The Island of the Gods
by Marco Cerieiro
The trip to Bali was being postponed for three years, sometimes it was the lack of time and others the unavailability of flights, well what remains is that for a few years all the plans foiled, and the trip was consequently postponed to my great disappointment.
Two years ago, Patricia, my wife and companion of adventures on land, (no one convinces her to get under water), accomplished in a couple of hours what I and many others have failed to do in weeks and weeks of contact, She booked and confirmed a trip to Bali, including flights, accommodation and transfers!
Once I received the good news about the trip i automatically began to form in my mind ideas about the "rigs" that i should take, what fish would appear and it was with a growing enthusiasm that i fired multiple e-mails to Nuno, friend and longtime partner in these wanderings, to discuss some options of gear and setups. Of course we ended up passing a few nights discussing the various possibilities and the different scenarios.
The next step was obviously to call Jon and Andre Wicasana two great hunters and also longtime friends, Andre is a Balinese well known manufacturer of wooden weapons and an exceptional spearo, Jon is a crazy American from New York, that looks like the iron men and been living in Ulluatu for about 20 years spending most of the time spearing and surfing.
One of the things that gives me more pleasure and truly gives me a rush is all the preparation needed to these expeditions, not only regarding the gear but also all the study and research you have to do to totally understand the place and all the conditions. I feel like a kid who just learned to read and cannot stop, the enjoyment is not limited to that magical moment when we jumped into the water, or the peak of adrenaline when we saw "that" fish. Enjoyment begins weeks or even months before departure.
And so, through long conversations about spearguns, floats, dyneema cords, tides, currents and fish, time passed quickly and we reached the day of departure for "The Island of the Gods" as Bali is known among the locals.
Arrived at Lisbon airport and the usual shenanigans with the check in gone as usual, and after all weighed and tagged we went to deliver the SportTube with all the gear to the "Over Sized" counter, and here come all the usual questions, what are inside the tube, what is it for, and... is it dangerous? Finally and after all answered we were able to dispatching all the heavier luggage.
The first flight was relatively short, only a connection Lisbon > London getting off at 7:45 AM and arriving in London a couple of hours later, where we would have to wait 5 hours for the next flight. After arriving in London and after a stop at Starbucks and some shopping to cheer up, it was time to embark on a Qatar Airways Airbas with destination Doha in Qatar. The Arrival to Doha was marked by the incredibly hot temperature (in the middle of the night) never in my life i felt such a hot wind, it became clear why all the guys wear the white thoub. Fortunately inside the airport the temperature was controlled by powerful air conditioning devices.
The stop in Qatar was relatively short and we take another flight from Doha to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and from there to Denpasar (Bali) our final destination in a total of 30 hours flying!
In Bali at last it was time for settling in the hotel and a quick rest. Those who come to Bali convinced that will find a tropical island of calm clear water and white sand beaches maybe a bit disappointed. Bali is not like that! Prepare yourself to enter an island with 5632 m2 and more than three million inhabitants, with a crazy traffic where bikes, cars, vans and bicycles come from everywhere. However, we soon realized that we are in a magical place where offerings to the gods are made at all times and all the houses look like temples. Once installed at the hotel in Benoa, our first day was spent in Bali to recover from jet lag, between a dip on the beach and a few naps in the sand.
I had my first dive scheduled with Jon for my third day in Bali, and in the afternoon of the second day in the island I received a call from him telling me that he did not want to discourage me, however the sea was very good for surf, a huge swell had settled, but we would do whatever was possible, to get in the water for same spearfishing action.
Reached the long-awaited first day of diving in Indonesian waters and Neptune did not collaborate. But we are stubborn and after a few incidents to be able to get all the equipment in a small car we drove from Benoa to Ulluwatu where I would meet with Jon. In fact, the conditions were excellent ... but for surfing! We decided to went for a more sheltered area, a bay outside Ulluwatu but still within the reef. 3 mm wetsuit, 130 Speargun with 2x 16 mm, breakaway shaft with 2 turns of dyneema and connected to a foam blown buoy by a 20 meters floatline. (give or take this was my rig for reef spearfishing)
It was with a rough sea and 15 to 20 meters visibility that we began the first day of Indonesian spearfishing. Over there those who wait for calm seas, easy fish and relaxed dives better stay at home. The spearfishing conditions are harsh, the sea has a lot of strength, even spearing on the reef has to be made in a strong current, being almost impossible to swim against it, the current also have an uncharacteristic movement (at least for what i am used to) and pushes you to the bottom lots of times. We reached the spearfishing ground in less than 30 minutes.
When in the water i made a serious effort not to start shooting right away but we were looking for a chance of landing a big fish so we have to restrain our instincts and not catch big parrots, Yellow snappers and very good size unicorns since they were all around.
We are in Uluwatu, a magical place of visions both within and out of water, where even in the boat and a couple of miles away from the coast we saw the temple on the top of a cliff and watch the journey of "crabber" monkeys that hit the coast line in search of food, carefully inspecting all the rocks uncovered in the low tide.
After a few drifts without success, Jon pointed out an area where the current was frankly weaker and tells me to go for a dip there since sometimes nice surprises appear on that area.
