I've got great news i'm now officially a ...
Trip Start Jun 24, 2001
12Trip End Aug 30, 2001
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Alas, I am in Bali no longer. As you can see, I've just arrived in one of the Gili Islands, three coral specks off of the island of Lombok, just east of Bali. Those two islands are like night and day. Bali, at least the southern portion where I was staying, was filled with hustle and bustle, hawkers pushing over each other on the beach to give manicures and sell sarongs, cars whipping through the streets, and scooters swerving in and out of traffic. Lombok, and especially Gili Trawangan, is the complete opposite. While Lombok is definitely greener, clearer and less crowded than Bali, Trawangan is a ghost town. There are no cars, no scooters, and all the hawkers are far too lazy to get out of the shade. In fact, walking into this Internet cafe, I had to shake the owner awake to let me use the computer. While the beach in Kuta was nice, it's nothing compared to this coral-fringed, white sand island. As for the tourists, there can't be more than a couple hundred, leisurely lying on the beach, or scuba diving the fringing reef. It definitely is a refreshing change.
Not that Bali was or is so bad. In fact, the closer you look at Bali, the more interesting it becomes. The people, when they aren't trying to sell you anything, are among the friendliest I've ever met. Each and everyone comes up to you, introduces themselves, and begins to ask a series of now standard questions: "Where are you from?", "Is this your first time in Bali?" and "You want umbrella?" However, more often than not, random people would just come up to me and say hello, talk for a couple seconds, touch my arm or back (Balinese love incidental contact). The people are a joy to be around - in extreme moderation, of course. As well, Kuta's touristy image is not completely as it seems. Between the seedy nightclubs and surf shops hide many intricate Hindu shrines, with devout followers praying night and day. In fact, religion plays such a large role in Bali that each and every shop keeper puts out a small offering of flowers and incense in front of his shop each morning. There are many spectacular temples throughout the island. Unfortunately, mainly because we were getting aggravated of Kuta Beach and its neighbour Legian, we only made it to one - Ulu Watu temple, overlooking sheer cliffs above the crashing surf. Besides Hindus, Ulu Watu is also home to many small monkeys, who pad their lifestyle by snatching hairclips, sunglasses, and whatever else they can get their claws on to. Ulu Watu is also home to Bali's second most important religion - surfing. We went down to check out a small, secluded beach called Padang Padang, discovering HUGE 8 - 10 foot waves crashing over razor sharp coral. After taking a moment to ponder, we reluctantly decided not to paddle out, instead admiring the many surfers jockeying for position just offshore. Ulu was a very cool place - it would have been cooler if we hadn't had such problems getting there.
Now just on a quick side note - for those who are unaware of my clumsy tendencies (my family jokes my middle names are "Ow" and "Sorry"), this story might sound a little scary. For the informed, this is yet another indcidence of my stupidity. As I mentioned before, scooters swarmed all over Bali, dodging in and out of traffic, and coming this close to smashing into me (and each other) every 10 seconds. Regardless, I thought it would be a bright idea to rent one of these scooters for the hour long trip up to Ulu Watu. So we walked down the street and into one of the many car rental shops, promptly renting a scooter for 60,000 rupiah for the day (that's about US$6). The owner gave us a quick tutorial, emphasizing that this was a new machine and to BE CAREFUL. So Jay hopped on the front and I hopped on the back and off we went - or so we thought. Apparently Jay wasn't nearly as proficient as either he or I thought, and spent the first 10 meters swerving back and forth before coming to a gentle-ish stop. The owner, realizing his mistake - rightly so, as it would turn out - came rushing down the street, offering to give us our money back if we would only get off his precious scooter. Somehow, I convinced him that my motorcycle riding experience (read: none) delegated me as the more responsible - and thus more appropriate driver. Jay, wisely, decided to let me take the thing for a test drive. Apparently it's not as easy as it looked. I went careening down the street, pushing and pulling every which lever, and suddenly realizing that I was in serious, serious trouble. 2 seconds later, I found my stopping device. Unfortunately, it wasn't the brakes. Rather, it was the owner's other 10 or so motor bikes, a car door, and the hard, cold pavement. Luckily, I escaped with only a slightly scratched elbow and a little lost dignity, not to mention the hefty insurance fee. Needless to say, we found that a taxi was most appropriate to get us to the temple.
Yesterday we went to Ubud, which is the center for Balinese art. A little quieter than Kuta (but downtown Tokyo compared to the Gilis), we took in another monkey forest, and did a little bit fo shopping, picking up some really cool Balinese masks and other assorted paraphanalia for like $10 bucks. We caught a quick glimpse of the rice paddies before heading back to the hotel. Like I said, by this point we had enough of Bali, and decided to come over here and check out Lombok. Weighing two different options (7 hour boat ride for $8 or 30 minute flight for $22 - duh), we flew over to Lombok early this morning, took a taxi through the rolling hills, and caught an outrigger canoe here. And it really is a different world. Accomodation is dirt cheap - rooms here go for about $2 at cheapest, but those are pretty gross. Starving and exhausted, we checked into one of those places before we came to our senses and decided to splurge on a $10 room. The greatest attractions of the Gilis is the scuba diving - renowned as some of the best in this part of the world. Jay is taking a three day course at the diveshop affiliated with our hotel, while I'm excited to check out some of the various spots around the island - in particular a site called Shark Reef. Our next couple days will be spent hanging out over here - and enjoying a little solitude from the ruckus accros the Lombok Strait on Bali.