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Padangbai to Gili Trawangan
We arrive in Padangbai with our motorbike en go straight to the harbour. On the way there’s many people who try to get our attention, or even drive next to us to ask if we want tickets for their boat. Padangbai is a harbour village on Bali’s east coast. From here you can get on a ferry to Nusa Penida or Lombok. There also are smaller boats, the so called fast boats, going to the Gili islands and Nusa Lembongan.
The last time we were here, we took the ferry to Nusa Penida, remember? (No? Read it here). Unfortunately there’s no ferry to the Gili’s, unless you go to Lombok first. But then you arrive far in the south, while you want to be in the north. That’s a lot of extra costs for a taxi, to safe some money on the boat. Not really worth it, unless you want to travel through Lombok anyway. So for us, it’s the fast boat to Gili.
We park our motorbike in a (hopefully) safe alley and walk towards the harbour. The first man that starts talking to us is offering a one way ticket for 500.000 rupiah per person, but after we decline that it immediately changes to 350.000 per person. This still seems a bit too much but the man is not willing to change it anymore, so it’s off to the next person. After a few negotiations with different people we managed to get the price down a bit but still pretty high. Time for a change of tactics, bluff. Our next contestant gives us some prices but we kindly decline them all until he seems to have reached his final price. Then he asks us what we would like to pay so I tell him that we found someone who is willing to take us for 200.000 but we are still looking for a better deal. After some negotiating with his friend he turns back to us saying that he can offer us a one way trip for 250.000 and starts pulling our arm to take us with him to the shop. We free our arm and say that this deal is no better than the one we have. He talks to his friend again and then finally gives in. The offer is 800.000 for 2 return tickets and a free parking spot for our scooter. He smiles and points to our scooter that is parked all the way up the road. That’s how good you are being watched here when you are a tourist.
The crossing with a fast boat
We take care of the paperwork, park our scooter and leave with our private boat for Padangbai to Gili Trawangan. At least that is what we think.
This is not true at all. Some guy guides us along some buildings and we end up at a pier, packed with tourists. We have to pay taxes here and then we are allowed to sit on the pier until our boat arrives. But since the weather is pretty bad, all boats are delayed and ours arrives 3 hours late. I wonder what our crossing is going to be like.
We give our backpack to the man that is standing on top of the boat and he carelessly throws it on to the next one. Good thing we decided to take our camera and delicate equipment out. A small plastic tarp is placed on top to prevent the bags from getting wet. We take our seats in the lower deck, where it’s warm, humid and smells of petrol. The crossing is pure surviving. Waves make the boat go in any direction and the high speed of the boat causes it to sometimes fly, and hit the water with a big bang. It’s quite the challenge not to get sick here. The crossing should take one hour in good weather, but it took us more like 2,5 hours to get to Gili Trawangan.
Finally, land! We’re very happy we can get off this boat. We wait for our bag to be thrown on the beach and go find a place to sleep. Lots of people on the beach already asked us if we need accommodation, but the ones they offer all look very expensive. We ask at some tourist information stand, and they say cheaper accommodation are in the small streets leading away from the main street.
A large part of the accommodations have no vacancy at all, because of the high season. Eventually we find an appropriate room for a good price and with breakfast included. We are quite easy to please when it comes to places to sleep, which is good because otherwise we would want to sleep here. The place is filled with ants, the sink is about to burst, the shower gives a miserably amount of water and the fan makes more noise than the average power generator… But it’s only for sleeping and it’s cheap, so we’re fine with it. Let explore this island!
We end up at the night market, a square filled with small food stands and tables. It gets built up every single night at around 6 pm. We get some food and take a seat. A funny lady working here makes sure no empty seat is forgotten, and she places an American guy on our table. His name is Matt and we seem to get along pretty well. Quite the matchmaker, this lady. He tells us about a full moon party, going on tonight on the other side of the island. After dinner we decide to go there together, after some drinks on the beach. We rent an overpriced bike (night prices…) and cycle for 15-20 minutes. It’s quite crowded at the full moon party and we have a great time. Time flies and before we know it it’s 2 am and time to go to sleep.
What about diving?
We get up and order our breakfast at the reception. It takes a while before we get it, but luckily it tastes quite good. We decide to go for a ride around the island, to see what’s going on here. It’s mostly bars and restaurants we find, but the islands feels much more relaxed than Bali or the Nusa islands. We pass a beach called Turtle Point, and we decide to bring back our bikes and go for a swim.
A local, that first tried to sell us weed, xtc and magic mushrooms, tells us that we could see sea turtles here while snorkelling. That would be awesome! Especially because we released 2 baby turtles a few days ago (read about it here)! We put on our travel snorkelling gear (just goggles) and carefully get into the water. Water shoes would be quite helpful here.
