Bali Safari 2005

Author: Nila Murti
Trip report on Bali KSDC Safari Annual Diving Trip 2005

 

This was my second diving trip to Bali. My first trip was in May earlier in the year. At that time I managed to squeeze in 8 dives in Tulamben and 3 dives in Menjangan in three days. The dives in both places impressed me a lot so I was so excited to be able to go again, this time with different people and visiting more dive sites.


If we look at a geological map of Bali it will almost entirely be red coloured, since almost all of Bali is covered by volcanic rocks mostly aged less than 1 million years old. The non-volcanic areas in Bali are the areas around Negara which consists of sandstone and limestone, the areas around Menjangan island which were formed by limestones and Nusa Penida and the areas south of Kuta which are made of older limestones.


In this 4 day diving trip we would dive first above a 2-3 million year old limestone bedrock (Menjangan), then above a young (less than 1 million year old) lava and breccias (Tulamben), then around an area comprised of a mix of 10 million year old rocks from an old volcano and less than 1 million years old rocks from Gunung Agung (Padang Bai) and lastly above a 5 million year old limestone bedrock in Nusa Penida. Surely with this variation in bedrocks there will be variation in the morphology of the land and the environment. So I was really looking forward to the trip.

That afternoon after a hectic day at the office, I rushed to pick up Martin and the bags, then dragged them all in a taxi to the airport. My knickers was in a great twist when 40 minutes before take off time we were still held up by traffic at the gate of the airport; the jam caused by an accident involving a huge container. And we didn�t have the ticket yet; I only had the code of booking for an Awair flight in my purse. Panic time, big time. Luckily Wawan and Tom and his gang who were way ahead of us managed to pass the gate before the accident, so I told them my code over the phone and they got the tickets ready for us.


When finally we reached the terminal, the group was waiting for us. Jerry came out of the check in area and gave me the ticket, and Martin and I checked in. I breathed a lot easier after that. We hung around in the check in area waiting for Erwin and some others and when they arrived we walked quickly to the waiting lounge. It turned out that we still had to wait for a while before boarding.


There was no incident at all to report on the plane. I was starving � I forgot to bring any food, not remembering that this was an Awair flight, hence no food. So while the others were enjoying their various yummy meals I slept to forget my hunger.


In the Denpasar airport Erika, Wawan, Martin and me took two taxis to get us to Hotel Hapel Semer in Kerobokan, near where we were supposed to meet the next morning. It was almost midnight when we checked into the hotel and I couldn�t remember much afterwards.....

In the ungodly hour of 5 am the alarm went off, we grudgingly woke up and packed again, then waited for Erwin to pick us up. We then met the others at Hengky and Thea�s place.


I can�t recall how many cars we used to drive to Labuhan Lalang, near Gilimanuk in the NW corner of Bali. Martin and I rode in Mia�s car, driven by Tom. I think there were a car driven by Hengky, another by Erwin, by Jerry, by Lala and by Irene. It took us about 2 hours to reach Labuhan Lalang, the mainland port to go to Menjangan island.


On the way we encountered many religious ceremonies held in village temples. There were also sport games and marches held for the upcoming Independence Day celebration. Quite a number of groups of kids in school uniforms marched military-like on the street in a competition. Martin was amazed and he called it forced march. Well, some of the children did look like they were forced to join the march.


Dive 1. Menjangan Pos 2

There were 23 people in our group, and we took several boats from Labuhan Lalang. In my boat the leader was Mia, and the rest of the divers were Jerry, Cesil, Wawan and me. Martin came with us in the boat but he did not dive. I was hoping that the next day in Tulamben he would be able to do a discovery scuba dive, and Tom was helping me finding someone to guide him. I hoped he wouldn�t be too bored waiting for us.


Then we started the deer hunting. Well, not really. The area we�re diving at is around the island of Menjangan, which means deer. In May 2005 I dived in three places, the 19th century ship wreck at 40m depth, garden eel and Pos 1. That time the visibility was very good, 20-30m. So I was looking forward to dive again there.


I wasn�t disappointed. That day the visibility was 20-30m as well. Beautiful clear blue sea. The first dive site was Pos 2. It was a wall and steeply sloping reef with white sandy bottom. In the shallower parts the reef was partly bleached and dead but many has started to grow again. In the Periplus Diving Bali book David Pickell and Wally Siagian explained that the once profuse growth of corals in Menjangan was struck by two disasters. In 1997 there was an explosive growth of crown-of-thorns that killed most of the corals and in 1998 El Nino brought rising water temperature that finished off the rest but a few. However the disasters mainly struck on the shallower part of the reef, and left the deeper ones in the walls ok.


