Kuta – Denpasar
Brisbane-Sydney-Kuta, an 8 hour journey arriving finally, in Denpasar airport which is in Kuta, not Denpasar! The airport is bijou, Hindu art is everywhere and a flare of jungle vibes present, with climbing plants scaling the walls. Through the arrival gate, we turned a blind eye to the swarm of taxi drivers, and headed for food. Tired from our flight, 150,000 Rupiah($15 AUD) quickly left our pockets and we sped off to our next destination - the real Denpasar.
Visas for Colombian internationals are hard to come by, requiring us to book a night at Pulau Bali hotel in advance.Our room, a simple, top floor setting, decorated with peeling wall paper and furnished with a bathroom, the components of which all failed to work set us back $11.70. Aromas from late night/early morning cooking at the restaurant next door titillated our tastebuds. A friendly Muslim restaurant, in the midst of Ramadan, served us our first Balinese feast.
The biggest city in Bali, Denpasar failed to engage our interest, an effect we have felt from major cities the world over. A trip to temple was sufficient and following this we were ready to on!
100,000 Rupiah and a ride in the most unconventional of taxis (the Bemo), took us to Ubud Taksu Travel agent in Ubud. Scooter rental here is 50,000 a day, one of our most worthwhile expenditures in Bali. The lovely people working in the travel agent advised us to stay in Balibbu.
Balibbu is made up of several 8 bed dorms. 4 beautiful, yet fragile bamboo bunk beds, fitted out with pillows and clean sheets, we shared ours with only one other girl, Zoe. Friendly staff, friendlier people, a swimming pool and kitchen was perfect for 100,000 rupiah a night. Insightful discussions with travellers like our dorm-mate Zoe, have no price. Great soles frequently finding themselves guiding ours, what a sonder!
The plethora of vegan food in Ubud is quite overwhelming! Some of the best vegan food we have ever eaten can be found at night in any one of the smorgasbord of restaurants to choose from. Veggie Table is an excellent gourmet vegan restaurant. Each meal, a composition of artistic quality, complemented by a delicious lemongrass tea. Atman Kafe boasts a Tom Kah soup to rival an authentic Thai restaurant and a Balinese curry to introduce to the local flavours with a real kick. A few footprints from the Main Street is Soma. This beautiful restaurant serves a fantastic vegan selection of food with plentiful amounts of vegan cheese!
The monkey temple in Ubud was somewhere we didn't particularly enjoy. We spotted the keepers teasing the monkeys as a game. As a result of this, the monkeys were aggressive, snarling and screeching when you get close. This was very different to our experiences with monkeys in the wild, where a real connection can be made. Nevertheless, the structure of the temple is beautiful, reminiscent of King Louis' temple in The Jungle Book!
The local markets are hidden off the main street but are well worth the visit. Colourful and busy with some questionable smells and an abundance of hidden gems. The shopkeepers are always keen for a good bargain in the best of spirits, selling everything from crochet tops of every colour and pattern, to intricate Hindu jewellery.
The only animal rescue centre we saw in Indonesia can be found on the main road. The people who work their are very intelligent with veterinary qualifications and keen to help, frequently looking to hire travellers and tourists. Their excellent work is rare in Bali.
With only two days to explore North Bali, we made ambitious plans and embarked on our next adventure. The first market we passed sucked us in with vibrant colours and mesmerising smells. A stack of wire cages packed with fluff, the colours of the rainbow stopped us in our tracks. This mass of feathery fluff was in fact hundreds of chicks. The chicks had been spray painted many different colours, the fumes causing them serious harm. This was not a tourist market, these chickens were bought by locals and reared to provide eggs and/or ultimately meat. Feeling sick to our stomachs, we felt compelled to save at least one from this obscenity. No emotions were donated to the owner of the chickens, and we heartlessly bargained him down from 60,000 to 10,000 with a free bag of grain.
Greeny was named for obvious reasons, becoming our chirpy companion in all our adventures. Sadly, he was not in great shape, his beak was bent and he had a growth on the right hand side of his chest. He needed all of our love.
