When reading an address, I tend to cut corners. If I know where a location is from the first line or two, I don’t need to waste my time reading the rest.
The first line tells me that Sali Bay is on Sali Island. Indonesia has more than 17,000 islands, so it’s hardly surprising that I have never heard of it.
The next part of the address is Halmahera. I haven’t heard of that either, but apparently it’s the biggest island in North Maluca. Maluca sounds familiar, but I can’t put my finger on it on the map.
Indonesia. Well, I know where that is. Looks like my short-circuited reading of addresses doesn’t work here.
Before Google Maps this would have entailed an outing to my local library to look through atlases. Nowadays, I start entering text in a browser search bar and, before I’ve finished typing, a suggestion comes up for me to click on. Ping. Now I know where Sali Bay is.
Even so, I know only because of the resort location. Google Maps doesn’t have its own label for the island.
For those with a bit of Indonesian geography imprinted in their minds, picture where Manado and Lembeh are at the northern tip of Sulawesi. Then draw a line just south of eastward to West Papua and Raja Ampat. North Maluca is the group of islands halfway between the two.
Halmahera is the largest island in the group. And Sali is a tiny blip between the south-west edge of Halmahera and the moderately sized island of Bacan.
A new diving location brings heightened anticipation. I have a pretty good idea of what to expect, but it’s not until the first dive that I confirm that for myself. It’s all about tiny critters.
We head along Besar island to a crooked inlet at Kubur. The top few metres are reef and from there downwards silty sand. Muck-diving without the muck.
My second photograph of the trip is a Halameda ghost pipefish, a ghost pipefish variation camouflaged to hide in the clumpy green halameda algae, so we’re off to a good start. If you’re wondering, I took a warm-up photo of a warty nudibranch.
There are four dive-guides in the water, with only two or three divers each.
Rather than disperse, the guides work as a loose team, staying at the limit of visual contact and communicating critter finds to each other. More than half of us are photographers, and as we trade subjects I barely have a free minute.
The weirder and harder to find a critter is, the better. The guides are all from Manado and know their stuff. A well-disguised solar-powered nudibranch fits the bill. Nudibranchs are fussy about their food, and those in this group enjoy soft corals, which contain symbiotic zooxanthellae algae. When nudibranchs eat the coral, rather than digesting all the zooxanthellae they keep them functioning to provide solar energy in their new host.
Kubur is a dive-site that is always well out of the current; other sites are a bit more fussy. Sali and nearby small islands half-block the narrowest point of the channel between Bacan and Halmahera, creating a choke-point through which 2m of tide funnels.
Manager Stefano tells me that’s why he and his two business partners selected the location: well-fed marine life and no-one else dives there. No resorts.
No liveaboards. No-one.
Well, I suppose at least one of them must have gone past in a boat and given it a go at some point before they leased the land and started building the resort, but for a diving tourist this is near-virgin territory, open only since 2017.
Again on Google Maps, the satellite picture shows nothing but trees. The nearest town of any size is an hour away by speedboat.