I had wanted to return to Timor Leste for a long time. Took part in a marine expedition to Timor Leste in 2004, then, I was a newbie diver and had to take the AOW to be better prepared for the expedition. Better prepared I was not but my genial buddy – a dive instructor & team-mates made sure that I didn’t drown when we did the coral transect, fish count or the benthic survey (all usually at less than 15m deep) & the 10 good days or so we spent at Atauro Island – off Dili (capital of Timor Leste) was etched in my mind. It was not just the good diving, it was the pristine beauty of Atauro & the warmth of Timorese that I fondly remember.
Come 2011, I am 200+ dives more experienced and a lot older… haha… However, I was still not better prepared! As in, I didn’t spend much time planning for the trip, as we were busy with a shark conservation awareness event until end of April. At least, I knew that flying Merpati Airline from Bali would be cheaper than flying directly from Singapore. So, we planned to dive in Tulamben for a few days before flying to Dili and my “newbie” diver brother & “to-be certified” sister-in-law joined for the Tulamben leg. We booked discounted flight to Bali on KLM @S$253 and embarked on our dive trip on Saturday, 14th May. We were very pleased with the in-flight food & the personal entertainment system provided and of course the generous leg-room of a full service European airline was also much appreciated.
Tony Medcraft – owner of Tulamben Wreck Divers once again gave us (even my bro) a free upgrade to the Penthouse – lovely view of the coast in the front & view of the majestic Mt Agung from the back. Remember, this was T & I’s 3rd visit to TWD – this unexpected gesture really ensured that us felt like coming home!
The next day, dive guide Nyoman met us at breakfast and asked where we wish to dive at & at what time? That was why we loved diving at Tulamben, we always got to choose our preferred dive site & when we wanted to dive it. Of course, for our 1st dive we had to greet the famous Liberty Wreck. Nyoman knew that we were “experienced” divers & proposed that we plunge to the depths to find the pygmy seahorses. At more than 30m, we saw the 1st pair of pygmy seahorses on this trip. I think pink is the true colour of these tiny lilac pygmy seahorses & their gorgonian seafan home. In the 52mins dive, we also saw 2 white leaf scorpionfish, nudibranch, flatworm & a huge school of big-eye jacks. I enjoyed swimming with the huge school of jacks, found it a very calming & therapeutic experience. After lunch, our 2nd dive was at Coral Garden, it was another good 54mins dive that yielded a poor moray eel with a huge gash on its head, plus its entourage of cleaner shrimps and a few huge groupers were hanging around – hoping to make a quick meal from the wounded moray eel? A blue ribbon eel & a black one, crinoid shrimp & orangutan crab. The 3rd dive of the day was our 1st night dive at Tulamben! The bumphead parrotfish were resting at the bow of the Liberty wreck & they were pretty annoyed at our torches. We saw 2 mantis shrimps – Golden & Red, several hydroid decorator crabs, cleaner shrimps, a beautiful ghost pipefish & a large Spanish dancer.
On the second day, we had an early morning dive. By 7am, we were already in water heading to the Liberty Wreck. Spent a lot of the time in the 1 plus hr dive with the school of jacks again & this time there was a giant trevally trying to blend in with its “lesser” cousins. We also saw orangutan crab, garden eels, nudibranch & bumphead parrotfish. 2nd dive at Coral Garden yielded an unexpected visitor – a black tip reef shark! Contrary to “popular” belief (aka lies), sharks are not ferocious! This 1+m shark scooted off into the bad viz when it was 50m from us. Ketut showed us a crutch of anemone eggs on a pebble. I spotted an octopus. We had another night dive at the Liberty Wreck, that yielded soft coral crabs, crinoid shrimp, zebra crab & ghost pipefish.
For the third day, we (all 4 of us) booked a 2 dives day trip to Amed with Ketut of Marta Dive. Ketut had been with a dive shop at Amed for many years before striking out on his own. The drive to Amed was very scenic & Amed seemed to be a serene place too. We stopped at a village pavilion, suited up & waited for the 2 small local fishing boats to take us diving along the beautiful coast. The dive site was abt 15mins away. In the strong current, Ketut showed us to a huge patch of garden eels at 20m and a pygmy seahorse, and then we saw a school of trevallies. We also saw an octopus, blue spotted stingray. During the 2nd dive at Pyramid there was an installation of several artificial reef structures made in the shape of what else but the Pyramid, adorned by colourful soft corals & served as hiding place for snappers. A small hawksbill turtle tolerated our presence for awhile, it was wonderful to finally meet a turtle in Bali, hope that it will be safe, grow old & reproduce. Glad to see that my newly OW certified sister-in-law managing these 2 dives well. We dived at the Liberty Wreck again upon our return to Tulamben, saw the pair of pygmy seahorses again, said good-bye to the big-eye trevallies & met a friendly good-size napoleon wrasse! I think the Tulamben area is still a safe haven to these valuable fish – trevallies, bumphead parrotfish, sweetlips, groupers & napoleon wrasse! Hopefully more sharks will return…
Tony gave us another upgrade for our last night to the new villa rooms at the new wing about 5mins drive away. The guys had to give us a drive to the main stretch for dinner. My bro went for a night trek to Mt Agung, he reported that it was quite a hard hike to the peak of the highest mountain on Bali. When he got back, we grabbed a quick lunch and started the long drive to Ubud when they spent a couple of nights at & we spent 2 nights at the small, intimate Golden Elephant Hotel at Ulu Watu, all the villas have their own pools.
