Floating around a shipwreck in Banyuning

by Jacob Jarvis

Encrusted in coral, home to hundreds of fish, the almost unrecognisable shipwreck of a Japanese boat from World War II rests just off the coast of Banyuning, near to Amed, in Bali.

Unlike the Jemuluk corals just a few kilometres away, this sunken artefact seems a fairly unknown destination for tourists. It’s disheartening that a tragic piece of the past has seemingly been forgotten by the majority of the world, except for its scaled inhabitants. However, this allows for a unique and tranquil, if slightly eerie, diving spot for those who do make the trip.

While the sun was high, I made my first trip out to the boat, first circling it from above. On the way I was greeted by a handful of fishy friends, but was surprised at the lack of sea life. Circling the wreck, I could spot some small creatures lurking around the hull, and decided to make my first dive down.

The nose of the ship is so close to the surface you could stand on it if you wished, then to get to the main body it’s only around a six metre drop. First I went along the outside, observing the rust and the greenery which had managed to embrace the entirety of the body. It was fascinating to see how the water had taken it over, reclaiming the boat, almost mocking it for trying to best it by ever floating, as if it wanted to prove just how much of a cruel entity the sea can be. If the visibility was any less, luckily the wind was low, then it would have been practically unrecognisable. It could blend in as a rather large, but barely unique, rock.

After this first exploration and a couple of dives, I found myself getting braver, trusting my lungs more, panicking less as I dropped and then swam up. So I decided to pursue the tiny fish I spotted in the hull. Diving down a round six metres, upside down my back was too the concaved body of the boat. Then I swivelled around and put my body upright, to be greeted by a whole school of the little creatures, making themselves completely at home. With the lack of activity around the boat it was mesmerising to see so much in this one spot, living harmoniously in something where it looked like nothing could possibly wish, or be able, to.

I returned to shore shortly after, as visibility dropped with the falling sun, and thought my day was done. Though soon after sitting on the beach I noticed that it was at this time all the fishermen decided to venture out, indicating to me that the evening must be when all the animals really come out. Swimming gently, I allowed the current to take me and was able to find so many more fish than before. Every colour I could imagine was represented in the scales and camouflage of the unique creatures, some of which ventured slowly and alone, while others glided passed in gangs, swiftly surrounding me before almost instantly disappearing.

I took the opportunity to go the wreck again, and though I could see no features of it clearly, the fish now were really making it come to life. It’s as if they’d been tipped off about the tourists and decided to make themselves scarce for the day, before sneaking back at night. Diving softly, I was able to unconvincingly blend in, not enough for them to not realise, but well enough for them not to mind. Under the water it felt completely peaceful, a strange contrast when you imagine what it was like when the ship actually sank.

Swimming back as the sun dropped, I was accompanied by new found companions the whole way, until it got shallow enough for me to walk and I had to give a silent farewell. I was sad to leave the boat, and would’ve stayed all night in the peaceful underwater enclosure if I could. But, like at any party, it’s easy to know when you’ve outstayed your welcome – and the thought of the fish being able to relax alone in their habitat was a strangely warming thought. I hope I didn’t ruin their underwater shenanigans too much.

A surprisingly spiritual trip to Tanah Lot

by Jacob Jarvis

Tentatively creeping my hand forward, I am coerced by my friends to stroke a supposedly lucky holy sake in a dimly lit cave at Tanah Lot, one of Indonesia’s most intriguing cliff side temples.

The reptile appears unfazed, as does its guardian, who oversees the countless visitors who visit each day. I’m in no way religious, but the sense of calm, perhaps more aptly described as relief, which flows over me once I’ve brushed across the creature’s scales is immense. Though it may be somewhat of a placebo, caused by a sudden rush then drop of adrenaline, but it feels profoundly spiritual. The snake’s keeper smiles at me, and I feel welcomed by him, regardless of any spiritual differences.

