0011: Crystal Bay (Wedding Point), Nusa Penida, Bali, Indonesia

Crystal Bay was one of my two dives today, the other being Manta Bay, also in Nusa Penida.

Nusa Penida is a small island off the southeastern coast of Bali.

Crystal Bay featured drastic temperature changes because of currents and surges. From hot to cold to hot, and back to cold, all in less than one minute. This continued for the entire dive.

It was only myself and a guide, who ran out of air before I did, which meant we had to cut the dive short. Poor planning on his part, but he was otherwise a fantastic guide: enthusiastic, and he even did magic tricks during the 45-minute boat ride to Nusa Penida. At one point during our dive, he turned to me, pointed to his fins, on which he had written MAGIC, and smiled.

During the dive we saw a school of baracuda, a large puffer fish, an exceptionally large moray eel poking its head out of the massive wall of coral, and thousands of glass fish schooled underneath a mound of coral that resembled a mushroom. The mushroom was maybe five meters high, and it looked as though it belonged in Super Mario Bros. The school of glass fish was not visible until I descended all the way to the sandy bottom and turned my body parallel to the ocean floor.

Scuba diving at Crystal Bay (Wedding Point), Nusa Penida; Bali, Indonesia.

Scuba diving at Crystal Bay (Wedding Point), Nusa Penida; Bali, Indonesia.

Dive log.

Dive log.

0010: Manta Bay, Nusa Penida, Bali, Indonesia

Manta Bay, not to be confused with nearby Manta Point, was an amazing dive.

At Manta Bay, off the coast of Nusa Penida, I saw at least a dozen manta rays, the largest of which had a wingspan of six meters or more: 20 feet, from tip to tip, and nearly 3,000 pounds.

Even before entering the water I spotted three or four manta rays from the boat, swimming close the surface. While diving, I also saw a stingray (much smaller) and one giant sea turtle.

For at least five minutes, I hovered without really moving, just watching one manta ray swim toward the surface, turn around and swim back toward me, before returning again to the surface. We were close to the island at this point, so looking up out of the water it was possible to see the manta ray silhouetted against the sunlight entering the water, and to also see the waves above teh ocean's surface, crashing against the island's steep (i.e. essentially straight up) cliff.

The manta rays are massive, amazing creatures.

Scuba diving at Manta Bay, Nusa Penida; Bali, Indonesia.

Scuba diving at Manta Bay, Nusa Penida; Bali, Indonesia.

0009: Coral Garden, Tulamben, Bali, Indonesia

I preferred today's second dive, Tulamben's Coral Garden, to the first, the USAT Liberty shipwreck.

There were no other divers outside of our small group, and the dive was a leisurely pace at a modest depth of only 12 to 15 meters, which means you use less oxygen and therefore dive for longer. And although there was no shipwrecked boat, we did see a sunken plane, about the size of a private jet. Seeing a shipwreck underwater is cool, but seeing a plane underwater (or even a vintage bicycle standing upright, like I saw in the Gilis) was even cooler. It's just so unexpected, and because of its smaller size you can appreciate its original use, whereas the shipwrecked USAT Liberty is more a massive wall of corroded metal than it is a boat.

The plane's skeleton remained intact, albeit covered with coral and sea life, but its cabin was full of new passengers, the occasional larger fish (~one meter) and many schools of smaller fish, seemingly suspended motionless, drifting with the current and amongst the coral.

Shortly thereafter we arrived in slightly shallower waters, where we saw a blacktip reef shark, nearly identical to the whitetip reef sharks I saw in the Gilis. It was about five or six feet long, and I was able to get much closer to this shark than others I've seen. I shadowed the shark for a minute or so, probably less than 10 meters away but sometimes it's tough to tell because being underwater distorts depth perception. Because blacktip reef sharks prefer shallower waters, there are rare occasions where they'll bite, unprovoked, but the victim would almost certainly be wading through shallow waters, as opposed to diving at deeper depths. The blacktip reef shark was no more intimidating, and probably less so, than the baracuda was saw on the same dive.

In addition to the plane, shark and baracuda, we also saw a few poisonous lionfish, a big puffer fish, and a blue-spotted stingray.

Scuba diving at Coral Garden, Tulamben; Bali, Indonesia.

Scuba diving at Coral Garden, Tulamben; Bali, Indonesia.

0008: U.S. Liberty, Tulamben, Bali, Indonesia

Today I did my first dive on Bali, a shipwreck off the northeastern coast. The USAT Liberty was a transport ship torpedoed by Japanese forces in the early 1940s. It's 125 meters long and originally sat on the beach at Tulamben, after having being hauled there to salvage its cargo, until 1963 when a nearby volcano erupted and pushed the vessel about 50 meters into the ocean.

