Taking a holiday from my holiday
05.02.2013 - 11.02.2013 32 °C
Originally, when planning my trip, I'd allowed two weeks to explore Indonesia. Then, having spent too much time further north in Asia, I'd tried to change my flights to skip Indonesia all together feeling that I wouldn't do it justice in any less time. however, nonsensically, I was informed that to not go there would cost me £160 whilst a mere date change on my flights was only £30. So I was going to Bali. And it would turn out to be a great decision that led to one of the most fun weeks of my trip so far.
Bali was scoring points right from the plane's descent - it looked beautiful, the sky was blue, the sea turquoise and the greenery lush and, unlike Singapore, it wasn't raining. I paid $25 for a visa (fortunately I had some remaining dollars as Lonely Planet had not warned me about this) collected my bag and fought off overly keen cab drivers to get to the prepaid taxi booth where I was assigned a very un-keen driver who led me at snails pace to his vehicle.
I'd booked to stay at The Island Hotel, a bit of a 'flashpacker' hostel - it had a small pool, massive rooms and cheap(ish) beds and luckily some great people - not perhaps all the usual crowd I'd go for but exactly what was suited to a week of fun in Bali. As I arrived, a large group were renting mopeds and heading out for the day but, having just arrived and unable to check in, I declined the invitation and dealt with some 'life admin' like stocking up on DEET and sun cream before reclining by the pool. It was hot and humid but not unbearably so - perhaps I was finally acclimatising?
Around the pool, after a couple of hours sweating in the sun, I got chatting to a few other new arrivals and we went out for food together. I was pleased to discover that the Balinese (perhaps also Indonesian speciality?) of Nasi Goreng is essentially one of my all time favourite meals - fried egg topped vegetable rice. Yet more points for Bali.
By the end of the day we'd acquired more new comers and formed quite a crowd. I'd heard that Bali was 'like Spain for Aussies' and had consequently been quite worried about being surrounded by mental, constantly drunk eighteen year old Australians. But just like Spain has plenty more to offer than the Costa del Sol, so I assumed Bali would too. And whilst a few of the people I met were born in the 90s - a terrifying thought that some 90s children are now 'grown ups' - we were all early to mid-twenties and mostly British, Canadian and German.
After a quiet evening at The Island, on day two a group of six of us went to a waterpark. I don't think I've been to a waterpark since I was a teenager but, with the exception of a slide where you stood in a tube before a trap door opened below your feet plummeting you down the slide, I happily flung myself down various water chutes (some approaching vertical drops) with everyone else for a few hours before lunch, more slides, cocktails at the poolside bar and then more slides. After 4pm, wet and bedraggled (and slightly bashed around) after six hours at Waterbom, we finally went back to the hotel for a rest before a night out. Not only had it been great fun but I calculated that in the course of the day we'd climbed over 1500 steps so had more than earned a drink or two.
If Bali is Spain for Aussies then Kuta is it's Magaluf. Fortunately we weren't staying in Kuta itself but a quieter stretch of beach a few kilometres further up called Legian - it was still extremely touristy but I didn't really care. Bali I'd decided would be my break from travelling, my holiday from my holiday. The plan was to stay in one place for several days (for once) and make the most of cheaper activities before Australia.
That night after dinner, ten of us headed to Kuta for a night out. After a couple of beers at the hotel, I was skeptical drinking in Kuta as there had been some recently reported deaths of Australians after they'd drank the local liquor, Arak, which had contained high levels of methanol. I was surprised to see that the bar in which these drinks had been served was actually still open, perhaps more shockingly, with customers. A couple of the British guys in our group had recently come from working in Australia and seemed to know which bars to go to. We avoided lethal Arak bar and went instead to the Reggae Bar (where there was a live rock band). They still served Arak. So I stuck to beers, watching them be opened and then reverted to water. After a couple more bars (that were populated mostly by Aussies - I could tell because they were wearing the uniform of pastel shorts and low cut vests revealing, more often than not, disturbingly shaved chests) we ended at Sky Garden, a huge seven floor bar complex with a packed, sweaty, open air roof top dance floor. After a few hours, exhausted from a day of stairs and dancing, I bailed and walked the three kilometres home with a jet lagged Irish girl and an American. The next day I woke feeling a little groggy and enjoyed a day doing very little, lounging around the pool, sleeping on the hotel's rooftop, reading and eating pizza.
Day three in Bali was another busy one with a very early start. Nick, one of the British guys at the hotel, had organised for a minibus to take us to explore some slightly farther afield parts of the island. After first stopping at a temple we made our way to a waterfall. I'd visited several waterfalls in Thailand and Laos all of which had been suggested as sights and had all been a little underwhelming as it was their dry season. It was however one of Indonesia's two monsoon seasons (although in six days there I barely saw a cloud let alone a drop of rain) and the waterfall was gushing. In swimwear (and underwear), we scrambled over slippery rocks to reach the pool where the water thundered around us sending up clouds of spray and splashed around there for a long while cooling off. When we came to get out there were a few issues - the flow was strong and washed us along shallow rapids for a while and unable to stand up without my bikini bottoms being pulled off by the current, I allowed myself to be swept along for a while before I could stand up in a more dignified manner. When I eventually emerged my legs were scratched and bleeding in places. We were a little shaken but no one was seriously hurt and we climbed back up the 150 steps to the top, back to the minibus and the next stop on our trip - a volcano.
