Amed is in the north of Bali, about a two hour drive from Ubud or Sanur. Whilst many travel to the more populated southern beaches, particularly to surf, we had heard this Balinese fishing town was 'quiet' and 'nice' and that was enough for us.
Token sunset shot
We don't bother researching much before we go - we often just land in a place and hope for the best. It's how we roll. But Amed really was 'quiet' and 'nice' and a whole lot more - one of those places you feel sad to leave.
If you've been following my oceanic, volcanic posts over the last week you'll know a bit of this anyway, but I thought I'd write more of a travel post to highlight some of the best parts of our sojourn in this beautiful part of the Bali.
Amed and Jemuluk
Amed is the main town, which really is just the beginning of a long coastal stretch of hotels, homestays, dive shops and restaurants. Jemuluk is the main bay where the boats leave to fish and go on to the Gili Islands (if you're heading to the Gili's or Lombok, consider this route!) and the snorkelling here is fabulous. The divers call it their big swimming pool, because unlike other parts of Bali, there's no real currents. The sea bed is fairly shallow so it's great for beginners, but there's many places where it goes up to 25 metres so it's perfect for scuba diving too.
There are a selection of warungs along the beach, where you can sit on a lounge for free as long as you have a drink, and enjoy a 6 to 10 dollar massage depending on the time and your bartering skills. The older woman who massage are hilarious - on the last day, I had the funniest massage of my life where one of them joined her friend in massaging me, whilst Jamie was also being massaged, and there must have been about six of them killing themselves laughing at some joke or another. 'Yar, happy massage, happy massage' they cackle hysterically.
We spend days freediving, totally enamoured with the freedom of being underwater, as paradoxical as it might sound since we are limited by one breath, one dive. We see lionfish, pufferfish, triggerfish, nudibranchs, schools of mackeral, and a sea snake, amongst other spectacular underwater life. In the bay they have submerged statues for the fish to gather and for us to dive around - a beautiful mermaid and a temple. I become mermaid like myself, and spend more time in the water than on land, my lungs expanding.
FreeDiving & Scuba
There are many, many 'center de plongees' along this coast, French run dive schools. The scuba divers come in and out, in and out. This is clearly a great place to learn how to scuba, but we aren't interested in being weighed down by tanks. Instead we make a decision to freedive.
There's a few freediving places here but we choose Fusion, because the owner Kev talks us into it. He is an Australian guy who worked offshore on dive support teams - a hardcore ocean man with a heart of gold. Fusion are funny, professional, welcoming and knowledgeable and we are super glad we chose them (I hate writing Trip Advisor reviews under duress, but I will for Kev - and wish I could give him 100 stars).
Freediving is the best thing I've ever done - you can read more about that in my post here. Kev let us borrow flippers, weight belts and wetsuits so we can continue our freediving adventures, a testament to his big heart and genorous nature.
The US Liberty at Telamben
The US Liberty is quite a busy place for scuba diving, right under the volcano and about a 25 minute scooter trip from Amed. It was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1942. Apparently it's possible to see black tipped reef shark, garden eels, surgeon fish, parrot fish, moon rass and a whole heap of other fish and sea life there.
However, it was a little more scary for us - the swell was bigger and it was super windy. There were no buoys to mark where it was so Jamie heroically braved the ocean to do a recon mission, losing his snorkel in the process. Luckily the guy that was trying to sell us tshirts ran and got another one for us - he had found it the day before, and it was quite a high quality free diving snorkel! He gave it to us 'because you are so nice to me'. I think a lot of the sellers get rudely ignored by Westerners as they don't want to engage, but these people are trying to make a living so the least we can do is smile and have a small conversation as we say no thanks. It was him that spoke to us for ages about the volcano and living in the area, so it's not just a tshirt we gained, but an insight into life around here.
Bravely, we swam out to the wreck but the water was quite murky and to be honest, I was a bit nervous. We did do some small dives but the boat is between 5 and 30 metres and at that stage I was only barely free diving to 6, as I was get to be more confident (by the end of my trip, I could dive to 15 metres which was something I feel quite proud of. My ears are suffering, though!)
Lipah & Japanese Ship Wreck Point
Lipah is the next bay on from Jemuluk and it's just as beautiful, although not as well set up. The snorkelling here is great too and it's a little quieter. It's only a 5 to 10 minute scooter ride and it's worth staying up this end if Amed is full.
The black sands at Lipah
UP the hill and around the corner and a cove or two on is a small Japanese Shipwreck (the site is well sign posted) which is a little rougher to snorkel in if you're nervous, but perfectly fine.
The Balinese will point to exactly where it is, but like anywhere there's a buoy marking the spot. I loved free diving here as it was more challenging, but I started to really feel more comfortable in the water.
Coastal Road from Japanese Shipwreck Point
Mt Agung looms large in Bali, an object of both beauty and destruction. Amed is 15 kilometres from it, and there is a view of this magnificence from whereever you might be. Watching the sun go down beside it is amazing.
In 1963, Mt Agung erupted, where lava flowed 7 kilometres down the hilll over 3 weeks. It sent pyroclastic flows down the mountain at high speeds, killing 1500 people. Heavy rainfall, mixed with ash, caused heavy flows which killed another 200. A few months later another eruption killed more.
