One of the most amazing highlights from my first trip to Bali was the diving. I spent a day at Nusa Penida diving with 10 manta rays and another day exploring the Liberty wreck off the coast of Tulamben. I really wanted Duncan to dive the wreck, so I called Aqua Marine Diving because they had been 5-star on my first excursion. Diving in Bali is not just strapping a tank on, but rather an experience. The drive north to reach sites takes you through gorgeous countryside and the beach side cafes are little gems tucked away. The black sand at Tulamben is breathtaking as you trek down the beach to the entry point for the wreck. We booked in for 2 dives on the Liberty, but plans took an unfortunate turn. Weather was causing extreme currents to shut down the diving in that area and limit our options. After reading several reviews we opted for Blue Lagoon, figuring if nothing else we might see some cool macro critters.
The Aqua Marine van pulled up at 6:30 am and we climbed in. After a stop off in Sanur we began weaving our way out of the city. The countryside changed quickly as rice fields replaced tightly packed buildings. We headed east and the sea came into view. Mountains rose out of the fields to the west of us and the beauty of Bali began to shine. It is sometimes difficult to find the beauty because there is a lot of trash and pollution, but it never relents and is there for those who look past the exterior flaws. I explained this to Duncan as we walked down the street in Nusa Dua and found a carved elephant that was overrun with vines and trash. If you looked close though, you could see the intricate detail of the carving and appreciate the craftsmanship.
As we approached Padangbai the left side of the road was lined with trucks, all stuffed full with fruit, vegetables, building supplies and all sorts of random things. There must have been at least 150 trucks pulled over with their drivers playing cards, napping, eating and just killing time. Upon asking we were informed that weather had shut down all ferries and vessels going to Lombok. The weather was definitely worse than we had realized, considering the cargo ferries are pretty large. Crossing the Lombok straight can be dangerous and apparently they had lost a few vessels in recent months and were being overly cautious. The men driving the trucks would have to wait hours or even days until the block was lifted. Can you imagine telling a truck driver in the states that he had to just chill and wait with no air conditioned cabin, hotel room or meal in a restaurant? It is a different world.
Padangbai is a small village on the east coast of Bali. The hostels and cafes that line the shore have a surfer vibe and laid-back atmosphere. We were dropped at the same café I visited on my previous dive excursion. The walls were decorated with signs and shells; palm trees and plants provided a lush backdrop and cats snuck around the tables looking for a treat. We enjoyed our free coffee and waited for the gear to be loaded on the boat. We chatted with a girl visiting from Australia who was trying to get to Lombok. She loved being stuck in Padangbai as she waited for the weather to break. She raved about the quaint village and we sucked in all the information, plotting our next visit. This will definitely be our choice destination next time. Diving and the beach, not many tourists; perfect!
Our dive guide called us to the boat and we waded out to board. The boats are moored just off the beach and were really clean, comfortable and fast. Our group was a mix of divers and snorkelers headed for a day at the lagoon. We were set to do 2 dives before returning to enjoy lunch at the café. Our first dive was fairly shallow, as my sinuses were aching and I didn’t want to push it. In hindsight, the three weeks sinus infection, strep throat and fever that followed was probably not worth the diving. Ah well. We enjoyed massive schools of fish. It is incredible to see such healthy fish populations decorating the watery landscape. There are very few places in the world that populations are as dense as they are in Indonesia. The coral was not overly rich, but we did enjoy the largest field of stag horn coral that I have seen in a long time. Sad that coral fields as far as the eye can see are a rare treat in most parts of the world. Our guide rushed us a long a bit, but I wanted to sit and watch the sweet lips. They are one of my absolute favorite fish and I don’t get much time with them. They have amazing faces and if you are patient you can often catch a cleaning station.
We moved along, exploring the crevices and finding nudibranchs, clown fish and other tiny treasures before returning to the boat. Our sixty-minute dive was relaxing and beautiful. We spent our surface interval chatting with some of the other guests and our guides, while enjoying the lush mountains exploding up from the sea. We could also see the massive volcano in the distance. Such a wild and rugged place when you remove the people and buildings that cover the shoreline. I like to think about places when the first explorers arrived by boat, that sense of raw wilderness and the excitement of exploration through lands unknown to the wayward travelers. Like anything, we sometimes miss our own experience until we are able to step outside of it. I wonder if the Balinese people realize what they have? Difficult sometimes when you put your head down to work and survive. I feel extremely fortunate every time I am able to get lost in a new world and immerse myself in the sights, sounds, smells and the sea.
Our next dive was probably one of the more bizarre that I have had in my experience of the underwater world. There is a massive submarine that takes tourists around the lagoon and it can be seen from various dive points, as it passes. We could hear the loud thud, thud, thud and whir of the propeller long before the white ghost came into view. The visibility was not excellent, so the submarine was very eerie as it moved in and out of our sights. Our guide kept trying to get us to see it, but we were over it the after the first encounter. It rides around in a deep area with no real life or structure. I felt like I was in an episode of Scooby-Doo crossed with a Clive Cussler novel. I am still struggling to get my head around it.
We found more nudibranchs and a black ribbon eel. The ribbon eels are so small and so animated. I could watch them for hours and was excited for Duncan to see his first one. Our guide disappeared as we hovered above the tiny creature. I got lost following 6 Moorish idols (like Gil from Finding Nemo) and again when I encountered an anemone filled with panda clownfish. I could watch clownfish all day. Their little faces are so cute and they have so much spunk. I find myself giggling and giving off a little squeal every time I see them. Yes, I am a dork, but I am completely okay with that.
We returned to the beach and found our way back to the café. Lunch was served as we sat down and we grabbed a couple of Bintangs to wash it down; nothing like an ice-cold beer after a dive. We settled into the back seat of the van for the ride home. It is nearly impossible for me to stay awake, post compressed air, ocean, sun and beer. I think I made it about 20 minutes into the ride trying to force my eyes open, not wanting to miss the countryside as it slipped past.
Blue Lagoon is good for easy diving and the schools of fish are amazing. Macro critters are a highlight and the surface interval provides and incredible view. Aqua Marine is a great operation and the price is very reasonable for what you get. I would recommend the Liberty Wreck and will definitely make the trek back to dive it again!