The torches went dark. The weight of the black was crushing.
Immobile under the pressure and the fear, we kneeled. We were frightened to move.
It was like the dark you’d see as a child, hiding from monsters under the covers.
But just as back then when you realised those fears were foundless, so too here the dark did not last forever. The water began to lighten, softening to the relative comfort of a starless sky.
It was only then that I moved, bringing a hand in front of my face to see if I could penetrate the night. And the atmosphere exploded.
It exploded into a dazzling array of bioluminescent greens and blues that lit up my hand and my wrist and my forearm and the rest, so that I was momentarily shocked back into stillness.
Saddened by the return to night I flung my arms out again, both of them this time, and waved them in front of my body like a madman.
My diving buddies to the left and right of me and John our instructor kneeling in front on the sandy ocean floor were waving their arms as well, marvelling in the bursts of light created by the normally invisible lifeforms that populate these oceans.
After a minute or so of this behaviour dive-master John turned his torch back on. He was understandably much less enamoured by the display of light after diving these waters, off the coast of Nusa Lembongan near Bali, for over 20 years. He turned his torch back on and our world was again centred on what we could see.
We reluctantly followed suit, pressing the small black buttons mounted on the end of the bright yellow torches we carried and falling into line as we followed our guide through an alien terrain.
This was my first time diving at night, and we had decided to stick at a depth of six to eight metres to both allow some moonlight to filter through as well as to lessen the claustrophobia that some feel when under tonnes of water in the pitch black.
I’m lucky in that I don’t suffer from either of those fears. It’s the heights that get me, which is probably why I took to diving so easily, like a fish to water if you want to get cute.
As we followed John through a maze of bright and colourful coral formations growing from the sandy floor our torch beams found a myriad of strange and beautiful creatures. Blue and gold spotted pygmy cuttlefish the size of a thumb, decorator crabs scuttling away with the rocks and coral they use as camouflage glued to the back of their shells and multitudes of rainbow coloured and sharply beaked parrot fish.
The highlight though, the absolute standout, was the flying gunnard we stumbled across as we were preparing to ascend.
It was gliding along the rippled sands of the ocean floor hunting for it’s next meal. Red tinged with brown and black spots and fins like the wings of a butterfly, and while it seemed as large as one of our fins it could only have been a foot in size.
I’m not sure why that one sighting affected me so much, the gunnard is not even that rare of a fish in global terms. Maybe it was the excitement in John’s voice when we surfaced, as it was his first glance of the fish as well.
All I know was that as it slowly glided away, barely moving it’s sails and clearly not bothered by our presence or our lights, I was in awe of the graceful, unique beauty of that world.
While I had been a keen diver since my very first attempt on Koh Tao in Thailand 18 months before, it was this venture that truly cemented my love for the sport, as well as for that island and that ocean.
- I can not recommend World Diving Lembongan more highly for all levels of diver. John and his small team have an incredible amount of knowledge and passion for both the ocean and the island.