Destinations, September 1998
A Bali High at a Low, Low Price
If the usual tropical-isle inducements of orchid-scented breezes and palm wine on the beach remain insufficient to get you to Bali, we have two more: an almost historically high exchange rate (15,000 rupiah to the dollar), and the diving at little-known Menjangan Island, about a mile and a half off the northwest coast. Beneath uninhabited Menjangan's glassy waters lives one of the world's richest tropical marine populations — and one of the least disturbed. Bannerfish, sunfish, hawksbill turtles, yellowbacked fusiliers, anthias, gorgons, clowns, and groupers all flit through these warm waters against a backdrop of rugged, grotto-riddled reef. Shadowy fleets of reef sharks hug the sea bottom. And to the west, the wreck of a 19th-century schooner still holds a set of rusted palm-wine distillation machinery, now manned by giddy little goatfish. Swim down and they'll instantly part, circle, and regroup, slipping rhythmically through the shafts of slanting light before crowding around that least-familiar of species, you.
Afterward, pull yourself onto the sand and tear into a box lunch of sticky rice with noodles and tempeh while watching wild deer browse the brush. September is a prime season for fish viewing but the tail end of the tourist rush. On the afternoon we dived and dozed at Menjangan, the beach was empty save for a tiny Balinese girl who ran past with a plastic bag full of parrot fish, her prize held aloft, while her sister stood at the water's edge, arms also outstretched, seashells raining from her hands.
To dive off Menjangan, call Spice Dive (011-62-362-41305), located on Bali's north shore, which offers basic PADI-certification ($285) as well as dive-boat trips for $50, including equipment and a guide. Camping is forbidden on the island, since it's part of the Bali Barat National Park, but staying on Bali is not exactly a hardship. The most convenient Balinese village is Lovina, where the two-person bungalows at Nirwana Cottages (011-62-362-41288) sit in an exquisitely gurgling water garden and cost a mere $7.