|August 25, 2011
Our flight from Bangkok left at around 6am which meant a 3am alarm call and a taxi booked for a little later. The airport was busy at 4am and we were glad to get checked in quickly and through security with no hassles and to find somewhere for a quick breakfast and a sit down. The breakfast place was pretty average and I had to send my eggs back as the first lot turned up raw, the white of the egg still see-through and runny. I wasn’t risking an upset stomach just yet! The flight to Bali was with Air Asia and took about 4 hours. Although the plane was just as cramped as Air Berlin, I got a lot more sleep than I did on our way to Thailand.
Arriving at the small airport in Bali, we bought our visas, headed through immigration and found our hotel taxi waiting for us. I’d read about the crazy traffic here but wasn’t expecting anything like what we discovered. The motorbikes and scooters were zipping everywhere, the cars didn’t indicate and did what they wanted and traffic signals appeared optional! We were relieved to get to our hotel, the Keke Homestay, which literally looked like a row of apartments attached to someone’s house! Our room was plenty big enough for us and though it was basic, was perfectly adequate for $30 a night!
It was around 1pm by the time we got settled and we were hungry so we headed out for some lunch, finding a Balinese restaurant almost next door to the hotel. The restaurant was quite traditionally decorated and was very open. Despite the hot weather outside, the restaurant was cool and had a nice breeze around us. I enjoyed a lovely mahi-mahi satay with rice and stir-fried vegetables and Elizabeth had chicken in Balinese sauce over green beans with rice. The Bintang beer was pretty good, too. It was just a shame that a large North American family decided they wanted to shout to people on the street telling them the food here was good and they should come in. Having been to enough places where the owners hassle you to come eat at their restaurant, I knew that being hassled to come in by customers would be just as unappealing and quite off-putting. I want to be able to look at a menu without feeling pressurized to eat there, whether it be the staff or customers. I just want the time to decide for myself. 9 times out of ten, Elizabeth and I will walk away from a place which hassles us and on the rare occasion we do go in, it is because we decide we want to, not because we are persuaded by whatever the intruder is trying to get us to eat! I find it very rude and it was prevalent in Egypt and even in the south of Spain a couple of weeks back. It’s unnecessary.
In the afternoon we walked around and visited the local department store (!), Hardy’s, where we picked up some cool souvenirs and a small Bali guidebook. We also stopped for a beer at the attached bar to use their internet signal as our hotel didn’t have anything at all!
Back at the room we decided to have a nap before dinner as the early start had caught up with us. We were diving tomorrow so we wanted to be well rested. We went for dinner to a place called The Porch Café which did more Western food and Elizabeth enjoyed minced beef pie and mash and I had a chicken burger. We have 6 days here and we’ll definitely eat more Indonesian and Balinese food after our delicious lunch but for now I wanted something normal and (hopefully) safe before diving!
August 26, 2011
Our homestay provided a decent breakfast of toast, scrambled eggs and fresh fruit and we were glad of it before heading out to dive. We were picked up dot on time at 8am and were whisked off to the dive shop, picking up another diver, Bill, along the way. We were tired and a little groggy but Bill was full of beans and livened Elizabeth and I up pretty quickly, too. After getting our equipment we headed to the shore and boarded our little speedboat for the 40 minute trip to Nusa Penida, an island just off the South Bali coast.
The ride to the dive sites was pretty bumpy but once we got closer to the island the water calmed down and the conditions looked good. The water was lovely and clear and when we finally go in it, it was pretty warm, too. The first two dives were at a place called Lembongan and the third dive was at Crystal Bay. During the three dives we saw loads of amazing fish and coral and the colours were so vibrant. We saw lots of clownfish, nudibranchs, Moorish idols, parrotfish, Asian sweetlips, trumpetfish and lots of tiny jellyfish as well as an octopus hiding on the second dive! I was getting pretty close to the reef to get pictures and on a couple of occasions I left the reef covered in sea grass and plants, the guide having to help pick them off! I got a great picture of a pufferfish and lots of the tiny nudibranchs so it was all worth it! The diving was great and the visibility was brilliant, it seemed like we could see for miles! It’s hard to compare, but this was probably the best diving I’d ever done.
