Learning to Breathe in Bali

By Emma. Cliquez ici pour l’article de Damien, en français. Click here for the photos of there.

Lead and light in Tulambden

An endless, flat, black sky spits and drizzles into a dark swollen sea. Our hotel is perched on a cliff edge. The wooden lats of the blind snap and clatter against the concrete walls. Fat drops pit the rough, black sand of the empty beach and Damien and I look at each other. Bali? Ok so this definitely isn’t how I had imagined Bali when the imaginings were imagined but being Irish, some strange little part of me has missed the rain. That same strange little part of me purrs a little. Ah rain.

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So what to do in Tulamben when it’s lashing and altogether quite miserable? Take refuge underwater and discover a sea ceiling of stippled light. I was nervous though. We had done more than twenty dives since we had started our trip but for some ungraspable, impossibly vague reason, I was becoming more and more nervous with each dive. I loved – really loved – diving but I definitely also had The Fear. I hate The Fear! It was now my bad habit to suck in great lung-fulls of air from my tank and counterweight that with kilos of lead which sat on my hips in a bladder-crushing stranglehold. And so, uneasily suspended in the shifting shadows of blue, bliss and quiet fear, I would spend half my time gazing at fish and the other half frantically twisting my neck about making sure that Damien was still alive and lurking happily in my blindspot.

 I needed a solution to The Fear … and the advanced dive course was it! Books are the answer (to quote my friend, Rose: “swot for life!”.)! It’s a really strange situation to be underwater and have somebody stare into your face, counting down the length of your exhalations. It’s a strange incursion into such an intimate act. Breathing is something you share with nobody else. It’s always your breath. It’s such a basic thing but there I was underwater, my jaws clamped in a death grip around the sharp, rubber taste of my regulator, and I had forgotten. Exhale 1 2 3 4 5 – my slow countdown giving me confidence, allowing me clarity and releasing me from the really heavy belt of lead. All my thanks to Dive Concepts!

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In Tulamben, we dived the wreck of the USS Liberty, a US cargo ship torpedoed by the Japanese in 1942. The ship was towed inland to Tulamben be salvaged. Over the years, the elements stripped the ship’s paintwork so that when, following the eruption of Mt. Agung in 1963 and the Liberty sunk back below the sea, it became the perfect colony for vibrantly coloured sea sponges and coral fans. It’s a hugely special dive spot, strangely and colourfully eery. It’s a bright, shallow-water home of nooks and cranies for leaf scorpion fish, frog fish, humphead parrot fish and groupers.

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Ubud: The crow and chocolate truffles

After our course, we headed on, through the ever-pouring rain, to Ubud. Ubud is a funny place. It’s a place that tries so hard that you doubt its authenticity. There are touts and shops selling knick-knacks and tourists as far as the eye could see. There is no sea. Sometimes, it feels like it could be anywhere. Its identity is hidden just out of sight under its need to please. But I loved it. There is a peace here. In the midst of all of that is wrong and jarring, there is something special, something still, in Ubud.

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Ubud, beyond the tourism, is a place of terraced paddy fields, stone gargoyles and sacred (thieving) monkeys. It is a place of breath and good food. It is a place to smile, just because.

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It is also a place of raw chocolate truffles, joyfully good dinners, live jazz and giant glasses of iced coffee.

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We spent such a strange, contented time there. I whiled away hours at the Yoga Barn (possibly one of my favourite places in the world) learning to breathe all over again. Damien spent nights watching world cup matches. We drifted in and out of each other’s days and nights in an inverse pattern of our last few months. Ubud lies far from adventure but I know that if I ever need a place to go to mind myself and to take stock, Ubud will be it. A place of comfort.

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Nusa Lembongan: Learning the colours of seaweed

After the everywhere/anywhere comfort of Ubud, in Nusa Lembongan curiousity can uncurl and stretch out a little. The island manages to waver on the edges of reality and dreams. Nusa Lembongan is tiny and quiet. There is no traffic here. People sway. There is sand between my toes. People smile and ask questions. Kites too dip and sway. Glossy black cockerels scratch the dirt beneath their woven domes. Locals float in inner tubes of tyres fishing and collecting seaweed. The seaweed dries in all of its shades of light of shadows, greens and purples in front of their thatched homes. Rare tourists swing in hammocks, dazzled by the silence, the stillness. Reefs teaming with colours lie just off the white sand and smooth pebble beaches and beneath the waves of the deeper, darker waters, giant manta rays glide soundlessly.

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