Indonesia

Bad Bali

We’d been warned that Bali was corrupt, but I don’t think I fully appreciated what that meant until I came here.  There were some German Masters students (Masters in Bali, really?!?) in our hotel who were full of stories of just how ‘bad’ Bali is. I expected police corruption, but I was surprised to hear that corruption was even present in the universities. They told us how they could bribe a professor to turn their C grade into an ‘A’ grade, or get a copy of the final exam, with a slab of German chocolate! It was so easy to bribe teachers that one of the students, Thorsten, NEVER showed up to lectures.

They warned us about police pulling over Westerners to check if they had an international driver’s licence. One German guy told us that he was pulled over once and told if he didn’t have an international driver’s licence that he’d have to give them some money. Unfortunately the German guy didn’t have any rupiah on him and was taken to this random house to be ‘questioned’. They left him locked in a room until he eventually handed over some money. He found 5 american dollars in his wallet…. and was free to go. 

Thorsten told us that he’d been stopped by the police so many times that he immediately hands over 50,000 rupiah (about 3 quid) and the police send him on his way. Apparently 80% of a Balinese police officer’s income comes from bribes! You’ll find more police officers ‘checking Westerners’ for an international driver’s licence, or a helmet strap that’s ‘too loose’, towards the end of the month (go figure). One of Thorsten’s friends had been mugged twelve times in 6 months, and each time he’d had to bribe the police to even take down his statement!

We were also told this story about how somebody on their course had knocked over a dog with their motorbike and made the mistake of checking it was alright. He was suddenly surrounded by 40 Balinese screaming at him because he’d killed their father (reincarnation and all that). The Balinese demanded he pay 7 million rupiah (350 quid) for killing their ‘dad’, or they’d hurt him, so he handed over the money.

The Germans also advised us not to drive after dark in Bali as an international student was killed a couple of months ago. The Germans were so scared of Bali that they never really left the hotel. They were too afraid of travelling long distances on their motorbikes, or venturing out into the unknown. Thorsten, for example, would ONLY go to places that he could reach in under 10 minutes!!

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Uluwatu, Bali

After lapping up the ‘culture’ in Ubud for a couple of days, we headed south to Uluwatu for some surfing and sunshine before we left for Australia.  Some Americans we’d met in Singapore had told us about this amazing little hotel in Jimbaran that was nice and cheap – they weren’t wrong! For $15 each a night we got an air-conditioned room, an ensuite bathroom with hot water (don’t underestimate the luxury of a bathroom with hot water in South East Asia), huge fridge, free mineral water, flat screen TV with cable, a swimming pool, breakfast, AND a motorbike. In short, we lived like kings.

In the pool!

In the pool!

Living like kings!

Living like kings!

We dumped our stuff as soon as we arrived and drove to Uluwatu to watch the sunset over the famous surf break. It was the first time we’d ridden a motorbike in Bali… it was pretty intimidating. There are NO road rules here!

Sunset at Uluwatu

Sunset at Uluwatu

 The following morning we met this really cool half Timorese, half Indonesian guy called Angel Berto and his French girlfriend, Morgane.  Berto was a very interesting guy and had been a sports commentator for a Malaysian sports channel. Morgane had met Berto on holiday last year in Bali and had returned to be with him. Although she was on a tourist visa, she’d found a job in marketing for a 5* hotel down the road. She worked 6 days a week and only earned $500 a month, which is a LOT of money for Indonesian standards. She didn’t seem to like her job and resented the fact her wages were so low compared to France.

 

Kyle and Berto!

Kyle and Berto!

Berto and Morgane invited us to go out with them and their friends later that evening in Seminyak. We all met in front of the hotel, jumped on the motorbikes and drove in a convoy to Seminyak. What Kyle and I didn’t realise was just how far Seminyak was, and that we’d have to drive on the motorway to get there…  Everything was going fine on the bike, when suddenly the bike started to slide from side to side and we had to pull off quickly onto the side of the road. We had a flat tyre!! We couldn’t see any garages nearby and were lucky that Berto knew exactly where we could get the tyre fixed. We drove very slowly up the road to a petrol station where there was a mobile tyre fixer. It was this Indonesian guy who had a small trailer on the back of his bike and drove around looking for people with flat tyres. He replaced the inner wheel of the tyre for $5 in 5 minutes, and away we we went! We went to this really cool bar in Seminyak called La Favela and they were playing 90s hits all night long. I was having a ball of a time.

