Island hopping to Gili Trawangan

We’d booked fast ferry tickets to the Gilis due to the shortness of our stay. The much cheaper slow ferry takes 12 hours which essentially loses you a whole day, and means you arrive late on – a death knell on your hopes of finding accommodation during the current high season.

Again we’d organised things through MBA as Bernhard had recommended them. Asking around I do think they offered us the genuine “best price” of a million Rupiah (around $US100) for returns. At the time of setting off, our plan was for two days on Trawangan, two on Lombok then back out to Air before returning to Bali after a week.

However… we got talking to some people on the boat out to Trawangan and accommodation is very scarce there and on Air. Gili Meno is a better option as there’s next to nothing there. If you want to completely chill out, that’s the place to head. We’re playing it by ear, but currently we’re thinking of extending our Trawangan stay (allowing for finding a room), then maybe just hitting Meno for the remainder and hopping back to Trawangan or onto Air to catch our return ferry.

The ferry journey wasn’t too bad, being a little over two hours. Generally smooth with a bumpy patch in the middle, it was still comfortable due in part to the padded bucket seats we all had. Well, all except one old chap with dodgy legs who was treated incredibly well by the boat staff. All the seats were taken but they’re prepared several cushions for him so he could actually lie out on the back. It sounds like he’s pretty much a local (although definitely an Aussie), as he runs one of the guesthouses on Meno.

When we waded ashore at Trawangan we were surrounded by horse and trap drivers offering to drive us around all the properties to find somewhere to stay. However, they were asking 80,000 Rupiah which is insane. As long as you can walk fast and get one of the earlier boats, you should be OK. The cheaper accommodation is way down south (turn left when you get off the beach), though we ended up in Big Bubble at $55 per night due to Leah’s taste for the luxurious.

OK, luxury is an overstatement but excessive comfort isn’t. Cold shower, but very nice bed, aircon, good decor, crash pad with pillows out the front, proper loo and breakfast included. It’s also the dive school Bernhard got his Open Water certification through.

An average price around here during high season is $50 per night for somewhere half decent. There are properties which charge (and justify) twice that while I’d reckon you’d be lucky to get anything for less than $30.

We had a snooze in the afternoon to make up for our early rise, and I booked a dive for the next day. Basically, we lazed. Which is what you’re meant to do on sandy islands. We even lazed with a cat as the resident black and white puddy decided it liked us.

In the evening we took a walk around the main street (which took maybe 15 minutes) and settle on a pub next door for pizza and lemon juice. Just chilled and relaxed and listened to the sea and fed little bits of chicken to the cats that wandered up and pretended to be our bestest friend in the whole wide world until we ran out. Then they scarpered.

As did we. And slept again.

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Quick trip round Bali

Taman Ayun

Taman Ayun

Courtesy of the nice folk at MBA Travel (what seems to be the largest tour company based in Kuta), we booked a 3/4-day trip around the island. The trip we opted for was their Bedugul “Green” Tour at $30 per person.

They offer two timeslots – pickup at 8am or 11:00 with the latter offering a weather-permitting sunset at the Tanah Lot temple on the west coast. This was the one we opted for. Pickup was fairly prompt and we joined two guys (an Italian and a South African) for our little jaunt.

To do this trip by yourself by bike is definitely an option, for those preferring to do it on a budget. Most of the places we went only charge 1000 to 3000 entry/donation which is next to nothing. However, having the aircon and a fun driver helped, as did the fact that it required very little effort, no road map and slightly less risk of death in a traffic accident. Slightly less.

Ulun Danu Bratan

Ulun Danu Bratan

The first stop was at the 16th century Taman Ayun temple, surrounded by an artificial moat. This was the royal family’s temple back in the day and as far as Balinese temples go is pretty impressive. The style’s different from a lot I’ve seen but I’d say the “spires” (if you can call them that) have more of a Chinese feel, while the stonework is pretty unique.

I made friends with a cat by one of the monuments, tickling its chin until it actually seemed to pass out in my arms! The sun came out while we walked around which made for some good photographs and we mad euse of the included soft drinks when we got back to the minibus.

I'll have those...

