Beautiful Bali but "No thank you"…
We arrived in Bali ready for some serious tanning action and boy did we get it. On our first morning we were up and out early and took a short walk down to the beach in Kuta, it took all of ten minutes but we nearly passed out with heat exhaustion several times on the way. As you know well, we are both big sun worshipers and love the heat but this was a different type of heat, 35 degrees combined with 95% humidity - pretty intense. The journey wasn't made easier by the amount of people trying to sell us something, everything from sunglasses, to 'massages', hair braiding (even Steve!!) or transport. It soon became clear that we would be saying "no thank you" more than anything else while in Bali. To give you an idea we estimated over a hundred times a day. Although we know that this is how some made their living, when you are walking down a street wearing a hat, sunglasses and a watch, why do they insist on selling you more of the same? Why not go for a wallet or sun cream? We also feel obliged to mention our dear friend who stood by the road all day, everyday relentlessly trying to sell just one pair of sunglasses, he had no stock or range, he didn't even have a shop, but that didn't stop him trying. Hopefully someone someday will buy them glasses.
The beach was beautiful and well worth the walk. Kuta has a big surf culture and we could see why, big rollers coming in time and time again, and apparently this is the 'off season' for the waves. We didn't get round to trying our hand at surfing but had plenty of fun jumping, or more often than not, being thrown around by the waves. The sea was so clear and warm and lovely for swimming in once you got out far enough. Our only real complaint about the beach in Kuta was again the number of people trying to sell us things, it didn't stop all day long and they would just come and pick up your foot and start massaging it while you were half asleep so you really had to have your wits about you and be quite firm. The beach from Kuta goes up to two joining towns, Legain and Seminyak. The sellers eased up a little as you went further away from Kuta, but the prices increased for both beer (Steve) and water (Jackie) so we just put up with the sellers the best we could.
We stayed in a lovely bungalow in a beautiful resort, it had very traditional wooden Balinese architecture and a swimming pool surrounded by flowers, quite different to the city hostels we had experienced. Steve managed to get friendly with one of the staff Okon, who happened to grow up on the Gili Islands, our next destination, so he successfully squeezed every last drop of information out of him.
Kuta was a little commercial. It had a fantastic nightlife vibe and was full of Australians, but sadly you could not get away from the 24 hour McDonalds which delivered to any hotel in Bali - we managed to avoid it completely, trusting in local food which did not disappoint. Occasionally, local for Steve meant Pizza, but we were very adventurous, trying different varieties of Asian foods, all for next to nothing.
After four days of intense sunshine, we departed Kuta heading for the island of Lombok. This meant/or was meant to mean a very early start, catching a bus at 6am for which we needed a 5am alarm call. Thinking he was still at home, and this was the alarm for work, Steve rolled over and turned it off. At 5.40, Steve woke, as if late for work, and the panic unfolded. Although packed, the mosquito net, the towels and last odds and sods were rammed into the packs and off we ran. Jackie, bless her, is only a foot taller than her pack (which weighs in at almost half her body weight) and it must have been amusing for anyone looking on to see her walk turn into a mini run as we made our way to the coach with seconds to spare.
An hour and a half coach journey took us up to the cultural city of Ubud, in the centre of Bali, which looked, in comparison, like it had not been touched. A jungle city with a monkey sanctuary and jaw dropping views of the awe inspiring Mount Gunung Agung. We cruised through on the way to the port of Padangbai where we would catch the public ferry over to Lombok.
As it sounds, the Public Ferry was full of locals and a few travelers, with very limited or basic facilities - the loo indescribable. As we took our seat on a bench we started chatting to a German traveler called Michael. Probably in his early 50's, Michael was going to Lombok with the sole mission of climbing Mount Ranjani. Unfortunately, as we were soon to find out, his mission and our hope of sunbathing soon disappeared as Lombok, due to its mountainous terrain, was usually covered in cloud and drizzle.
The boat journey was long but smooth enough. 5.5 hours in total which soon went by, teaching Michael (and Jackie) how to play card games, sleeping, reading and looking out at the turquoise sea, which was really beautiful, but unfortunately in places covered in litter. It is a real shame, but the locals are guilty of dumping rubbish into the Indian Ocean, probably because it costs them money to take it back on land. However, the biggest concern has to be to the sea life, no doubt killing or poisoning their fantastic array of tropical fish.
