Boxing Day, 2000

Merry Christmas! It's the 25th there, but xmas was yesterday on this side of the globe. Hope you are having a wonderful day.

My friend Lee, his girlfriend Gilly, and my friend John and I drove 2 hours to the beach on the east of the island yesterday morning. We drove through Gyanyar, and on through mountain passes within site of the eastern slopes of Mt. Agung, the tallest of Bali's volcanoes, and the most sacred. We passed the terraced rice fields the cover any mountain side, the palm trees, most which are being harvested for the coconut inlay the balinese create for table tops, dishes, coasters, etc. We drove through Candi Dasa, a beach resort.

And finally made Tulamben, where the wreck of the Liberty makes it one of the best dive spots in Indonesia. The Liberty was torpedoed by the Japanese during WW2, and beached herself in Tulamben to avoid sinking. She was salvaged and remained on the beach until March 17th, 1963, when Agung's horrendous erruption, which killed thousands and left many many more homeless. The Liberty rolled into the bay-- about 1/2 a football field from the shore. There she has lain, gradually becoming covered in corrals and therefore sealife, with about 50% of the fishes living there that one can find in all of Indonesia.

Gilly (Ghislaine Llewlellyn) is a Welsh girl who works for the World Wildlife Fund organization. A conservationist, a consumate diver, PhD, marine freak at large, and tons of fun. She brought the WWF dive gear with us, enough for three, except wetsuits, and weight belts. We stopped at a very low-budget shack on the side of the road, on the beach, where everyone drives in from the posher places to dive. You rent your gear there, saddle up, and flap into the lapping calm water, and without ever leaving the beach you can put your mask down and see the most amazing fish!!! within seconds you are swimming upon a man-made corral reef -- the Liberty, covered with its garden of corrals and sea ferns and the abundance of bejeweled life that dwell there.

The wreck itself is an easy dive. The first dive we did on Xmas Eve we went down about 61 feet for 35 minutes. I hadn't dived in four years, since the Great Barrier Reef, so Gilly gave me a brush up course. We saw literally hundreds of different fish, including a Mantis Schrimp ( a psychedelic lobster), a blue-spotted ray, big green starfish, groupers, damsels, anthias, many types of wrasses, parrotfish, butterflyfish, bannerfish, and angelfish... all of which i have seen in aquariums, and all of which were unbelievably tame and curious and some even pesky!!!

The next dive we did was a night dive -- my first. Lee and Gilly and I went out when it got dark, each with a flashlight. Gilly gave us a course on night communication -- you have to be careful not to shine your flashlight in anyone's eyes, else they will be blinded for ten minutes. So you communicate by shining your light on your hand, or by waving it at whatever you are excited about, or by waving it in front of the other person's flashlight beam. At one point, we all turned off our flashlights to see the phosphorescent plankton in the ocean, which glows like underwater sparks.

When we came upon the wreck it was creepy. Suddenly you find yourself upon a wall -- one minute you have almost no visibility the next, wham! a wall of corrals! We saw a lionfish immediately . . . spines, red, gorgeous.... he was shy with his head tucked into a whole, all bristling and threatening -- with his butt end, anyway. We saw varieties of starfish, shrimps, giant clams with their velvety psychedelic lips, sea aneonmoes, urchins, luminscent filters (tubes of transparent and translucent life growing from the sides of the wreck.) Most of the fish were asleep -- including one enormous parrotfish and a very deadly poisonous stonefish which Gilly poked and prodded with her snorkle until it woke up and put its dorsel fins up for us to see -- but the plantlife and sponges and anenomoes and stuff were even more intensely colourful than by day, and more active. They are all very much alive.

We went down the road to a Paradise Diver, a nicer hotel with a very nice restaurant where we had Christmas Eve dinner, of Chicken with Balinese Sauce -- yum!!!, BBQ'd pork, sauted King Prawns, with the heads intact, and of course i had to give everyone a puppetshow with the heads, and a bottle of very nice Champagne Gilly had brought from Amsterdam, along with 6 lbs of chocolate. I am gaining weight !! Lee surprised us all with gifts. He gave me a harpoonhead from mammoth tusk, with the Fillmore "F" engraved in it, and gave John an Om-Mani-Padme-Om in ivory, or a Mani Stone -- an ivory carving of one of the religious stones found along the pilgrim roads in India, carved in Sanskrit, which takes the pilgrims hours and hours to carve.

Sleeping was difficult -- mosquitos, a fan that wouldn't work, and the interminable whine of mopeds. That last at least i have escaped staying with Lee in Tampak Siring, which is off the tourist path.

First thing in the morning, the boys brought us coffee, and Lee and Gilly headed out for a morning dive before the scores of Germans and Japanese arrived to cloud the water. My ear was still stuffed up from the night dive. And still is, actually.

That afternoon we went snorkling, Lee and John and I. John learned to snorkle. It took him a while to get the hang of it, but once he did, he was a natural. So natural that Gilly took him out for his first scuba dive -- 25 minutes !!

Then we packed up and drove home -- too late to make the Kecak in the Arma museum, but we did do the Christmas Dinner at the Terazo restaurant. $35 US which was roast Goose, crab bisque, goat cheese salad, Southern Lake cake, truffles, a glass of wine, and a liqueur. Very nice indeed.

I found a wonderful fluffy Santa hat in the bathroom and wore it back to the table. John kept trying -- and sometimes succeeding to snag the hat off my head, which led to food fights and napkin snapping and eventually two broken wine glasses when a waitress approached to close to the melee. I am sure they thought we were already drunk. But we were just two brats out of control.

I asked the owner whose hat i had, and she told me it was Maddy's, one of the daughters'. I returned the hat and Maddy tried to wear it, but it was too big for her. We teased each other about it all night, and in the end she gave it to me for a present. I gave her my henna kit as a present back.

--ok i will try to send this now

PS i have pictures, and as soon as i can get a good bandwidth i will put them up.

pss 12/27/00
I couldn't get online yesterday at all -- Balinese phones, ack! So the addendum is that last night John and I saw a Kecak dance, and then later at dinner we hooked up with Cyril "Surreal" who is a wonderful photographer, photoshopper, and about to be a kickass webdesigner... he is Canadian but might as well be Balinese, for his lifestyle. John and I went with him to the Jazz Cafe and hung out with Jason Monet , a famed artist -- no relation to Claude -- and had an impromptu jam seesion with Surreal on guitar, his friend Bobby on flute and then bongos, and Jason singing lyrics off the cuff. Sweet.

Then we stayed over at Surreal's listening to some recordings he had made with his ex-girlfriend, Sabin, the singer for the Belgiun band, Zap Mama, in their kitchen here in Bali two years ago. I am still haunted by her voice, one of the most unique and powerful i have ever heard. He wrote the melody and lyrics, and then woke her up at four AM to sing, and she delivers these incredible vocals !!! He promised me a CD to take back... this is some of the coolest stuff i have ever heard. A little Billie, a little Tori, a little Joan Armatrading rolled into this one voice.

That was Christmas in Bali. I hope yours was as colorful, and blessed, and love to you from 6 degrees south of the Equator !


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