. The 520-square-foot garden view villa, occupying half a duplex, was paneled in wood, with high peaked ceilings, and looked out over some parched, scruffy-looking plantings. A footpath led to the porch, holding a small couch, table and drying rack. A king poster bed draped in mosquito netting stood in the middle of the air-conditioned room. A nook contained a five-gallon jug of drinking water with hot and cold water spigots, instant coffees and tea bags. Electricity was 220-volt, with outlets close to a desk I used for my camera station. Our greeter brought me a multi-outlet power strip and towels from the camera room. In the shower in the openair bathroom, water from a rainfall head flowed down onto thick black tiles, with blue sky and tropical foliage perched overhead. Body wash, conditioner and shampoo in capped ceramic vases sat on an altar-like stand. Showering was like performing a primitive cleansing ritual. The only flaw: the odd mosquito flying in from above to disturb my meditations while sitting on the throne.

After eating breakfast that was served at 7 a.m., I headed to the dive center for our 8 a.m. briefing before walking to the boats. Two morning boat dives were followed by lunch at 1 p.m. Siladen's dives were spa-like, usually drift dives requiring little energy. My standard routine: dropping into 60-foot-plus visibility, drifting along a sloping or steep wall, staying at depth for awhile, then gradually poking my way back up. Bottom times usually exceeded an hour. We often meandered around 60 feet for a long time, so I requested nitrox after the first day. Water hovered around 82 degrees; my 5-mil and hooded tunic worked great.

The Salt Water Pool at SiladenBunaken Marine Park is home to nearly 400 coral species; they looked healthy because so many coral polyps were fully open and feeding during the day. Plenty of sea whips gave me many opportunities to spot and photograph the tiny whip coral goby. Hard, rough star coral were covered with so many tiny white polyps, they resembled super-powdery sugar donuts squashed together in a big lump.

The dive staff, mainly from Siladen and North Sulawesi, gave complete safety and dive briefings and came to the rescue when my regulator's second stage started breathing wet. Galen Schmitt, one of the dive center managers, quickly swapped one of their regulators for mine. The next day my regulator was back on my rig, staying nice and dry.

Siladen's friendly feeling was led by managers Ana Fonseca and Miguel Ribeiro, a married couple of Portuguese divers who met while working at another resort. Ana greeted me with a big smile at nearly every meal, and she switched easily between multiple languages when saying hello to everyone. Eco-friendly as well, Siladen asked guests to pack out their own waste plastic and spent batteries, and it set aside a patch of its beach for a turtle hatchery. Too bad they couldn't do anything about the smudgy smoke from fires just outside the resort that could pose a hazard to guests with lung issues in the one or two villas at that extreme end.

I saw so much coral on so many easy wall drift dives that after a while, I longed for a classic Sulawesi muck dive or two. (Siladen offered them at nearby Manado, I was just too lazy to request any.) The only time we dove below 100 feet was to see an uncommon yellow pygmy seahorse on an afternoon dive at Sachiko II off Bunaken Island. As we descended to 104 feet in 55-foot visibility, I was leery of making this my third dive of the day. I kept such a close eye on my computer, I felt distracted from the dive. But that little yellow seahorse got my full attention. The other divers were not photo-hounds, so I spent some quality time with it, using my trusty Nikon 105 coupled with ReefNet's 10x diopter. We took the remaining 35 minutes ascending slowly past nudibranch, many reef fish, large sponges, hard and soft corals. My computer showed me "in the green" the whole time.

Alvian, my 20-something Sulawesi guide for nearly the entire week, deployed a surface marker buoy after such drift dives; we'd surface as a group and be quickly spotted by the boat, often a quarter-mile away. Hot face towels, tea, coffee, hot cocoa and often sweet cakes were offered after each dive, then Alvian recounted our major sightings. My log entries filled with orangutan crabs, porcelain crabs, nudibranch in rainbow colors, flatworms, Ambon, leaf and devil scorpionfish, a hairy octopus, little dancing harlequin sweetlips, batfish, and white tip sharks. I readily accepted Alvian's offers to carry my heavy camera rig from the dive center to the boat and back. Divers put on or took off gear in the water. Dive staff always set up and cleaned our gear, and with care.

Siladen Resort - MapOnly a couple of other divers joined me on most dives -- a French physician and a business executive from Monaco now based in Singapore. Both spoke English, and we got along great. The 3 p.m. afternoon dive left time afterward to shower, prep my camera and enjoy a sundowner while reviewing the day's photos, all before dinner at 7 p.m. Siladen offered periodic dusk (mandarin) and night dives (the tank-like sponge crab lumbering past my night-dive lights was hilarious.)

All the dive boats were fully-roofed monohulls, 50 feet long and 10 feet wide, plenty roomy for the resort's standard max of 12 divers. Twin 100-HP Yamaha outboards propelled us to moorings, mostly 30- to 45 minutes away, off Bunaken Island (Siladen's boats moor instead of anchor). The roof was sturdy enough to climb up and catch some rays topside. A rinse tank for cameras was big enough for my rig and some smaller point-and-shoots, but too small for a boatload of heavy-duty gear.