We thought we had made good time, approaching Lombok, and literally hundreds of yards from the shore when we realized the catch. The ferry waited for an hour and half just meters from shore, as locals came on board consistently trying to sell more stuff to those who would pay them attention - again more "no thank you" repeat to fade.
Once on shore, we again boarded a small bus to take us to the resort of Sengiggi. We were the only two on the bus, and the driver dropped us literally at the door of three hotels for us to size up and barter with. We decided upon Batu Balong Cottages, a very nice garden hotel (and cheap) with individual huts which would be our home for the next two nights.
In comparison to Bali, there is not one. It was so quiet. Yes the odd man still tried to sell a watch or a pair of shades, but it was nice to escape the hustle and bustle. Our hotel had a swimming pool which looked out onto an un-spoilt and deserted beach and sea. Lombok is a volcanic island, and the sand a dark ash brown, which seemed a shame as it was so deserted it could have been paradise.
A walk into the main resort, literally one main road, gave us a good choice for both restaurants and bars, but "The Beach Club" next to our hotel had the most relaxed atmosphere and also served fantastic curries.
We had intended to stay for three nights, but after two we felt that we had seen all that Sengiggi had to offer and with the addition of rain and cloud, we decided it was time to head to paradise, in the form of the Gili Islands, just a short boat trip away. An hour and half latter we arrived at Gili Tarwangan the furthest of the three islands from Lombok.
To give this little island some context, you can walk around the island in 1.5hr, cycle round it (as we will come back to) in 40 minutes, and if you tried the magic mushrooms on the island, probably fly round it in 50 seconds. It is small, but a real piece of paradise.
Glistening white beaches and the most see-through water either of us had ever put our little toes in. The boat that brought us across from Lombok was glass bottomed and you could tell the potential of the island for both diving and snorkeling.
Pretty much one side of the island has been developed for tourism, with plenty of nightlife and restaurants to choose from. All the "homestays" (hostels) were along the same side of the island and the 1,000 or so population lived behind this strip, in shanty style accommodation, out of the eye's view.
The biggest difference on this island compared to both Lombok and Bali is lack of transportation aside from horse and cart. It made the world of difference and meant that the only time we had to say no thank you was when asked to purchase either weed or magic mushrooms.
We walked to a recommended hostel called Ozzy's and this became our home for the next few days. Clean, big and fronting onto paradise. The first full day there was spent relaxing on the beach. It was hot. Not as intense as Bali but just as hot and we both worked on our base tans. We also hired snorkels to have a look what was floating about in this beautiful ocean. Steve had never snorkeled in his life - much to Jackie's amazement and amusement - see the video on the blog to find out why.
Take one step into the bath-like Indian Ocean, put your head below water and you will be amazed at what you will see. The coral is quite close to the beach and within yards of entering the sea you are swimming with Nemo, looking at the most beautiful tropical fish and being nipped by some small but not dangerous jelly fish.Venture out 15 yards further and the shelf would drop off into the abyss. This scared the little flippers off of Steve, who despite being a relatively good swimmer, had not realized the dark chasm which is the ocean - although he soon became use to it and a good job too as we were going on a mini adventure the next day.
That night, we met spent the evening with a couple we met, both from Kent - small world. James and Nicky were also traveling round the world, but mainly in the Far East. This may have been the first night that we pushed the boat out and Steve was a little bit tipsy, but of course Jackie is never tipsy…?
The next day we booked to go on an all day snorkeling trip. This took us to four dive sites around the three Gili Islands. It was at the first site that we both saw the biggest fish we would see on this excursion. Starring at both of us, this fish sat looking demon-like at the bottom of the ocean, sheltered by a piece of over hanging coral. The monster (as Steve calls it) had a pair of gnashers that would have opened a can of soup. Suddenly, Steve's mask filled up with water and Jackie could see by the look in his eye that he wanted to get back on the boat.
Next stop - Turtle Point. