Today we all woke up in Tulamben, on the northern coast of Bali. With the company of geckos and the ambiance of American and Indonesian pop music, we all ate our breakfasts, which varied from pineapple and banana pancakes to traditional Balinese dishes: black rice pudding and Nasi goreng, which is an egg on top of a bed of fried rice or noodles.

Nasi goreng for breakfast. | Photo: Esther

Nasi goreng for breakfast. | Photo: Esther

After some yoga, socialization, and morning adventure, the group gathered in the poolside pavilion for group stretching, and met Matt, Anna, and Dan, who are instructors with Apneista, a free diving and yoga center here in Tulamben. We tried on snorkel gear and prepared for the exciting day of free diving.
We split into groups and learned about the theory of free diving, learning that anxiety in the water can be regulated by acknowledging the mind and body connection. We practiced equalization, breath control, and the concept of relaxation. In addition, we learned basic facts about snorkeling and free diving, including how the body physically reacts under water pressure, how to expand lung capacity while free diving, and the dangers of hyperventilation, which had previously been believed to help divers to stay under the surface for longer. It turns out that we have an innate reaction to being underwater that is shared between mammals; our bodies know how to conserve oxygen underwater!

Instructors from Apneista teaching the students about the theory and techniques of free diving. | Photo: Esther

Instructors from Apneista teaching the students about the theory and techniques of free diving. | Photo: Esther

After our first lesson, we took a lunch break with curry, noodles, tuna skewers, and Indonesian fruits that we couldn’t name but we all liked. We all enjoyed our juices through our reusable stainless-steel metal straws.

After lunch, we finished up our courses and learned more about free diving to get us prepared for the water.

Trip Leader Thomas briefing students on dive and snorkel safety. | Photo: Esther

Trip Leader Thomas briefing students on dive and snorkel safety. | Photo: Esther

Next, we geared up and headed into the ocean for our first free dives. Alongside the diving instructors, we practiced equalizing our ears as we dove down, went upside down, and eventually duck dived to the depths below. There were buoys set up with ropes attached from which we dived down. Many people reached quite far down along the rope and were also successful with duck dives.

 

After a quick break, we returned to snorkel along the USS Liberty shipwreck. It was very interesting and exciting to experience the marine life firsthand, swimming alongside and right above fish we recognized from Disney’s movie, Finding Nemo, and various aquariums. Some of us duck dove through parts of the ship, being guided by the instructors while some of us rested on the surface and admired the wildlife. Once we snapped some underwater photos with the National Geographic Society Flag, we headed to shore.

Evening descends on Tulamben, Bali. | Photo: Esther

Evening descends on Tulamben, Bali. | Photo: Esther

We returned to our bungalows, showered, and got ready for another delicious Balinese meal.  After an active day, we gathered and learned more about our group leaders as well as discussing the highs and lows of the day. It was yet another great day in Bali.

The students after having rolled up their sleeves to collect trash on the beach. | Photo: Trip Leader Thomas

The students after having rolled up their sleeves to collect trash on the beach. | Photo: Trip Leader Thomas

We woke up early the next morning, yet again stunned to be staying in such a beautiful paradise. A full breakfast of Balinese black-rice-pudding later, we packed our bags and settled into the bus with my already close Nat Geo friends. The sun shone brightly to greet us as we mounted the bus and set off on our road trip from Tulamben across the island.

Pemuteran Bay at dusk. | Photo by Emma V.

Pemuteran Bay at dusk. | Photo by Emma V.

Even though it was hard to leave Liberty Dive Resort, we were all excited for the new adventures Pemuteran had for us. The bustling towns and shimmering landscapes along the way had each and every one of us breathless—we had never experienced such an awe-inspiring island. A couple of hours and some rumbling stomachs into the ride, we decided to stop at a resort near the beach for a pleasant and delicious Indonesian buffet.

 

We stopped again, shortly after lunch, to visit a Hindu temple. Troops of monkeys climbed sacred sight while we stepped inside the temple walls to admire the fascinating ancient architecture. We observed the ceremony before a Balinese Hindu swami invited us to join in prayer. We were blessed with rice on our foreheads and holy water, and here we had a taste of the richness of Balinese religious culture. While I doubt many of us have had this experience, it was amazing to be included in such a sacred meeting.

Ornate detail at Pulaki temple near Pemuteran. | Photo by Emma V.

Ornate detail at Pulaki temple near Pemuteran. | Photo by Emma V.

Then we arrived at the Tirtasari Bungalows and mingled with our new roommates. I can’t remember the last time I smiled as much as I have today—we’re all bonding so quickly and it’s so much fun to be able to have new and exhilarating experiences every day. At first it was strange to be away from the residences that we arrived at first and to eat in an unfamiliar place, but now we really feel like explorers; we’re on the move and immersing ourselves in the Balinese culture more and more every day.