Bali is Indonesia’s top tourist destination with tourism making up 80% of its economy. It is known for its sophisticated arts which include modern and traditional dance, sculpture, painting, leathercraft, metalworking, and music. The Indonesian International Film Festival is held here every year, and TripAdvisor named Bali the world’s top destination in its Traveler’s Choice awards in 2017.
Bali is also part of the Coral Triangle which is the area with the highest biodiversity of marine species in which over 500 coral species can be found. That’s about seven times as many as can be found in the entire Caribbean.
When I think of Bali I think of Bloody Mary singing the song “Bali Ha’i” in Rogers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific.” Actually, Bali Ha’i was based upon Bora Bora if I’m not mistaken but no matter. One of my cherished memories as a very young child was my mother singing the song to me at bedtime. She did a pretty nice job even though she switched things around a bit.
My parents and I all enjoyed Rogers and Hammerstein productions, and we had the albums to prove it. “The King and I” with Yul Brenner was another great, and of course their greatest achievement was “The Sound of Music” with Julie Andrews which broke box office records worldwide, remaining in theaters for a full year after release. This would be unheard of in this day and age.
But I digress, I’m here to explore this beautiful island, start my diving season, and wash the bad taste of dead and dying reefs out of my mouth. Last year took me to Bonaire, the Maldives, and Fiji only to find reefs on their last legs. There has been some volcanic and seismic activity recently in the area so I will be keeping my ear to the ground, and my eye on the shoreline. If I see the water start to recede rapidly, it’s time to hightail it to higher ground.
Also, there is an active volcano in my backyard. On November 25, 2017, Mount Agung experienced a magmatic eruption and a plume of smoke and ash rose over the summit. This then covered surrounding land and villages in thick dark ash and resulted in airlines canceling flights for safety. I actually delayed a trip to Bali in 2018 because of this.
More recently in July 2018, a strombolian explosion occurred consisting of the ejection of incandescent cinder, lapilli, and lava bombs, to altitudes of tens to a few hundred meters. Although flamboyant these types of eruptions don’t pose as much danger as the more violent varieties. Thankfully, it would seem to have relieved a bit of pressure recently possibly mitigating an eruption during my visit. Of course, if it does decide to blow, it will provide some interesting photos and material for the blog.
The little puff of smoke that can be seen at the summit isn’t particularly intimidating, but I’m keeping my bags packed just in case. People like to trek up the mountain, but I think I’ll find another place to trek about.
MOUNT AGUNG – ACTIVE VOLCANO – PHOTO TAKEN 300 METERS FROM MY RESORT
LIBERTY DIVE RESORT – HOME SWEET HOME
LIBERTY DIVE RESORT – This certainly beats the accommodations in Jakarta by a damn sight. As a homeless person (no permanent residence), I appreciate the feeling of having my own cottage for ten days. It works out to $1500 per month, and that includes maid service, electricity, insurance, Wifi, water, and breakfast. That’s hard to beat and is one of the reasons I have embraced this way of life.
It’s the kind of place you wouldn’t be disappointed on a honeymoon. As it turns out, I’m here in low season which explains the low price of the room as well as the lack of crowds. A Balinese massage is $10 per hour!
It would be nice to sneak a midnight dip in the pool.
This is what looks like Bali’s answer to the school bus. I’m out on a half-day tour with a guide who speaks no English, but who did manage to take me to a few nice spots. The reason I’m not diving is that my ailment hasn’t fully abated. I have plenty of time here anyway.
RICE FIELD VALLEY
KOPI LUWAK – This is considered to be the most expensive coffee in the world with retail prices reaching $700 per kilo. The reason for this is that is comprised of coffee cherries that are eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civet (feral cat). They are then cleaned and the roasting process removes any lingering bacteria that might remain. The concept and process might be off-putting to some, but believe me, it makes one hell of a cup of coffee.
It is sometimes humorously referred to as cat-poo-cino. There is some concern about the treatment of the civets much like the geese and the foie gras controversy in the Dordogne region of France, but that’s another story.
Kopi Luwak was featured in the film “The Bucket List” with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. Kopi Luwak was Nicholson’s favorite coffee primarily because he could crow about how expensive it was since he was basically a shallow workaholic with no friends. It’s a very upbeat and entertaining buddy film about two guys dying of cancer. Don’t let that put you off since it really is a feel-good movie, and will inspire you to buy an airline ticket and do some traveling. If you enjoyed “As Good As It Gets,” make sure to see this one. It’s one of his last good films. How can you go wrong with Nicholson and Freeman?
KOPI LUWAK SALESGIRLS – These young ladies are grateful to those furry, coffee cherry crapping creatures for helping to earn them a living, as you can see by the smiles on their faces.