Now the corals have grown back and there�s a twist to make the story ends happily � according to David and Wally, while previously the reef flat consisted only of a handful of species, after the disasters there were more diversity in there. Well, they may be right, because I saw that on top of a dead 50 cm diameter table coral grew different algae, ascidian, sponges and soft corals. In a space that once was only occupied by one species now there were more than 5 species (that I recognised, that is. There maybe a lot more).


My camera refused to work again, just like in my previous trip to Bali. It seemed that whenever it was brought to a depth of more than 10 meters it didn�t work properly. Sometimes it refused to turn on, sometimes it would turn on but the LCD would not work. Strangely enough it worked properly on the surface, with or without the underwater housing. I was disappointed but I guess I�m not yet a true underwater photographer because even though my camera did not work, I still enjoyed my dive immensely.


Dive 2. Menjangan Pos 1

After a lunch in the Menjangan island under a clear blue sky, we dived off Pos 1. It was a moderately sloping reef with white sandy bottom. There were more dead corals here than in the first site, but some has grown back. There was no current at all, though the surface was a bit wavy. I leisurely watched little things like a bunch of big dascylus hovering above a huge 1 meter diameter table corals. Sometimes they ducked in between the branches of their home, and I wished I had my camera with me. Strange it may seem to other divers who are much more experienced than me, reticulated dascylus swimming in and out of table corals are one of my favourite underwater photo objects.


Then I tried to stay still over an anemone with several resident pink anemonefish. They caught my attention because among the tentacles of the anemone I saw one tiny Clark�s anemonefish trying to hide in one corner. I wondered if it was common for different anemonefish types to mix in one home. If it�s not then I wished the tiny brave Clark�s anemonefish the best of luck.


There were several nudibranch which I have not seen before. Too bad my camera did not work. But I hope the others managed to take some pictures of them to identify later.


After the dive we sailed back to Labuhan Lalang and after some tea and refreshment in the little warungs we drove almost 100 km east to Tulamben. It was a very long drive. I tried not to fall asleep and to accompany Tom in a conversation. He must�ve gained a lot of points in the eyes of his darling Mia for driving all the way from Kerobokan to Labuhan Lalang and then again to Tulamben :)

That morning we again had to wake up early for a dawn dive in Batu Kelebit. I was knackered after the consecutive late nights and early mornings, plus the long drive. But the thought of diving at Batu Kelebit which I have not visited before helped to wake me up.


In the previous night Tom and I had arranged with Pak Oka, the owner of Matahari Tulamben Resort, to get someone to guide Martin in a Discovery Scuba Dive. I was so happy to be able to arrange this and yet I was worried as well � will he like it or will he not? It was my dream to have a BF who�s a diver.


Martin�s first dive was to be an hour later than my first dive of the day. So I said goodbye to him and set out bravely negotiating the gravels in the beach of Tulamben � all the while marveling at the nimble local old ladies carrying heavy tanks on their head while walking easily on the same gravels that hurt my feet.


Dive 1. Batu Kelebit

Batu Kelebit is located about 1 km south east of Tulamben. We had to go there sailing in little jukung boats. The sea was wavy so it wasn�t easy to done the gear in the water but with those little jukungs there�s no other way.


The water was 27 degrees, one degree colder than the day before in Menjangan, and there was a medium current. However I was happy to see the good coral growth covering the steeply sloping reef. The bottom was covered with white sand, so my geological mind set out to work. In Tulamben, just 1 km north-west along the beach the sand was black. Either there�s a lava flow in the area or a stream had brought the black sediments from the foot of the volcano. But then I remembered the rocks jutting out in the drop off in Tulamben � they are lava flows.


Climbing back up to a jukung is what I hate the most that day. There�s nothing more embarrassing and less dignified than a diver trying to climb back to a jukung. The boat is very slim and it�s about half a meter sticking out of the water. There�s no ladder. So you had to haul yourself up, straddle across the boat with your butt sticking up in the air, and then tried to pull your legs in. Not a beautiful sight, I can tell you. Because I wasn�t fit enough to drag myself up, my buddy Wawan had to push me from below and the boatman had to pull me up. It was unbearably embarrassing.


Walking back to Mature (short for Matahari Tulamben resort) I saw Martin standing up on the restaurant. Again I was thinking nervously whether he had liked his first dive or not. It turned out I didn�t have to worry at all. He was there with a big grin and two sparkling eyes. Thea said that I had created a monster and that a new diver-to-be had born. I was so happy. A diver BF? A dream came true!


He was very bubbly and recounted his experience again and again. Everyone congratulated him and asked him what he saw. His answer was,� Lots of fish!� So I showed him the marine life identification books and pointed out the different marine life that he might have seen. Not long after that the guide picked him up again for the second dive, and I was very happy as I saw the glow in his eyes as he walked west to dive in the USAT Liberty wreck.


