Since we arrive in the evening we have one night at a hostel in Bali before heading out Gili Air the following morning. It’s a good thing too, since the hostel is pretty skeezy – lots of older men with younger, local, women. The food is really great though and in the morning we’re picked up by a van that will take us to the speedboat. We’re not very impressed by the fact that the speedboat leaves dock at 1.5 h after designated time. Equally unimpressive is the freezing temperature they’ve set the AC and the hysterical techno beats pouring out of the speakers just overhead.
It gets us to Gili Air though and as we find our way to the dive shop and everything looks very good; super nice rooms, a big reception area, their own beachside restaurant with cozy cabanas to have your breakfast in. The diving part of their operation is less impressive though; they only have two full time dive masters and we find out that we can’t even do a dive the same day since they’re short-staffed – even though we booked over a month in advance… They also don’t do more than two dives a day, which isn’t very much (we were planning to do at least three a day). It all works out really well though and there is never a problem doing a dive, they are also very nice about us being late a couple of times when lunch service had been terribly slow. (whatever you do, don’t eat at Zipp’s, even though their wood fire oven looks promising)
In terms of diving, Gili Air has some really nice features, chief among them the abundance of turtles. I saw two within ten minutes of my first dive, so you’d have to be very unlucky to not see turtles here. Our most memorable dives were probably our muck dives – dives where you go fairly shallow and look at small stuff and get rather long dive times. Outside Lombok we saw spiky sea horse, ghost pipefish and ribbon eels; on our night dives out in the house reef we saw decorator crabs, juvenile sweetlips, spanish dancers and even a mandarin fish! We also witnessed a tussle between two squid, ink in the water and everything. Additionally, the probably most unlikely thing to happen to me on any dive so far was when we found a green turtle at the end of our night dive. We followed along with it when it swam, when it suddenly veers sharply towards me and then takes off like a rocket. I suspect the turtle was as surprised as I was when it hits me square in the chest! It was never aggressive though and went on its confused way after that.
There was also the fabulous Secret Garden, or Turtle City as I’d call it. Immediately upon descent we meet two turtles and a trigger fish, munching away at some coral. We pose for some pictures while our dive master goes off and finds us some more, even bigger, turtles. They are all very friendly and don’t mind the attention. In the area Jen finds a mantis shrimp (head on over to The Oatmeal and read about these awesome critters right now!), this one is rather shy though and doesn’t really show itself. Just a few meters off though, I find another one. This one is out in the open and is even stalking a fish. I get some great video of it all, or so I thought. Turns out that I’d double-tapped the button and immediately ended the recording… Mantis shrimps are super cool, and I’d never seen any before this trip, but around the Gilis they seem to be relatively common. Just be on the lookout for those big freaky eyes poking out from under a coral rock, after a while you’ll get pretty adept at spotting them.
Another memorable dive was the second one I did, at the so-called Bounty Wreck. It’s actually a jetty that sunk during a storm back in 2005 and it has become the home to a lot of fish and corals over the years. This day however, it was super strong current, so strong that you had no option but to just go with the flow at most times. It was both scary and fun, even though we didn’t see much on that dive. At the very end we did find two turtles taking shelter from the current behind a rock.
In the end we were pretty satisfied with both the diving and the dive center. 11 dives, of which two were night dives cost me roughly 1600 sek, but then I also lugged my new BCD along and only rented fins, tank, weights and wetsuit which earned me an additional 5% rebate.
Getting back to Bali turned out to be harder than we thought. We’d already booked speedboat tickets through the dive center but over the days we’re there we hear that the speedboats aren’t running due to bad weather. That sounded rather strange to us since the weather seemed just fine. Little did we know… On the departure day we get word that there will be one speedboat leaving, but that it will be leaving at 10 instead of 8 as we booked. Not much to do about that, but when we get there they say it’s 11 instead. When we finally leave, it’s more like 12 o’clock and as we get out on the open sea we find out why. The waves are something like three meters high and we’re bobbing along at what seems like far too high-speed. The captain seems to really know his/her stuff though and even though we’re blazing along at full speed, it never felt unsafe. It’s a good thing I don’t have any motion sickness, poor Alex wasn’t as lucky and ended up spray painting all four 150 hp engines in one glorious stream of puke! Rather impressive if you ask me.