Vince and I liked Nusa Penida so much that we decided to take the latest possible ferry back to Bali on the day we had to leave the island. This gave us ample time to fit in a snorkeling tour, the last remaining Nusa Penida item on my uncharacteristically lenient itinerary.
There was a hiccup with our guide’s boat not working, but the tour operators were able to procure a backup boat. This ended up being a narrow jukung that was missing both of it’s outriggers. It seemed dubiously seaworthy, but we went with the flow and joined a Brazilian family and a pair of Dutch college students on a tour that would end up being fun, yet somewhat reckless as far as snorkeling tours go.
The weather looked threatening as our jukung travailed through rolling waves. The morning breeze raised goosebumps all over my arms and I shivered at the prospect of jumping into the water. We stopped a couple of times to look for manta rays before finding a spot where a handful of other boats had already gathered. There were rays here so we started collecting our snorkeling gear and getting ready to jump in. I took stock of our surroundings, and again had to make the decision to go with the flow. The snorkeling area was close to a cliff, and although the waves weren’t monstrous, I had heard enough stories of tourists on Penida being blindsided by rogue waves and dashed into cliff faces that I had a healthy degree of skepticism at swimming so close to one.
Nevertheless, I jumped into the water along with the others and it wasn’t long before we saw a manta ray gliding below us. The other thing we saw was a hoard of other tourists, chasing the ray and trying to get as close to it as they possibly could. I had envisioned being able to casually observe as these magnificent creatures swam around, ambivalent to our presence. What I actually got was the opportunity to see beautiful animals being borderline harassed by a throng of people splashing around while waving Gopros. Don’t get me wrong, I love snorkeling. I also love having close encounters with the strange and beautiful creatures that call the ocean home, and getting the opportunity to photograph them. That being said, I am a strong believer in the idea that any interaction other than casual observation should be initiated by the animal, not the human (see my write up about snorkeling with seals in Cape Town for an example of what I think these encounters should be like). I don’t chase animals around with my camera, and I often miss photo opportunities because of this.
I took a few videos of the mantas, and one even swam directly underneath me (it was being chased by a few people) as I floated near the surface, but I was quickly growing tired of watching manta rays fleeing from humans so I turned around and swam back to the boat.
Everyone else from our boat seemed to come to the same conclusion at about the same time, and we all remarked on it as we motored toward our next stop, Crystal Bay. This was a more traditional snorkeling spot in shallow water near a beach. It had a lot of large, beautiful corals and fish. The snorkelers here were also more spread out and much more low-key since there were no mantas in this area.
This suited me fine because I get excited about basically anything that lives in the ocean. It doesn’t really matter if the creature is big, small, beautiful, hideous, strange, or all of the above. If it lives in the ocean, and I am encountering it, I will be happy. In this case I was excited about all of the big, healthy corals.
We didn’t stay in this spot very long however, because the day still hadn’t gotten warm enough to comfortably spend a lot of time in the cool water. I took refuge under my towel as we approached our final stop, The Wall. This is a shallow, sloping reef along the edge of the island. There is a medium current here, so the boat dropped us off at one point, and met us downstream after we drifted along the reef. This was an unexpected and somewhat quirky snorkel that I really enjoyed. The corals were small and coated the entire floor, and tiny fish schooled around us, glittering as they moved with the current. We didn’t have to put much effort into swimming, and instead were able to just enjoy the ride as we drifted along the reef.
By the time the tour was over, it was lunch time and the sun had made an appearance, quickly heating the air. Vince and I grabbed our last lunch on Nusa Penida, and then sat in a shaded area with a view of the beach and an intricate shrine as we waited for the fast boat that would return us to Bali. There, we would board a flight to Lombok, which was sort of a question mark on our itinerary because of recent earthquakes. We didn’t know what we would do when we got there, so we planned to be spontaneous and hope for the best.