Rob’s mum, (Grandma?- we havent decided on names yet!) Helen, was with us, and we wanted to show her all the places we had fallen in love with the previous times we were in Bali. It was going to be a bit of a whistle-stop, best-of, highlights kind of week.
We started off down on the Bukit Pensinsula, the dingleberries right at the bottom of Bali, where there's world renowned surf, sunsets and beach parties. Rob surfed Bingin and Uluwatu while we sipped fresh fruit juice in the dappled shade of palm trees, and Spud had his first ever swim in the ocean. The surf was smallish, but big enough for Rob to get scatted up a bit on the reef. It is a stunning part of the beautiful island; temple clad cliffs plummet into clean, caudroy lines of pristine surf, sunsets turn the horizon the same yellow-orange-pink as the frangipani flowers that scent the air.
We comandeered a little boat the next morning and our salty skipper zapped us round to the southern tip of the larger island of Nusa Penida, where the mantas feed on great upswelling plumes of krill and plankton. In my head, we'd be snorkelling in 8ft water, crystal clear, flat, some little fish bobbing around us- chill. Not so! It was a swelly day, and we were in deep, cloudy, navy blue ocean, Next to cliffs. With waves breaking on them. 6 or 7 other tourist boats were already there, and as we idled 20m so from the group, rolling perpendicular to the swell, Ketut chucked us snorkels and flippers and told us to get ready.
Rob had done this before. As we got closer, I saw a shadow swoop up from the deep. Wingspan like a 2 metre bat, it came, skimmed the surface and “GO GO GO!” Yelled Ketut. Rob was in and away, following the shadow. Helen and I looked at each other suddenly realising we were about to throw ourselves into bottomless, rolling ocean amongst alien batfish; Oh God, I dont know if I can?!
I grasped the out rigger and held on for dear life. Ocean swimming makes me a little nervous, and not seeing the bottom or what’s around me makes me very nervous. Add in everyones urgency to GO! GO!, a snorkel that I hadn’t put on properly and waves that sloshed over the top into it and I was pretty much hyperventilating. Aahh not good not good not good. Rob came back and calmed me a bit. He told me to just swim beside him until he saw a ray and then stick my head under. We tried, but the waves were just too much for Helen and I, so we all gave up.
Rob held my hand and we swam in the direction Ketut was pointing- these things move FAST! And then, out of the murk, doing his own thing, a big white belly swooped up past us. Alien, skeletal, really, really big. It swam maybe 10m from us, then changed his mind, turned on a skim of his wing and came head on towards us. We were literally staring down the jaws? Gills? Mouth? Of the beast, it must be the strangest looking creature I have ever seen. And it just kept coming- I squealed and in that most unhelpful manner of someone who is drowning, instinctively tried to climb on top of Rob’s head.
Five minutes in there was enough thrills for me, I watched Rob snorkel with 3 or 4 more of the animals from the safety of the little boat, and then we chugged on to Crystal Bay, which was the idyllic, calm, colourful snorkelling mecca I'd been imagining, a bit further around the coast of Nusa Penida. We didn't have a go-pro with us, so sadly I didnt get any photos. But I bobbed around shamelessly in my lifejacket enjoying the peace and silence and vibrancy of that underwater world.
I loved Lembongan; although Bali is obviously a holiday island, its little neighbour really felt like it is that bit further removed again. We had a $2 lunch and watched local women unload a huge delivery of 10 litre water bottles, bamboo cages of chickens, and six king size mattresses from a boat, berthed in the ankle deep water. The reef and tides dictate the comings and goings of all who frequent the island. If it’s low tide, nobody is going anywhere. The main 'strip' has a fair spread of cheap, mid range and expensive restaurants, surf schools, yoga shalas and souvenirs and pretty much all accom is guaranteed a sea view. I could've stayed here forever.
There are no cars or mopeds. You can hire a bike, hail a pony and trap, or simply walk. You could lap the whole island in half an hour. But the real draw of the Gilis, besides the porcelain sand, the turquoise water, and the cushion-stuffed beach cabanas, is the marine life. The Gili's boast numerous heritage dive sites between them, and even if you don’t have a PADI, the snorkelling is unbelievable!
We were having lunch at the first beach bar we saw after checking into the homestay. We hadn't asked anyone where to snorkel yet, all we wanted was a cold Sprite and a club sandwich. We hired snorkels and flippers ($5 for 24 hours) from the first guy we saw and just went out in front of where we ate. The water stays shallow for a hundred metres or so, so to save your feet from the coral, it's easier to float-waddle-swim, walrus style, on your hands until you can flipper along. Within 10m from shore we were swimming amongst 4 turtles!
Some of the turtles big and leathery, wrinkly and slow with eyes as old as the world, and some younger, smaller with shells like tie-dye paintings, gliding between patches of seagrass. They were mesmerizing. Completely unfazed by all the people around them, both their snorkelling audience and those tourists paddling in the shallows, unaware of what was metres from their feet. I followed a turtle for a while, until I came across another one, and then followed him, and on and on, happy to be lead by their unhurried search for food.
The next day, we found a current that will pull you, like a lazy river, for 400 metres or as long as you will let it, along the Drop Off, the edge of the reef where Finding Nemo literally comes to life as the coral shelf just drops away into the deep. It was unnerving to swim over that cliff, as if you too might fall. The turtles swam off here sporadically, flapping lazily until the blue swallows them up, as though they were swimming into heaven. But shoals of fish come alive here. They swarm around you, shifting and switching, changing their direction in a spontaneous flash as another shoal comes in from the other side, after the same microscopic krill, crackling in your ears like static electricity.
We saw a baby eel, parrotfish like an artists palate, a dangerous triggerfish and countless other fish I can only name by their Finding Nemo characters; Gill, Flo, Bubbles... All there, all plentiful and all completely uncaring of our presence.
Rob and I were in the sea for hours, we did the lazy river current loop countless times, seeing something different each time. Sleeping turtles, eating turtles, one, in slo-mo turtle speed chasing another off his patch of seaweed. I wont forget it in a hurry, bobbing along, holding Rob’s hand in the warm water, sun on our backs and buoyed up my little bump, our jetset baby doing awesome things before he’s even been born.
The boat back to Bali was abnormally smooth, but that oppressive, humid stillness was shattered that evening as the clouds rolled in overhead and cracks of lightening splintered the sky. A storm was brewing....