Off the southeast coast of Bali, beyond Nusa Lembongan and beyond Nusa Ceningan, lies a much larger and much more mysterious island – Nusa Penida. Seldom visited by tourists and seemingly lost in time, this island retains a truly unique aura. Locals who live on this rugged, hilly and dry island speak an ancient form of Balinese no longer spoken on the mainland. Adding to its mystique, the island was used as a penal colony by the Rajah of Klungkung (east of Denpasar) until the early twentieth century and was regarded as dangerous and somewhat sinister because the criminals banished to the island were believed to have practiced black magic. Many mainland Balinese still believe the island is possessed by occult powers and are reluctant to visit.
The waters surrounding Nusa Penida are just as powerful and sinister as the superstitions that shroud the hills. The south coast is pummeled by the fierce swells of the Indian Ocean and the north and east coasts, as well as the Toyapakeh Strait between Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan, are guarded by strong currents of up to 4 knots. Large requiem sharks patrol the reefs and the elusive mola-molas, or ocean sunfish, which can measure up to 3 meters fin to fin, are regularly sighted here. Not surprisingly, the big marine life and the exhilarating drift dives attract many divers to the area. It was here at Toyapakeh Bay where I logged my 40th dive.
Round numbered dives tend to be memorable for me and this one was no exception. I knew we were in for a bit of current when the Indonesian divemaster made everyone enter the water in rapid-fire succession. But he failed to mention just how strong the current would be. Divers are supposed to follow the divemaster but to my great alarm, I whizzed right by him! Then I turned around and frantically finned against the current in order to fall back into line with the rest of the group. I did this repeatedly. I got caught in current so strong that I was afraid I would crash into one of the coral bommies that appeared suddenly without warning. Every once in a while the divemaster would lead us to the lee side of a coral bommie or head where we could rest a moment where there was little current. But as soon as we left this shelter, I would, once again, be swept away. Most dives I spend looking at the marine life and noting things I want to record later in my log, but on this dive I barely had time to think about the marine life at all. It was stunning, to be sure, but I couldn’t tell you what I saw.
I used up almost all my air after a mere 40 minutes and surfaced with only 20 bar. I must have been gulping air extra fast because of my exertion finning against the current and my fear of crashing into something or someone. Once onboard the boat, I was relieved to hear that even the more experienced divers with hundreds of dives to their names also found the current to be very strong. At least my perception of the difficulty of the dive wasn’t exaggerated. I asked them what I could have done differently to have avoided that Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride feeling and they told me that I needed to stay low. It was valuable advice that came about 40 minutes too late. But I did go out again the next day feeling more prepared and had two much better dives. Now I’m thinking that one of the specialty courses I do will be Drift Diver! The way I see it, either I gain knowledge and training in difficult dives or I’ll have to give in to the mysterious powers of Nusa Penida.