Travelers don’t come to Bali without some intention of getting in the water – it’s an island, after all. People come from across the world to surf the waves of the Indian Ocean and go snorkeling or scuba diving to see the incredible variety of marine life in the tropical waters.
Many of these aquatic activities, to me, have always seemed like stereotypical vacation events, and I’ve never been too interested in participating. But earlier this week, I went snorkeling at Padangbai, off the coast of Bali near Semarapura, on the east side of the island. I realized that I’ve been wrong the whole time.
We arrived early in the morning and took a boat to a site further up the coast. I was geared up with a snorkeling mask and long snorkeling fins. I jumped straight into the water, which was unexpectedly warm, and saw what I’ve been missing under the waves.
Coral reefs covered the seafloor. Many of the reefs were vibrant, colorful and full of fish. Others were dead and fragmented in a testament to harm from years and years of pollution. There were also relics of human life – an old and cracked stretch of sidewalk, a metal cage-like structure. I remember learning about tropical fish in elementary school in what seemed like a pointless exercise at the time. Here, my knowledge could finally be applied. Schools of colored fish swam through the reef – peacock grouper, powder blue surgeonfish and rainbow fish. They all darted away from my outstretched hand when I tried to touch them.
Midway through the session, it started to rain and the waves became choppy. We sailed back through the rough waters to the beach to enjoy a lunch of mie goreng, an Indonesian meal of noodles, vegetables and egg.
If the snorkeling’s good, the diving’s probably better. At Tulamben in Bali, you can explore the shipwreck of the USS Liberty, which sank there after being torpedoed by a Japanese submarine during World War II. The smaller islands near Bali offer additional diving experiences. Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan have many sites where divers can explore the underwater terrain.
At all of these sites, divers can see a range of marine life – sharks, manta rays, nudi branch, pygmy seahorses, sea turtles and bumphead parrotfish who might ram you as you try to swim past. Divers can observe “cleaning stations,” where sea creatures go to be cleaned by smaller fish or shrimp.
“It’s like going to refill gas in your car,” said Claudio, a guest at Bread & Jam. Claudio is originally from Santiago, Chile and learned to become a dive instructor while spending a month and a half on Gili Air , where the strong ocean currents bring a wide variety of marine life.
Claudio enjoys diving in the Bali area, where the water is significantly warmer than in his native country.
“It’s really nice here,” Claudio said. “The temperature of the water, the visibility and… a really beautiful variety of sea life.”