We notice that there’s a strong current, almost impossible to fight it. Luckily there are quite a few boats in the sea to hold on to. Looking down we see many fish, but unfortunately no turtles. After 30 minutes we give up. We’re exhausted from swimming into the current, so it’s time to go back. I’m about to follow Milou towards the beach, but just take one more look in the water below me. And there’s a turtle! I look up and shout ‘turtle!’ to Milou and turn on the GoPro. This is so awesome! Milou’s back in time to see him, but just when she wants to swim down with the GoPro, he’s out of our sight. This really raises the question of getting our Open Water Certificate here in Gili.
Back in our room I decide to send my cousin Renske a message. She worked on this island as an instructor a few months ago, and she’s always very enthusiastic about it. She tells us to visit Dive Central for a little chat.
Dive Central, Gili Trawangan
After breakfast we pay Dive Central Gili a visit to get some general information about what they do. At the reception we meet Chris. A Swedish guy who speaks fluent English, who tells us about the possibilities with a lot of passion. After all our questions have been answered, we leave the shop to have some serious thought about this. It surely is a lot of money to spend at once.
On the island there’s a small mountain, which we are going to climb to enjoy the view. Once at the top though, the view is mostly blocked by trees, but the hike was nice. On the other side of the mountain we meet an English couple and we start talking about travelling. We seem to have a lot in common and decide to talk some more over lunch. After lunch we’re going back to Dive Central, we’re gonna do it!
PADI Open Water Course at Dive Central Gili
We enter the reception where we meet Steve, the manager of Dive Central Gili. He’s just like Chris, full of enthusiasm about his job, his staff and his company. He can go on about diving for hours, so it seems. We finish up the paperwork and right after putting our last signature, we can start straight away with the first part of our diving theory. The PADI Open Water Course consists of 5 videos, which you all have to watch, explaining the theory and promoting PADI and PADI gear of course. After all it is an American company. After each video you have to answer a series of questions, which will be reviewed before the start of your practical course.
When our first video has ended and we answered all the questions, we leave the room and head back to the terrace. Here there’s a large swimming pool in which the basic instructions are given, and where skills are being explained and tested before heading out into the sea. Momentarily there is nobody in the pool because most lessons are given in the morning. Right now it’s almost 5pm, so for today most of the work is already done.
We see Steve sitting at a large table together with some colleagues, we assume that since they are all dressed the same. He sees us too and comes towards us straight away to ask about the theory and what we think about it. “It is a lot of information coming at us in a short period of time” we say. Steve assures us that our instructor will clear everything up in the morning and invites us to join him and his colleagues for a beer, so we can get to know them a bit. Both sound like a great idea!
Dive Central’s team is a mixed, happy company, with lots of different nationalities. Steve’s from England, there’s a Frenchman, two Dutch girls and there’s a master student from Canada. Our teacher for the next tree days is Patrick, from Swiss. Together with one other student, we meet him the next morning. After a small introduction it’s time for the second video, discussing the questions and then set up our gear for the pool. Riny already has some experience from his job as a fireman, but for me it’s quite complicated, preparing my diving gear. And I only have three days to learn!
In the pool we start with the first three skills, which we will have to perform in the sea this afternoon. Patrick is very patient and explains everything very clearly. Luckily, it’s not very hard. Only remembering the signs for each skill is a challenge. When we feel confident performing our skills, it’s time for lunch. Then we have to get ready for our first dive, so exciting!
Our first dive is amazing. This is the first introduction with diving, so all we really have to do is enjoy. Patrick does most of the thinking for us, which we slowly have to take over so we can do it all by ourselves on the third day. Check our air supply, no deco time, dive time, depth, your buddy and if everything goes well of course. We’re not too bad with our air, having a bottom time of 44 minutes on the first dive. We see some spectacular animals, like an octopus, a cuttlefish, some triggerfish, a hawksbill and a green turtle, a lionfish and even a whitetip shark. We are super impressed by the underwater world of Gili, and the beautiful corals. Then it’s time to end the day, we used quite some energy today! Not used to be in school anymore, haha.
Day 2 is similar as day 1. Video, questions, pool and an afternoon dive. Practice some new skills to perform on the dive. This time we only see a hawksbill turtle, but of course also many, many beautiful coloured fish, sometimes in huge schools. We saw angelfish, unicorn fish, yellow snappers, titan & clown triggerfish and a clownfish (nemo!). Very cool.
On day 3 all the skills are done, but we have to go into the pool one more time for a mini dive. Then quickly prepare our gear, because the boat is already here. Today it’s time for dive 3 and 4, and a final theory exam (can’t wait…). After that we can officially call ourselves open water divers! These few days went so fast, it’s insane. But first, time for dive no. 3. We go to shark point, the home to many whitetip reefsharks . Luckily, we even find one! Such an amazing experience. We also see a very cool pufferfish, another lionfish and hawksbill turtle, a nudibranch and some sweetlips. You should google them, some amazing creatures. We perform our last few skills and get some last minute advise. In the afternoon we have to show Patrick that we can make it on our own. We’re a little bit nervous, but if the instructor says we’ll be fine, we should just believe him.
