Tourists come to Pemuteran, Bali for one main attraction: to snorkel or scuba dive in and among the many beaches and islands dotting the horizon. It was for this same reason that Ruben and I had made the 4.5 hour journey by car from Seminyak to this small tourist town in the far north-west of Bali.
It was not my idea to go scuba diving. I’d never done it before and while it was one of those things I’d hope to eventually do one day, personally, I also find it a bit frightening. Despite my misgivings, Ruben insisted we go (he’d gone diving in Malaysia and the Great Barrier Reef several times and loved it) and signed us up for two dives each, both one hour sessions, with a local diving operator, Global Dive Centre.
That morning, the weather was hot and sunny, perfect for diving. As we drove to the wharf where a boat would later take us to Menjangan Island, I was all nervousness and thought so many times of giving up. But I wanted to try and so, along with the encouragements and tips I got, I donned my scuba outfit, tank and mask and sat at the side of the boat, ready to be pushed into the water.
There is nothing to fear except fear itself.
The moment I flipped over the side of the boat, oxygen-tank first, and dipped into the water I felt a mixture of both fear and excitement. But as I turned over and saw small fish playing around the corals in the shallow water, my fear drifted away to be replaced by a sense of amazement at this new world that greeted me. It was unfamiliar but not alien- something I had seen in pictures but never thought I’d experience for myself.
As I dove up to the surface again, I felt the warmth of the ocean and the sun shining on us; and as I looked over onto the horizon at the dazzling azure water, I realised my fears had been unnecessary. I had already taken my first baby steps- all I had to do was continue.
My first hour was not without its difficulties, and most of the time I was preoccupied with surviving more than observing my new marine environment. I was solely focused on breathing correctly through my mouthpiece, not getting water into my eye mask, and most importantly, equalising the air pressure in my ears. In fact, the best advice I received all day was from an American guy with his wife who had been scuba diving for 45 years- he said that I should equalise at every opportunity I got, and that’s exactly what I did. I was perpetually squeezing my nose and breathing out, and that’s why in most of the photos that’s the pose you’ll find me in. Attractive.
Though we didn’t go deeper than maybe 10m (as a beginner I couldn’t go more than 12m deep) I did manage to catch glimpses of the fish around me, and caught sight of a few clownfish, starfish, angelfish, and many others I unfortunately cannot identify (the American couple said that it’s only after many times of diving that you’ll be able to look for or even identify a specific specie of fish). Still, everything was alive and colourful, and a school of grey fish spiralled up in front of us too, as if to give a proud show to us visitors.
After about 45 minutes into our first dive, I started running out of air so we started our ascent back to the surface. First off was the weights, then the vest with our oxygen tanks, and finally our flippers before we climbed back onto the boat for lunch. By this time, though, I was busting to pee and Ruben told me I’d have to pee on the ocean. I was a little more than shocked since I have this thing about doing any kind of business in front of people. But I was desperate so I did it ==’ Furtively of course, but I told myself that it was all a part of the experience, especially when there aren’t any toilet facilities around.
After an hour of lunch, we began to prepare for our second dive, this time at a different spot on the island where the water is deeper (60m) and the reefs cascade like steep cliffs into darkness. My instructor had to hold onto me, and warned us not to swim vertically but horizontally, or else we’d pivot down into its depths. This scared me enough to acquiesce.
As we dove to around 12m deep, the water grew colder, the fish bigger, the coral reefs larger and less colourful, yet the amount of different fish species was incredible. They came in all sorts of colours and swam in all directions in different ways- some how you would normally expect a fish to swim, and some on their sides, drifting up and down like half-dead fish. But the thing that amazed me the most was how they all knew their place and where they were going and how this created an atmosphere of serenity and calm.
I’m so thankful to have had my first dive in Menjangan Island. It has such a diverse marine environment which has been preserved wonderfully by the locals. Definitely a go-to spot for holiday-makers in Bali looking for beaches and resorts (the one we stayed at, Amertha Villas was amazing!).