Stopping lots to ask for directions gave us the chance to meet several locals, all very helpful with the exception of time approximations which we learned to double each time we got an answer. The only real delay was our encounter with Balinese police. It is apparently illegal to ride a scooter without an international driving license. Neither of us possessed this and a court case was arranged to attend in a week. The fine following the court case would be 1 million Rupiah ($100 AUD), but our first bribe of the trip brought it down to 100,000 on the spot fine and we were issued with a ticket which permitted us to drive around as much as we like - what a confusing experience!
As the mountain came into view, we felt compelled to stop. Its enormity is staggeringly beautiful, the reflection from lake at its foot making it seem even bigger. Due to the thick cloud cover at the summit we headed for the lake at the foot of the mountain, fringed with hot springs. The water was channeled from it's natural source into a picturesque, ancient stone structure. 150,000 per person included a drink, towel, shampoo and a bath, excellent relaxation.
We stopped at a restaurant overlooking both mountains and the lake between them, creating a perfect backdrop for a romantic meal. The rapid journey back took under an hour, proving that without stops for guidance, the quick journey is possible.
Our 5am alarm woke us up before the sun. Dark roads and cold air chilled our bones. Our excitement for the busy day ahead kept us very awake.
The sun leapt over the horizon, uncovering the mystical landscapes. 2 hours had passed and we were beginning our ascent to Bedugul when we decided to pull over to stretch our legs and breathe in the idyllic view which was laid before us. It was at this point that our wonderful day took a turn for the worst. The horrible realisation, and the shock to accompany it took hold as we realised that we had managed to cleverly leave the zip in the backpack open and out of which had fallen James' note book. The contents of which, included all our money for the day. This was, needless to say, a spanner in the works. A much stricter budget and limited luxuries was accepted for the foreseeable future.
Every cloud has a silver lining, and this one shone with an intense luminosity. Being forced to renounce what you have isn't the best way of going about it. But as we carried on our journey, the grass got greener. Lake Bratan in the early morning could be a landscape painting from the Japanese Muromachi period, a gentle fog hung close to the waters surface and the proud mountains stood tall on the far side of the lake. Our foreground - a beautiful green chicken frolicking on the pontoon, walking precariously over the sizeable gaps between the planks. Oh, and Laura found a 20,000 Rupiah note! Surely this was a good omen.
Bali is blessed with a rich but unique Hindu culture. A statue of Hanuman highlighted the differences in perception of beauty with Indian Hindu culture, whilst the concepts remain the same. A fruit and vegetable market en route to the second lake was our next stop. Our 20,000 Rupiah won us 4 bananas and half a kilo of strawberries. The locals were sympathetic with our financial issues and this warm hearted attitude reminded us of our travels in India.
Karma met us once again as we passed Lake Buyan.
10am: The roads began to wind down the mountains towards Gitgit, Bali's most famous waterfall. On arrival we parked the bike and the three of us clambered down the slope to the waterfalls. As we drew near, the ticket booth came into sight, and 20,000 Rupiah ($2 AUD) was demanded for our entry. We explained our predicament and with plenty of barter, we persuaded the woman to take a $2 coin. A refreshing swim in the plunge pool and water cascading over the fall nourished our souls. A rope hung from a tree high above and becoming we swung to our hearts content, into a second plunge pool. The water was freezing so make sure you bring a jumper! Greeney, at this point, was very happy to adventure alone and wait for us to return from our swim.
Lovina – banjar
Back on the bike, we continued north, towards Singaraja, the second largest city in Bali, a connecting point to, Lovina beach.
A powerful arch decorated with the most fantastic carvings of Dolphins welcomes you into Lovina. By the beach, we met a local man who was a very skilled jewellery artist, fashioning pendants out of shells, sand, coral and coconut shell. Collecting his raw materials here, he knew the area well, informing us that a boat was necessary to see dolphins. We did not have the time for this in our busy schedule, and neither did we have the money. The beach was not as we had imagined; the sand, a dirty brown, the ocean, equally uninviting. The streets were busy with shoppers keen to take home a taste of Lovina. With no money, this was not the place for us.
We collected all our loose Australian coins (amounting to $6), but this counted for little, as no one could exchange coins. After learning this from the second money exchange shop, we took a seat outside to contemplate our next move.
