Category Archives: Bali

Travelogue Indonesia 4: Sanur and Ubud

SANUR AND UBUD
12-13 June 2015

The fast boat from Lembongan back to the mainland was much smaller than the ones we’d been on previously, taking no more than about 20 people. Presumably this was because of our convenient departure directly from Mushroom Bay and the boats from the main points further up the island would command more traffic. They must have a great understanding of supply and demand as the little boat arrived full and left full, we had no trouble getting a ticket and nobody seemed to have been turned away.

There are 3 boats a day and we’d opted for the 11am to give the best balance of a lie in on the departure side but still a full day to explore on the arrival side. The  concierge (in the loosest use of the word) at our hotel had commended our choice when we’d bought the tickets from him, saying that was low tide. And thank heavens for that; can’t imagine the (unwanted) ab workout my poor unsuspecting relaxed holiday body would’ve had to endure if the tide had been in and our Wave Warrior skipper was crashing through bigger ebs!

On the upside, the journey was barely half an hour.

Arriving in the port, with no sense of direction and no clues on which way to get to our hotel, we dealt with our vulnerability by hailing a taxi. This would have been easier had it not been for the hundreds of scooters parked around the ‘No Parking’ signs, requiring the taxis to do some tricky negotiating to get to the pick-up point.

Our hotel is very swish and right on the beachfront; a real gem of a find, discounted to nothing on Agoda.

Our room wasn’t yet ready (it was barely midday and check-in was at 2) so we left the bags with the porter and took a stroll along the beachfront.

The paved pathway and the endless visual stimulus of activity both in the sea and on the beach kept us entertained, while the feet moved themselves one in front of the other. The stroll that turned into a 10km (according to the pedometer on my phone) walk to the very end of the beach and back!

We did stop for refreshment at Le Pirate, one of the many beachfront cafés. We were lured in by their comfy daybeds, the promise of the icy-cold San Miguels and real authentic Balinese pizza. All of which delivered way beyond expectation and took a huge amount of willpower to break away from.

On return to the hotel, we were surprised to find we’d been upgraded. Instead of the original room we’d been allocated in the back corner, we’d been moved to a stunning garden unit near the pool! Asking no questions, lest a mistake be corrected, we scuttled off to our flash new digs and settled into our new station with no effort at all.

We had searched all along the beachfront for an ATM, without success. In need of cash (we’d spent MILLIONS on the islands… which, at 1000:1 didn’t translate into a fortune in Rands), we caught the hotel’s free shuttle into Sanur town where we were told we would find one.

One? There was a literal bank of them!

Much like the shops that cluster according to what they sell, it seems that all the ATMs are positioned together as well. This is a really silly system – the shops must surely struggle when surrounded by direct competition and the banks would definitely service more people if they expanded their footprint.

And you can’t go without cash like you can at home; while more places accept credit card here than in most of the farflung places we’ve been to, there are still lots of places that don’t. Small traders don’t, taxi drivers don’t and while most hotels and restaurants do, some don’t, so you have to carry cash just in case. Credit card usage also comes at an added 3-5% merchant fee, which stings on top of the 15-21% tax and service fees levied on most bills. By the time you’re done, unless you’re Rain Man, the prices on the bill are only a vague guideline of what you can sort of expect to pay.

Good thing we got cash though as this opened up our dinner options. After a swift sundowner at the hotel pool bar, we headed along the trusty beachpath to find ourselves some dinner.

We found a homely lively real mom ‘n pops seafood shack where we had delicious fresh prawns, deep-fried calamari rings and a brilliant snapper fillet, grilled to perfection in a garlic butter so that the outside had a crisp to it. The food was served with traditional Balinese condiments – a red, slightly grainy hot saucy and an oil-based onion relish.

Thank heavens for the walk back to the hotel after all of that food or we’d never have been able to fulfil our planned early night (in anticipation of our early morning day tour to Ubud).

We did manage to get up at the princely hour of 8.15 (very early by our Bali standards) and took a trot down the now-very-familiar beachfront walkway to look for a tour operator to make our Ubud dreams come true.

Obviously, nobody was open yet.

We found a cleaner who was nice enough to guide us through a windy-windy route of back streets to “where da taxis are”.

Paydirt.

A taxi.

And by that I mean A Single Solitary Taxi.

But we only needed one. And he quoted us 450,000 Rupiah for a half day tour, so we hopped in and headed to Ubud.

The driver introduced himself as Wayan. This seemed quite coincidental as the business card we’d gotten from another tour desk the day before was also someone called Wayan. I asked if this was a common name. The driver explained the firstborn son is always named “Wayan” (meaning oldest), the second is “Made” (middle), the third is “Nyoman” (usually Man for short), and fourth is “Ketut” (often elided to Tut). If you have a fourth son, he’s “Wayan Balik” (Wayan again). So yes, Wayan is a very common name!

