Snorkel, read, snooze, repeat


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June 7th 2015
Published: June 7th 2015
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Sarah: I am writing this from our little beachside bungalow in Jemeluk Bay, in northeast Bali. After Tom and Jen left early Thursday morning, we spent Thursday deciding how to spend our days until we were due to hear from the bank about our swallowed bank card...

We were both ready to leave Seminyak so on Friday morning a driver picked us up to take us on the three hour drive up the east coast. We arrived at lunchtime to our little beach bungalow and were met by an army of helpful faces. We settled down for a bite to eat at the cafe attached to our accommodation and were delighted to see that there was plenty of choice, all for less than £3 a dish. Nasi goreng and grilled calamari with rice were the orders of the day!

Once we were digested we donned our swimming things and headed for the reef, encouraged by the fact that the water dotted all over by little snorkelling tubes swimming around the bay. We weren't disappointed - the water was clear and the fish were abundant and amazingly coloured. It was as if someone had picked up several highlighter pens and drawn all over the fish! They were truly unnatural colours of luminous pinks, blues, yellows and greens. There were smiley fish, shiny fish, long thin fish, star fish, bolshy fish, spiny fish, tiny fish, grumpy fish, silver fish, flat fish, fat fish, open-mouthed fish, stone fish, puffer fish, neon fish etc. Basically it was like all the tanks in London Aquarium combined in to one massive tank that we were in (but no sharks, jellyfish or anything too dangerous!)! There was also a stone temple underwater, which added to the 'aquarium' feel. We swam right out to the 'drop off' where the reef stopped and the sand sloped in to deep blue nothingness....it gives me a bit of vertigo, even though I know I'm not falling down, so I was soon back on the reef with my new fishy friends. Our bungalow is right on the beach so when we came out we could pop in to get our books and plonk ourselves down on a sun bed on the beach - heaven. There are only a few rooms here so it's nice and peaceful and each evening one of the staff goes around with incense and leaves an offering at each door. They are predominantly Hindu here, which, from what we've learnt over the past few days, is a very live and let live religion and very accepting of all other religions, cultures and races. The Balinese in general are really friendly and always wanting to help.

On our second day in Amed we repeated a cycle of snorkel, read, snooze a few times with lunch in there somewhere of shrimp and avocado salad and meaty noodles. We did venture out to try and find a suitable after-dinner drink (they pretty much only serve the local beer here, Bintang, which is nice, but not for drinking all night long). The locals in the little roadside stores soon informed us that we would find no whiskey, rum or wine in these parts! We settled for a glass of Arak (palm wine) which we were told comes in three strengths and the one served at our cafe was of medium strength. There was definitely a warming of the insides as it went down, so strong enough for me that's for sure! In some places, cheap, low strength Arak is mixed with methanol, to try and pass for the more expensive high strength Arak, and has caused blindness and fatalities. Our trustworthy host assured us that this was not the case for the one that we were drinking!

On Sunday there was building work planned near our bungalow and so our host very generously offered to take us to another beach to get us away from the noise to see the Japanese Shipwreck; another local snorkelling spot. When we arrived the conditions were much more lively than the calmness of Jemeluk Bay. A couple of snorkellers and a diving group who were just getting out the water when we got there told us the strength of the current meant that they couldn't really see anything! Rather than wait for the sea to calm down we moved on to Vienna Beach. This beach also had some strong currents but it was still good for snorkelling. It was a very different underwater landscape to that of Jemeluk Bay in that there was a bit more sand and there was a greater variety of coral. I saw a mini sword-type-fish swimming off with another fish clamped firmly between his jaws. Needless to say he was looking very pleased with himself! Swimming against the current was pretty hard work so we refreshed ourselves with a honey lassi (yogurty drink) each before heading back to base. Our host offered to take us to a nearby water palace and rice terraces in the afternoon, since the building work was still ongoing. Since it was a bit cooler and there's only so much snorkelling one can do, we happily took her up on her offer. The water palace was really pretty and very popular with the local children who could splash around in some of the pools. It was also nice to pad around the rice terraces and see all the irrigation systems up close. Definitely a world away from your modern English farm!

We're now back at base...Nick is snoozing on the day bed until Bintang Time. Hopefully tomorrow will bring more snorkelling and good news of our bank card (although our hopes are very low). Either way, it's been really good to get some snorkelling in and not a bad way to spend a few days. We've also been able to do some serious planning for the next couple of months and are slowly working out a skeleton route around South East Asia. Hopefully by Wednesday at the latest we'll be able to get started!

Nick (Tuesday 9th June):

Just a brief update to detail our last couple of days in Bali. After our outing on Sunday, Monday was earmarked for hanging around the resort, with a view to hopefully making some further progress with Operation Get Credit Card Back. In theory, we were meant to be expecting a call from the bank with the outcome of their investigation, which in turn would let us know if we stood a chance of retrieving our card or not. In practice, we were probably set for a day of making awkward and patience-testing phone calls to the relevant branch. Before getting stuck into all that dreariness, though, we made sure to get a good snorkelling session in, straight after our now regular brekkie of fresh fruit and either toast (Sarah) or pineapple pancakes (me).

