Tomorrow, March 9, will mark one of the most sacred holidays in Bali – Nyepi Day. Also known as the Bali Day of Silence, it will be a time when all of this beautiful land’s Hindus follow a ritual called the Catur Brata Penyepian, roughly the ‘Four Nyepi Prohibitions’: no fire, no travel, no activity and no entertainment. For many it is a time of contemplation. Which I hope to mirror. However my favorite description is this… “a chance for Mother Nature to ‘reboot’ herself after 364 days of human pestering.” And I get it … she sure could use a break. But despite our abuse, Mother Nature’s work here is, to date, indestructible. She was not messing around when she painted this swath of splendor called Bali.
I have seen coral in colors I never even imagined. I have smelled flowers whose mysterious scents I can’t even begin to describe. I have inhaled creamy, ghost white mangosteens and tangy, bright yellow passionfruit whose exotic, heady tastes simply cannot be replicated elsewhere.
And the animals… The brightest green grasshopper who jumped at least five feet in the air when I got too close. And the fat, light blue-striped geckos that look like stuffed toys. And the fish! Orange, yellow, red, turquoise, blue, striped, polka-dotted, minuscule, massive… all just floating by in gangs of hundreds or lolling about pecking at dancing seaweed as I stare at them in wonder.
But the very best bit … the greatest gift Mother Nature provided (in my eyes) … Manta Rays and turtles. And, lucky girl that I am, I have been blessed to swim with both of the past few days.
Our boat driver Captain whisked Elizabeth and I away from Nusa Lembongan – speeding over dark blue water toward the jagged cliffs of a neighboring island where the Manta Rays were said to be easier to spot. She and I fell into the sea with our fins and snorkels and within a minute Elizabeth broke the surface exclaiming that she had seen a Ray. I swam around madly for the next 20 minutes in hot pursuit. Alas… only fish. I climbed back into Captain’s boat moping like a young child, my head hung low with the belief that I was just not meant to see one.
Thankfully Captain would not be deterred and he hurtled his boat to one more ruggedly beautiful spot in the sea. And then he raised his fist and pointed and exclaimed something in Balinese that I took to mean “Manta Ray!” I threw my flippers on and fell once again into the ocean and there … just in front of me a massive Manta Ray. Spiraling quietly and slowly. Easily the same size as me. Sharp black with a white underbelly and piercing eyes. Floating, then quickly hurtling toward me. And then a second one. Just as big on my right. And then the first one dove beneath me as I became still. Unable to move. Just a tinge of fear keeping me in one place. I was able to glide over to Elizabeth several feet away as I watched them and grab her hand. She squeezed mine back. Hard. The tears that came when I swam with the Dolphins returns and I broke the surface, grinning like a school girl.
And then yesterday morning – turtles. I’m on a smaller island now (Gili Meno). Elizabeth flew back home the day before yesterday. So it was just me and a lovely couple from England, our boat driver and our “guide” (in quotes because he honestly couldn’t have been more than 17 and hung out in the boat listening to Indonesian house music for the majority of the time. I loved him regardless.) We launched out to sea in a simple boat with a swath of glass on its bottom. After a short 10-minute ride our guide said simply, “Now” and we descended into the warm, aquamarine water. He pointed to the bottom of the ocean and there it was. A huge, glorious sea turtle. Motionless. Taking a nap. And then two others glided into view and I was off … moving as quickly and silently as I could after them. Watching them motor through the blue … their small flippers moving slowly… their rotund shells sliding silently past every color of fish. But I only had eyes for the turtles.
Soon, too soon, other people arrived. One girl swam maniacally in front of me, her Go Pro poised to take selfies from every angle. But she didn’t even bother me as I gazed at the turtles. Especially since, at one point, she got too close and the bigger turtle essentially brushed her off – flicking a flipper and accelerating faster than I ever imagined possible – leaving her and her gadgetry and bad manners in his wake.
Go Pro chick gave up and swam off but I couldn’t help but follow him. He was immense. His shell painted seaglass green with mosaic-like patterns in lighter sage and dark olive and chocolate brown. He had even more intricate lining – almost like a honeycomb – around his eyes – which I was able to see in the bright sunlight when he surfaced less than a foot from me – poking his beak out to grab a breath. I followed him so long and so far, feeling like I was holding my breath so as not to disturb him, that our guide had to scream at me across the sea to return to the boat.
I will leave this part of the world in a week – starting my trip home. It is my great hope that I get to see another turtle or two off the coast of these little Balinese islands. But even if I don’t – I know how lucky I have been to have had such magical experiences. So in tomorrow – on Nyepi Day – I plan to be silent for a large part of it. I want to display my deep gratitude to Mother Nature for creating such splendor. And I want to honor the creatures who have kept me company, inspired me and given me such incredible moments of joy throughout this journey.