Our driver had asked us what we wanted to see on our daytrip and we’d listed the usual suspects: monkeys, temple, market etc… He suggested a detour to the Budsari coffee plantation. Seemed as good an excursion as any, so we approved the suggestion.

We were greeted at the door by a charming young hostess who guided us around a short looping pathway with live exhibits in the gardens on either side. She picked berries and leaves here and there as we went, skinning and splitting so that we could smell and guess. Coffee cherries, vanilla, lemongrass, ginseng, cinnamon… it’s quite hard to pin down the smells without the familiar visuals cues.

The path included a Luwak cage. Luwak coffee is famed to be “the most exotic, rich, smooth and excellent coffee from Bali”. It’s little wonder too, since the bean has such an unconventional journey from tree to cup! They pass through the Paradoxurus (that’s the scientific name, the locals call them Luwak). These little (furry and cute but apparently aggressive) creatures live in the trees and one of their food sources is the red coffee cherry. While the bean is in the chap’s belly it ferments, then exits the animal still intact through the digestive system. The beans are collected from the forest floor, dried, roasted and then ground and sifted by hand until it’s a fine powder. We checked and were assured that the beans are washed twice before being processed.

The tour included a sampling of all of the teas and coffees produced from the spoils of the vegetation we’d seen. Highlights were the mangosteen peel and lemongrass teas for me, Bali and Ginseng coffees for Christian… and finally finding a coffee I like: coconut coffee, which tastes like neither. It tastes like caramel!

He’d also asked what we wanted to buy at the market and when jewellery was on the list, he suggested a stop at Celuk, which is famous for its silversmiths.

He took us to a big company that included a tour on how jewellery to prime you for their ridiculously large, canteen-bright showroom with umpteen display cases glinting with pieces from the completely unimaginative to garish globs of misguided creativity. It was not what we were looking for – I wanted somewhere quaint and charming with original pieces – so we were in and out like a turnstile.

We then took a turn past the Temple. We were given sarongs to tie around our waists before being allowed to enter the sacred grounds. The funny thing is that most of the statues flanking entrances also have sarongs (always a black and white check fabric) placed around their waists, presumably also to preserve their modesty.

The temple complex was nice enough, but we’re still a bit temple fatigued from our past few holidays, so it was a quick 10 minute looksee, contrasting the other tourists who were poring over the exhibits and enjoying lengthy lectures from their guides.

Next stop was one we’d been really looking forward to: the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary.

It’s really awesome. A self-guided walk along smoothly paved pathways (you have no idea how welcome that is after losing a layer of skin on the barefoot beach path walk yesterday) that wind through and past the highlights: main temple, dragon stairs, holy pool, holy spring temple, open stage, deer stable.

The thing we appreciated was that we expected monkey *exhibits*. It’s not. The monkeys live there, wild and free, and you wander through their home; ancient trees with Tarzan hanging vines arching the passageways that only slightly interrupt their habitat. The monkeys are quite used to people and wander among them, occasionally using a person as a post or plucking at an item of interest (which is why you are warned to remove glasses and anything not securely attached to your person).

There are stalls selling bananas – with the proceeds going to the maintenance of the sanctuary – which the monkeys will take right from your hand. There were loads of delighted tourists dangling peels or propping a banana strategically on a shoulder or lap to lure a monkey in for a photo.

For R30 entrance fee it’s well worth doing, and travellers with more sightseeing time (or appetite for temples) could easily entertain themselves there for double or triple the time that we did.

Wayan then took us to the village of Ubud. It had been a consideration for us to split our week between the beach at Sanur and then have a couple of nights inland as a breakaway in Ubud instead of going to the islands as we had done. Thank goodness we did as we did – Ubud is a very busy “sleepy little village”.

It has the expected single lane road, with lovely shops lining it and a really good market… but none of them are pedestrian streets and there is the added complication of cars alongside the squadrons of scooters. It’s mayhem.

We paid a quick visit to the obligatory temple and then focused our energy on jewellery shopping, eventually doing a fantastic job at a shiny little outlet called Kapal Laut (only to find that they have 3 branches in Sanur, so we could just as easily have shopped close to home. Doh!).

Wayan then suggested that we lunch at the rice paddy, which was a fabulous idea (especially since we hadn’t had a formal breakfast, opting to snack in the car to save time).

He took us to a big and bustling restaurant, where we got a front and centre table overlooking the tranquil rice paddy terraces so, with our back to everyone, it was quite peaceful.

We savaged a crispy duck – delicious! – and paired it with a juicy chicken curry. We certainly have eaten well this holiday!

