Swimming with Sharks in Padang Bai, Bali
This will be remembered as one of the best dives we have had so far
and one of those special, easy-going days that make Bali what it is. We are up again at the crack of dawn to be picked up at 7:00 am by the dive bus. It is a smaller van this morning – the one we took yesterday was swamped out in the deluge after dropping us off last evening. In for repairs. Our trek this morning takes us again to the eastern ends of Bali. It is a familiar drive for us. We have already covered the same roads four times in the last 48 hours. This morning it is only the two of us, our driver and Sophie Lejeune, the owner of SkubaSkool, who is also our dive master. We speak of family and books and travel and trans-fatty cookies over our two hour drive to our dive destination.
9 am and Already Hot
We arrive at the very peaceful bay village of Padang Bai for our boat and dive. It is 9 o’clock and already hot. The locals are taking the shade as much as possible. Our gear is unloaded, we pick up our simple lunch of Nasi Goreng and fruit and board our outrigger for the 25 minute trip out to our dive sites at Biaha and Mimpang Islands. We will also be diving with dive master Jurgen and his German diver Wolfgang. We find it intriguing that even the local fishing boats sport political banners for next Monday’s election.
I am trying to figure out how we are going to enter the water with our equipment from the outrigger when Sophie announces that we will be entering via a backward roll. We have never done this before but are up for the challenge. John and I don’t talk about the potential of hitting our heads on the bamboo outrigger or not being able to see where you are going. All accomplished with no damage done. Our first dive is a beautiful and peaceful dive down a “wall” covered with so much life that you can’t decide where to look next. More live coral and fish than what was evident on the Great Barrier Reef. Sorry Barrier Reef fans but this caps your reef by miles. So colourful and alive with so many creatures and marine life we have never seen before. Spectacular and beautiful. Not only is the underwater scenery beautiful but up top there is some pretty gorgeous stuff too. Even here, on the steep green slopes above the cliffs, the land is terraced for rice paddies. This is what I had envisioned Bali to look like.
Swimming with Sharks
Sophie had told us that we will be going into a cave this dive and it looms around the corner. We head in and meet Jurgen and Wolfgang heading out. Sophie had also mentioned that we would probably see some white-tipped reef sharks in the cave. She promised that these sharks are totally uninterested in us, and that, growing to a maximum length of 1.5 metres, we are bigger than they are, so they are as afraid of us as we are of them. As we enter, there they are, about six or seven of them, swimming and prowling just as sharks do. I’m not sure what John is thinking but I just freeze and stop breathing for a second. Sophie is far ahead of me now and I am second in tow with John following up the rear and I don’t want to be left to the sharks so I continue into the cave. I look back and see John doing the same thing I have just done. It is times like this where I wonder what John is thinking and it is tough not being able to verbalize how we are feeling or if we are scared shit-less. You feel helpless as you sometimes watch your partner quickly move into panic mode.
The cave is, well, a cave with many fish and lobster inhabitants. I look back and see the eerie blue/green opening in the cave with John and a school of trigger fish silhouetted in the opening. Sophie has, at this time, her flashlight beamed on what looks like transparent sea weed, moving the light behind and through it showing us what’s inside. We learn after the dive that this is a shark egg sack, and these are minuscule shark eggs. Shining the light through the sack, we can see that the eggs are at a development stage where they clearly look like tiny sharks – but are the size of minnows. Our tanks are at 50 bar and it is time to head back up to the surface. On our way out of the cave one of the sharks swims right towards me. This time I calmly slow down and breeze by him like he is any other fish in the sea.
New Location, New Dive
Lunch over and our out-of-water surface interval achieved, we head to a new location for our second dive. Sophie promises a dive that will be just like swimming in an aquarium and she makes good on her promise. We are overwhelmed at the amount of fish that are surrounding and swimming with us. John and I are still trying to achieve complete neutral buoyancy during our dives – this makes the dive much more pleasurable as you are not fighting to keep level during your dive, and thus you use less air, which means you can stay down longer. We achieve some success during this, our 10th dive. We drift lazily along with the current, simply hovering beside and over the coral, watching the incredible neon colours of the fish and corals go by. We wish we could photograph this entire landscape but that would mean more equipment for us to carry around the world with us. I think to myself how easy it would be to do this all day.
Paying Some Indonesian Graff
On the way out of Padang Bai, our car is chosen at random by the police at a checkpoint to pull over. We ask Sophie what is going on and she tells us that it is the “end of the month pay raise”. We ask what she means, and immediately the door opens and our driver tells us that he needs 20,000 rupiah, not a lot of money (just over Cdn $3), but on an island where the average income is about 300,000/month, it is a lot. Sophie says that if you are willing to invest the time, you can get away without paying, but for $3, why spend 1 hour arguing about what you did or did not do wrong.
We are home by about 3:30 and buy our SkubaSkool t-shirts as mementos, and head to the hotel for naps. We are both exhausted after two days of driving n’ diving. We have plans to meet Errol and Joan, two ex-pat Australians who we met through Bev and Janet from our hotel, at “The Bush”, a local Aussie watering hole for some beers and dinner. Our heads are nodding at around 9 and we say goodbye to these guys and head home to the usual chorus of “Yes, Boss, Taxi?” and “Transport?” and are asleep by 11.