bali would be the first time since turkey that we'd be beachside, and i couldn't wait to set foot on the sand. alex and i had heard plenty of great things about this beautiful, easy-going corner of the world, and after braving the cold in northern asia and pollution in the cities, we were more than ready to experience it for ourselves. it'd been a frenetic two weeks touring shanghai, vietnam, cambodia, and singapore, so our only real agenda was to relax. bali was also where i'd be getting scuba-certified, and i was equal parts excited and nervous to get started. we had originally planned to spend a couple days more inland in ubud and explore the jungle and mountainous scenery, but since the forecast wasn't supposed to be the best we decided to stick to the coast where the weather was going to be better. we settled into our comfy oasis in the heart of sanur, a laid-back town on the southeastern shores of bali. that night we wandered down the street and grabbed a late dinner at a restaurant with a live band. when they started playing billie jean, i knew we'd come to the right place!
our hotel was also conveniently located near the dive center, and for the next three days i got up at 7am to meet with sammy, my diving instructor. this gave alex a chance to sleep in, go for a couple late morning runs, and just relax in the shade by the beach. the first day of my dive course was classroom- and pool-based, but the last two days we headed out to the ocean. i did my first real dive an hour north in padang bai, and alex came along for the ride. while we were out diving, alex walked down some backstreets and up and over a ridge to a small, semi-secret untouched beach. he was amazed that this paradise popped up out of nowhere, and just after he arrived a small local family showed up to do their daily business of selling beverages to whoever found the beach. the white sand and aqua-blue water made it a great spot to while away a couple hours.
meanwhile, sammy and i took a boat out to the lagoon and got ready to dive. with all my (heavy) scuba gear on, i plunged into the ocean and took my first breath. what a surreal feeling to breathe underwater. it was amazing! as a kid i'd dreamed of becoming a marine biologist, and to this day my ultimate dream is to swim with a blue whale. i know, i know...that will probably never happen...but at least diving gets me a touch closer to doing that someday! the highlight of my two dives in padang bai was seeing a devil ray the size of a small car swim elegantly past us. it got even better the next day when we headed north to tulamben and dove down to the USAT liberty shipwreck, a 120-meter cargo ship that was torpedoed by the japanese during world war II. it was beached at tulamben so that the cargo could be saved, but an earthquake in the early 1960s sent the ship down underwater to its current position. i felt like an explorer as i maneuvered my way in and around old doorways and rooms. the amount of life that calls this massive tumble of metal home is mind-blowing. schools of electric-blue fusiliers darted past lettuce and brain coral, and sammy pointed out tons of different fish as they swam by. surgeon fish, puffer fish, clown and parrot fish, grouper, flounder, and sweet lips all made their rounds to say hello. at one point i saw what appeared to be dozens of long strands of seaweed flowing in the water, then realized they were garden eels dancing in the current. now that i’m officially certified, i can’t wait to see where my next underwater adventures will take me.
when i wasn't busy diving with alex patiently waiting for me, we spent our time chilling out at one of the many cafes and restaurants that dot sanur's beachside. the beach itself isn't much to write home about, but the reason we loved it was the relaxed atomosphere. the locals were friendly, the food was pretty good (think thai without the spice), and - just like we'd found in the rest of southeast asia – it was easy to find a cheap, relaxing massage. we even walked by a place advertising a four-hand, hour-long massage for $16! sanur is also home to some pretty talented cover bands, which we bobbed our heads to as we strolled along the beach. one evening we walked down to a gazebo on the sandbar, threw in our headphones, and watched the sunset. i will never forget how happy we felt there, and the song "i heard you looking" by yo la tengo will always bring me back to that moment.
on our last day in bali we headed to south kuta. we'd read about pandawa beach, which was supposed to be prettier and less crowded than the more popular dreamland beach. to get there, you drive past these enormous cliffs where huge holes have been carved out to house larger-than-life hindu statues. then you suddenly see a patch of bright turquoise water, and pandawa beach comes into focus. it was a beautiful place to spend the afternoon. at low tide, however, the receding waters revealed strange metal rods that poked out of the sand, which must have had something to do with the fishermen there. aside from that blemish, the beach was quite picturesque. that night we stayed nearby at a resort called hidden valley. it definitely lived up to its name, because our driver would have missed it completely if i hadn't spotted the dark sign with tiny letters. it was also set pretty far back from the main road. the meandering drive turned out to be well worth it though, because the resort was absolutely perfect. having just opened a few months back, the whole place was quiet and the pool and gardens were beautiful. it was a nice ending to a fantastic stay in bali. we were a little bummed we couldn't stay longer, but our beach days were far from over. we were on our way to thailand!
// asia trip to date: 8 flights, 4 trains, 2 buses, 1 boat, 10 cities, 7 countries