Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Diving and swinging the days away: Amed and the east coast of Bali


Destination: Amed (Selang village to be exact) and Tulamben (site of the USST Liberty)

Number of Days there: 4

Our Best of: Sipping on tea as you watch the local fisherman bring in their days haul at 7:30am, diving the majestic USST Liberty

One thing unexpected: Riding down the road on the back of a motorcycle with no helmet in a wet suit

Times we took the: Bus: 0 Train/Subway: 0 Taxi/Car: 2; Motorcycle: 2

Estimated KM walked: just to the water to go snorkeling/diving

Where we stayed: Good Karma (160,000rp about $18 US) Nice place with all the Bungalows facing the water and breakfast included. Goods: quite, ocean front, hammock, friendly manager, Baba somewhat of a local celebrity. Bads: the random request for massage? or snorkeling? or transport?, location is too far from town to walk and the mysterious brown water that flowed from the shower on occasion

Favorite restaurant: Blue Moon - decent fare that took the usual Indonesian dishes and gave them a little spin - the rest of our food excursions were rather uneventful.

We arrived an Amed to really do two things: dive the USST Liberty and relax on a nice beach. The Liberty was a US cargo ship that was torpedoed by the Japanese during WWII, towed to shore to salvage the goods, and left on the shore when the island was lost to the advancing Japanese. When the nearby volcano of Agung erupted in 1963, it broke the ship in half and pushed it into the ocean where it now lies at a nice diving depth of 21 meters at the deepest point. While the ship did not disappoint, the beach was not exactly suited to swimming and sunbathing. All the beaches along this stretch are rocky and the expanse of sand under the water have been replaced with corals. Good for snorkeling, but not the pure white sand beach we were hoping for.

The first day we spent relaxing at the hotel. We arose in the morning to find that all the boats lining the shore from the day before, were gone. Around 7:30 all of them came back in carrying a basket full of fish (if they were lucky that is). Apparently all of the fishing is done between sunrise (around 4:30 - 5:00, we have yet to get up early enough to find out!) and 8:00am. The women then come out, collect all the fish, and take them to the market. We were told that the fish being caught were some variety of tuna, but a much smaller variety than what we are used to in the US. After watching the fisherman and getting breakfast, we snorkeled for a little while right in front of the hotel, which was surprisingly nice. With beautiful corals and lots of fun fish swimming around, it was a perfect way to spend a day. According to the folks staying next door there was even a blue octopus (which we could never find), a really rare find. After tiring from snorkeling, we would swing away in the hammock on our porch. We also booked our diving for the next day with White Sand Divers, the dive shop associated with our hotel. Since our hotel was to far from town to really check around properly, we just decided that they would be just fine.

The next two days we spent diving around Tulamben. Each day we were greeted by the same driver that picked up divers for the dive shop. He was quite the talkative one that chatted it up with us the surprisingly long 30 minute drive and stopped for a good picture of Agung. After arriving at the dive shop, we suited up and made our way down the driveway for a shore entry to the dive site. The wreck certainly lived up to its billing as a great place to dive. With huge schools of travally's, tons of nudibranches, and of course, the loads of coral completely covering what's left of the ship. During the afternoon dive, we swam in and out of cargo bays, enjoying the scenery as we went. Our divemaster stopped by a cleaning station and let the little cleaner shrimp clean his teeth. We are not quite that brave yet! After our two dives for the day, we decided to book three dives for the next day with one of them being our first night dive. Upon paying for our first day's dive, we thought that they were charging us a little more than what we agreed upon, but figured since we were back the next day, we could sort it out then. The friendly driver took us back to Amed, and offered to stop by one of the few Internet places in town while he waited outside. The Internet connection here is impossibly slow not to mention expensive - 500rp per minute, so don't plan on catching up on anything. He dropped us back at the hotel and we spent the rest of the night having dinner and relaxing on our porch.

