Tulamben – USS Liberty Wreck 2009


After enough rest and relaxation and general annoyance from touts and taxis drivers it was time get on the road again and on up to Tulamben in the East of Bali. Gary was sent on a mission to find the best deal in town as his bartering techniques seemed to work the best. Bartering in Indonesia has a completely different form than anywhere else in Asia; for starters the price that they first give you is no where near the intended price. In fact the start off price is generally double (if not triple) than the actual price. Confusion over the exaggerated prices generally makes you wonder whether you actually paid the right price for anything but generally you really get into the haggling and end up bartering down to the last 50p which in the end is a victory of epic moral proportions! Most touts had obviously confused us with rich tourists but on the day Gary came up with the goods and soon we were off on a 3 hour road trip to Tulamben for a bargain price of £20 for all three of us. With Pink Floyd blasting away on the stereo and no stopping at any family friends dinners / food stalls we journeyed through towns, jungles and then arrived at the barren and dry Tulabmen at the foothills of the volcano Gunung Agung.

For one of the first time in Indonesia this driver didn’t think his second career could be a stand in for Lewis Hamilton so I didn’t have to dig my nails from the dashboard and felt refreshed as we stepped out of your car and straight into the dive shop in Tulamben. There is nothing in Tulamben itself bar the wreck that we were going to dive, nothing bar a couple of Dive shops a few restaurants and hotels which suited as fine as we were there to dive the wreck. After a booking into our modest but cheap rooms next to the beach and restaurant it was some time for more bartering this time with the dive school.

As we arrived late afternoon we decided to dive once in the afternoon of arrival then twice the next morning. The Liberty Wreck has the reputation of attracting a lot of charter boats and resort boats mid morning to mid afternoon so armed with that knowledge and yearning to dive in peace it was about time to get into the water. The 3 dives in total cost us $31 dollars each, the cheapest I have ever paid for dives so far, we must be getting good at this bartering business! The school had a relaxed attitude when it came to diving so much so that there were no forms or disclaimers to fill out (that’s why I think we got the dives so cheap, maybe the boss was away and this was going straight into their back pockets) and the best bit was that the tanks were delivered to our rooms! Yep that’s how close we were to the dive site, a quick change into out dive gear, put on a our BCD’s and regs in our rooms and a within 2 minutes we were stepping into the water with the wreck lying 10 meters off the shore line.

The USS Liberty Wreck is a large war victim is just meters from the shore. The armed cargo ship was built in 1918 and served as a supply ship during World War II. It was torpedoed by Japanese submarine I-166 in 1942 while in the strait approx. 10 nautical miles south-west of Lombok (she was carrying railway parts and rubber for the war effort). The ship was rescued and towed towards Bali. The damage done to the ship was so great that the attempt to reach Singaraja failed, the crew was evacuated and the ship was beached in Tulamben. The intact ship sat beached on this beautiful coast until Bali’ s volcano Gunung Agung erupted in 1963. The Liberty crashed beneath the water during its violent eruption. It now sits on a black sand shelf that slopes from about 6-30m. 10 meters from shore we looked down through the water and we could see the start of the wreck lying there underneath us. Loaded up with cameras, pointy sticks and reef hooks (no real danger of using them here!!) we descended and started swimming alongside the wreck down to 30m. The visibility in the afternoon was ok at around 10 – 15m and luckily there no sign of mass groups and DSD (Discover Scuba Diving) divers.

After a light evening meal in the restaurant and one or 2 large ice coffees we settled into our evening ritual of chilling and rummy. An early night was required as we were diving early the next day and wanted to be in the water by 7am. At this point I have to tell you about my traumatic night that night as I am still haunted by it to this day. During the early hours I needed to relieve myself so off I popped to the toilet. Half way through the process I felt something crawling up my leg. I rushed to switch the light on and to my horror half my leg was covered in small ants. Upon closer inspection of the toilet area the whole floor was covered in ants of various sizes ranging from around 2mm up to 10mm long with ferocious mandaviles and wings. There were certainly not there when I had originally checked the bathroom on my first visit during the day. I tried in vain to wash the thousands of ants away with buckets of water but still they kept on appearing and coming for me! I escaped to my room and duct taped the door frame in hope that they wouldn’t come into the bedroom and the throughout the night I had that feeling of something crawling on my legs! Dawn couldn’t come quickly enough and when it did I armed myself with insect spray from the restaurant and charged into the bathroom like the SAS attacking the Irainian embassy ready to spray at the first sign of ants. I was heartily disappointed to find no action what so ever and they seemed to have vanished, gutted as I wanted revenge for lack of sleep.

After my little early morning raid we were soon back in the water and diving to the deep and on the lookout for other different small animals this time we were looking for Pygmy Seahorses (allegedly) on one of the fan corals at the base of the wreck, nudibranches and an Ornate Ghostpipefish I had spotted the day before. We couldn’t find the seahorse but we did find the Ghostpipefish. There were so many varied different sspecies of fish around the wreck and all were quite friendly, especially a Great Barracuda who had a stand off with a Bumphead Parrot fish. Not as much macro stuff as we saw on the liveaboard but the diving was equally as good and fun. Swimming around the wreck  in some points was thrilling and great fun and a must for all keen wreck divers who are ever in this part of the world. The Liberty Wreck is on many lists as one of the top ten dive sites in the world and we knew why due to the size and aquatic life around it. Again we were lucky that only towards the end of our second dive did we start to encounter the hordes of tourist divers swimming doggy style through the water and generally bumping into everyone and anything. I guess you have to start somewhere! The 2 80 minute dives that morning passed very quickly and once back on land again washed and changed we were looking for a way to get out of Tulamben so more bartering and we were off down the coast through lush green hills on our way to Padang Bai and to catch a ferry over to the Gili islands where it was time to sample island life again more R&R!

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