After 2 restful nights, we boarded the morning Merpati flight to Dili – the capital of Timor Leste on 20th May. A Balinese ex-colleague helped to book the Merpati tickets (@ less than USD 450 for 2 pax) through a travel agent.
Timor Leste – 20th to 28th May
We paid for our visas upon arrival & passed the customs office quick enough but the enthusiastic officers checked our luggage quite thoroughly… Kathy was the new trainee DM from Dive Timor Lorosae who picked us up.
Dili was much busier than I remembered it to be, the houses looked more tidy though. Even the building that Castaway Bar of Dive Timor had become more solid, we had most of our meals there (not cheap but the portions were Australian). We didn’t do much the rest of the day, just read whatever there was & dipped in the very nice (but deep, also used for dive training) pool & walked along the water front & discovered that the Chinese & Japanese Embassies had huge compounds. The next day, we got to dive at Atauro! There was supposed to be snorkellers on board but due to the strong winds & big surfs, DT advised them to cancel, so there was just another 2 leisure divers & us with DM Will & Greg the captain. It was a rough crossing & T got pretty sick.
We dived at the west side of Atauro, it was inhabited, probably due to further distant from Dili. The 5 of us were the first people to dive at Will Wall, it was named after Will, who had completed his DM training & leaving service. There was strong surface current, so we dropped down quickly. The underwater conditions were great – good visibility of 30m & not much current. The reef was pristine, large sea fans, lots of red tooth trigger fish & anthias in the shallow, not unlike the pristine reefs of Gorontalo. We saw a nice size painted spiny lobster hiding in a crevice at around 20m, hope this painted spiny lobster will be able to avoid all of its many predators & hungry, greedy humans & live a long life (>30years). 2nd dive was at another section of Will Wall. A curious & big dog-tooth tuna came by to check us out, I spotted many juvenile Giant Clams at the shallow. As we were leaving Atauro, there was a large pod of pilot whale, 1 of them surfaced very near our boat & made me jump! That evening Dili celebrated the Timor Leste 9th Independence Day.
The next day, we took the transport from Compass Travel back to Atauro & we spent 2 peaceful nights at the Kuo-in Eco Lodge, which was run by the local NGO Roman Luan. There was no flush toilets at Kuo-in, our “contributions” were made into compost & the bath water was recycled by the reed beds & used to water the plants. Such a lovely place! There was no traffic on Atauro, to get around the locals either depend on their small fishing boats or “motorbike-lorries”. Beach front accommodation plus 3 local meals cost less than $30 per person per day. We went “trekking” up the village hill, practicing my forgotten “bon giorno” & “bon tarde” with the locals on the way. The reward of the steep climb over rocky, unpaved road, “littered” with goat dung was the gorgeous view of Atauro & the reef. Also visited the dormitory where the expedition team stayed at, the dormitory had been converted to a “hospedaria” sewing workshop run by the UN & opposite it was a local handicraft place where the deaf/ mute could learn a skill. We spent time interacting with the kids during the evenings & even “organised” a beach clean-up, the kids were happy to labour for some sweets & chocolates. There were a lot of plastic cups & other plastic debris along the shore – affluence is a double-edge sword… With great reluctance, we left Kuo-in to get to Barry’s Place to be picked up by the Compass Travel’s speed boat. We met a pod of common dolphins in the channel between Atauro & Dili, it was such a joy! In the evening, we went to Christo Rei where there was a huge statue of Jesus Christ (a gift from the central government during the Suharto era) and enjoyed a spectacular red sunset.
25th May was my last dive day in Timor because I caught flu after. Marianne led us to dive at Tasi Talu where we missed a dugong; we could hear it but didn’t see it… It was a good dive – a beautiful white thorny seahorse, a flabellina nudibranch, a sap sucking sea slug and a cuttlefish. After a nice lunch prepared by DT, we went to another shore dive site at Dili Rock East, the wind & surf had picked up considerably & there was quite a strong current. It didn’t stop us from having a good dive – we saw a crocodilefish, a school of juvenile catfish, 2 banded pipefishes, ribbon eel, nudibranch, marble shrimp & a 1st for us – a pair of coral mushroom pipefish!
T dived at the Christo Rei & Sandy Bottom with Greg the next day; they saw a school of bumphead parrotfish at Christo Rei! & at Sandy Bottom, a flying gurnard, an Emperor Shrimp, a whip coral goby & lobsters. The following day, I tagged along to snorkel at Behau Village & Secret Garden, about 50km from Dili, Will is the DM for the day, it was also his last dive day at Dili.
On the last morning, we went to the Dili museum to find that it was closed on Saturday. Anthonio drove us to the airport for our flight to Bali where we lazed at the airport lounge for a few hours, enjoyed a beautiful sunset & then came home around midnight.
Today, 4months on, as I am preparing for next 2 dive trips, I am still missing the serenity & simplicity of Atauro.
