Tulamben and the USAT Liberty

by Andrew Stein

Tulamben is a small town in Bali built around a “major” highway, and the town extends about one kilometer. The air is quiet and still and yet there is still an excitement in the town for scuba diving. People come here from all over, and especially Australia, to dive. While in Tulamben, I learned to dive with an Australian family, I had breakfast every day with a nice couple from Sweden, and I bumped into the same German group of girls a couple times on the town’s only street. Although only there for five days, maybe because of the smallness of the town and maybe because of the friendliness of the people, I truly felt at home. I met a local named Gada from a restaurant called Sandya that had free wifi, so I usually ended my days here, whether for dinner, dessert, or just a drink. I made friends with one of the dive masters, Ketut, from Tulamben Wreck Diving and we spent an afternoon together touring around the local area on his motorbike.

big fish

Side Note: Birth order in Bali determines one’s first name. Wayan is the name of the firstborn child, Made for the second, Nyomar for the third, Ketut for the fourth, and then start back at Wayan or at least a derivative of Wayan. This, predictably, can make things a bit complicated because it means that more than 1 out of 4 Balinese will be named Wayan. The first person I met at Tulamben Wreck Divers was Big Made (pronounced “Ma-day”), then there was Boss Wayan, Dive Instructor Wayan, Dive Master Made, Ubud hotel Staffer Made, Ubud Hotel Manager Wayan, and so on. Adding adjectives before and after their names becomes critical.

a-ok diving

Swimming with the fishes

Back to the town of Tulamben, it became a Scuba divers destination because of the sunken ship, the USAT Liberty. Although USAT might sound like some standardized admissions test or aptitude test, it actually stands for United States Army Transport. The ship was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine during World War II in 1942. Later, in 1963, a volcanic eruption moved the ship off the beach and into the water where it is now a popular dive site. Although I didn’t find any treasure, diving in and around the wreckage is awe-inspiring as coral and sea life has attached itself to almost every available surface. Big fish, small fish, red fish, blue fish, and more. I’d be more specific with the fish names and less like Dr. Seuss, but I honestly don’t know which fish is which.