Our final dive site is Meno Wall, a vertical wall of coral under water, fabulous. The perfect spot to look for creatures that are experts in hiding. We find a murene eal, a giant frogfish, a scorpionfish and a stonefish! Not the prettiest animals, but we feel lucky to have seen them. Oh, we also need to check some things I think, whoops! How’s my air? And Riny’s? Okay, we’re good. You get distracted so easily here, there’s just too much to see. We notice this every time we check our dive computers after a dive, we managed to stay just within the depth limits. You get distracted for one second and start to go up or down. Luckily we have a good instructor who is keen on our safety, so when he sees us go down he warns us in time to correct it so we do not go below the maximum depth.
So we need a little more practise. Right now it seems like a lot of stuff you need to check while diving, but once we get some routine, I think it’s a lot easier. Although diving of course is never without risk. Patrick made sure to tell us all about the risks and how to act when something happens.
We’re exhausted once we get off the boat, but we still have to do the final test. Luckily, we all pass! Hurray! We’re open water certified! This calls for a toasts. While sipping our Bintangs, an important question comes to our minds… Do we also want to do our Advanced Open Water here? This means 5 more dives in only two days, in which we will gain some more skills, experience and it will allow us to go to 30 metres. It sounds very appealing. Then we don’t need to worry when we descend to 20 metres again. If you’re not certified for that and something happens, the insurance doesn’t cover anything. And if we get to cool dive sites while travelling, that are below 18 metres, we won’t be able to go there if we don’t have an advanced certificate. On the other hand, it’s again a big amount of money and it would decrease our budget immensely, and we will run out of time to see more of Indonesia. Quite the dilemma, and we have to figure it out tonight. We get some advice from family and friends to help us make up our minds.
Advanced Open Water Course
Eventually we make the decision to just do it! We both love this place and it’s beautiful dive sites and we now have a great instructor who knows how we dive. He can give us the best advise on what themes to choose (more about this later). Basically, we’re just not ready to leave yet. And, as many of you already warned us about, diving is addictive! First I was a little bit scared to do two dives a day, now I can’t wait for the day with three dives. What better than that? We immediately start the course, so today it’s time for Advanced Open Water Dive 1 & 2. In the advanced course there’s two compulsory themes, and you can choose three themes yourself. Riny really wanted do to the night dive, but according to Patrick the tide is not ideal for it at the moment. So eventually we chose drift diving, buoyancy control and diving on nitrox on a shipwreck dive site. Hopefully they can find the wreck, would be so cool to see. At least nitrox gives us more time to look for it. With nitrox you dive on a higher oxygen percentage, which gives you more no deco time on deep dives.
Dive no. 1 is a deep dive in Turtle Heaven, where we, as the name suspects, see another sea turtle. Also we see three types of boxfish, funny square fishes, and the very cool peacock mantis shrimp.
Dive no 2. is our performance buoyancy control dive. We practise with swimming close to the bottom, without touching it, go over small hills by controlling your breathing and dive upside down to peek under a rock. I feel like a complete idiot, going up and down all the time, but hey, this is the hardest part of diving. Luckily Patrick is very satisfied, so it’s all good. We see a coral crab, a trumpetfish and a batfish. Also this time we get to observe a cuttlefish, so we can actually see it change colours, glowing and almost get transparent. So very cool!
Dive 3 is on nitrox. Steve accompanies us to take some underwater pics (thank you so much!) and we’re so lucky. We see turtles, sharks, a sea snake, beautiful corals and many, many pretty fish. The pictures, as you can see, are absolutely amazing. We even found the shipwreck. I know, all the amazing and beautiful gets a little bit annoying by now, but I really don’t have any other words to describe it. I haven’t seen much of the underwater world, but I’m sure this is one of the best places in the world.
In dive 4 we learn more about drift diving, for which Gili is a very good location. Nobody can dive here without a guide, because of the strong and unpredictable currents. It’s quite fun to float with the current, sometimes you go so fast. You just have to be careful not to crash into some coral or another diver.
On the 5th dive we have navigate with a compass. Not my greatest hobby, but it is of course quite useful. We start on the boat and navigate ourselves back to the dive shop. Visibility drops down from 15 metres at the start of the dive, until 4 at the end, which is a good thing to experience. Although it’s quite a big difference with the 25 metres we had on our first two Open Water dives.
And then we’re finished! So fast! Now we are Advanced Open Water divers, whee! At night there happens to be a party going on at another dive shop, and we are invited. Time to celebrate. The party is for 4 master students, who have to finish their master course by doing a snorkel test at the party. With a mask on their face they have to drink one litre of random mixed booze through a snorkel. This booze is collected by the audience in the last few hours. Everybody puts the last bit of their alcoholic drink in the jar. I can’t think of many things that are more disgusting. I think our master can wait, haha.
We’ve had a fantastic week at Dive Central Gili, in which we’ve learned so many new things, made new friends and gained a beautiful hobby. We’re very pleased with our choice for Dive Central and I would really recommend them to everyone. There’s only one sign that suits them, and that’s the sign for AWESOME (don’t worry, Patrick will teach you this)! Diving on Gili Trawangan was one of the best experiences of our lives. But tomorrow, it’s really time to go.