Cost of diving at Timor: 2 tanks dive at Atauro – US$160 each (inclusive sandwich lunch + water + soft drinks). 2 tanks local shore dives (w/in Dili) – US$90. 2 tanks local shore dives (outside Dili – inclusive of local lunch + water + soft drinks) – US$110. Note that usually, we were the only people diving (another 2 guys for Atauro trip, another 1 guy for outside Dili “safari”), when I was ill, T was the only paying customer…
Cost of meals – typically US$7 upwards for “main dish”, good size portion. The food at the Night Market was cheaper (e.g – US$2 for 1 fish, $0.50 for a chicken wing etc), catering to the locals the market has no electricity, water etc 😉 …
Other suggestions: get more small change like 1 & 5 usd… Oh, Bahasa works for the older cab drivers & bargain w them for short distant travels… Get the dive shop or hotel staff to help with telling & bargaining with the cab driver on other places like Christo Rei…
Map of Bali
Michael & Janet went on a liveaboard to Raja Ampat on 5 Mar 09 and they were transferring in Bali, so Terence & I arranged a trip to Bali to catch up with them. Plus Jetstar Asia was having a promo! (our all inclusive air tickets cost $403.76 for 2).
Coincidentally, Tulamben Wreck Divers Resort (TWD) was having a 20% promotion to celebrate their anniversary in Jan & Feb, so going back there was such a pleasure! Our 3D2N, 6 dives package was US$368 (for two) & Tony, kindly (very nice as always) threw in the first night FOC! We were out of the Bali airport by 10pm on 24th Feb. TWD’s driver – Wayan picked us up in TWD’s new Toyota SUV, acquired just a week earlier. 😉 We reached TWD slightly after 1am (also the reason why we get the 1st “night” free), to discover that we were assigned to one of the two large Penthouse rooms, with a king-size bed & a single bed, plus the “usual” kettle, fridge etc… Ah, sweet joy of being repeat customers! Tony is the best! http://www.tulambenwreckdivers.com/dive-bali.asp?active_page_id=623
Breakfast was served freshly-made in the dining area now, overlooking the pool – very nice! And there is a small variety of choices, instead of the same old cold egg and packed cereal etc served in a basket (the basket idea was quite nice but after the 2nd morning, it became quite boring). I thought that we might meet other divers at breakfast but it seemed everyone had their own timing…
Diving at TWD has always been 1 dive guide to 1/2 divers. Ketut was our guide this time (our previous guide – Nyoman was having fever). He has 15 years of diving experience & has been been with TWD for more than 4 years. He is a Tulamben “native” & has more years of experience at Tulamben, since he has worked in one of the other Tulamben resorts previously. Diving at Tulamben was as usual at own time, own target and as Ketut put it – we are the boss. 😉 It was nice to pace ourselves, not having to “catch the boat”. Furthermore, Ketut would setup our gear for every dive and “call” for the porters to bring it to whichever dive site and after the dive, he would wash our gear. :-p We are getting spoilt.
Liberty Wreck: 25th Feb 09 – 2 dives & 27th Feb 09 – 1 dive
1) Time in: 10:44, Time out: 11:43, Bottom Time: 59mins. Max Depth: 19.8m. Viz: 12m. Water Temp: 26degC.
Very sunny day, the sea was placidly beautiful, there was a zen-like atmosphere in the air. For the 1st time, I did a shore entry in Tulamben, unassisted! Sharp-eyed Ketut spotted a beautiful peacock mantis shrimp, at 3m – we hadn’t started on the dive proper! Then at 10m, where it was still rocky at some areas, there was a group of divers looking at something, when we approached the “crowd”, we realised that it was the large famous Liberty barracuda, it coolly returned our curious stares with dead calm in its eyes, with numerous large teeth in its partially opened mouth. *shudders* Other highlights of the dive: green leaf scorpionfish and many nudibranches (eg a beautiful Flabellina sp & Nembrotha-cristata). It was the 1st time I was using my new UN macro lens, it worked quite well with the nudibranches!
Although there were quite a lot of divers on shore, we didn’t meet many other divers around the wreck, there was always a lot to see at the huge Liberty wreck, no need to “fight” over the critters..
2) Time in: 14:58, Time out: 15:47, Bottom Time: 49mins. Max Depth: 28.1m. Viz: 8m. Water Temp: 26degC.
The sky was overcast, viz dropped. Our aim of the dive was the pygmy seahorse, Ketut had us swimming over the wreck & then descend to the deep. On the way to the pygmy seahorse, he spotted a beautiful white Glossodoris atromarginata, then descending further, he found a tiny weeny delicate looking pygmy seahorse on a white gorgonian seafan… Then we ascended to about 16m & Ketut spotted a congregation of 3 beautiful, large nudibranches – Halgerda batangas (translucent with bright orange lines & spots). Then more nudibranches – Phyllidiella pustulosa, Nembrotha kubaryana and another fat Nembrotha-cristata. A small school of large mandarin sweetlips were taking shelter at the shallow protected areas of the wreck. As Liberty is a protected area, fishing is prohibited, all the fishizens (common reef fish – unicornfishes, surgeonfish, sweetlips, coral groupers & butterflyfish) manage to grow to their full size. Ketut commented that there were quite alot of nudibranches due to the cold water.
