We're a little behind on the updates, but here goes:
The trip from Shenzhen to Bali, already a late night run as it was per our usual bad flight planning, took a couple of unexpected turns and we ended up arriving in Padang Bai a little after 4AM local time, 4 hours before the first morning dive...!
We stayed at OK Divers, a dive operator-cum-resort across the street from a sandy beach where these colorful "paradise boats" are moored:
Day 1. Checkout dive was at the aptly-named "Jetty." Knowing that we were coming to Bali, one of the divemasters from Wicked had waxed enthusiastic about the abundance of various nudibranches, sea slugs, pipe- and leaf-fishes – the "high end stuff" of macro diving – at this site. We were indeed not disappointed. As we descended along the pylons, we found ourselves schooling with a good sized bait ball and face-to-face with more porcupine and burrfishes than I could wrap my mind around. Under the shadow of the jetty a steady, cool current pushed us outwards into the bay, and for the first time on this trip I felt comfortable in my thick 7mm wetsuit.
We spent rest of the day "rubble walking" the calm shallows in search of rare, small critters and well-camouflaged bottom dwellers. Chewie and I were both new to this kind of muck diving, and every new scorpionfish and mantis shrimp elicited grunts of muffled excitement.
25 mega-pixels notwithstanding, it looked like our wide-angle lens had met its match!
The water was warm and the dives effortless. Still, by the end of the third dive we were crashing and quite ready to catch up on some sleep.
Day 2. A little late in the season, but it's a few days after full moon and our guides thought this was our best chance to see some pelagics. We were going on the big boat!
Just outside the embrace of the bay, three tiny prominences make up the Gili (islands) Mimpang and Tekepong. While we moored the boat and donned our gear, divemaster Chris briefed us on the capricious currents that can pull unwary divers into a terrifying downdraft. We were counseled to stay low and close together, and conserve our air for as long of a deep dive as possible.
We descended to about 90ft, and let a moderate current carry us along a vertical wall as enormous schools of trevallies, triggerfish, and fusiliers passed us overhead. As we drifted, we hit occasional pockets of warmth, mixing with the chilly current in infinite small, translucent swirls.
At one point I let my fixation on a fish carry me away (quite literally), and found myself pushing furiously against the current to catch up with the group. Making no visible progress I was growing a bit more anxious by the second, but thankfully Chris saw my hand signs for help and came to the rescue, and together with Chewie we found shelter behind some large corals. To be breathless underwater was to experience a peculiar kind of cognitive dissonance: I fought the illusion of no air and urge to hyperventilate, yet the enormous clouds of exhaled bubbles told me factually otherwise.
The struggle lasted about thirty seconds and in all likelihood was a minor one, but it made me appreciate how panic can escalate quickly. Back on the boat, Chris was calm as ever and simply exhorted me to stay down and work with the current.
Tepekong was much more benign. We swam through several granite crevices along the way, the last of which brought us to a large rock underneath which half a dozen young white-tip reef sharks swayed back and forth with the current. During our slow ascent, we had ample time to admire an enormous field of plate corals, known as the "cabbage patch." It was a lovely tour.
Just as we thought we were done, we heard a loud splash followed by indistinct yelling. A mola mola had breached the water just behind us, and the dive crew were wild with excitement at this rare sight. It turned out that as we were hanging by the shark cave, this same sunfish hovered by a cleaning station just around the corner, delighting another group of divers. Putting my mask and snorkel back on I hastened to find the mola underneath, but alas we only saw her barely visible shadow. The afternoon dive was back in the shallows, so we'd have to come back another time.
From the Padang Bai shallows:
To be followed by Bali Part II here...