Padangbai. The Indian Ocean. Not the surfer’s paradise on the west coast, but the diver’s paradise on the east coast. Japanese, Dutch, Australian – the latter, big with blond hair and sun reddened skin, out for drinks after a day of diving. And me, escaping the jungle and the insects and the lizards and the rats!
Corn fields, in Bali!
Tuesday morning I climbed aboard a small tourist bus in Ubud, and it wound its way up and down river valleys, past luscious green rice paddies that eventually turned into corn fields, and finally along the coast road to Padangbai. From all description I was expecting a sleepy little town, but there was the usual tourist flap trap that I have come across everywhere else on this once Shangri-la. I was still glad to be here and on my own.
There were about twenty people taking the bus. A few were planning on snorkeling or scuba diving in Padangbai. Some were continuing on, taking the ferry or a catamaran to Lombok. Lombok is now, what Bali was decades ago – a few resorts for tourists, and an island paradise unspoiled. A young German couple was going to the Gili Islands – Trawangan, Meno, and Air, where no motorized vehicles are allowed and police presence is nonexistent. On Trawangan, the pub Tir na Nog claims their location as the smallest island in the world with an Irish pub! I was happy to be heading to Padangbai and the sea, and after an hour and a half bumpy ride it was great to disembark from the crowded bus.
Having memorized the map of the small town, I shouldered my pack and set off, making a detour around the ferry service and the cars and trekkers and motorcycles lined up, waiting for passage. A fifteen minute walk, I found my hotel easily, along a strip of hotels, restaurants, and diving businesses on the road opposite the beach and the bay. Boats were bobbing in the waves, and I could see Lombok on the horizon. My “rice barn” cost $25 a night, and you get what you pay for. There was a bathroom with shower and hot and cold water, but the bedroom upstairs smelled like sweat – and it wasn’t my sweat! Pretty disgusting, but my tolerance level for things non-pristine had been catapulted beyond anything I could have imagined, over the past few weeks.
I left my pack in my room, grabbed my hat and camera, and walked through town, up a hill and then down the other side, to the sand at Blue Lagoon beach. While watching the snorkelers who were out past the reef and the waves pounding on the beach, I had a long conversation with Wayren. She was doing her best to convince me I needed one of her batik sarongs, or maybe even two, and a nice massage for 20,000 Rp, which is only $2.00. I told her maybe tomorrow, and she said tomorrow might never come! I assured her it would, and she told me about her village and her family.
I was very excited for tomorrow to come, because on my walk back to town I took a detour up another big hill, and booked a villa at Bloo Lagoon – advertised as a “sustainable village.” The villas are all privately owned homes that can be rented when the owners are not in residence. I viewed the grounds and the villa I planned to rent, and it was quite lovely, with a view of the bay far, far below. There was a swimming pool, breakfast included, internet in the lobby, and lovely grounds with gardens. I figured I deserved a little break! I wanted a few days, before I headed home, of being the kind of tourist you see in Travel and Leisure ads.
After booking, I trekked back to the village and had a shower, a late dinner, and read my book in my stinky bed until sleep was ready to overwhelm me. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to get up during the night to go to the bathroom, because the steps down to the toilet were very steep with about 18 inches between treads – most definitely against code in the United States. I survived and did not break my neck!
I checked out of Kerti Villa in the morning and had a lovely breakfast down the road, took a hike, spent some time at the beach, and then checked in at Bloo Lagoon Village.
My villa, with a view of of the bay
There was a sign up sheet at the front desk: “120,000 Rp ($12.00) – Special Thai dinner tonight with Thai Chef Sayan.” There were to be: Appetizers, Tom Yum Spicy Soup with Marlin, and the main course of Pengang Curry with Chicken, Morning Glory (otherwise known as the ubiquitous Asian spinach!!) with Oyster sauce, Bean Sprouts stir-fried with Cashews, and dessert of Mango with Ice Cream. I signed up! Then I went and hung out in my villa.
It was wonderful and luxurious. There was a welcome basket of fruit and fresh juice. I drank the juice and ate a whole pineapple (it was a tiny little thing). Heaven. I took a nap, and then got dressed for dinner.
Dinner was on the edge of the terrace with a view of the next bay to the north and Mount Agung, the highest mountain (volcano) on Bali. The mid section of the mountain supported a tutu of clouds, but the top was clear against the sunset sky. I was the first to arrive as the staff scurried about, making sure the table settings were perfect.
