September in Bali: The Main Attraction

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One of the main reasons I was in Bali was to see the mola mola, an odd-shaped fish also known as the Ocean Sunfish. Quite a few times we went out into the blue in hopes that this elusive fish would turn up, but ended up seeing only blue and bubbles.

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It was quite frustrating at times because we’d spend plenty of dives off the reef, meaning that we saw neither the small stuff on the reef nor spotted anything big out in the blue.

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We’d get our hopes up whenever we saw bannerfish. Mola molas generally come near to the reef when they want to be cleaned and it’s these funny-looking fish that clean the even odder-looking ones. Still, after my scheduled 12 dives I had no luck.

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The morning I was going to leave, I thought I’d put in one last dive, this time to a site called Blue Corner. Blue Corner is infamous for having treacherous currents and basically being a pain to dive, but somehow I was 13th time lucky. Perhaps it was the little flower talisman my guide Wayan floated on the water before the dive, perhaps it was just plain luck: the currents were mild and most importantly, a mola mola appeared out of nowhere.

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It looked more like a rough stone age tool than a fish. We saw it circle round a few times, shoot up to close to the surface and then disappear into the depths.

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No doubt it was a very short experience and I’d definitely wanted to see more. But such is nature and that’s what makes these encounters special. Even my guide, Wayan, was so happy and kept signalling his glee – all the way till he had to let out his surface marker buoy for our ascent!

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It was a great way to end my diving at Nusa Lembongan. One thing I know is that I’m definitely going back!

September in Bali: The Cephalopod Experience

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One dive at Nusa Lembongan we thought we were having a rather quiet and peaceful hour underwater. The water was blue and fairly clear and there wasn’t a lot of action. We were a little disappointed because of a false alarm that mola molas were sighted.

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After the advance party came back reporting nothing to see, we morosely headed on and came face to face with a large cuttlefish instead. Now cuttlefish aren’t particularly rare, but this one was large and quite friendly.

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In fact, it was so friendly that it let me get right under and take a cheeky shot of it propelling itself backward.

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As we proceeded further, we met more of these placid characters milling about on the reef.

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I started to click away quite happily…

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… and to my delight, I realised that the main reason why they were so placid was that they were laying eggs! Here I caught a female using her tentacles to push the egg sacs deep into the coral away from reach of predator fish.

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As I looked up, there were quite a few others in the area, some rather large like this handsome specimen here that my dive guide Nyoman is pretending to catch.

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I’m not sure whether they were other females searching for a good spot for their own eggs or males keeping watch.

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It was a wonderful privilege to watch a new generation of cuttlefish being laid.

September in Bali: Underwater

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The diving at Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida was nothing short of beautiful.

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There was plenty of very healthy coral and every single dive was full of beautiful coral scapes, quite different from the black volcanic sands of Tulamben.

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I loved how blue the water was and how colourful the fish were. They were everywhere the eye could see, with the tiny brightly-hued anemonefish hovering on the roof, the slightly bigger ones like the butterflyfish close to the reef and the large ones like the trevally hunting a few metres from the reef.

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It wasn’t all blue underwater. Featherstars like these gave bursts of colour along the way. These creatures are relatives of the starfish and can walk themselves to convenient places to feed. I like how they congregated on this coral to pose for a picture.

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The fish closest to the reef are generally the smallest and naturally the most skittish because they are food for most other bigger fish. I had a hard time getting a picture of these two-tone dartfish that always come in pairs. I love how they look like they’re wearing frilly dark clown pants!

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Another skittish fish was this adorable juvenile yellow boxfish that was almost impossible to catch on camera without being a spotted yellow blur.

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Bigger and less shy, yet still hard to capture was the emperor angelfish. It had this knack of sailing off in a huffy imperial manner away from the camera.

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Also adopting a regal manner was the spotted soapfish. Again, I kept capturing the tails of these fellas till this one though no doubt it’s angled away in retreat.

