Bali, Nusa Penida, swimming with manta rays

Bali: swimming with manta rays

What’s marvellous in life is the unexpected, the unplanned that lies behind that magical number 24, the hours defining every day. It can bring the most unbelievable situations and you never know in the morning that by noon it might be the happiest day, or the saddest. I once read this: “Don’t judge a day by a few minutes”. But it’s exactly what we’re doing. And a day to remember can start as crazy as this:

Nusa Penida 

I didn’t wanna look down! Simply the idea made me dizzy. Every muscle was tensed as I was struggling to somehow move forward on that narrow path, a damn combination of steep and sandy, full of roots and stones meant to make it even harder to track. Sharp rocks on the left served as the only support for an endless row of people coming up. On the other side, the ones going down, including myself, had nothing to grab but a very bad line of fence made of thin brunches and separating us from a 200m deep void. This hell’s path destination was… a beach. Not just any beach, Kelingking Beach, one of the most spectacular, instagramable and praised around Bali. Getting there was not a joke and in flip-flops this seemed even more hard core. I was trying to grab anything that looked secure while also staying away of the nasty monkeys. One of them was pulling a woman’s t-shirt and yelling. Sure I like monkeys but I had to much to deal with already. I looked ahead, among the crowd, to search for any hope that the path will eventually get smoother, at one point. Someone coming up dropped the answer to all of us heading down: “You didn’t even started, it gets worse after this part…” Before I even got to process this, I felt my right foot was sliding down, reaching under the fence, the second one followed half way. The sand was moving beneath me and I felt my entire body pulled under the fence, to the edge, with my feet hanging in the air and a sense of terror grabbing my heart like sharp claws…

I instinctively grabbed the fence which was now almost above me and in a fraction I pulled myself out, back on the track. My heart was bumping and my head was starting to process the danger I was in just seconds before. The people around were too busy to observe my ordeal. For me that was more than enough to decide I didn’t care at all about that beach beneath. So adios, Kelinking Beach! Anyway I never understood how some people see Kelingking Beach in a T-Rex shape…

Kelingking Beach, Nusa Penida, Bali

Back on the top, I had to admit the view was truly breathtaking: white waves drawing moving lines, separating the crystal blue of the sea from the sparkling ivory shade of the sand line. A few steps on the left, down there, in one unreachable part, where the waves were violently heating the cliffs, there they were! Black spots swimming around like some ghosts of the seas – the manta rays. 5 or 6 of them, and only a void between us. I was then the kid in front of the closed candy shop. 

Kuta, 7am

After the previous day in Nusa Penida and the 1st unsuccessful attempt to get to Manta Point, I decided to skip Seminyak and sipping cocktails on the beach bars all day long for a second try to see the manta rays. Was the last chance before I headed to Ubud and further inland in Bali.

That early morning no taxi was waiting for me in front, to drive me to the jetty. I had to find one. In a place famous for partying all night long, like Kuta is, 7am is rather a time to turn on the other side and continue sleeping. Still, I saw one guy with a scooter close to the entrance gates of the beach and I ran to him. He looked as if he had just fell out of bed that second. It was about time I try the scooter taxi in Bali. The next second we were running on the large street in Denpasar, among cars and tens of other scooters. It was fun and wild as long as I ignored all the thoughts about falling over with that taxi. He was very talkative and nice and this helped a lot. He was very interested in one specific subject: if in my country sex before marriage was allowed.

In 15 minutes he dropped me to Sanur and promised to wait for me there at 5 o’clock, and go to Uluwatu where I was hoping to see the fire dance, a traditional Balinese show.

Nusa Penida again

Since this was not my 1st day here and I already started to know the prices in Bali, this time I negotiated hard. I was still new into this skill but the more I did it, the more I liked it. It took a while until I finally got a scooter taxi, one of the few left in front of the jetty after everybody have left. He was a bit older then the majority of the other guys and less pushy. He finally accepted my price as a compromise.