A large family sat at the other end of the table set for twelve, and I was soon joined at my end by another woman, two young men, and the owner/manager/architect of Bloo Lagoon Village, Tony. The young men were H who was Belgian, and F, a Swede. They had met surfing at Kuta and decided to join forces for a while. The young woman was Celia Gregory, a London artist and founder of The Marine Foundation. She was in Padangbai to dive the coral reefs, and on her third visit to Bali. She asked me if I had visited any other third world countries. I told her only Ireland, and she laughed and laughed, “Oh you Americans.” I asked her how the reef around Bali was faring, and she leaned over and in a very conspiratorial voice whispered, “No one says. Divers don’t don’t say. I’ll see tomorrow when I go out. I am afraid it isn’t very good.”
There was a great deal of talk about the sustainable architecture of the village and Bali’s tourism issues. There was even more talk about diving, of which I knew nothing, so I learned a lot. All of the young people had dived in Egypt – something I had never heard about. Celia described it, saying, “Well God made the deserts of Egypt, and then he put all the beauty in the sea.” You could tell a diver was talking! I later looked up the Red Sea and found,
More than 1200 species of fish have been recorded in the Red Sea, and around 10% of these are found nowhere else. This also includes 42 species of deepwater fish. The rich diversity is in part due to the 1,240 miles of coral reef extending along its coastline; these finging reefs are 5000-7000 years. The reefs form platforms and sometimes lagoons along the coast and occasional other features such as cylinders. These coastal reefs are also visited by pelagic species of red sea fish, including some of the forty-four species of shark.
The conversation was increasingly monopolized by H who drank great quantities of Bintang, and I left at 9 pm for my lovely, breezy, surf-sound-filled villa. I read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer.
In the morning I had breakfast beside the pool with Suzanne, whom I also met last night. She is originally from Santa Cruz, for the past seven years living in Thailand with her Thai husband who also happened to be last night’s chef. They run a snorkeling business from their home in Thailand – Sun Island Tours. They were, fortunately, out in deep water when the tsunami hit last year, and survived no worse for wear, unlike the home they were building and the home in which they resided. They have since rebuilt, figuring lightening doesn’t strike twice in the same place, and the length of their 100-foot home reaches out over the ocean. When the tide is in it sits over 15 feet of water, and when the tide is out there is sand underneath. Besides the snorkeling business, she also sells her watercolors there.
After breakfast I changed into my suit and grabbed a spot in the shade next to the pool. And there I sat with my books, my computer, my camera, and a cup of Bali coffee; paradise.
After days of hanging out at the pool, wandering the sea shore and the village, eating poolside for dinner every evening, and enjoying Storm beer – a Balinese pale ale which was very nice – it was time to head back inland. D and her son Yanni met me on the beach Saturday afternoon.
We rented some snorkel equipment for D and Y. I was happy to sit on the beach and watch the waves come in and out, contemplating the meaning of life as the sea bubbled and churned in front of me.
But D said, “Come out and snorkel beyond the reef with me, the fish are beautiful.” I knew the fish were beautiful, because I put the goggles on and swam around in an open area near the shore.
“I’m not a strong swimmer, and I’ve never snorkeled before. I think I probably shouldn’t.”
She said, “No, no, no, don’t be a chicken. Come on. When the wave comes, just float, and then swim when it goes back out.”
The water went immediately from three feet deep to way over my head in a channel between the coral. I had the tube in my mouth, looking at fish, when the first wave came. That one filled my snorkel tube, and thus my mouth, with salt water. I made it to the surface when the second wave hit. Okay, don’t panic… you can hold your breath. Then the current came from underneath, grabbed me by the legs, and dragged me out with it.
One does not swim against an ocean current – I know that now. The next wave came and picked me up and threw me back on top of the reef, relatively near shore. I swam and swam and managed to get a few feet closer to the beach. The under current tried to drag me back out again, but I decided there was no way I was going to go. I managed to grab on to a rock as the water crashed over me, until the water went out again and I was able to stand up and stagger to the sandy shore. Just a little worse for wear; blood pouring from my legs, my feet, my hip, my arm, and my hands. Coral is very sharp! No more snorkeling for me that day, and if I ever go snorkeling again, it is going to be somewhere absolutely calm where there are no waves.
So here I am, back in Tegallinggah. Y has a friend over for a few days, and they want to see the shadow puppet play in the village this evening, so I am looking forward to that. And then two more days and I come home! That hot water faucet is going to be quite novel.