15/11/11 – Jacques Cousteau Ho!
I awake and am somewhat buoyed by the fact that the pain in my back is less intense and we excitedly prepare for our snorkelling trip. The hotel have organised the boat, the gear and have supplied us with towels and some bread and water for the trip. It is not yet nine o’clock and already the day is baking in the morning sun. Our hotel manager, June takes us to the dock where we meet our guide, who we’ll call Blake. Blake is a local fishing and diving guide and looks no more than maybe 15 or 16 years of age. His skin a deep dark brown, most likely due to his days being spent almost exclusively in the sun.
Our first stop is about 600 meters from where we were picked up on Gili T. Blake explains that this is our chance to get used to our gear and have a look at some of the unique coral around the Gili T snorkelling area. The water where we’ve stopped is a deep blue and a tad below lukewarm bath temperature. Just perfect. Ms Emma and I plunge into the water and quickly get used to the sensation of breathing under the water via snorkel. It’s not a massive adjustment, its just that slightly strange feeling of suddenly breathing under the water. We stay close to the boat at first, and we’re not sure why. Given the depth of the water we’ve stopped at, it’s hard to see the coral but as we get closer to the shore, the reefs become clearer. There a schools of tiny fish happy to swim with us and the reefs show signs of degradation that caused the local community to start a coral regeneration program. We head back to the boat, where Blake advises us that our next stop – Gili Meno – is famous for Turtle watching. He explains to us that he’ll be joining us in the water as we look for Turtles. He’s not overly confident that we’ll get to see many, but he says he’ll do his best.
The ride across to Gili Meno is just sensational. The hot morning sun is doused somewhat with the cooling sea wind as the boat skips across the waves. Blake finds us a spot away from some of the other snorkelling groups and we plunge into the water again.
We follow Blake as we head across some fairly deep reefs. Like on Gili T, the depth of the water makes it hard to see the beauty of what we’re looking at, but this is most likely the bluest sea-water I’ve beer been in. We continue heading due west in the water, following Blake who isn’t showing any indication whatsoever of whether he’s found something for us to look at. Nonetheless, I’m really enjoying the time in the water; the sound of my breathing through the snorkel becoming somewhat meditative. I’m in a totally zen headspace.
After about 15 minutes or so, we arrive on a kind of coral shelf. You can see the depth of the water disappear as this shelf rises up to about a depth of maybe a meter and half to two meters. Blake is about 50 meters or so ahead of us; Ms Emma and I realize we’ve been dawdling while he’s been hard at work trying to spot some turtles. We make our way towards him and he begins to point frantically at the ocean floor. As we arrive, he’s trying to follow a turtle he’s located. I arrive first, only to see the the turtle disappear off the shelf and into the depths of the water. By the time Ms Emma arrives, he is gone.
We continue westward and our patience is rewarded with Blake locating another turtle for us. He (I’m assuming it’s a he. For the feministas, my apologies, but I’m going with ‘him’.) is swimming lazily along, close to the ocean floor which, by my estimation is anything to two, maybe two and a half meters from the surface. He slides along gracefully, propelled by his small flipper-like feet. I attempt to dive down to get closer, but I only make it about a meter down before the pressure in my head becomes too intense and I need to call of the chase. I clear my snorkel and re-submerge and watch as Blake is swimming with the turtle only a short distance away from him. I’m amazed at how he’s able to withstand the pressure of the water: I felt after just a short dive that if I went on, my head would do a marine version of the famous head explosion in scanners. Emma has arrived and is watching the turtle make its way deeper along the ocean floor. We’ve been in the water for around 40 minute or so. Blake say’s its time to head to Gili Air, so we head back to the boat.
Once again, like the ride from Trawangan to Meno, the trip to our next stop is a magical 15 minute boat ride. Blake pilots the boat to the north-side of the island of Gili Air. The coastline of Air is in stark contrast to Trawangan. The beachside resorts are sparse and the island, for all intents and purposes, looks deserted. The water has maybe four other boats scattered around the entire length of the island. As the boat comes to a stop Ms Emma snaps a remarkable photo of the fish gathering under the boat through the glass bottom of the boat.
Blake reaches into the bag of supplies given to us by the hotel staff and grabs the small loaf of bread we were given. He throws only a few crumbs overboard and what seems like a hundred dazzlingly colored tropical fish fight over the bread. After a few more tempters from Blake, the boat is surrounded by a massive school of these fish. Ms Emma and I slither into the water and we become surrounded by this school of fish. We stay above the water level and leave little bits of bread in our hands. The fish approach at pace and mini-fights break out for the morsels of bread. We get bitten by these fish in the process, but its more shock than pain, the fish offer sharp little nips that don’t break the skin. Emma and I are lost swimming amongst the brightly colored fish, with scales of bright yellow, black and a deep blue. As with Gili Meno, I’m in a zen-like trance; surrounded by the fish, the lightness of the water and the sound of my breathing. They school around me exhibiting no signs of fear, in fact, it’s like they welcome the visit of Ms Emma and I into their home.
Blake signals us back to the boat. I felt like we were in the water for only about fifteen or som minutes, but when I look at my watch, we’ve been in for around forty minutes. Time flies etc…
We are taken to a seaside warung where the staff welcome us and Blake with welcome arms. We enjoy lunch, but both later agree we felt an unexplainable unease about being on Gili Air. At the bar of the warung, is an American tourist with a sarong wrapped around her waist and a bikini top. She seems completely wasted and is slurring something about not wanting to go home today. One of the warung staff takes her from her stool at the bar and takes her to a hut to the left of the bar where there are around ten or so other people in various states of, shall we say, relaxation – some local, some clearly tourists. We eat in quicker than usual time and get the hell back on the boat. As we’re walking I feel the tension in my back return, reminding me the anxiety of the previous night. The boat heads back to Gili T and we land about 200 meters from Ko-Ko-Mo.
On landing, I head to the island’s 24 hour medical clinic in the hope of eventually seeing a Doctor. To my relief, as I walk in, the place is empty and I’m greeted by the Doctor. He does a quick history and moves my back around and gauges the pain. He tells me that he can give me some pain relief and some anti-inflammatory tablets, but he thinks he should give me a pain-killing injection. It turns out to be a cortisone shot and as much as I don’t like the side effects the relief is immediate. I’m also grateful for the pain medication. It might just be enough to get me through the holiday and safely back to Melbourne for treatment. The excitement of the day sees Ms Emma and I off to an early dinner and sound asleep at a relatively early hour.