I had been an amateur adventurer for far too long. It was time to say no more to rookie adventures. No more would I be regarded as anything less than adept at adventuring. And most importantly, no more would I be limited to 18 meter depths when diving.
Shane and I enrolled in Advanced Diving Certification classes at Dive Concepts in Tulamben, Bali. This region of Northern Bali is famous for its biodiversity both in species of coral and creatures. It’s most popular site being the USS Liberty wreck: a 70 year old cargo shipwreck dating back to WW2. Needless to say I was more than excited to be going ten stories underwater in such an amazing place.
We jumped right in with buoyancy control lessons with our incredibly talented instructor Sara. Shane and I quickly learned that we knew next to nothing about keeping our bodies under control underwater. I kept doing somersaults while trying to descend: unable to get my bum to sink. This problem led to many Sir Mix A-Lot and J-Lo related jokes from Shane’s repertoire. We learned to hover, turn upside down, and ascend and descend at will using our lungs in harmony with our bodies and BCD jackets. To add to the pressure of being completely aware of our bodies we were warned of the stinging stone fish, scorpion fish, sea urchins, and fire coral known to be in the area. Our instructor Sara told us matter-of-factly the duration of the hospital stay associated with each one.
So now I was obsessed with avoiding stinging creatures, but at the end of the hour session Shane and I were much better at buoyancy. Next dive would be the night dive, full of darkness and hidey stinging things. I was nervous but excited to be going into the Liberty wreck at night. We got into the water at dusk and immediately I noticed the change in the creatures. The nightlife was booming underwater and the song lyrics “The freaks come out at night…” started playing in my head as I saw sea urchins making their way across the sea floor to go hunting, their little spiky ball bodies wiggling around. I avoided them like bomb-ombs in Mario.
We turned our flash lights in on our bodies stifling their beams and waved our hands in the water igniting the phosphorescent algae. Green flecks floated in the water glowing. I hadn’t been this full of wonder since I was a kid who had just discovered glow in the dark sticky stars and gak.
Diving in the dark is like exploring an alien planet: a lot of the time you’re unsure of what exactly you’ll find ahead, the aliens are more aware of you than you are of them, everything is strange and takes on new mystery. We swam into the ruins and came upon some fish about my size in length, but three times my width: a humphead parrot fish a slumber in its shipwreck bed. We explored for about an hour and surfaced under a blanket of stars reflected on the ocean.
The next day we completed 3 dives: going 100 feet or 30 meters underwater in an area known as the drop-off. We experienced the lack of light and the way the spectrum of colors shrinks turning the many fantastic hues of red and orange coral a more or less brownish color. At 30 meters one can become intoxicated by nitrogen in the blood stream and so we completed underwater sobriety tests to check for nitrogen narcosis. We had to spell backwards and do math on a board while sitting on the ocean floor; the surface somewhere above in a haze of blue at a height taller than the vast majority of the buildings in this country.
For our second dive we explored the Liberty wreck in the light of day, swimming through parts of the collapsed ship that the coral had claimed. It was an underwater city in which busy shipwreck metropolitans hurried about on different accounts of very important business. I saw a few unsuspecting fish get gobbled up
The last dive had me on a sea life safari identifying fish, corals, and shrimp, and bottom dwellers with Sara who was an expert at spotting life large and miniscule alike. She found life in the smallest branches of coral and in holes in the sand. Shane and I found ourselves swimming in a sea of yellow, black, and white as we were surrounded by long finned pennant fish turning in sync with each other nervously eyeing the foreigners. A porcupine puffer floated along bulbously cute, spotted eels wavered ominously teeth showing as they were cleaned by shrimp, clown fish swarmed in and out of anenomies aggressively lunging at us intruders, sting rays hovered unearthing themselves from the sand. I was armed with a small book of cards to identify each, but there proved to be just too many to count in this underwater menagerie.
Afterwards, I collected my card identifying me as an “Advanced Adventurer.” Watch out 2014! I’m a rookie no longer! The next year will see me diving to new depths and rising to new heights, but for now, I’ll contemplate my next adventure over a signature Bali banana pancake and some tea.