Mobile tyre fixer!

Mobile tyre fixer!

The next morning we met Berto and Morgane and hung out together on Balagan beach. Kyle and Berto decided to go surfing, but returned within 10 minutes because the water was full of sea lice and jelly fish. Berto had a particularly bad reaction to the sea lice and his torso was covered in big red bumps. It looked very painful. 

Balagan beach

Balagan beach

We decided to head back to Uluwatu for one last time to see the temple on the cliff top. The temple itself wasn’t particularly special and was home to even more monkeys (!!!!), but the view was breathtaking. 

Uluwatu temple

Uluwatu temple

Pano of Uluwatu

Pano of Uluwatu

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We then went to have dinner at our favourite restaurant in Bali, Warung Makun. It’s essentially a huge buffet: you choose a rice, meat, vegetables and a drink, and then the waitress gives you a little ticket. I’d been a bit disappointed with food in Indonesia until now, but the food here is absolutely divine. And cheap too! My meals at Warung Makun were never more than 2 quid. Nom nom nom.

My meal at Warung Makun!

My meal at Warung Makun!

Ubud, Bali

After a lovely couple of days of exploring Lombok, it was time to head back to Bali. As I didn’t trust flying (especially after that Wings Air story), we booked ‘fast cruise’ tickets to Bali. The ‘fast’ one-hour transfer turned into six hours with no food or drink. The boat was swaying and rocking so much that I was pretty sure that we were going down like the Titanic. I was, needless to say, feeling very very seasick! By the time we arrived back in Bali, we were both exhausted and hungry, and we still had another an hour or so drive to Ubud, our home for the next couple of days.

Ubud is Bali’s ‘cultural capital’ and was SO different to the rest of Bali that you actually forgot you were there! The town was full of cute little coffee shops, cool art galleries, yoga studios and Hindu offerings on every corner. After being by the beach for the last couple of weeks, Ubud was like a breath of fresh air. It was so nice to walk down the streets and not see your usual tourist tat. 

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What makes Ubud so interesting is that right in the heart of town are hundreds of rice paddies. There were so many rice paddies that a lot of restaurants and bars had views overlooking them. We spent many an evening admiring the view with a few drinks – it was really quite special.

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The following morning we went to the infamous ‘Monkey Forest Sanctuary’ – a little jungle overrun by big greedy monkeys. There were even women selling bananas to feed the crazy monkeys at the entrance. They did NOT need feeding. We watched one couple buy some bananas and they were pounced on within seconds. There were so many aggressive monkeys walking around that I was actually quite scared of them. If you had something they wanted they’d start charging at you. One tourist was staring at a monkey in the eyes and it went insane, hissing and charging at the tourist. The sanctuary employees shouted at the tourist to stop staring and stand still to make it back off. They weren’t cute monkeys anymore. They were insane. I saw a French guy prodding a monkey with a stick and the monkey jumped onto his shoulders and bit him in the neck! It was a strange place and I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

Monkey Forest Sanctuary

Monkey Forest Sanctuary

Monkey family!

Monkey family!

Crazy clever monkey

Crazy clever monkey

 After our little monkey adventure, we checked out one of Ubud’s many art galleries. There was this amazing little exhibition on art miniatures by this arts village in Northern Bali. The miniatures were amazingly detailed, and some had even been painted by seven year olds! The other paintings in the gallery were depictions of Balinese fables. My favourite was the tale of a monkey and turtle swimming in the sea when the monkey realised he couldn’t make it back to shore, so the turtle took it on his back and swam it to shore. When they arrived at the shore the monkey and a tiger grabbed the monkey, put it on the BBQ, and, in true Balinese fashion, made a nice satay dinner!

