A Bucket List Dive at Manta Point, Nusa Penida

First dive we swim towards the cleaning station and I feel the gentle swell and surge pushing me right and left as we swim along at about 10 meters. Moving slowly I see blue spotted Stingrays. First one, then two, then a group of four stacked on top of each other. The entire 49 minute dive goes by without one Manta. The water is beautiful, there are plenty of Stingrays, Triggerfish, Oriental Sweetlips and even a rare Octopus sighting. But not one Manta…returning to the surface I’m feeling cold and disappointed. When we got in the water I heard that little voice say, “Say a mantra and be grateful”, but as I got out of the water it was hard not to feel let down.

As we pile on the boat my sea sickness starts to return. It’s the first time I have ever felt queasy on a boat. Nico takes a vote to see how many people want to stay at the site and try again in an hour or so. It is the first time all season he hasn’t seen a Manta at this site and he doesn’t want us to leave disappointed. If we wait it out, there’s a good chance we’ll see a few, the day isn’t over yet. We all agree to stay, have lunch and dive this site one more time.

It was worth the wait. Close to 40 minutes later the captain of our boat starts whistling and yelling, “MANTAS! MANTAS!” Rushing to the side of the boat we’re yelling, “WHERE? WHERE?” As we look in the distance there’s one black fin, then another.

Zuri asked, “Wow – how many are there?” and Murray replied, “Why don’t we get in the water and find out?”

I had my equipment on and did a buddy check in record time. By then the Mantas were swimming closer to the boat. You could have put on a snorkel to swim with them.

We only descended about 10 meters and suddenly Manta Rays were circling all around us. I was in awe. Excited, afraid and totally in the wonder of it all, I couldn’t figure out what to do next. I watched Murray swim beside an enormous black one. It must have had the wing span of at least 8 feet. Murray was swimming as close as he could possibly get for a good shot with the camera. Their wide, triangular shaped fins looked like bird wings as they smoothly sailed through the water. I was filled with wonder as these enormous, majestic creatures elegantly glided all around me. I counted 10 circling around at once and I could see and feel a few more in the distance. Fins spread as they smoothly glided up towards the surface, then effortlessly dipping down closer to me. Six..seven…eight…nine…cruising all around me. I just kept floating, breathing in and out, slowing my breath down and making my air last as long as possible.

Their flat, black bodies looked like huge bats. The cephalic lobes that wrapped around their mouths remind me of a thick, wide, detachable Victorian era color on a man’s shirt. Acting as a funnel for plankton to get into their mouths it’s a built in water filtration system. The lobes were opening and closing as they swam around looking for smaller fish to help remove parasites from the mucus membranes that protect their skin.

A few more circled above me so I looked up to see 5 huge slits for gills on both sides of their bellies. I noticed some blotches on their bellies and their thin, sting ray like tails as they cruised around me. It seemed like there were at least 16 swimming with us.

I started to silently say to each one of them, “You’re beautiful, you are truly beautiful”. Did they hear me? Could I have a telepathic connection with a Manta Ray? I realized as they swam closer I began to feel more fear. They were enormous. I gently and consciously went in and out of fear and wonder, trying to stay in the wonder of it all.

After almost an hour of passing the camera back and forth and swimming along with them I started feeling really cold so I signaled to Murray and started to ascend. Hovering at the 3 meter safety stop I was still surrounded by Mantas, even more had begun to play closer to the surface. I gently lifted my head out of the water and floated with my regulator in my mouth and just watched them. The blanket like bodies looked flat from my view at the surface. Two came close to me as if they wanted to play, I got scared and started to swim away.

Murray popped his head up to the surface to talk to me and said, “Are you alright? Do you want to go back to the boat?”

“I’m cold” I said, “But I’m happy watching them from here.”

“You can get really close if they let you” he said, “I was trying to tell you to get closer to them. They don’t bite or sting or I wouldn’t be swimming this close.”

“I keep getting scared” I told him.

“Ok” he said, “then let me know if when you want to go back to the boat.” Then his head disappeared and he descended back down.