It's a popular dive site, and therefore quite crowded, although today didn't seem too bad. There were definitely other divers around, but not so many as to be distracting.

About halfway through the dive I found myself inside a large school of giant trevally. There were a thousand fish or more, schooled and circling slowly, almost like a friendly and lazy tornado. I found myself right in the middle of it all: all around, and up, nothing but giant trevally.

We also saw dozens of garden eels, smaller spotted ones and larger dusky eels, similar to those I saw at the Busan Aquarium a few weeks back while in Korea. The eels reminded me a bit of Kevin Bacon's best film, the 1990 gem: Tremors. They emerge from out of the sandy ocean bottom, peeking their heads out, and when you get too close or they're spooked, or maybe if they just feel like it, they retreat back into their holes. They're like little periscopes on the ocean floor.

Overall, today's diving (two dives total) was not as good as in the Gilis, but it was still great; it was also my first shore dive (i.e. entering the water from the beach as opposed to boat).

Scuba diving at U.S. Liberty, Tulamben; Bali, Indonesia.

Scuba diving at U.S. Liberty, Tulamben; Bali, Indonesia.

0007: Shark Point, Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Indonesia

I had a few hours to kill yesterday morning while waiting for the boat back to Bali, so I did one final dive, my seventh: Shark Point, off the coast of Trawangan.

We didn't see any sharks, but we saw a large sea cucumber that reminded me a bit of a crocodile, cuttlefish, and three or four giant sea turtles (one of whom was feeding quite vigorously on the coral), plus a few different types of rays (one spotted). I paid much attention to the fish feeding on the coral. It's interesting to watch fish dart toward the coral, pick it apart, and repeat.

There was hardly any current, but I found myself struggling to conserve my air. When there is a current, it gives you an appreciation for just how impressively fish can swim through the ocean.

Scuba diving at Shark Point; Gili Trawangan; Gili Islands; Lombok, Indonesia.

Scuba diving at Shark Point; Gili Trawangan; Gili Islands; Lombok, Indonesia.

0006: Meno Slope, Gili Meno, Lombok, Indonesia

My second dive today, to Meno Slope, I did alone, with two dive instructors. It was nice to have no other divers, which meant that I was able to dive until my tank hit the red zone, almost 50 minutes (because there is no practical way the instructors would run out of air before me).

At Meno Slope, we saw an eagle ray (about one meter), another whitetip reef shark (again, about five meters) and plenty of other beautiful fish and coral. The current was slow and steady, and mostly I just drifted along, which was great; there was no fighting the current or trying to slow myself down. Apparently it is somewhat unusual to see sharks there. It was no less exciting than the first shark I saw, a few days ago. There was also a sunken pontoon wreck, intact, and a bicycle on the ocean floor, which was great: It was interesting to see the ocean take control over what it was given.

I'm back in Gili Trawagan, on the deck of a bar overlooking the ocean. It's about to rain, perhaps downpour, or so it feels, but fortunately I'm under cover and I almost hope it does rain. It might quiet some of the more obnoxious hustle on Trawangan. Tomorrow I take an afternoon boat back to Bali, but in the morning I have time for one more dive: Shark Point.

Scuba diving at Meno Slope; Gili Meno, Gili Islands; Lombok, Indonesia.

Scuba diving at Meno Slope; Gili Meno, Gili Islands; Lombok, Indonesia.

0005: Halik Reef and Andy's Reef, Gili Meno, Lombok, Indonesia

The scuba center where I got certified offered me a free dive, so instead of taking the public boat to Gili Trawangan (en route to Bali) this morning, I waited until this afternoon, which meant I had time for not only one but two dives: Halik Reef and Meno Slope, the first off the coast of Gili Trawangan and the second off the coast of Gili Meno.

The Halik Reef dive was a bit short because my dive partner used up his air quickly, whereas for the first time I felt a bit more controlled in my buoyancy, which meant I had plenty of air left when we surfaced. Which was fine. Yesterday and the day before I was the one running out of air first. The current was strong today, so we started out at Halik Reef and ended up at Andy's Reef, a neighboring dive site. My dive guide today was fantastic, better than my original instructor. He brought a metal rod to tap his tank and alert us to interesting fish, etc.

Scuba diving at Halik Reef and Andy Reef; Gili Meno, Gili Islands; Lombok, Indonesia.

Scuba diving at Halik Reef and Andy Reef; Gili Meno, Gili Islands; Lombok, Indonesia.

