It seemed as though we would have the divemaster to ourselves today, which suited us just fine! This time we were picked up on motorbikes and driven to the dive shop a few miles down the road, where we grabbed our gear and went down to the beach, where a traditional "jukung" boat was waiting. It was definitely the strangest dive boat we had ever used - about 20 feet long, and only 18 inches wide (like a canoe) but deep, and with bamboo outriggers on each side. It was only a ten minute ride to the site, where we would dive a sloping sand bottom around a point that was dotted with corals and sponges. The shallow sand was covered with garden eels that back themselves down into holes in the sand and then come part way out to sway in the current, looking like a garden of blowing grass. When you approach, they sink slowly back into the hole and reappear when you pass. We swam down the slope into deeper water, where we found black spotted moray eels, zebra lionfish, barrel sponges big enough to hide a refrigerator in, gobies in the sand, and the highlight - ribbon eels! These are another of those critters that we had only seen in magazines - small, elegant eels that are bright blue with a yellow dorsal fin and big flared yellow nostrils. Very exotic looking! We saw two males (blue and yellow) and one juvenile (black with a yellow dorsal fin) and read later that the males all turn into females (solid yellow) when they grow to 85cm long! Bizarre. Other finds included a clown snake-headed eel peering out of the sand, beautiful orange/yellow/pink soft corals, a school of striped catfish, and a few pretty nudibranchs. The light current made for an easy dive, and with so much to see, it was a memorable one!
Local porter ladies were on hand to carry our gear back to the shop when we arrived back at the beach, but they carry it on their heads! A tank/BCD balanced on a rolled up towel on their head, and a second full set perched on their shoulder. We were impressed! Tanks were refilled, fish were identified in field guides, and then we did it all over again! This time, we went east, past expensive homes and hotels on the hillside overlooking the coast, to a quiet little cove where a mooring buoy marks the site of a Japanese shipwreck. Nobody seems to know the story behind it, so we figure it was a gift from the Americans to get the Japanese back for torpedoing the Liberty. The ship was quite small (or what's left of it anyway), and it sits in only 25 feet of water. A thick school of little orange fish swarmed the mangled interior, making a swim through it almost blind! The corals smothering the wreck were pretty, but after admiring them and the fish checking out the submerged toilet, we made our way onto the adjacent reef and drifted west. The sloping reef was packed with coral, ranging from impressive fields of staghorn coral to massive sea fans and soft coral branches. Tiny hairy squat lobsters hung out on the ridges of a barrel sponge, damselfish and anemonefish guarded their territory, and countless orange anthias swarmed above the reef. Our guide spent a long time staring at a pink gorgonian and eventually waved us over, pointing out another pygmy seahorse! This was a bit surprising though, as we were only at 40 feet and they typically like deeper water, 90ft and deeper. And for the grand finale, he found a rare leafy scorpionfish sitting on the wreck out in plain view. We have been spoiled to have had such great dives over the past two days, especially having found so many exotic little critters that makes the fish geeks in us very happy!
Much like the food poisoning that I had a couple days ago, Ken woke up this morning feeling pretty much the same way, but he was a trooper and managed the dives today like a true scubaholic. When we got back to the hotel, though, he crashed and barely woke up until the next morning, having gone over 24 hours without food. So the rest of the day was quiet, relaxing with a beautiful sea view and starting to read up on Australia since it will be our next destination. The power conveniently went out at 8pm, so we both called it a super early night and slept off the last of our sicknesses.