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Weak-kneed in Tulamben 8 Nov 2006

Posted by cat64fish in Tales from the N2 bar.
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Bali …. the mere mention of that island paradise conjures up images of terraced padi fields, exquisitely landscaped water gardens, and a gracious people.

Bali has always been one of my favourite places since I visited it in the early 1990s. This would be my 4th visit to the island, but my first solely for diving – besides Tulamben, I’d be hunting for one of the giants of the deep, the sunfish, also known as the mola mola (see story here).

Tulamben had three sites that I knew of, all within walking distance from Paradise Beach Resort, where I stayed. The Liberty wreck, Coral Garden (the house reef) and a site only known as The Wall. However, this small area has seen the likes of David Doublet, Gerry Allen, Roger Steen, Neville Coleman and many other great photographers had visited. Eunice, having been here before, acted as knowledgeable local guide to my blur foreigner tourist.

On the surface, the dives seemed simple enough. Textbook shore entry scenario – gear up on the shore, walk into the water, put your fins on and start your dive. Simple enough, except that what you read about in books doesn’t always translate in reality.

The “beach” was composed of wave-worn pebbles and rocks, that shift with every footstep and wave, making walking difficult … well, difficult for this city-dweller, at least. The porters didn’t seem to have a problem, even with 2 full sets of diving gear on their heads (yes, you heard me right … on their heads).

Our lady porter, with two tanks on her head

These ladies (yes, you heard me right again) have a posture to make a physiotherapist smile, and their daily walking (very rapidly, I might add) on the pebbly beach probably means they have no need for foot reflexology of any kind.

Anyway, in addition to the shifting beach stones, there were the waves to deal with. The waves were about 1m high on the first dive – a dusk dive, to boot. Getting in was trouble enough, but getting out was a “life-flashing-before-my-eyes” exercise. Crawling out wasn’t much of an option, due to the stones, so floundering out of the water like a fish stranded on land was the only way to get out. Luckily there were these two boys who dashed into the water the help me get to my feet – turns out they were the “night porters”, who’d been keeping watch to take the gear back to the dive shop. Each of them got a well deserved can of coke from me for their efforts.

We found out later from a trio of aussies who were eating by the beach-side cafe of our resort that the waves had been riding high for the last week, and that they (burgly fellows with thighs the size of tree trunks), were going to “take it easy” since they were on holiday here for the next month. Great … 😛

Luckily the waves and wind died down sufficiently the next day to make diving a less harrowing experience. Still, with the rocky beach, coming out of the water, especially with my “monster baby” in tow, was no small feat. Not to mention the walking back and forth from resort to dive site. Exhausting for the urban diver like me, who is used to diving off a boat, where you plunge in right on top of your dive site! I’ll have to prepare better (ie more exercise) before attempting this kind of entry / exit again.

The wreck is pretty much … well … wrecked. The ship has mostly broken up into several sections, with lots of hard and soft corals, hydroids and sponges, tunicates and anemones growing on the exposed parts. Inside the wreck, the spaces are filled with … water (what did you expect?). Seriously though, there were lots of fish, many of them extremely big – and un-shy of divers, which led me to believe that they were used to being fed. True enough, the dive operator later confirmed this suspicion. You’d think photographing these fish would be easy, but they came so close that with a macro lens on, the camera had difficulty focusing. And then you worry about the spines sticking out from the tail end of the surgeonfishes and *you* lose focus. But all in all, the wreck is a great heaven – for photographers and fish alike.

Parts of the wreck had fallen off, leaving archways such as this for you to swim through without entering the bowels of the wreck

A school of Golden Saddle Rabbitfish hovering above the wreck

A large grouper I nicknamed “Two Face”

And not just in / on the wreck itself – all around the edges of the wreck teemed with life as well – in the deeper part (about 20m), you’d see jawfish, darting in and out of their holes feeding; gobies and their shrimp partners, one keeping and eye out for the big, bad divers while the other busily upkeeps the house. At the shallow end, you’d see lots of garden eels … three types to be exact: the 2-spot type, a “grey” type and a barred type (no picture of this one).

Un-shy jawfish darting in and out of their cubby holes to feed

The “watchdog” goby and the “home-maker” shrimp

A field of garden eels (this species is mostly black in colour)

“The Wall” was in the opposite direction, away from the wreck, and involved a similar trek to get to the entry point. It wasn’t as fantastic as I was led to believe … where were the schools of jacks I’d been told about? Definitely not a site that can be compared to the walls of Manado, but the schools of anthias and damsels certainly provided a dazzling display of colour and movement on the reef – not to mention the odd long-nose hawkfish, an octopus and the giant-sized puffers.

Long-nosed Hawkfish on a red seafan (that looked purple in the underwater light)

A giant Map Pufferfish

An octopus, doing its yogi-squeeze-into-a-hole-smaller-than-itself trick

As it turned out, the school of jacks was right in front of the resort! The last dive was again on the house reef, this time in daylight hours – it was a relief not to have to trudge to the dive site carrying my baby monster. Imagine our surprise when, about 10m away from shore and in 2m of water, we encountered this wall of jacks (ok, it was just a small ball of jacks, but when you are close up to it, it looks like a wall). I happily snapped away (digital is free, after all), as they just swam back and forth, occasionally forming a tight ball … before dispersing back into a “wall ” formation.

The school of jacks, in front of the resort, in just 2m of water

The Coral Garden house reef held amazing creatures … most were found in clumps, clustered around the Neptune’s Cup sponges, that acted like mountain oases in this alien landscape. The clusters of featherstars seemed like the leafy branches of trees, in which fish, shrimps, and even clusters of snails could take refuge. So engrossed with these tiny creatures I was that I only realised I was running out of air when I felt a resistance in my 2nd stage. How time flies when you are having fun!!

A really strange nudibranch, Jorunna rubescens (formerly belonging to the Kentrodoris genus)

A cluster of well-camouflaged snails found near the mouth of a featherstar

A juvenile wrasse hiding in the feathery arms of the featherstar

Commensal shrimps blend perfectly with the featherstar host

All in all, my first visit to Tulamben was very good. No boxer crabs or harlequin shrimps, but that just leaves me with an objective for next time I come here; not to mention the new spot that has opened up not 20 minutes away, called Seraya, which by all accounts, is a macro haven as good as Lembeh. I’ll need to see it to believe, because Lembeh is just … WOW!

But that is a story for another time.


More pictures of my Tulamben trips can be found here.