From your first glimpse of Bali, you can tell that it has steered clear from the hippy paradise it was once renowned for. A world of fancy resorts, branded shops and hipster restaurants are ready for business across the island. Still, it’s relaxing charm still survives in the quieter corners off the beaten track.
Water sports are a famous draw to the area. The east coast is famous for diving, whilst the west coast with stronger currents is the surfer’s dream. I would be starting my Bali adventure on the east coast, where I had enrolled on a freediving course to explore the depths with only the power of my own lungs.
But first, I would be spending a few days in Sanur, a small coastal town away lively neighbourhood of Kuta. “Bali’s retirement home” would be the most adequate description of Sanur; stone walled streets run around the area with refined apartments and resorts where ex-pats and tourists can relax in luxury.
Most days in Bali tend to be uneventful – not that that’s a bad thing. They generally include the key ingredients of beach, plenty of food, and some refreshing Bintang (the local beer). One night I repeated my usual mission of gaining access to a luxury resort with a simple smile and wave at the entrance. I was joined by two other backpackers, and enjoyed some drinks bought from the local minimart, whilst remaining in a quiet corner to avoid the attention of the patrolling security guards.
Although golden beaches wrap around the coastline, Bali is not just about the beaches. Dense green forests rise up the mountainous slopes, which are dissected by roads connecting the villages and towns. A few massive volcanoes dominate the skyline with cotton-wool clouds hovering around the peaks.
After a few days I was heading to Tulamben, a small town (or more accurately, a single street), with a handful of restaurants and dive centres sitting quietly in the Balinese sun. I checked into a luxurious hostel, and for the first time in 4 months into a room of my own! To be honest, I had forgotten the bliss of sleeping in a room by yourself, and I truly enjoyed every minute of my private suite.
The following day, I started commenced my freediving adventure by running through the essentials of Pranayama breathing techniques and diving essentials before jumping into the water. The most important factor is remaining calm underwater to reduce oxygen usage and panic. Clearing your mind and filling your body with oxygen is the next step, before diving in and slowly fall into the depths. You must move at a snail’s pace downwards, and once you overcome the initial excitement of being underwater, it’s a very meditative process.
Over the next two days, I slowly improved my technique and concentration to reach a depth of 60ft by the end. At deeper depths, only the sound of bubbles keep you company in the big blanket of blue to wraps around you. It was a truly unforgettable experience.
We finished the day freediving into a shipwreck which lay a short distance off the coast. The ship, which sank around the time of World War 2, was coated in Coral and sealife. Fish swam through the metal skeleton, followed only by curious divers. We dove through a chimney at the bow, and finished at 13m deep with a view of the whole ship. After an hour, we all left the water with ear-to-ear smiles.
Sadly, I was set to leave Tulamben following my course in search of rougher waters. I am heading to Canggu, which sits on the west coast where the waves roar in to greet eager surfers. I would be joining the surfing brigades to see what all the fuss was about. It will be a different challenge, but no doubt an exciting one.