Dive staff welcomed me every morning in the open-air meeting area with ample seating, fish books and charts, boat assignments on whiteboards and dive site maps. A high-pressure air nozzle and two camera rinse tanks stood near the air-conditioned camera room, with plenty of stations and towels. The gear storage building next door was airy, with separate spaces for each villa, standing 15 yards from the shoreline where dive boats moored. Walking up the beach, I rinsed my feet in a shallow pool, showered and rinsed my suit in tanks outside the locker area. Staff handled the rest, including cleaning and drying my gear at week's end.

The sea between the islands in Bunaken Marine Park plunges to 6,000 feet, so it paid to look away from the walls and down into the blue. Among the fly-bys: huge green humphead parrotfish and endangered Napoleon wrasse, the largest of its kind. After years of Caribbean diving, I'd never seen particularly large hawksbill or green sea turtles. This changed here, most memorably at Lekuan Pygmy, on the far side of Bunaken. One monster spotted a sponge on the wall that must have looked particularly appetizing, glided in for a landing, then ripped into that sponge like a dog given a thick steak.

At Fukui, down at 70 feet, I felt something akin to the holy when we came across a group of truly giant clams and empty shells, about two-and-a-half-feet across. Was this an ancient family, with the offspring living next to the sacred "bones" of its ancestors? By stark contrast, at the end of the dive, we came across some man-made structures set as an artificial reef, their lack of marine growth and unnatural-looking lines reminding me how important it is to protect the marine life that's already there.

The Siladen Resort - RatingBreakfast and dinner were set under the restaurant's open rotunda. As the sun climbed, I tucked into breakfasts of chilled juices and smoothies, cold cereal and yogurt with fruit and muesli, and hot dishes like eggs Benedict, sausage, bacon, French toast, pancakes and made-to-order eggs. Lunch was often served on white-linen-covered tables on the beach, with dishes ordered from a menu or on buffet tables. Chef Mateo, an Italian with an animated personality and charming accent, served up the fine-dining-worthy cuisine. Starter dishes from the lunch and dinner feasts included prawn salad with mint dressing and fusilli pasta with minced beef and tomato sauce. Main courses included tofu with herbs steamed in a banana leaf, tempeh-encrusted fish and chicken Cordon Bleu. I tried to save room for desserts like apple crumble, lemon tarte and coffee mud cake.

The most challenging part of my trip was hunting for and doing justice to what became my target photo op: a hairy shrimp smaller than the tip of a matchstick. After multiple failed attempts to get a clear photo, Alvian came to my rescue, finding one more on my last day of diving. Out of six images, one was clear enough to see its legs and eyes in the same shot -- a home run.

On other dive vacations, there always seemed to be a timetable to meet, and I've rushed to board dive boats on time and make every minute count. During my week at Siladen, watching a blood-red sky at sunset, marked by the massive dark outline of a ,800-foot volcano rising directly out of the sea, the gentle diving and gracious feel enveloped me. Staff put on no special show for me -- I paid my own way and did not disclose I was writing for Undercurrent -- but this time, especially after gastrointestinal issues, being able to chill was the thrill. Siladen was the most relaxing and refreshing dive experience I've had. I hope Mother Nature gives it and the rest of the Sulawesi island community a much-needed break from excitement for a while."

-- S.P.

Our Undercover Diver's Bio: "While learning to scuba 35 years ago, my beaver-tail neoprene wetsuit got me through my YMCA silver-level certification, even if I did freeze my bippy off during 100-foot descents onto Great Lakes freighters. I've gradually earned all the main certifications, including Master Scuba Diver, and I have an SDI/TDI/ERDI solo diving certification that comes in handy when I am sometimes left on my own while taking photos on dives. In between frequent dive trips, from the Caribbean to the Asia Pacific, I am a public safety diver and try to dive once a week year-round when our local lakes are not frozen over, and when they are, I'm ice diving."

Divers CompassDivers Compass: My 15-dive stay came to $2,033 for me, and $1,313 for my non-diver spouse . . . Round-trip airfare from the Midwest with a one-night stop in Singapore was $2,471 per person, and boat transfer for two from Lembeh Resort to Siladen was $325, plus $90 for the two dives . . . Entrance tags to Bunaken National Park were $10.25; Nitrox was $8 per tank . . . Complimentary beverages, with the exception of an extra $2-$3 for gourmet coffees, $7.50 for a glass of wine, $5 for Big Bintang beers, and $9.50 and up for mixed drinks . . . In addition to the service fees on our bill, I tipped $200 for the dive staff and $200 for the resort staff; my regulator rental/repair was $15 . . . Siladen has a strict no-gloves policy, but my doctor wrote an official letter requesting I be allowed to wear them (I get cold easily, so they were for exposure protection), and the resort didn't question it . . . Indonesian rupiah, U.S. dollars and credit cards are accepted . . . I highly recommend overnighting in Singapore -- we stayed at the boutique Amoy Hotel ($180/ night, which included one airport transfer and breakfast) and saw highlights such as the Gardens by the Bay and Sentosa Island . . . Bluewater Dive Travel put my package together with expertise . . . Websites: Siladen Resort & Spa -; Bluewater Dive Travel - (

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