Miniatures!

Miniatures!

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The fable!

The fable!

Made famous by Eat, Pray, Love, tourists flock to Ubud every year for a yoga retreat, or for some spiritual healing. I’ve never seen so many yoga shops and studios in such small vicinity! There were Australian women EVERYWHERE in yoga attire, holding mats and talking about how they’d come to Ubud to ‘find themselves’. It was all a bit too cliche for me.

Yoga shops everywhere!!

Yoga shops everywhere!!

Lombok, Indonesia

We eventually arrived in Lombok in the late afternoon and made our way to where we’d be spending the next couple of days in Kuta. We’d booked a couple of nights in a homestay, which is essentially when Indonesian families open a bed and breakfast on their property. We were staying at Bule Homestay, which was owned by the famous chef of a famous local restaurant in town. We went to his restaurant on our first night and had some of the finest food we’ve had so far on our South East Asia trip.

After a delicious breakfast of banana pancakes the following morning (don’t think I’ll ever get tired of them!), we jumped on a motorbike and took to the hills. We drove 15km to an absolutely stunning beach called Mawun. As soon as we sat down on the beach an Indonesian man and his two children approached us. In very broken English the guy asked Kyle whether he could take a photo and Kyle understood that he wanted him to take a picture of the family. What the guy actually wanted was a picture of Kyle with his kids! We thought it was a little weird but saw they were asking all the Westerners on the beach for photos. Maybe they hadn’t seen many of us before?

Mawun Beach

Mawun Beach

Kyle with a fresh young coconut!

Kyle with a fresh young coconut!

The stalls on the beach only sold fresh young coconuts and pot noodles, so we got back on the motorbike and stopped at a restaurant nearby for lunch. The restaurant had AMAZING views of the bay and came highly recommended in the Lonely Planet. (Not sure why!).

Amazing view over the bay

Amazing view over the bay

 After the waitress took our food orders I was asked to change my choice THREE times! We waited an hour and 15 minutes for a salad and a sandwich!! I was livid that they made no attempt to apologise for their crap service. If there’s one thing that was starting to annoy me about Asia it was having to wait so long for food – I don’t want to think about all the time we’ve wasted. I can’t wait to cook my own food!

We came to Lombok to do some surfing, so the following morning we got up early and surfed at Gerupak, 10km away from Kuta. As you could only access the surf breaks by boat, we booked transport with a local surf shop. We got a lift to the port in Gerupak with these three Indonesian surfers in their car. They were pretty funny and were HUGE fans of Bruno Mars. They were going mad singing and dancing to every single song along the way. It was a VERY bumpy ride to the port. Somebody had told us that the road was way too bumpy for a motorbike but I think we totally underestimated them. The road was too much even for a car. You definitely needed a 4×4 to maneuver these terrible roads. The waves were huge when we got to the surf break! I was a little scared about surfing a reef break but I loved every second of it, even if I did get horribly wiped out on my last wave.

After our exhausting surf session at Gerupak, we headed back to Kuta and relaxed on the beach with this young Dutch guy we’d met at our homestay. He was a really interesting character and he enjoyed driving motorbikes around the islands. He was really passionate about getting to know the ‘real’ Indonesia and eating authentic food. He was, for example, really disappointed with the food at Bule Restaurant because ‘it wasn’t very Indonesian’. The chef had after all trained in France and the food was a fusion between the two cuisines – there was even confit de canard on the menu!

We spent the evening with our Dutch friend and he was full of stories from his travels. I told him I was a little concerned about flying in Indonesia because the airlines here have terrible safety records, and he told us that he took a flight with Wings Air and it was only when the plane was about to take off that he noticed there was a HUGE dent in one of the plane’s engines. The air hostess told him a van had crashed into it whilst it was in the hangar, but not to worry because there was nothing wrong with the plane… I’d have been off that plane in a second!

