By the time you make it from one side of Bali to the other you’ll have built anti-scam defences to rival Fort Knox and you’ll be so used to getting ripped off you don’t even blink when someone tries to triple charge you for a bemo. Rp40,000 for lunch? Seems reasonable, here, take my wallet. Amed on the east coast of Bali is an antidote to all that.
We arrived by shuttle from Ubud and we were the kind of hungry where I’d happily fight a rabid dog for leftovers then eat the dog too. We walked through the town with our worldly belongings strapped to our torso in search of a warung and found one of those places where everything is laid out in a glass cabinet and your only choice is nasi campur which is my current favourite food. Nasi meaning rice, and campur, pronounced cham-poor, meaning mix.
It’s rice with a tonne of protein such as ayam (chicken), tempe (tempeh) and tahu (tofu), and some vegetables and maybe a bit of spice. I’ve never had tofu or tempeh before. I’m not even shitting you. I come all the way from Brighton, land of soy yoghurt weaving vegans, and try them for the first time. I’m not going to lie, I’m partial to a bit of soy protein. Tempeh is a little bit weird and crunchy and tofu is a little bit weird and spongy and I won’t be forsaking bacon and eggs in favour of either any time soon, but they’re good for a quick protein hit. We’d been throwing loads of money at nicely arranged nasi campur in north Bali, we didn’t know any better. The old woman chucked everything onto plates for us with a smile and took Rp30,000 off us. For both. We were paying more than that for one fucking portion once we left Java.
After appeasing off the hangry beast within we found out that the cheaper places to stay were on the road leading away from the coast so we shuffled up there as fluid poured from our pores and got a room at Lumbung Sari, basically because it was the first place we came to in our price range and we just needed to lie very still under a fan before our brains took liquid form. Fucking hell it’s hot here. A still hot. The kind of hot that envelops you and steals every molecule of moisture from you quicker than you can replace it.
But I needed to find someone to take me diving, I had my little heart set on seeing the Liberty wreck up close and personal but mammoths roamed the earth last time I went diving. It was also really hard to find manned shops. The doors were all open but there was rarely anyone inside. Maybe they’d melted. The first place I tried wanted me to spend a shit tonne of money on a refresher which is absolutely protocol, but I didn’t want one, quite frankly I was really rather against throwing the equivalent of £35 at something I didn’t want to do.
£35 on a steak and a bottle of wine? No problem. £35 on a trek or a rafting adventure or a day canyoning? Shut up and take my money. £35 for peace of mind and to ensure my safety at 20 metres? Fuck right off. I contemplated lying and faking an entry in my dive log but I couldn’t bring myself to do that. Then I found myself at Fun Divers where a chap called Sari, after advising me to do a refresher, looked at me and asked, “Do you remember everything?” I assured him that I did. He nodded and agreed to take me on two dives the following day and I went home and frantically Googled hand signals because it occurred to me that quite a lot of information might have been replaced by Jägerbombs over the last few years.
I rocked up the following morning, flashed my PADI card and Sari briefed me on the two dives then, before we even got in the truck, took me through absolutely everything from hand signals to how to clear my mask if it filled up with water. I assumed he’d panicked and decided he should treat this as a refresher but without the price tag which was absolutely fine by me, mate. Just take me to depth and show me the pretty things.
Sari is one of those really likeable blokes, one of the most genuine people you could hope to meet. His English is really good but a little stilted and he explained a lot of things with hand gestures and sound effects. On the way to the first dive site we chatted a lot about Balinese culture and their brand of Hinduism which is noticeably different from what you see in India. The temples for one, they’re elaborate carved things and you see them every where, and a few places we’d stayed had their own private temple within the homestay.
Sari told me that yes, each home has a family temple, and the centre of the house is also a temple for protection, and each corner of the house is also a temple, so they’ve pretty much got all temple related bases covered there. If I had to designate a part of my home a temple I’d make it the fridge and I would offer it cheesecake and prosecco which I would then consume in honour of whatever deity suited me that day. That’s another difference; whereas the Indians have a whole pantheon of deities to choose from and they give offerings to the one that suits their needs, the Balinese only worship the Hindu holy trinity. Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. They don’t choose one, they worship all three because without all three they’re not complete or something which makes a lot of sense.
