It’s that time of year again, summer… as a big fan of winter I find it a little sad to see the snow melt with the awareness that it will be quite a while until I see it again. Rather than moping around, I have decided to make the most of the time off the snow again this year. I am much more at home on frozen water, but have been enjoying getting to know the liquid stuff as well in the last few years. This summer I have returned to Southeast Asia to surf and continue getting to know the ocean.
As usual, I have chosen Indonesia, more specifically Bali as my SE Asian base, but aim to visit a few different countries on the required visa runs every 60 days. The start of my trip thus far, has been a bit mixed with some ups and downs, as life itself seems to be. I arrived safe and sound on the magical island paradise, but my boards were not as lucky… not only did they arrive late, but they were both broken due to mishandling by either the airlines or the security checks… it will remain a mystery. Luckily, board repair on Bali is a relatively painless process and I was ready to get back out there within a few days time. I have only been gone for 2 years, but it seemed more like 10 when I returned to Canggu for the first time again: there has been an explosion of expansion to accomodate the steady steep growth of tourism in the area. This was a peaceful and sleepy fishing village with some surfers just a few years ago, now it is essentially the new Kuta; overrun with hipsters, fake eyelashes and alcohol guzzling tourists. If only the food and coffee wasn’t so good there! It is hard to balance the bustling growth and convenience with a desire to keep it quiet and quaint for sure; part of me is thankful for the plethora of tasty dining options, pharmacies, 24-hour shops and board repair. The other part wishes it was the way it used to be… but somehow it still doesn’t really detract enough from the charm of the location to stay away. Bali draws you in…
Just as I was starting to get back into the swing of things on the water, I managed to slice my foot open deeply on my fin, keeping me out of the water for nearly 2,5 weeks leading up to my first required visa run. Neither butterfly stitches with surgical bandages nor super glue nor a combination of all 3 was enough to keep my foot together and permit me to get back into the water sooner than later. Just as things were starting to look up and I was back in the waves for 2 days, I had a scooter accident with a drunken off-duty policeman who was unable to cross the road in the dark in the middle of the night and jumped in front of my bike at the last minute, knocking me off my bike and 3 teeth and braces loose before fleeing the scene. I was pretty relieved that it wasn’t worse than an emergency trip to an orthodontist and a nasty road rash on my butt, but it still seemed completely unnecessary and frustrating. I was very worried about my upcoming visa run to Malaysia where I had booked my very first SCUBA diving Open Water course and missed out on a week of nice swell.
I left Bali on day 60 headed towards Perhentian Kecil Island where I stayed 5 nights. I flew on a cheap flight directly to Kota Bharu where I caught a taxi down to the jetty at Kuala Besut. On the last speedboat to the island I arrived around 6pm and started with my first diving lesson videos in preparation for the very first time the next day. I admit that marine life has always kind of intimidated me… maybe it was the traumatic experience snorkeling for the first time in Florida my freshman year of high school when I had veered away from the group and saw a family of large snaggly toothed barracuda staring at me with hungry eyes… but fear is there to be faced and dealt with and what better way than by diving?! That night I joined a small group from the dive shop at the little restaurant Amelia’s on the beach at Coral Bay. They had a chocolate shake which was out of this world! Back at the dive school on the quiet picturesque beach at Coral Bay there was a wild lightning storm over the ocean which hit us about an hour after watching the show from the porch where we were chatting and listening to music until it was time to sleep. It was serious rain and wind and pretty exciting in itself, especially when a bolt struck the island not too far away and shook everything like an earthquake! We all just kind of looked at each other with wide eyes and nervous grins wondering if there was more to come. It was a great day!