We actually didn't get very close to the volcano at all but the was a great view from where we were and we stood admiring it for a while before driving back down an ear-popping descent to the rice paddies. I'd seen a few rice paddies in Vietnam but these were far more aesthetically appealing built in tiers into a hillside (apparently how it's done in countries where they don't have the agricultural technology to artificially flood the land) dotted with palm trees and little wooden buildings.
The last stop of the day was in Ubud at the 'monkey temple'. I almost didn't bother going in as I'd seen so many monkeys in the last two months already but I was glad I did. There were tons of them, including some scary looking furless babies, in a jungle setting running around a temple covered in stone animal carvings. In Ranakpur we'd seen monkeys playing games in trees, racing each other up branches before diving off into think leaves. The Balinese monkeys however seemed to have taken this game to the next level; as we were leaving we stopped to watch a group of about five smaller ones running up branches before dive-bombing off into a shallow pool. Wet monkeys look weird.
After the temple we wandered around Ubud town. Ubud was initially somewhere I'd planned on staying for a while having been recommended a guest house by Cat and Ryan. Lonely Planet 2008 described it as a place to experience 'the real Bali'. Admittedly I was only there for a couple of hours but it seemed that the real Bali may have disappeared somewhat since the book was published in 2008 and it now seemed very tourist oriented - I'm guessing one of those places, like so many, that had become more and more popular with tourists until the very reason it was popular in the first place was all but wiped out. It seemed like a quaint little town with streets packed with touristy shops (selling more locally produced crafts and hippy-ish items than where we were staying) and there were a lot of trips offered by various 'travel agents', all of which were also available from where we were. Had I had more time in Indonesia, it would have been somewhere I'd have liked to stay but as it was I chose to return to Legian for the rest of my time on the island.
On day four in Bali I'd decided to attempt surfing. I was in no doubt that I'd be terrible at it but the waves were good, lessons were cheap and it seemed a good way to cool off. So after a slow start a few of us headed down to the beach where we met Ketut, a local 'business man' who gave surf lessons, rented boards and sun loungers and had a small beach bar. Our 'lesson' involved just five minutes with the board on the shore being shown how to stand up before we were in the water each with an 'instructor' (there was very little instruction other than the command "up now" when a suitable wave arrived). On the third attempt I managed to stand up before getting excited so that I was standing up that I subsequently fell off. After a while, exhausted, we took a break and the others decided to call it a day. I went back in the water, this time with Ketut himself who helped me by supporting the board the first few times. I gave up a short while later having caught a few waves and managed to remain standing. I was bashed and bruised and surf-rash-y from the board. Surfing had been hard work and we went immediately to eat at a restaurant called mozzarella - it was expensive by Bali standards but after my efforts in the water I happily paid 7dollars for a pasta dish and ate it quickly.
The next day was another active day - ten of us went white water rafting. I'd been rafting in Thailand but it didn't really class as white water as it was dry season and the river was calm. This river however, a two hour drive from our hotel, was far from calm and definitely 'white'. With little instruction we piled into rafts on water that was grade three (of six - grades five and six being dangerous). As was to be expected the scenery along the river was dramatic, spectacular, stunning. The rapids bounced us around, I fell off the 'seat' on several occasions and we even did a four meter drop over a dam. In spite of a few mishaps (one concussion and one capsizing) it was an immensely enjoyable day and twenty three dollars well spent.
Although I'd planned on going surfing again that evening, I was pretty tired from the day's rafting so went instead first thing in the morning on my last day on Bali. I met Ketut (which means fourth child in Balinese - confusingly most locals, regardless of gender are named number one to four) at the beach and we headed out into the water together. I was feeling a lot more comfortable (and was wearing running leggings to protect my legs and knees) and was soon up on the board again. After a while he left me to go and organise some sun loungers. I paddled out to where the good surfers were waiting for bigger waves and watched them for a while before coming back in and trying to catch some waves myself. After one successful attempt my luck ran out and I ended up just being hit by my surf board several times and being thrown off sideways before I could even attempt to stand. I called it a day and decided to get a proper lesson in Australia instead where it would be pricey but hopefully more instructive.
Back at the hotel I found that the vast majority of the group had left for the Gilli Islands. I decided to go to an Australian run Spa I'd read good things about (as opposed the the many dodgy ones offering certain 'extras') called Pips for a last bit of pre-expensive-Australia pampering. Joined by a British girl called Alice, I blew the last of my indonesian rupiahs on a pedicure and a Balinese massage. The massage especially was amazing - Balinese massage it would seem is relatively similar to a Thai massage pressure wise minus the acrobatics plus oil - highly recommended.
Alice and I spent a pleasant afternoon together before eating one last indonesian meal (veg fried rice with egg, obviously) before heading to the airport together for our respective flights. It was really interesting talking to her as she'd travelled from Jakarta to Bali, the route I'd originally planned and her stories made me determined to return to see more of Indonesia the next time. And I'd probably return to Bali too - since the start of my travels the week in Bali might not have been the most cultural but it had defiantly been the most concentrated week of fun - as intended, a holiday from a holiday.