Next year, I will find you, Mola!
Manta point, Nusa Penida. During the 3 months that have passed since my arrival in Bali, I have heard from our diving guests at least a million of absolutely amazing experiences from this dive site. To be honest, sometimes it was pretty hard for me to listen to their stories (you see, it’s not always easy to smile at guests when you envy them so much and would immediately swap sweating on a chair in a dive center for a nice trip to Nusa Penida and, as a bonus, enjoy a dive with giant manta rays).
Diving in Bali with manta rays and an odd fin
After completing my PADI Open Water Diver course, I tried to spend every second of my free time scuba diving in Bali. The motivation for me was exactly the trip to Manta Point Nusa Penida and a very realistic vision of me dancing with mantas underwater. After another six dives in Padangbai, during which I even met a shark (yes, I’m still alive and have all 4 limbs), I became more comfortable in water. So I decided to ask Laci whether he thought it would be a good idea for me to go diving to Manta point. His reaction? "YES, Lila, it IS indeed a good idea. I already told you after your 6th dive, that you are diving like you had 30 dives at least, you only don’t want to believe me. I don’t understand, why you still haven’t signed up for the advanced course. You don’t panic in the water and you swim really well. And, please, sign yourself for the Manta point trip." I have to admit that (finally) I have been able to accept Laci's words to a certain point (to the exact point that I have decided to sign up for the Manta point trip, but Laci’s words weren’t enough to persuade me for the PADI Advanced Open Water Diver course yet.
On Day M, I come to OK Divers quite nervous. Sometimes I’m sea sick on the boat and the trip to Manta Point from Padangbai takes about 50 minutes. "Laci, how many motion sickness pills I need to swallow if I don’t want to vomit all the way?" One should do it, but please calm down, the weather is great, you will be okay." I swallow one pill and I pray for it to work. Vitek, our Czech diving instructor, drags me from my semi-spiritual disposition. "Lila, this is your first Manta point trip, isn’t it? Don’t you wanna take my GoPro and take a few pics? "" Vitek, I would like to, but with my luck and skills I will definitely lose or destroy it. I'll give it to Laci, maybe he can take some pictures during the dives, thank you." On the boat, I meet my diving buddies Christian and Ankea. I find that Ankea has seven dives all at Bali dive sites so far and she does not feel very self-confident underwater yet, so I assure her that we are perfect buddies, because with my twelve dives I’m not self-confident either.
The boat trip to Nusa Penida is just amazing. First we have a view of Gunung Agung, which is for once not hidden in the clouds (that’s really unusual and most stunning). About halfway to Penida Island, wild dolphins join us for a while. When we sail between the islands of Lembongan and Penida, all that beauty makes me speechless. While watching the cliffs, the bays, the nature, I notice a lonely fisherman sitting on a stone protrusion in the middle of one of the cliffs. For the rest of the way to Manta Point, my brain is trying to figure out how he got there, because there was no way. My thoughts are interrupted by Laci, who gives us briefing and instructions before the dive. When we are all ready, we do a back-roll into the sea and slowly descend. Manta Point is generally a shallower location and you don’t have to descend too deep. Mantas can be seen even at a depth of 3 meters, so snorkelers can see them too if the visibility is good enough. Laci leads us to a big rock at the location, where most of the mantas usually hang around. Today the visibility is not the best, but a big rock begins to appear in front us. Laci signals to other divers asking if they saw mantas by the rock.
They answer yes, so we turn on “the turbo boost” and try to get to the rock as fast as possible. But when we reach the rock, I feel disappointed, because I don’t see any mantas, just a bunch of divers hypnotizing the rock. "This is so typical, Olivia finally got to Manta point and mantas are not here," I begin to fall into a pessimistic mood. I stare at the rock for about two minutes. When I get bored shift my attention to corals and some small fish, Ankea pokes me and I see that something is getting closer to us from the rocks, something that reminds me of Aladdin’s magic carpet. It’s a Manta! A rather big Manta. Its movement fascinates me. As it slowly floats in the space, another manta appears behind and together they perform their dance. It's a beautiful sight, the world cease to exist for me for a while, I’m focusing only on mantas and their movements. I would like to swim closer to them, but I don’t want to disturb their space or to scare them away. One of the mantas (as if reading my thoughts) suddenly turns to me and comes my direction. I'm in shock for a while and I don’t know what to do, I don’t want to crash into her and hurt her, but then I experience one of the most beautiful moments in my life.
The manta just flies by above my head in all its beauty. I don’t know if you've ever seen the Free Willy movie, but I can compare my feelings to a cult scene from this movie- a little boy frees the orca from captivity and the orca jumps out of the water and literally flies over him, and the little boy is so happy. So I’m just like him at the moment - a happy little boy. When the manta swims away, I look at Ankea and Christian and we start dancing together "a festive dance", that’s how happy we are. We didn’t expect to see a manta from such a short distance. My eyes find Laci and I see that he has Vitek's GoPro in his hands, so I hope he managed to take at least one photo of the manta for a memory.
On the way back to Padangbai we are planning to stop at another location for the second dive. When we stop at Crystal Bay Nusa Penida, diving conditions are not ideal, so we decide for the Nusa Penida SD dive site. Most divers relax on the roof of the Dipe Boot during the break between the dives. As we are sunbathing, Ben, who is doing a dive master internship at OK Divers, suddenly spots a Mola Mola in the water and shouts. Information for non-divers, Mola Mola (or Ocean Sunfish) is probably one of the most weird-looking fish on the planet (at least in my opinion). When I first saw this fish in a video at OK Divers, I thought the video was shot in a bad format, or that the TV has a problem with screen or resolution scale because that fish was simply flattened. I was then told that:
- Mola Mola can grow up to 3 - 5 meters,
- a lot of scuba divers would do anything to see Mola Mola live just for a few seconds, because it is quite rare,
- it can be usually spotted in Bali only in the period from August to the end of October, when it occurs in shallower waters (understand at a depth of 25-30 meters), and yes, that this fish is really strange looking.
I’m watching an odd fin that comes out of the water and I ask Ben how it is possible that my OWD-level eyes have come to such a sighting, if Mola Mola occurs mostly at depths too big for me as an PADI Open Water Diver. I thought my chance to spot even the odd fin was about 0.00000000000001 %. Ben tells me that Molas come to the surface to sunbathe, just as we are right now. The odd fin disappears and all the divers on board can’t wait for the end of the mandatory surface interval, hoping to see the Mola underwater. It is the end of October, for many divers it is therefore the last chance for a long time to see Mola.
We are slowly descending to 18 meters, but see no Mola at all. Instead, however, we see large schools of small and bigger fish and the corals colored in pink, orange, brown and purple. This site is not only beautiful but also comfortable. Diving here is kind of relaxing because you swim with the current (so called drift diving) so you can enjoy the beauty of the underwater world without exhausting physical activity. However, this pleasant current is not very good for underwater photography. When we swim around a beautiful rock full of coral, I ask Laci, if he can take a picture of me, Ankea and Christian with this rock, but when we finally make the photo formation we're about 300 meters from the rock, but Laci takes the picture anyway :-)
We have no luck for Mola this time, but when we're back on the boat, we agree we've had more luck than many divers with hundreds of dives that have not even seen the odd fin on the surface.