Dive 2. USAT Liberty Wreck

My second dive was in the wreck as well. It was probably the most popular dive site in the whole Bali so it was choke full with divers. The schools of divers probably matched the numbers of fish. However, the beauty of Liberty wreck is this: the fishes are used to divers. That�s one of the reason I love diving in this wreck. The fishes would get close to you, almost brushing you � they don�t seem to mind us the lumbering, awkward slow giants.


The other reasons include the diversity of the fish � surgeonfish, different types of angelfish, different butterflyfish, bannerfish, batfish, grouper, snapper, fusilier, sweetlips, parrotfish, dascyllus, squirrelfish, different anthias, triggerfish, pufferfish, boxfish, trumpetfish, lionfish, scorpionfish, different anemonefish, you name it. I was excited that I saw a big table coral with reticulated dascyllus (Dascyllus reticulatus) growing next to one with a swarm of humbug dascyllus (Dascyllus aruanus).


When I came here in May Pak Oka was our guide and he showed us the more camouflaged types like leaf fish and the transparent cleaner shrimp Periclimenes sp., and also a pair of harlequin shrimps hiding under some rocks. My prize for this dive was a huge barracuda which was hovering above us.


Towards the end of the dive we did safety stop in the area near the eel garden. The safety stop didn�t feel long at all, as I could watch the garden eels bobbing in and out of the black sand and also a school of fish which kept attacking the sandy bottom, creating small dust storm as the ate with their vacuum cleaner like mouths.


Getting out from the sea we all teased Erwin who almost led my group to the deep blue sea, missing the huge wreck, because he lost direction.


As soon as arriving back at Mature I changed the tanks, tested it, closed it back and went to have lunch. Martin was very excited, telling me that later when he had obtained the proper certification we should come back to Liberty wreck as he wanted to explore the wreck again. He fell in love with diving and wanted to do a discovery scuba diving again the next day and I promised to try and get another guide for him in Padang Bai.


Dive 3. House Reef (Behind Mature)

After lunch we went to get ready but found out that some of us, including me, had used tanks which belonged to other group, so they had changed it for us. However when I opened my tank a small explosion happened. The o-ring of this tank was old, so I had to have it changed. Then as we got ready on the beach, I found out that the regulator leaked. The hose leading to the inflator was loose. I was very disappointed and was about to say goodbye to the others. Then as the others submerged and went out of view, somebody brought a tool and helped me tighten the loose hose. So it turned out I could still dive!


Luckily Tom was really nice he waited for me and in the end we went in together, trying to find the others who were about 15 minutes ahead of us. We descended in the gently sloping black sand bottom formed by the dry river mouth. I�ve dived here before and as always I was waiting for surprises because in the seemingly bleak landscape devoid of colour we could often find exotic creatures. I wasn�t disappointed. I saw a flounders with its two eyes sticking out from the sand and the blackish body completely camouflaged by the surrounding black sand. There was also a stingray which came out of its hiding place under the sand when I came near. Then Tom pointed out a pair of strange looking nudibranch.


At around 33 meters depth Tom motioned us to take a left turn and I was wondering, I thought we�re supposed to dive at the drop off and wasn�t the drop off located to our right? However I followed him, thinking that maybe the others had agreed to go to this dive site. Then we met the school of big-eyed jacks with their silvery colours and big eyes. I loved swimming in and around them it�s so wonderful to be surrounded by hundreds of fish which were not afraid of you.


After that the scene again turned quiet, with just stretches of rippling black sands alternating with boulders of black rocks adorning the landscape. There was not much coral growth, though here and there we saw soft corals in among the boulders.


Then just before the end of the 46 minutes dive we arrived at a series of strange looking man-made wrecks. The structures were created from long thin metals formed into different shapes, among them a skeleton plane. In the wreck we saw a huge pink snapper, almost 1 meter long, busily eating and swimming in and out of the structures. Also around the wreck were a group of bog oriental sweetlips, some parrotfish, pipefish, dragonfish and anemonefish.


We surfaced right at the back of Mature, in front of their restaurant. And we laughed at ourselves for getting lost. It definitely wasn�t the drop off we dived at, there was nothing dropping off at all in the gently sloping contour. When the others came back they laughed at us and told us that theirs was the best dive so far � many exotic creatures to look at. I felt sorry for Tom, if he hadn�t waited for me he would�ve been able to go with the rest.


That night 17 people of the group went for the night dive. I decided not to because I was a bit worried about the next day dive which was going to be in Gili Tepekong, reputedly to have the nastiest current in the whole Bali. I thought that if I would have to negotiate a nasty current I better had some rest.