We returned to the homestay and had a beer with our Dutch friend and the homestay owner. Our Dutch friend had noticed two women always hanging around together in the mornings and asked the owner whether he had two wives. He smiled and told us that he had two wives and five children, but was hoping to have 12 children in total! He was very proud of his family and this little empire he’d built in Lombok. Kyle said my eyes lit up when he said this – I obviously find polygamy very interesting! Apparently polygamy is very rare in Indonesia because you have to be very wealthy to afford it. Although one Indonesian guy we surfed with told us his neighbor has seven wives and that he sends them all to Saudi Arabia to work while he sits on his bum all day!

Yummy Indonesian food!

Yummy Indonesian food!

Pano of Mawun

Pano of Mawun

Gili Air, Gili Islands

After 2 days on crazy Gili T we wanted to see what the other islands were like and took a boat over to Gili Air. The difference between Gili Air and Gili T was very apparent when we arrived at the port. Gone were the hundreds of restaurants, bars, clubs, pubs and dive operators that lined the sea front in Gili T, and in its place were a few restaurants, green fields and little thatched roof huts. Gili Air seemed to be untouched by mass tourism – chickens and cows roam freely in the streets, and on our first day we only saw 5 other tourists! However, tourism has brought some developments/improvements to Gili Air such as a cash point and fresh running water… before that you could only have salt water showers!!

When we arrived at the port we found a horse-drawn carriage and went to the other side of the island to look for accommodation (luckily it wasn’t raining this time) and we found a cute little place with thatched roof bungalows close to the beach. The bungalow was really cute and I loved the fact that the bathroom was outdoors! It was pretty cool to shower under the stars as cliché as that sounds.

Inside the bungalow!

Inside the bungalow!

The outdoor shower!

The outdoor shower!

After settling into our bungalow we walked to the beach and spent the afternoon relaxing… we were the only ones on the beach! We stayed for sunset…

Sunset at Gili Air

Sunset at Gili Air

I was really starting to like Gili Air…

The following morning we cycled to the otherside of the island to do a bit of snorkelling. We swam 100-150m from the shore to the reef and spent a couple of hours spotting turtles, lobster, eels, puffer fish, some brightly coloured coral and some other beautiful fish. It was really quite special. We felt like we were on a desert island.

Gili Trawangan, Gili Islands

From Bali we decided to make a stop off at some of the Gili Islands before heading to Lombok. The Gili Islands are an archipelago of three small islands located just off the coast of Lombok. They’re pretty much what you imagine when you think of paradise… clear turquoise waters and white sandy beaches.

We took a fast boat to Gili Trawangan and when we left Bali it was really sunny with not even a cloud in the sky. As soon as we arrived at Gili Trawangan the blue skies quickly turned grey and it started pouring it down. We hadn’t booked any accommodation either as we thought we’d just find a room when we got there but the rain made our search rather difficult. Kyle was laden down with his huge rucksack on his back, a rucksack on his front AND a surfboard… we very quickly got soaked. It was raining so heavily that we couldn’t physically see anywhere where we could shelter from the rain. A young Indonesian guy came up to us and offered to show us a room and we agreed to take a look just so we could shelter from the rain. The room was fine and we decided to stay there instead of trying to find somewhere in the rain. We probably could have found somewhere nicer had it not been raining, but hey!

Beautiful waters at Gili Trawangan!

Beautiful waters at Gili Trawangan!

The Gili Islands are pretty interesting because unlike Bali and the other Indonesian islands cars and motorbikes are prohibited. The only transport available are horse-drawn carriages and bikes, and it was a welcomed change after all the motorbike fumes in Bali. Gili Trawangan was a bit like Kuta and the sea front was lined with pubs, clubs and bars one after the other. It was weird though because the Gilis are predominantly muslim and just behind the main strip was a huge mosque. Whilst clubbers were stumbling home in the very little clothes in the very early hours of the morning, the call to prayer was blaring out to the island. It was totally bizarre!

