Alexander Howard, Destination Editor at Lonely Planet, recently returned from a scuba diving trip in Bali, Indonesia.
Tell us more… My wife and I recently became certified scuba divers, so now every potential trip is accompanied by the query, ‘can we dive there?’ Bali was a easy choice: coral-rich, warm waters; great underwater sights; and lots of things to do between dives.
In a nutshell… Bali is a great blend of tropical and Southeast Asian personalities: most of the visions of paradise usually associated with the island are true (crescent beaches, hidden waterfalls and emerald hills), but with the added features of a rich culture and plenty of activities to satisfy all types of travelers.
Fav activity? On our second day of diving, we took a boat out to the waters around Nusa Penida, a tiny landmass east of the peninsula that gives Bali its inverted-teardrop shape. The area is known for its abundant reefs, manta rays and clear waters. Here we conducted a ‘drift dive’ in which the boat deposits us at one end of the reef, we let the current carry us until we finish the dive, ascend and the boat picks us up downcurrent. It’s an incredibly relaxing way to dive.
Defining moment? Watching the sun set over Pura Tanah Lot, an iconic sea temple perched atop a rock formation. Yes, it was crowded and commercialized. No, I wasn’t the first person (nor the last) to take a photo of the sun just barely over the sea’s horizon next to the famous temple. But after a long day of exploring the island with my wife, I couldn’t have imagined a better way to end the day.
Good grub? Fusing the cuisines and cultures that populated the islands across Southeast Asia and beyond, Indonesia serves up food loaded with a variety of flavors and ingredients. My favorite was the Indonesian staple nasi goreng, which literally translates to ‘fried rice’, which sounds lame, I know. But this isn’t the kind of fried rice that comes in a cardboard takeout box. Cooked with shallots, garlic and sweet soy sauce, it’s often served with shrimp, egg or chicken. Add a little sambal (chili sauce) on the side for an extra kick, and I’m in heaven.
Bizarre encounter? On one of our dives, a colorful fish popped out from behind a bank of rocks. Silas, our dive guide, pointed at the fish, using his thumb like the hammer of a gun – reef triggerfish. It was the size of a skateboard, so not alarmingly large, but big enough to attract our attention. At first, the fish maintained a safe distance, and I guessed he was as interested in watching us as we were him. Then, with a few flicks of his blue tail, he was darting right for us. Luckily Silas was there, waving a metal rod he used to point out things on the reef. The fish, uncertain about Silas’ frantic waving, paused its torpedo-like course through the water. There followed a strange, underwater dance: Silas waving his pointer-stick like a lion tamer; the fish flashing left and right. Eventually, the triggerfish gave up and disappeared behind a garden of fan coral.
Topside, Silas explained it was a titan triggerfish, one of the more aggressive reef fish, especially when guarding their eggs. We probably happened upon a female who picked us as a group of egg-eating intruders.
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Want more behind-the-scenes adventures? Check out where Deputy Editor, Emma Sparks, has just got back from.