TIRTA GANGGA – This is a beautiful place to visit with pools, water-scaping, statues and other points of interest. A few dollars gains you access for the day.
Some statues seem friendly, but others can be quite forbidding.
Locals enjoy the beauty of these water gardens as well.
MAIN WATER FOUNTAIN
People entertain themselves by walking around upon stone lily pads in one of the many pools. I decided to avoid tempting fate, and possibly dunking my camera given some clumsy moments in my past. I do like amusing anecdotes for the blog, but $900 is a bit too high of a price to pay.
Of course, I might risk it if she were a potential prize.
The wild boar seems to figure into a great deal of Asian mythology. I’ve seen them all over the place in my travels throughout the region. I’m personally very fond of them and carry a miniature clipped to my backpack as a makeshift mascot. It’s my good luck charm and the only bit of superstition I afford myself. When I was ten years old in Africa, I was a big fan of warthogs as well so it seems to be an ongoing theme.
The cave rescue in Chiang Mai Thailand last year when twelve boys and their coach were successfully extracted from a flooded cave captivated the world. The name of their football (soccer) team is the Wild Boars.
LUXURY OUTRIGGER CANOE
This would be a nice place to get married if you have taken leave of your senses.
THE JUNGLE ENCROACHES – Things grow like crazy here, and it wouldn’t take long for this sanctuary to be reclaimed by the wild.
This courtyard contained a number of Balinese Hindu statues.
SOME QUITE SCARY
OBVIOUSLY SCARY – This one looks straight out of an episode of Dr. Who when it was still worth watching.
I’m planning a return visit here just to enjoy the grounds without the distraction of my camera.
ROYAL POINCIANA TREE – A very old specimen
It’s nice to see these in the wild.
For a small fee, you can swim in this pool as well as one on the terrace above.
In keeping with the afternoon’s format, this is where I ended up for lunch. Unfortunately, I spent most of my money at the coffee place, but fortunately, I had just enough to pay for my meal.
These are two ornate Balinese homes. One of them is used as a jewelry showroom. Thankfully, I left my credit card back at the resort so I was saved from myself and my damaging spendthrift ways.
Well, I stopped back on my way to the airport and skipped the piece I picked out for myself. Instead, I did some Xmas shopping for my daughter and daughter-in-law. No harm done.
GIANT GRAPEFRUIT – The one on the left is normal sized.
USS LIBERTY WRECK
The USS Liberty Wreck is the namesake of the Liberty Dive Resort and is basically an easy shore dive just a few minutes away from the resort. The USS Liberty was a cargo ship that was torpedoed by the Japanese in 1942 and beached in Tulamben, Bali. The dive crew basically handles your gear so all you have to do is sit down, strap on your tank, and walk into the water.
The USS Liberty Wreck is the most famous dive site in Bali and is one of the best sunken-ship dives in the world. In 1963, the eruption of Mount Agung caused the vessel to slip off the beach, and it now lies on a sandy slope in 9 to 30 meters of water. The wreck is about 130 meters long with the shallowest part at about 5 meters and the deepest on the other side of the wreck at about 30 meters.
OPEN BED DIVE VAN – Dive’s begin in the back of one of these vans. You ride in the back with your gear to various entry points in the area. The most popular is the USS Liberty where I am heading now.
It was nice to get back in the water and blow some bubbles after a protracted sinus infection. Thankfully, I had no trouble during my dive and saw a turtle, plenty of colorful fish, and healthy corals and sponges on the wreck. My new GoPro camera came in handy and offered up some reasonable material even though the visibility wasn’t great.
The bad news is that even Bali has experienced the damaging effects of climate change. Greater severity of storms in recent years has damaged or eliminated corals in the shallower areas. My dive guide has seen terrible degradation in the past ten years alone. Bleaching events and subsequent coral die-offs have also plagued the area. In fact, if the storms keep worsening, the USS Liberty may end up being swept away into the depths.
Seriously people, if this keeps up I have doubts as to whether my grandkids are going to see a healthy reef in their lifetimes. I understand the diving in Komodo is outstanding as is Sipadan, but if I continue to encounter the kind of heartbreaking conditions that have been commonplace, I may hang up my fins for good. It’s just too sad to bear.
The canary in the coal mine died a long time ago, and now the sad fact is that half of the Great Barrier Reef is dead. An expert who has been diving the Great Barrier Reef for fifty years reckons it will be completely gone in ten years. So if you want to try out scuba diving, my advice is to get certified as soon as possible. Thank goodness Jaques Cousteau is no longer with us. He would be devastated. I certainly am.
