For the next long-week-end trip to escape busy Jakarta, Jompa and I, two young European girls that anyone in Indo would call Bule (foreigners), finally decided to follow the recommendations of all the citizens of the capital, and went to Bali.
The trip started with some stress. We had planned to reach Soekarno-Hatta Jakarta international airport by DAMRI bus, which is much cheaper than the taxi (around 35K IDR (€2), to pay on the bus at departure, while a taxi from the city centre costs at least 90K IDR excluding the motorway toll). However, we got on the bus at 18.05, only 3 hours before the flight would depart. After 30 minutes, the DAMRI still had not left the parking lot. I tried to pressure the driver, but he said he would not leave until 19.00 and tried to reassure me that we would make it in time. But I felt uneasy, sittng on a bus that rapidly wasn’t going anywhere, so I asked another passenger for advice. The nice gentleman saw my ticket and advised us to run for a taxi, which would take only about an hour, as we would not make it otherwise due to the traffic. I have to say, I was very grateful I had asked, as we would have missed our flight for sure. So tips for travellers leaving big South-East Asian cities are:
- Give yourself a lot of time, as the traffic is unpredictable but hectic for sure during rush hour
- Don’t trust people who cannot give you objective advice. Rather, ask younger local travellers or businesspeople who know their environment and have nothing to win.
We had a vague plan for our stay in Bali, no booking or itinerary. When we finally reached our gate 10 minutes before the flight, we realized we did not know where we were going to stay and knew we were going to be too tired to find a scooter for rent and then search for the perfect homestay, if that’s even possible in the middle of the night. Following the advice of a young Balinese sitting next to us, we booked a hotel room on promotion on Agoda.com. We took the first driver who offered availability, although we knew that it’s always better to use the taxis with meters. A young man walked us to a car that looked nothing like a taxi and asked for 150K IDR to get to our hotel in Kuta. I managed to lower the price to 120 IDR (€10) but still, we knew we were getting ripped off and were being lazy about it.
Tune is one of those hotels that could be anywhere in the world, when you are inside you can’t tell, they are so anonymous. We paid 250 IDR, but the bed was comfy and the shower unwinding and hot, which was a nice change. We had a quite expensive breakfast in one of the many restaurants of the streets of Kuta, since we fancied pancakes with fruit and yoghurt. Then, one of the many men offering OJEK (motor-bike taxi) lifts got the reply “No, but we would like to rent one”. We were shown through a corridor of tourist shops from which each person was very insisting about the awesomeness of their products- in fact, this was the first time I felt hassled in Indonesia. In one of these shops we signed a contract with The Boss, surrounded by his faithful men. Four euros a day is a good price for an awesomely powerful Honda fvs.
“Let’s get out of this tourism mess” we said, driving north. It only took an hour and two police inspections. The local policemen in Bali are well aware of two things:
- Tourists rarely have an international driving licence
- Tourists are willing to pay to save their holiday
There was a red light. But the motorbikes in front of me went on straight; I followed, assuming that the traffic light only regulated vehicles manoeuvring to the right. Only a few meters further, the police was stopping the bules. I had to enter a small cabin with a fat inspector who gave a look at my driving licence and commented that not only it was not international, but also did not allow driving scooters. I defended myself on the second point, explaining that a licence “B” allows you to drive “A” vehicles as well, but I was accused of telling them how to do their job. The man told me that I was supposed to go to Denpasar at once to pay 1.5 million IDR (€ 100). So what did I do?
I burst out crying, and it worked.
“Why are you crying?!”
“It’s my first day in Bali, I don’t want to spend it in a tax office… and I would have to sleep on the beach for the whole holiday if I have to pay that fine!” I replied.
We drove off with 15 euros less, two minutes later we found another police man pulling over white people. This time I hadn’t done anything wrong, so while the policemen were showing the bules in front of us where to park, I took the chance and drove off fast.
We soon reached Canggu, just north of Seminyak, and easily found a nice “kost” after locating the beach, Leo’s homestay. There are many cheap surfer homestays that don’t require booking (at least in low season). For 5 euros each, these types of accommodation come with a fan on the ceiling that replaces the unhealthy A/C, a small bathroom and terrace, free tea and coffee and often a shared kitchen for when you fancy cooking some porridge for breakfast. At Canggu beach, we rented a long board and a fun board, each 50K IDR for two hours; but the waves were not for begginers. I followed a young local boy, who surfed like a pro and clearly understood the ever-changing waves. But their strength was too strong for my poor surfing skills. When I got back to the shore, exhausted, I got blown off my feet by a wave, only 2 meters from the beach. Some locals who were watching the surfers started laughing and told me to watch out. They made me notice that the current was forcing the surfers to the north side, where rocks and corales make it dangerous to surf. I realized with horror that my friend was being the most affected by the current, and ran to make her aware of her position.
We drank a well-deserved coconut at a restaurant by the beach and ordered some tapas. As I was to find out, the surfer-hippy crowd of many areas of Bali allows for a high demand for vegan, organic and superfood. Also, there are many typical Balinese dishes that are vegetarian! Suddenly, food choices for my appetite increased to a level I hadn’t been able to enjoy since Fusion festival!
We walked to visit the seafront temples of Canggu, made in black stone. We were shocked to learn that LADIES cannot enter
- During their menstruation
- If not wearing a sarong
- If in their bikinis
Again, no reference to GENTLEMEN and their code of conduct. Clearly men in boxers cause no disturbance to the Gods. This inevitably reminded me of the discos of Jakarta, where girls are only allowed in if they are wearing high heels. I have gotten kicked out of a club for wearing sandals before, and pink glittery ones, too. But I have finally figured that this rule is not really just to keep it classy and supposedly attract rich men to the clubs, but especially due to the fact that women dance too freely without heels, and therefore occupy more space, and therefore allow less people to enter. We have significant demographic issues in the capital.