3) 27th Feb. Time in: 07:04, Time out: 08:10, Bottom Time: 66mins. Max Depth: 30m. Viz: 12m. Water Temp: 25degC.
We dropped to the depths to see pygmy seahorse & on the way, there was a school of bumphead parrotfishes. Ketut expertly found 2 pink pygmy seahorses, 1 of them seemed pregnant! I was trying hard to get decent photos & Ketut was very anxious that we were approaching the limits of non decompression, I rechecked my dive comp, still had 3plus minutes left, well, that was the problem of some brands of dive comps. Then we ascended into the hull where there was a large bumphead parrotfish. At the coral bommie, I saw a blue spotted stingray, closely followed by 2 lizardfishes which were hoping for an ez meal. Among the rocks, Ketut spotted a small beautiful nudibranch – translucent white with pastel yellow Bulbous rhinophores & spots, then a sapsucking slug blue with brown ridges & rhinophores (Thuridilla sp). I spotted a green Thuridilla ratna & Terence pointed out a yellow Phyllidia occellate. We ended the dive watching the jacks whirlwind. Cool!
26th Feb 09 – 3 dives
1) Dive Site: Liberty Wreck. Time in: 06:43, Time out: 07:46, Bottom Time: 63mins. Max Depth: 18.3m. Viz: 8m. Water Temp: 26degC. Overcast.
We started quite early but were delayed on the water surface, when the o-ring of my tank burst. Luckily Ketut was prepared, he had extra o-rings. The delay was compensated by the rare encounter of a large napoleon wrasse at the stern ~17m! I didn’t dare go very near, afraid to scare it off. It stayed with us for a few minutes & then swam away to the left, towards the direction of the Coral Garden. We sincerely hope that it will be able to live a long life & have many off-springs, as the napoleon wrasses are highly endangered. Ketut said that he seldom sees them at Tulamben. Of course there was the usual school of bumphead parrotfish but they were at an usual shallow depth of only 10m! The viz was bad, I wanted to get closer to them for clear photos & was quite worried as there was a gentle current carrying me towards them. Other highlights: 2 commensal shrimps hiding on a white sea whip, an orangutan crab with 2 cleaner shrimps on a hard coral & the garden eels.
2) Dive Site: Drop Off. Time in: 11:40, Time out: 12:43, Bottom Time: 63mins. Max Depth: 19.1m. Viz: 10m. Water Temp: 25degC. Drizzle.
Another critter galore dive! Nudibranches: Hypselodoris zephyra (white with with stripes), orange one, white with violet spots, Hypselodoris infucata (green with bright yellow spots). We went back the large sponge again to see the cleaner shrimps, there were 3 species – the red/ white ones, the larger yellow ones & the small translucent ones with bright violet tip on its tail (I spotted 1 which was carrying eggs). A very small & fragile pipehorse – its body was long, like a pipefish & its tail could wrap around the coral, a small strange black small fish on a coral. Towards the end of the dive, Ketut spotted a tiny white fish jumping underneath the rocks. We also saw many damselfish and school of beautiful snappers, a lone tuna & at the shallows, a large barracuda. The good people at Wetpixel id the pipehorse as short porch pygmy pipehorse Acentronura tentaculata, the small strange black small fish as a fang blenny & the tiny white fish as a juvenile fingered dragonet. Cool!
3) Dive Site: Coral Garden. Time in: 17:00, Time out: 15:54, Bottom Time: 54mins. Max Depth: 17.2m. Viz: 8m. Water Temp: 25degC. Drizzle
Whoa, a very cold dive, lots of thermal clines. Ketut pointed out a black ribbon eel, a small scorpionfish & in a hole a few mtrs below, a blue ribbon eel. Terence spotted a flounder. Ketut overturned a crinoid to show us a zeno crab, a tiny weeny juvenile sweetlips, tried to “persuade” a octopus to come out from the crevice & a beautiful Glossodoris hikuerensis. I spotted a red mantis shrimp but the camera was already out of battery at that point.
At Tulamben, we had all our lunches at the economic Warung Kumang & dinners at Warung Esa. The boss of Esa – dive guide Ketut (not to be confused with the TWD Ketut) had became a partner of the dive shop – Marta Dive (for enquiries call +81 363 23403), which was just next door. Ketut’s day job – DM of Eco Dive at Amed, he had been there for many years.
We left TWD at around 11plus am, travelling in the Northwest direction & abt 2hrs later, we stopped for lunch at Lovina. Coincidentally, lunch was at Aditya Lovina Resort, where we had stayed 5years ago! Local buffet lunch at 70000Rp per person. We were amazed to pass by large areas of vineyards, Wayan said that the grapes could be eaten & also made into wine, so we got him to stop by a roadside stall to buy some grapes but after the Lovina area, we didn’t see any. Finally at Pura Pulaki, we found a stall by the beachfront. 1kg of grapes for only 5000Rp!
