Having the “Days Of Our Lives” at Murex!!
Ken Kurtis, owner of Reef Seekers Dive Co. in Los Angeles has been visiting and bringing groups of divers to Murex Manado for the last 15 years. Today our Blogger joined him on his daily three dive trip over to Bunaken to find out more about him and why he just can’t get enough of Manado and Bunaken diving – even after all these years.
I: So Ken Kurtis, I hear that you are a long term guest of Murex Manado and you have a long history in the diving industry – can you tell me a bit about yourself and how you came to first visit North Sulawesi?
K: Sure, I’d owned a dive shop in LA for 20 years when in 2006 my partner wanted to sell, I wasn’t ready to give up completely and I realised that I had enough of a name for myself and big enough customer base to keep the internet travel section of the company going – so I did. I attended DEMA in 2000 and I met Danny Charlton and Angelique Batuna – the owners of Murex and we got to talking and I was instantly interested in diving Bunaken so I got to planning and took my first group to Murex later in 2000.
I: Wow, so you’ve been in the dive industry full time for over 35 years now?
K: Yeah, but I do many other things as well….. (laughing)
I: That sounds intriguing! What else are you involved in at the moment?
K: I’m also a Legal Expert Witness in court proceedings that involve scuba diving incidents – usually I am working the defence side. I also act as a forensic consultant in Scuba fatalities for the LA County Coroner, I’m a Naui Instruuctor but I don’t teach so much now and for the rest of the time I’m an actor.
I: That’s quite a mix – I should ask about the diving activities but now I am curious to find out more about the acting!
K: Well, I do radio and television and I love it – I’m very lucky as every line of work that I operate in I really enjoy. On television I do infomercials, commercials, I’ve read the weather for KBC and I’ve had parts in Days of Our Lives and General Hospital.
I: (Looking shocked) So you’re actually already famous before you star in our Murex Blog!!!
K: Not really but I like to do what I can.
I: So, back to the dive trips with Murex – how many times have you visited Murex Dive Resorts and do you always come to Manado?
K: This will be my tenth trip here since 2000 and yes, I always come to Manado. I don’t like moving around, I like to settle and although Murex offers some great options for spending time in 3 locations I prefer to stay in one location – and they also do this very well too! I dive Manado and Bunaken from the Murex base here (Manado) and I usually also do a one day trip to Lembeh for three dives and last year I also did a three dive trip by boat to Bangka – so using my dive package I still get to explore the other areas but I can stay in one location – this works best for me and my guests.
I: So what makes you keep coming back?
K: First of all I really like the resort – I like the ambiance and I really think it is a comfortable and wonderful place. The flexibility of Murex also works really well for me and the flight schedule coming from the States, we get 9 full days of diving in each trip and the diversity of the diving in those 9 days is great. In Bunaken you have vertical walls, big turtles, sharks and clouds of fish, in Bangka you have wonderful soft corals and in Lembeh you have your critters. When I first started coming here the diving along the Manado coast line was really unexplored aside from a few sites but around 5 years ago Murex started finding more and more sites and the muck diving here is great and it has added a new dimension to the diving (pauses and looks thoughtful) …… although it has also added complexity to planning the daily dive excursions as we have so many sites to choose from!
At this point we are half way between Manado and Bunaken and we have to pause our chat as the boat crew have started shouting “Dolphin, Dolphin” Ken Kurtis is out of his seat like a shot and immediately poises himself at the front of the bow watching out for dolphins breaking the surface – a true lover of all marine life!
I: So with all of the sites that you now have to choose from do you have a favourite? Are you more of a muck man or a coral fan?
K: I’m not really muck or coral – both have different appeals to me and as an underwater photography so much depends on what lens I have chosen for that day. If I am shooting macro then I am only really looking for small stuff – a whale shark could swim past and I wouldn’t see it or pay attention as I wouldn’t be able to photograph it! I really think that all types of diving have something to offer and every dive is what you make of it – if you set out to see a specific thing then you can be easily disappointed but if you look around you there are more than likely hundreds of other beautiful things. If I had to name sites though I would have to say Manado Tua – just because I have a personal vision of finding a coelacanth (laughing), in Bangka I really like Sahaung because of the soft corals there and it is one of the prettiest reefs I’ve dived. Over in Lembeh I like Nudifalls and Nudi Retreat for variety. You know, a lot depends on the guides as well though – I’ve been diving with Bashrah for years and wherever we go he is going to find something new for me!