I breath calmly at the surface relaxing the abdominal muscle and down to work. After a few meters I feel the thermocline, I'm at -15 meters and the bottom should be about 6 or 7 feet meters down, I spot a stone arch and see part of the body of a grey fish that i cannot distinguish, but i can see it´s big. With the speargun already in position i do a careful approach to the side of the arcade and ... I see a magnificent reef shark that should have about 1.40 m. Although not a dangerous shark, it did scare me since we stood face to face at a really short distance, clearly that the shock was equal to both of us, since we both went in opposite ways.
I reach the surface, and I see that Jon continues doing some drifts it´s 16.00 hours and the day is over, since in this side of the World Night falls early, at 18.00 is dark night.
We decide to make a few dives before coming back to shore, the end of the day sometimes gives us the possibility of nice catches, i dive again and find myself literally half surrounded by a shoal of small barracudas, the largest of about 50 cm, i loved the moment i will never forget that view and it makes me realize i really need to buy an underwater camera.
After a few seconds i glimpse in the distance a silhouette that swims in my direction without yet be able to distinguish what it is. I wait perfectly still, weapon already stretched and ready to shoot. I begin to see 3 snappers of good size. I´m feeling that i cannot extend the apnea longer and decide to go for a long shot and the 130 Rob Allen Railgun fulfills it function. I climb with the sense of accomplishment, because the dinner was guaranteed. Four more dives and other two snappers shipped, thereby ensuring the crew dinner to general happiness.
We returned to port, and it was time to washing and packing the material, it was in a state of fatigue that Wayan, my driver that day, took me back to Benoa, where Patricia was waiting for me to have dinner and listen to my stories ... poor thing!
For the second day of dive we choose another zone, since the trip to Nusa Penida, the "hot spot" of dog tooth tuna was impossible due to weather conditions it was even a boat overturned the day before, Thus we decided to go through the reef drop outside the Nusa Dua area. August is the time of the year in which the waters are cooler in Bali and the appearance of pelagic it's more difficult. It takes persistence and a great deal of patience to take good fish. We embarked in Benoa, around 7:00 a.m., with a uninviting weather, sky and wind threatening a storm.
After a few minutes of navigation we reached the chosen area. I enter the water immediately, unroll the flurocarbon from the flasher float up to 10 meters, breathe calmly at surface ventilating with no rush and beginning the descent. After a few moves i just stop swimming and I am simply descending into the blue, i stop and level at about - 15 meters, the flasher tackle is a few meters above Me. From the blue appears a shadow, I wait and i recognize that silhouette i descend a few more meters in an attempt to intercept it, the fish suddenly turns, i swim as fast as i can in an attempt of having a shoot opportunity my apnea is at the end and i am starting to feel the contractions on my abdomen, i manage to get the fish to about 5 meters of me, I decided to go for tge shot point out and pulled the trigger, risking a long shot. Now I realize that was a mistake, but at the time the excitement of seeing a huge doggy (dog tooth tuna) clouded my judgment.
The shaft struck the back of the fish that triggered frantically taking back and sinking two rigid 11 liters foam filled floats and a 35 Liters inflatable completely the gear was totally underwater for several minutes. All The system was dragged a few meters until suddenly everything went to a dead stop and back to surface, clear sign that the fish had torn and was lost. It was time to recover the shaft and check that the barb had ceased to exist, having been torn by the brute force of this fish. After a pause on board to recover forces with a cereal bar and a juice was time to head over inshore since it was Clearly a lack of big fish in the blue, since the Tuna was lost we only saw a school of small Blue Runners.
Soon we were again in the water in the inside area of the drop, an area which is only 30 meters deep, but with many pinnacles that came around to -15 / -20 meters, with a water temperature of around 29 º C on the surface, and visibility that did not exceed 10 meters. I Armed the 130 with the two 16 mm bands and went towards the bottom. I manage to catch a good yellow snapper that was literally devoured by two white tips with zero chances of recover.
2 hours more and the current started to increase and nothing else special to report! Until in one of the dives, already inside the reef i noticed a Lunar Tailed Big Eye well above average size, my local guide also saw the fish and said to me in his very difficult to understand English "boss it tastes like chicken. More difficult than understand my Indonesian friend was to take the fish the approach was difficult and the increasing current was also not helping, it seemed the game of cat and mouse ... the fish persisted in maintaining a distance out of shooting reach . Here i had to use all resources i got from almost 20 years spearing bream and bass in the Atlantic. Meter by meter, I was getting closer and closer, sometimes showing me than hiding, until the LT became curious, approaching me and giving the side, i only need one opportunity to make the shot and get the fish on the boat to the delight of the crew on board. The return to port was done with the usual good mood it was time to celebrate the day with a Bintang, the internationally known Indonesian Beer.
Almost without realizing it was time for coming back home to Portugal. To be honest i did expect a bit more of this expedition, however i did know before i go that August is not the best spearfishing season in Bali, but for me all these time spend at sea in the search of "that fish" gives you the experience and knowledge to became a better spearo.
If you guys are planning a trip to Bali and need contacts or any other help, feel free to contact me trough my spearfishing.com profile.