I'll have those...

We passed through areas of rice fields on our way upwards to Pacung and Bedugul where we took lunch. Expensive lunch. The buffet was good, but it was 75,000IDR per person (plus taxes, service etc). So of course, we all crammed as much down our throats as we possibly could. The view up there is fantastic, very much reminiscent of Sapa in north Vietnam. Cascading rice paddies cut into the mountain sides, and quite a bit of low cloud.

Partway up one of the mountain roads, a man was offering photos with a huge iguana, a snake and some rather large and cold-looking fruit bats. All of us snapped the animals, but didn’t pay for any pictures with them – unless they’re in a zoo I tend to think they’re not being looked after too well.

Leah spotted a dilapidated hotel clinging to the hillside near the top. Everything was overgrown around it and it was quite a shame. A lovely big building with a fantastic view, but I guess this area just doesn’t attract tourists the way the coast does.

It's a finger, not a peanut!

It's a finger, not a peanut!

Next up was the “temple on the lake” at Ulun Danu Bratan which was lovely. Certainly a pretty place to build a temple with a wonderful view across the lake the the mountains behind. We dodged children selling postcards and took a few photos in the hot sun and then I played with a little puppy for a while. I think its mother was glad for the break.

Back downhill our next stopoff was the “monkey park” at Alas Kedaton. A very small temple that you can’t really see, but a gazillion monkeys that you simply can’t ignore. They’re all running wild, similarly to Kao Takiap near Hua Hin in Thailand, and they’re not shy. Hold out a clenched hand and they’ll gently pull your fingers back to get at the food they hope is inside. Expect at least one to jump up and sit on your shoulders – perhaps even groom your hair for little morsels! And ideal stop-off if your kids have head lice. Certainly more entertaining than the evil nit nurse.

Tanah Lot

Tanah Lot

Do watch out, though, as they can get aggressive especially if you approach the particularly one ones too closely, or act aggressively towards them yourself. One decided to have a munch on my fingertip, so it’s a good job they’re vegetarian as the teeth aren’t too sharp in the smaller ones. He gnawed at me for a minute before I got a little worried he’d eventually break the skin and “encouraged” him to get down.

There was one poor old soul with a horrible looking open wound in his backside, likely as the result of a territorial fight with another monkey. Proof that they can indeed cause damage when they want. They’re small, cute and wild – they are animals after all. This eldster seemed to be taking it in his simian stride, though, just picking bits of dead flesh out and eating them. Nice. I managed to rescue Leah’s sunglasses from another four-handed thief. If you don’t need it and it’s not firmly attached to your person, leave it in the car!

As the sky began to darken we escaped from our guide/shop-owner (“I give you special price!”) and took the trip down to Tanah Lot. The temple there is built on a rocky promontory and visitors can be blessed with a sprinkling of holy water underneath. The coastal views are spectacular and there are some very deep rock pools in the volcanic surface – so watch your step especially as the sun goes down.

Unfortunately due to the prevailing weather conditions and cloud, we didn’t get much of a sunset. None of the spectacular reds I’d have expected when I was in Bali during September last year, only a gradual darkening until the lights around were switched on. A shame, but that’s how it goes – although I guarantee at least one loud-mouthed tourist will have asked for a refund in the past.

And finally back to Kuta where we changed some ferry bookings, swapped some books, organised accommodation (elsewhere in Bali due to Kuta being crammed) and enjoyed a wonderful dinner in TJ’s Mexican restaurant on Poppies I. Definitely recommended, and not in the least pricey if you compare it to something similar back home.

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Delayed diving

I did finally get to go diving today, but not as much as I’d hoped and later than planned. Two of our divers decided to have a lie in so we left Kuta at 9:30 instead of 7am which pushed the rest of the day back and meant it was my turn to be late meeting David. It wasn’t revenge for last night, I promise!

Up at Tulamben we met a honeymooning couple – Putu is taking the hubbie through his Open Water while the wife is already an Instructor with quite a few dives under her belt. To split groups, I was to take her and the two Dutch chaps (father and son) while Putu again concenrated on the student diver.

