October 12, 2008

The beauty that is Bali

The island of Bali is beautiful in so many ways. From it's tropical beaches, and surf, to stunning temples, and friendly people. You could easily spend months lazing away and enjoying life to its fullest, but alas, I only had several weeks.

We flew to the capital city of Denpasar with the somewhat sketchy Indonesian airline Lion Air. Once we touched down in one piece, we headed straight for Kuta beach, the backpacker mecca of Bali. We were excited to see Tal, our good friend from New York, who we hadn't seen in about six months. He arrived the day before and got us a private room at the Beneyasa Beach Inn with a pool for about ten dollars a night (although I liked the Suka Beach Inn next door much better). Now can you see why we liked Bali. You can live pretty well on fifteen dollars a day. Kind of makes you think about your stressful day job, and the coming winter in North America, right?

Kuta beach reminded me of a cross between Bangkok and Koh Samui in Thailand. There are little alleyways, and a million vendors selling everything from tee shirts, to massages, to paintings, jewelery, and obscene stickers. For the first two days I couldn't stay focused. My eyes would wander around from one thing to the next, back to Julie and Tal looking a little annoyed. I couldn't help it, there was just so much to see, smell, and taste. Speaking of which, the food stalls down on the main beach were great. You could get fried rice (nasi goreng) or noodles (mie goreng) with meat and vegetables for about a dollar.

You only need a couple nights in Kuta to get adjusted to Bali. Unless of course you're there to party. It's noisy and dirty, but has good restaurants and clubs. I highly recommend the Ocean Beach club which brings in Australian DJ's. It was hard not to think about the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings when we were there, but I still felt safe. The main beach of Kuta wasn't that great, but it was a good place to unwind after a long flight, and also a great place to learn to surf and get a massage. Tal rented a surfboard and gave it a shot, and Julie was in heaven with her first massage in ages. The one big nuisance of Kuta beach were all the hawkers, but even they had a smile after you told them you weren't interested for the fifteenth time. Julie left after two nights and headed to Ubud. Tal and I stayed for another couple days, then rented motorbikes for a little road trip.

Our first stop was to see the peninsula with the famous surf breaks of Dreamland, Padang Padang, and Uluwatu. Dreamland was kind of a dive, although the beach was nice, but we only stayed several hours. Padang Padang was a perfect place to spend a couple nights. We actually only planned to spend one night there, but I crashed my motorbike and after a quick visit to the local medical clinic to get sand and gravel removed from my leg and arm, we figured it would be better to stay another night and rest. Word of advice, don't ride a bike in flip flops, surf shorts and a tee shirt. They really don't protect you if you fall.

When we arrived at Padang Padang, we were lucky enough to see a Hindu ceremony taking place on the beach. Then we drove to the Uluwatu temple for sunset, where we were surrounded by monkeys. The monkeys were amazing and provided a good hour of entertainment. They certainly are curious animals, snatching anything they could find, and jumping on my head and back. We caught one trying to open the zipper of my day bag, and a girl lost her sunglasses to some quick primate hands.

After two of nights in the quaint surf town, we drove a couple of hours to the mountain town of Ubud where Julie had spent most of her week. I had high expectations of Ubud after reading about it in the novel Eat, Pray, Love, and my friend Leigh loved the place when she visited almost ten years ago. I think that was the problem, Ubud had become pretty touristy. A little too touristy for me, and two nights were more than enough. I does have great a great art and cultural scene, and some fantastic restaurants. The temples on the outskirts of town are definitely worth the visit, and Ubud is a great place to relax. We got a nice bungalow that was surrounded by a rice paddy, and it was a perfect place to watch the ducks at sunset. You can also take yoga and cooking classes if you're staying there for a little while. Julie and I visited the Monkey Forrest on one end of town, that is a little sanctuary for monkeys and has a nice temple. We also got to see a cremation ceremony taking place in the forest, and it was nice to see families gathering without grief, just accepting the circle of life. Tal and I also rode a little out of town, past all the lush rice paddies, to see the Ganung Kawi and Goa Gajah temples, which were a highlight for me.

After about ten days, Tal and Julie headed back to to the US, and I traveled to the Gili Islands off the coast of Lombok. It was an all day affair with a bus and boat ride, just to get to Gili Trawangan, also known as Gili T. When I boarded the boat in Padang Bay in Bali, I had no idea which Gili island I would visit, but I'm glad I chose Gili T. It gets a bad reputation as a backpacker party island, but I think this is misleading. There are bars, and a nightlife scene, but there are families, great restaurants, and quiet parts of the island. You can choose from basic bungalows, to private suites with your own jacuzzi. It's also a scuba diving haven and there are numerous operators on the island. I managed to get in one dive with Blue Marlin to see a WWII Japanese wreck at 40 meters, even though I wasn't supposed to be in the water due to the bandages from the bike accident. Can you picture this, I spent a week on Gili T, not being able to snorkel or swim, and everyone around me were couples cuddling all the time. Here I was solo with a bandaged leg! But I did meet some great Aussies that were staying next to me and I spent a week hanging out with their friends and eating very, very well.

The Gili Islands are comprised of Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air. I managed to do a day trip to the super quiet Gili Meno, but that was enough for me. The place is perfect for honeymooners, but there isn't much to do aside from laying on the beach and reading. There is a bird sanctuary on the island that I missed, but I did get to see a sea turtle sanctuary, which was basically a bunch of turtles in several bathtubs. But hey, at least some locals were doing their part to help restore the turtle population. I didn't make it to Gili Air, but I heard that it was somewhere between Gili T and Gili Meno, with a little more to do, but not really a nightlife.

Once I got tired of the tiny island life, I took a boat to the mainland island of Lombok. I wasn't in the best condition to climb the volcanic peak of Mt. Rinjani, so I headed to the original tourist town of Senggigi. Now I'm usually a pretty optimistic person, who likes most places, but my one night spent in Senggigi was too much. The town center is run down, dirty, and noisy. I only spotted a handful of tourists, and the area is really spread over about 10 kilometers with several beaches, so it wasn't too easy to get around. I did however enjoy the bike ride from Bangsal harbor Senggigi, which was over hills and next to some beautiful coastline. It was also the end of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, and so many Indonesians were in town on vacation. It was kind of nice to visit Lombok and see the difference between the Hindu Balinese and Muslim Indonesians.

Instead of the all day boat and bus trip with Perama that I took to get here, I chose to fly back to Bali with Merpati. It's funny how sometimes you can get into the backpacker mode of pinching every penny. Back home I wouldn't think twice about spending fifteen dollars on a movie, or a couple of beers, but in Indonesia, I actually debated taking a 10 hour journey by bus and boat, over a forty-five minute flight that cost only fifteen dollars more. I'm glad I chose the flight on the way back, although I have the memory of a rickety old boat crossing the sea at sunset to get there.

Here are my photos of Bali and of Lombok and the Gili Islands. There are a lot of them, but if you're bored at work, then hopefully they will keep you entertained.

I am currently in Malaysian Borneo, trying to tackle the jungle island, but more on that later.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Are you planning on coming down to Costa Rica? The surfing is really good.