That day turned out to be not a good day for us. Two of the cameras, both Canon S-60, one owned by Dyna and the other by Mul, were flooded. An expensive trip for them!

The next morning we drove south to Padang Bai. We had fewer cars that day because Irene had left, and Thea and Hengky and Mia and Tom had to go back to town. So I moved to the car driven by Jerry and Martin moved to Acuan�s car.


We stopped at Waterworxx and immediately got the tanks out of the car and assembled our gears. I tried to arrange another discovery scuba trip for Martin but the guides at Waterworxx were all busy. Lala tried as well to get another guide from a different dive operator but it turned out that everyone was busy. It was the height of the diving season. We were still hopeful that somebody would be available later so I cheerfully waved goodbye to him from the boat.


Dive 1. Gili Biaha

The first dive site was Gili Biaha. I was worried that it was going to be cold while I only have my 3mm wetsuit with no other protection, not even a pair of gloves or a hood. I was also worried about the infamous current, so I told Komang Samba our guide that I would be following him closely; ready to grab him when I felt I couldn�t handle the current. Komang just laughed.


It turned out that although the temperature was low, 24 degrees so I was shivering a bit, there was no current at all. The water was completely still apart from the swell near the surface. And it was startlingly clear, 30 meters of visibility. It was really awesome. The wall was made of breccia, lumps of lava and pillars of volcanic rocks. I was awestruck. The columns of basaltic rocks showed geometrical patterned fractures out of the textbooks. Never mind the Giant Causeway in Northern Ireland. In Gili Biaha I saw the underwater sides of similar columnar joints (though of course I still want to see the ones in Giant Causeway). The whole wall was covered in every inch with corals, algae, ascidians, sponges and myriads of other creatures I couldn�t identify. Even in the cracks and nooks between rocks there were swarms of creatures. The harmony created by the colourless basalt towering above you and the multicoloured underwater creatures on its surfaces was undescribable.


There were not many sea fans/gorgonians; there were many whip corals instead. According to David Pickel and Wally Siagian this signifies that the area is prone to strong currents. Which is true from the many stories I heard from my diver friends, also from the Diving Bali book. In the map of Gili Biaha in the book there were several warning signs with red colours indicating heavy swell or wild current. I guess that day I was very lucky.


After admiring the wall we climbed slowly up to the cave, the mouth big and inviting, and swarming with red squirrelfish. I went in and was immediately welcomed by one medium sized white tip shark which was looking at us warily and then by another small one. At the back of the cave there were two huge lobsters.


Despite the excitement of getting to see sharks and big lobsters, I felt uncomfortable and had problems equalising so I went out quickly. The problem disappeared as soon as I was out of the cave. It must have been caused by the different pressures I experienced as water pushed into and pulled back out of the cave with the swell. I could imagine how scary it could be to be inside in a strong current. According to Lala there�s a blowhole that spurts water out when the swell is strong and I guess I wouldn�t want to go anywhere near that place when the current is strong. Imagine being pinned to the roof of the cave by the swell, not being able to swim out. I shook away the disturbing images and followed the others to the shallower slope.


The gently dipping slope was covered fully by corals, both hard and soft. There were huge colonies of anemones, green in colours with Clark�s anemonefish darting in and out in between the tentacles of their homes.


Dive 2. Gili Tepekong

At Gili Tepekong the water was also calm and very clear, 30 meters of visibility. Clearly the heaven was smiling upon us. The temperature was 24 degrees but I wasn�t shivering. It�s probably because of the rice and chicken that I stuffed into my stomach at the boat during the surface interval. As I descended into the sea I thought I have seen the most beautiful underwater garden in the world. The steeply sloping rock face and the terraces were covered with astonishingly multicoloured hard and soft corals. It was unbelievably beautiful, better than any that I have seen so far (well, I haven�t been to that many top diving sites, still I believed this was great).


As soon as we came down the two pillars at the southern tip of the island, we saw 4 small sized white tip sharks hiding under the rocks at the bottom of the wall. The poor sharks looked scared. Most people think that sharks are all scary, but divers know better. We get excited and happy looking at sharks. We know that only a small percentage of sharks are dangerous. And despite the high profile cases shown by the media, in a year there would probably be only a dozen of shark attacks on human, while thousands of sharks get slaughtered by human for their fins to be presented in bowls at wedding parties. Yes, we divers hate shark fin soups. Stop having shark fin soups at weddings or in restaurants!


The dive was really nice; we saw two turtles and we dived through a small long cave full of schools of small fish. There were the usual myriads of reef fishes swimming around and I saw a moray eel, a lot of green starfish and several lionfish. And I still marveled at the lush coral growth.


However several of us noticed that there were several dead fish found on the bottom. Had there been illegal fish bombing or fishing by using cyanide? I hope not.