Jeff, my dive guide, is involved with growing corals in an area that is in cooler waters to help reconstitute some of the places that have been damaged. The government has tried to help by offering a couple of ships to be sunk offshore as a backup plan for the USS Liberty. It would also solidify the area as a serious wreck diving concern for the future. In ten years they would start to sport some reasonable growth of corals. Unfortunately, the locals are not forward thinkers, and their shortsightedness may cost them in the long run since they don’t want to pay for the towing and sinking of the vessels. If the USS Liberty goes, it will devastate the local economy.
Over fifty years of growth has made for an abundance of corals and sponges.
CLOWN FISH AND ANEMONE
Immune to the sting of the anemone, the clownfish are safe from predators amongst its tendrils.
Small fish take refuge in the coral branches when threatened. A butterfly fish pokes around for a snack to the left.
Another group of small fish hide in the coral when necessary.
Thank goodness for the red filter I picked up in Jakarta! It makes such a difference with the color balance. My first time using a GoPro in Mexico without a filter resulted in everything skewing terribly green. If you want good results underwater you must have the right filter for the job.
Bannerfish are usually seen in pairs. Notice the baby fish schooling on the left.
MORE STUNNING SOFT CORALS
CAMOUFLAGED SCORPION FISH
BRAIN CORAL & HARLEQUIN TRIGGERFISH
USS LIBERTY EXPOSED RIBS
NICE CORAL SPECIMEN
DIAGONAL BANDED SWEETLIPS – A standout fish with a memorable name.
Moorish Idols are one of the more stylish fish in the sea, but they do have a lot of competition.
This little fellow has tucked himself away under a piece of coral where he has full view of anyone who might be interested in having him for lunch.
As you swim towards the exit point expect to see lots of these small neon blue and yellow fish.
MY LAST VISIT TO THE USS LIBERTY
BARREL SPONGE – I skipped my dive yesterday since it rained like mad the night before. The resulting runoff would have made for very poor visibility. Waiting a day made all the difference.
Most of the surfaces on the Liberty are adorned with abundant growth making it a great wreck for diving. You get the best of both worlds, an interesting, historical wreck and copious marine life.
Jeff hovers near some wreckage.
BRAIN CORAL – DEAD & ALIVE – SIDE BY SIDE
I THINK THIS CLEARLY ILLUSTRATES THE BEAUTY THAT IS BEING DESTROYED WORLDWIDE BECAUSE THE FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY CONTINUES TO BUY OFF GOVERNMENTS, DISSEMINATES FALSE SCIENTIFIC THEORIES, AND ESSENTIALLY DECEIVES THE PLANET IN THE NAME OF PROFITS OVER THE SURVIVAL OF HUMANITY.
MANTIS SHRIMP – A mantis shrimp lingers for a second before scuttling under a rock. Don’t stick your finger in the face of one of the small, unassuming creatures because they can strike your digit with such force as to split it down to the bone.
A GROUPER CHILLS OUT UNDER A LEDGE
SOFT CORAL CLUSTER
TREE CORAL & SOFT CORAL
JEFF HANGING OUT INSIDE THE WRECK
SOFT CORAL NESTLED IN A RED SPONGE
You often forget you’re diving on a wreck.
HEADING FOR THE BOW THROUGH A BLIZZARD OF TINY FISH
This area feels like a wall dive.
SHIP’S BOW ENVELOPED IN BUBBLES
ANEMONE & FALSE CLOWN ANEMONEFISH – THE NEMO VARIETY
ONE LAST BEAUTY AS WE SWIM BACK TO SHORE
THREE-SPOT ANGELFISH – The bright yellow with black accents and cobalt blue lips are a winning combination.
Here I am with Jeff, my dive guide and certified instructor who accompanied me on all of my dives. The resort is beautiful, and the staff is warm and friendly. Diving here is pretty much effortless. They take you to the dive site, and someone takes your gear to a platform where you don your weight belt and BC. You walk into the water and off you go. Upon returning you chuck your gear in the back of the van and ride back to the resort where they handle everything. All you have to do is head back to your room and shower off. With all of that service, the dives were only thirty dollars each. Absolutely unbelievable.
As I prepare to go to the airport, I am grateful to Mount Agung for managing to hold onto its ash and magma for the duration of my stay in Bali. I can now continue on unimpeded to Komodo where the mighty Komodo dragons dwell.
LOCALS ON THEIR WAY TO WORK IN THE CITY
IBIS HOTEL – Well, the volcano didn’t deter me in my travels, but the airline canceled my flight nonetheless so I spent the night in Bali. Even though I lost a day in Komodo, the restaurant across the street made up for it.
LAUTA – THE BEST CHINESE I’VE EATEN – Stir Fried Grouper with Leeks