Finalement! Internet up and running (though not without another unsightly cable running from the telephone post to our house… though thankfully a bit more discreetly up into our bedroom window as opposed to blatantly forming a trip-wire for Ollie in the living room as it was before), computer holding on for another day (barely), and the behemoth diving post well under way. We discovered Trawangan Dive primarily because we fell for a gimmick: we noticed a swim-up bar along one of the main stretches we found ourselves walking daily, and then realized it was part of a dive center with a cool logo. Since we knew there was a price agreement policy amongst all the dive shops on the island, we knew we weren’t going to have to shop around for the best price (we were told the other advantage of this is that we know no one is cutting costs by skimping on safety measures. Hooray!); instead we were going to leave it up to the “feel” we got when we went and inquired at the shops.
Before going we’d “tossed around” the idea of going to the next level of PADI certification and doing our Advanced Course. I put that in quotes because by the time we left we were both 97% sure we were going to do it, and upon arriving on the island and seeing the potential the waters held, that had jumped up to a solid 110%. The first guy available when we walked through the shop, Adam, assured us that Advanced Courses were really easy to schedule due to their pick-and-choose nature, but also that he’d just started another guy on his Advanced that very day and we were welcome to join in. When he told us the course came with a free T-shirt we decided we’d definitely gotten the desired “feel” from the dive shop and signed right up. The way the PADI Advanced Course works is that divers must complete five dives, each with a different focus. The two required dives are the Deep Dive (where you reach a max depth of 30 meters/100 feet) and the Navigation Dive (you’re given a compass and must perform a series of navigation tasks underwater). The other three are optional, and we decided we wanted to do a Night Dive, a Nitrox Dive, and a Photography Dive. (For the full list of options and general course descriptions go here.)
The all-encompassing statement I tend to give about the Gili diving is, “It was so good.” Our first dive was the Deep Dive at a site called Shark Point. We’d actually already dived to 30 meters with Eugene over New Year’s Weekend, but who could pass up the opportunity to dive at a location with such a name?! And it didn’t fail to disappoint– we saw two white-tipped reef sharks, as well as some sea turtles, an amazing banded sea snake, and a ton of other stuff that I’ve forgotten in the near-month since it happened.
Dive Two, that same afternoon, was the Nitrox Dive. Nitrox can be cool because, for a bunch of complicated scientific reasons, it allows you to stay at greater depths for longer due to the more nitrogen-rich blend of gases in the diver’s tank. It’s usually a bit more expensive, but a good skill to have. As it turns out, we could have probably spared ourselves the extra 100,000 Rupiah for the special tanks and called it a Drift Dive (another of the Advanced Certification options). Drift Dives take place in waters where there is a current– and was there ever a current! In the previous dive there had also been one but for some reason I found it more manageable. On the Nitrox Dive… well the best I can describe the experience as is a mix between the Twister Scene in The Wizard of Oz (only instead of family members and witches flying by there was a variety of sea creatures) and being in the EAC (as seen in Finding Nemo, once Adam had corrected my posture so I wasn’t being so viciously carried by the relentless current and I was able to more properly enjoy the experience). Though we were expecting to have a longer bottom time this actually ended up being our shortest dive, on account of the current bringing us so quickly to our end point and others in our group hitting 50 Bar of air (the lowest amount you should go to before beginning to surface).
At sundown we set out for our Night Dive– something I was a bit more nervous than usual about after experiencing the strong current on the previous dive. I kept having images of me being swept into some black oblivion, never to be seen again. However, I’d heard way too many good things about Night Dives to consider backing out. With Night Dives, it’s all about moving in slow motion– even staying stationary at times– and really closely observing the little things in your direct periphery that are visible with your flashlight. A surprising but perfectly logical factor in Night Dives is that colors that normally get drowned out of natural stand out so much more brilliantly in the close-up beam of a flashlight. Our Night Dive also brought us to a site of ecological bragging rights in the Gilis: one of their Biorock locations. In an attempt to make up for the massive amounts of coral that are dying each year, conservation groups have created enormous wire “cages” with a slight electric charge running through them. Coral, which normally grows at the glacial rate of one centimeter per year, grows five times faster when assisted by this charge. It’s a work in progress, but seems to be an ingenius way of preserving and even creating new coral reefs. Besides, huge fish like to sleep in the “cages” at night, which was a bonus for us.
Three dives in one day left us pretty knackered indeed, and I know I was feeling some mixed emotions having done all that but knowing I only had two dives left the following day. Still, I was really excited for our Photography Dive the next morning since… well you know how I love taking pictures so, and I’ve really been eager to bring back some concrete memories from the depths. Adam informed us we were in for a treat– we were going to be diving at a site between Gili Meno and Gili Air called Hidden Reef, with lots of gorgeous coral as well as some interesting fish. In other words, a great site for taking photos. In a 40 minute dive I took 150 photos… Here are my 74 favorites :). (Oh, and please, if you stumbled across this blog and have a knack for identifying fish and other marine life, please feel free to clue me into the names of any and all of these things! I’m useless!)
Finally, we were taken to the Bounty Wreck for our fifth and final dive– the Navigation Dive. We completed our navigation tasks easily enough and enjoyed another gorgeous and leisurely dive in the vicinity of the wreck, which was a sunken pier as opposed to an unfortunate ship of some sort. I think the highlight of that dive for me might have been the shy octopus… it did its best to avoid our glances but the way it moved– nay, slunk– around its coral fortress and some lightning-quick color changes made it really memorable for me. There was also a massive school of some… fist-sized orange fish (haha, maybe I really should have done a Fish-ID specialty…) with their translucent juveniles creating an iridescent wall in front of an already-impressive piece of reef that had me really mesmerized for a bit.
Then there was the whole… expired-credit-card fiasco that kept me running back to the dive shop with my tail between my legs for the next three days to explain that the holiday was making it so that I still was lacking the necessary funds for the dives, but eventually they came through and we got our photos and books and official certification (and, of course, T-shirts) and it was a wonderful day for everyone! Thanks so much to Trawangan Dive for such a special experience.