The drive home was delayed somewhat by a traffic jam coming out of Ubud where a cremation ceremony was blocking the road. Apparently this is quite commonplace and, being the spiritual people they are, the drivers just grin and bear it. It seems hard work being a Hindu: all the shrines, offerings, obligatory decor and regalia, ceremonies and lots and lots of patience.

Every hotel we’d been at dotted banana leaves with petals and incense sticks about the place several times a day. The houses we drove past, no matter how humble, had murals moulded into their walls and sculpted into their cornices, statues in their entrances and shrines taking up most of their gardens. Traffic circles were stages for resplendent displays of mammoth stone statues illustrating religious tableau. It’s fascinating. Especially for the uninitiated.

We’d managed to tick off everything we wanted to see – and more! – on our short tour, so the plan was to spend the afternoon relaxing at the pool. Having had such luck with the hidden pool on Gili T, we decided to follow the signs to the smaller pool in our hotel complex. Hardly small by any means, it was a series of 3 pools, the largest being very deep at around 7ft, separated from the smaller, shallower two by a little waterfall tunnel.

Perfect to wile away a couple of hours.

Our original plan was to have a farewell seafood dinner in Jimbaran, the fisherman beach on the far side of the peninsula. The restaurants provide free transfers and the hotel had already recommended the one they considered best… but it seemed like a mission, so we walked down our road to the Cat & Fiddle Irish Pub instead.

It was a good decision and we enjoyed a relaxed evening, singing along to the cover band. And, for an Irish pub, they served a legit rendang (for Christian) and fisherman’s pie (like a cottage pie but creamed white fish instead of mince, for me).

A great last hoorah for an excellent stay in Bali!

Travelogue Indonesia 3: Lembongan

LEMBONGAN
10-12 June 2015

Christian’s commitment to punctuality combined with Bali’s promise of delivering the predictably unpredictable made for quite a lengthy wait for the boat. Really not so bad though; we passed the half hour viewing the bright sunny midday from the comfort of the shade under the giant TRAWANGAN sign, with soft sand under our bare feet.

The cause of the delay became apparent as our boat docked. A rowdy group of American “Uncle Ed’s 50th Bday Tour” partygoers spilled out onto the beach. One quite literally, dropping her backpack into the sea while attempting an epically clumsy disembark. There was a tour leader with a flag on a stick (that gave away the theme of the group trip) running here and there, barking orders to the rebellious, issuing encouragement to the hapless and sweating up a storm while trying to herd her proverbial cats. 

We headed right into the airconditioned cabin, still freshly reminded by the learning-the-hard-way sunburn that the open-air deck choice had taught our virgin skin en route from Padangbai. Christian’s shoulders were still angry red (leaving a very white skin chest vest) and my thighs and feet were still the shade of bright pink normally reserved for nail polish (and toenail polish at that!) so, factor 50 or no factor 50, we were avoiding continued exposure at all costs.

The boatride proved to be longer than we’d hoped, stopping twice on the journey to Padangbai, then requiring a change to a smaller boat as we arrived into a channel on Lembongan that must’ve been too shallow for our bigger fast boat.

All in all, it took 3 hours on the boat to get from Gili T to Lembongan, but 4 hours door-to-door as the harbour, of course, was on the exact opposite side of the island to where we needed to be. The boat tickets all include transfer service and this one was an bakkie convert with shadecloth roof and cushioned benches along the sides.

We were the last passengers to be dropped off so the journey fortuitously doubled as an island tour, which presented inland to be little more than a network of single lane once-tarred roads that spidervein from the apex down to beach access around the coastline. The roads were riddled with tourists on scooters, jiggling their merry way from one point to another, which wordlessly determined our mutual decision to not become part of this most misguided biker gang.

Having dropped our co-passengers at various fancy resorts, we were preparing for the disappointment of being, like them, placed clifftop with lovely views of the sea but no direct access to it. Fortunately, our fears were unfounded and we were deposited on the edge of the beach, where a porter from our hotel was waiting to escort us to our lodgings two doors down.

Lembongan Island while by no means big is much bigger than the Gili Islands we’d come from, so I’d agonised a bit on where we should position ourselves. The shortlist became the main length of beach that stretches from the left tip to more or less the centre of the island (as viewed from Bali mainland) versis a quiet cove adjacent to it, called Mushroom Bay. The name won me over and that’s how we found ourselves staying at Lambung Beach Huts right on the waters of Mushroom Beach.

The accommodation was superb. We had a beach hut wooden bungalow, two storeys with a (completely outdoor) bathroom and (partly outdoor) daybed patio beneath the upstairs loft bedroom with balcony overlooking the sea, through the frangipani and palms. Again with a 4-poster bed and fresh white linens. Idyllic!