Gili T

Gili T

Gili Trawangan was a very small island and you could walk all the way around in about 2 hours. The Gilis are also famous for the quality of the coral and marine life and we came here to do a couple of dives. On the island of Gili Trawangan there are 30 dive operators alone! We booked a scuba dive the next day with Blue Marlin Divers and were hoping to see some sharks, manta rays, turtles and some beautiful coral. On the morning of the dive I was having some problems with my ears, so when it came to the descent I was unable to equalise and was experiencing a lot of pain. I had to abort the dive and had to return to the surface, which was a shame because I could see huge turtles swimming around. It was pretty amazing!

A turtle Kyle spotted on his dive!

A turtle Kyle spotted on his dive!

Later at dinner that evening our waiter asked us if we wanted any drugs and he looked completely stoned. I was confused because I thought Indonesia had harsh punishments for drug dealing and use of narcotics. Drug dealing, for example, is punishable my death. We said no and the waiter said, ‘No worry! No police on Gili, so no problem here!’. The Gili islands are so small that there’s no police presence here so anything goes! The hawkers that were trying to sell you sarongs and bracelets in Bali were now trying to sell you drugs! It was insane.

Canggu, Bali

After two days in Kuta we couldn’t handle the hawkers trying to sell you something every couple of minutes. You walk down the street and every shop owner sits outside shouting at you to ‘Come and look!! Cheap! Cheap!’. You’re also constantly being asked whether you need ‘transport’ or ‘where are you going?’. It gets a little frustrating when you’re constantly being asked where you are going every five minutes. We weren’t too interested in blowing our money in Kuta’s bars and clubs, so we decided to go to Canggu, a small town by the beach an hour away from Kuta.

We also found a brand new 3* hotel that had just opened that were offering an opening rate for $22 a night with breakfast included. The hotel was probably the nicest hotel we’ve stayed in so far on this South East Asia trip… it was even a bit luxurious for us! By the time we arrived in Canggu, Kyle had been complaining of a sore throat for a couple of days and suddenly took a turn for the worst. He’d have such bad coughing fits that he’d throw up! Closer inspection of his tonsils revealed he had a bad case of tonsillitis. He had these huge white blobs on his tonsils so he had to take antibiotics and was confined to his bed for a couple of days. Kyle was pretty disappointed that he was so sick because all he wanted to do in Canggu was surf. He was even more disappointed with my nursing abilities and would get annoyed whenever I ordered him to keep hydrated or gargle with salt water.

The hotel room!

The hotel room!

The pools!

The pools!

When Kyle was finally starting to feel normal again we decided to go out for dinner at a nice dinner in town. (We’d been eating nearly every meal in the hotel then). The Betlenut Cafe in Canggu had good reviews and everyone in Canggu seemed to be raving about it. I ordered a chicken and avocado wrap and it came within minutes of placing the order, which I found a little strange. It tasted fine though and I couldn’t quite understand everyone’s obsession with this place.

We went back to the hotel and sat on the roof with the hotel’s Argentinean surf instructor and an Australian girl who seemed taken in by his ‘charm’. Marco, the hotel’s surf instructor, would tell stories about this amazing dietary supplement yet to be released in Bali and how it was God’s gift to the world. He even told us how a woman dying of cancer with 2 weeks left to live started taking the supplements and within weeks she was ‘instantly cured of cancer’… You can see the type of rubbish he came out with. He also suggested that Kyle go and see a local healer about his throat as Bali is own for its natural remedies and what not. He advised Kyle to ‘try anything they tell you to try’. He then told us how he screwed up his back in Argentina and the doctor told him that he’d never be able to surf again (pretty terrible for a surf instructor) and he met a guy in Singapore who told him about a guy who could fix it, so he booked an appointment to try ‘anything they tell you’. The suggested treatment was some kind of electrotherapy and he could hear the guy before him screaming the house down in pain. When his turn came he said it was the most painful thing he’d ever experienced because the voltage was so high. He said it wasn’t a proper clinic but just a house with a hard bed and some wires going into the power outlet. The ‘healer’ told him that one session wasn’t enough to cure his back so he came back for multiple sessions…unfortunately the treatment never worked.