I had a pleasant deja-vu while running again, in the back of the scooter, on the narrow dusty streets of Nusa Penida, among villages, Balinese temples, small warung, (local places serving food). The first stop was Kelinking Beach, which I have missed the day before and in spite my fear of height at that moment, it was unbelievable. There is so much more about Nusa Penida and are so many places to see there which I found out about only after I left. All those, including the Kelinking Beach down there, are my so many reasons to go back to Bali.

But the reason I was there again were the manta rays. It was high season for that, so perfect timing. My guy drove me after again to Chrystal Bay, like the day before. I tried again to find a boat and again the only price I got was too high. No groups at that hour. I was disappointed, angry, hungry (I had nothing to eat yet that day) and above all the weather was bad, it was cloudy, looking as if was going to start raining any second. But what was the most annoying was my scooter driver. It seemed to me as if he didn’t give a damn, though he saw how much I was struggling to find a solution and how much I was trying. I presumed his attitude was because of the price I offered him, which was not cheap at all but rather more fair and not one for silly tourists. We finally left Chrystal Bay and on the way back to the jetty, I presumed, I was thinking only about how I missed this opportunity by not even trying. None of us was saying anything. I saw the shore in the front and the boats and my guess was confirmed: he was actually taking me back to the jetty, more then 2h before the scheduled boat back to Bali. Great! What a wasted day! I was so angry with him and the situation. Of course, he wanted to get rid of me to get another customer that day…. I was thinking to a 3rd day in Nusa Penida, the next day, but that meant less time in Ubud and the rest… so not a good idea.

I was surprised when he turned on the left…. I still didn’t say anything to him. We stopped on a beach nearby, with a few wooden cottages in the back where people were selling different stuff.

– Let’s try here too… he said.

When I saw 2-3 of them were selling tours, I saw a ray of light. He took me straight to a lady he knew here. Briefly, the only option to go for an hour to Manta Point was to get a boat by myself. The price, 50$. With a group in the morning was 20$, some told me even 10$. She also mentioned that on that hour and weather the chances are low and that even in the good mornings some people have barely saw one manta ray for a few seconds. I was willing to give it a try anyway. While we were talking, a guy came. He wanted some information for the next days, he was staying in Nusa Penida. I jumped in and told him if he wants, I can share the boat whit him that day too. I was hoping to share the price, of course. He answered without even looking at me that no, he was tired, he planned to do this early, the next morning. He listened after a bit to what I was talking to the lady about the price and I felt there might be a chance he changed his mind. I said, this time without the smile, just looking over my shoulder for a sec:

– It’s 25$ in case you decide to come, I go alone now anyway….shall we go? I turned to the guy with the boat.

And, the grumpy guy finally decides to come too! He really wanted to do it and he decided to try twice, in two days. I was more then happy to hear it, but I stayed cool as ice.

In a few minutes I was in a boat with 6 Spanish guys, the grumpy guy and 5 others we had to drop in Lembongan and the men with the boat. I understood from what they were talking that the grumpy guy almost got arrested for marijuana possession. Laws in Indonesia are very strict when it comes to all sort of drugs and he got away only by paying a huge fine.

After Lembongan all that was left for the 3 of us was to get to Manta Point…. The sky was dark, it was a bit windy and the sea was wavy. The air was salted and I felt cold. I had 0 envy to get into water that day. What was I thinking…. and besides all these, it was 3pm and I was truly hungry. I had all these thoughts in my mind when the boat slowed down close to a golf where I could see another boat. We headed a little further, straight to the shore which was actually a 2m perfectly straight wall, covered in moss, where the lever of the sea was growing and decreasing as the currents were moving. One turquoise spot further signalled a place with sand beneath. All the rest was dark deep blue. But there I was the first black shadow passing by, a few meters away from the wall. Then another one, and another one. The mantas were there!

Nusa Penida, Bali

– Here they are, you are lucky! Go, jump in….! The guy with the boat said.

