Motorbike crashes, sunsets and scuba in Indonesia
It’s fair to say I had a preconceived idea of Bali before I arrived. I envisaged a combination of the sublime, numerous Aussies we met during our travels raved about the fantastic nightlife and amazing surf on beautiful beaches, to the ridiculous, with every other nationality moaning that it was a feeding ground for drunken idiot Australian “bogans” to act appallingly and harass anything with a pulse.
Having been warned that Kuta was the epicentre of “bogandom” full of loud bars, crude and drunk teenagers and seedy men, I was keen to get out of there as quick as I could. As soon as we landed we found ourselves a quiet little place to stay near the airport and made a hasty exit the next morning to South Kuta. Thankfully we discovered that the second half of its name is the only link to the aforementioned hell hole as we meandered through the windy roads on our scooter to a beach called Ballangang.
We were due to meet a friend of ours we had met briefly in Malaysia, a Portugese girl called Ines, who had agreed to go scuba diving with me as Ed was unable to go having outright refused to sacrifice his moustache to make the mask seal fit properly. After a few texts arranging a rendezvous point with Ines, we received a rather panicked message in broken English asking us to call her urgently as she had had an accident. As it turns out, Ines was making her way back to her hotel on a moped when a dopey local cat made a run for it in front of her wheel. Having swerved to avoid the old mog, she’d gone flying over the handlebars and skidded up the road on her bare legs and arms. That was the end of the scuba plan and instead we adopted the rather shaken lass and spent the next three weeks travelling together, Ed making inappropriate jokes when she felt down and me force feeding her cigarettes as I attempted to change her rather manky bandages.
I feel quite sorry for Bali with all the negative press it receives. Admittedly Kuta is one of the most offensive places I have ever been, but the rest of the island is absolutely stunning and much bigger than I anticipated. The lazy beaches of Balangang offered the most stunning sunsets I have ever seen and we often spent lazy afternoons there just killing time with a couple of refreshingly cheap beers waiting for the sun to make its spectacular exit. Beach restaurants also offer delicious fresh salad, a welcome change to the carbohydrate overload I had experienced in Malaysia.
Eager to take in the cultural side of Bali, we hired a comical looking banged up Suzuki 4×4 and headed to Tanah Lot, a beautiful temple on the western coast of the island. Despite clearly being a tourist trap, with stalls set up at the entrance and the constant paparazzi style snapping echoing all around, we spent a thoroughly enjoyable few hours watching waves crashing against the shore as pilgrims braved the waters to visit the temple. The day ended with another stunning sunset as the deep red sky framed the silhouette of the ancient building.
A short 45 minute drive from Tanah Lot was the small tourist town of Ubud, made famous for its starring role in the book “Eat, Pray, Love”. I instantly fell in love with the small cobbled streets and quirky market style shops selling all kinds of goodies including amazing local made jewellery. The nearby monkey park was a hit with the tourists, but we decided to avoid it after a rogue monkey jumped onto our bedroom balcony and made off with Ines’s pack of chocolate chip cookies. Sitting just out of reach on a nearby roof taunting us, he demolished the entire pack and sauntered off with his tail in the air. Little git.
Had we had more time, I would have loved to volunteer in one of the dog sanctuaries in Ubud. Occasionally I saw a volunteer with their branded T-shirt struggling along with a group of rescued street dogs, to whom the concept of walking on a lead was clearly alien.
Our evenings were spent drinking in the bars that peppered the side streets. A personal favourite was the Laughing Buddha Bar, where the live band and happy hour cocktails meant it was packed and buzzing with energy every night.
After a few days in Ubud the cranky and unreliable Suzuki was due back at the rental place in Kuta. We devised a plan where I would drive down with Ed following on a moped to deliver the car before both of up pinging back to Ubud on the bike. With over three months since I had been behind the wheel, and the Suzuki proving to be a lot bigger and harder to manoeuvre than my nippy KA, I accidently clipped a few curbs and nearly took down a tree during the journey down, which Ed then assured me he had clocked with his eagle eyes as he followed behind on the moped.
