Bali's warm tropical breeze embraced me as soon as I stepped off the plane onto the tarmac at Denpasar's international airport. Actually, the supportive crew aboard Star air dutifully insisted that I get on the bus to take me the 50 feet to the terminal due to a few sprinkles as we disembarked the Boeing 737-200. They must not have been aware of my proclivity towards getting wet, however their kind attention may have prevented me from catching the feared 'masuk-angin' which just might have hindered my planned dive trip. With time to relax at the Bali Intan resort, I ordered a coffee down by the beach front and pondered what the weekend might be like diving with the recently established Kapal Selam Dive Club in Bali. My first experience with Hengky and Brata in Tulamben nearly two years before had been a good dive-centric male bonding experience, but ashamedly I had not been subsurface since. However, my addition to the Kapal Selam 'Friends' list a few weeks before was making me feel more comfortable about the prospects of an enjoyable weekend.
Upon Brata's arrival from the airport, Hengky stopped by my hotel and we headed over to Bali's famous Global.Net internet caf', which boasts up to 2 Megabytes of satellite direct connectivity for those of you who second as computer geeks, where Hengky and Nike are the proprietors. I personally tested out the download speed and was pleased to see a solid 56 Kb ' something I have yet to experience in Jakarta. Lala had brought a selection of Jakarta Hilton cuisine for the benefit of the 10 or so members gathered around, including some excellent pizza, beef tendon stew, spicy chicken, and even spicier sambal. It was a good start to the evening and a few beers were shared with Mulyadi and Richard, people I had seen on the flight over from Jakarta, but I was not yet aware that our weekend adventures were to be intertwined. After signing a standard diving legal disclaimer we all headed to our hotel.
Tulamben Drop-Off: Depth-52.1m (171ft); Time-54min.
The next morning began with breakfast at 6:00am and a pleasant trip up the eastern shores of Bali to Tulamben the site of the Umbilical Dive Series. Some of you may be wondering about the name of this dive series, but we had an important mission ahead of us. Brata's newest born and second son's placenta, nestled in its clay urn with some special offerings meant to make him smart and rich, were traveling with us on our journey. The burial ceremony was to take place at sea, at a depth of 50 meters. Our first dive commenced sometime past 10:00 am, and the group descended en masse looking for the appropriate burial rock. Brata had borrowed my dive knife to assist in digging into the site, but it turned out to be unnecessary as the soft sand came away quite easily beneath the coral and rock outcropping selected at a depth of 57.9 meters (190 feet). Most of us observed from above, feeling the chill of a noticeable thermo-cline, while Tom was busy with Brata's new Olympus digital camera covering the event as Brata and Hengky worked quickly to stow away the object of the ceremony. The rest of that dive was spent decompressing - for most, it was a deco dive; my Monitor 2 let me off easily as I ascended above 15 meters and released me from any mandatory dive stops. Lala reported seeing a moray, and Rizal reported an octopus sighting among the usual sightings of trunkfish, cowfish, goatfish, triggers and blennies.
Tulamben Wreck: Depth-27.7m (91ft) ; Time-72min.
The second dive was a familiar dive for most who have been in the area as we headed for the famous wreck site in Tulamben. Rizal made his second Octopus sighting in as many dives for the day and Thea was busy fighting off twenty-five or more black surgeon fish who had surrounded her. I thought she had an ephemeral moment with the fish gods, but apparently they were interested in her yellow weight sack that reminded them of a food source of some time ago. Brata was busily taking pictures of fish tails with his new camera, although one of his unfortunate photos of me is likely to end up as my picture on the website. A bit of patience revealed a terrace of brown garden eels in the distance that swayed with the ocean currents reminiscent of a mature rice paddy in the breeze, but one that quickly shrunk to the ocean floor as divers approached over the horizon.
Batu Belah: Depth-20.4m; Time-57min.
The third dive was our sunset dive for the day. We were a bit slow getting out, so it was mostly a night dive. A number of fanciful Lion fish were engaged in their usual activity of looking elegant with there poisonous fronds extended, and doing nothing but waiting I suppose. As usual, the sunset on the coral reef brings out different colors and activities underwater. The enhanced effect of viewing everything through a singular beam of light tends to focus the diver's attention on smaller details than one might see or remember during the daylight dives. If you are prone to a hyper-active imagination and left floating in the pitch black sea for too long, waiting for the slow Jukung boatman to pick you up might put you off diving forever - my advice, try not to be the last guy out of the water. I was just glad they had a spot for me on the last boat.