After that we went back to the mainland in Padang Bai and I found Martin sitting on the beach looking bored. Poor him there were no guides available that day, everyone was busy. But apparently he was entertained somewhat by the hawkers on the beach, trying to sell him sarongs and the usual souvenirs. I felt very guilty of leaving him out on the beach looking at the ferry going out of and coming into the nearby ferry port. But he assured me he was fine, so I left him again.


Dive 3. Blue Lagoon

After getting a set of full tanks we set out again for the third dive, at the Blue Lagoon, a small cove at the other side of the peninsula from the beach we were at. The white sandy beach was full of tourists enjoying the sun. We descended right in front of the beach and with the reef on our right we headed south.


The bottom was very gently dipping, covered completely by white sand. There were only rare soft corals off the beach but as we dived south the coral growth got better. They were mostly from Acropora sp.


We saw several interesting nudibranch, a stingray, and schools of fusiliers. Apart from the usual reef fishes there were a very tiny boxfish, several pufferfish and a trumpetfish. Dyna showed me a decorator crab just as we turned back to where we descended. I dived for 62 minutes in the shallow water (maximum 19m) and still had 100 bar of air in my tank when surfacing. That was a good record for me, who usually can run the tank low in a short duration.


After that dive we drove to Sanur to Bali Scuba to arrange the next day dives at Nusa Penida. Before going back to the hotel we had dinner at an open air restaurant in Sanur. Many people looked totally knackered and to be honest I wished I didn�t have to have food and could just go to bed straight away. I sighed in deep relief when we were finally dropped at the Hapel Semer hotel in Kerobokan, the same hotel we stayed at the first night.

Again in the morning I had to wake up early, which was difficult. It was also difficult because I had to say goodbye to Martin. While we all went diving he would have to spend the day in the hotel that day, with nothing to do. After promising that the next time I went diving he would already be able to dive with me, I headed off to Sanur beach with the others.


Dive 1. Crystal Bay

After a nice breakfast of rice and an assortment of pork dishes from a small warung we set out to the sea to the direction of Nusa Penida island in the south-east of Bali, across the Badung Strait. In my group there were Tom, Jerry, Cesil, Julia, Winda, Acuan, Mi Khie, Mul and me, with Erwin as our leader.

Everyone was excited because this was the Mola mola hunt, the highlight of the trip. All of us wanted to see mola-mola and we could not stop talking about it. I tried to calm my heart and caution it, to prepare it if we didn�t see any.


We thought we had agreed to meet the other boat at SD dive site, in the north coast of Nusa Penida. Since our boat was quicker we arrived at the site a lot earlier than the other group. But then we waited and waited and did not see any sign of the boat. It turned out that they had headed to Crystal Bay in search of the Mola mola. So we turned the boat and headed to Crystal Bay (which sometimes is also called Penida Bay), which is located west of Nusa Penida, facing the Ceningan island.


To our dismay we saw 5 diving boats there. There must be schools of divers already underwater. But we went in anyway. I immediately fell in love with the site. As soon as I went in and saw the beautiful coral covered bottom, with swarms or anthias and myriads of colourful fish I told myself that even if I didn�t see any Mola mola, this would still be a great dive for me.


So with a happy heart I looked left and right energetically at all the marine creatures there. The visibility was 30 meters, and the water crystal clear. I saw some nudibranch, schools of fusiliers and my favourites � anemonefish and dascyllus. The temperature was 24 degrees but I was excited enough that I wasn�t shivering.


There were a lot of divers there. Some were heading back already, sadly shaking their heads when we asked whether they have seen Mola mola. Still with a happy heart trying to chase a yellow boxfish (Ostracion cubicus), I swam on. Then I turned my head into the deep blue sea in my left, and my heart leapt. There was a faint black shadow coming up towards us. I didn�t even dare to hope. But there it was, the shadow coming closer and closer to finally form the strange looking Mola mola.


I almost forgot to breath as the unique fish swam gracefully towards us. I tried not to move at all and I must�ve forgotten even to control my buoyancy as suddenly I was already at 35.9m, when before I carefully tried not to exceed 30m depth. I didn�t even notice the pressure in my ear or maybe I equalised automatically without realising it.


This lone Mola mola was still heading towards the reef, which was full of divers hovering neatly in a huge semi circle along the slope, all eyes watching the Mola-Mola, like a set of spectators watching the arrival of a celebrity. It was a beautiful moment.


Unfortunately the moment was broken seconds later as a diver hovering above started to move forward, followed by several others. The bizarre looking fish balked when it was about 6 meters away from us, and suddenly turned around, swimming away to its home in the deep blue sea.