The ride back was very bumpy and we got soaked and I felt quite sick. I was glad to be back on firm land and in the bus back to the homestay. We got showered and had a sleep and waited for James to arrive. James is one of the guys I know from London and he had just moved to Singapore and had decided to fly down to Bali for the weekend. He eventually got to the homestay around 8.30pm and once he was checked in we headed straight out for dinner. We took him to the place we’d had lunch at yesterday so he could try some proper local cuisine. We ordered some calamari, spring rolls and crispy wanton to start with and then I had chicken in a Balinese sauce and Elizabeth had a green bean/veggie curry. After a couple of beers with dinner, we headed to a bar called the Wicked Parrot which appeared to be a crap version of an Irish bar and even had an “Irish” band called the Leprechauns playing! They were really bad and only the beers and a cocktail called a Hard On managed to dull out the noise! We didn’t have a really late one though, firstly because the bar kicked us out at midnight and secondly because we had a car hired for tomorrow and I was going to have to brave the roads of Bali!
August 27, 2011
Jay woke us early this morning as he needed to borrow toothpaste and shower gel but it was a good time to get up and get ready. We had breakfast and waited for our hire car to arrive. We’d ordered it on Thursday for 9am and by 9.30 it hadn’t arrived and so we decided to walk to the rental place and find out where it was. Of course, it was a different person working there and he claimed to know nothing about our car and wanted to charge us more for one, too. I eventually negotiated a price about 20,000 rupiahs ($2.50!) more than we had originally agreed. It wasn’t so much the amount, just the annoyance of being delayed and then having to re-agree a price. The guy also wanted us to walk back to our homestay but we told him we wanted the car here. We eventually set off around 10am, an hour later than planned.
We headed off north, towards a place called Gianyar, which we seemed to circle for hours. We had a rough route in mind and the roads from the south all seemed to run parallel and looked quite major. We struggled to find anything much for ages though and the sporadic road signs were very frustrating. We eventually found Gianyar and from there headed north towards Bangli and then the volcano of Mt Batur and the large crater lake, Lake Batur. We didn’t seem to be having much luck finding this, either, until all of a sudden we were waved over by some security guards and made to pay to enter the national park area. We’d managed to be right on top of the volcano without even realizing! The weather had clouded up and we weren’t able to see the volcano as we’d expected but we did get some views across the lake and across the stunning countryside. The clouds started to come in even more so we decided to look for some lunch. We stopped for lunch in a horrible looking, dirty café with canteen style plastic chairs. It looked really awful inside but none of the places around looked much better, although some were obviously geared towards tour groups. We took our places at a dirty table and ordered food. Jay and I had a Balinese coffee and Elizabeth had tea. The floaty bits in it were a little disconcerting but once it all settled the drinks were actually very good. The food was also great – I had chicken satay and fried rice, Elizabeth had Indonesian style veggies and Jay had some Bali-style chicken. We were all amazed how good the food was but at least we felt it was freshly cooked and authentic and all for about $2 each!