The evening festivities at first revolved around feasting and praying that your entree would be the first to arrive to satiate a hard earned appetite, all the while conversing with the group as we all sat at one long table. We were famished from the day's activities, and few had had a full nights sleep the night before. As soon as we had eaten, Brata woke us up with a surprise - he had brought along a bottle of Blanton's Single Barrel Straight Bourbon that was given to him by the author on the birth of his first son almost three years ago. We were fortunate that the restaurant was able to come up with enough glasses for the toast to the successful Umbilical burial. Soon we rejoiced and celebrated with a game of Oh-Hell, an additional bottle of Jack Daniels, and then a game of Hearts before turning in for the night.
Batu Kelebit: Depth-43.9m(144ft); Time-62min.
Day 2 was as delightful as the first. Our first dive was the colorful reef wall dive, punctuated by swarming schools of small fish and shimmering with the rainbow-god's palette. I felt that it was not quite as lively as two years ago, but it was still plenty alive. During most of the stop time we were all noticing the family of spotted scorpion fish spread out on the reef at about 30 feet. I counted at least 9 members of this family, and watched with some anxiety as a few of the divers nearly bumped into one or two of them while observing another.
Kubu South: Depth-25.9m(85ft); Time-63min.
The afternoon dive was a pleasant dive sloping gently over the undulating coral slopes with large funnel corals and the occasional fan. Apart from the usual cast of characters, I noted several pipefish, one of gray and the other of a golden color, along with some juvenile giant clams. A large barracuda was also pointed out by Ken. His attempt at sneaking a closer look was foiled by the arrival of many other divers.
Kubu North: Depth-27.7m(91ft);Time-55min.
After a box lunch of fried rice under the shade of an unknown but beautiful tree, we geared up for the final dive. Expectations were high as we were to visit the site of the pygmy seahorses ' according to Thea, a popular place with the aggressive underwater photographers in the region. Although we had two cameras with us and about 15 divers in all, somehow, we never found them. There was a gentle, but substantial current during most of the dive for which I found an interesting use. By inverting myself completely, I could float along the top of a ridge covered by a nudibranch forest using only my breathing for buoyancy control. By skimming the sandy bottom with my head, and rising just sufficiently in time to avoid impact with the nudibranch trees, the approaching forest combined with the colorful tendrils of each passing branch created an extremely interesting special effect worthy of Starwars cinematography - it was something between a high speed balloon journey over the Kalahari and kaleidoscopic tour of the surface of Mars. My buddy Ken probably thought I was nuts as I did it the third time, but Yves, a Canadian sylviculturalist, spotted my antics and gave it a go, giving me the thumbs up as he cruised over the landscape. Off in the distance Hengky, Brata, Rizal and others were getting their pictures taken while petting a giant resting cuttlefish. The acrobatics and the current caused my air usage to be higher than usual, so after my safety stops I was completely out of air and ready to call it a day.
Showered and snacked, we headed home. The exhaustion of the day caught up with us. Hengky was driving, but Brata's joke telling and my limited singing ability were insufficient to keep us all alert and we decided that a quick coffee would be the best. We stopped an hour into the ride home, expecting a quiet coffee, but, in short order, we had almost the whole dive crew of about 12 stop in behind us. After a few laughs and the coffee, I was convinced to join the dive club officially and paid my membership fee and was promised my 'free' T-shirt upon submission of this article.
Later in the evening, we were joined by some friends and had dinner at the Gateway of India restaurant in Sanur. Some of the best Indian food I have ever had, and even better because Brata decided to treat us all. We finished around 10:30 in a semi-zombie like state, and that was the end to our very enjoyable experience.
I have confidence the Kapal Selam dive club will be successful, and I am proud to have gone from nobody to friend to member so quickly. The following tongue twister is my gift for both the Kapal Selam dive club and its webmaster who for some reason likes to use the word 'Dive, Diving, Divers, and Bali' as often as possible in any published article - therefore I would like to thank all divers who participated in the recent Umbilical Dive Series, doing Kapal Selam Bali and its Dive Master's deep-diver's dives by daringly diving deeper dives as dynamic divers dutifully diving at designated dive sites!
Dive-on mates, and good luck!