Anyway we really couldn’t put up with Marco for long and we escaped back to the room. I started to regret that chicken and avocado wrap because an hour later I threw up and continued throwing up through the night. I felt absolutely awful and was confined to my bed the entire next day. I, however, had no one to nurse me back to health because Kyle went surfing! I was so glad though that we were staying in a nice hotel whilst we were sick.

Our time in Canggu was basically staying in a nice hotel, being sick, and a tiny bit of surfing… Oh well!

Kuta, Bali

After nearly 3 months in South East Asia, our final stop before Australia was Indonesia. We’ve decided to head to Australia and find some work for a couple of months, travel around Aus and New Zealand, and then come back to Asia – there are still so many places I want to visit. Whilst I’m relieved to be going to Australia and finding a job (travelling gets quite tiring after a while) I’m also a bit nervous.

Anyway back to Bali… We flew from Singapore to Bali and we’d booked two nights in an area called Kuta to start off with. We’d heard that Kuta was VERY touristy and full of hawkers, but with the lure of surfing on the cards we decided to set up shop for a couple of days to see what it was like. We spent the morning walking around Kuta and it looked like a big clubbing destination like Ibiza. It was full of bars, clubs and pubs, and shops sending you the usual tourist tat. You couldn’t walk a metre without somebody trying to sell you something.

We thought if we went to the beach the hawkers wouldn’t bother us that much… we were SO wrong. Within minutes of arriving at the beach, hawkers were coming at us left, right and centre trying to sell us a massage, real pearls, sarongs, leather bracelets, and even a bow and arrow! One lady even sat down on the sand next to us trying to get us to buy some rings and jewelry, we kept saying no but she kept saying ‘cheap cheap’. She then noticed I was wearing rings and asked me where I’d bought them from and I stupidly told her I got them in Thailand because she then said ‘Why buy Thailand but no buy Bali? Buy Bali! Buy Bali!’ She then just sat there and started to cry, we felt awful but really didn’t just want to buy something out of pity. We were about to get up to move when she finally decided to pick up her stuff and bother some other tourists. Later on Kyle went and bought a bottle of water from one of the beach stalls and the stall owner said, ‘I give you bracelets instead of change’. Kyle said no and told them he just wanted his change and the woman said ‘ok buy one bracelet or for change I give you all of the bracelets’. (The woman had about a huge bunch of bracelets). Kyle was pretty annoyed by this point and gave back the water and asked for his money back. The woman then changed her mind and quickly gave up the change in the fear that she might lose a sale. It’s absolutely ludicrous that they think it’s okay to do that. Women are constantly going round trying to make you buy one bracelet, or 100 bracelets for 5 pounds. They don’t quite understand why you wouldn’t want to buy 100 crappy bracelets!

We met two young Americans in our hotel who’d come to Kuta for a little ‘soul searching’ and culture. They told us how they were ashamed of being American and American culture. They said they preferred being in South East Asia because it’s so rich culturally compared to the US. I can see why people come to Bali to do some soul searching as it was made popular in the film ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, but not quite sure what ‘soul searching’ he could possibly be doing in Kuta, Bali. Kuta consisted of pubs, clubs, bars and beaches – not sure how these are culturally enriching…

It was also at this hotel that we heard first hand of the corrupt police and bribes. We heard one guy saying he’d been stopped by the police for no reason whilst riding a motorbike and they threatened to take him down to the station if he didn’t give them a bribe. The guy was pretty nervous and handed over 150,000 rupiah to the police (approx £7 approx) when the ‘standard bribe’ seems to be about £2.50. The same guy also paid £5 for a LITRE of petrol from one of the many roadside petrol sellers when the standard price for a litre is less than 50p! Doh! Luckily we’d heard all about the scams people pull and the corrupt police before we arrived in Bali so we’d been separating our money. We keep about 50k in our wallet for police bribes and keep the rest elsewhere… that way we can pretend we’ve only got 50k. Apparently the official police officer wage is less than £100 a month but they can bring home an extra £50 a month from bribes alone. We haven’t been stopped by the police yet…. Fingers crossed!