We landed at Denpasar airport and sped through immigration, the hour long wait at Bangkok when we first set off on our travels was still a warning of how long this task can take. We went through the doors and were confronted by chaos. People were everywhere, so many signs with names on, voices trying to attract your attention. I quickly forgot the advice I had been studying on blogs before we landed. I couldn’t remember if you should get a taxi in the aiport, I then couldn’t remember the location of the supposed faithful bluebird taxis. We succumbed to one of the many taxi drivers vying for a fancy fare from tired travellers. We realised we paid over three times the normal amount later. We arrived at our accommodation around 10pm, our taxi driver kindly woke the guy on reception and asked him to show us our rooms. We were satisfied. On closer inspection we then realised we didn’t have any sheets on the bed, there was no toilet roll and piss all over the toilet seat, the receptionist was no where to be found. We awoke to a hot, humid day. Quickly exiting our homestay we went off to find breakfast. We found a gorgeous cafe off the main road that did incredible eggs and coffee, all was forgiven Bali.
I had downloaded a taxi app called grabtaxi, which is like über for Indonesia. We booked a car to take us to Padangbai. This was around 70km from where we were and cost just under half of what we had paid the night before to do 4km, we vowed to be more diligent when tired.
It took a while to adjust to the stark contrast between New Zealand and Bali, however this contrast wasn’t unsettling. There was something comforting about Padangbai. Maybe it was the knowledge we were going to be here for a few days after having been on the move constantly in New Zealand.
Our exploring took in the Blue Lagoon beach where you could see exotic fish just metres from the beach. We tried a new warung (a modest, casual shop often family run) every meal, we were amazed at how cheap everything was and kept trying new tasty dishes. The guest house we were staying at organised a day tour for us around Ubud. We saw hand cast batik fabrics being made, a family run wood carving business, sampled coffee that had been digested by a civet cat, awed at the paddy fields in Tegalalang, laughed at the Monkeys in Monkey Palace and had an unofficial tour of the temple holding the Elephant Cave – a very ominous meditation chamber.
All the while getting used to the constant harassment by locals to buy something either from their shop, restaurant or basket holding tempting goodies.
Our next stop was Gili Air, part of the Gili Islands and around an hour and a half by boat from Padangbai. This island has no cars on it, the main form of transport is bicycle or a taxi in the form of a horse drawn cart, there is intermittent power and few technological distractions. You could walk around the island in just over an hour, it was perfect. Our main reason for the stop on this island was to do our SSI Open Water Diving course. On arrival at our dive centre, Manta Dive, we signed the paperwork and were then thrown in to watching an hour long video on the first three chapters of the book we had been given and asked to go over before the morning… I already felt a bit challenged by having to concentrate so much.
Our first day was spent in the pool, getting to know our equipment and procedures to ensure we feel safe under the water should anything go wrong. The only other student had to drop out of the course as she had an ear infection so it was just me and Timmy! We had our instructor, Al, and Victor who was training to be an instructor, incredible quality time.
I started out as quite nervous, especially given my panic attacks in the water when beginning open water swimming, by the end of day one I felt excited about what we were going through.
The next day we prepped our dive equipment and readied ourselves for our first open water dive. The journey was about 20 minutes and just made me more nervous. Al said those dreaded words ‘get ready, we’re 5 minutes out’ my biggest concern at this moment was that the boat would do a sudden movement and I would fly off the side due to the weight of my equipment on my back, this obviously wouldn’t be a bad thing as I had everything to survive in the water strapped on me.
We did a backwards roll in and headed down, equalising my ears and already checking my air as I went. We swam along for a bit then a current took us, I couldn’t seem to get comfortable, I kept feeling my legs fly out from under me or the weight of the gas tilting me in the wrong direction. Al checked if I was ok and I said no, so held Victor’s hand for a bit. I calmed down and realised I needed to explore and adapt to the under water world.
Initially the thought of entering something so vast as an ocean daunted me. Once down there though the view is captivating and distracting, you don’t even consider the miles of water around you. You are forced to live in the ‘now’, the life captivates you visually and your mind is always drawn back to checking your air supply and depth. I soon realised I wanted to maximise each dive and this would only occur if I was careful with my air consumption, if I was calm, my breaths were slower which meant my air lasted, a luxurious form of meditation.
We signalled to each other and before I knew it it was time to ascend, the part they scare you about as it holds so much potential danger. We surfaced and had big grins on our faces, first dive complete.
Al had introduced some rules that if you used certain hand signals at the wrong time, the person using the signal owed everyone a beer. The day before Tim had been caught and for the next two days, I would be the one buying the beers post dive, my error was using the thumb up (used for stating you are going up) as opposed to the the ‘I’m ok’ signal, Tim got away with his pose in the picture below.
Over two days we did four dives each about 50 minutes long reaching an official maximum of 18 metres depth.
Our planet consists of over 2/3 water and to finally have sampled a small part of it I am in love. Colour and life comes in great abundance in the underwater world, from vibrant pink coral structures to neon blue and yellow puffer fish. We loved it so much that we signed up straight away to a deep adventure dive qualifying us for 30 meter dives. This was by far my favourite, I loved the depth. The space was immense, I just rolled around without the fear of crashing into coral that had taken decades to build. I spent ages observing the fish, favourites were the clown fish (nemo), so tiny yet so colourful and perfect, and the varying colours of the trigger fish.
I think on this dive everything just came together, my breathing felt slow and meditative without concentrating on it too much, I finally grasped neutral buoyancy (essentially floating but under water), I was also glancing around in the hope of catching sight of a shark. Three days ago I never would have been thinking like this.
We qualified and technically can dive anywhere together, with or without a guide, I think we’ll be going guided for a while, at least until we learn how to stick together more under water.
We dined every night at a beach side bar where two meals and a large beer cost us a maximum of £10. Each of the bungalows we stayed in had spacious beds and outdoor bathrooms, which are visually stunning. However generally wet and therefore rife with mosquitos, using the shower wasn’t a problem but using the toilet has left me with a few scars.
Being such a small island you are surrounded by wildlife which during the day is captivating, one evening though we were woken up at 3am by a monitor lizard that sounded like it was by our headboard, a little terrifying but that was topped by it landing on Tim’s side of the bed the following evening around the same time, maybe he didn’t want us to leave as we certainly didn’t.