With sunset rapidly approaching, we headed straight out to grab a sundowner. We walked the full stretch of our beach (200m or so) to assess our options and end up at the farthest hotel, the Mushroom Beach Bungalows, which won thanks to it’s sea-facing deck, infinity pool and pretty glowing lanterns easing in the nighttime.

We had a few Bintangs while soaking up the tranquility of the evening at the cove from our prime vantage point, and ended up staying for dinner.

Unable to decide between the dishes on our shortlist we ordered all 3 – which isn’t as gluttonous as it sounds as Indonesian portions are considerably smaller than ours – and were soon (very soon; nothing takes more than 10 minutes) languishing a snapper with salsa topping, red prawn curry and a seafood platter with calamari, tuna fillet and prawns. All beautifully fresh, no doubt from the day’s catch on the island.

Our hosts at the hotel had done a hard sell on their dinner offering when we checked in; their dinner kitchen presumably a big part of their trade since there was no pool to attract other guests during the day. We felt a bit bad as we return triumphant from a first evening and great dinner and proactively quelled any guilt we might’ve felt (or questions they might’ve posed) by ordering a couple of Bintangs to take back to our balcony as nightcaps.

Breakfast at the hotel was a casual affair, under the shaded thatch with beachsand floor. The food was excellent though, with freshly squeezed orange juice, toast with eggs of any preference… and bacon! Really good bacon too, sort of streaky rashers with a lovely generous length of fat like back bacon – truly best of both!

We’d already decided the day would be a relaxed beachy one, but figured we’d best sate the curiosity on what comprised our little neck of the woods. We took a walk up the road – or maybe that should read “The Road” since there was only one – and saw that there was not much to see.

Lots of construction going on; presumably new villas and lodges based on signage and foundations. Building is a very manual process and largely undisciplined from what we could see. Can’t blame them really, being 11am and hot as Hades! (And this is technically winter, Bali being 8 degrees south of the Equator).

Confident that we’d “supervised” enough, we assessed the beachfront options and chose to fritter away the day at the Sedag Resort, mostly because of the novelty of finding our own private infinity pool. Terraced just below the main pool, our little slice of paradise had a ledge just big enough for our 2 loungers and an umbrella, and a pool about twice the size of our own at home but only a metre deep… and spilling over into the bay below. Perfect view of everything; perfect getaway from everyone.

The afternoon drew to a close with us returning to our bungalow at sunset for sundowners on our balcony. All very relaxing.

Having enjoyed our 3-between-2 ordering the night before, we again exercised the right not to have to choose and split a beef rendang stew, chicken curry and a seafood platter that included calamari stuffed with tuna – the best thing I have tasted in as long as I can remember! Mental note to self to try and make tuna meatballs on returning home!

…which was approaching all too soon.

We had already arranged (with our front desk) our boat tickets for the following morning to fetch us directly from Mushroom Beach to return us to the mainland for the last leg of the Bali itinerary, in Sanur. Slow island life sure goes by faster than you want it to!

Travelogue Indonesia 2: Gili Trawangan

GILI TRAWANGAN
8-10 June 2015

After a decadently long and delicious slumber, we finally arose with half an hour to pick-up time (the transfer to the port for the fast boat to Gili T). Fortunately, both dressing and packing were lighting-quick jobs, so we were out the door minutes later.

It had literally just started to rain as we were locking up our suite so, grateful for our ultralight beach holiday packing, we grabbed our suitcases and made a mad dash across the pool terrace. Sopping from the sprint in the tropical squall, we sat down to peruse the breakfast menu… as the rain stopped. We’d managed to get caught end-to-end in the only-a-minute-long downpour. That has to be lucky, like rain on your wedding day!

Breakfast was a simple offering of melons (that I didn’t eat, thanks Nordic Ice), egg toastie (very welcome) and black tea for me (will try and get used to that) and coffee for Christian  (the type that leaves a black slick down the cup and a silt layer on the bottom, but he seemed to like it).

We were ready and waiting in the reception at 10, as instructed, and when the transfer driver hadn’t arrived by 10.15 we asked the reception to call them. The receptionist seemed puzzled by our request and kept pointing at the wall clock… which had stopped… and showed 9.45. It took some convincing to get them to call, and the verdict was “on their way”. Obviously Bali Time works the same as ours back home.

Minutes later our transfer arrived.

An ancient wrinkly man on a Vespa.

For the 2 of us and our suitcases.

He tried to gesture that he’d take us one at a time (with a suitcase)… but we showed him the Yellow Pages, communicating that we would rather walk. The compromise was that we would hoof it and he would take the bags.

So, with that, we walked from our hotel at the end of the beach, along the harbour, all the way to the other far end of town: 300 metres and 5 minutes later, were at the Ticket Office collecting our boarding passes, still well in time for our 10.30 boarding (for the fast boat that ended up being 20 minutes late. Bali Time strikes again!)

