Bali

Hello Australia! – Cairns

After an extra four days in the Balinese sun because of a cancelled flight, we were pretty excited to start our Australian adventure. Jetstar obviously wasn’t too thrilled with that prospect, because five hours before our rescheduled flight was due to leave, we learnt our flight had been cancelled yet again! Jetstar told us they could put us on the next flight to Cairns in 2 days time, or they could route us through Melbourne. As Jetstar weren’t willing to pay to put us for the next 2 nights, we decided to fly to Cairns via Melbourne.

We boarded the flight in Bali in the 26 degree heat and touched down in a VERY cold, grey Melbourne. 😦 Having spent a LOT of my undergraduate life watching ‘Nothing to Declare’, I was well prepared for the customs debacle at Melbourne International Airport. I feel cheated; no one swabbed my bags for drugs, no one confiscated any weird food, no one took my walking boots to quarantine, and no questioned me about my ‘plans’ for Australia. It was pretty disappointing actually. Just four hours in Melbourne gave us a taste of just how expensive Australia was going to be. Gone are our cheap delicious meals at Warung Makun, and hello 4 pounds for a tiny croissant! I was in the mood for a magazine to kill time before our next flight and that was even $12 aussie dollars! We were feeling pretty anxious at just how much money Australia was going to cost us.

Lol Kyle waiting for the shuttle in Cairns!

Lol Kyle waiting for the shuttle in Cairns!

When we finally arrived in Cairns we expected to find clear skies and sunshine, but it was cold and raining (I thought the Balinese weather would follow us for some reason!). We’d arranged an airport transfer to the hostel and waited 45 minutes for it to turn up. When it finally did arrive we were greeted by this crazy Australian driver who shouted at me for not being there earlier. He couldn’t quite understand that the flight had been a little late AND we’d been waiting for him for 45 minutes. There were a group of guys on our bus and the driver couldn’t drop them in front of their hotel because of the Ironman Race, so one of the guys said to him, ‘no worries, we’ll try and find it with our GPS’. The bus driver lost it and said, ‘You don’t need a friggin’ GPS to get there, it’s right next to the cafe’… Welcome to Australia.

When we arrived at Tropic Days hostel it suddenly hit us that we’d have to start getting serious and look for a work. We decided to hold off on our job search until the following day and went into town to see what the city of Cairns had to offer. On first impressions Cairns was…. awful. It looked like a suburban American town with outdated shops signs and tourist tat (HAHA).

We then walked to Woolworths (supermarket) to see how much food was…

A loaf of bread was about $4

2 small chicken breasts were a minimum $10

2 small bananas $3

A small chocolate bar $3

Needless to say everything was pretty pricey! We bought some supplies and headed back to the hostel where we collapsed on our beds to sleep after the grueling 15-hour journey from Bali to Cairns, a trip that should have taken 5 hours max.

Had to have a yummy steak before that though!

Had to have a yummy steak before that though!

The following day we decided to head back into the city to see what it was like during the day time. It had a huge ‘lagoon’ (essentially an outdoor public pool), a shopping centre, an art gallery, and an esplanade with lots of shops and restaurants.  There were so many restaurants that finding work looked promising. We returned to the hostel for its famous ‘All Australian BBQ’ to sample some crocodile, emu and kangaroo. There were about 70 backpackers at the hostel and it was a pretty amusing night to say the least. The BBQ was hosted by the hostel’s owner, Gabe, and he was full of hilarious stories and everyone sat on the edge of their seats listening to every word he said. He told us how his mother and father had been hippies or gypsies, and had travelled all around the world having children in different countries. We then all queued up and were given some croc, emu and kangaroo to try. Before we tried the croc everyone said the ‘tastes likes chicken’ thing, but I actually thought it tasted quite different to chicken. The crocodile was a lot denser and chewier than chicken, and had a slight fishy taste.

Fruit picking/farm jobs at the hostel...

Fruit picking/farm jobs at the hostel…

We got chatting with the people on our table and everyone was pretty much in the same boat as us – working holiday visa. There were two Chinese students on our table and they were mesmerized with the concept of the working holiday visa, and couldn’t comprehend how our families could let us go away for a year and not get a proper job (haha!). He was really jealous that we could have the opportunity to travel around the world and visit all these amazing places. I told him that not all my family understood my decision, but hey! We met one girl who’d quit her job as a nurse 2 weeks before, rented her house and sold her car so that she could travel around the world with her boyfriend. She couldn’t bear to be without him for a year, so she decided to go with him!

After enjoying our Australian feast, we were given another ‘Australian experience’ – a didgeridoo lesson. Gabe gave us a basic introduction into the didgeridoo and to be good at it you basically had to be able to blow a raspberry for as long as possible. After practising the motions for a while, Gabe asked three people to come forward and perform the didgeridoo in front of everyone. Three people came forward and they had to choose their choice of didgeridoo from a traditional didgeridoo, a white pipe… and a hoover. Gabe told us how he was very annoyed to find the hoover in the bin one day – didn’t she know it would make a fantastic didgeridoo?! The three didgeridoo volunteers were absolutely awful.

We spent the next couple of days setting up bank accounts, applying for tax file numbers and printing our CVs. After 3 days at Tropic Days it was time to move to the suburbs to do the Help X programme with an Australian family that we’d found.

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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!!

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!!

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!