The temple of Basakih which sits a hundred metres high on the south west slope is the mother temple of all temples in Bali, being the holiest of the Hindu temples. Although the exclusion zone is around 5 kilometres, you can still visit the temple - something we didn't know until we left. In 1963 the lava flowed straight past it, which the Balinese believed was a sign from the Gods that they wanted to demonstrate their power but still preserve the temple.
On the third day of our stay Agung belched a big one and I write about that in a previous post. It continued to smoke, becoming almost routine as we dive down to the sea floor and chat to fish, and rise up to the sight of the mountain gushing.
The beach and volcano on the last day.
On the 2nd July the volcano erupted again about 9 pm, this time sending ash 2000 kilometres high and lava flowing up and over the top, sending sparks flying and setting fire to the scrub. We chat to a guy on the beach a few days later - he said he wasn't so worried, but his wife was screaming and gathering the kids. He lived 2 kilometres outside the exclusion zone. He must have been 25 but he'd never seen it erupt in his lifetime like that - like us, he was in awe too.
Tourism had slowed because of the volcano, and even though it was meant to be high season, the place seems quite - a lot of restaurants are empty and it was possible to pick and choose from the accomodation there.
People coming to Bali should just keep an eye on the volcano, but there is an early warning in place. We would have been fine had the eruption been bigger - the worse that would have happened was that we wear masks to filter the ash and jump in a taxi out of there. The only big worry was the shutting of airports as the planes can't fly when the wind blows the ash across their flight path.
Today we recieved some photos that were taken by a German couple whose flight was delayed that night - we'd asked if they could send them as our phones couldn't do it justice. Here's a couple taken on the first night as the sun set. There's a great lookout called Sunset Point which looks over the bay, and the excitement in the air was palpable as tourists and Balinese alike watched the eruption.
A week later, they are laughing about it on the beach. 'Agung, he no smoke long time. Now, he smoke, he smoke!' a toothless fisherman grins at me as I sip mango juice, waving his cigarette in the air, him and Agung smoking both.
At the end of the stay we decide to ditch the roosters and pigs and move to Melasti Beach, which is a few kilometres away from Amed - about 5 minutes by scooter. The accomodation is lovely - a stone's throw from the beach in a much quieter, almost suburban area (if you call a few houses, a dirt track, farming land and a dive shop suburban) and the room we stay in is gorgeous - a shack made out of recycled wood in a barn style with the bathroom at the back, traditional style, but the shower is open to the air. We could see the volcano if we stand on tippy toes and are even closer to it now!)
What's a travel post without food, hey? There are a lot of eateries along the coast and we tried a few - all were good, and cheap, but stupidly Jamie had salad at a place that wasn't very busy and we're pretty sure it was that that gave him food poisoning or some e-coli infection which I subsequently caught on top of a UTI - what a nightmare. Anyway, I'll avoid talking about that more and instead recommend Warung Enak, which is super busy every night and apparently has been for years.
We didn't see nor eat any octopus - they are far too intelligent to eat. But we liked this graff at Melasti.
Every day we watched them carry in huge tuna straight off the boats - it was totally delicious, as was the tuna pasta we ate. They also give you a free serve of garlic bread - maybe that's what bring in the hordes!!
It's pretty cool literally watching fish being pulled off the sea every day, so you can't go wrong there. On the last day we had mahi mahi on the beach at one of the Warungs, with a yummy vegie selection and chips, setting us back about $5 Aussie dollars.
Balinese Cremation Ceremony
For the entire time that we were in Amed, the Balinese were preparing for the auspicious June 8th to have a cremation ceremony, just as they were across the island. This is one of the beautiful things about Bali - tradition is still very strong.
On the roadside were colourful giant floats in front of a public area which they had decorated ready for all the villagers to come and farewell their dead. Reading about it, it costs a lot of money, so sometimes the poorer people join in too so there are more than one person honoured. I know in Ubud a few years ago they cremated 60 at a time - however, here I think it was about 3.
The bull houses the body, which is later cremated.
The bodies are cremated in a bull or other animal - we didn't take pictures as it felt a little touristy, but I don't suppose they would have minded. All week there were little mini procession and dancing, practice I think for the main event - I loved seeing them twirl and drum up the street and at one stage a man turned at me, grinned and shouted: 'We are Happy!' - these days are meant to mark a happy occasion as the dead move to the afterlife (this can apparently be a long time after they die - sometimes they are buried and then exhumed when their families can afford to send them off in this way!).
The little girls that come up to us on the beach to sell bracelets and local Amed salt practice their dances all week at the end of the pier to traditional music too and clearly enjoy their role in this wonderful send off.
It was so poetically apt that on the morning we left, we drove into town and were caught by the parade. The drumming and cheers and dancing were just a delight to see. The men carried the big temple float on bamboo, big shouts as they tired and set it down for a moment, and then got going again. The woman had their finest lace tops and the whole town lined up to watch the parade past by as they marched to the cremation site, which was their business, not ours, and we were merely lucky to smile with them for a bit as they farewelled thier dead.
Would we return to Amed? Already saving our pennies.
Have you been there or somewhere similiar? Please do drop me a comment below - I'd love to hear from you.
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