We had bought the full Padangbai – Gili T – Lembongan – Sanur ticket all in one go, so were relieved when the boat ride was comfortable (and quick) enough. We sat on the flat rooftop to enjoy the view in the pleasant cool of the overcast morning, eavesdropping on the coversations around us for entertainment.

On arrival in Trawangan, we were surprised to see a porter awaiting our arrival, welcome sign ‘n all. Who knows how long he’d been waiting there seeing as I’d not told the hotel where we’d be coming from for them even to hedge their bets on multiple boat arrival times per origin.

He led us across (what we were to discover is) the main road (that runs along the beachfront all the way around the island) and down a side street. A short 45 metres (according to the signage) later, we arrived at Secret Garden 2. Our accommodation was quite true to the pictures online – roomy wooden A-frame bungalow, decorated to within an inch of its life with mammoth four-poster bed with draped mosquito netting taking up most of it, and elaborate framed painting of Buddha on the black and white speckled feature wall and enormous mural of the caricature-ish Indian dancers with gold spot-colour accents and a heavy wooden frame above the full length of the head of the bed, that would surely kill – or at least maim – us in our sleep should it choose to fall.

Our bathroom was interesting, accessed from the main room through a clear glass sliding door, exposing it to have a shoulder height wall and open air in the triangle of the A-frame. I’d booked us upstairs hoping that we’d be able to see the sea from our entrance balcony… but that was a fail since we’re facing away from the sea, ao have a lovely view of the homestays below and behind, and a construction site for another building of condos directly opposite. The flatscreen TV bragged about in the ad must’ve been taken really close up as it’s the tiniest cutest TV you ever have seen! The screen is only just bigger than Christian’s tablet (but with it all the way across the room, it’s a challenge for even the eagle-eyed!) A nice touch to include not only a DVD player but a sleeve of DVDs (movies and series) as well.

We didn’t come to Gili T to watch TV though, so we set about our adventuring post haste. My One Thing I wanted for our stay here was to circumnavigate the island (estimated at 8km from what we’d read), so we started with that. Back to the main road and taking a left. The main town section had almost a double lane (unmarked, with no clear indication from travellers as to whether there was a right or wrong side in either direction); the rest was all a single lane shared, at times quite noisily, by its users.

There are no cars or motorbikes (thankfully, because Padangbai was quite “busy” with its 2-wheel mavericks), just lots of horse-drawn carriages (all with jingling bells; the reason why the holiday song snippet stuck in my head was “… lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you!”) and tourists on bicycles (who clearly don’t ride at home, so wobble and panic about the place), sharing the path with lots of barefooted, barechested and often barely aware pedestrians, so it’s chaos.

We managed the full island lap in what would have been just under 2 hours if we hadn’t stopped at The Exile: a most excellent beachfront pub and restaurant, where we sampled bone-chillingly cold Bintangs (served in an enormous bottle somewhere between a quart and a litre, but unmarked so it’s a mystery) and marvelled at the beautiful water that graded from turquoise at the shoreline to deep navy blue on the horizon, broken only by the tourists lounging on the hammocks and sitting on the swings installed in the shallower waters for their amusement.

On our way back into town we spotted a sign for a “hidden pool bar” which was an irresistible allure (completely overshadowing the same-size “residents only” sign beneath it). The pool was gorgeous: crystal clear, warm as a bath with a swim-up sunken bar with submerged cocktail seats… and half-price cocktails to boot! With that we frittered away the sunset hours in complete bliss. Longest I’ve swum in can’t remember how long!

Celebrating our little find, we vowed to return in the morning for the aqua-biking (underwater exercise bikes) workout session, thinking that exercise in this environment could only be a pleasure and, at 9am, surely easily possible.

We celebrated our great decision-making with a post-sundowner at Tir Na Nog, “the biggest Irish bar on the smallest island in the world”, where we had a Guinness (in a bottle, unusual for us) and an invite to quiz night (1 million Rupiah bar tab up for grabs!) the following evening. Game on!

Delighted at how the day had turned out, we were blind-sided by an Indian restaurant that cast aside all good intentions to eat only local food. It was a good call with a very satisfying lamb vindaloo and butter chicken to share, served with 2 types of rice and peculiar round crispy naan bread. Very nice.

Last mission was to source a snorkelling trip for the following day, which we did with ease since everything was still open and the tour guides still pedalling a fine trade well into the night from the tourists spilling out from all the restaurants and bars. R100 each for a 10-3, 3 island snorkelling excursion? Bargain!

I woke up (with holiday hair so exhuberant that it may preclude me from further holiday pics) at 9.15, so we’d completely missed our Hidden Pool workout (phew!)

