I just did one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. I swam with giant manta rays.
Our boat searched and searched the coast of Nusa Penida and my anticipation was starting to turn to disappointment. It started to look more and more as if we’d be unlucky and miss the giant animals. We passed numerous anchored boats, all of which gave us a negative sign, so persistent, we’d head further down the coastline. On to the next cove with 300 foot cliffs dropping down into the water crashing up against it. Suddenly, our dive master spotted something. Nearby, a pack of dolphins could be seen also sharing the water. It was go time and we rushed to get our equipment on before falling into the water, scuba skills don’t fail me now. Luckily, visibility was around 50 feet, but after another twenty minutes of searching the frigid depths, I began to feel disappointment creeping in. By this point, I was almost shivering from the cold upwelling waters, left so chilly, gloomy and dark as the sun was hidden by clouds. I was attentively searching, but it really felt like I was floating aimlessly lost in some giant otherworldly cavern. Then they made their appearance. Hardly visible at first but they cruised in circles and then swept on by, coming so close my body just froze. I shook off the stiffness and followed after them for as long as I could keep up, but as quick as they appeared, they were gone. There is something so humbling being near an animal that size (9 ft wingspan). We were in its world. They’re majestic animals and glide through the water with what seems like minimum exertion and movement of their wings. Just wow.
I decided I had to see them again. Talking with a fellow diver on our boat, he said he’d had an awesome experience with them in Komodo National Park. I’d heard of the place, but it conjured up images of giant man-eating lizards, not manta rays. I was mistaken. The park is home to some of Indonesia’s best diving and before I knew it, plans had changed and I began island hopping eastward. Again I found myself searching a huge dive site with a sandy bottom and minimum coral and this time we saw two mantas, but they were more from afar and the time was short lived. Afterwards, I was slightly disappointed in the result, but I knew that I should be grateful for what I did see. Quite often, diver’s don’t even see the giants at all and on top of the mantas, I saw multiple turtles and my biggest shark to date, who decided to swim a few feet directly underneath me. I should consider myself lucky regardless.
The following day, I set out on a 2 day/1 night boat trip to the islands, which included some hikes to see Komodo dragons and some more snorkeling. I imagined the snorkeling to be in shallow coral gardens, and for the first few stops, I was right. The coral was in great shape and minus the school of squid, I felt like I was in my dentist office’s fish tank, multiplied by a thousand. However, our last snorkeling stop of the day took me by surprise. We had returned to Manta Point, which I had no idea was on the agenda until that moment. Recently dry from my previous dip and weighing the actual odds of seeing anything worthwhile, I was initially reluctant to jump right back in (I’ve become spoiled and the water wasn’t warm), but after my buddy Aaron began poking fun of me saying “life’s rough,” I realized I should take advantage of every moment, so I pulled on my fins and jumped overboard.
Fifteen minutes later, I was pretty well satisfied with my exploration and was about to head back to the ship when I saw another snorkeler wave his arm. Could it be a manta? Would we actually be that lucky? I jettisoned over and there it was. Slowly gliding over a few patches of corals getting itself cleaned by the little fish. I just hovered over it, taking it in. Then a friend showed up and swooped over top of him. I was beyond stoked and yelled at Aaron to get his butt in the water. Before he could even move, two more cruised on over to the party. They were everywhere. I was mesmerized. I took a giant breath and swam down for a better look without getting too close to disturb. Then another and another. It never got old and they kept hanging around. I wanted to stay all day.
The boat captain began calling me back, but getting back aboard held no appeal whatsoever in my mind. Alas, I eventually gave in and found myself back on the boat, the wind drying me off as we began our return to Flores. Komodo had lived up to its billing.