Bali - my first dive trip and dive
I was going to call this article 'loosing my virginity in Bali' my 'diving virginity' that is but thought the title would confuse some people and the article might disappoint others and the title would certainly get me in trouble with Nila so I erred on the side of caution and self preservation.
I had just spent 70 days working without a break and working an average of 14 hours a day in Indian and Pakistan. As I was going to be in Indonesia on a break to be with my partner Nila who was already an accomplished diver and had been planning for this trip for a long time I was graciously invited by her to come along and carry her bags. I thought 'what the hell' it will be a chance for me to unwind and I had never been to Bali before and after the diving trip we would go off around Bali together for a few days 'real tourism'. It all seemed ideal I would lie under a coconut tree whilst she went off on her diving trips and hopefully if I stayed awake long enough I would probably get some insight into what she found so appealing about diving and in the process either learn to share or at least understand where her passion for the activity came from. Me I was simply looking to unwind after a very long and difficult work set.
For a while we had been talking about the need to find an activity that we could both do together that would help to strengthen our bond, we had already tried and given up on golf and as the old saying goes 'if you cant beat them you may as well join them', so off I went on her diving trip. I was going to be the 'non diver' on the trip but I didn't mind as I saw it as a way to relax and chill out. Slowly it began to dawn on me that the trip might be a bit more strenuous than I had planned. For the last 10 weeks I had been fantasizing about a long lie in bed in the morning and not having to get up at 05:30. Just before I headed out to Indonesia Nila 'advised' me that the 'fantasy' would have to be delayed for a few days as the trip was quite intensive and would require early starts (really early) and long days. Oh well too late now I had better put on a brave face and accept my fate and console myself with the fact that we would at least be together after a very long time apart.
So I arrived in Jakarta on Thursday night and the next evening was on my way to Bali (after another day in the local office of the company I work overseas for ' so my first day of vacation was still an unpaid workday and another unplanned early start). That evening we had a mad dash to the airport from the office and as the traffic was especially bad someone ''.. and it wasn't me had their knickers in a twist as they thought they would miss the flight. As they had been so looking forward to this trip they were even looking for a motorbike to make a mad dash to the airlines counter to try and speed up the ticket issue and check in process. I thought about this but also thought I had better not raise the issue at this time as stress makes people do strange things and I didn't fancy being beaten up in the back of a taxi, but I have never seen motor bikes ' ojeks ' on the toll road going to the airport so why was she suddenly looking for one here now, and if somehow she did manage to find one and got to the airport minus me and the baggage and the flight was called and me and the baggage were still stuck in traffic what would she do? I decided silence was the better way to go here as I could see a major sense of humor loss materializing were I to trivialize the issue in anyway. As it was we made it in plenty of time.
It was late when we arrived at the hotel in Bali and it seemed as if my head had only landed on the pillow when I was being awoken and dragged off to the meeting point for the dive group. As I stood around watching the traffic and people of Bali drive past I asked myself what was I doing standing on the side of a road at that hour of the morning watching traffic and school kids go past and why wasn't I still in bed as I had been looking forward to for the last ten weeks and had been promising myself. As for the rest of them they were running around like kids on Christmas morning packing cars with tanks and associated diving gear and I was hearing a word I would be tired of hearing in a few days ' 'mola mola'. Up to this point of my life if a fish wasn't on a plate and surrounded by chips I didn't recognize it and wasn't interested in it. Now here I was early morning surrounded by a bunch of crazies calling fish on first name terms and each trying to outdo the other by having seen and photographed the biggest, the most species or the most colorful specimen in the most exotic location. Anyway it was too late to turn back as Nila had the money and knew where we were staying each day and Tom was driving, so I thought to myself - 'when the rape is inevitable lie back and enjoy'.
Eventually everyone calmed down enough to be assigned to groups and got into their respective vehicles and we headed off on what was to turn out to be a rather good holiday with a great bunch of people.
The first destination was to be Menjangan and so I settled down in the back of the car and drifted in and out of a routine of checking the inside of my eyelids for cracks, and in case anyone's interested I didn't find any so all is well. I briefly recall some of the journey but feel I missed most of it except for the classic from Mia to Tom of there being only two answers he needs to remember to all her questions 'yes' and 'yes honey'. Unfortunately Nila also heard this and thought the statement was the dogs bollox so I am now consigned to a life of subservience and answering 'yes' or 'yes honey', so a big thank you to Mia for that and to Tom ' 'you are not alone !!!!!'
