Snorkeling in Bali: Don’t Fear the Fish

We woke up early one morning for a dolphin watching expedition. Our guide had professed that he saw upwards of 70 dolphins the day before. Dreams of dolphins danced in my head. I imagined myself sipping my morning coffee in a little boat surrounded by dolphins as the sun rose. That’s not quite how it went.

Instead my butt vibrated as we motored around so fiercely I thought it would go numb or maybe vibrate forever. There were maybe 15 other boats out there, and every time we saw dolphins everyone would give chase and motor towards them for a closer look. Inevitably someone would get too close and the dolphins would disappear below the surface. We’d all float there like fools, waiting for them to surface again.

I went back and forth between feeling like the dolphins were yanking all of our chains and being thrilled by their majestic leaps, like dancers momentarily poised out of water. I wondered if it was worthwhile to be motoring around out there in hot pursuit the majority of the time. It definitely took some of the magic out of it. All the tourists out there, cameras around their necks, waiting for a dolphin to nose out of the water. Hoping to capture it on their digital screen. After two hours we’d seen a fair amount and our guide claimed that with fewer people out there, more dolphins appear and it’s not so chaotic. You can even swim with them. Or so he said.

After, he took us snorkeling right off the coast of Lovina (which, for a brief geography lesson, is in northern Bali). The water was murky and deep. There were little, mini jellyfish swimming around that our boatman informed us were, “no problem,” simply because they wouldn’t kill or maim us. Easy for him, the Balinese don’t swim in the ocean unless their boat’s broken (this happened to us in the morning. He jumped out and fixed the motor as we drifted along). Swimming with little jellyfish stinging you every other stoke isn’t exactly ideal. Then Louie surfaced and claimed he’d been stung in the lip. When I ventured in I was glad I did, some interested fish to be seen and okay coral, but nothing spectacular.

***Elsa’s Bungalows were a great deal, clean and big, with hot water showers, for 100,000 RP a night, the equivalent of $10. You have to bargain, though, and so far these peeps have stuck to their guns about pricing. So be firm.

Amed was were the real magic happened. We stayed at Good Karma Bungalows in Salang, a small “town” that’s a part of Amed. Just 1 Km south of us was the snorkeling site and we walked over there and rented equipment. The wreck was pretty much directly offshore. There wasn’t much left of the boat, and unless someone had pointed it out you might have just taken it for coral. It was covered in sea life, brimming with little fishes, and sitting on the edge of deep blue water, dropping off into the ocean’s abyss.

There were some big fish out there, beautiful green, purple, pink, and yellow coral. I fought between fascination with the wondrous creatures and the desire to swim away where fish couldn’t sneak up behind me or nibble my fingertips. I also fight this panicky feeling, when adventuring out deeper, that a big fish will apparate in front of me and then what? That point where the water changes from languid blue-green to deep, rich, wonderous blue scares me. Something could appear out of the real big ocean out there, the spreading vastness, and into my private snorkeling fish tank.

I did my best to cast these fears aside and snorkeling for hours. We broke for spring rolls and peanut sauce and then snorkeled again. Amed was some of the best snorkeling I’ve experienced in southeast Asia.

We really loved Good Karma, the food was great – particularly the fresh, lightly seared tuna with ginger, onion and lime, perhaps one of the best meals I’ve had in all my travels. Though the Lonely Planet and Rough Guides recommend you to bargain in low season, we’ve had to drive hard for our discounts, sometimes making scant progress. It seems that prices are swiftly rising here.

Now that we’re at the Gilis (negotiated to 300,ooo RP for the “fast boat) the challenge has been getting off the beach and into the water with mask and flippers on. Relaxing in the sunshine with a book in hand is wonderful. Gili Air has a relaxed vibe, plenty of good food and tasty fresh fish places. So you can spend your day looking at them and your evening eating them…Last night we ate some splendid grilled parrot fish and the largest prawns I’ve ever seen. We drank Bintangs on the beach and let the cool breeze rustle our candlelight. The “Chill Out” bar seems to be the place to go, and our Balinese lumbung at the Sunrise bungalows is quaint and quiet.

Now if all the hawkers would just up and disappear. Oh, and that lady with the leather tan, fake boobs, and thong bikini that parked herself in the sand, butt facing all of us lunch-eaters.


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