Family Magazine

A Breather, and a Lesson in Navigation, on Pulau Menjangan

By Behan Gifford @sailingtotem
We got tired of waiting in Lovina for our visas to be ready. After nearly two weeks in one anchorage, it was time for a break. The prospect of an old friend from home visiting Bali lifted our concern about being ready to run the moment our visa extensions were completed- we'll stick around at least through the weekend to see Rick and Lori- so there wasn't a need to be right there in Lovina waiting on Immigration's least for a few days. And we hadn't had any good snorkeling since Komodo.
Pulau Menjangan
This little island of the northwest corner of Bali-- Menjangan- was recommended by diving friends from home, the Peacoes. We assumed we wouldn't be able to get there, because, you know, we'd be just getting our visas extended and hightailing it to the amazing jungles of Kalimantan- the Indonesian side of Borneo. Turns out, not so much. With the visa extensions dragging out for no reason anyone in Immigration Officialdom can explain to us, we made the brilliant decision that we should relax and stick for Rick and Lori anyway, and headed out to Menjangan. And you know what? It was lovely, complete with dramatic views of volcanoes in east Java from the anchorage.
E Java
What a beautiful escape- hardly anyone was there! A bunch of dive boats would show up in the middle of the day, but that was it. Four park rangers are resident on the island, and a handful of Hindu priests at the temples, but that's it- no actual population. No hotels. No hawkers. No restaurant shills. Heavenly!
The little island was ringed with moorings we could tie the dinghy to, without fears of damaging the fragile life below. Creative use of beach trash kept the lines afloat.
Mooring floats
We communed with many pretty fish. The echinoderms were some of the prettiest, and definitely the most diverse, that we'd seen since Raja Amapt.
gorgeous feather
The worms crawling around this... sponge?...were fantastic. I kept thinking how Dan would have gotten a really great macro shot of them. I couldn't hang steadily at a close enough range (stinging coral overhang!), and I couldn't decide if what I should really get was a wide angle (it was sitting inside the most beautiful plate coral!). So I have this, which is neither macro nor wide, but still... pretty. :-)
love the sponges + worms
The kids' favorite was a cuttlefish that played a game of hide-and-go-seek with them, going through a remarkable range of colors and textures before squirting away into deeper water.
Flight of the cuttlefish
While the girls follwed along, Niall took a whole series of photos with it scooting around and morphing before their eyes. I love watching the kids play around together in the water, excited to share what they find with each other. It reminds me- yes, this is why we are here, this is why we do this crazy thing.
kids at play
We swam through some really beautiful coral gardens, but the kids' favorite was just the sandy bottom area off the jetty. There were resident spadefish and needlefish that just seemed to want to watch you.
This crazy little fish threw itself (well, not literally) at Niall's mask. It stuck there like glue for ages, never getting more than a couple of inches away. He insisted on a photo.
It was all cute, until the fish got a couple of feet away from Niall, whereupon it was nailed by a needlefish. Bit it right in half, right in front of Niall. He was moderately traumatized. Sing with me now:...the circle of life...
Oh, and there was the odd poseur Lionfish. They think they're so cool.
Spotted lionfish
Jamie and I had fun hanging out on the jetty in the evening, talking to the rangers (bahasa only). Two guys were from Java, and two from Bali. They regaled us with stories of other animals in this national park that we  didn't get to see, since our heads were stuck underwater so much. There are several species of deer- a few had been swimming across the channel the night before we arrived. They told us where to go to see the famed Bali Starlings, thought to be near extinct in the wild- their colorful plumage making them a target for the markets.
The most memorable experience was our second, and last, night anchored off the island. A fisherman stopped off on the beach to do some simple repairs to his gear. Later, he was curiously circling Totem, so we waved him over and invited him on board. It turned into one of our more interesting evening cockpit conversations. Mohammed Salim was there on holiday- not fishing for subsistence, but fishing for fun. He lives on the Java side (we can see Java: it's only about 5 miles away), and makes a living by shipping cows from there to the islands in eastern Nusa Tengara: Sumbawa and Sumba, mostly, but sometimes up to Sulawesi. He loved telling us his boat was bigger, but what really impressed us was his navigation. Now, this part of Indonesia is not rocket science to navigate- but it is still impressive to speak with a man who navigates entirely with the stars and his eyeballs. No stars? No problem. He reads the patterns in the waves. Honestly, it's amazing to me that this still exists, although we have been fortunate to see it over and over in this past year. I wonder how much longer that kind of knowledge will survive? This learning- this 'ilmu', to use the Indonesian word he invoked over and over- is special, but I'm afraid it's dying. 
We talked about fish stocks. In our years now of sailing in the Pacific and more recently dipping into Southeast Asia, we feel that we see more and more evidence of horrific overfishing. There are occasionally well managed areas, and they stand out. Outside the no-take zone in Raja Ampat, everywhere in Indonesia is plain evidence that the water are grossly overfished. What did he think? He had a practical answer, at first. Yes, there might be too many fisherman. But then: his response changed, and he said that God would provide, when fishermen needed fish. Jamie and I talked about it later: how can you argue with this? How can you educate and change people to understand that, the beauty of faith aside, at some point the fish will be gone, and no faith will put them back.
Mohammed stayed with us for hours. When the current switched- which he knew partly from our boat's movement, but predicted for us based on the altitude of the moon's rise- he went back to the outrigger tied behind Totem, and took off to fish for squid.
When we were up in the morning, he was gone. I wish we'd been able to see him once more, and tell him what an impression he made on us.

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