Holy Mola-Mola It’s Some Mantas
Serious fun. Serious diving. This is one of the slogans painted on the Phoenix boat. It applies to diving in Koh Tao but is more aptly suited to describing the diving in Bali. There is much greater risk in Bali as the water is much colder and the currents are stronger (including some potentially lethal downwelling currents). But the rewards of diving are oh so worth it.
It’s very humbling to be in the presence of giants. Jo, Seyda, Boquet, and myself learned this within the first minute of jumping into the water at Manta Point. This dive site off the coast of Nusa Penida serves as a cleaning station for manta rays. Upon descending, a group of nearly 20 manta rays circled around us, their fins rippling powerfully and effortlessly through the water. Each one of the individual giants was impressive, with the largest sporting a 3 meter wing span. Their tails alone were longer than many rays’ entire bodies, and they created a train of shadows as they passed overhead.
Our good fortune continued on our second dive at Crystal Bay. As we patiently waited through the biting chill of the 23-degree water, our guide gave us the inverted ‘cowabunga’ hand signal, leading the way to a rare mola mola. The mola mola is a funky looking sunfish. They almost look like someone cut a whale in half and then put some fins on it, like a mini submersible blimp. The two major things we were hoping to see in the Indonesian waters knocked off the list in our first two dives, not a bad morning.
The good times kept rolling after lunch with a drift dive at Sental. We cruised effortlessly with the aid of the current, drifting past an incredible display of biodiversity. Huge needlefish hovered about as clown triggerfish darted underneath spotted pufferfish minding their own business. Sea snakes napped on the ocean floor near small sting rays and colorful sea turtles stopped by the coral for midday snacks. Nudi branchs modeled their fluorescent colors along walls that descended well past eyesight. So many colors, so much activity, so much abundant life to explore that an hour at each site seemed insufficiently quick.
By the time we got back to the Gecko Dive shop (in Padangbai, a city midway up the east coast of Bali) the girls and I were all smiles and super stoked for two more dives the next day. Our next two dives were up in Amed, where the U.S. Liberty wreck is located.
The WWII ship rests a very short swim from the shoreline, so we waded into the water from the beach. The wreck is almost unrecognizable as a ship as it has broken up into different sections of twisted metal, creating a maze of swim troughs and an ecosystem that attracts marine life. Turtles, rays, and vibrant fish explored the once mighty ship alongside us.
From Padangbai we caught a ferry over to the Gili Tarangawan, the largest of the Gili Islands. The Gilis are old school. There are no automobiles on the small island. Everyone travels by bicycle, horse and buggy, or on foot. Pretty much anything goes on the island (just don’t make the police swim out to a boat in the middle of the night to ask you to put clothes on, they apparently don’t like getting wet). Having already spent a large chunk of change on diving, we opted for the free of charge snorkeling option. Jo and I rented bicycles for a day and rode to the less developed east coast of the island and watched an incredible sunset.
As the sky fully embraced a fiery hue, three horses galloped across the beach. The aura of pink clouds made the sight of Mt. Rinanjini in the distance all the more surreal. A fitting nightcap for the winding down of one hell of a Balinese experience.