This dive site then, we would be checking out The Wall. We kitted up, ran through our buddy checks and waded in for 60 minutes of coral and marine life viewing. It’s really quite wonderful to be back under the water after such a long absence. You know you enjoy diving because you keep telling anyone who’ll listen that you do but nothing compares to actually being there again blowing bubbles in absolute peace. We saw barracuda and a stone fish, though fuck knows how he spotted that poisonous little bugger chilling there, blending into the rock. We finned slowly along the wall, Sari writing things on his slate when he found something interesting before it was time to ascend and we made our way back to the beach past schooling fish.
There are pros and cons to shore diving; on one hand you don’t need a boat and I’m not a fan of boats so this is joyous. On the other hand there’s no dignified way to exit the water after a shore dive. Once you’ve got your mask off and wiped away the transit van load of mucus your sinuses just dumped on your face, you hop around waist deep in the water trying to get your fins off before shuffling to the beach, trying not to trip over rocks, clutching your fins in one hand and trying to steady yourself with the other, weighted around the waist with your tank strapped to your BCD hoping that a wave doesn’t knock you off-balance and onto your back leaving you waving your arms and legs around like a stranded turtle trying to get a purchase on something so you can lever yourself onto your front. No, grace and finesse are not prerequisites of diving. I clung onto Sari in the hope his balance was better than mine which isn’t difficult. Drunk people have better balance than I do.
We drove to the next dive site to take our surface interval and apply teh to our faceholes and Sari told me about the traditional industry of the region. His parents used to produce salt and salt production does still happen in Amed but not as much anymore. Apparently it’s bastard hard work too, he didn’t go into detail but it involves taking sea water which is really fucking heavy and putting it in troughs for drying.
There’s probably a lot more to it than that and I did intend to try to find out more by visiting a place they made salt but by the time I got back to the guesthouse I was the kind of knackered that you get after two dives. These days his parents make the little square palm leaf offerings for those busy Balinese who don’t have time to make their own and they bring in a better income from that than making salt which doesn’t surprise me. I don’t know how many offerings the average Hindu here goes through a day but I’m betting it’s more than one.
Then it was time to see the wreck. I won’t lie, I was excited. Sari told me the USS Liberty was torpedoed by the Japanese during WWII whilst he made torpedo gestures and explosion noises because that’s just how he rolls. She was beached at Tulamben for years until Mt Agung, the volcano that the region sits in the shadow of, erupted in 1963 causing her to slide into the sea on her side. She’s beautiful albeit barely recognisable as a ship any more.
This is probably my new favourite dive site ever though, there’s so much marine life, we saw so many different kinds of fish which Sari named for me but I have the memory of the creatures we were gawping at so I don’t remember many. I know a bat fish was involved somewhere, and lots of sweet lips which is a stripper name but who am I to judge, they’re the ones that look like they’re wearing pajamas. We even saw a turtle having a nibble on the coral growing on the wreck which was incredible.
There was so much to see and Sari stopped frequently to show me things but here’s a fun fact; I can’t stop. I’ve never been able to, even when I was diving most days in Cyprus and got my buoyancy down to a fine art and hardly needed any weight to get me under. I can’t stop under water. What makes it even worse is when I try to stop I panic a little bit and flail like I only learned to dive yesterday and I’m terrified I’ll crash into the coral and break it so end up barrelling into my buddy or Divemaster instead. All in slow motion of course. Nothing happens quickly at 25 metres. So Sari stopped to show me things and I’d just sort of point my face at it as my body glided past him whilst trying to avoid a collision. It seemed to work.
After another 60 minutes immersed in utter joy it was time to surface again. Fuck me, I love diving so much. I enjoy the bit afterwards where you’ve got to get the gear loaded back onto the truck and back to the dive centre for cleaning a little less, but both dive sites have porters who took our stuff back to the truck which seemed to be standard practice here, they’ll carry several tanks at a time balanced on a motorbike, or the whole BCD and tank set up on their heads. Their fucking heads! I have to be helped to get the bastard thing onto my back and they casually heave it onto their heads and stroll back up to the car park. Apparently that village has made a lot of money charging entry to that beach and, I assume, for portering. I don’t know how much the entry fee is because it was included in the price I’d already paid but fair play to them, it’s easier than salt production.
I definitely need more scuba in my life. I’d asked Sari, who’s dived all over Indonesia, if I had to choose between the Gili Islands and Komodo which should I go for and he said the latter, without a doubt. So hopefully that’ll be my next underwater excursion after wrapping my eyeballs around some dragons. Yeah, I hope those bastards can’t swim.
Amed, Bali, Indonesia
Stayed at: Lumbung Sari Homestay
Activity: Scuba diving with Fun Divers