After this I walk over to a holy spring, I’m ushered forward, alongside clearly religious locals, and treated just the same despite blatantly looking like a western traveller. Though I feel somewhat voyeuristic, nobody acts like I am.

No words are spoken but I’m urged to wash my face with the water, then I stand still to have my hair brushed out of my eyes, and I’m blessed with grains of rice stuck to my forehead and a flower placed in my hair.

In these instances, I see the appeal of organised religion and collective spirituality. I feel at ease, grateful to be accepted during these rituals. The two fleeting moments both give me a sense of seclusion in which to think, while simultaneously they feel like bonding experiences with those around me.

Leaving the small unsuspecting caves behind me, I scramble across the rocks of the shoreline to watch the sunset. Waves crash beneath me and the sound lulls me further into a state of relaxation. Around me couples embrace each other in the golden glow, while parents lift their children into prime positions to see the temples majestic silhouette, backlit by the delicate glow of the receding sunlight. Everyone seems in awe, religious spectators and curious tourists alike, as they sit to be serenaded by the sea and to be entertained by the glorious skyline.

Though I never expected it, and it took me a while to realise it, I’ve been pulled into an informal and indistinct act of collective worship. No preacher, no songs or sermons, just a collection of people, joined together by acts of kindness, a curious piece of architecture, and the delicate aesthetics of nature.

Faiths often divide us, as do our many associations and credences. At Tanah Lot, without warning or ceremony, I saw how with openness and curiosity, they can bring people together. If each of us could see that more often, I’m sure we’d be much better off.

A misty Mount Batur morning

By Jacob Jarvis

Slipping out of a dorm room at 2:00am in Ubud, Bali, feels somewhat like a scene from a retro horror novel. The street lights are out. Nobody is a round. The only sound is the howling of stray dogs. If you want to make it to Mount Batur in time for sunrise, though, this is the eerie scene you have to endure.

I sidled my way into the van we were heading to the peak in, blinked, and I was there – the plus point of early journeys being that sleeping practically makes the travel non-existent. Our tour driver gently woke each of our party, before escorting us to a dimly lit dining area, where we were given an incredibly early breakfast of traditional pancakes and banana, to prepare us for the two-hours of hiking in utter blackness.

Equipped with a torch that looked older than me, I began the ascent, clumsily and slowly, in my sleep deprived state. But, with still hours to come until sunrise, the labour felt justified with one glance at the stars and the crystallised crescent moon, shining more brightly for the hills than they would any modern day city. Then, refocussing my attention earthwards, the strange procession of meagre lights being carried by each wanderer almost reflected the sky itself, painting a star-spangled caricature of the sparkling blanket above on to the mountains.

Upon reaching top, the fog was evidently going to be problematic for those of us with visions of viewing a pure sunrise, and when 6:26am hit, and the sun began to peak over the jagged rocks surrounding us, it first gave off nothing but a slight golden glow. In disappointment, those with little faith in nature’s abilities began to head back down the mountain. I was tempted myself.

As half an hour passed, the temperature seemingly decreased if anything, and the chances looked slim of seeing any of the sky through the stagnant mist. Slowly, but quite definitely, the wind picked up. Then our nearest star mustered all of its power, and split the clouds down the middle. Genuine applause broke out amongst the eclectic mix of pilgrims – such was the feeling of relief the walk wasn’t wasted.

And, apparently, this appreciation didn’t go unnoticed, as the clouds lowered and began to dance around the mountain peaks ahead of us and the feet of everyone at the top. This slowly allowed the landscape to reveal itself, and Lake Batur even joined the festivities eventually, posing for everyone graciously, as the crowds took photographs.

On certain days everything at Mount Batur looks completely untouched and perfect, thanks to the fog, that wasn’t what the view I received. The feeling of community amongst the hikers and the beauty of the surroundings still came to the fore though – proving the true mysticism of Bali’s most famous volcano.