Everyone seemed to be still hoping for the Mola mola to come back or its friends to arrive, but we couldn�t hang around too long there. Erwin signaled us to turn back so we did. At the surface we were all talking about it excitedly and we felt sorry for those in the other group, they did not see any Mola mola....


Dive 2. Batu Nunggul

Back to the northern coast of Nusa Penida in a site called Batu Nunggul, we joked and laughed and talked about Mola mola in the boat while waiting for enough surface time before going back in.


All along the pristine white beaches of the northern coast of Nusa Penida there were a lot of seaweed farms, marked by bamboo and wooden poles sticking out of the water all along the coast. In the area surrounded by the poles sprigs of algae were tied in lines and let grown. Men stood in the wavy water chest high harvesting the seaweed. They put them in baskets and village ladies wearing the traditional clothes of colourful kain and kebaya carried the baskets on their heads to the village. They made striking image against the background of the brown houses and the white sand. I wished my Canon Rebel had longer tele lens.


The dive site was not very special. It was a long stretch of gently dipping slope, with quite good cover of hard and soft corals. As usual schools of anthias and dascylus swam above the corals providing yet more colours to the already colourful underwater scene. We saw several nudibranch, but from which species I can�t remember now. I�m so used to taking the pictures of the marine life and identify it afterwards on land.


The best part of the dive came almost at the end of the dive in the shallow water. The bottom was covered almost wholly in soft corals, with anemones living here and there. There were many different anemonefish and they energetically attacked the cameras that the divers point at them. I wish I had mine.....


Dive 3. Toyapakeh

We agreed to have the last dive in Toyapakeh, near one of the huge purpose built reef pontoon where people do water sport activity. The surface current seemed to be of medium strength. I went in right after Cesil and was trying to hold on to the rope when the boat turned around in the current. A swell came and both Cesil and I were almost swept under the boat. In panic I tried to get out from under the boat while at the same time reaching at Cesil whose tank was entangled in the rope. Apparently nobody saw our predicament because as soon as we got free Tom said, �Cesil, what are you doing, are you okay?� Duh!


Underwater the current wasn�t very strong. It was only 2:30 pm but it was a bit dark because the sky was cloudy. The visibility was quite good though, we could see far up to 20m. The bottom was another long stretch of gently to medium dipping slope, covered by hard and soft corals.


Then the current got stronger and as we were diving along the reef suddenly I saw from afar Tom and Acuan stopped diving and was doing something. Were they in trouble? Then I saw Cesil trying hard to swim back to the reef because she was swept away. Then Erwin signalled us to abort the dive and surface. It seemed that we did have problem.


I slowly went up along with Winda and Julia, while trying to prepare my sausage. In my concentration to the sausage I didn�t noticed that there were a slight down current. I only realised it when suddenly I found myself back at 17m, well below Winda, while before I was at 12m, above her. So I forgot my sausage and tried to ascend. At 6 meter I inflated my sausage and tried to do a safety stop. The current was strong and it seems to be going around and around. Just as I looked behind me, there was this twister-like column of water swirling and swirling behind me. No wonder I was continually pulled downward. This reminded me of the warning that the Diving Bali book gave: respect Nusa Penida, the current is often treacherous. Thank heavens for my sausage. I also could see Erwin and the others around so I wasn�t worried.


Back to the boat we found out what the problem was � Tom was out of air because he mistakenly took a used tank, which he said was sealed. We all teased him about not doing a standard procedure of checking the pressure before the dive. Tom couldn�t say a thing.


BBQ

That night the Submariners show their true selves at the barbeque party at Thea and Hengky�s house. Bottles and bottles of alcoholic drinks were gulped down continuously, while plates after plates of grilled fish, shrimp and sausages seemed to disappear very quickly, like magic. It reminded me of the scene from Harry Potter with food appearing and disappearing magically, except that the food in our table disappeared into our bulging stomachs, not into the air.


Thea and Erwin officially announced that the diving trip had ended and that they wouldn�t be responsible again for us after this. Thea also announced that Erika and I were the newest members of Kapal Selam. Yup, after my trip with them to Sanghyang island and this Bali trip I could already get a membership.


The Brit Steve was sitting contentedly at the end of the table. I suspected he had downed quite a lot of alcohol as this normally quiet guy was grinning from ear to ear to no one in particular, with a bit of glazed eyes. I commented that the scene probably wasn�t too different from the party scenes at his home country. He agreed, he said that this wasn�t the Indonesia that he had heard of before coming here. I laughed and told him that we did not represent the majority of the population. Not long after that I looked again at his seat and he had disappeared. Then I saw him sitting on the grass looking very sick. Later on I heard that he puked all over the place. Poor Steve.