We reached Mimpi Menjangan at 3plus pm. I found a good deal on http://www.bali-travelnet.com/hotels/339/Mimpi_Resort_Menjangan at usd68 per night plus daily breakfast (more than 25% less than Mimpi’s published price on its website). The area of the patio room was generous, had a very comfortable queen size bed, the big open concept bathroom was a winner, sitting area was at the large front porch, our room #223 (& that whole stretch) even came with an individual small but tastefully decorated lily pond. At night, we heard frogs croaking from the pond, in our bathroom & 1 even came into the room through the gap beneath the front door! The grounds were extensive & beautifully manicured, we could enjoy any of the 2 large swimming pools or (the best stuff!) 4 natural hot spring tubs – 3 of them with beautiful mangrove & bay view! When M & J reached Mimpi around 5plus, we wasted no time to checkout the infinity pool & hot tub by the bay. Hunger & the mosquitoes finally drove us to dinner.
M’s longtime Balinese travel agt Dewa email@example.com recommended his friend Ketut Seri Dana DM of Wisnu Dive Center http://www.lovinadive.com/index.html to take us diving. Ketut was very nice & worked hard to make sure we were happy. We spent 2 days diving at Pulau (Island) Menjangan & 1 day at Permuteran Bay. The scenic boat ride from Mimpi took slightly more than 30mins to get to P Menjangan.
28th Feb & 1st Mar 09 – 4 dives at Pulau Menjangan
1) Dive Site: POSII. Time in: 11:15, Time out: 12:17, Bottom Time: 62mins. Max Depth: 22m. Viz: 20m. Water Temp: 26degC. Sunny.
I was expecting a boat dive but Ketut had the boatman anchored at the beach & told us to get ready to do a shore dive. We waded out for a few meters and then started to descend. We could see the gentle sandy slope dropping to the depths at abt 20m away. We swam over the edge & descended at the edge of the wall. The scenery, added by the wonderful viz, was spectacular! The gorgonian seafans were huge & numerous, lots of colourful soft corals & large barrel & tube sponges, lots of sea squirts (tunicates), hydroids, algae. It was quite overcrowded. The lack of current made this a very relaxing & enjoyable dive. Mike spotted 2 white seawhip shrimps, Ketut found a beautiful polyclad flatworm (Pseudoceros lindae) & at the shallow a small white scorpionfish. A fearless lizardfish posed for my camera on sponges. The parrotfish/es of Menjangan Island were fearless, it/they kept zipping in & out in our faces! (it happened at all sites)
We had lunch on the beach & it started to rain quite heavily. Terence didn’t want to be rocked on the boat, we seek shelter at the abandoned house, which was infested with red ants & mosquitoes. We were quite glad when the rain stopped.
2) Dive Site: Cave Point. Time in: 13:36, Time out: 14:54, Bottom Time: 78mins. Max Depth: 14.6m. Viz: 15m. Water Temp: 26degC. Overcast.
We drew anchor & stopped abt 100m away. Again it was shore entry. Terence spotted a black pipefish at abt 5m, we were still at the sandy area. He was beginning to develop good sea eyes. At the reef crest, Ketut pointed out some beautiful cleaner shrimps in the gigantic anemone. General scene was similar to POSII but the star attraction was a small cavern with blow hole (there were many other overhangs & crevices). Mike found a tiny, beautiful & feisty, pink & yellow crinoid crab camouflaged among some soft & spiky coral…
3) Dive Site: Eel Garden. Time in: 10:25, Time out: 11:28, Bottom Time: 63mins. Max Depth: 23.6m. Viz: 20m. Water Temp: 26degC. Overcast.
Boat dive. General seascape was the same as POSII, very beautiful. The buttons of my camera housing were stuck! I was going into despair, although I succeeded in “unstucking” them, I have missed the opportunity to get any good photo of a large lobster! & the photos of a big tasseled scorpionfish resting its head on seasquirts were out of focus. Luckily, I didn’t miss the precious chance to take photos of 4 pygmy seahorses on 1 large pink gorgonian seafan! The “junior” dive guide found them. As the dept was less than 20m, I was able to spend many minutes observing them. 1 of them was fat – maybe “pregnant”. Terence insisted that I see the next critter & I reluctantly bid the pygmy seahorses goodbye & thanked them for tolerating our intrusion. They were excited abt the large octopus on a table coral. Upon my appearance, it promptly hid under some corals. We also saw 4 types of nudibranches! This was 1 amazing dive!
Lunch was at a a pavilion on shore. We asked for nasi goreng, which was yummy. We could see lots of rubbish around the shoreline, it was not a pretty sight, to think that this place is a nature reserve!
4) Dive Site: Eel Garden. Time in: 12:59, Time out: 13:47, Bottom Time: 48mins. Max Depth: 20.3m. Viz: 23.6m. Water Temp: 26degC. Sunny.
We were supposed to go see the garden eels which gave this site its name. We splashed off around the same place as previously, the reef was beautiful. An octopus was spotted, then a blue spotted sting ray went flying up from the depths, a large, heavily pregnant map puffer was seen, although pregnant, it was quite fast & I didn’t wanna stress it by chasing. The junior guide signaled for us to follow him, so we left the reef & begin to fin into the current, it went on for a long time, as the current was strong, I opted to stay near the sandy bottom which was at 20m. It was strenuous & boring. After awhile, we decided that the guide might be lost & we ascended to do our safety stop, as we didn’t have much air left. Mike was pretty pissed off with Ketut & the junior guide after the dive…
2nd Mar 09 – 3 dives at Permuteran (Some spell it as Pemuteran)
I wanted to see the Turtle Project, so Ketut suggested we go diving at Permuteran/ Pemuteran Bay. The Projek Penyu Turtle Hatchery (also known as Reef Seen Turtle Hatchery Project) is located there www.reefseen.com. Permuteran Bay is abt 20mins drive from Mimpi. The powder fine sand on the beach was a mix of white & volcanic black.