With time running out, and poor Ines’s leg looking like she had just escaped the battlefield, we decided to head to the nearby island of Lombok before hopping over to the three stunning Gilis (small islands) off the north western coast. To describe Gili Air, the closest of the three to the coast, as paradise would be to do it an injustice. The crystal clear sea surrounding it is filled with an amazing array of tropical fish and the water laps up gently against the soft white sand beaches. The small town on the island was very tourist focused without being intrusive and we spent our days lazing on our private beach cabana watching the fishing boats in the distance. The delicious traditional Nasi Goreng was our staple diet for the week and we battled the heat with refreshing watermelon juices and ice cold beers. I spent most of my time sprawled out on the beach, determined to no longer resemble Casper the friendly ghost and in fierce competition with Ed and Ines who both only had to look at the sun and were transformed a gorgeous shade of golden brown.
Having found ourselves unmotivated and very relaxed by the island life, we stayed on Gili Air a little longer than we were anticipating and so had to skip out Gili Meno and head straight to Gili Trawangan. Known as the party island, “Gili T” had the same idyllic island setting as its sister islands but with a lively nightlife to go with it.
Here I decided to take the plunge, literally, and do my advance scuba qualification solo at the local dive centre – Aquaddiction. It was definitely one of my better decisions and I spent the next three days underwater with my diving instructor, Dave, taking in the stunning reefs and sea life. Turtles were a regular spot and by far my favourite thing that the Gili waters had to offer.
I turned up to the dive shop one morning to find Dave fretting a little over the strong water currents but we decided to give the dive a go anyway and headed out on the boat. As soon as we descended I was instantly taken aback with the power of the water as it dragged us along. I kicked frantically to keep up with Dave who, eventually decided enough was enough and terminated the dive. To tick off all the needed skills to qualify as an advanced diver I needed to try my hand at night diving and because of the currents we opted for a shore dive where we would slowly drift down the shore, taking in the marine life at night, for about an hour. Well, that was the plan anyway! The dive actually took us 16 minutes to complete and was a frantic mess of currents, fin kicks and me spiralling like a Tasmanian Devil along the shore into poor Dan ahead of me, not to mention some bashes against a few large rocks along the way. Needless to say I saw no fish and learnt very little except that current dives at night are not a lot of fun.
Pretty much as soon as I had finished my advanced training the withdrawal symptoms set in and was eager to get back in the water again. With Ines’s legs looking more human we both decided that we would take a day trip from Bali to the nearby island of Lembongan, where Manta Ray sightings were frequent. Despite it being a little rocky, I was thrilled to be back on a boat again and heading out to sea. Ines was also excited but had turned a light shade of green during the rocky journey. Again, the tides were not in my favour and our destination, Manta Point, was sadly unreachable and we had to accept there would be no rays for us on this occasion. This dampened my spirits somewhat but little did I know that I was in for an even rarer treat.
As we descended into the water we followed the long and colourful reef wall that was to our right, sheltering us from the strong currents. I happened to look over my shoulder into the blue on my left and caught a glimpse of a large dark shape moving towards us. Seeing the huge dorsal fin I began to panic, “Oh @$%# it’s a shark!” I thought to myself. Sensing my panic my instructor calmly shook his head, smiled reassuringly and pointed for us to go closer. As we closed in I realised the strange creature looked nothing like a shark, it was huge and round with a fin at the top and bottom, almost like a sideways pancake, it was in fact a “Mola Mola”! I was wracking my diving brain for information I’d been told about these rarest of giant sea dwelling creatures when another came towards us. How lucky were we!? We followed them down to 35 metres where I tried to ignore the freezing cold as I watched them effortlessly swim around. This was the final sign to me that Bali had well and truly been sold very very short!