Then suddenly Erwin and Acuan were already in the pool, while the rest of us were laughing at them. Cameras flashed here and there capturing people at their embarrassing moment. I thought that everyone would definitely want to hide the pictures when they saw it later at their sober moment.


But I wasn�t an angel either that night. My total count for that night were 2 bottles of beer, one glass (2/3 full) of raspberry vodka (no dilution) and 2 glasses (1/2 full) of vanilla vodka, the last of which was later mixed with tequila by a definitely drunk Tom and I still had to drink it. I could tell you vodka and tequila didn�t go together very well! The last count was a quarter of a glass of straight whisky for the road before I staggered home, walking half unconsciously, half carried by Martin. Thank heaven for his diet vow � someone sober carried me back to the hotel safely!


Looking back, I think the trip was great � it�s a good combination of nice dives, great fun and great people. Altogether an enjoyable trip.

Again in the morning I had to wake up early, which was difficult. It was also difficult because I had to say goodbye to Martin. While we all went diving he would have to spend the day in the hotel that day, with nothing to do. After promising that the next time I went diving he would already be able to dive with me, I headed off to Sanur beach with the others.


Dive 1. Crystal Bay

After a nice breakfast of rice and an assortment of pork dishes from a small warung we set out to the sea to the direction of Nusa Penida island in the south-east of Bali, across the Badung Strait. In my group there were Tom, Jerry, Cesil, Julia, Winda, Acuan, Mi Khie, Mul and me, with Erwin as our leader.

Everyone was excited because this was the Mola mola hunt, the highlight of the trip. All of us wanted to see mola-mola and we could not stop talking about it. I tried to calm my heart and caution it, to prepare it if we didn�t see any.


We thought we had agreed to meet the other boat at SD dive site, in the north coast of Nusa Penida. Since our boat was quicker we arrived at the site a lot earlier than the other group. But then we waited and waited and did not see any sign of the boat. It turned out that they had headed to Crystal Bay in search of the Mola mola. So we turned the boat and headed to Crystal Bay (which sometimes is also called Penida Bay), which is located west of Nusa Penida, facing the Ceningan island.


To our dismay we saw 5 diving boats there. There must be schools of divers already underwater. But we went in anyway. I immediately fell in love with the site. As soon as I went in and saw the beautiful coral covered bottom, with swarms or anthias and myriads of colourful fish I told myself that even if I didn�t see any Mola mola, this would still be a great dive for me.


So with a happy heart I looked left and right energetically at all the marine creatures there. The visibility was 30 meters, and the water crystal clear. I saw some nudibranch, schools of fusiliers and my favourites � anemonefish and dascyllus. The temperature was 24 degrees but I was excited enough that I wasn�t shivering.


There were a lot of divers there. Some were heading back already, sadly shaking their heads when we asked whether they have seen Mola mola. Still with a happy heart trying to chase a yellow boxfish (Ostracion cubicus), I swam on. Then I turned my head into the deep blue sea in my left, and my heart leapt. There was a faint black shadow coming up towards us. I didn�t even dare to hope. But there it was, the shadow coming closer and closer to finally form the strange looking Mola mola.


I almost forgot to breath as the unique fish swam gracefully towards us. I tried not to move at all and I must�ve forgotten even to control my buoyancy as suddenly I was already at 35.9m, when before I carefully tried not to exceed 30m depth. I didn�t even notice the pressure in my ear or maybe I equalised automatically without realising it.


This lone Mola mola was still heading towards the reef, which was full of divers hovering neatly in a huge semi circle along the slope, all eyes watching the Mola-Mola, like a set of spectators watching the arrival of a celebrity. It was a beautiful moment.


Unfortunately the moment was broken seconds later as a diver hovering above started to move forward, followed by several others. The bizarre looking fish balked when it was about 6 meters away from us, and suddenly turned around, swimming away to its home in the deep blue sea.


Everyone seemed to be still hoping for the Mola mola to come back or its friends to arrive, but we couldn�t hang around too long there. Erwin signaled us to turn back so we did. At the surface we were all talking about it excitedly and we felt sorry for those in the other group, they did not see any Mola mola....


Dive 2. Batu Nunggul

Back to the northern coast of Nusa Penida in a site called Batu Nunggul, we joked and laughed and talked about Mola mola in the boat while waiting for enough surface time before going back in.


All along the pristine white beaches of the northern coast of Nusa Penida there were a lot of seaweed farms, marked by bamboo and wooden poles sticking out of the water all along the coast. In the area surrounded by the poles sprigs of algae were tied in lines and let grown. Men stood in the wavy water chest high harvesting the seaweed. They put them in baskets and village ladies wearing the traditional clothes of colourful kain and kebaya carried the baskets on their heads to the village. They made striking image against the background of the brown houses and the white sand. I wished my Canon Rebel had longer tele lens.