As we left the viewing area and headed away from the volcano, I was pulled over by a police car. I knew I’d not done anything wrong and was waiting to see what reason they had for stopping me. When the officer asked to see my license he claimed it was the wrong one and I needed an international license. I told him that the rental company had told me my license was OK and the officer laughed and said they’d told me that because they wanted to make money from me renting. I could barely contain myself (and my sense of picking up irony) when the officer said he was keeping my license and I would have to go to the bank and pay a 250,000 rupiah fine and then come back… or I could give him something for him and his friends. Now who was trying to make money? I told him I didn’t understand as I was not going to offer him a monetary sum as a bribe and I wanted him to tell me how much he expected. He repeated his above story but this time told me he wanted 100,000 rupiah, about $12. Without checking with my companions, I paid the fine, exchanged pleasantries with the officer and departed knowing full well I’d been stopped on the basis that I was white and obviously had money to waste. I appreciate these officers might not be well paid but the fact is that with tourists on the island, a lot more jobs are created and to “punish” tourists for no reason is kind of counter intuitive. Suppose I now go back and tell people not to visit the volcano where the police rip you off? Or tell people not to hire a car? Or tell people not to go to Bali at all? Sure, no-one might listen to me but if enough people feel ripped off and harassed and tell the same story, people might consider taking their holidays elsewhere.
From there we headed back south looking for Ubud and the monkey forest. The drive seemed long again but we got to see some small rice terraces and the scenery was still very pretty. The villages are really quite rustic and not what you expect necessarily from an island such as Bali which you think is an island paradise. However, it was good to see how the locals lived out in the countryside and how they lived and worked. As we drove, I spotted a sign for an agro-tourism place which looked like it had a rice terrace and so we stopped. It turned out to be a great stop – the place was free and included a short tour around their plantation where they grew all kinds of things and also a chance to try luwak. Luwak is the really expensive “coffee” which is made from animal poo and although this wasn’t free it was something we had to try! The coffee was actually really tasty and that was even after we’d seen the process by which it was made, including seeing the animal itself, seeing a bowl full of fresh poo, seeing the dried poo and seeing a man roast it and grind it! We also got to try a number of other teas, coffees and cocoas and it was really good fun. We tried all these drinks sitting in a little hut overlooking a valley with a large rice terrace on the far side. It was such an amazing setting. We had a walk down the hill after that to get better views of the rice terrace and we also managed to find a durian fruit. The girl who was with us brought the durian back up with us and got one of the guys at the shop to chop it open. Elizabeth and I both tried it and although the taste was OK, the smell was awful, pretty much like eating puke! Needless to say, one small mouthful was enough and all the locals thought it was funny, although they see this as one of their staples. These fruits were sold everywhere along the roadside and in some places there were so many of them you could even smell them through the thick skin.
We carried on towards Ubud, stopping at some rice terraces north of the town which were quite touristy but they all look so cool. In many places, you’d think they’d built these just to attract tourists but these were actually living, breathing, working plots of land. We soon reached Ubud and then spent an hour driving around trying to find the monkey forest. Eventually, we saw some Western “locals” who gave us accurate directions and we found it. We’d stopped during the day and asked lots of locals for help and almost every time they’d said “straight on, straight on”. We soon worked out that if you went straight on, you’d eventually find something!
Once we’d found the monkey forest, we parked up and headed in. We were immediately surrounded by Balinese macaques, even as we paid our entry fee. Everyone was feeding them bananas they’d bought and some of the monkeys were just running up to people and stealing whatever they had in their hands. We saw monkeys eating crackers, chewing on water bottles and even some with cigarette butts. There were guards around and I assume they were supposed to be watching out for the visitors and the monkeys but given they were the ones smoking, you can only assume that is where the cigarettes came from. I thought it was quite disgusting that the so called guards weren’t trying to protect these animals from such things and I imagine nicotine and tar isn’t part of the usual monkey diet. It was cool walking around the forest though and seeing the monkeys cleaning each other, lazing around, eating and looking after their young, with many baby macaques being carried around. At one point, one monkey jumped on my back but as I got up it jumped off. Its mother came up to me and showed me her teeth and that was enough for me to watch out! Not long after, a larger monkey was following the three of us and it eventually took a chance to jump on Elizabeth, clawing her back and even trying to bite her. It eventually jumped down as Elizabeth tried to shake it off and we moved on quickly before it got over-excited again. That sudden attack scared Elizabeth quite a bit and she didn’t like the monkeys very much after that and we headed towards the exit.
