The other day I met a guy. We dated for a bit and I started to really like him despite some glaring differences. He drank Kombucha, I prefer Champagne. I like burgers, he liked tofu. He was a scientist, I am a writer. He had an apartment, I have a suitcase. All of this wasn’t enough to deter me and not the reason it didn’t end well. He was just not that into me it turned out.
But before this became obvious I was sure we could make it work. I would eat tofu & Co and drink my bottle of wine alone if I had to. The only difference that worried me was the fact that he was a surfer and I am a diver. While he dreamed of shores to catch the perfect wave, I shivered at the mere thought of going under. Perfect weather conditions for him seemed to imply crappy ones for me and vice versa.
Then I started researching my current trip and Bali seemed perfect. The place to gap the bridge. The last paradise where surfers and divers could co-exist, each happily in their element in one way or another. Would he come for a visit? He didn’t say no but then things progressed and before long it was clear that while surfers and divers could be together in Bali, we could not.
I moved and he was quickly forgotten. I thought of him occasionally when I enjoyed a delicious vegan meal, because that’s what Bali will do to you – it will make you appreciate tofu – but I didn’t miss him. If anything I was more convinced than ever that I would make this my underwater home, my mermaid refuge, my Eldorado with Nemo.
Irony had it that my last day with the Trip of Wonders saw a choice between a cooking class, parasailing or a surfing lesson. Why not? I thought. I could at least give it a try. After all, I had liked the guy and he had liked surfing so much that maybe it wasn’t a bad idea to try it. Maybe I didn’t have to pick a side and stay there while on an island that had plenty of room for both.
To be honest, I was scared. The night before class I said with my friends, Rob and Natalie, over a beer. Natalie was going to join me in our beginners class whereas Rob had been surfing forever. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I have only broken my nose once in over 20 years of surfing!” His nose still in pretty good shape didn’t make this statement any better. Breaking my nose hadn’t even occurred as a potential surf accident. Now I was more scared.
The next morning we met at Odyssey Surf School which was located in our hotel. I was assigned a rashguard and a soft surfboard, probably to prevent nose breaking though still bloody heavy. We went across the road to Kuta Beach. The water here was as busy as every other part of Kuta, making me even more nervous. Now I had other noses to consider as well as my own. Our instructor Ketut was as patient as they come, but I wasn’t. Paddle, turn, climb on the board, trying to stand up, falling, trying not to hit the board, swallow lots of salty water and repeat! I tried, I really did. All the while thinking how much easier it was to dive and how much more pleasant too.
After a few tries, one shot catching me looking awesome and no broken nose, I gave up. This was hard, too hard and the guy whom I pretended not to be doing it for was far far away and not that into me.
After our trip had ended another ironic twist of fate brought me to Canggu, surfers’ paradise if there ever was any. Crowded with scooters and boards, vegan restaurants and me 100m away from famed Echo beach. Point Break III. While it was the perfect place to set up shop for a few weeks, it reminded me what I was missing: diving.
Luckily I met Pande, owner of Bali Hai Cruises who invited me to get on one of his catamarans and go diving in Bali. It was just in time, I was about to give in and come over to the dark side/ try surfing again only to get back into the water.
Diving in Bali is best done offshore and some of its most famed sites are in Nusa Lembongan, a little island east. Here you can see mantas and even mola molas if you get lucky. I’m not. Luckily manager Zach has told me before that chances of seeing one are incredibly slim as the water this year is simply too warm for them. Mantas, however, are a whole different story.
I board the Bali Hai II, their biggest catamaran, which is taking us to a floating island off Nusa Lembongan. Us, that is me and the usual array of tourists: some are in it for the early morning booze and some for the entertainment program that resembles Kellerman’s. The floating island comes fully kitted with a slide, a banana boat, a dive center, a band, and a bar. Wonderfully bizarre and perfect for families, however, I am not too sad to go straight to my dive boat.
Here I meet the rest of my team, Jen, who is my divemaster and guide for the day. Off to Manta Bay we go. The excitement starts instantly as we see the shadow of a manta while still on the boat. I cannot wait to get in so I start to check BCD, air, fins and no – the captain decides to venture on, the bay is too crowded with boats, divers, and snorkelers already.
We go around the corner and now it’s time to get in. I go under and have a deja vu like moment when the first thing that greets me underwater is a giant Titan Triggerfish.
Honestly, it is huge and terrifying. I try to hide behind Jen who is excited for another reason and ignores the triggerfish – bamboo sharks ahead! I almost dive straight into one of them during my attempt to avoid the triggerfish. I don’t mind and neither does the shark. While my heart is racing while it swims right underneath me, a meter away, I am incredibly excited – have I mentioned how much I love sharks? It feels like a real honor to get that close.
When I see a tiny sea snake in the corals though I am properly scared; while they have tiny jaws that can only bite between your fingers or on your earlobes, they are quite poisonous. I make a fist and cover my ears when I see it and I don’t care how silly I look!
After that, we meet the usual beautiful suspects: a turtle, a blue spotted stingray, Nemos, one of my favorite, a pufferfish, and another diver who does magic card tricks underwater.
We are already on our way back to the boat when it happens. Jen bangs her tank and points into the distance. A lone manta is gliding by, it seems to be flying. My heart starts beating faster, again. I fumble with my camera, but as you can see, it is no use. So I put it down, all I have is a moment to watch it, then it is gone.
Technically I can now cross ‘seeing a manta’ off my dive bucket list. Technically… because now I am hooked. I want more mantas. Closer. And more bamboo sharks. I wouldn’t even mind another sea snake! By the time I am back on the boat, the surfer boy is long forgotten and so is my failed attempt to surf. Bali may have it all, but I know what side of the water surface I belong to, wondering once again what was wrong with Ariel – how could she ever want to leave this world??
Disclaimer: Bali Hai Cruises offers various catamaran trips from Benoa Harbor in Bali and has their own dive center on Nusa Lembongan. They invited me to one of their Beach Club Cruises with two dives.
Bali Hai cannot be held responsible for manta or mola mola sightings nor for random teenage girls singing with the band. Mind you, I will put up with the singing to see a manta any day!