… and we set off for breakfast.

The hotel gave us vouchers for a beachside restaurant called Egoiste. A lot more lush than we were expecting from a free breakfast, thrown in with such economy accommodation, we were treated to 2 eggs on 2 toasts with a delicious pineapple smoothie, served in a large parfait glass with a bendy straw. Delicious – and a good refuel for the day’s adventure.

It’s great that town is one main road, as we simply walked back in the direction we’d come  from the previous night until things started looking familiar and then hunted the tour office from the name on the booking stub. Easy peasy and we were soon equipped with fins, masks and snorkels and off to the boat, the Coral Voice.

The boat trip was a great decision! The Gili collection of islands consists of ours – the biggest, Gili Trawangan, the farthest from Lombok (the “mainland” island; we’re not in Bali anymore) – then Gili Meno in the middle and Gili Air closest to Lombok. The islands get more chilled as you get closer to Lombok. You can see Gili Meno from Gili T, but it obscures Gili Air, that in turn obscures Lombok, with its lovely hilly coastal facade. It is cool that each island has a horizon view of its neighbours.

Our boat trip took us first down the coastline of our own Gili T, where we were deposited in a serene azure patch of ocean with visibility easily 30-40 metres. I don’t know anything about fish, but the schools were plentiful, colourful and energetically weaving in and around the coral bed so there was plenty to watch!

After half an hour we were called back to the boat to transfer to Gili Meno where the skipper jumped into the water and took us on a guided snorkel, pointing out things of interest and guiding us to where turtles swam beneath and jellyfish-looking things swam between us.

We were then off to Gili Air, where we were again given a half hour to paddle about and admire the under- and above-water sights. The boat moored on the shore so we could grab some lunch at one of the beachside eateries. We delved into local cuisine with a capcay (sweet and sour veg with seafood) and ayam pelecing (spicy chicken), both served with rice and both very tasty.

The food was served very quickly, so we still had some time to spare on our lunch break to have a wander down the main road on Gili Air. Much quieter and more laid back; far less people, narrower road, no horsecarts… but still loads of restaurants and bars, so hardly remote in the strict sense of the word.

By the time we got home to our own Gili it was after 3pm. That was an incredible excursion for 100 SA Ronds each!

Having been told there is only one boat a day from Gili T to Lembongan  (our next stop), we did the wise thing and took our tickets to the boat company office to do pre- check-in and secure our places for the next day. Reassuringly, they already had our names on the list so it was a 2 minute process.

Sight-seeing and admin done for the day, we retired to our Hidden Pool at Villa Ombak for sundowners.

As nice as all our wallowing in the sea and pool had been, a shower was very welcome after the long day. As the central part of our open plan, open air bathroom, the outsized showerhead could sadly only be described as a “rain shower” if it were actually raining! Really dismal water pressure! Fortunately, we were in no hurry, so showering became as laidback and leisurely as an excursion all in itself.

The plan for the evening was the quiz night at Tir Na Nog, leaving an hour and a half for dinner. We’d become quite accustomed to the layout of town by now… and done considerable deliberation on our back and forths as to where to sample an authentic Indonesian meal. It had taken quite a bit of willpower not to participate in the Irish Pub’s Mexican Fiesta buffet (R90, including a Bintang).

We ended up back at Egoiste, where we’d had breakfast, at a stunning table on the beachfront. We had a Mie Goreng (like Nasi Goreng, but noodles instead of rice) and Rendang (lightly spiced beef stew). Both devine – worth another order for sure!

The quiz night was well-supported, held across the road from the beach front bar in a big open-air hall structure extension to the restaurant. We did very well initially, being in tie for 1st place at halftime. Sadly though, Round 4 was all about Indonesia… a subject which we (very apparently) know nothing about. With a 0/8 for that section, we slid to 4th place. We managed to gain some ground back on the last round and ended in a very respectable tie for 2nd place. So, we didn’t walk away with the 1 million Rupiah bar tab first place prize – thankfully!!

We’d have had no trouble finding a welcoming recipient for our spoils had we won the tab and wanted to cede it to someone. The pub, like the whole street, was buzzing. Lots of pubs had live music and there were more than enough party-people to ensure that no band went lonely. It’s a great hair-down, shoes-off town – and we were definitely among the oldest people!

It’s been equally weird not seeing a single Saffa here and seeing so many young (twenty-something, mostly Australian, but healthy portions of American and Brit) tourists staying in the flash resorts, normally full to bursting with aged Germans. Illustrates the combination of rustic, party appeal with cheap island lifestyle for the world’s stronger currencies. Drinking here is more expensive than at home, but with eating considerably cheaper and transport and excursions dirt cheap, what is a reasonably priced holiday for us must be a steal for them! Especially thr Australians since Indonesia is on their doorstep so am sure they benefit from Asian budget airline prices too.