Our outing the previous day to a couple of other snorkelling spots in the area had reinforced to us that the area directly outside our own resort was easily the best of the bunch. Once again, it didn't disappoint and we spent a fascinating twenty or so minutes swimming out over the coral and marvelling at the weird and wonderful fishes. Since being here, we've given serious consideration to future investment in an underwater camera for the next time we go snorkelling; it's so difficult to articulate just how beautiful and fascinating the bay appears under the water, and it's a real shame we can't take any pictures of it to take away with us! For now, we'll have to be content with our memories. At some point during the swim, we both drifted out to a previously unexplored at of the bay. Afterwards, we both commented on receiving an uncomfortable but not-too-painful sting whilst we were out swimming...the very wee jellyfish I'd spotted out there may or may not have had something to do with that!

With our snorkelling out of the way, we settled in for a day of waiting by the phone. It must be said that Sarah was an absolute trooper all day, putting in a number of difficult phone calls to various people at the bank (none of whom appeared to talk to each other or know what our problem was - it felt like starting from scratch every time). After a few fruitless phone calls, we were beginning to resign ourselves to giving up, wary of the fact that we couldn't faff around in Bali forever and needed to start thinking about when to draw a line under things and move on. Thankfully, as a result of Sarah's patience and persistence, by the mid-afternoon we had a result: the bank advised that they'd completed their investigations, yes, they had our card and yes, we could have it back! They arranged a courier to have it brought over from their central office in Denpasar to the branch in Legian that we'd been to previously. It would arrive early the next day, in perfect time for us to get back from Amed on the way to the airport and collect it - result! Armed with a definite plan of action, we were finally able to get on and plan our next movements. Having had plenty of time to research these things over the last few days, it didn't take us long to book a flight to Singapore, departing from Denpasar the following afternoon, and reserve a room in the Chinatown area of Singapore for the next few nights.

Pleased as punch with how things had worked out - although not yet ready to celebrate until the card was back in our possession and demonstrably working - we were soon back in the water for our final snorkel. Perhaps because we'd not been out in the water so late in the day, an hour or so before sunset, we saw lots of new fishes and it turned out to be our most exciting snorkel by far. The highlight for me was spotting what I thought was a strange-looking black and white sea cucumber, until it started to move and I realised, with quite a start, that it was in fact a sea snake emerging from the coral! I beat a hasty retreat to watch from a safer distance. We also saw a ray on the seabed, with neon blue spots on its back - a 'Blue-Spotted Ribbontail Ray', subsequent research informed us. As for the sea snake, our investigations were inconclusive but suggested it may or may not have been a harmless 'snake eel' which mimics the poisonous sea krait to put off potential predators; apparently both can be found in this region. Either way, I certainly wasn't planning on going back in to have a closer look! Perhaps the hairiest moment of the day, however, was when Sarah and I swam back into the shallows so we could stand up and take our snorkels off for a bit. Whilst we were talking, Sarah - with her usual hawkeye vision - spotted a fish on the stoney seabed a yard or so from where she was standing. I stuck my mask on and dunked my head down into the water to take a look; eventually, I spotted the well-camouflaged fish lurking amidst the stones, a scary prehistoric-looking thing which we are almost certain was a type of stonefish, the most venomous known fish. Neither of us knows enough about these things to say if it was the infamous type that has venomous spines that can cause agonising pain, paralysis or even death, but having checked it out it seems they can be found in this area and prefer to hang out in tropical shallows around coral reefs and on stoney shores...er, okay, well let's just say I am glad neither of us trod on it!

That was pretty much it for our last full day in Bali. We had our last dinner in Amed, both going for grilled fillets of 'mahi mahi', a type of local white fish, served with a nice spicy Balinese sauce, and whiled away the evening going over our plans for getting around Southeast Asia. This morning we were up bright and early to get our transfer back to Legian and to the bank. I am very pleased to report that all went without a hitch and we are now happily back in possession of our lovely commission-free, charge-free card! Needless to say, I will be a bit more considered next time I put it into a bank machine...So, we are currently sat in the International departure lounge at Denpasar airport, with only a couple of hours before our flight begins boarding. In some ways, the whole credit card saga did us a favour by requiring us to stick around in Bali a few days longer, which in turn gave us the chance to make our way over to sleepy Amed, something we'd previously decided to forgo. We'd both really loved the snorkelling and it more than made up for the disappointments of snorkelling (or lack thereof) in Magnetic Island. That said, we both agreed that we were keen to get moving on; what with the latter part of our Oz Adventure and all of our time in Bali being mostly composed of beach culture, we are both ready to start doing some 'proper' travelling again and experiencing new things once more. In that spirit, I promise you that our next blog update will not have a grain of sand in sight!

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10th June 2015

Phew!!!
So glad to hear that the card issue is happily resolved and that you didn't stand on the fish!!! Snorkelling sounds amazing. Can't compete with your travels, but just ending our first part of North America hols. Last night in Boston where we have enjoyed temperature of 30+ today. Tomorrow brings 2 flights and grand reunion with the Hemmings plus one!!!! Can't wait and will of course shower them with your kisses!! Two more lovely weeks before we depart back. Couldn't be happier for you that things are finally sorted. Bon voyage on the next stage of your wonderful trip. Sarah, you are a star!!! Much love to you both. M & D. XXXX

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