Manta & Sun rays

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My right hand has started to go numb. My right elbow is throbbing, and Rose has just said: “It’s a right. Turn right up ahead!”.

At this moment, the only thing going right is the weather. We’re in Nusa Lembongan, a small island off the East coast of Bali that like much of the mainland, is blessed with great views.

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However, once you’ve tired of the blue sky and surf, and turn your gaze to the road, you realize it’s also blessed with a lot of potholes. Not a few. Not a smattering. Hives. Colonies. There’s more holes than there is an actual road, and we haven’t got a moon buggy to drive over them.

Right now, Rose and I are busy careening over every single one on a scooter. I’m turning my wrist to reduce our speed at the same time as clamping down on the brakes to make sure we slow down enough that we don’t bite our tongues as we pitch into each crater.

I’m sure it’s an easy enough task if you’re local. But I haven’t driven a scooter in a while, and I’m nervous. Rose is on the back, and I’m not used to steering and braking with an extra person. I’m tense and my knuckles have turned white from the crocodile bite grip I’ve got on the handlebars. In turn, this has put too much pressure on my hand so that I can no longer feel it, while it’s also sending pain up my arm where it’s now reverberating in my elbow.

It’s a fine old day in paradise, which could only be worse if we were lost.

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And, wouldn’t you know it.

We’d asked our B&B where we could find a particular dive shop, which is the reason we’re here – to go diving. She’d pointed down the street to the left of the place, and said these simple, innocent words:

“It’s just down there”.

Now two hours have nearly passed, and we’ve been everywhere across the island. Really, everywhere. We’ve driven the entire length and perimeter, but we’ve yet to find “there”.

The greatest thing going for us is that we’re on an island. So, we both reason, and keep telling each other “we’re going to find it sooner or later”.

We were right, of course. We found it. Not sooner though. Much later. About another half hour more, after we’d thrown up our hands (one hand for me) and were on our way back to our B&B to ask the woman who gave us directions if she might be able to be a little bit more specific.

And, there it was, in plain letters, what we”d been searching for: Lembongan Dive Center.

Right. Next. Door. To. Our. B&B.

I estimated we drove by it at about, oh, the 6 second mark of our soon to be 2.5hr journey. Maybe I’m exaggerating: probably, more the 5 second mark.

After this, I thought Rose and I could star in the following public service announcement to help promote tourism:

“Do you have trouble with instructions? Find everyday conversations incredibly complex? Do you pull a door when the sign says push and you can’t help push when it’s time to pull?

Hey. We understand. Don’t get down on yourself. There’s a whole world out there you can explore. Book your ticket to travel today!”

Merci, thank you, Terima Kasih. I think it’s important to embrace one’s talents.

Thankfully we found the dive shop the next day, even early enough to get our dive gear on, and headed out in search of manta rays.

Amazingly, the water was as choppy as the road. There were huge swells, as the boat ran up over a wave, then came smacking down on the other side before rolling up another one to land smack dab again.

Rose and I each have our own travel weaknesses. Mine are planes. I had a panic attack flying in one nearly 15 years ago, and I’ve been fighting the impulse since – convincing myself it’s the safest form of travel, blah, blah (the statistical angle), you know being rational, while trying to beat down the irrational nutcase who pops out mid-flight to say things like: “You think that person sitting over there stowed a bomb on board?” or “What are the odds of hitting another plane in mid-air?” or ” That mechanical groan sounds like the wing might fall off” or after a bit of turbulence, in a similar cackle to Axl Rose from Welcome to the Jungle: “YOU’RE GONNA DIE!”.

Rose’s problem are boats. She’s had a long, violent history in their bathrooms, on deck, and leaning overboard. So, to pick up diving as a hobby might seem a little masochistic. But Rose, if you’ve come to know her at all, is very methodical, and here she was no different. She puts a firm system in place to counteract her swells inside. As I might hang tight to an armrest on a plane (keeping it aloft in my mind), Rose stares laser-like at the horizon, never to have her gaze interrupted. Even if I wheeled out a plate of pancakes with Devon cream and raspberries, she wouldn’t see them.

The side effect of this rigorous exercise is that she also takes a vow of silence. So intent is she on taming the sea inside her stomach to ensure nothing passes her lips, that she also includes words in the embargo.

In the early stages of the boat trip out, Rose and I got chatting with people on board, asking about their stay, where they’ve dived and so on. Then, as if on a dime, when the swells started and we smacked down – Rose turned away from the group, and entered her silent meditation as we all kept talking. So, to someone who doesn’t know her approach, it might have seemed as if someone had said something so supremely offensive that she now refused to speak to them.

But her silence wouldn’t last. Like someone who’s hypnotized until the magician says a special word to bring them back to lucidity, someone on deck said: “mantas!”, and Rose bolted out of her trance with a smile on her face.

Just to our right off the ship, were two 4 metre long mantas, swimming right near the surface. It was amazing to see – but as I was still staring, people were scrambling to put on their wetsuits and gear. “Right. We’re here to see them underwater”, and cluing in I got dressed up.

We dropped backwards off the boat, and as I turned around a manta was swimming right towards me with its wings and mouth spread wide:

“HOLY SHIT”, I nearly spat out my regulator.

Eventually, we settled into our dive and for the last 15 minutes we all sat around 20 meters deep and watched five massive mantas twirling around above us near the surface, eating food, and swooping around.

I was laughing underwater, I couldn’t believe we had this luck. Afterwards, Rose didn’t lose her grin for the entire ride back – and something remarkable happened – as we smacked down on top of another wave.

She spoke. She gushed. She couldn’t stop saying: “YESS! Did you see them flip?”

Could mantas cure sea-sickness? We’d test the theory at our next stop in Komodo where we once again suited up for diving.

But before that, I’d have a huge test. And, I barely earned a D+.

Talk soon

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