We had good intentions for our last morning – circumnavigating the island  (*again*) on bicycle.

I must admit that we may very well have overslept and missed it, had it not been for the Muslims. Mosques are the Dachshund puppies of places of worship. While a church might rouse you momentarily with clangs or chimes, mosques are relentless with all that wailing! Our luck, our bungalow was spitting distance from a very punctual, very enthusiastic mosque.

We were told that the cycle would take an hour and a half, we budgeted an hour and only took 45 minutes… even with Christian’s wobbly seat and puncture 10 minutes in. It was a far less white-knuckle ride than the one in Amsterdam last year but, then again, it was emptier (9am is very early for the late night culture) and flatter (literally at sea level, obviously)… and not to say that it wasn’t hair-raising for every one of the oncoming pedestrians caught deer in my headlights and for me with every oncoming horsecart (with their cheerful jingling sounding quite macabre).

Worked up quite a hunger for brekkie, which made the Egoiste’s already-excellent eggs on toast most appreciated. I have also discovered that I might be a fruit-drinker, after being a vocally averse fruit-eater my whole life. The fresh blended banana juice was every bit as yummy – and every bit as “nothing but fruit” – as the pineapple one had been the previous day, neither of which I would ever have ordered under normal circumstances.

Motivated by the restart of the James Blunt CD on repeat, we took a last walk along the beach, back to Secret Garden 2 for a last jump in the shower(room) and off to the jetty for the next installment of Bali Adventure 2015.

Travelogue Indonesia 1: Bali – Padang Bai

BALI – Padang Bai
07 June 2015

We could not have picked a better time to take our winter break. En route to work, in the dark, on the morning of our travel, the pretty little blue snowflake icon on the car digital dashboard did nothing to warm my heart, let alone thaw my numb toes. It was, not to be dramatic, the coldest day in the world.

A day that flew though in the usual mad dash to the finish line. It was a relief to sink into the outsized wingback chair at the Shongolo lounge – with an enormous glass of pinotage and a plateful of stroganoff – knowing that Out Of Offices were activated, dogs were all safely at their respective Holiday Camps, car was valet parked and baggage was checked. Our biggest challenges for the next 24 hours were to choose channels, decide between chicken and beef (with the odd fish curveball, no doubt) and to try and get some – but not too much – rest on the flights to optimise our acclimation on The Other Side.

It’s a real “planes, trains and automobiles” to get to Bali (doing it our way, that is). The usual Joburg to Dubai hop was a well-practiced cinch, the transit skip a great opportunity to catch up on some steps (almost 6000 end-to-end in our Terminal, celebrated with extortionate R151 pints at the Heineken Bar) and the 7,5 hour jump to Jakarta quite painless, thanks to Big Bang Theory Season 8 and Brooklyn Nine Nine Season 2 boxsets on Emirates’s unbeatable entertainment system.

Arriving in Jakarta, we were greeted by a slightly shabby but spotless Terminal. It was the understated utilitarian set-up we’d expected… but what we didn’t expect was the magnitude of the airport complex. Landing at 11pm and flying out again the next morning at 10am, I’d booked us into the Airport Hotel, conveniently situated (as all the online literature said) right in Terminal 1. Typically though, we’d flown into Terminal 2 and were to fly out of Terminal 3 the next day. And the terminals are spread generously over the airport complex, requiring a (fantasy) shuttle bus (which we gave 20 minutes of doubt’s benefit) or a taxi (a bargain at R40 for the convenience, especially since I was still in my thermal vest and approaching expiration at a rate far quicker than the fantasy shuttle’s alleged arrival).

Our hotel, the d’Prima, was pleasant and our room small but perfect for what we needed: barely enough width for suitcases (big but empty, at an unprecedented 10kg Travel Light Record each) on either side of the big, white, poofy-pillowed, silky-cotton-sheeted, perfectly-horizontal, no-belt-buckled bed; airconditioned heaven, it was. And Christian, a bath of perspiration from the stifling humidity, was thrilled to have a long, cool shower.

The hotel stay included breakfast. We weren’t expecting much since our induction included a vague wave toward a coffee bar counter and the instruction that breakfast is “only” served between 4 and 10am.

We were pleasantly surprised the next morning when we were told the breakfast du jour (and probably every jour actually) was a roti, expecting the cheese-filled pancake sort of thing we’d had in Sri Lanka. It was nothing of the sort – and nothing like we’d have called a roti. A warm bun with a cover layer that looked and tasted like a soft fortune cookie, with something sweet melted in the centre that must’ve been syrup-inspired because the overall flavour was like a waffle or one of those steam puddings you have to make in a double-boiler so the syrupy sauce runs down the outside when you turn them out of the pot. It looked plain and I was expecting it to need condiments to jazz it up… but it was so soft, warm and moist that the whole thing was gone before I could really bed down the flavour and its genius contributors. Mental note to try those again to get a handle on them properly.

