Leaving Ubud was certainly sad. I had 10 days of peace and self reflection, and I was feeling completely renewed. But I also had 6 days of diving ahead of me and was incredibly excited to finally put my PADI certification to good use! I had picked up a flyer at the airport that advertised FREE DIVE in bold letters across the top (brilliant marketing technique if I do say so). The shop was called Dive Concepts, and they have 2 main shops on the east coast and northwest coast of Bali; I chose to do my dives at Tulamben on the east coast because I heard it had more sites and nicer coral. I also was planning a short trip to the Gili Islands, and they are off of the east coast if Bali so it all just made sense. So after my morning yoga class I boarded a taxi with driver Wayan and his wife Wayan (no joke) for a 3.5 hour drive to the coast. When I arrived I was pretty surprised to find that Tulamben was only a small stretch of road along the coast, hardly a mile long. It was just a small fishing village with only a handful of diving shops/resorts to keep the town running. There was maybe 1 real convenience shop, no ATMs and each dive shop had a little restaurant. The diving was done not by boat, but walking right off the beach.
Dive Concepts was simple dive resort with $5 dorm or $10 private accommodation for their divers. I chose the private accommodation, but a couple of days in I was joined by another solo female travel from, get this, the US! Not only did she share the cost of the room with me, but she ended up being great company, and hey, I now have another reason to visit Seattle when I get home! I also met another new friend from Melbourne, who I am planning on meeting up with when I am in Australia next month.
The food served at Dive Concepts little restaurant was cheap but yummy. My favorites were the jaffel and the nasi gorang, which ranged from $1.50-$2.00. I bought a 7 dive package for $140, which came to about $20 a dive. Add onto that my free dive and the cost came down to $17 a dive, so I was feeling pretty good about it. My original plan was to do roughly 1-2 dives a day over 6 days, but that would soon change to 2-3 dives a day and 11 dives total. Still, the owner gave me a 2nd free dive and the other 2 extra dives at the discounted package price, so that brought down the cost per dive to $15. Just goes to show that if you are a pleasant person and make friends people are more than willing to extend certain courtesies your way. I don't think I'll ever end up diving this cheap again.
But now to the fun part, because the reason I chose to do more dives was because the sites were beautiful and teeming with life and vibrant color. There were 4 main sites that were close to the shop and included in the package, so I dove each of those 2 or 3 times; they were the USAT Liberty Wreck, Coral Garden left and right, and the Drop Off. I did 3 dives at the wreck, which was a short drive away from the shop. We would assemble our gear, load it into the truck and drive right down the street to where a group of women porters would be waiting to carry our tanks on their heads down to the waters edge. Then we would strap in and walk down the rocky beach and swim a short way to the wreck. My first dive at the USAT Liberty was during the day and she was spectacular; a US cargo ship, equipped with 2 canons during WWII, meant to bring supplies to build a railroad on the island was mistaken for a warship and torpedoed by the Japanese. There was plenty of fish life throughout the ship, and our guide took us on swim-throughs of the interior. I also ended up doing a night dive and an early morning dive at the wreck. We still did swim-throughs at night which was both cool and a little scary. You can only see what is directly in the stream of your flash light, so when you swim through the tight spaces its hard to tell how close you are getting to anything that may be sharing the space with you. But our guide, Wayan, did show us some pretty cool stuff, including a Spanish dancer (see picture below). I also took my camera and found out the best way to take underwater pictures in the dark is to turn off your flashlight and use the flash. This was jarring, since once you turn your light out you tend to lose all sense if direction and at times I ended up upside down, taking pictures of nothing. It definitely took some getting used to, but some pretty excellent pictures came out of it in the end. On the early morning dive, the main attraction was the schools of massive bombhead parrot fish that swim out of the wreck. Some were my size or bigger in schools of 20 or more, and in their sleepy haze they tend to get really close. Such an amazing sight!
The Drop Off was also a cool site that I dove twice. Again, it was a short drive away from the shop, and you walk right off the beach and swim out to where the ocean floor drops off to maybe 40 meters or more, leaving a steep wall full of large sea fans and stunning coral. This is where, with the help of Wayan, I saw my first pigmey seahorse! It was so tiny and cute and blended right into the bright orange sea fan it was latching onto. There was not as much fish life here, but the coral more then made up for that.
The Coral Garden was a long expanse of coral literally right in front of our shop, so all we had to do was strap on our gear and walk across the street and into the water. Once in the water you then go either right or left. Either way you choose has beautiful coral and fish life aplenty, but my favorite ended up being Coral Garden left, because each of the 3 times I went that direction I saw several black tip reef sharks! I thought I would be terrified to see a shark but that was not what I was feeling at all. Instead, I felt calm and mesmerized by the sharks graceful movement in the water. They paid us no attention at all actually, and just glided by us stelthfully and majestically. Before we knew it they would be gone. Of course, I didn't have my camera when the sharks were around. In fact, on my last dive, which was at coral garden left, I made sure to bring my camera. Unfortunately though I brought it about 10 meters too deep and flooded it. And of course afterwards we saw 3 massive sharks. So, no shark pictures and now I would have to buy another camera. Oh well...my fault for not paying attention to my depth. Another treat at Coral Garden left was a huge lobster that strolled right up to us. It got pretty close until it realized we were there and hightailed it in the other direction.
Then there were several sites slightly farther away that you needed to pay a little extra for. I only did one of those. It was similar to the Drop Off, with a wall and lots of beautiful coral, but this one also had a sunken temple element which was pretty cool. Most of my dives ended up being just me and my guide Wayan, and this was no exception. But this one sticks out in my mind because this was the first time I would experience being hit on under water. Wayan and I got to witness a pretty rare cuttlefish mating dance and afterwards Wayan kept trying to get me to kiss him underwater. It was hilarious and cute but definitely a no go...sorry Wayan! He spent the rest of my time there trying to be my Balinese boyfriend, a little awkward, but not at all creepy so it was fine.
So, Dive Concepts ended up being a pretty good find, and I'm glad I chose Tulamben for my first Bali dive experience. Now I am looking forward to checking out Nusa Lembongan and Manta Point in the south, and Menjangan in the northwest. But that will have to wait for my next trip back to the island, because now I am off to 4 days of relaxation in the Gili Islands and I cannot wait!