The universe gives you exactly what you need. It was at this point that we met Jimmy, who became our saviour for the day giving us 100,000 Rupiah (the most valuable $10 AUD we have ever received) after hearing our dilemma from the woman who worked at the money exchange. Great soles are everywhere around, helping and guiding. We felt very privileged.
Refuelling was the first priority, and with the change, some much needed nourishment at Tanjung Alam Beach. Looking out to sea as the fisherman hauled in their days catch and eating a nourishing Nasi Goreng heightened our vibration sufficiently.
Feeling fuelled, in tune with our scooter, we meandered our way along the coast to the hot springs in Banjar. Outside the springs we befriended a kind local who arranged for us to bathe without paying! It seems karma was on our side once again.
We initially thought they would be a natural hot springs, but we found it was a beautiful Hindu stone structure channelling the natural source through it. The springs had a lovely local vibe - mostly free from tourists, except Greeneys German friends, such a social butterfly! We had read of a secret spring behind the main structure in a blog, but failed to find it. If any reader has information, let us know!
We headed back to Lovina to find wifi so we could set the GPS on the phone for direction back to Ubud. We wanted to follow our exact path on the outward journey in case we found our book, but no luck. It is horrible accepting a loss, but Karma always balances. If we hadn't lost our money, we wouldn't have bought fruit for the monkeys, we wouldn't have experienced so much of what we had accomplished and we wouldn't have met so many beautiful soles, some of which helped fund our free day!
Our return to Eastern Bali from Lombok
The ferry from Lembar, Lombok to Padangbai took 4 hours and chugging across as the sun set, trailed by streams of pink and orange, we arrived in the darkness of the evening. Due to the popularity of South Bali as opposed to North, it was difficult to get to Tirta Gangga, our next stop. After much bargaining, we were only able to get the price of a taxi down to 200,000 Rupiah.
Tirta Gangga is a small town, scattered across the landscape. Homestays are few and far between, so head towards Taman Ujung Water Palace and you will find homestay Rijasa. Run by a lovely local man who makes bamboo flutes, if you are lucky, he may serenade you over breakfast. The rooms are beautiful and luxurious for only 150,000 Rupiah a night and an easy walk to Taman Ujung Water Palace in the morning. The stepping stones across the pond filled with Carp create a beautiful playground for old and young people alike. Although it was busy due to religious celebration, it was a wonderful sight and one definitely worth seeing!
We hitched a ride to Lempuyang, one of the 6 wonder built by the first Hindu priest to Bali, and it is arguably the most magnificent. 7 temples built up the sloping face of a of a mountain coated in a dense forest in the Eastern reaches of Bali.
We were lucky enough to be there during celebrations. Tranquil rhythmic music, costumes stretching as far as the imagination can, and plenty of dancing. Through the first two temples, we observed as they offered food, candles and prayers. Hinduism unites all generations with such a colourful enthusiasm, it is impossible not to feel completely immersed.
It is worth getting a motorbike taxi to the 3rd temple. We chose not to and endured a 30 minute climb which left us too tired to complete the walk to the next. The information when you are at the third temple with regards to the fourth is dubious. To reach the highest point we heard 4 hours more which seemed too much.
We took a motorbike taxi down the mountain, passing clearings in the trees giving us a stunning view of the surrounding location and at the bottom we met a French couple who gave us a lift to the main road. We hailed a taxi to take us to Amed for 100,000 Rupiah. The driver was a jeweller who made rings which hold gem stones. These rings are seen throughout Indonesia and the stones tend to be found in the volcanic mountains on each of the islands. Kindly he gave us one each when we left him in Amed.
Amed and Tulamben
Amed is made all positioned along one coastal road, we were dropped outside Cafe Garam to the West. After eating we headed to the waters edge for a walk along the beach. The sand was jet black, formed from the breakdown of volcanic rock from the eruptions of Indonesia and the oceanic erosion. We called Dream Divers, a dive centre we had found online and arranged to meet to talk diving with them, either here in Amed, or in Tulamben. Tulamben is a small village west of Amed but still on the coast. It is home to the USAT Liberty wreck, the most famous dive site in Bali, and the Tulamben drop off, another well renowned site. Tulamben has little in it other than a few dive shops and hotels. Most divers planning on diving here will stay in Amed, as the dive centers will drive you to Tulamben free of charge.