Breakfast came with tea and coffee, both served black as standard and requiring me to ask for milk for my tea. The breakfast bar attendant seemed surprised by my request, but complied. Mental note also to try tea black and see if the local brew somehow justifies the absence of dairy.

Catching a taxi to the (correct) Terminal was easy. All we had to do was step out of the hotel and we had drivers flock to us.

The flight check-in was equally simple with a very uncluttered Terminal thanks to the banks of machines outside where passengers could check themselves in, print their own boarding passes and even print their own luggage tags. And everybody actually does it. At home we seems to have a very laggard attitude to new technologies, queuing for habit’s sake and wordlessly committing to progress “next time”.

By stark contrast to the already-29-degrees morning weather, the plane was bloody freezing! Christian loved it, of course, (already glistening from the short trot across the runway to alight the plane) and I fear that hour and a half onboard Air Asia Refrigeration might rank as one of the highlights of his holiday for him.

I appeased his reintroduction to Outside with a “Welcome to Bali” Burger King lunch (still at the airport) and joked that I’m going to submit the tillslip with my tax return since it said R149,000 at the bottom. We’re going to spend like millionaires this holiday!!

It was easy to get a taxi; again, stand and let the drivers come to you. R400 for a 2 hour transfer down the coast to Padang Bai? Bargain!

The drive itself was interesting too. The airport isn’t actually in Denpasar, but in Kuta. We’d been advised not to stay in Kuta (on our return to the mainland at the end of our itinerary) because it’s too hectic and touristy… and this advice rang true in just the small bit of it we saw on our evac route. We did drive past Sanur Beach, where we will be staying, and saw Lambongan Island distant on the horizon, which made me a bit giddy from excitement, seeing all the topography from my flat online planning take shape before my very eyes! And the aircon in the car was blasting so Christian was happy too.

The transfer was slow going, mostly because of single carriageway and the type of traffic rather than the amount. It gave time to take in the sights – very tropical with lots and lots of frangipani and palm trees, and small square pagoda-style buildings close to the road. Bali is *very* Hindu so the houses and gardens all have adornments and intricate statues that keep the eye busier than this flash tour does justice.  Although maybe “flash” is an overstatement as at one point a hotel salesman pulled up on his Vespa alongside our driver, knocked on the window and a proceeded to hard sell… all at 40km per hour!

First stop in “town” was to get our boat tickets sorted for our island-hopping, more by our driver’s insistence than our request, so he presumably gets a kickback. Happily so, since it was quick and easy to sort the lot and that concluded the admin for this holiday, especially since the boat ticket includes door-to-door transfers to the port.

The driver then dropped us at our hotel, a charming place at the end of the waterfront called Beji Bay. It exceeded expectations from the sweet open-air reception, through the gardens and pool area to our roomy suite!

Eager to explore, we headed straight out and hit a right to “town”. We traversed the harbour and concentric inland areas of activity to get a lay of the land (and do some market shopping, for a Bintang vest for Christian and some swim shorts for me), and then passed our resort to go up the hill to explore the resort and temple.

Confident we’d done the small town justice, we resigned to our pool. Well, pools, considering it was an infinity jacuzzi into a big pool into a paddle pool. We had the place to ourselves, which was great for a splash around and relax.

Next activity had been pre-decided early on. We’d spotted a cocktail bar with an appealing happy hour from 5-7 that reminded us of the place in Mauritius that had served us so well. So that’s what we did!

The whole waterfront strip was quite quiet, but at least Padangbai Bay Resort had some lads at the bar, some ladies on the terrace and some divers preparing for their night dive. Weirdly, the Bintang only comes in 300ml or 700ml… so we worked our way through the large ones as the waiters refreshed our complimentary popcorn. It was only when the bill came and there was a 21% mandatory service charge that we realised why the staff was so attentive!

From there we surveyed the eating options in an effort to find somewhere both atmospheric and appealing. Instead, we found Molly’s… and had to stop in for the sake of homage to Christian’s local at home, Molly Malone’s.

By then, the dinner crowd had started moving in and we found ourselves at the upstairs front-and-centre harbour front restaurant (Kerti’s) that Christian had liked from the start. Unable to decide, we ended up ordering the marlin, tuna and prawns to share… a bargain at R45 per main course dish, so why choose?! All delicious, and quite different to the way they’d have been prepared and presented at home, with a tasty spicy brothy gravy.

We’d obviously made the right choice in eatery as most of the people we’d noticed passing had ended up moving through while we were there. Winning!