Once we reached our destination it was everyone pile into a boat and suddenly I was faced with a choice of do I stay on the beach, which to be honest at the boat station didn't look like much or did I join the group and head out in a boat. I decided on the latter as I also discovered that was where the food was going, and as I had elected to miss out on the hard boiled eggs for breakfast at quarter to five that morning as it was too dark to eat and I felt I should still be sleeping instead I thought 'bugger it Ill take my chances on the water and follow the food'.
Once out at the dive site and all the divers had gone it was really quite nice, the weather was beautiful and warm, (after spending 6 weeks in a rainforest in Assam in North East India where the rain never seemed to stop and if it did it was only to allow the heat to build up and the humidity to go even higher and even with all the best quality rain gear in the world that Nila had made me buy when we were in London I was often wetter wearing it due to the high humidity than if I stood out in the rain naked (no I didn't and there are no photos so don't ask)). So suddenly I found myself out to sea in an empty boat, well I still had the helmsman there, and with the engine off the silence was beautiful. Between the gentle bobbing of the boat and the relative silence and the warm sunshine I soon decided I would forget about the reading and listening to music I was attempting to do and get into some serious chilling out. Finally I had some of what I had been dreaming about for the last 10 weeks, relaxation. I was in heaven and thought 'this is the life'. Eventually it came to an end when the divers came back to the surface and wanted to be picked up '''''. How inconsiderate of them I thought - I was comfortable there. We went off to the island and had a lunch and then they went for their second dive that day. Once back on the surface we headed off for our hotel that night in Tulamben and although I didn't know it at the time what would be the highlight of the trip for me. Again it was late when we arrived at the Matahari Resort in Tulamben and rolled into our rooms. The resort here was a beautiful little family run business, the rooms were excellent - simple but tasteful and the food they served up that night was excellent. It had been a long tiring day and despite the many power naps I had partaken of that day I still slept well that night.
The next day was slightly more relaxed and whilst we didn't have to get up at dawn it was still a relatively early start as the divers had fish to go and see and stories to tell when they got back. Before the trip had commenced Nila had dangled the carrot of a discovery dive to me to try to make me feel better about going along on the trip with her. Up to this point in the trip nothing had been mentioned about such a dive or planned and as she is normally such a meticulous planner I thought she had simply not bothered and now as I was along on the trip anyway she didn't need to dangle the carrot anymore. However that morning before I realized what was happening she had organized with the owner of the resort for me to be taken on a discovery dive and next thing I knew I was being fitted up for a wet suit. I had the five minute tour of the bits and pieces I would be wearing and using and before I could think I was plodding a few hundred meters up a stony beach to a place called the drop off.
Within a few minutes I had the tank and mask and fins on and was under the water and after only a few meters away from the beach I was in a new and exciting world. It was incredible within a few kicks of the fins I looked up and back and was surrounded by fish '''''' more fish than you could imagine and so many different sizes and colors. I will never forget looking up and seeing my first school of fish. Up till now I had only seen such a spectacle on a national geographic program and suddenly here I was and it was live and in color in front of me. I almost forgot to breath I was so excited and that would have been the end of my diving at that point ' as Erwin told me later the cardinal rule of diving is keep breathing even when your tank is empty. Fortunately there was so much happening down there I was on the move again in milliseconds and my head was in danger of falling off my shoulders as I was snapping it from side to side so quickly trying to see everything at once. And this was only the top tier of life as we went down there was more to see and not only fish. The drop off was spectacular the gently sloping seabed suddenly dropped off hence the name 'drop off'. This was breathtaking there were corals and all sorts of bits and pieces to see ' hey it was only my first dive you don't expect me to know the names of what I saw. Before I only knew fish by numbers 'off menus' or their cartoon names like Nemo or Doreen for example.
All in all I spent about half an hour under the water and the time flew by there was so much to see it was amazing. You see more in half an hour under water in a location like that than you would in a months safari in some well known national parks I have been to in Kenya. To those who haven't dived before all I can say is 'do it'. I really enjoyed the experience and the only regret I had was I didn't do it twenty years ago.
I am sure they mix something in the oxygen they give you as when I got back to the hotel I was as high as a kite and as Nila keeps reminding me I was very high, and probably gibbering like the village idiot, but who could blame me as I had just had a very enjoyable experience. I don't know whether Nila did it to get rid of me and get some peace and quite for herself and shut me up for a while or whether she had already arranged it earlier anyway but after another hour I was being brought off for my second dive and this was even more spectacular that the first. This one was a wreck dive and is one I will have to do again as I was so awestruck I am sure I missed loads and loads of things. In fact when I got to the surface I couldn't recall whether the blue fish had yellow stripes or was it the yellow fish had blue stripes? But hey who cares - whatever they had it was beautiful down there.
