It's who you know and where you go...
Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
235Trip End Nov 30, 2009
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Firstly, despite new terrorism alerts and bomb detections, all is well at this end. I'm sure you are but please rest assured anyway. Next, I'd like to thank everyone that voted in the recent "Choose my next adventure" route poll. The votes ended up being deadlocked so it was down to me to choose which road I'm going to take, and that will be the Java overland adventure starting early next week. For some reason I marginally preferred this option, and it will get me to Thailand in time to meet friends, so looks like someone else will have to do the Orangutags. Cheers for your input however.
Back to subject however. I suspect many Australians think of this place as a monumental tourist trap with little to offer but fake designer merchandise, resorts crowding the shoreline or spoiling the natural surrounds, and boozing yobbos patrolling seedy back lanes. In many ways it is these things, but in many others it is a quite amazing and under-appreciated place, rich with culture and natural wonder, fantastic people and a progressive attitude not found in the rest of Indonesia.
I think it's no wonder that a percentage of Australians from many walks of life have made it our favourite overseas tourist destination. It's close and there is something here for most shapes and sizes. Unfortunately due to recent problems it is mainly returning visitors keeping the place going, and I suspect it's for many of those wrong reasons as listed above as they never seem to leave Kuta. If I was to generalse I'd say the Europeans come here for beaches, tours to outlying areas and cultural events - the Aussies come for $1 DVDs, a bar in the hotel pool and cheap massages with a twist.
Enough of the socio-economic analysis. If you escape the Kuta strip there's good traditional and contemporary culture to be had in a safe, clean and generally modern environment. After a day and a half of boat duties I headed straight to Legian, north of the notorious main drag, and bee-lined for Indra's recommended hotel.
No more than a couple of hours later we were at a beach party held at the very cool Kudeta (Coup d'etat) club, enjoying the sunshine and slick production with a surprisingly beautiful crowd of people. Bubbles floated over the crowd as a helicopter did fly-bys overhead, MTV cameras whirred and waves crashed on the nearby beach. French DJs spun some funky tunes and a masterful bongo player from Singapore added to the great vibe. Very continental indeed - so thanks to the guys in the know - Sami and Indra - and the beautiful Krista for a thoroughly enjoyable day.
Next morning my beard finally came off. I didn't know how to trim it and the bugger was hot and itchy, so when a vote was made in the razor's favour by a motley but representative collection of hotel guests I was happy to comply. It was fun to try and if I ever move proximate to the arctic circle I'll grow another one, but until then I'll have to endure the scraping of cold steel across my sensitive face every day or two. Oh well.
After the 'new guy' routine tricked a few people at breakfast, I had the pleasure of escorting two lovely Swedish girls (Sara and Tura) to the reasonably white sands of Balangan beach to watch Hawaiian Mike carve up the break. On the very southern tip of the island, this is in one of the few areas I haven't visited in a previous adventure, so was good opportunity well taken to check it out. We arrived on a low tide and the waves were a little dumpy on a very shallow reef, so we had a remarkably tasty $1 noodle lunch in a friendly little beachside hut while Mike waited for better conditions.
By mid afternoon both wind and tide came up, seeing the waves peak in the 8 to 10 foot range. There were some excellent surfers weaving their way through the fast and heavy barrels, so it was a entertaining afternoon watching from the comfort and safety of our hut's beach chairs. Taking a dip was more treacherous. The whole beach was lined with sharp rock and coral, making the wearing of reef booties highly advisable. Apparently it's a similar situation at neighbouring beaches such as Dreamland and Uluwatu so if you're looking for a swim or a body surf, stick to the black sand of Kuta and Legian or head somewhere else on the island.
Swedish mate Ove (from previous adventures in Alice Springs and Darwin) turned up later in the stay which was an amusing surprise. I know he'll appreciate me including the following photo.
On one of my last days he and I took a car with Mr Jiggy-jig the tour guide to see the monkeys in the famous Ubud Monkey Forest, the volcanic Mt Batur (still no tramping on one yet), and the presidential temple and summer palace complex at
The monkeys were great value, their antics set in a obviously ancient jungle environment. They are not shy of people and will quite happily stick a hand in your pocket or attempt to undo your fly on the off chance that you have food stuffed in your trousers. Community announcement: don't put any in your pocket! There are a variety of suggestions about not feeding them and what to do if monkeys steal possessions or climb on you, all of which goes out the window once a vendor sells you a bunch of bananas and a horde of them move in for the kill. Thanks Ove for providing that highly amusing entertainment, I'll email the footage soon!
After a stop at some steep and photogenic rice terraces it was off to the volcano. Mt Batur is an interesting series of volcanic vents surrounded by a lovely lake, scorched earth and a suspiciously caldera-looking ring of ruggedly sheer mountains. However it was a disappointment on the whole as we were expecting to visit Mt Agung (the big one) and be able to climb on the mountain itself. After pestering Jiggy-jig to drive down into the caldera (to no avail) all we got to do was view it from a nearby town called Kintamani, famous for persistent vendors and expensive buffet menus catering solely to a procession of volcano-viewing tourists.
For the life of me I can't remember the name of the temple complex, or find it in the Lonely Planet even though the palace overlooking it is ex-president Soekarno's summer residence. However, this hindu temple apparently buzzes 24/7with holy bathing and prayer activity so there was a lot of going on that afternoon. We donned the requisite sarong and sash to make ourselves presentable, and were then allowed to view and photo some pretty striking sculpture and brushwork in the intricately designed prayer houses. As you can see the spring fed pools were where much of the action was too.
A final highlight of my extended stay was a performance of the 'White Monkey' dance over a great meal at a nearby resort. Despite the predominance of Hinduism on this particular island, the local culture seems to share many similarities with its muslim neighbours in the Nusa Tenggara province. However, as we've moved west the sophistication has increased and Bali is no exception. Once again the photos didn't really do it justice, but suffice it to say that it was a colourful, loud and very energetic performance by both dancers and the band - similar to an opera in many ways. Whatever it was it was well worth the $8 meal price.
Apart from that I have spent a lot of time being off the boat, relaxing on the beach, enjoying a few modern conveniences and the company of a great bunch of people in a mellow environment. I also learnt to surf in about an hour (surfing down unbroken waves) which was pretty impressive apparently. What was meant to be a couple of day stopover lasted more than ten days which probably indicates how much fun I had.
I'm ready to move on but can recommend a visit if you have not had the pleasure of visiting Bali as yet. Just ensure you get a hotel outside of Kuta (the Legian area is great) and make sure you get to see some of the more remote parts of the island in spite of the difficulties sometimes encountered trying to get there.
Next entry -> Mt Bromo
Freak of the week
This needs little explanation. Let's just say he's high on life...