Monday, 12 November 2007

Diving Bali

Recently got back from ten days in Bali with Jenny and her brother John. It's the least I've ever been prepared for a trip. I didn't even have a guidebook or a map! But my focus was on diving rather than culture so my only preparation was reading about the various diving locations.

We arrived and immediately jumped into a taxi for a two hour drive up to Amed. Along the way, I realised to my horror that I had left my Samsung T9 MP3 player on the airplane. Doh! I'm pretty good at losing small things and now tend to avoid buying expensive mobile high tech gadgets. The T9 was an excellent little device but I ought to get something bigger so I'm less likely to lose it. On the return trip, I filed a lost report with AirAsia but I doubt I'll see it again.

I expected Bali to be a lot more "developed" than what I saw on that taxi ride. I was quite pleased that it wasn't. Amed is primarily a fishing village and most people go about their daily struggle to earn a living amid a few tourists. We checked in to the Three Brothers guest house. John had a small bungalow right on the beach front to himself while Jenny and I took a larger one just one row back. Clean and comfortable and we got them both for 200,000 rupiah. That's $23 US a night! No aircon but we had a fan and an occasional breeze. We also quickly arranged four days of diving with Ecodivers. Diving was $60 US per person per day with full equipment hire but John negotiated a 15% discount since it was low season.

The diving was absolutely superb; better than the Red Sea. The wreck of the USS Liberty in Tulamben was excellent but there are even better and much less crowded sites in the area. There's a huge variety of sea life and healthy soft and hard corals abound. Some of the highlights were bumhead fish, three octopusses and a pygmy sea horse. Saw my first shark. It was just a small white tip about 2m long. Plenty of anthias, jack, parrot, scorpion, lion, angel and a billion other fish I can't identify. Suffice it to say, there's lots of look at.

The best dive was a Gili Silang - greatest profusion of corals I've ever seen. They just carpet the sea floor. It was a very worrisome dive though as it can potentially become a toilet bowl with bubbles going down rather than up. That's freaky. You have to respect the currents. We also hit a thermocline where the temperature dropped from 29C to 21C.

Ecodivers was ok but they were a bit lacking on checks and some of their equipment is rather old. But their service was fine. We had a mix of shore drives and jukung dives. Jukungs are small outrigger fishing boats that can only hold three people. You have to put your kit on and take it off while in the water. I was a bit dubious about this at first but it works well and the trips were short. The diving is very easy with little swell and gentle drifts. Visibility was generally about 15m. Diving heaven!

After four days and eight dives, we decided to take a break. Ubud caught our interest as offering a bit of culture so we took a taxi there and settled into Gusti's Guesthouse. Two clean and simple rooms cost us 280,000 rupiah ($32 USD) each night but again, there's no aircon; just a fan. Gusti's is built on a ravine going down to a river and has a beautiful garden setting. Across from Gusti's is Roda's restaurant which has excellent food at great prices.

At first we were only going to stay two nights but we extended it to three nights. John and Jenny were keen to do some shopping so I relented. There's tons of art and handicrafts and none of it is very expensive. We also took in a couple of cultural dance performances. I'm a bit cynical about performances for tourists but actually they were very good and I quite enjoyed them. Best of all, I fulfilled a minor ambition to watch a live gamelan performance. I love the sound of a gamelan when it's played slow and meditatively.

We spent our last two nights on Nusa Lembongan which is a tiny island just north of Nusa Penida. We got there on the public ferry which turns out to be just an oversized jukung. There's no dock; you have to wade through the water to get onboard. We stayed at Tetuk's Lonsoms gettings two rooms for 300,000 rupiah a night. Ours was on the first floor with a veranda overlooking the beach. Fantastic!

We managed a day of diving with World Diving which is owned by some Australians and run very professionally. They have a large jukung fitted out as a dive boat. Altogether, there were 12 of us diving the day we went out and we soon made friends with a few of them.

The islands have a wicked reputation for strong currents and cold water so we donned 5mm full length wetsuits with hoods. However, it turned out that the water was a warm 28C and the drift was gentle. On the first dive, we saw two massive mola mola. Unbelievable! It's a rare sighting especially given the conditions and season. It was a great thrill to watch these gentle giants. The second dive wasn't eventful but the extensive corals and sea life was still very rewarding.

While onshore, we wandered around the broad sandy beach watching the locals farm seaweed and sat around some of the beachside restaurants. We also wached some cockfighting which is barbaric as you might imagine. We also rented some motorscooters and spent a couple of hours exploring the coast eventually finding a placed called Dream Beach to have a cold beer.

The last day, we got back to the mainland and hired a taxi for 400,000 rupiah for the entire day. He drove us all over the southern part of the island with us getting him to stop at a variety of shops and temples. We checked out Kuta Beach and the more developed parts of Bali which cater much more extensively to the western ideal of a beach holiday.

This has been one of the nicest trips I've ever done. You get fabulous diving, an interesting culture and beautiful scenerey with excellent value for money. On the downside, it's very hot and humid and you regularly get bitten. The food gets a bit monotonous too. I'd certainly consider going back.

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