Despite Ubud seeming close to Sanur, it was a long drive back and we were glad to finally reach the homestay for a short rest before dinner. We’d been out around 8 hours today, most of it in the car and we’d seen some really cool stuff but I was tired from all the driving. For dinner we went to an Indonesian restaurant for dinner and we all had rendang, which is a Malaysian style curry. We followed that with some drinks at The Wicked Parrot where we tried the Bali Cider. This was pretty refreshing and light and I was a bit disappointed when I looked at the bottle and saw it had been imported from Australia! We decided to try and head out earlier tomorrow so Elizabeth and I got an early night and left Jay in the bar!
August 28, 2011
We left the homestay around 8am this morning to try and get a good head start north but we managed to get lost really quickly as we left Sanur and ended up heading south instead of north! We eventually got headed in the right direction but the driving seemed to take forever again. We were trying to head towards north-west Bali and the rice terraces but after about 2 hours of driving in traffic and going nowhere fast, we stumbled across a temple called Taman Ayun. This was one we’d wanted to visit but thought we’d never find so we decided to pay a quick visit. The temple had been designated as a potential UNESCO World Heritage site but, whilst it was interesting and very pretty, there was nothing particularly unique about it. In fact, we’d passed lots of temples yesterday which looked pretty similar and were much less touristy and busy.
After an argument with the parking attendant about whether I’d paid or not, we headed north again (always north, I wish I had a compass!) and were looking for a place called Jatiluwih which is known as one of the largest and prettiest rice terraces on the island. Of course, we couldn’t find it and missed the turnoff along the road and we ended up at one of the three lakes called Lake Beratan. Like yesterday, the first part of the day had taken longer than we thought so we tried to find somewhere to have lunch. We found a buffet place right on the lake and although it was obviously setup for tourists, the food seemed pretty decent. The chicken/potato curry was good and the fried rice was also. Elizabeth even tried the black rice pudding but I was quite stuffed after two helpings of curry!
After lunch, we walked down to the lake and I walked out on a bamboo jetty to get some pictures. After a few steps I realized it wasn’t very stable and told Elizabeth and Jay to hold off on following me. Jay came a little further along but even he didn’t like the way the bamboo bent and swayed under foot! I made it to the end of the jetty and took some pictures and then carefully worked my way back, wary that I had all of my camera equipment in the bag on my back and not really wanting to get it wet (or me, for that matter!).
We carried on around the lakes after lunch and drove around the other two as well as we headed into the mountain area and towards a place called Munduk. At Munduk there was supposedly a tropical forest. The road was very windy, unpaved in sections, populated by crazy drivers and seemed to take forever. The hills went up and down and as the small car struggled up each hill and around every bend it was some relief when the road finally widened a little and the surrounding hills were covered in the most amazing stepped rice paddies. They were literally everywhere and as we descended and the mist and cloud cleared, the green colours of the fields and hillsides were so much more vibrant. The road we were on was basically one big, long loop back around to the south and so we continued to follow it, through more and more rice fields as we worked our way back towards Ubud and Denpasar, the island capital. Starting around 1pm just after lunch, the drive back to Sanur took over 4 hours due to crap roads, more crazy traffic and getting lost just a bit, but not as much as before. We had agreed to drop the car off at 5pm and eventually made it about 15 minutes late, mush to my pleasure and I’m sure that of my passengers, too. The conditions on the roads were not great and the quality of driving was even worse. I’m glad to say though that by the end I was over-taking where there was no room, speeding and creating extra lanes at traffic lights. In other words, I was driving like a local!