Amed itself is a beautiful coastal village stretching all the way to Jemeluk - the next beach. It is lined with restaurants, hostels, dive shops and one spa who offered hot showers for 10,000 Rupiah for the post-diving chills. In contrast to our discovery that no one in Labuan Bajo, Flores sells tomato soup, we were delighted to find that every restaurant here served theirs, uniquely homemade. Tomato soup is the perfect complement to the local dish, Nasi Goreng, which is usually made with egg and chicken, so can be plain for vegans! The restaurants are largely very reasonably priced with tomato soup ranging from 12,000 to 25,000.
We stayed in two hostels during our time here, initially we moved into Santa Fe homestay which is a beautiful hostel on the opposite side of the road to the beach (still 30 second walk to the water). The room was beautiful with a big double bed with a mosquito net hung elegantly around it replicating the curtains of a four-poster bed. Our stay was cut short here, as someone had booked the room online and the owner had not checked her reservations.
Whilst this was going on, Laura had spent the day diving the USAT Liberty wreck with 3 other divers and the instructor, Chakra. Starting on the beach they strode into the breaking waves and once past the break they strapped into their fins and mask and began to submerge. The wreck is a huge structure which has been covered in coral. Barracudas cut through the water hunting their prey, the nudibranchs glow with their near fluorescent colours and uncountable species of fish including box fish, trumpet fish, scorpionfish and many more swim through their underwater world.
James met their returning car by the rice paddies just outside Amed with Made, a yoga instructor he had met during the day and had arranged a Pranayama based yoga session for the two of us and another couple in a bamboo hut beside the paddies. Pranayama is an incredibly integral part of meditation and yoga as it encompasses breathing techniques and control of the breath as a function of the soul.
With a clear mind and energised bodies, our return to Amed was met by a hot shower at the Spa for 10,000 Rupiah - definitely worth the small fee for a bit of luxury!
The following day it was time to dive together. We headed to the wreck at 6.15am for another dive. Whilst two were planned; the wreck and the Tulamben drop off, James only did the first so he had time for his body to repair before the night dive later!
The Tulamben drop off holds similar marine life and animals to the wreck, but it has a fantastic resemblance to the drop off in finding nemo. The steep coral shelf makes you feel like you are in a cave of wonder, stretching into the seemingly infinite depths, stealing the light from above. Behind you, a blue which extends indefinitely into the abyss, the vast expanse of the ocean, mighty and overwhelming
At 6.30 Chakra came to Elleian hostel (his hostel) where we were now staying, to collect us for our night dive.
We kitted up with as many wetsuits as possible for fear of the water temperature and made our way to the waters edge ready to take the plunge into the black abyss. Our torches provided the only light as the three of us bobbed about on the waters surface. Chakra gave the thumbs down signal and we descended. As we headed out to the famous Jemeluk coral pyramid, we dived down and the reef at night came alive. Crabs disguised as coral, a couple of moray eels, the egg of a Spanish dancer nudibranch and an abundance of bioluminescent plankton made this dive spectacular. Diving with phosphorus plankton is phenomenal. When we pressed the torches against our BCDs, only to leave a glow around where it is pressed, our movements stimulate the green glow of millions of tiny plankton, trailing our bodies in the water. The two of us repeatedly side tracked ourselves whilst communicating through plankton light bodies!
A 2 and a half hour taxi is the only way to get from Amed to Uluwatu, the most Southern tip of Bali. We found Pondok Ugi on the road between Pura Luhur temple and Pantai Suluban beach and decided to get a room there. We shop around as we were tired on arrival and needed to find somewhere to lay down our bags whilst we visited Pura Luhur, the Uluwatu temple.