1) Dive Site: Napolean Reef. Time in: 10:37 Time out: 11:33, Bottom Time: 56mins. Max Depth: 32.2m. Viz: 15m. Water Temp: 26degC. Sunny.
It was a 20mins scenic boat ride out of the bay. The green mountains provided a lovely backdrop. The current was strong & I told Terence not to delay on the surface. This was a beautiful site – the current was manageable, the corals were very healthy & there were lots of soft corals, sponges & reef fish. We descended to abt 30m & Ketut pointed to something in the distance, only realised that he was showing us garden eels, when I got close… Ah, at last he managed to show us garden eels. After a few mins with the garden eels, we had to ascended & we saw many many Sergeant Majors at the reef flat, had nearly seen a congregation of so many of them! The viz was so good that I couldn’t believe that we were at 16m! Mike then found another of the cute crab among the spiky soft coral.
When we got up the boat Janet dropped the “bombshell” – a whaleshark came visiting 15mins into our dive! The boatman was spooked by the shadow of the 5m whaleshark, which bumped the boat & came so close to Janet that she could touch it! Damn, we missed a big deal!
2) Dive Site: Middle Reef. Time in: 13:21 Time out: 14:30, Bottom Time: 69mins. Max Depth: 14.9m. Viz: 10m. Water Temp: 27degC. Overcast.
Shore dive from the gently sloping Permuteran Beach to visit the reconstructed reef maintained by the Permuteran Reef Gardeners. To regenerate the dynamite damaged reef, they welded large metal structures, transplanted the broken corals onto the structures & to accelerate coral growth, low amount of electricity generated by solar panels was passed through. There were a lot of small reef fish making their homes on these reconstructed homes & soft corals & small tridacnaes were plentiful too. 2 octopi showed up at one coral bommie. Was pretty glad that we had stopped eating octopus since last dive trip, as we had been rewarded with many octopi encounters on this trip.
After the dive, we went to visit the turtles at Projek Penyu. There were a hawksbill and a loggerhead that were brought in by the fishermen, who were compensated by the Projek. There were many baby green sea turtle hatchlings & a very adorable 16 yr old green sea turtle – Boomer (as in boomerang), who kept coming back to the Permuteran Beach after being released & he had already done that 5 times!
3) Dive Site: Monkey Pirate Jetty Time in: 18:16 Time out: 19:27, Bottom Time: 71mins. Max Depth: 10.1m. Viz: 6m. Water Temp: 27degC. Clear.
We walked into the ocean, admiring the beautiful sunset & observing the local kids enjoying their playground. Ketut got help from his friend, a local of these waters, to show us the amazing critters. This was the only night dive of the trip & it was an action-packed muck dive – Cowfish, numerous juvenile lionfishes, banded shrimps, anemone crabs, sea slugs, scorpionfish, juvenile sweetlips, flying gurnard, 2 large seahorses & a congregation of many many pipefishes – saw more of them here, than the total of all the pipefishes I had seen during my 100+ dives! Maybe I should be doing more night dives & cut my day dives?! Maybe I should snorkel in the day (remember the whaleshark?).
TWD’s Ketut came to drive us to the airport, from Tulamben. He wanted to supplement his pay, as it was low diving season. That was a 3.5hrs drive fr Tulamben to Menjangan, then a 4+hrs drive through the scenic “mountainous” lake district, to Denpasar, then another 3hrs drive back to Tulamben… Balinese are a hardworking & friendly bunch! & Bali is really a very rewarding place to dive at!
Bought the air tickets to Bali on Jetstar Asia back in early Feb, when they were having a promotion! Airfare was just slightly more than $200. Have chosen to dive around Tulamben area, as the dive sites are largely suited for novice. And shore diving meant no seasickness (great for Terence). Have thought of making our way to Manta Point, to hopefully fulfill my “lifelong” dream of seeing a real manta but the trip was a little too short (4 dive days) & it was not economical to change the flights…
As usual, I went to the online forums (ScubaBoard & Fins) to find out the recommended places to stay. Around Tulamben area, Tulamben Wreck Divers (TWD) http://www.tulambenwreckdivers.com/dive-bali.asp? was a highly recommended dive shop/ resort. So we booked with Tony in May during ADEX 2008 & managed to get a wonderful deal! 4 days of unlimited diving at Tulamben with equipment, plus 5 nites of stay at the deluxe room (complimentary upgrade from Tony) with American breakfast, plus transfers for just US$395 each!
Our flight to Bali was in the evening of 31st Jul, from Terminal 1. We haven’t been at T1 for a longtime, realised that it was quite compact & crowded. I was quite surprised to find that the leg-room on Jetstar Asia was more than Cebu Pacific & Tiger! They even served water & croissants. A short 2.5hrs later, we touched down at Bali & Wayan, the driver was waiting for us. The roads at Bali were better maintained than we last visited in late 2004. When we reached TWD at 1+am, after being on the roads for 2.5hrs, we were delighted to find the deluxe room large (the bathroom is also large but windy) n comfortable n the bed very inviting.
