Thursday, December 4, 2008

Wakatobi, Sulawesi: everything but the diving - Part II

Each boat has a set schedule of dive sites each day and the meet times are listed on a boat board both in the dining area and at the rinse tank station. Meet times for the two morning boat dives were between 0730 and 0750; afternoon single boat dives met between 1430-1450. Departure times were staggered among the vessels to avoid congestion at the briefings in the long house and at the departure area. Again, this was a great system. At the end of the stay, the resort gives you a list of the dive sites done on each day along with your bill – very handy for those of us who aren’t paying much attention to site names while we are actually diving!

There is a nice camera room available for those photographers and videographers who wish to use it. Inside workbenches line the walls of two rooms and the air-conditioning is cranked. There are power points with either 110 or 220 supplies and they are clearly marked, so you simply need to use the one that works for you. Adaptors and converters are available at the front desk, too. I didn’t use the camera room for more than storing my gear before getting on the boat, but it had everything you’d want, including fresh towels for drying bits off.

They also have a variety of rinse tanks. Outside the camera room are two separate tanks for cameras – one for big rigs and one for small rigs, computers and regulators. This works a treat as big rigs and little rigs in the same bath can mean potential problems for all concerned! There were also additional rinse tanks for wetsuits and BCDs. The only time I saw a bit of a line at the tanks was on the last day as everyone was trying to rinse the salt off and get things hung up for maximum drying time.

On the last day, they erect poles along the jetty and two rows of hanging line for all of the dive gear. This lets your gear get maximum benefit of the breezes and the sunshine. You can also take your kit back to the room if you wish; the only place they ask you not to hang gear from is the umbrellas over your lounge chairs, which is fair enough. I used my hammock to spread some things out on and it worked a treat.

I was slack about taking land photos, but you can see the drying pole on the right hand side as we look back at the long house. Many dive briefings were held in the long house, complete with maps and entertaining stories

Late afternoons are perfect for hitting the house reef if the current isn’t rocking. We did one house reef on our own at what was meant to be slack tide, but the current was ripping through so we called it early and came back in to shore. Dive crew help you with your gear at the end of the dive so you don’t have to slog through the sand with it. We had a taxi boat drop us off at our entry point, but we made our own way back to shore. They are happy for you to do whatever works for you and you simply jot your name on the House Reef board with “taxi” behind it, along with a time, if you want the boat to take you out. The current on our dive kind of put us off planning another one, though the following nights were perfect for night dives with very little current.

Instead, we headed for the Jetty Bar which opens each afternoon around 1630. A great place to chat about the day and watch the sun set

or watch a late returning dive boat return to the jetty.

Others at the resort were obsessed with seeing the green flash…I’m not sure what the back story was, but you’ve never seen a deckful of people so intent and loud about the phenomenon!

Looking back down the jetty with my baby Oly 720SW - it doesn't really like low light!

Mary & Ross

Happy hour runs from 1630-1730 and drinks are 30% off. Even without the discount price, they are reasonable: a big bottle of Bintang (beer) is only $5 and cocktails are about $7.50.

Mary & I discussing our various battle scars from the trip

It pays to relax into island time as there is only one bartender and mixing drinks takes him ages. Bar service was one area that they do need to look at improving, though, island time or not. Beers and soft drinks should never wait for cocktails to be mixed, but should be cracked right away and sent out. Instead, the wait staff would stand around waiting while the bartender mixed one drink at a time. We had a couple of waits of 15 minutes or more for a simple beer and this is just too long. It isn’t like there are 200 people to serve so it shouldn’t be too tough to multitask a little in this regard.

The end of the jetty is also a great place to look back onto the resort - Ross did this panorama

There are quite a few cats and kittens on the islands and it was fun to watch them play chasey along the paths and in the gardens

Mama cat used the time to catch a little nap

The last night the food and beverage crew really pulled out all the stops. The dining room was decorated beautifully

and the bakers had created a whimsical world of creatures from bread, fruit and vegetable!

The return from Wakatobi was a shocking change from the rest of our journey and visit. It very much felt like once we had waved goodbye to the staff at the end of the Pier, that Wakatobi was done with us. “Goodbye. See ya. Thanks for spending your money with us. Get out.” There were no porters to help us carry our hand luggage up the extremely steep, unevenly spaced and leveled 54 step staircase,

there was little assistance with the buses and once at the airstrip, no direction as to the plan. On the upside, there was an esky filled with ice and cool drinks for us while we waited. A good thing as we had a very long wait as the plane refueled.