This temple was built in the 10th century by the first Hindu priest to move to Bali from Java, Rasi Makandeyah. He built 6 temples including Tanah lot further up the West coast and Lempuyang. Pura Luhur is three temples built on the cliff edge with a beautiful view out into the Indian Ocean. The temples themselves are not particularly magnificent, but their location is spectacular. Hundreds of monkeys interspersed on the cliff edge, and thirsty, their curious hands continuously attempted to steal our water bottle, even after we gave them a plastic cup full which they drank as if they commonly used cups. Hungry as well, we sadly had to watch from a distance as a monkey picked up a cigarette which had been dropped by a tourist, and ate it. This was a disturbing image, one which led us to leave the temple with haste, but not before speaking with a member of staff about this who carelessly told us that this would not affect them. After as much debate as we could get away with without shouting in a temple, we left.
Next we headed to three beaches along the Uluwatu coast to clear our minds. Our first point of call, Pantai Suluban beach. Parking cost 3000 Rupiah, but if you park about 20 meters before the mass of scooters, you can avoid this. A steep flight of stairs takes you down from the road, past a collection of small shops selling everything from tie die t shirts to crystal necklaces and all the typical traveller favorites in between. Further along, the path splits. One path continues further up the hill to several restaurants, cafes and more shops, all offering breathtaking views of the surf breaks off the shore, the other takes you down to the beach. Be sure to check the tides, as high tide hides the beach and allows only for surfers to paddle out. Low tide however, opens up a small beach at the foot of the cliffs under the moving life of the Pantai Suluban shopping scene. A small walk to the right of the beach opens up a quieter scene. Large rocks, too jagged to sit on, decorate the beach in a gentle fashion, whilst green algae accumulates at the sea shore as the waves of the low tide wash over their surface.
Dreamland beach is a 20 minute scooter ride from Pantai Suluban, to get there you have to continue along the main road out of Suluban and turn right when you see a huge statue of a Hindu god, impossible to miss, where a huge golf course can be found. Continue down this road until the second roundabout where you take a left and then at the small wooden booth on the left, take another left to the beach. Although they charge for parking in the parking lot to the left when you approach the beach, you can park a scooter at the drop off zone and avoid paying any fees! Another short walk to the beach surrounds you with shops selling the expected merchandise for a South Bali beach, ending with a restaurant where we ate lunch. The beach initially looks busy, but there is an eye opening walk to the right hand side which opens up a less populated area and a different perspective on this beach where once can relax and escape the hustle and bustle of a packed beach in peak season.
Padang Padang beach completed our day. We parked our scooter at the top of the flight of stairs leading down between two rock faces wide enough for only one direction of human traffic, causing problems on this busy day! As the path opened up, the beach came into view and similar to Dreamland beach, it was too small and crowded to enjoy without a sense of overwhelming congestion. These beaches would undoubtably be delightful on a quieter day, but as Ramadan had drawn to an end, the tourist season was in full swing and the best time for visit would be early mornings. It is definitely worth exploring these beaches as clearly even the busiest of days leave empty patches of beach, tranquil and calm.
Mojo Surf & Stay – Canggu
After discovering the price of Uber cars in Bali beats almost any other mode of transport and that drivers get a fantastic wage, we shared an Uber with two Dutch girls to Kuta. Our plan was to go to Kuta water park, but the 455,000 Rupiah admission fee and half hour wait for each activity was enough to put us off, at least until our return for our flight on the 24th from the airport there. We stopped for a bite to eat in a Mexican restaurant and some salsa lessons for James before heading off to Canggu.
In advance, we had booked a surf and stay camp with Mojo surf Indonesia. This camp, lasting 3 says and 3 nights was going to be an opportunity for us to spend some quality time on beautiful beaches whilst trying to improve our surfing. We headed to Salabayan Homestay near to Mojo surf villas, which we later learnt was a different place with the same name. The homestay we stayed at was delightful, 150,000 Rupiah for a hot shower, air conditioning, a double bed all in what looked like an old temple. It is run by a lovely family three generations with some very friendly 2 year olds and an even friendlier puppy.
The next morning we woke early, ready to surf and made our way to the real Mojo surf camp on Jalan Pura Batu Mejan. We checked in to our accommodation and headed to Grass Terrace, a restaurant only a 100 meter walk away. They have a Mojo menu for guests at the surf and stay, a fantastic selection of food with some 'vegan adaptable' options (try the focaccia and the Pomodoro pasta!). The staff were incredibly friendly and the restaurant itself has a tranquil Hindu theme with statues of Ganesha incorporated into a waterfall at the entrance.
