7th February 2011
Under instruction from our very dear friend and ex-housemate, Richard, we arrived in Tulamben on the east coast. The small village exists purely because only a few metres from the shore, watery treats await the submariner. Hordes of frog-footed aquatic enthusiasts descend upon Tulamben for the sole purpose of exploring the WWII wreck, USAT Liberty. In 1942 a Japanese torpedo tore it’s way through the American cargo vessel that was carrying war materials from Australia to the Philippines. It remained afloat for long enough to be evacuated and towed to Tulamben beach where it was then abandoned. For 21 years it lay beached on the Tulamben shores until Bali’s largest volcano, Gunung Agung erupted in1963 and rumbled the freighter into the sea. Laying in crumbled ruin in 10 – 25 metres of water, the twisted metal of the 120m wreck rapidly became home to the vast array of marine life found in these waters. It now boasts a position in the top 10 sites to dive in the world and is widely considered as the most beautiful wreck turned artificial reef.
I felt like a proper nerd. For the first time in my (albeit limited) diving experience, we were staying at a divers only hotel. We fell asleep to the sound of scuba tanks being emptied and awoke to the clanging of aluminium bottles. Stumbling out of bed, we donned our wetsuits and waited for Richard to align his personal scuba equipment with an almost Patrick Bateman-esque precision. Our dive-leader was not exactly what one might imagine a diver to look like. In fact, as he stood there, waiting patiently to take us into the water, his wetsuit unzipped to the crotch so that his rotund Buddha belly could be free from the neoprene prison until the eleventh hour, I couldn’t help but observe a striking resemblance to Po, the Kung Fu Panda. Looking like some miss-fit superhero gang, Chris, Richard, Po and I squelched in soggy diving booties across the road and down narrow leafy paths that opened out onto the charcoal, black, rocky beach. As we stood there our scuba tanks arrived. Now, for those who have never dived, these things are not that light and they are pretty cumbersome to carry. However, in Tulamben, the summoned muscle to carry the doughy (I of course refer only to myself) tourists’ gear are short, skinny Balinese ladies aged 18-60 years old. If that wasn’t enough to amaze you then perhaps the revelation that these woman carry these bottles on their heads will do. Bottles, plural. Up to three of these hefty cylindrical things are balanced on their tiny heads as they clamber over slippery rocks, up narrow earthy pathways and across a busy road. To say it is extraordinary does not do it any justice. Never before have I felt so ashamedly weak and useless. We even saw one young girl balancing two tanks on her head and an 18 month old on her hip! My only solace was that I hoped this sight emasculated the men more than it made me feel inept.
Between portly pandas, and women with phenomenal cosmic powers and iddy biddy waists, getting to the dive site was certainly an experience. But once we descended into that grey water and the tangled fragments of the Liberty wreck mystically appeared as if it were dropping it’s foggy cloaking-device, the experience went to a whole new level. The wreck was so shattered by the earthquake that some parts of it are unintelligible to the untrained eye and archaeological illustrations of the site look like a 9 year old went crazy with a biro and ruler. Soft corals adorn the once sharp edges of metal and schools of curious fish rush up to welcome you to their home. It really was a fantastic site to dive but it wasn’t the sum of what Tulamben had to offer. Drop-offs, muck and stunning coral gardens also lie just off the shore line and in each place we saw in abundance those things that are rare in most other places in the world.
What a perfect way to end our time in Bali, observing the weird and wonderful inhabitants of the underwater world (and that’s just Richard!).
Richard, a huge and loving thank you for a pygmy seahorse, harlequin shrimps and a herd of humphead parrotfish. It was wonderful to spend time with you! We shall do it all over again in another time and place. x