After dropping the car back and grabbing Jay’s bag from the homestay, we took taxi to Kuta on the other side of the southern peninsula and arrived just in time to catch the sun setting behind the hazy clouds on the horizon. The beach here was packed; in fact the whole area was packed and the town was a lot busier than Sanur. After a quick stop to purchase a Hard Rock magnet, we had dinner at a busy little bar along the main road in Kuta (beers, spicy Bali tuna, and veggie curry) and then Jay went to the airport to fly back to Singapore. We walked around and then took a taxi back to Sanur, glad that we had picked the quieter resort to stay in rather than the hectic Kuta. Even our taxi driver back was crazy and in amongst fairly heavy traffic and in the dark he was hitting well over 80km/h, which doesn’t seem like a lot but having driven here and seen how much people swerve around and just pull out, it is pretty scary!
August 29, 2011
Today we were diving again and we had three dives at Tulamben, up on the north coast of the island. To prove how long things take, even with a local navigating and driving, this trip took around two hours following the coast road. The first two dives were at the USAT Liberty wreck and the final one at a site called the Drop Off. The wreck was pretty cool and on the first dive we swam around it and on the second we swam into some of the parts of the hull which are still recognizable as such. Divers call this penetrating, but I shan’t be so immature as to use such a laughable term. On the dives we saw more sweetlips, a tiny colourful crab, mini shrimp, barracuda, three lionfish up VERY close, clams, sea fans, nudibranchs, clownfish, parrotfish, sea worms, batfish, angelfish, moray eels, starfish and a huge school of jacks. The dives were great and every bit as fun as the ones we’d done on Friday although with the long drive back of another two hours it made for a long day. We did get some really great, clear views of the volcano on the way back as well as some more colourful rice paddies along the roadside.
Once we got back we showered and headed to the Porch café for dinner. I wasn’t feeling very well and was wondering whether the tuna or the lunchtime buffet from yesterday was the cause. Regardless, I enjoyed my chicken burger and banana split and hoped it would pass! Elizabeth enjoyed the well-known Indonesian dish of quesadillas and finished with carrot cake. We certainly ate like locals tonight!
Back at the room, I felt quite ill and we just lazed around and I tried to get an early night. We had one day left of Bali and it was another day diving and I didn’t want to miss it.
August 30, 2011
Unfortunately, I still felt bad when I woke up and spent much of the night in and out of the toilet. I took some Imodium early and hoped they’d take effect but when the dive company came to get us, I still felt bad and had to skip the diving. I was so gutted and so annoyed with myself and this was made even worse later in the day. The pick-up had arrived about 8.30am and I dozed off to sleep for about an hour and woke up feeling really hungry. I tried to eat some breakfast and expected this to make it worse but of course by now I actually felt fine and was really pissed off I’d now be stuck back in the room while Elizabeth dived.
By the time Elizabeth got back, I was feeling OK and had spent much of the day sorting through my pictures and doing some travel journal. I hadn’t really wanted to write about the diving days today as I was so disappointed to be missing out now and this was compounded when Elizabeth said she’d seen four manta rays on her dives today. She felt guilty telling me as it was the first time either of us had seen them but I could tell she was excited and I told her not to feel bad about it. I was still really jealous though especially when she said they were quite close and I would’ve got some good pictures. Oh well, it just gives me a reason to come back to Bali again.
After Elizabeth had showered and had a short nap, we headed out for a walk around and some dinner. It was still quite early but Elizabeth had been diving all day and was hungry and I hadn’t eaten since my small breakfast. I wasn’t sure if eating was a good thing yet but I felt hungry enough! We stopped at a café called Retro and we both decided to skip the local food in favour of small pizzas. I’d had enough spicy food for a while and thought it best to be careful. We did some souvenir hunting while we were out, too, buying some Bintang beer cozies and postcards to send back to our families. We haven’t got many “new” stops on this trip so we thought we’d continue with the postcard sending we had done before!
We were leaving Bali tomorrow and other than today which sucked for me, we have had a great time here. The diving has been great, the scenery is stunning, the people are friendly, the homestay was perfect for $30 a night and the food tasted lovely! If we are ever in this part of the world again, I would definitely stop here for a few more days to dive some more and explore some more. Plus, I want to see manta rays!