0004: Meno Wall, Gili Meno, Lombok, Indonesia

PADI-certified open-water diver ID.

PADI-certified open-water diver ID.

Today I completed my open-water scuba certification. I passed the final exam (94%) after my final dive, which was to Meno Wall, a.k.a Turtle Heaven. Turtle because it is home to many giant sea turtles, and Heaven because it is home to much dead coral.

We saw two giant turtles, one which I came upon unexpectedly. I'd turned around 360 degrees, trying to get my bearings and find my dive partner, and when I completed my turn and turned back toward the massive, rising wall of coral reef, I was only a few feet from the sea turtle. Giant sea turtles are beautiful, elegant when they swim.

Meno Wall is a massive wall of coral, some dead but even more still alive. It stretches from near the surface, maybe six meters down, to twenty meters deep or more. There was an upcurrent if you drifted too far away from the wall, meaning if you don't stay close enough to the wall you are liable to rise. Controlling buoyancy has been one of the more challenging aspects of diving for me, although it's getting easier with each dive.

Scuba diving at Meno Wall; Gili Meno, Gili Islands; Lombok, Indonesia.

Scuba diving at Meno Wall; Gili Meno, Gili Islands; Lombok, Indonesia.

Map of the Gili Islands, off the coast of Lombok, in Indonesia.

Map of the Gili Islands, off the coast of Lombok, in Indonesia.

0003: Sunset Reef, Gili Meno, Lombok, Indonesia

I'm not a certified open-water scuba diver yet, but I'm close. One more dive today, followed by an exam. This morning was my third dive, to Sunset Reef, off the coast of Gili Trawangan.

Today I saw a whitetip reef shark (about five feet) and two giant sea turtles, plus so much coral that there was no sandy bottom of the ocean, just forests of coral.

We dove to a depth of 19 meters, for about 45 minutes.

Scuba diving at Sunset Reef; Gili Meno, Gili Islands; Lombok, Indonesia.

Scuba diving at Sunset Reef; Gili Meno, Gili Islands; Lombok, Indonesia.

0002: Hans Reef, Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia

Today I went on my second scuba dive, at the same reef as my first dive: Hans Reef.

We saw Emperor angelfish, Red Sea bannerfish, trumpetfish, mantis shrimp, giant trevally, and a poisonous scorpionfish that did an impressive job of camouflaging himself on the coral.

Tomorrow I'll go on two more dives, to hopefully sea giant turtles and sharks.

Scuba diving at Hans Reef; Gili Meno, Gili Islands; Lombok, Indonesia.

Scuba diving at Hans Reef; Gili Meno, Gili Islands; Lombok, Indonesia.

0001: Hans Reef, Gili Meno, Lombok, Indonesia

Today I began scuba diving training.

It will take four days to get my open-water certificate (as opposed to one day if you want only a scuba certificate, which is good for one year and allows you to dive up to 12 meters when accompanied by a professional; an open-water certificate allows you to dive up to 18 meters, lasts for a lifetime, and also allows you to dive without a guide).

I expected it to be cool, but was blown away when we got into the water. Frankly I didn't even expect to go for a dive on our first day of training. But we dove for 37 minutes and I went down to a depth of about 14 meters, which was actually a couple meters deeper than we were supposed to go, I think. But I was just following our guide.

There were lionfish, Emperor angelfish, Red Sea bannerfish, snake eels, starfish the size of frisbees, crabs, and all kinds of coral and other sea life I can't name. There were hundreds of thousands of fish, and also hundreds of different varieties. The fish mostly ignore you, but they also don't swim away from you. Once or twice I found myself with dozens of fish only inches from my face, and hundreds more above, below and behind. There was also plenty of coral life.

Before the dive, I wasn't sure if I'd go for only one day, or if I'd do the whole four-day program, mostly because the classroom and pool sections of the training are both pretty dry, but after doing the first dive I really am anxious to get back in for another round.

The dive school, Blue Marlin Dive, seems OK, but I was disappointed to see my instructor once or twice intentionally touching coral reefs, which is a no-no by any standard; also, the dive pool was overcrowded, which made learning in the pool difficult, especially swimming with gear, and managing buoyancy through breathing and other devices. Fortunately the basics of diving are easily enough learned, and those things that absolutely must be learned before getting into the water (e.g. equalizing pressure) can be learned in theory and put into practice easily.

Scuba diving at Hans Reef; Gili Meno, Gili Islands; Lombok, Indonesia.

Scuba diving at Hans Reef; Gili Meno, Gili Islands; Lombok, Indonesia.