Away From It All In Amed

AMED, Indonesia — The black-sand beaches of Bali’s east coast provided a novel escape from the tourist scrum.

Komang, my driver with the white Toyota Kijang (“deer”) SUV he borrowed from his uncle, expertly navigated the local, haphazard traffic along the island’s winding roads for a good 90 minutes to get to the tiny seaside village of Amed. Though it’s only about 25 kilometers as the crow flies from centrally located Ubud, the scenic, twisty roads ate a good deal of time. Rice terraces, traditional temples and jungle vistas mark the ride, so schedules seem laughable.

Sparsely populated, even by Balinese standards, Amed boasted a handful of simple hotels along the Bali Sea. The gentle surf, ever relaxed, lapped against black stones the size of apricot pits. Not quite sand and challenging for a tenderfoot to walk across, it nonetheless provided a dramatic contrast to the day’s waning light.

Komang tempered the impulse to jump out of the Kijang upon first glimpsing the water.

“It is far from everything. Too far to walk,” he said. “We go more central.”

A food warung, a few hotels and at least a couple of dive shops were apparently not civilized enough. So he drove another few seconds south toward Jemeluk and there, a hotel occupied most of a hill overlooking the beach, with rooms around $25. Fighting the urge to splurge, I instead opted for a beachside room with a patio just steps from the water for $10.

Next door, two restaurants served up Balinese seafood dishes. (I recommend the steamed fish wrapped in banana leaf.) Three meters from shore, in water barely more than two meters deep, visitors were free to snorkel among a gorgeous, delicate forest of coral. A bright blue sea urchin perched on one; bright fish popped out from time to time and smaller, darker ones darted around fin, mask and snorkel.

The tiny, deadly irukandji jellyfish crossed my mind, after having read about it in Bill Bryson’s “In a Sunburned Country.” The size of an adult thumbnail and nearly impossible to detect in open water, they pack enough poison to dispatch an animal thousands of times its size.

That includes humans.

Though they are found exclusively in Australia, the irukandji jellyfish have been migrating into the widening expanse of warming ocean waters due to global climate change. Not yet spotted near the Wallace Line — the border at which Asian species and Australian species diverge into separate habitats — irukandji were still, at least theoretically, a way off. Sure, the Wallace Line locally ran across the Lombok Strait, the body of water separating where I swam from the neighboring island of Lombok.

Theoretically, they were not here yet. Or were they?

As much as I love it, open water terrifies me enough as it is without the spectre of unseen death creeping up on my besnorkeled self. But what can one do?

The coral too beautiful to ignore, I put thoughts of an untimely demise aside, hoped for the best and enjoyed the underwater views.

Black-sand beaches in Amed, Bali, were instantly one of my favorite features of Indonesia. At top, rental boats await their passengers. (Photos by Bruno J. Navarro)

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