When we woke up at 8+am, the breakfast was waiting in a covered basket on the balcony’s table & our dive guide Nyoman was ready to take us diving… For all the dives, Nyoman would prepare our tanks, fix up the bcd & regs & arrange with the porters to bring the gears to the dive sites. We would gear up at the dive shop – wear our wetsuits, booties, prepare the masks and walk to the dive sites carrying our fins & weights & camera. The porters bearing 2 sets of tanks & gears would make it to the shore twice as faster as us, they also used motorbikes. So don’t be surprised to see riders with dive gears…
To get to the Liberty wreck, just cross the main street in front of the dive shop, go through the carpark area (built for day trippers), turn left for abt 50m and we would reach the beach. Then we would have to wear our gear and do a shore entry with the bcd fully inflated. After several days of shore entry, I still found it extremely exciting! We just had to walk abt 5m into the water, as it got deep quite fast. The black, big n round pebbles & the crushing waves sometimes made the 5m very intimidating, luckily Nyoman was always there to lend a hand. Both Terence n I slipped just once or twice & we thought we could get used to the shore entry & quite enjoyed it. Furthermore, I could equalise better with shore entry, I could take my time n slowly follow the slope, into the deep…
Big pebbles covered the top part of the beach, going deeper, we reached black sandy bottom.
We dived at the Liberty wreck every morning of 1st Aug (time in 10:12am, max depth 22.5m, 41mins, 26degC), 2nd Aug (time in 6:58am, max depth 26.5m, 48mins,26degC) and 3rd Aug (time in 7:01am, max depth 26.8m, 58mins, 24degC). Terence also dived on the morning 4th Aug. Viz was best on 1st Aug, at 15m and subsequently deteriorated to 10m, it was slightly better on 4th Aug… Sometimes there were slight current but nothing tedious. On all the Liberty wreck dives, we saw bumphead parrotfishes (usually there was a herd of 10 or more of them, all more than 1m big) and the large barracuda (it should be the same one) and the resident tiny pygmy seahorse on the gorgonian. Bumphead parrotfishes reminded me of bisons, large and they could charge when provoked, their large fused front teeth warned me to keep a safe distance. Felt a chill running down my spine when faced with the 1.5m barracuda, it just stared so coldly at divers… Oh ok, maybe I am just a wimp but I felt the same chill just looking at its photos – it always showed its teeth! I spotted a whitetip reef shark swimming from the wreck beneath us and a huge grouper in the hull. Blue spotted stingrays also resided at the wreck, together with the “normal” reef fishes – sweetlips, butterflyfish, moorish idols etc. Other interesting residents were the large school of garden eels dancing in the current! Think there were 2 species – 1 was dark gray, the other was white with black stripes, or maybe they were adults n juveniles? Terence spotted a small flounder near the garden eels, cool! Had seen 2 large tunas visiting the wreck too! There were also huge school of trevallies, forming “tornado”.
Last dive at Liberty wreck, 3rd Aug (time in: 3:15pm). I wanted to get another dive in for the early evening and planned to do a complete “round” around Liberty (it is a big wreck, 120m long)… The dive began ordinarily enough, we descended, swam to the wreck & suddenly Terence turned n gestured “frantically”. Nyoman n I thought he ran out of air, after some more frantic gesturing, we realised that his reg was free-flowing. Nyoman helped him change to the octopus & we ascended as fast as we could & did our safety stop. The dive was a total of 12mins… After that dive, my flu got worse & I couldn’t dive on 4th Aug…
I love the wreck, haven’t explore every nook n cranny, haven’t met all its interesting residents & visitors, hope to return soon!
The other frequently dived site at Tulamben was The Wall. The wall is to the right of the wreck (less than 1km away). I think Nyoman preferred The Wall. Guess he had good reasons – the tiny 1-inch baby clown frogfish (so cute! its body had “holes”, just like a piece of hard coral), the many many cleaner shrimps & small fishes that resided at a rock which had green tube sponges growing on the top, the pygmy seahorse at the gorgonian fan, the green leaf-fish which loved to perge on the staghorn corals, many beautiful nudibranches, mantis shrimp and even a small “herd” of large bumphead parrotfishes! 1st Aug – time in 1:26pm, max depth 23.3m, 49mins, 25degC; time in 4:21pm, max depth 22.7m, 51mins, 26degC. 2nd Aug – time in 10:58am, max depth 24.3m, 53mins, 25degC. Viz at The Wall was quite bad too, 5-10m…
We only dived once at Coral Garden, 2nd Aug (time in 2:54pm, max depth 22.3m, 53mins, 26degC). At abt 9m, there was a sunken “plane” made of metal rods, for “growing” corals & 2 large groupers. I remembered the dive as The One with the blue ribbon eel because I finally managed decent photos of a blue ribbon eel! Well, of course it was spotted by Nyoman. Credits to the blue ribbon eel for being a bigger sized (than those we saw at Lembeh) & not too shy… We also saw a blue-spotted stingray, a “normal” stingray, a large moray eel & a few filefish/garfish (more than 1m). There was were lots of soft corals at this site, too bad the viz was just 7m.
