It was 8am, and I was paddling in the sea awaiting my lift. Today, I was going diving and I was excited. A flimsy looking boat whizzes in, I was thrown onboard and, within seconds, an aged Aussie hippie enthusiastically starts talking at me. He tells story after story – all horror stories related to diving, of course. First story involved seven Japanese women that dived off this very island when the current was too strong; five of them were found clinging to the rocks three days later and two of them were found dead (they also found another random eighth body who has still not been identified). Second story involved a massive triggerfish biting a chunk out of his side (with scar to prove it) and thrasher sharks surrounding him. Third story, well, more of a foreboding warning than a story, involved a description of one of the dive sites we were going to later that day… He leaned in and whispered in a hushed tone (please read in really strong Aussie accent): “this side is really dangerous, there is a strong down-current so just make sure you do exactly what the guide says and you’ll be OK.” Meanwhile, the boat crashed clumsily through towering choppy waves.
The experienced captain (some Indonesian kid in swimmers) then turned the boat’s engine off. It was rocking so much that I was sure I would fall overboard if I stood up. Everyone proceeded to rush to get their diving gear on while I watched the waves turn from blue to white as they crashed against the nearby rocks. Somehow, I ended up sitting on the edge of this boat in all my diving gear listening to someone say “OK roll backwards”. Roll backwards, I repeated in my head, as I shook with fear throughout my whole body, what, into this perilous ocean, weighting about 100kgs with all my dive gear on?!? I looked around somewhat wildly to see if anyone else was freaking out. No one else was freaking out. They were already in the ocean floating around competently and gleefully. I rolled off backwards and as I popped back up to the surface in a crazed fluster, my friend said with a wry smile: “if it’s any consolation, you look like a bond girl”. I would have shown him my middle finger if I could have figured out how to lift my arm in amongst swallowing salt water and getting jumbled up in all the dials, tanks, tubes and other random life-saving equipment that was attached to my octopus-shaped body.
The guide made the pointing-down sign so we let the air out of our BCD (inflatable-life-jacket-type-thing) to allow ourselves to sink – as counterintuitive as the whole exercise might be. I was hyperventilating at this point. As we sank, I noticed the mushroom shaped air bubbles rising from my body; they were relentless. We sank about 20 metres, just above the coral, and I looked around. There are no words to describe the underwater world, as I am sure those of you that have seen it know well, but it suffices to say that it is profoundly moving. A giant manta ray swam over my head with its mouth wide open. It was two metres wide and it moved like an elegant (squashed) dancer. I was so utterly transfixed that I actually forgot how to breath. Suddenly, I felt a deep sense of peacefulness; I started to breath long deep yogic breaths. As soon as my mind was calm, my body adapted to its environment and began to move a little like a fish. We were under the water for a whole hour (although it felt like five minutes) and meandered around the ocean bed secretly peering into this private alien world.
Back on the boat and off to the next dive site – apparently we were doing a “drift dive”. Now I am thinking that the word “drift” means moving gently with the current, you know, how one might drift from one person to another at a party, but I thought wrong. We dropped down to the coral wall and became subject to the whim of the ocean. We moved about 3kms over the course of about 45 minutes and the only “swimming” we did was full strength into the current in an attempt to slow down.
At first, I was bewildered as I couldn’t understand the concept of being completely unable to control the shape, direction or location of my body, so I resisted by trying really really hard to gain control against the powerful ocean’s current. Then, the same as before, I just decided to surrender and it was the most extraordinary sensation to just go with the flow (excuse the pun). There were thousands of multi-coloured fish surrounding us, including puffer fish, rainbow fish, trigger fish, angel fish, finding-nemo fish, unicorn fish and barracudas (one that was about the same size as me), all just whizzing past us, like some David Attenborough show in fast-forward. It was like being in space (but florescent coloured space) where there is no gravity. When we came up to the surface, our boat was miraculously there waiting for us. Best. Dive. Ever.
Off we went on our motorbike to discover more of this tiny paradise island. We stumbled across “Dream Beach” (written in chalk on a piece of wood) and my goodness was it dreamy. A beautiful cove of perfect white sand, huge crashing turquoise waves and a beautiful little boutique hotel and restaurant. We played on the beach, which was (obviously) deserted, and ate an outrageously delicious curry and plate of fresh pineapple and watermelon.
Next we stumbled across Devil’s Tear. A jagged peninsula of rock with the biggest waves I had ever seen. You could hear the roar of the crashing waves from so far away. We sat and watched the water dance in the sky and whip itself aggressively around the rocks.
Back on the motorbike, wind through (disgustingly matted) hair, and sand on salty skin, we set off to explore the connecting island. We rode over a rickety old bridge, just wide enough for one motorbike, and through lots of beautiful fishing villages where the locals smiled and waved at us. We watched the sun majestically set over another infinitely pool looking out to the sea. I had to pinch myself to just check that I was not dreaming…