However, the younger Dutch guy had a slight cold and was bunged up. He opted to give the first dive a try, but had to resurface after barely getting to 3m. He could equalise, but said the pressure behind his eyes was like a knife. A wise decision not to push it. Unfortunately, when I surfaced to make sure he was OK and send him back to the restaurant, I lost contact with the others.

I decided after waiting for five minutes not to chase after them as by that point I’d be pretty much diving solo until I found them. Before checking on the son, I’d made sure the other two had buddied up and they already have a couple of hundred dives between them. They also hooked up with Putu and our student so their dive went well. I’m just peeved at missing out on another chance at the Liberty wreck as it’s a very good dive.

After lunch, I led them around the Drop Off which went well. Plenty of life down there although visibility isn’t what it was back in September last year. Still, there is a lot to lookout for and we saw, amongst other things, plenty of pipe fish, a huge lion fish and an eel trying to hide in the rocks.

As I said, I was late back to meet David so we’ll try and sort something for later in the week. Right now I’m hoping to find a seat at a cheap restaurant for dinner before grabbing a shower then heading up to the airport to meet Leah on her flight in from Perth.

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KL to Bali and on…

Bed for the night at Denpasar Airport, Bali #lp
Not exactly five star…

Right now I’m in Bali again, and last night decided just to sleep at the Ngurah Rai Airport International Departures area. It’s a little loud (the tanoy announcements are disjointed bits of separately recorded phrases and some are yelled out), but the hassle of getting into Kuta and finding somewhere only to get a few hours’ sleep, turn round and come back just didn’t seem worth it.

KL was the usual – too many McDonald’s and cheap accommodation. I saw State of Play (decent adaptation of the BBC series) and Ice Age 3 (far better than the second one) at the cinema (not in 3D regrettably as the times of the performances didn’t suit), and sorted out my US currency for East Timor.

This wasn’t as easy as it sounds as the ATMs in the city decided to refuse to serve me at the time I was planning on withdrawing the cash. Checking my balance was fine, but forget getting money out. No idea why it happened, but I was able to “buy” the cash at the bank using my debit card so it worked out OK.

Leah turned up safe, sound and teary-eyed on the night of the 7th without any luggage. Due to a security scare at Edinburgh, she was delayed four hours and missed her long-haul from Heathrow. She was shoehorned onto a QANTAS replacement (and upgraded) but her bags didn’t make it.

Fortunately, they were at the airport when she went back on the 8th for her flight to Perth. Let’s just hope they make it to Oz on the same plane as her.

Immigration in Bali was a slow, painful nightmare. The one good thing was a complete lack of interrogation over my choice of 7-day visa. It’s $10 rather than $25 which suits me as I’ll be in Indonesia for at most three nights. I was expecting to have to show travel plans and tickets and stuff, but no need. The queues, however, were abysmally slow. From touchdown to reaching the luggage carousel was about an hour.

I dodged the taxi drivers and the “cheap hotel” merchants (the cheapest on offer was 120,000 Rupiah when I was paying less than half that last year) and found myself a nice bench. For a brief period I had free wifi on my mobile, but not the laptop. Hopefully some of you will have caught the Twitter posts. I have since discovered (and am using) a wifi simply labelled “3com” over near the domestic departures. There’s also a lounge nearby (Indosat) which is offering free wifi.

Of note is that the ATM to the right of the exit (as you walk out) from International Arrivals charges for both balance checks and withdrawals (2000 and 3900 Rupiah respectively). Not a lot compared to the extortionate new Thai fees, but you can dodge it by using another machine. The one just outside International Departures charges no fee.

I’m not as tired as I expected though how people sleep on hard wooden surfaces all the time is beyond me. My check-in is in around 90 minutes, and battery on my netbook down to 2 hours. Time to grab some breakfast I think. With luck I should be at my guesthouse in Kupang by 5pm.

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Some diving pics

Silke, one of the folk I dived with towards the end of my Divemaster course in Bali, has very kindly sent me a few photos. They’re pretty good, and as my camera died towards the end of the course I’m going to make full use of them.

Incidentally, the camera is repaired and “awaiting despatch” from Olympus‘ repair centre. Yay!

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