A lot of diving is advertised in Bali, but it turns out most of the operators drive sometimes hours to get to the wreck U. S. Liberty. It’s a lot closer if you’re staying in Amed. We drove about 15km (10 miles) up the coast to Tulamben where the ship was wrecked on the beach in 1941. In 1963, one of the two active volcanoes erupted and the subsequent tsunami pulled the wreck out to sea about 100 feet. It now sits at maybe 70 feet on the bottom and its prow is visible to snorkelers on the surface. The ship was originally something like 120 feet long. It is accessible from a shore dive in Tulamben. There is a regular porter and security service for the gear. Tiny women carry scuba tanks on their heads, in the Balinese way, propped up by coiled towels, while they hold a basket of swim fins and walk on rocky sand. Talk about balance. Most unexpected.
The shipwreck has grown into a beautiful reef, with corals, sponges, and hundreds of different kinds of tropical fish, eels, clams, nudibranches and anemones. The fish down there are bigger than I have seen of the same specimens elsewhere by about 50%. Huge fish, and totally unafraid of divers. You can get very close to them, and in fact, the surgeonfish near the shore are rather aggressive about looking for treats. The divers sometimes feed them bits of bread or banana, and the sound of Velcro dive jacket pockets opening is their tip-off that it’s snack time! It was my first time diving from the shore (walking in from the beach) and my divemaster Made helped me put my jacket (BCD) on in the water. That job is full of Velcro closures and before he could get the gauges where they needed to be, we were mobbed by fish. He was holding onto my jacket but I could not see anything but fish! I have never been overwhelmed by a school of fish before.
Once we got out to the Liberty, it was a beautiful dive. On the second dive, we went inside the very hollow hull and checked it out. Only one difficult squeeze where I could feel my tank knocking against the top of the hole I was trying to squeeze through. Well, better it than my head! I have seen a lot of fish in my diving experience but I’d say on the whole, Indonesia has some of the most vibrantly colored ones, with the most variation on the same species near each other. Angelfish are everywhere despite their territorial nature, and there are hundreds of surgeonfish of all stripes. We also saw a few large triggerfish, I guess they were 30-40 pounds each, a couple of bat fish, maybe 2 feet tall, and a hiding ray in the sand.
We saw the unusual dive-photographer octopus. This is a neoprene-covered bipedal creature holding a camera and several metal arms ending in flash-units. We sighted at least three of those creatures in three different schools, one of whom had obviously custom-assembled his large metal camera housing. Weld-joins were visible from 20 feet away.
The next day we dove at Amed, right off the beach in front of my hotel. On the first dive we went against the current on the way back. It was rough going, strong enough to keep a swimmer against it fixed in one place over a coral, instead of allowing forward movement. Finally I got so tired swimming that I was having a hard time keeping up and I had to be partly towed. How embarrassing. I am decent swimmer, but it was just hard out there. Word of my towage got around and was the subject of some humor at the hotel, I guess. Oh well.
As we got closer to our hotel shore, we saw this really cool caterpillar-like creature, I think it was a sea cucumber, about 2 feet long and 5-6 inches thick, whitish-yellow with dark markings and a mass of mouth frills as it made its way along the sea floor. It was nothing I’d seen before. I hope I can add a link here about it.
The next dive was wonderful. Made found a scorpion fish in a little coral nook, and it was either sleeping or very patient because he was able to use a dull poniard to pick up the fish, move it out where we could look at it, and then carefully put it back. He said he’d only seen that kind of fish maybe 3 or 4 times in his whole career, so it was a big deal. We saw tiny half-inch seahorses that were virtually indistinguishable from a pink coral fan they lived on, so neat, and a big lion fish, and the most gorgeous clams and abalone-type creatures – very large. There were several nudibranches and a big fat eel that slithered away from us, showing us his whole body in the process. Eels usually stay in their holes and you don’t get to see them swimming often. He was maybe 5 feet long and 8” thick. Best of all, I got to watch a nearby green turtle sit on a coral head for a while, blending in, then ascend to the surface and come back down. They are so beautiful to watch. We were able to stay down for 62 minutes, and even the decompression stop had a beautiful clam to observe.
If you are looking for a good divemaster in Amed, Bali, Indonesia, I can certainly recommend Made (say “Mah-Day”) Paon. You can find him at the Drop Off Dive center in the Amed Café, or at email@example.com He knows his fish and the local dive sites, and he was most concerned about our safety and well-being. Plus he made sure I didn’t get washed out to sea – gotta like that.