AT THE SEA WE TURNED RIGHT, following the shoreline for another 10 minutes and passing many floating homes in the bay, amid small green islands surrounded by sparkling golden beaches. The Rui Islands are famous for their communities of sea-gypsies, people who live off the ocean.
The hotel is small, with 20 garden- and ocean-view villas, infinity pool and barefoot restaurant. It overlooked a white-sand beach and the South China Sea.
I had arranged scuba-diving some months before with Tasik Divers,
Bintan, sister of the well-known Manado operation. Originally located beside Trikora, the company had recently bought in a co-owner, changed the name to Dive In Bintan and moved half a mile away to near Agro Beach.
Monica Udap had moved from Manado to manage the dive centre, as had El, our dive guide and Cristian, one of the boat crew. They came from Dive In Bintan to our hotel to discuss our diving that afternoon.
For variety, and because of the tides and currents, it was decided to do two macro dives the following afternoon, and two wide-angle dives the next day.
Guiltily pleased that we didn’t have to get up early the next morning, we enjoyed an early lunch prepared by the excellent chef at Trikora before our pick-up.
The dive-boat met us with all our gear and cameras on board at the end of the 150m jetty, and took us to picturesque White Island, around 15 minutes away.
El’s briefing described a mini wall with a wide sand bottom to a depth of a maximum of 15m. Most of the diving around Bintan is between 8 and 15m, handy for long shallow dives and for those with restricted depths.
Deeper dives are available on the wall on the outside of the reef surrounding the islands, but the weather and sea conditions needed to be more favourable to get us beyond the reef.
A crazily patterned map pufferfish.
Only around 40m from the beach, there appeared to be no current, but as soon as we hit the bottom at 10m we felt a strong flow. After a few minutes spent fighting it, Monica signalled us to abort the dive.
Monica explained that both the currents and the tides could be unpredictable, making it difficult to predetermine the dive-sites, but that there were plenty of protected sites.
We tried again on the other side of the island. With no current, we spent just over an hour gently mooching around, finding a surprising number of critters on the white sandy bottom.
El and Monica delighted in pointing out numerous varieties of nudibranch, tiny flatworms and Pederson and anemone shrimps hiding in different types of anemones. Several large anemones showed purple or white mantles, with families of dancing anemonefish posing for us.
A white devil scorpionfish looked at me evilly and charged threateningly as I got close. I had been moving in to take a photograph of a beautiful Flabellina nudibranch, with bright pink filaments swaying in the water, and the scorpionfish took me by surprise, well-camouflaged as it was next to the nudibranch. Mateusz likes finding tiny filefish, and spotted many hiding among Halameda algae, including whitebar, bristle-tailed and minute varieties.
Many different gobies shared a burrow with shrimps on the sandy bottom, scattered among colourful shells.
A huge Spanish dancer nudibranch flapped elegantly past before settling on the bottom.