Thursday, October 21, 2010

Palau Bali, Indonesia: Amed

After our overnight stay in Sanur we hired a car and driver to take us to the small village of Amed for four nights of R&R, and two days of SCUBA diving.  Amed is a fishing village on the Northeast coast of Bali, and is very much away from the hustle and bustle of the bigger cities of Kuta, Dempasar, and Ubud.  It is also home to some small boutique resorts, where one can relax and enjoy a pampered holiday on the ocean front.

Our drive took perhaps four hours, and might have taken less had we not stopped a couple of times, including one stop for lunch.  The price of a lunch for the driver is (apparently) part of the fee for the drive--  no worries here, the fee was not great, and we effectively had a tour guide as well as driver for the afternoon.  If you go to Bali, hiring a rental car and driving yourself would not be my recommendation, as driving there is not for the faint of heart.  There are no particularly good maps available,  there are very few road signs, and as near as I could determine, there are also no rules of the road.  Since the roads are relatively narrow, with obstacles along them (stopped cars, motorcycles, chickens, cyclists, piles of dirt, etc) the center line becomes only a suggestion for which side of the road one drives.  Passing slower traffic (requiring driving into oncoming traffic) is continuous, and the horn is used about equally with the steering wheel.  It is used to assert your position on the road, and convey to others you are passing or have passed.  If you are sitting in the front passenger seat watching the oncoming traffic feels like a near-death experience.  Certainly an E-Ticket ride.
We arrived at our destination in Amed, the Baliku Boutique Resort, after traversing a single lane road for about 10 Km along the coast.   There are perhaps 8 to 10 resorts along the coast here, all very small.  The Baliku has five villas (with a sixth under construction) set into the steep hillside overlooking the bay.  Upon arrival, you are greeted with a welcome drink (a blended fruit drink-- sort of like a "slurpy"-- very tastey!) and are escorted to your own private villa.  Baliku villas have air conditioning and hot water--  not all accomodations in Bali do.

At the base of the hill for Baliku there is a dive shop (allowing you to gear up and literally walk across the road to dive), the restaurant, with a covered but open deck (very good, with excellent, inexpensive meals), and a swimming pool. Above these are the villas. We booked two of them, one for each couple. They are spacious, with an open veranda with day beds (for relaxing, siesta, or reading a good book) and a small table.  Breakfast is provided as part of the daily rate, and this can be taken at your private villa veranda, or in the restaurant.  We preferred the social atmosphere of the restaurant.  There is a fresh bottle of water provided each day in the room, although we were told that Amed's water supply is spring fed, and all vegetables and fruit in the menu are carefully washed. Safe is better, as "Bali Belly" would certainly ruin the holiday.  We religiously avoided uncooked foods, iced drinks, and tap water for the duration of the trip, and experienced no problems.  For other indulgences there is a masseuse on staff, and you can book a massage  for a very reasonable sum of about US$20.
The Village of Amed--  A lone fishing boat heads out from the village.  You can see the many others beached on shore.  The boats are sailing vessels, with very brightly colored sails.  This picture was taken from our villa veranda.  I never tired of it during the 4 days we were there.
The ocean is accessible directly across the road from Baliku, where there is a rocky beach.  The beach is completely filled with fishing boats, when they are not out, small outrigger style craft that use a colorful sail (typically) for propulsion.  The entire fishing fleet goes out at dawn for perhaps two hours, and again in the evening for another two, returning at sunset.  The fishermen use a hand line with 100 to 200 hooks on it to catch primarily mackerel.   Although I did not see any, I am told the hooks use either an artificial fly (right on!) or some small flash above the bare hook (e.g. tinsel).  Mackerel sell for about 5000 Rp (about $0.50) so a fisherman must catch and sell quite a few each day to make a go of it.  A fleet of small motorcycles with styrofoam coolers lashed to the back arrive at the beach about the time the fishing fleet returns to transport the catch back to--  somewhere.  I'm not sure about the supply chain system in effect in Amed for mackerel.  It was available on the menu at Baliku's restaurant, but I passed on this choice.

Fishing Boat--  This is an example of one of the fishing boats, in obvious need of repair (this one was quite a ways away from the beach, and not in service).  The outriggers are not attached on this one.

SCUBA in Amed
Baliku is a dive resort, with a PADI certified dive instructor/master.  In preparation for this trip, Elaine had completed the first portions of the PADI Open Water Diver certification in Singapore (written test, and pool dives) and was to complete her certification with the four planned dives in Bali.  (PADI has a nice system where dive shops can reference portions of the certification, allowing them to be completed in different locales and with different dive instructors.)
The four of us did four dives, two each day.  These dives were to be Elaine's first open water dives, and a great re-introduction to diving for the rest of us.  Candy is a very experienced diver with more than 100 dives on her C.V., although it has been several years since she has been diving.  Keith and I received our certification in the '80s and have done little diving since.  My last dive experience was in Maui in 1995.  However, each of us took a refresher course pre-Bali trip to reaquaint ourselves with the necessary skills.  Several things have changed in diving since our respective certifications, so this was a good thing to do.
For our first dives we went to Jemeluk, which is considered a beginner dive area.  It is a popular site for snorkeling (shallow areas) as well, and because the reef here has received quite a bit of abuse, not much more damage can be inflicted by beginning divers.  Many of the coral reefs in areas of Bali have been destroyed in past years--  by dynamite to excavate the coral for trade, and building material.  Now they endure an onslaught of divers, but fortunately with less intent on injury and hopefully more awareness.  Despite the coral damage Jemeluk is still a nice area to dive (from the beach), and we saw many beautiful and varied fish.

Jemeluk--  Our first dive site, which was just offshore from the large boat that can be seen on the beach.  The popular snorkeling area is in the shallow area, at the bottom of the picture.  There is a community "center" here in Jemeluk-- an open air shelter which serves as a modest dive embarkation point.  There is a fee to park here, if you have a car (5000 Rp, about US$0.50) and a contingent of locals serve as porters, unloading the dive gear from the van, and then carrying the assembled dive tank/BCD to the beach.  The porter fees are included in the dive cost of US$60.00, an arrangement required by the local Kampong with the dive shop, whether they desire the service or not.
Our second day diving was done directly across the road from The Baliku Resort.  The water here is relatively shallow, with a drop off to about 25 meters.  However the real attraction is the ruins of a Japanese fishing boat, the Maru, which wrecked here perhaps during WWII.  It is only about 50 meters offshore.  There is very little remaining of it, but what is there hosts a variety of corals which in turn harbor many types of fish and other sea creatures.  Among the fish seen were seahorses, garden eels, stingrays, clown fish, and many others.
The diving was great--  enjoyed by all, and Elaine is now a fully certified Open Water Diver.  We also spent a few hours at the pool, where one can relax, do a little swimming and cool down, with no fear of coral rash.
Amed is also a region where salt production is done by distilling sea water.  It is a relatively primitive and labor intensive process that is used, but has been done for many years in the same way.  On our way out of Amed we stopped at a salt production "farm" and learned about the salt distillation process.  We were immediately swarmed by Bali locals anxious to sell us small souvenir samples of salt.  We obliged modestly before continuing on our journey to our next destination of the holiday, Ubud, where we could Eat, Prey, and Love.  More about this in my next post.
Concentration Ponds--  Small ponds are created in the field, where the salt water is allowed to evaporate.  The salt residue is then scraped and filtered (foreground), and then sent to concentration troughs, as shown in the next picture.

Salt Concentration--  these log trays are distillation troughs that concentrate the salt.

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