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Less skittish fish are those that laze along the bottom of the reef, like this hexagon grouper. It perched itself on the coral and anemones, keeping a careful eye on nearby divers and moving away on if they got too close for comfort.

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Others didn’t bat an eyelid even when we got close for a shot, like this giant frogfish. All it did was occasionally shift its foot-like ventral fins to get to a more comfortable position.

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One fish that we daren’t get too close too was the scorpionfish. This specimen is probably either a tasseled or Poss’s scorpionfish, with its well developed skin tassels along its chin and jaw.

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Other things hardly moved at all, like this egg cowrie. Its black mantle covered most its smooth white shell whilst it fed on soft coral.

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Some creatures were actively out hunting, like this very cute snowflake moray eel. It had a most sheepish expression on its face that amused me to no end.

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There was also the banded sea snake, a highly venomous reptile that we steered clear off. From a distance, I admired its pretty bands of alternating black and pale blue, its smooth rounded head and its rudder-like tail that was well adapted to propelling itself in search of prey.

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Last of all was this pretty pink  nudibranch with an orange flower on its back. It’s actually a pink dorid and the flower is its branchial plume through which it breathes. I wonder why it was doubled over though.

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Even without the fish I was after, seeing the variety of life here was rewarding in its own right. More to come in my next post!

September in Bali: A Quiet Little Island

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One of the reasons why we did so few dives a day was because the waters here was less sheltered. The other reason was that the locals were very religious and often had to go for evening prayers. This gave me plenty of time to wander around the village, checking out the sights and sounds of the place. One  of the first things I noticed about this island was their fanaticism for fighting cocks. I didn’t get a chance to witness a fight myself but almost every house kept prized roosters and men would fuss over them in the evenings, getting them ready for the big fight by attaching spurs to their talons. The cocks were then placed under small baskets and left in formation till the fight began.

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The locals were far less concerned about their motorbikes. It wasn’t a big deal at all if a bike didn’t have a proper seat.

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The most spectacular thing in the evening was to witness the locals at their evening festivals as the sun starting setting over the village, causing the temple towers to glow orange.

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We entered the temple grounds through imposing stone gates…

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… and watch discreetly from outside the temple wall.

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All the worshippers were decked out in their finery, the equivalent of their Sunday best. They sat on mats on the ground while waiting for the priests to  spoon out their share of the holy water (or was it holy milk?)

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All waited quietly in the ceremony, including the young children. I was surprised at how quiet the children were as I got bored with the ceremony where there only seemed to be chanting and holy water distribution.

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I soon wandered back to the beach to enjoy the sunset.

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September in Bali: Nusa Lembongan

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Just off the southeast of Bali is a little island called Nusa Penida and off Nusa Penida is the even littler island of Nusa Lembongan. This littler island was my next stop. It was an idyllic little place blessed with lots of sunshine and blue, blue sea while I was there.

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Every morning we’d go out diving and the water was always clear and blue, as was invariably the sky.

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We dived mainly along the sheltered west-facing side of Nusa Penida, which meant that most times upon surfacing, the majestic Gunung Agung rose from the horizon. It was lovely to see this familiar site accompany me on my Bali sojourn.

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Sometimes on coming back from diving, we passed surfers catching the waves. I made friends with an Australian couple there. The wife dived most days while the husband surfed.

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It was very relaxed diving compared to Tulamben. We did two dives a day compared to the hectic four previously. It gave me time to chill out on the beach, watching the occasional parasurfer go by.

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There were lots of pretty villas along the main stretch, hugging the hill round its curves.

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I stayed at Pondok Baruna, almost at the far end. It set in a beautiful traditional Balinese garden, a perfect place to unwind after a hard day’s dive.

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From here I could observe the goings on at sundown, the locals taking in their boats…

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… and the sun starting to send streaks of orange-pink across the sky.

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Every evening there was a spectacular sunset…

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… where the flaming ball of fire reflected itself on the calm sea…

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… and finally extinguished itself in the water.

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