My first dive was on Friday at noon together with 2 Malay guys and our instructor Storm (coolest name ever!). We learned how to set our equipment up and execute the safety checks. I was very relieved to find that the regulator wasn’t a problem for my injured teeth, but the salt water really stung sharply when my open wounded butt hit it for the first time! Luckily it dissipated soon and I could enjoy the sensation of breathing underwater without distraction. We practiced some skills in shallow water at Romantic Beach before getting to swim around a little deeper. In the evening, there was a big family style dinner at the surf camp. I still had one video to watch that night since my brunch take away took so long between dives that I didn’t have time to watch both. Everyone was joking with me about having to sit down and focus on my homework while they had some beers and music. By the end of the video and quiz, the group had pretty much disolved into a few stragglers left over while some went to bed and others headed over to Long Beach for a little partying. I was pretty tired and headed off to bed around midnight, but the heat and humidity together with the attacks from the viscous mosquitoes made it impossible to actually sleep. I was starting to get the impression that my bug repellent was actually mosquito aphrodisiac in disguise! Around 2am I switched to a different bed hoping to feel the fan more and stop getting woken up from the guy on the top bunk who was also suffering from the mosquitoes and would shake around scratching which woke me up every time I just started to doze off. The dorm room door had a window on the top half of it and I noticed the lights outside flickering as the palm branches waved around… wind! I thought it might mean another storm was marching in and I remembered that my wetsuit and towel were still hanging outside exposed. I got up to bring them under the roof just in case and saw the Long Beach party-goers meandering back along the beach. I ended up hanging out with them for an hour on the deck, enjoying the refreshing breeze and thus able to cool off a little before heading back to bed and sleeping pretty well.
Saturday morning, Kate, a British girl working at the dive school, joined us for the 2nd dive the next morning at Romantic Beach again which was great for me. We worked together one on one zipping though 2 confined dives worth of skills while Storm continued on with my Malay dive mates who were still overcoming a fear of the water as they didn’t really know how to swim. I thought it was very cool that they were facing their fears as well! The only skill which intimidated me, was breathing through a free-flowing regulator with it only half in your mouth. I thought there could be a lot of water involved in trying to breathe off the bubbles, but to my surprise it was super easy to do and no water got into my mouth or lungs! We dove for about 28 minutes and got down to 8.5 meters there, but it was more of a skills session and less exploration. Back at camp I watched the next video in preparation of the afternoon dive while the boys and Storm set off at 12 to try to catch back up with the skills. The 3pm dive was over at D’Lagoon and I was back with Storm and the guys. We started off with a floating/treading water test which should only last 10 minutes, but the boys were unable to master the art and after about 20mn, had to stay behind on the boat while I got to explore a short round together with Storm. We got down to 12m circling around a small coral reef and dove for 38 minutes. I saw many clown fish like Nemo in the abundant Anemone plants. It was the only one I could recognize with my limited aquatic knowledge. Storm pointed out the tail of a sting ray hiding under a rock; it looked more like a jet black metal pipe to me! The pristine clear waters were home to many different kinds of fish of all shapes and colors. Some curious little fish would swim over and check us out! Before I knew it, the dive was already over and we were heading back at full speed on the boat. Even though diving itself is in no way strenuous, I noticed that it still makes you really tired and HUNGRY! That evening, Kate and I wanted burgers and Storm and one more guy joined us on the 10 minute hike over to the other side of the island, connected by a brick path. Long beach was the main destination for the tourists with a lot more commotion. Bars, hostels, dive shops and schools lined the aptly named sandy beach and many people were out on beanbags having some drinks or late dinners. It was crowded compared to the tranquil Coral Bay, and I was really happy to have the easy access to the nightlife of Long Beach and the retreat back to sleepy Coral Bay where it was just peaceful. We didn’t stay out too long there, just had a relaxed dinner with some interesting conversations and pretty much headed home thereafter as we were all tired.