The whole experience was so good that I immediately cajoled Nila into agreeing to get me another dive the next day. The next days dive was to be in the Padang Bai area and once again it was to be an early start, and if I thought I had slept well the night before after a long day then I slept really well that night after the physical effort of two dives.
For those of you wondering what it was all about Nila has some underwater photographs that show the beauty of this world - Nilas photos of underwater Bali
And if that whets you appetite then she has a further collection of underwater photos from various other dive sites she has been to - Nila\'s underwater world
I was really looking forward to doing some more dives the next day but when we got there we discovered that everyone was really busy and there was no opportunity for me to have a dive. This didn't fully sink in until the afternoon as up until that point I was still holding out hope that an opportunity would arise. As I was waiting around for the opportunity for a dive I was entertained by the beach hawkers who all saw me as their 'kill' of the day. If you ever wanted to do a business management course never mind going to a high class expensive university just spend some time dealing with and watching these people in action. It was better than TV. Over the course of the morning I was approached by all of the hawkers and was subjected to their salesmanship and hard luck stories and learned to identify all their scams and then sat back and watched the tourists getting ripped off.
There were three hawkers in particular who entertained me, the first was a young lady selling sarongs and after attempting to get me to buy one for a considerable period of time finally gave up and asked me if I had any euro coins as she wanted to make a ring, or was it simply pass them back to other tourists at inflated exchange rates so as to relieve them of the burden of having to carry useless Indonesian currency back home with them? I told her I didn't even have Indonesian coins or currency on me never mind Euros and with that she was gone.
The second and my favorite was a lady called Doreen '''''' just like the fish from 'Finding Nemo' obviously keeping in line with the nautical and beach theme. I was lucky Doreen wasn't charging me for her time otherwise she would have been a rich woman. Doreen had a shop full of items in a small basket on her head, I wish she would pack my suitcase when I traveled then I really would have been able to get the kitchen sink in as well. She squatted down beside me under the tree I was hiding under and simply wouldn't take no for an answer. I knew from an early stage that I wasn't going to get rid of her too easily so told her in what I thought was an emphatic voice I couldn't buy anything as I had no money and my wife who was gone diving would kill me if I committed to buying anything without her consent. The 'no money' routine didn't bother her and the 'wife who was the boss' didn't slow her down a bit she just kept on and on with her sales pitch. In the end I thought well I have told you no and have made it clear I will not buy anything so if you want to continue go ahead. She then proceeded to go through each and every item she had in her basket and show the workings of them to me and if one object came in a small and large size I was shown both and had their respective virtues extolled to me. Try as hard as I could I was unable to shake her. I heard how she lived near Ubud (once I had let it slip that's where we were going after the diving) and had to take the bus down everyday and it cost her 20000 rupiaha, hint hint hint. She almost wore me out on a few occasions but whenever I felt like weakening I simply threw the 'no money' and 'the wife wouldn't be happy' routine back at her. Eventually she moved off but only on the belief that once the wife returned from the dive she would be successful and have a sale.
The next to move in on me were two young girls selling small replicas of the traditional boats with the outrigger stabilizers. These two nymphs could have been no more than 15 and should have been in school and indeed that was their routine with me 'would I buy a souvenir boat to help their school'. Again the 'no money' and 'dominant wife' routine were used to good effect to ward off the sale but once again they left on the hope that once the diving wife returned they would conclude a successful sale. It was quite difficult for them to comprehend why I was still on the beach whilst my wife was off diving and then why was I so afraid to make a decision without her being present. They were wondering who wore the trousers in this relationship or maybe they weren't and simply felt sorry for me being so brow beaten.
Eventually they all moved off but only a short distance away and kept a wary eye on me. I now had three groups of hawkers watching my every move so that once the divers returned they could be first off the mark to identify and capture 'the wife' and conclude the sale whilst she was still in a good mood from the diving. I felt like a sick or wounded animal on the open African plains being observed by a group of vultures waiting their chance to pounce, and every so often they would make sure I could still see and remember them.
I now had the opportunity to sit back under a tree and witness them work their act and fleece tourists who either had softer hearts than me or were more gullible than me and got taken to the cleaners for something so tacky it was indescribable, it was embarrassing to watch people purchase it.
