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Published: February 1st 2014
Every morning Matt steps out on the verandah, coffee in hand, adopts his "man of the sea" stance and surveys the water and the wind. Winds out of the north bring big waves that stir up the black sandy sea bottom and decrease visibility to almost nil. He takes his time, weighing the clouds direction and speed, the sound and look of the waves, and then announces the activity of the day.
On days when the winds and waves are high we are guaranteed no visibility so these are days spent either swimming or out of the water entirely. The other day we swam a little over an hour and found it much more pleasant than in Sri Lanka. The sun seems less harsh here, probably because of all the humidity in the air. The water also seems less salty and doesn't bother our mouths as much. However the jellyfish are worse, or at least they pack a stronger punch. The other day one hit me right on my upper lip and I could swear I heard the electric snap when it zapped me.
On days when visibility is just OK we take the line and buoy out and
either do some hangs or dives. The freediving shop on Jemaluk Bay has easily accesible moorings in the bay and rents out a neat rig with an easy set up. The bonus is we can take it out whenever the fancy strikes us and the bay is a quick 15 minute walk down the beach. We become a bit of a reef in our own right when we're out there and have picked up squid and one day four little black fish that would not leave the buoy. While breathing on the surface I had to close my eyes because they kept swimming right in front of my mask and throwing me off. When we were done for the day we pulled up the line and swum the rig in. The fish stayed with us up until we took our fins off at the beach, swimming like mad to keep up.
On great visibility days we gear up at home, pop the key into our little waterproof box, and explore the reef right in front of us. The amount of life is incredible. Every day we discover new corals and crinoids we've never seen before. The soft corals are
enormous and colourful as are the fish. We've dived many places but are amazed we have this reefsteps from our accommodation. It thrives almost all the way to the low tide mark, so much so that we sit down in the surf to put on our fins and slide in backwards on the surface to avoid touching anything. We've seen turtles and squid and cuttlefish, and hundreds of fish. Lionfish (which, refreshingly, are actually endemic here) and unicornfish, angelfish, butterflyfish, damselfish. A big triggerfish chased me off his claimed section of reef the other day and I was followed closely by a school of batfish that I couldn't lose for at least 15 minutes. When I ascended they just swam around my fins at the surface until I was ready to dive again. The clams are enormous, bigger than my head, with a jagged zig zag opening. The other day a pod of dolphins passed by, we swam like crazy to catch up but they were moving quickly and impossible to catch. We're keeping our fingers crossed we see them again.
Unfortunately there is also a lot of litter, probably more that we've seen anywhere else we've dived. Mostly
we see plastic bags. When they are floating free in the water column we remove them but there's nothing to do when they're caught up in coral as tugging may damage the corals more. Every morning the locals sweep up the rubbish that the evening's tide has deposited on the beach into little piles and light them on fire. Paper, clothing, plastic, whatever is there is burned and any beach walk is marred with the thick black smoke from these rubbish fires. There are a lot of signs about littering and keeping off the reef, so hopefully this will improve in time.
The reef extends at least 500 meters along the beach and who knows how far out - it has a drop off and seems to continue deeper and deeper. We know we could dive it for a year and still discover something new every day. But people keep telling us about other diving sites so for a change the other day we rented a scooter and drove the 20 minutes from Amed to Tulamben to dive the USTS Liberty. It was a Navy transport ship torpedoed in 1942 by the Japanese near the Gili Islands, towed to
Tulamben for salvage, and left on shore. In 1963 Mount Agung erupted killing around 1900 people and devastating the east side of Bali. An earthquake associated with the eruption pushed the ship into the water just off shore where it has sat ever since.
The drive itself was lovely, on a quiet road through a few small villages, rice paddies, jungle and deserted coastline. There is easy access to the wreck via marked roads and parking very close to the water. After changing and locking our clothes in the storage area underneath the scooter seat, it was only a 25 meter walk to the water's edge. We encountered the first bits of broken up boat almost immediately about 30 meters from shore and in only about 5 or 6 meters depth. This is an easy wreck to snorkel as a lot of it is clear at the surface. It is absolutely encrusted with corals and inhabited by all sorts of fishes and invertebrates. We spent close to 2 hours diving the wreck and dodging scuba divers' bubbles. It's really beautiful and we were glad we made the effort to see it.
Locals keep telling us that this is
the wrong season to be diving. Some laugh at us when they see us trudging down the beach in the rain with our fins and masks . The visibility here is supposed to be legendary during the dry season - about double what we're seeing now. But the dry season doesn't start until March or April and we're here now. It is still much better visibility than we generally get in Vancouver, and the water is so warm and good diving so accessible, we can't stay out of the ocean. But the rain is getting to us a little bit. Tomorrow we head to Ubud, in the middle of the Island. The weather is supposed to be better there for the next couple of days and we need to shake up these lazy beach-side bones.
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