After a very pleasant and filling breakfast we headed back to mojo to meet our experienced surf instructors. Putu and Wayan, two locals, were responsible for our surfing lessons for the day. We drove to the nearest beach with two 9 foot "foamis", tailored to our amateur skills. Another student shared the ride with us, he had been enjoying the mojo lifestyle for about a week and these were to be his final waves. Vij quickly became more than an acquaintance and stories of his home in India and our own experiences there swiftly materialized.
After a quick refresher on the beach, highlighting the adequate movements and techniques that we should use, we jumped in to the crowded sea and paddled for the biggest breakers we could find.
The beautiful panorama didn't distract us from our primary goal: to stand on the wave and ride it all the way to the shore, which we mastered in no time at all thanks to a few nudges in the right direction from the excellent instructors. Turns and cutbacks were in short supply seeing as this was day one. Hopefully we will surprise ourselves tomorrow in our next lesson.
We had expected dorms for our accommodation, as this is what was described on the website, but the rooms were nothing short of luxury! A 4 story hotel built of wooden panels, every color of the rainbow, gave it a rustic look. The beautiful swimming pool on arrival, all the way to 'Seaducing' roof top terrace provided an enticing setting for our stay after a long while of living without nearly as many comforts. The roof top terrace in particular, does a wonderful buffet breakfast which is included in the surf and stay package. When we finally checked into our room, the hot shower, air conditioning, double bed, TV with national geographic channel and the balcony only elevated our wonder with what this surf and stay package has offered.
We wandered into the town, a small village surrounded by rice paddies, on the coast and with several beautiful cafes, restaurants and shops. This area of Canggu is very relaxed and quaint, the further reaches of the area are populated more so by locals who are all incredibly friendly and surprisingly clean compared to our previous experiences in Indonesia. Kite season was in full swing and the sky was decorated with enormous kites of all colors and shapes. Vij and the two of us stumbled across a quote peculiar promotion entitled Tacos and Tattoos. We found our selves a table close to where the board to sign up was to be placed. We ordered a frozen strawberry and lime for 25,000 Rupiah which sounds expensive, but we can assure it is the fanciest mocktail we have ever had and definitely worth the price. Over the next hour before the board was released more and more people gathered, bolder than us, they were standing even closer. As the clock struck 6, the board was released and a mad scramble took place. Probably 60 people fighting for 20 spaces. From our advantaged position, we didn't have to run far, but aggression levels were high, and even when Laura was at the front of the line, there were plenty of drunk 'hippies' more than happy to snatch the pen from her wanting hands. The three of us had had a whole hour to discuss our chosen tattoos and so following this activity, we decided that this was probably a good thing we couldn't sign up as we questioned issues such as hygiene and artist ability. Determined to get these tattoos we had dreamt up, we spoke to several knowledgeable locals, and sourced ourselves a finer establishment to ink up.
After a 20 minute walk along the Main Street, past the traffic lights and on the right, we found Laksar Tattoo studies. Vij went first, and described his surfboard with Bintang star to the artist. He also wanted the words 'the same wave but always different' written across it. 20 minutes of drawing and placing later, and he was good to go. The tattoo took another 20 minutes and it was our turn. In light of our blog, we each had a footprint tattooed on our feet. Each of us with left with the others footprint.
The next day we realized our rookie error of getting a tattoo and needing to surf the following day. Our knowledgeable instructors helped us bandage them up in a watertight fashion and we were ready to go. We took one shorter foamie board, and one fish board (a particularly wide specimen with depth similar to that of a foamie, but made of fiberglass). The waves on gangga beach were bigger than yesterday and took a bit more determination and confidence to get onto them, but this didn't hold us back and the instructors were so helpful that our initial fears, quickly dissipated. Although difficult, this was not out of reach, and is definitely the best way to learn.
Back at the Mojo headquarters, we met Rasta, a surf instructor who has an adorable puppy named Finn.
Every day with the guys from mojo was incredible, an insight to Indonesian culture and surf lifestyle. These magical 3 days were filled with successfully ridden waves, songs on rasta's guitar and new friends, definitely an experience that we would recommend to everyone.
Read on for the next step of the journey in Lombok...
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