Jompa and I spent the rest of the afternoon lying on the beach, reading. Every so often, I glaced at the sea, to study how the great surfers resist the strong currents of the tide going out… or looking at the woman running up and down the beach for hours… until sunset. We had dinner at the fantastic Betelnut, where I was overcome by the vast selection of exotic juices, curries and burgers, all super healthy and with reasonable prices!
Early wake up, download of the map to Ubud, and drive there taking as many secondary roads as possible. We saw beautiful sceneries of terraced rice fields dotted by workers with their cone hats, temples of every size and age at each corner, women bringing the flower scented offerings to the Gods, and schools with waving children. We reached Ubud within 90 minutes, and got a heavenly breakfast at Alchemy raw vegan café and juice bar. A choice of yoghurt, tropical fruits and cereals poured in my bowl was exactly what I needed. The dragon fruit turned it all bright pink, 39K IDR well spent for sure.
Driving through Ubud, we found it too chaotic… the traffic and tourists that we had managed to escape fro m only 24 hours earlier were back. We spent ages trying to find the “Yoga Barn”, where the only classes within our budget (free of charge, in fact) are at 18.00. As we left, feeling hot and sticky under the midday sun, the security guy at the entrance of the resort next door, hearing me wish for a swim, offered us to use the residence’s pool for 25K IDR. It was majestic. For an hour, we swam in the fresh empty pool, massaging our stiff backs with the water jets and feeling rich.
We left Ubud, already missing the ocean. We wanted to go to Pandan Padang, but reached Padangbai because we mixed up the names. There was no homestay there, or nice hippy restaurant. Only deserted beaches filled with rubbish. So we decided to drive south until we reached Sanur completely exhausted. Although the drive under the sun was long and a bit stressful, we got to see a lot of temple construction, it all its different phases. Rock excavation, rock collection, rock sculpture, rock wall making and then selling. All this on the edge of the road. The quality of the road, too was like nothing I’ve ever seen in Java: excellent, new and smooth, with good signs that can prevent you from getting lost, if you follow them!
We turned left at the first sign that said “Sanur”, finding a small harbour and a long promenade filled with warungs, street food carts, and walked by many Indonesian people. I later discovered that this was probably only the local-level Sanur, that the town is much larger and full of Resorts. I’m happy we were able to enjoy it as we did, with the feeling of being in a small village by the sea, eating fresh fish and drinking cheap Arak cocktails at the lovely “Sunrise grill and bar” right on the beach; the next morning waking up early with all the locals to watch them swim (a rare scene for this population that doesn’t like the sun) as the sun rises behind the clouds. We had breakfast in one of the warungs, with fresh mango juice, tofu and tempeh; then checked out of our simple homestay, and got on our “motor” again.
Within an hour, we reached the southern peninsula of Bali, with its rolling hills driven over by only the surfers on their scooters, board on the side. There are many guesthouses on the road that follows the west coast, so it was easy to find one that suited our budget. Drop backpacks and straight to the stunning Padang Padang beach. The waves were too pathetic to surf so we just had a swim. I stood to look down at the transparent water and the coral, I saw a fish, then it bit me. Twice. It hurt, at least the second I felt it, enough to make me yell out a bit loud.
We had lunch at the Mango tree just above the beach, were they make lovely omelettes, and then drove on to discover more beaches. We first drove to Balangan Beach, to lie in the sun and watch to pro surfers catch low-tide waves. Its easy to find, just take the only left you encounter on the road to the airport from Padang-Padang, and you’ll be in Jalan Pantai Balangan. Finding Dreamland Beach, or Pantai Bingin, is another story. This beach is kept as a little secret, it seems. So if you aren’t an eco-friendly, peace and love hippie don’t go there and ruin it for those who are. We found a little piece of heaven in this cozy and pictureque village on the seafront.
In the evening, we visited Uluwatu Temple. The place feels mystical, we enjoyed our natural surroundings more than the man-made religious site. A storm was on the way, but we managed to see sunset over the ocean, standing on the cliffs while monkeys tried to steal my pigster Pentax. Be aware of those naugthy animals, they stole my flip-flops once.
Uluwatu Beach was also mind-blowing, with its graffitied surf shops and cafes and its little lanes that go down to the beach cave and up again on a spectacular rock that balances on the beach… It reminded me of how Miracle Meadow from Pinochio would be for older kids. Going there at night added to the experience, as the village was deserted, everyone was at Sunset Bar partying. We could hear the music with different intensity depending on our position. On the beach, inside the cave, it was almost silent.
We went back down the steep steps to Dreamland Beach to rent some boards and attempt some surf again. I lasted an hour, at the end of which I managed to smash my head against the board and called it a day.
After a morning surf we drove to Kuta. As we had heard, the city is hectic. Even in the low season, the number of tourists and their dedicated boutiques and restaurants is overwhelming. It took us a while to find our homestay, Mahendra Beach. The clean, quiet and comfortable Inn is situated on Gg. Bedugul, a narrow lane off Jl. Popies II. If you don’t know where it is its hell to find, especially in the middle of busy Kuta-by-day. It is worth while finding the lane though, since there are good and cheap restaurants, massage saloons and the Green Box cocktail bar!