I looked at the grumpy guy. He, like me, was analysing the place. I was afraid and so was he. The currents seen very strong there and though I am a decent to good swimmer, I didn’t know I could swim there without being smashed to the wall by the current.

Nusa Penida, Bali

We were asked if we want life jackets and fins. The grumpy guy took fins, I didn’t took anything. I was thinking that maybe I should just watch from the boat….The only thing that made me jump it was the insistence of our guide who assured us it was ok and the water was not cold.

And with my heart beating hard and quite terrified, I started one of the best experiences I was given to live: swimming with the manta rays. Nothing can describe the feeling. After minutes when I couldn’t get by breath to a regular level because of the effort to swim there, I finally got my balance and though it was maybe one of the roughest places to swim, I did it for almost an hour. An hour when the mantas came back and forth, centimetres away from me, approaching with they mouths opened, as they were feeding on the plankton, and right in the last second before the impact, they gracefully turned under me as all I could see then was black. They were huge and impressive and such gorgeous creatures. I knew it is forbidden to touch them but one of them touched me slowly while passing by. I was almost floating, making no moves so they feel safe and swim among us, enjoying their meal. We were lucky to be the only boat around for most of the time. After another one came but still we were about 5 people in the water, swimming with the mantas and practically just waiting for each of them to pass by us.

Swimming with manta rays in Nusa Penida, Bali, Indonesia

At one point the grumpy guy asked for a life jacket and asked me if I need one too.

– huhhh…It’s hard swimming here…. I said I was ok and prefer swim freely. I guess this was the moment when he finally started to see me with different eyes because after that se kept call me “sister” and we became friends. After all, we shared a magic moment together and our eyes were shining.

Swimming with manta rays in Nusa Penida, Bali, Indonesia

Our guide took us photos and was in charge with filming with my camera. I was the last to get back on the boat, after taking one last look to the black beauties in the water. Only this time I needed help, my body was so tired and my muscles ware not responding to my commands, I barely managed to bet on the first step and Jonas pulled me up in the boat.

We left leaving the mantas to continue their feast. We all 3 made a cry of joy as we left. We really did it and according to our guide this was a rare moment where there were no boats around and so many mantas in the same place, swimming around. I already know that nature offers moments like this only when she wants so. But when they happen, magic happen.

Swimming with manta rays in Nusa Penida, Bali, Indonesia

As we arrived back to were we started, the lady and my scooter driver came running toward us to the boat as if they knew we had great news! I jumped on the beach and run to hug the lady and then to my driver to whom I didn’t have words good enough to thank him.

The last to hug was Jonas. He gave me his number, (he had no social media accounts), and a few weeks after I send him the photos and videos with us and the mantas. He asked me how I was doing and ended with “Thank you, sister!”

My day was not over. After water, fire was following. When back in Sanur, my scooter driver in Bali was waiting for me and for about 45 minutes we drove 60/h, on the back of its scooter, to Uluwatu temple. I still thank God I have survived that race but since I am alive I can say I am grateful for that adrenaline dose.

We arrived late in Uluwatu and find our way among the monkeys in the park, these ones were big and more aggressive then the ones in Nusa Penida. Dancers in colourful costumes were lighting the night and sparks were reaching high in the air. The cowed was as hypnotised in front of this dance with fire as the main performer. Far in the horizon, the black shape of the Uluwatu temple was splitting the red sky in two. The sunset was over, the night was gaining.

After another crazy hour drive, among cars and now hundreds of scooters, we arrived back to Kuta. I changed some money, I avoided being scammed at the money exchange with a classic trick in Bali and I finally had some food for that day, in a place recommended by my driver, Bamboo Corner. And so I was introduced to my first chicken satay with peanut sauce and gado-gado. It was so delicious and so spicy and I still dream about going back to that place and order the same thing 3 days in a row. And the price… around 5 euro, two meals + beer.

I soo love Bali!

Next: Ubud, Bali

 

 

 

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