I: So what’s the best or most interesting thing that you have seen on this trip so far?
K: Well, again as a photographer I tend to think about things in terms of what I got a really good picture of so it’s not always something really “special” – the other day I got a great shot of a goby and I was really excited about that! I’ve been pretty lucky though – I have seen most things already but you know it’s also really exciting for me when I find something for myself – I remember one year I was diving with Basrah at Pantai Perigi in Lembeh and at this point I had never seen a blue ring octopus before. I was looking around on the sand and I saw something move close to my hand , when I looked more closely I saw the blue rings and I knew what it was immediately – but it was much smaller than what I was expecting!! Anyway – I took my pictures then swam over to the rest of the group who were with Basrah and I rather proudly showed them my find – that was great, especially when you know that you have found something that even the guides would be proud of finding!
As we near the first dive site we all start to gear up for the first dive – Ken of course, is teasing Basrah – I think this is going to be a fun dive! After the first dive at Lekuan II, I have the chance to talk to Ken again about the site.
I: So how was your dive Ken (I know it was good as I was following him with my camera!)
K: Great, I saw around four juvenile white tip sharks in caves along the wall and I think my pictures were good. I’m shooting with a new wide angle lens today. But you know, the thing that always gets me about this site is the clouds of hundreds, if not thousands of red tooth trigger fish – they are always here and I just marvel at them every time.
I: Is that just one of the reasons you keep coming back?
K: That and I like to dive sites that I’ve dived before – sites that I know. It is always fascinating to see how things have changed or stayed the same – usually on the Bunaken walls though you see different things every time depending on tide, season and current – it never gets dull!
We head over to our second site now which is Tanjung Pisok which is a new site for Ken – even after 15 years of diving here! After the dive – which is stunning we get to hear Ken’s thoughts:
K: Wow, that was great – what’s not to love about that! I saw a huge reef octopus, beautiful coral, a lot of different anemones with different clown fish. There were a lot of fish in the current and the colours should look great on my pictures.
The final dive site of the day, after having lunch on the boat will be over at Tanjung Papaya – a site that Ken has dived numerous times before but is excited to see again. Tanjung Papaya is a muck diving site which is also home to a random collection of motorcycles that the Manado Police dumped into the water here apparently after their police pound became too full! Ken tells me that the motorbikes are now encrusted with coral and that someone with a sense of humour has put a “No Parking” sign next to them underwater (I am wondering if this could have been Ken…….!)
After the dive I have chance for a final catch up with Ken again on the boat as we head back to base at Murex Manado:
I: So Ken, it was a good day for you?
K: Oh yes, on that last dive we saw a hairy octopus, stonefish, a heap of different shrimps, whip coral gobies, mantis shrimp, two different coloured ghost pipefish and all kinds of weird stuff. As for the day overall – you can see what I mean about the versatility of the diving – in one day we have done a vertical wall, a sloping reef drift dive and a black sand muck dive – all from one base. This is why I love the diving here. Now we head back and I have time and facilities to look at my pictures before my night dive.
I: Okay – I know you are busy but just a final question for you. Do you have any one favourite or best “Murex Moment” that you can share with us?
K: You know, that’s not easy. I could say it was a dive a few years ago at Circus Point which was just crazy because I think we found every single nudibranch species known to humanity in that one dive but really I don’t have special moments. I receive excellent service at Murex and that does not strike me as a special thing – it’s what I pay for and it is what the company does. The diving should be good and the resort should be good and they both are and that creates overall special memories. I also understand that things don’t always go to plan and what I really value about Murex is that if this happens they fix problems and address any issues so they don’t ruin your trip. They do a great job – if they didn’t I wouldn’t keep coming back and it’s not just me, I have brought groups of up to twelve people here at a time and I would say that at least half of the guests I have brought have returned again with me – now that’s when you know that a product is good!
I: Thank you Ken – coming from a seasoned diving veteran I’m not going to argue with that!
Murex Dive Resort: A huge thank you to Ken Kurtis for allowing our interviewer to follow him around for the day, for years of support and for some great memories with all of us – thank you Ken Kurtis and here’s to many more years to come!