Just as the boats were coming in I got up and wandered around on the beach with a camera in my hand and missed Nila arriving and getting out of the boat. This nonchalance added greatly to their confusion, firstly there were no foreign women coming out of the boats and then I hadn't acknowledged any of the women alighting from the boats or none of them had acknowledged me either. You could see them looking at each other asking the question 'where is she'. Then Nila (in her diving gear) came across onto the beach with her camera to take some photos as well and when we saw each other we got together and this really blew their minds. 'She's an Indonesian' you could almost hear them shout and in that instant they knew they would never have a sale. They had spent so much time though believing they would have a sale they just couldn't walk away and had to ask once would she (a sister) buy something from them and at this stage Nila answered and said no and finally it proved to them what I had been telling them all along 'the wife wont buy this stuff'. So now the score was Bule 3 ' Hawkers 0.
I didn't have time to get Nila up to speed with what had been happening before they pounced but she handled the situation beautifully and once they had slunk away I gave her the run down of my mornings entertainment and we had a good chuckle together. After a few minutes she too went back to the dive shop to finish her lunch and then the hawkers moved back in on me again and I had to listen to how they were confused and disappointed that my wife was not a 'bule woman', one who would be an easy target for them and they simply couldn't understand why Nila was the one diving and I was the one waiting for her to return.
This was a role reversal they couldn't handle, it completely threw them and phased them out. Why was she doing the diving, why did she have the big camera and lens and me the small one, why did I not have cash and why would I not make a decision without consulting her? It was all too much for them and they went away shaking their heads. Doreen was so disappointed she could only walk away muttering and the young girls were in a spin. One of them kept coming back several times asking me why she (Nila) was the boss and not me. They kept telling me they assumed my wife was also a foreigner like me and not a local. And definitely not a strong willed and successful local who was the dominant partner in the relationship. All I could do was laugh and tell them they had probably learnt an important lesson here today 'never assume', and when or if they go back to school they should pass this lesson on to their friends. I thought it would be too much to tell them that Nila had paid for the complete trip for me including flights and the previous days discovery dives and that I really didn't have any cash on me and was totally reliant on her for 'pocket money', their heads would have caved in with that information so I left it.
Once the divers had finished their lunch they all headed off back out to sea for another dive and suddenly I was left alone on the beach again with the hawkers, only this time it was different they knew I wasn't a soft target and now instead of being their next overpriced sale they avoided me as if I had the plague. On several occasions I had to check and see if I had a bell around my neck warning people off or if there was a sign on my back that warned people off. It was to be a long quite and very peaceful afternoon '..................
It was very disappointing that the discovery dive never happened that day but this was balanced off with the fun I had with the hawkers.
Then it was back off to the hotel we had stayed in the first night we had landed in Bali and the next day was to be the highlight of the trip for all the divers when they went Mola Mola hunting. I still have no idea what a Mola Mola looks like despite hearing it in almost every second sentence for the duration of the dive trip and being shown a very fuzzy picture by an ecstatic Julia upon her return from the dive.
Whilst everyone was off mola mola hunting I was going to go to Theas and Hengky's place and do the first stage of the diving course I had promised people I would do after my initial discovery dives. Whilst this had seemed like a damm good idea two days previously when I awoke that morning my body had other ideas, suddenly a loooooooong lazzzzzzzzy lie in seemed a much better idea, remember it was now up to 75 days of early mornings and long days with no day off and here was my chance to vegetate. I took it.
The Hapel Semer hotel was a nice quite place set back from the main street so I wasn't bothered by noise and as almost everyone in the hotel was a diver I was left alone in silence and could just lie there. I eventually dragged myself out of bed for brunch and then sat in the sun reading and relaxing with interspersed bouts of attacking the mattress and checking my eyelids for seal failures.
Fortunately Nila's group saw mola mola that day so she was a happy little camper on her return, unfortunately her camera didn't work but even so she didn't get her knickers in a twist over the missed photo opportunity, and there always next time when we can do it together.
As that was the last dive of the trip there was to be a BBQ that evening at Thea and Hengkys place where everyone could wind down and tell mola mola stories.
All in all it was an excellent trip and I'd do it all again ' it was good weather, good scenery, fantastic food (I know the diet will never work in Indonesia, as the Sea food diet turns into a See food and eat it diet) and a great bunch of people.
There are only two things I will do differently next time and they are