The dive site was not very special. It was a long stretch of gently dipping slope, with quite good cover of hard and soft corals. As usual schools of anthias and dascylus swam above the corals providing yet more colours to the already colourful underwater scene. We saw several nudibranch, but from which species I can�t remember now. I�m so used to taking the pictures of the marine life and identify it afterwards on land.


The best part of the dive came almost at the end of the dive in the shallow water. The bottom was covered almost wholly in soft corals, with anemones living here and there. There were many different anemonefish and they energetically attacked the cameras that the divers point at them. I wish I had mine.....


Dive 3. Toyapakeh

We agreed to have the last dive in Toyapakeh, near one of the huge purpose built reef pontoon where people do water sport activity. The surface current seemed to be of medium strength. I went in right after Cesil and was trying to hold on to the rope when the boat turned around in the current. A swell came and both Cesil and I were almost swept under the boat. In panic I tried to get out from under the boat while at the same time reaching at Cesil whose tank was entangled in the rope. Apparently nobody saw our predicament because as soon as we got free Tom said, �Cesil, what are you doing, are you okay?� Duh!


Underwater the current wasn�t very strong. It was only 2:30 pm but it was a bit dark because the sky was cloudy. The visibility was quite good though, we could see far up to 20m. The bottom was another long stretch of gently to medium dipping slope, covered by hard and soft corals.


Then the current got stronger and as we were diving along the reef suddenly I saw from afar Tom and Acuan stopped diving and was doing something. Were they in trouble? Then I saw Cesil trying hard to swim back to the reef because she was swept away. Then Erwin signalled us to abort the dive and surface. It seemed that we did have problem.


I slowly went up along with Winda and Julia, while trying to prepare my sausage. In my concentration to the sausage I didn�t noticed that there were a slight down current. I only realised it when suddenly I found myself back at 17m, well below Winda, while before I was at 12m, above her. So I forgot my sausage and tried to ascend. At 6 meter I inflated my sausage and tried to do a safety stop. The current was strong and it seems to be going around and around. Just as I looked behind me, there was this twister-like column of water swirling and swirling behind me. No wonder I was continually pulled downward. This reminded me of the warning that the Diving Bali book gave: respect Nusa Penida, the current is often treacherous. Thank heavens for my sausage. I also could see Erwin and the others around so I wasn�t worried.


Back to the boat we found out what the problem was � Tom was out of air because he mistakenly took a used tank, which he said was sealed. We all teased him about not doing a standard procedure of checking the pressure before the dive. Tom couldn�t say a thing.


BBQ

That night the Submariners show their true selves at the barbeque party at Thea and Hengky�s house. Bottles and bottles of alcoholic drinks were gulped down continuously, while plates after plates of grilled fish, shrimp and sausages seemed to disappear very quickly, like magic. It reminded me of the scene from Harry Potter with food appearing and disappearing magically, except that the food in our table disappeared into our bulging stomachs, not into the air.


Thea and Erwin officially announced that the diving trip had ended and that they wouldn�t be responsible again for us after this. Thea also announced that Erika and I were the newest members of Kapal Selam. Yup, after my trip with them to Sanghyang island and this Bali trip I could already get a membership.


The Brit Steve was sitting contentedly at the end of the table. I suspected he had downed quite a lot of alcohol as this normally quiet guy was grinning from ear to ear to no one in particular, with a bit of glazed eyes. I commented that the scene probably wasn�t too different from the party scenes at his home country. He agreed, he said that this wasn�t the Indonesia that he had heard of before coming here. I laughed and told him that we did not represent the majority of the population. Not long after that I looked again at his seat and he had disappeared. Then I saw him sitting on the grass looking very sick. Later on I heard that he puked all over the place. Poor Steve.


Then suddenly Erwin and Acuan were already in the pool, while the rest of us were laughing at them. Cameras flashed here and there capturing people at their embarrassing moment. I thought that everyone would definitely want to hide the pictures when they saw it later at their sober moment.


But I wasn�t an angel either that night. My total count for that night were 2 bottles of beer, one glass (2/3 full) of raspberry vodka (no dilution) and 2 glasses (1/2 full) of vanilla vodka, the last of which was later mixed with tequila by a definitely drunk Tom and I still had to drink it. I could tell you vodka and tequila didn�t go together very well! The last count was a quarter of a glass of straight whisky for the road before I staggered home, walking half unconsciously, half carried by Martin. Thank heaven for his diet vow � someone sober carried me back to the hotel safely!


Looking back, I think the trip was great � it�s a good combination of nice dives, great fun and great people. Altogether an enjoyable trip.

Read other report:

Bali 2005

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