Nusa Penida is a smaller island to the southeast of Bali, with a great reputation as a tourist destination. I had never been there, but it comes up in my search for good snorkeling sites. And in keeping with my plan to snorkel directly from beaches, rather than from boats, the best destination is called Crystal Bay.
But first, to get to the island. The hundreds of tourists who make the crossing each day are served by a swarm of independent “fast boats”, small enough to land directly on the beach at Sanur, but large enough to safely cross the sea. Watching these boats being loaded is a bit shocking. Crewmen grab the luggage first, haul it out through the knee-deep surf to the boat, and hand it up to colleagues on the top deck for stowage. Fortunately, they don’t drop anything, and there’s no rain at the moment. Then, the passengers climb up the ladder from the water.
After the 45-minute crossing, we land at Penida’s only port, where a dock enables us to disembark with more dignity.
Next, to get a taxi to our hotel at Crystal Bay. There’s no public transport here, and no online booking, so the fare will be whatever the taxi collective determines, at best, or whatever the driver can con you out of, at worst. I check the distance to the hotel; 8 km. In the urban part of Bali, where independent drivers, taxis, and ride-hailing apps all compete, this would cost about 40,000 IDR (~$3). Very cheap, I know. So I expect it to be higher here, but when the driver quotes a price of 200,000, my head explodes. Thinking we can bargain, I offer 50. At this point, an older driver steps in and says, the actual price is 150. He seems serious and not argumentative, so I agree.
Once on the road, I can figure out why. It’s not just monopoly pricing. The roads are in terrible condition, paved but very rough; the SUVs that can manage to get over them are more expensive than a city car, and probably wear out quickly. Obviously, whatever they have for government here doesn’t care about potholes. It occurs to me that if the drivers, who are quite well organized about price controls, pooled their money and fixed the roads themselves, they would save so much on repairing and replacing their vehicles that it would be better for everyone. But who would I approach with such a suggestion? Just an idle thought, while I bounce along.
We have booked a hotel a short walk from Crystal Bay, but it appeared on my map that there were very few choices in the area. When we arrive in the little valley, it seems that every little homestead is some kind of guest house. Maybe they aren’t listed online, or maybe they’ve stopped operating with the slowdown of tourist traffic.
Our little resort is delightful. Our hostess asks us if we’d like some fresh juice, and when we opt for coconut, she goes and grabs some right off the tree. Delicious! Bananas and pineapples grow on the property, too.
In Thailand, we see “spirit houses” at every dwelling. In Bali, we see offering trays placed in front of each door, fresh daily. Whether they call themselves Buddhists or Hindus, folks in this part of the world honor the local spirits in a similar way. Here, we find an even more charming variation: they look like mailboxes, where the offerings are placed. Every home has one, each unique.
It is just a short walk to the beach at Crystal Bay. And we’re glad we can walk there, because the road is jammed with tourist-bearing SUVs. A popular destination, for sure.
It’s new moon, a major high tide. The tour boats have gathered near the reef, the best snorkeling spot, maybe 100 meters from the beach. I swim out, confident that the rising tide means that it will be easy to swim back to shore. The water is indeed crystal-clear, and beautiful, and there are plenty of fish, but they are deeper, so I can’t see much. (And again, no waterproof camera, so you can’t, either). I go a bit farther, looking for the reef, and suddenly realize that I’m approaching the end of the area where the tour boats are moored. The current is carrying me out to sea.
I struggle to reach a vacant mooring buoy, but I’m now quite tired. No way to swim back against the current. Instead, I propel myself to a nearby boat, where the sympathetic crew takes me aboard, and lets me join their passengers on a shuttle that takes us back to the beach for lunch.
Esso, who I thought would be near me, had actually turned back for some reason, and is waiting for me on the beach. We enjoy a quiet lunch. watching as one tour boat tries to land passengers in the surf. The shuttle I rode in on must have been specially designed to make this easier!
One more day on this island; we decide to take a land tour to see the famous scenic spots. AsI mentioned above, the roads are pretty troublesome, but the scenery is beautiful. High hills and deep gorges everywhere, amazingly lush forests broken by open fields. But as we approach the famous “Broken Beach”, the curse of the popular destination becomes clear. Not just on the road, but at the viewpoint. I decide to skip the hike down to the crowded rocks, and enjoy the relatively serene view from above.
Another drive, another tourist mecca. Kelingking has a spectacular overlook. We enjoy ourselves there, taking in the grandeur. I don’t mention that California has many equally-spectacular coastal views, without the throng of tourists.
No more to say about Bali; we have pretty well done it all, I think. At least, as much as I have the stamina for. We’ll see what adventurous possibilities open up next year.