The conference ended on Thursday afternoon, and with my flight not being until Saturday night, I had a couple of days to try and explore Bali a little more. Having flown half way around the world, I figured I owed it that much. One of the things I really wanted to do was get a couple of dives in, which I booked for Friday. It was my only option between the conference and leaving myself enough time to safely off-gas the nitrogen from diving.
I had the hotel call up a local dive shop, and they informed me that they would do a trip out to the east side of Bali to a spot called Tulamben. The plan was to do two shore dives on the wreck of the US Liberty, which sounded good to me. The dive shop picked me up at 7:00 a.m. From the hotel, and after a short stop at the dive shop to pick up gear we were headed off to east Bali.
The drive was actually pretty long - 2 ½ hours from the shop to the dive site. It was a really nice drive, and I got to see more of the countryside along the way. The drive took us inland a little ways, working our way over some of the lower mountains, before making our way back down to the coast for the last third of the drive. Along the way thee were great views of Bali's main mountain, the volcanic Mount (insert name of mountain). The morning was pretty clear, and offered stunning views from a number of different spots.
At other times, I got to see more of the rural rice paddies, built in terraces along the steep slopes of the local hills. It is beautiful countryside, but with the narrow, winding roads and insane drivers, stopping was not an option most of the time, so I didn't get a chance to take many pictures. As we headed back down to the coast, we entered an arid region, where the landscape changed pretty dramatically.
We eventually got to the town where the dive site is, and got set to dive. It was a really buy spot, with probably at least 100 divers all in various stages of diving. There were a whole series of locals that seem to spend their time as porters, carrying dive gear to and from the parking lot. These women were amazing - they could carry a full box of dive gear on their heads! And they would carry two full tank, one on top of their head, the other on their shoulder. And most of them were half my size. It was seriously impressive.
I was diving with the guy from the dive shop, so it was pretty low key, and we suited up and headed into the water. The water was really warm - 28C - and I could have easily done without the wet suit. The shore entrance was a bit tough, as the area is strew with large rocks that you have to make your way over. Still, once you are in the water, it was pretty easy going. The area close to shore is pretty much just a rock field - no reef to speak of - but there was lots of little, colourful reef fish. Some of them were the most beautiful, iridescent blue colour.
The slope quickly drops off, and suddenly, only 20 meters from shore, is the wreck of the US Liberty. The wreck is from World War II, and was a supply ship for the US military in the region. It's been down a long time now, but there is still quite a bit of the superstructure still intact, and you can clearly see the bow and stern, and there are even some recognizable pieces about.
The U.S.A.T. LIBERTY, a 120 meter long shipwreck, is the remains of a US World War II freighter, torpedoed on January 11, 1942 at 4:15 a.m. by a Japanese submarine while crossing the Lombok Strait carrying material (rubber and railway parts) from Australia to the Philippines. Two US destroyers hitched up to the ship and tried to tow it to the port of Singaraja. The damage was immense, she was taking too much water and her crew ran the vessel up onto the beach of Tulamben 70km away from the nearest safe harbor.
For 21 years she stayed there, the people of Tulamben secured all items of any value, even parts of the deck. In 1963 the Liberty was pushed to her present location by the fatal eruption of the volcano Gunung Agung. During this process the hull broke into two pieces. Now she is laying only 30 meter from the Tulamben beach on a sandy slope 90° on her side parallel to the shore. The deck side faces the ocean.
The fish life on the wreck was pretty good. There were large schools of fish about, and even some mid sized predators like jacks. For the first dive we did a circumnavigation of the wreck to get a look at the whole thing, and maxed our depth out at about 27m. The visibility was pretty nice, and least 40 or 50 feet, and despite there being a lot of divers on the wreck, it was big enough that we didn't feel cramped, at least on the first dive. The highlight of the first dive was probably a smallish stingray that was holed up under a piece of the ships structure.
After a good 45 minutes, we surfaced. I was pretty impressed with myself, as I still had more than enough air left to have kept going for another 10 or 15 minutes, but I was letting my guide dictate our bottom time. We did our safety stop in the shallow waters near the shore, which gave me time to check out all the cool little fish swimming in the shallows.
We came in from the first dive, and had about an hour surface interval. The weather was amazing, and my guide had ordered lunch for me from somewhere. It was pretty tasty (noodles) and before too long, we were ready to get back in the water.
The second dive was both better and worse than the first one. It was better in the sense that it was a longer (53minutes) and more interesting dive, but worse in that the number of divers somehow went up, and there were a lot to really bad divers that were making an all around mess of things. One oblivious woman almost smashed my guide in the head with her tank as she tried to take pictures of her partner, and there were so many people holding on to the wreck and it's reef to maintain their position, damaging the reef. It was really bad.
That said, we managed to have a great dive. There was a green sea turtle, as well as lots of big groupers that we didn't see on the first dive. And my guide must have felt that I was pretty capable in the water, as he took me through a series of tunnels through the ship's superstructure, which got us away from most of the other divers that could not handle the tight passageway. It was for the most part a pretty great dive. Too soon, we were doing another long safety stop in the shallows, and calling it a day.
The drive home was pretty uneventful, and sadly a big cloud mass had settled around the top of the volcano, wrecking the hoped for photo opps I had noted on the drive in. Traffic was pretty bad (Friday afternoon and all), so it probably took us close to four hours to get back.
As it was my last evening in Bali, I decided I wanted to watch the sunset, so I wandered down to beach about 6:00. The clouds didn't participate to give a spectacular sunset, but it was pretty nice. There was a very decorative archway at the edge of the hotel property that made for a nice foreground to my sunset.
I went out for dinner, and had a pretty nice seafood dinner -ginger crab - before heading back to the hotel. The rest of the evening was pretty relaxed, with a drink by the pool, and then off to bed.