I decided to stay in. I made sure to stay between 3-5 meters on the surface, put my regulator back in my mouth and went down to play with the ones hovering close to me. There were two enormous black ones and I reached out to them. For the next 10-15 minutes I just swam 3-5 meters from the surface gliding along with 3 manta rays. One would swim directly towards me as if to play a game of chicken and then quickly turn left before I even had a chance to get close. I felt the tables had turned and I was the one moving towards them and they were playing hard to get. I simply stayed in the wonder of it. I felt the fear and just relaxed into swimming next to them and allowing them to come closer to me. Swimming as close as they would let me, I soaked up as much of the experience as I could.

For the next 20 minutes I floated next to some of the most fascinating creatures in the water. As I checked my air and saw it was getting low, I silently started to say goodbye to the ones around me. I smiled to myself as I reached the surface and said to myself it was a bucket list dive.

Down Under in Amed

Down Under

As we sit down to have breakfast with Nico and Murray, our two dive guides for the weekend, I can smell the thick, dark Bali coffee sitting on the table. Ordering eggs and toast we start to talk about the sites we’re going to dive. As I look out over the treetops at the cobalt blue ocean I feel the excitement of being back diving in Amed.

Zuri fills out her paperwork before we get started. As usual, the atmosphere with Nico and Murray at Baliku is lively with constant chatter.

Zuri looks over the questionnaire and says, “Wait, you can’t be over 45 and smoke?”
I look over and notice Murray putting out his cigarette, so I say, “Guess that let’s Murray out, we can’t dive with him.”

Nico retorts quickly, “For Murray he already has to mark “No” for half the questions.”

“But there are no “Are you a legend” questions. That would be a YES answer,” Murray defends himself with a completely straight face.

“I don’t understand”, Nico replies

“I’ll explain it to you later” I quip.

“Okay great”, Nico tells me, “That very handsome guy over three will get your equipment sorted.”

And we’re off for a full day of diving at Jemeluk drop off.

Our SUV pulls up to the sight and 6 small Indonesian kids run from the side of the road to our car. A skinny 7-year-old boy wearing blue faded shorts and a worn red t-shirt runs to the back of the car and squeezes in between two taller girls to help pull out the plastic blue crates filled with scuba gear. Gathering around the back of the car the kids help pull out the oxygen tanks, BCD’s and regulators to carry them to our set up spot. As we set up our equipment I hear the skinny little boy yell out, “NNNIIICCCCOOO” and our Belgium guide flashes a big smile as he laughs at his little Indonesian friend.

What I love about shore diving is walking into the water slowly and feeling the gradual decent until eventually you find yourself 30 meters below in God’s aquarium. Immediately a Stingray swims past me. I remember being in Thailand at a fish farm feeding the sting rays and how thick and slippery their skin felt. As I look to my right I spot a lone Trumpet Fish and a small Puffer Fish swims by. Soon a little school of Razor Fish drift past and Nico cups them with his hands playfully.

Staring at the coral reef I spot a big Dogface Puffer Fish casually swimming in and out of the reef. A Unicorn fish swims by and in the distance I spot a Clown Triggerfish (Big-spotted Triggerfish), one of my favorite fish in South East Asia.

Breathing in and out, the darth vadar sound from my regulator lulls me into a meditative state. I see the water getting shallow as we begin to swim closer to the shore. Suddenly Nico is waving his arms to get my attention. I swim higher to meet him, as I’m cresting over the coral reef there is the biggest school of Bigeye Travallies I’ve ever seen. They formed a cyclone shape and swim tightly together hardly moving at all. They look like a tornado starting a few feet above the coral reef and spreading up close to the surface, beams of sunlight streaming down through them. Nico swims just under them and floats effortlessly while watching them above. I hover quietly watching him floating below the cyclone shaped school and make a mental picture of the one lone diver floating below of hundreds of Travellies as the sunlight beams down between them.

I have that picture in mind as we end our first dive at Jemeluk drop off. For our second dive we make sure to bring the camera. As soon as we descend the biggest Cuttlefish I’ve seen is there to greet us. It hovers in front of us and changes its colors and patterns. It’s the first time I’ve seen a cuttlefish camouflage. It was the highlight of the dive. For the next 40 minutes we floated around, snapped photos and enjoyed the vibrant reef and life down under.


Same Cuttlefish


Lion Fish

Lion Fish



The Wandering Jen