The next day the same driver picked us up for the journey. After talking for a while, he turned to us and in a more serious tone said, "So Jason...Tracy..., you like cocaine?" All the while, the driver had been funny and joking, but this question had a different tone and made us feel a little uneasy. We of course replied NO, considering that even if we were into the drug scene (we're not!) getting caught with it here will land you in jail for 25 years, and having enough to traffic means the death penalty. After a bit of banter back and forth over the uncomfortable topic of drugs, he turns again and laughs saying "Haha, I only joking." We thought to ourselves yeah right, if we had said yes, we were fairly certain he could produce it. The last few minutes of the drive were in silence and we arrived at the dive shop, got out, and got ready for the dive.

The first dive of the day was at the Tulamben Dropoff, aka. the Wall. Walls prove to be a popular dive location where the edge drops into the ocean and goes on forever, farther than you can see in a wet suit and some gear strapped to your back. To get to the dive site, it's a few minutes down the road from the shop so we hopped on the back of a motorbike, dawned in wet suit and carrying our mask and fins. Luckily, the ride was short and we arrived with no problem. After a short swim down the once sandy beach (it's now, sadly, covered in trash) the wall appears jutting out of the cliff only about 40-50 feet from shore. Teeming with life, mostly of the smaller variety, there is an infinite amount of things to see. We even spotted a rare pigmy seahorse, difficult to see as they blend in so well with the fans they live on. After our dive, we clambered back onto shore over the rocks and between the boats and waited to ride the motorcycle back to the shop. While waiting, we noticed these ladies carrying not only one tank, but two, on top of their heads, gear and all! It's hard to imagine how they do it considering it's all we can do just to carry our own gear up the hill. After our surface interval, we were back in the water, this time back to the wreck. Some of the highlights of the dive included swimming through the wreckage, a huge school of Jack's, and of course, trying to dodge all the other divers - mainly the ones in groups of about 10.

After finishing our first two dives, we wandered around Tulamben for a little while. Not really much to see here, it's a small town and the only thing going here is the diving. We did come across another dive shop, Tulamben Wreck Divers that seemed a lot better and cheaper than the outfit were were with and would recommend them over the White Sand Divers we went with. After returning to the shop we went ahead and sorted out our bill. Of course, they had overcharged us from the first day. The now sketchy driver was the one we had paid the first day, and he had decided to add on a little extra for transport, which was supposed to be included, used a ridiculous exchange rate and not given our discount for multiple dives. After talking about it for a little while, we got it all sorted out and we were back in the water for our first night dive. They say that it's a different world down there at night, at it certainly is. The only places you can see is where you shine the flashlight and the colors of the corals, fish and other marine life seem to change by night. Our dive was highlighted by a huge Bumphead Parrotfish, the largest Parrotfish variety. Most Parrotfish have a couple of teeth, but the Bumphead has one large row of teeth solidly fused together. It's something special to swing your flashlight around and there right in front of you is this huge fish swimming by. The currents are also stronger at night than during the day for some reason, so you need good buoyancy control, but it's well worth it and we plan to do it again in the near future. After the dive, we were dreading the ride back with the same driver. The 30 minute ride that was full of talking and chatting it up was replaced by an awkward silence. Wether it was the refusal of cocaine, or more over, the fact he didn't suck us for extra money for the "free" transport, it could not end soon enough. Fortunately, we arrived back at the hotel without further problems, ate some dinner, and went to bed early.

After the weird exchanges with the dive shop, we decided that four days was enough in Amed and spent the last day snorkeling another little wreck just south of the hotel. The Japanese shipwreck as it is called around here, was no where near as impressive as the Liberty. All that is left of the ship is the bow that sticks up to about a meter or two from the surface. The little warung there serves up tasty light dishes and we spent a casual afternoon snorkeling around the wreck and sipping on fresh fruit juices. After snorkeling, we finally decided on where to go next and booked transport for the next day to Sanur (400,000rp with a couple of stops along the way) so we could take the ferry the next day over to Nusa Lembogan.

Next stop: The Island of Nusa Lembogan for some more diving!

To see more pictures from Amed click here!

1 comment:

Amanda said...

I am glad to see that not all of my reading in that guide book was for nothing and that one of those bookmarked pages turned out good. Yay for shipwreck diving!