Unplanned bonus time on Bali!

Trip Start Jun 04, 2005
Trip End Apr 05, 2006

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Saturday, October 1, 2005

On Monday afternoon (26 September), after a great day's motorbiking among the volcanoes and paddy fields of eastern Bali, we sped back to Padang Bai to catch the shuttle bus to the airport. We arrived at about 8.30pm with plenty of time to spare - our flight to Darwin was only at midnight. We were pretty rueful about saying goodbye to Asia after four months of travel - somehow we felt we needed to steel ourselves for the 'culture shock' of arriving in a first-world, English-speaking country. As we arrived at the airport terminal, I remarked aloud that I could do with quite a bit more time in Asia, and that it seemed a pity to be moving on...

... and I got my wish, with a cruel twist. When we arrived at the airport at about 9pm, we couldn't spot our Qantas to Darwin flight on the departures board, and went to ask the Qantas desk...they kindly pointed out that our flight had left 24 hours earlier...DOH!!!
Of course, we should have checked in on Sunday evening for a flight leaving at a quarter past midnight on Monday the 26th. Hell, we felt stupid!

We were told that the best thing to do would be to go to the Qantas head office the next morning (this morning) so we crept out of the departures terminal with our tails between our legs and caught a cab to a part of town called Sanur, where the Qantas office is. Spent the night panicking about how much this SILLY mistake is going to cost us (we figured we would probably have to buy a whole new flight), but were very relieved when Qantas told us this morning that we need only pay a $20 no-show fee, and could catch the next plane out - same time on Friday 30 September. Phew!

So, once we had the flight sorted out, we had a bit of a think as to how best to spend this unplanned bonus time on Bali. Over breakfast, we flipped through the Rough Guide and decided to head to the north-west of the island, to a village called Pemuteran. Needless to say that our all consuming passion for diving was the reason behind that choice... we'd heard that Pulau Menjangan, off the northwestern tip of the island, offered some of the best spots in the region.

Within an hour we were rattling along in an old bemo, which we had chartered to take us to Pemuteran. The drive was long (we had our doubts over the suitability of the vehicle) but took us past some lovely coastal scenery. When we arrived in Pemuteran at about 2pm, we discovered that the only accommodation options in town were five star all inclusive dive resorts that quoted their rates in dollars and euros.... mmmm, definitely not for us! Despite (or perhaps because of) its proximity to Menjangan, it offered zero alternatives for the not-so-wealthy diver. For the rest it was a pretty dusty little place, so we beat a hasty retreat by public bus, which dropped us an hour or so down the road in the coastal town of Lovina.

Lovina proved to be a very convenient base, with plenty of dive operators running tours to Menjangan. It's quite a large seaside conglomeration of well-priced bungalows, restaurants and tour shops.... a bit like Kuta, but way more pleasant and less crowded (to Rich's delight). We did a quick tour of a few dive operations, and settled for Sunrise Dive. So the next day, Wednesday, at 8am we were trundling back along the road to Pemuteran in the Sunrise minivan. From the boat pier near the village it was a 20 minute ride out to the island. The two dives we did around Menjangan turned out to be our best in Bali - the water was crystal clear and the visibility excellent.

The first dive took us beside a lovely wall. Giant trevally, massive batfish and bumphead parrotfish were in abundance. We had our first experience of diving unaccompanied (a confidence builder which prepared us for the self-guided dives on the Great Barrier Reef) - the dive master, Wayan, spent most of the dive looking after a pair of inexperienced divers in shallower waters, so we just went along on our own.

The second dive, on the other side of the island, took us beside another wall, and again we had the opportunity to dive independently: the dive master and rest of the group surfaced about 15 minutes before us (we had more air left than them). In that quarter of an hour alone underwater, we had a pretty terrifying encounter.... with a titon triggerfish! We had heard that these fatties of the reef can be pretty aggressive during the breeding season, so when we spotted a big mother digging a nest with her mouth, we kept a safe distance. But within seconds she'd spotted us, and started charging over in our direction.... yikes! We backed away slowly, Rich stuck his fin out so that she'd bite that instead of his arm, and thankfully she lost interest after the first charge. Phew, a narrow escape! The divemaster had a giggle when we told him about it back on the boat.

Our final evening in Bali was rounded off with a few drinks in the company of a British girl who was celebrating her birthday... we saw in the new day with her, her husband and a couple of folks from the dive boat in a lovely little bar with live band. On Thursday, before leaving for the airport in the evening, we spent a lazy day strolling the streets and eating! Nostalgia kicked in as we recalled the four months we've spent is Asia - we'll miss the cheap beer, the rice with every meal, the squat toilets, the coconut palm groves and neat bamboo huts of peasant farmers, the curious looks of children.. and who knows, we might even miss those horribly persistent hawkers.
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