On Sunday, I joined a British couple on their final “fun” dive to Batu Layar since my 2 Malay partners had to stop the course until they learned to swim to be able to continue. We made it down to 16.1 meters and were able to enjoy exploration for a good 45 minutes after I demonstrated the final few skills to Storm which I had already practiced with Kate the day before. We were off to a great start on the dive, getting to see a big turtle swimming along the sandy bottom away from the coral reef before disappearing into the distance. Right after the turtle made its exit, a group of enormous batfish were in front of us… I think they were the biggest actual fish I have ever seen! I was trying to film with my gopro but it was acting up again and I wasn’t able to record the fish or the turtle unfortunately. A little later on I did capture a big pufferfish at least who was just kind of hanging out close to a rocky piece of coral. There was also the biggest clam I have ever seen further along our dive… it reminded me of something from Disney’s Little Mermaid! It looked more like a piece of furniture than something real! It had to have been about a meter to a meter and a half long! The second half of the dive had many beautiful fish, but no more of the sights that make your adrenal glands work overtime. Another dive group on our boat said they had seen a shark on the other side of the coral reef we explored! I opted to save my final dive for Monday which would be my last full day so I had something special to look forward to. Back at camp I took my written final exam for the certification and passed with flying colors thankfully! I watched some of the videos I was able to shoot underwater to try to improve my filming on the last dive. That evening I returned to Amelias alone for a quiet dinner and some writing while the others got take-away and watched a zombie movie at camp. After dinner I joined Anand, the dive school owner, and a few other guests in some interesting conversations on the porch and thumbed through some fish identification booklets to prepare for the last dive until it was time to sleep again. The days passed so insanely fast somehow! That night, Anand showed us a mosquito deterrent which plugs into the wall… I slept so well for the first time that I actually had to set an alarm to wake up on Monday morning!
I was a little nostalgic about my final dive which was at 1pm together with Storm. Although I was looking forward to the comforts of A/C, a big bed and a toilet and shower which didn’t require putting on shoes and walking around the building, I knew I was going to miss the tranquility and laid back sleepy paradise of Coral Bay. My final dive was straight off of Coral Bay under a jagged and imposing looking island called Serrengh. It had a sloping coral reef shelf and I had to be careful to not excede my allowed dive depth of 18 meters. I had a dive watch which fed me the data of time under as well as depth and decompression. I had no issues whatsoever with equalization of my ears and actually was shocked to look at my watch to check the depth and see 18.1 already! I guess I expected it to feel differently! While we didn’t see any real predators or scary life forms, I did see some colorful triggerfish, dashing blue streak cleaner wrasse, blue ringed angelfish, coral rabbit fish, yellowback fusilier and copperband butterfly fish. There were heaps more but those are the only ones I have been able to identify so far… an insanely daunting task to the untrained enthusiast! We dove for 44 minutes before having to surface after reaching the tank reserve safety limit. Once again, it was over before I knew it. Time flies underwater! Back at camp, I spent the rest of the afternoon immersed in the identification books until it was time to get ready to go out with a big group over to Long Beach for dinner and a party. Some rain drizzled down on us while hiking over and really let loose for a bit of time while we had dinner. Luckily it cleared up nicely allowing us to go to a bar where most took part in a wild tournament of beer-pong before we ventured over to a bar down the beach for some sandy dancing and (more) beers. It was a worthy send-off for an amazing experience and we dragged ourselves back home around 2:45 in the morning when the music turned too electronic for our tastes. I showered the sand off back at camp and jumped into bed for another deep sleep until the next morning where I had a quick breakfast and packed back up to take the 12pm boat back to the mainland. It was not easy leaving to be honest… I already had thoughts of returning on my next visa run to take the Advanced course although it would also be nice to discover a new place. I dont know when it will be, but I am pretty confident that I have not seen the last of the breathtaking Perhentian Islands! Thank you Anti-Gravity Dive School for the fantastic experience, specifically Anand, Storm and Kate for the diving and Jon for sticking objects into the electric plugs to make my European chargers fit in the Malay sockets!! Thank you Rehall for the beautiful bikinis that almost seemed inspired by the aquamarine waters and colorful underwater life!! I’m going to adapt the motto from Enjoy the Ride to Enjoy the Dive for this adventure!!