One small island - a lot to discover
Trip Start Nov 07, 2009
20Trip End Jun 17, 2010
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Where I stayed
We left the hotel in Bangkok at 3am and headed to the airport to fly to Bali and then on to a town called Ubud which is the cultural centre of Bali. Its peppered with arts and crafts galleries and surrounded on all sides by stone and wood carvers who turn out an impressive range of intricate carvings of all sizes. This is a bit of a theme in Bali; ornate carvings are everywhere. Many houses have ornate Hindu temple-style entrances to their land, and sometimes just a wooden hut stands behind. Even roundabouts all have impressive huge stone carvings stood in the middle.
Heading into town in the taxi from the airport we agreed with each other that we were absolutely not going to say yes to the first person who shows us accommodation. Laziness prevailed - 50m from where the taxi dropped us, and the first hotel: deal done
The first thing we noticed about Bali is that people are all much less oriental looking than the rest of South East Asia. Travelling around people tend to say "Hello" a lot more and want a genuine conversation without the - until now - inevitable sales hook. It quickly became obvious that Bali has way too many taxi drivers who continually ask you if you want a lift whether you're walking, jogging or riding a moped! Its hard to get annoyed as they are incredibly gracious. When you say, "no thanks," they reply, "you're welcome" as though you've been done a service of some kind!
Ubud was nice so we quickly decided to base ourselves there for the entire time and used a moped to get around during the day to see other parts. Bali has two active volcanoes, mountains and endless fields of terraced rice paddies so we spent a few days exploring. On one trip towards the volcano Batur we were found (actually, chased on motorbike) by a local who offered us a guided morning hike to the top to watch the sunrise which we signed up for. On the morning we had to get up at just before 2am, inject coffee, ride an hour and a half North into the highlands and then hike a further 2 hours to be at the top by 5.30am. Gaby's head torch, our only one, was missing in action in Thailand (more accurately I left it on a bus) so we used our mobile phones as torches to stagger through the darkness.
The weather systems moving around the islands are quite small and fast moving so stood on the rim of Batur looking across Bali, Lombok and the Gili Islands, we watched clouds forming below us before running through the valley, all the time lit up by the early sun
Whilst we watched the sunrise the guides were making tea and cooking eggs and bananas on the steam seeping from the rocks which was great as we were cold after breaking a sweat running up the mountain. After that we had a walk around the crater and back down. Once it was light you could clearly see the results of volcanic eruption all around. The most recent serious eruptions were in the 60's and 00's and you could still see the exact flow of the lava by the blackened countryside leading down from the volcano.
After we got back to the village we turned around to go back stopping off at fruit sellers on the side of the road. We'd been talking to a Dutch guy during the hike who was telling us about some Balinese fruits including one type we'd never heard of: Mangosteen, so we found one and had a lesson on how to eat it. Brilliantly tasty fruit which almost looks like cloves of Garlic inside but very sweet and juicy. The other fruit was Tamarind which we'd never tried before and was great also.
We were back in bed by about 11am for a little snooze after a productive morning!
January is the low season in Bali so things are quiet. Its also the rainy season so most days it pelts down with rain for an hour then dries up almost instantly. You can often watch the storms come in and go by without raining where you are
One of the tourist attractions in Ubud is the Monkey Forest. The monkeys roam quite freely so it wasn't unusual to see one stroll past our balcony when we were sitting having breakfast. (I think looking for Gaby to rejoin them.)
The hotel had worked out pretty well; the only problem was a couple of demented roosters living near our bungalow who just couldn't shut up between 4am and midnight. We soon began to ignore them, but I always thought they were only supposed to make noise in the morning?! A lot of people in Bali also keep roosters for fighting. We didn't see any tournaments but we got chatting to some guys who were sitting playing with their roosters on the side of the road and they let two of them fight for a few seconds. Pretty violent - not something we'd want to watch for real. (I played with the idea of using "cock" instead of "rooster" throughout that paragraph but couldn't stop my tiny mind from analysing the comedy value each time.)
10 days slipped by really quickly with a mixture of eating, reading, exploring and eating so we thought we started to plan our next hop over to the Gili islands. There are quite a few ways to get over, from the very James Bond flight and private speedboat (3 hours total) to the pedestrian all-day "slow boat". We opted for the latter not being in too much of a hurry and by slow they really meant slow. We figured out that for the distance if we'd jogged over it would have been quicker as it took about 12 hours for 30kms, but armed with books and food the time passed pretty quickly. Its really hard to imagine that these seas get very rough during storms in the wet season as for our entire journey they were glassy-smooth with brilliant views - this whole area is just stunning.
So far its been a great introduction to Indonesia. More from Gili Air soon (subject to internet connections!)