e have a thing with planning ahead, we just don’t do it. We often just have a rough idea of where we will go to next, but we hardly ever plan something several days ahead. The coolest things happen when you even trow those “rough ideas” overboard and do something completely different at the very last moment. That way we ended up in Bali. We were in Thailand on our way to Japan. But after some research we found out that it was tourist high season (often 95+% booked) and we couldn’t really afford going there with all the inflated prices. Well… we just changed our rough idea to heading to Australia (not the cheapest place either, but at least we’d be there in low season). But before we headed down under, we wanted to learn to dive. This is really cheap in Thailand, so at first we decided on staying a bit longer on one of the islands.
However, after extensive research by Maarten we discovered something surprising. Heading to a dive site in Thailand with the train and boat, getting (low value for money) accommodation there and flying to Australia afterwards, was more expensive than flying to Bali, taking a dive course there, staying in wonderful accommodation (low season) and flying on to Australia. So in less than 12 hours, going to Japan turned into flying to luxury & diving in Bali and then onwards to Darwin, Australia (postponing Japan to some other time). Voilà, 36 hours later we were at the pool of our boutique resort in Bali, instead of on a thin tatami in a cupboard-like room in Japan. Life without planning can be really great, take it from us.
We didn’t go diving on the main island of Bali itself, but on the tiny Balinese island of Nusa Lembongan just a short boat trip to the south. We really recommend this beautiful little paradise. It is smaller, quieter, almost car-less, less touristy and often said to be more authentic than most of “mainland” Bali. There were very few tourists around (especially since it was low season), we could sleep in beautiful hotels in cool Mushroom Bay, have great diners for next to nothing and get to know the real local culture.
That last activity was already full on by the time of our arrival. It was the eve of Nyepi, or Balinese New Year. On Friday evening (New year’s eve) everybody gathered around the big tree in the main inland village, wrapped in colourful sarongs (or kamben). (Us as well, as our hotel staff insisted.) Women an extra scarf around the waist, men with a type of white turban around their heads. After which all sorts of colourful, expressive and excentric papier-maché monsters were hoisted on the men’s shoulders and were paraded half dancing through the village and around the big tree to be burned off at the end of the night to ward of evil. What not planning ahead can get you.
Admittedly, that no-planning-ahead attitude almost made us miss the last ferry to the island, as they apparently stop early on the eve of Nyepi and do not run again until 2 days later… mere details … And we also hadn’t counted on Nyepi (New Year’s day) being a day of rest, a day of silence and contemplation to think about your New Year’s resolutions. They take this very seriously in Bali, and everybody stays in their own home, without electricity, phones or internet. For us this means we cannot leave the hotel premises, but in some places they even confine you to your room. We had to spend a whole day chilling at the pool, without any noises around us, without being reachable. Aahhhhh how rough this travel lifestyle can be.
On that last ferry to Lembongan we unexpectedly got to know the only Belgian diving instructor on the island. Wendy from Schoten. Et voilà, we booked diving courses with Wendy at Bali Hai. As you see, even without a plan, things have a way of working out. Sunday was our first day of diving, after a day of complete rest and relaxation. And Kate has to be honest, she had prepared plenty of excuses why she couldn’t get into the scary deep blue.
Wendy turned out to be a great instructor and had loads of patience. After “testing the (under)water” in the pool, reading through the book, and the first frustrations with drifting off, high waves and strong currents, we felt like a fish in the water. It makes a world of difference if you are expertly guided through it. The first real open water dives with Wendy were great and it gave us lots of confidence that we suddenly can take on the underwater world as well. Kate was thinking of excuses again, but this time excuses to stay under the water longer and dive more.
Furthermore, the protected marine reserve around Nusa Lembongan, neighbouring Nusa Ceningan and Nusa Penida is a perfect spot to learn how to dive. It has such varied conditions, often high waves and strong currents which, strange but true, end up giving you more self confidence than if you would just have it easy. In the end we felt much better prepared for a wide range of circumstances and dive sites.
You often hear from divers that you can not imagine what learning how to dive does to you, as it is so crazy that this completely new world opens up to you. You suddenly know your way around what lies beneath those waves and vast blue expanses. And we completely agree, it really is an amazing feeling. Suddenly you can handle the whole world, well at least until 18 meters depth, and you have all these new spots you absolutely have to see in the sea. Super fun and totally worth conquering you fear for the deep and unknown for. Because all in all, it isn’t that scary down there.
We got to enjoy amazing corals, trigger fish, puffer fish, whole families of “nemo’s”, lion fish, unicorn fish, flute fish, etc… One of our favourites was the huge turtle that kept on lazily grazing while we floated above it, amazing! But Nusa Lembongan is famous because of its ever present gigantic manta rays, which were really incredible. You forget to move and start drifting off when one of those huge carpets fly past (beginner’s mistake, as long as you don’t hold your breath). In season you can also see huge moon fish here, locally known as Mola Mola, another reason to come back here and dive some more! Wooow!
As soon as we got to know the underwater world, we also had a look on dry land. Our tour with a scooter around Nusa Lembongan and the nearby island Nusa Ceningan was completely magical. These sure are some amazing tiny islands. The turquoise and white breaking waves, the volcanic cliffs, the bays with raging blue water, the sunsets, the little temples and their tingeling music, the small villages, the seaweed farms,… The power, the authenticitiy, those colours, the intensity, the roughness… Boy, if one cliché is true, it is that Bali is the perfect place for an awesome honeymoon. And if you want to find a quieter spot in Bali, do check out these little islands.
We rewarded ourselves for getting our PADI open water diver certificate by staying a few nights on Nusa Ceningan. Only reachable through a narrow suspension bridge or by boat. We picked an idyllic hotel on cliffs that are continuously pounded by beautiful surfeable waves. A great holiday from our holiday!!! Need I say more?
Bali, you haven’t seen the last of us…
Would you also like to see more, click here to have a look at our pictures.
We’ve always put off Bali because of the bombings a few years ago, and the fact that it is usually overrun with Australians. Now you have made it sound almost idyllic, we will make it the kick off point on our “dot I cross T” trip in 2017.