A torpedoed cargo ship and brainy parrotfish in Bali

After three full months in Indonesia I finally hopped out of my tiny little-Lembongan island bubble and decided to explore the BIG ISLAND!

And by “Big Island” I mean Bali – which is really pretty tiny compared to some of Indonesia’s other islands like Java, Sulawesi or Sumatra. Luckily bite-size Bali is the perfect spot for a little road trip, since it only takes about four hours to drive across it in the long direction, and it is also the first stop upon leaving Lembongan. So, though all roads may not lead to Bali, all roads will at least lead through it.

We hired a car – this Jimney – for 200.000 rupiah ($14 US) a day, tossed in the surf board and the dive gear and headed north!  After a pit-stop in Ubud for some high-speed internet, decent coffee and… well… little else – we took off for Tulamben.

Suzuki Jimney roadtrip

The best-known dive site on Bali (that is actually on Bali) is probably the USAT Liberty – a wrecked WWII American cargo ship that lies just off the coast of the northern town of Tulamben. It was actually up on land, where it was beached after a torpedo attack in ’42, but then was shaken into the ocean when Bali’s giant volcano, Mt Agung, flipped its lid in ’63.

We showed up and found a pretty swanky (=hot water) place to stay called Dream Divers – which I warmly recommend! They run a guesthouse and dive shop, and they allowed us to rent tanks and do ‘unguided’ dives from the beach. This is one of the perks of being a dive professional – a day of diving cost me about $15 for three dives, instead of $80-100 that I would have to pay with a guide.

The next day we were up before the stars has gone to sleep, at the water before daybreak and dropping down towards 30 meters as the sun was creeping over the horizon.

Sunrise Tulamben
Sunrise at Tulamben
Flashlight dive
The first few minutes of the dive were pretty dark

And why on Earth (or why in the ocean?!) would we do this?  To sneak up on the bumphead parrotfish while they’re sleeping, obviously!

During the dive we saw a few dozen bumpheads. Some were far away, swimming out to sea, some were close by doing their morning laps of the Liberty, we found one still asleep in a little swim-through in the wreck and a final errant one seemed like it was maybe late for work when it sped by while I was admiring a sand flat wiggling with garden eels.

A school of bumpheads making their way out to sea
A school of bumpheads making their way out to sea

The crinoids were having a final meander before settling down for the day – I assume they were looking for the basket-star version of a cup of tea, and we found a giant shrimp like thing burrowed into the sand. Still need to figure out what it was; it looked a bit like a mantis shrimp, but larger and without the funny puppy-dog ear-flap do-dads.

For me the best part of the dive was that we didn’t have to come up after 35-45 minutes like I usually do when I am working and one (or more) guest sucks through their air in no time. Since it was just myself (a dive master) and my friend (an instructor) we managed a 70 minute dive, and still came up with plenty of air to spare!  It is also significantly more relaxed when I don’t have to keep tabs on everyone else, just a periodic check to see if my buddy is still somewhere within line of sight.

After admiring the parrotfish and the garden eels we had a look around the wreck itself
After admiring the parrotfish and the garden eels we had a look around the wreck itself
The wreck is pretty dispersed over the site, which makes for a few airy swim-throughs (and a few tight ones as well..)
The wreck is pretty dispersed over the site, which makes for a few airy swim-throughs (and a few tight ones as well..)
After over 50 years in the ocean the USAT Liberty is more of a reef than a ship
After over 50 years in the ocean the USAT Liberty is more of a reef than a ship

We made it back to the guesthouse – which was only 100 steps from the dive site! – well before 8 am and had breakfast while deciding on the next dive of the day. Eat, sleep, dive!

Allison’s Dive Log

  • Site name: USAT Liberty, Tulamben, Bali, Indonesia
  • Dive number: 142
  • Max depth: 23 meters
  • Dive time: 71 minutes
  • Water temperature: 27 degrees C
  • Notable wildlife: bumphead parrotfish, garden eels, a giant shrimp thing in the sand, oriental sweetlips, juvenile spadefish, scorpionfish, nudibranches, scorpionfish

 


Where in the world is Allison? Checking out the American cargo ship with really bad luck (hit by Japanese torpedoes and a volcanic eruption) in Tulamben, Bali, Indonesia.

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