The plane was a shocker. It was very small and cramped. Several guests couldn’t even sit properly in their seats there was so little room between the seats and the backs of the next row. My seat wasn’t quite so cramped, but once I was sitting, there was no moving your legs really. We also stopped for refueling. Not in itself a big deal, but it would have been nice to know. But we were simply herded out and then herded back in again. The meal was terrible, a complete 180 from the lovely offering provided on the flight in. It also meant that we arrived much later than we expected…we thought we would have a good portion of the afternoon in Bali to look around, but we didn’t get to our hotel until dinnertime.

Things did not improve after landing in Bali. I’m not a huge fan of the Bali domestic terminal. There are porters available for a fee, but for those who didn’t want to use them it was not a pleasant experience. The porters grabbed all of the luggage carts from the corral and wouldn’t let the passengers have any – no pay, no cart. Despite the fact that the carts are meant to be available to passengers in the corrals for no fee. You had to be fast and more aggressive to lay hands on one. The porters were rude and unpleasant. This is no reflection on the Wakatobi staff, though the owner was traveling with us and instead of making sure his clients had carts, he made sure he had one. A little thing, but noticed.

Crispin had kindly set up a hotel room for us for our long layover but it was a hassle trying to get him to tell us the name and there was no taxi arranged. He waved vaguely to a point over his shoulder where we could deal with arranging a taxi ourselves. Very different from arrival where we were met by Wakatobi staff, guided through the airport and helped into a taxi. Again, it felt like we were simply dismissed and were no longer considered valued guests. It put a very bad taste in all of our mouths.

Crispin also did not have a replacement travel pillow organized for me and made no mention of it, despite Ilan telling me when I checked out that he’d organize it with Crispin. It’s a small thing, but indicative of the lack of interest at the end of our trip.

The whole return experience tarnished the delightful time we’d had up until then and is not a good way to end a holiday.

Because of the massive delays in leaving Wakatobi and then the added stop for fuel, we arrived much later in Bali than we originally expected. Wakatobi does advise not to fly before 5pm from Bali as it is likely you will miss your connecting flight ... this definitely would have been the case on this trip. This was the view from the hotel balcolny when we arrived

We stayed here

and the beach front area was very busy as we headed out to find some dinner.

I was a little disappointed to have landed so late as I was looking forward to spending an afternoon looking around since I have never been to Bali.

Whew, if you've come this far, stick with me, I'm almost done!

So, would I do it again?  When we were sitting around the jetty bar the last night we were discussing a return trip in 2010 already.  We thought that if we could hire a private guide we would enjoy the reefs more as we could slow down and really get to look at things.  Or even better, get a group together to take over a whole boat so we had more control over which sites we visited as several of the ones we did this trip were fine, but not places we had any interest in visiting again.

However, after the disappointing end to the trip and after checking the prices for 2010, it might just be out of my range.  The diving was nice.  The resort staff on the island were exceptional.  But I might have to contemplate somewhere new and not as luxurious, dive in a place where the emphasis is on critters, get more bang for buck (I really don't think the increases in prices for 2010 make a return trip worth it for me, I probably wouldn't have gone the first time at 2010 prices either, honestly.) and not have to wonder if my return journey will be a let down - just having to go back to reality is enough of a bummer!

Follow up 09 December, 2008: After this report was published, Henrik from Wakatobi got in touch with me to let me know he thought the report was great and to address a few of my issues. He says that Wakatobi is constantly striving to improve customer service and the return journey is due for some improvements very soon, so that was excellent news! He's also hinted at some new services that will be available to guests that will meet, and probably exceed, some of the criteria I'd have for a return trip (perhaps private guides and returning to favourite sites?!) With this repsonse from the attentive Wakatobi team, I have once again put a return trek to this gorgeous remote resort on my list ... and it will definitely be a 10 day trip instead of a 7 day, as 7 days is simply not long enough!

Oh and a new travel pillow is winging its way to me, too.

Now, that's customer service!

Did I have a great time?  Absolutely!  I'm very glad I went and have some great memories

I do have to admit to being thrilled to be on my way home, though. Our coastline is so beautiful

and I was very much looking forward to hitting out local dive sites again. My flight stopped at the huge airport at Monkey Mia in Shark Bay - it's basically a tin shed in the middle of nothing

It is good to be home, even though I had a very good holiday!

Check back in a little bit for the first of three diving posts!

1 comment:

MrHenrik said...

Hi again Kristin, your notes about the care provided on the way out from Wakatobi comes exactly at a time when we've started an effort to really fine-tune all those little details. Rest assured that should you choose to return to dive with us, we'll have had the return trip and all its little details, sorted out and improved:)