Going deeper in Indonesia

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June 16th 2014
Published: June 18th 2014
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If Ubud felt a bit centered around tourism, Amed at the east coast of Bali is even more so. While most things in Ubud seem to center around Balinese culture, in Amed it is all about beaches, snorkeling and diving. Most houses in the towns (the area consists of 7 separate towns, but as they are growing more and more into each other they are all referred to as Amed) are offering lodging, food, diving or all three of them. There are also a lot of fishers living there and many of the beaches are filled with fishing boats, but the tourists probably consume most of the days catch every evening.

We had originally planned to try to find some kind of meditation and/or yoga center and spend some days snorkeling and stretching, but while googling our options we ran into a meditation, yoga and free diving center nearby our homestay. After reading a little more of what free diving consists of (basically duck diving, i.e. diving while holding your breath) we decided to give it a try, especially since it seemed to combine all three activities we were in Amed to do. So our first morning at the coast we marched to the office of Apneista and began a 2 days free diving course.

Life is like a box of chocolate, you never know what you gonna get. The free diving piece we didn’t like that much. Although bringing forth the yoga and meditation aspects of free diving on their website, there was only a little of that on the course. The course was mostly about controlling your urge to breathe and relax under water. In theory it was all fine, and in the class room exercises I was able to hold my breath for 4 minutes just based on the theory part of the course, actual free diving in the water turned out to be much more difficult than it sounded first. Yes, in theory you know you can still hold your breath for another minute or two when the urge to breathe starts, but when you are 5 meter under water it is not that easy to ignore your lungs, especially when neither of us had any diving or underwater experience from before. In the end of the course I got down to 10 meters on a 1.5 minutes breath hold, and Johanna reached 8 meters, but as neither managed to perform all the mandatory exercises (e.g. bringing up someone who plays unconscious from 10 meter) we didn’t pass the course. The learnings are however usable for normal duck diving, so we hope to be able to get deeper while snorkeling from now on.

After a day or two of just relaxing after the two intense course days we got a chance to practice a little. We hired two scooters from our homestay and drove to a nearby wreck from World War II, a sunken Japanese fisher boat. I was actually able to get deeper and stay longer under water than I had before the course, I would however have needed a weight belt in order to stay down; with a lung full of air you float like a cork in salt water. The wreck was luckily enjoyable also as a snorkeler, with colorful corals and a lot of fishes, so we didn’t miss the underwater perspective that much. After a few turns snorkeling we moved to Lipah beach where the beach and the corals were nicer and continued taking turns in the water while the other one of us watched from the beach chair we managed to rent cheaply (it is still low season, but everything is being set up for the hordes from Scandinavia that will arrive around midsummer…).

From Amed there are boats going east towards Lombok, and if you continue east a bit more you get to Komodo, an island where 3 meter long giant lizards roam. We were interested in seeing the Komodo dragons, so it seemed like a good plan to take the boat to Lombok and then continue from there. The boats also stop on the Gili islands on their way to Lombok, and after spending a week in the Balinese traffic chaos the Gilis sounded serene, motor vehicles are forbidden on the islands. So we booked boat tickets and a bungalow for a few days on Gili Meno, the most quiet of the islands and set out for some days of beach life and snorkeling.

When we reached the harbor we were dully informed that the boat wasn’t able to reach Gili Meno that day due to the water level, and that we would need to take the public boat from Gili Trawangan, the neighboring island known for partying and drugs. What they failed to mention was that the public boat only goes twice a day, in the morning (before the boat from Amed arrives and in the afternoon at four. In between there is of course the possibility to charter a boat for ten times the price of the tickets to the public boat, but as we didn’t want to step into that tourist trap we just waited on Gili T in one of the beach bars, even if it was a bit overpriced we got lunch and a few beers for less than the price difference between public and charter boats.

Gili Meno felt super relaxed directly upon arrival. Gili T was a busy tourist island with bars, horse carriages offering rides and people selling tourist trinkets, Meno isn’t (yet) very developed. We stayed at Fantastic cottages, a place actually living up to its name. It is near to everything even if nothing is close enough to be heard at the bungalow, it has a beautiful garden and good breakfast, and doesn’t cost a lot. No motor vehicles (and no dogs) also does a lot in creating a tranquil environment.

As I had been thinking about trying SCUBA diving for some time I went to the nearby Blue Marlin Dive Shop and booked us for an introduction dive for the next morning. After some pool exercises we headed out for the dive, and after it we both signed up for an Open Water Diving Course. Not only did we see loads of nice stuff under water during our introduction dive (turtles, scorpion fishes, puffers, ribbon eels, and a lot more), it was also so much easier than free diving. You had all the air you needed, all the time you needed, and it never felt uncomfortable or claustrophobic as we had imagined it might feel. In other words, I was hooked, and also Johanna liked the diving!

After the Open Water course I decided to try one more dive, and then one more, and suddenly I had completed my Advanced Open Water. Johanna got a cold after the Open Water, so she wasn’t able to join me for all the dives, but the island was so peaceful and nice that she didn’t mind just hanging out. Our three days eventually became eight, and we skipped the Komodo option for now (although we might go there on a later trip, the diving is supposed to be great! J). Instead we returned to Amed and went diving on the Liberty wreck, and also took a diving tour to Manta Point at Nusa Padini. The Liberty wreck was great, the Manta Point a mild disappointment because of too rough weather, we only saw one manta and that from a distance. Because of the rough weather our second manta dive that day had to be changed to a drift dive on the other side of the island, also this dive was a bit difficult due to upward and downward currents, so we felt quite exhausted afterwards.

The next day we took a car to Pemuteran in west Bali. Pemuteran was a good jumping point on our way to Java, and as it is supposed to have some of the best diving in Bali we stayed for a few nights so I had time to check it out. Johanna had had enough diving for some time and preferred going to a spa instead, while I took a tour to Pulau Menjangan including two dives. Of these the second was really nice, a wall dive along a 30-meter high wall with huge seafans and gorgeous soft corals. To get everything out of the place I still decided to take a night dive the same night. It was definitely interesting to be diving with only a torch as a light source, but we saw very little during the dive, only a few crabs and shrimps. The dive master was clearly of the opinion the dive was a complete failure, so I won’t still judge night diving based on this experience, otherwise I might have skipped future night dives as a waste of money.

Next we are going to Java where there is no diving, and after that we don’t know when we will be able to go diving the next time, so for now our diving is over. It will however definitely be something to try again later on! It is a somehow meditative experience, to just hang there in the water weightless, deciding to go up or down by breathing in or out. And when you combine this with the underwater colors and multitude of life, it feels like it is hard to beat diving as an experience. On the other hand it might also be healthy to try something else for a while, during the last 12 days I have been diving 18 times, and that is not including pool exercises and duck diving while snorkeling.

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18th June 2014

The wonders of diving
I've been diving 30 years and never grow tired of it.

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