Batu Niti (Tanjung Muntig) – the dive site was just a 10min drive from Tulamben. We were charged a “princely” sum of 200k rupiah for the trip. Nyoman was quite happy to get away from Tulamben & promised harlequin shrimps… Well, we won’t want to miss that! We did 2 dives there (time in 10:33am, max depth 21.9m, 44mins, 25degC; Time in 12:30pm, 20.4m, 55mins, 25degC – that is my 100th dive!). The beach was made up of small little black stones, the bottom was fine “silt”. Nyoman showed us an anchorpoint, where a large honeycomb moray eel had made itself a home inside a hole & it had a “harem” of cleaner shrimps for company. On the 2nd dive, after lunch & loading the battery into the camera (yes, I had forgotten to load battery for the 1st dive ), we went back to the anchorpoint & besides the honeycomb moray & shrimps; there was a beautiful black ornate ghost pipefish! (This was the 1st time we have seen a ghost pipefish) There was also a small lionfish on the moor line tied to the anchorpoint. There was an artificial reef made into a dome, it was covered by corals and had attracted larger residents like groupers & batfish & smaller residents like lionfish & of course the pair of beautiful harlequin shrimps! I enjoyed watching the batfish lying on 1 side & getting cleaned by 2 cleaner wrasses. During the 1st dive, we saw many pairs of gobies & cleaner shrimps & spotted a little white-eyed moray… The viz was 10m on the 1st dive & 7m on the 2nd…
Staying at Tulamben was really convenient for diving, we could easily get 4 dives in, spend our surface intervals having breakfast/ lunch (depending on the time) & sometimes even sneak in a short nap & we would be in bed by 9 – 10pm. Terence managed to finish reading a novel within that few days… Although there was a tv n a vcd/dvd player n aircon, we didn’t need them…
We had our lunches at Warung Komang, which was just 2-door down the road. Food & drinks were inexpensive and delicious, altho we suspected that the cook was too liberal with MSG… We loved the fried fish, fried rice with satay & nasi campur were quite good too! Nyoman recommended his relative’s eatery – Warung Esa, which was a little further down the road, “serving restaurant food at warung price”, we had all our dinners there… Ketut – the co-owner of the warung, helped his wife Esa manage the place in the evening & held a day job as the DM at Eco-divers at Amed, regaled us with interesting dive stories while we waited for the food. We loved their satay! The chicken curry was nice too & fish was always very fresh! & the prices were truly affordable, just S$3+ each dish with rice…
We want to go back to the idyllic life at Tulamben soon! It was wonderful to have our “own” guide, we could decide when & where to dive (with consultation with Nyoman) & also how many times we want to dive. We didn’t need to have any route, we would dive & see what came up, although sometimes I would request to see something – like the ornate ghost pipefish… I didn’t have to “fight” with other photographers for any subject & could take as many photos as the subject could tolerate. I think I am getting spoilt. Surprisingly I wasn’t as bothered by the lack of viz on this trip. (We were told that the viz was 25m in July & Aug wasn’t the best for diving Tulamben…) Maybe it was because the dives were more interesting or because I was too preoccupied with the new G9 – changing setting & getting frustrated by the large shadow created by the long port of the housing etc…
On our last day at Bali (5th Aug), we went on a day tour to the “Mother” Temple – Pura Besakih at Gunung (Mt) Agung & Danau (Lake) Batur – Kintamani. The drive from Tulamben to the other side of Gunung Agung was nearly 2hrs! We were “persuaded” to purchase a sarong to enter the temples (had to “respect” the biggest Balinese temple). The shop owner initially asked for 300,000Rupiah for a real batik sarong, there was no way we would pay nearly S$50 for a piece of cloth! So we told her we just want a cheap sarong but still ended up paying S$12 for it! Lesson earned, bring your own sarong! Or improvise – we saw a westerner using a large beach towel! We also “had to” engage the services of a guide to visit the temples, paid 40000 rupiah, abt S$6+ & “had to” tip the guide. We were quite happy with the services of the guide; he was able to provide lots of information & brought us around to many of the temples. We spent 2hrs touring the temple. At the end of it, we were faint with hunger (or was it because of the high altitude of ~1500m)… Anyway I felt that the Mother Temple is quite worth a visit, being the biggest & oldest temple in Bali, the grounds are big & the scenery is beautiful & the weather is cooling…
Wayan drove us to Kintamani for lunch. We were the only customers at the restaurant (1 of the many on the hill), as it was long past lunch time (Nearly 4pm)… Nevertheless, the servers were very warm & attentive to our needs. The food was served buffet-style it was ok but the view was beautiful! The view was worth paying S$15 for! We could see the lovely Lake Batur, Mt Batur & the smaller volcanic craters.
After food, we set off for the airport, which took 2hrs, through the greenery of Ubud, the crowded area the silver n gold making area – Celuk, the stonecarving & weaving area – Batubulan & then thru Denpasar area… Reached the airport before 7pm and “killed time” by doing souvenir shopping at the many “duty-free” souvenir stores.
1 last “drama” when we reached home – 1 of our cats was spooked by our suitcases (or something) n “ran away from home” and we had to go “finding Ryann” at 1+am! He was hiding on the steps upstairs, looking forlorn n silly when I found him.