Karin Gallagher

Technical writing, editing, and features

Snorkeling in Tulamben, Bali

Copyright 2000 Karin L. Gallagher

We are in our suits and on the beach by 6:30 AM., mask and snorkel in place. The Balinese water stirs as we slide into it on our stomachs as easily as porpoises. The jagged coral reef appears underneath almost immediately. From this short distance, even tiny fish and seashells the size of a thumb glow large in the coral's crannies. The variety of colors and species seem endless: yellow and black stripes, candy pink and magnetic green, banana yellow circles over dark blue with a sash of red. Angelfish, parrotfish, and cuttlefish dart through with barrel sponges and gorgonian coral while sea snakes prance on the sandy bottom.

As one of Indonesia's rich green tropical islands, Bali is peppered with rice terraces and vegetation. Two-and-a-half hours drive northeast of the tourist beach of Kuta, Tulamben is at the foot of the 3142-meter Gunung Agung volcano, the highest mountain in Bali. Mt. Agung erupted in 1963, sending hot ash and lava in all directions. It is this volcanic soil that keeps Bali lush, but not Tulamben, which lies in the mountain's rain shadow. Tulamben is too rocky and dry for rice terraces, for fruit trees, for nearly anything alive except thorny plants, skinny cattle, and the most popular snorkeling and dive site on the island.

The heat sears through our long-sleeved T-shirts into our backs, a reminder to get out of the water before we look like the lobsters found at the Tulamben Wall, a 50-meter deep drop-off on the east side of the bay. Back at the Paradise Palm Beach Bungalows we savor our breakfast of pineapple pancakes and Javanese coffee on the terrace overlooking the beach. Divers and locals alike lounge under their bamboo roofs until the cooler part of the day when it is possible to dive with less than SPF 45 sunblock or a protective wetsuit. We meet an amateur photographer who comes here for a month every year; this time he's with a friend, who takes pictures for National Geographic.

In the late afternoon we paddle 300 meters north to the USAT Liberty, a cargo ship torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1942 off the coast of Lombok. The American Navy towed it as far as this beach, unloaded it, and abandoned it. Lava from the Mt. Agung eruption pushed it back into the water and broke it apart. Treading water offshore we spot it, a dark, rectangular stain in the placid ocean. The bow and stern lie just below the surface, the ship's metal hulk covered in hard and soft coral and the coral's inhabitants. Air bubbles from scuba divers boil up from the bottom of the ship 20 to 30 meters down.

For dinner we eat nasi goreng and tempura at a nearby outdoor cafe, and take a night dive for dessert. Despite our pruney fingers, we can't get enough of this abundant sea life. With three layers of plastic bags tightly wrapped around our Minimag lights, we kick past a lava drain, a cool, sweetwater stream that has created a long sand slope ending in a thicker coral reef. Our lamps expose bright spurts of electric color that dazzle like flashcubes and disappear seconds later. A school of silver barracuda dart by. Half an hour passes by before we realize it's time to float back to our room.

Several dive companies offer dive safaris to the Liberty Wreck, Tulamben Wall and nearby Amed, Menjangan Island Marine Park, Candi Dasa and Nusa Penida. For more information on Tulamben accomodations and diving, see http://www.divingparadise.com/Tulamben.htm.

Copyright (c) 2005, Karin Gallagher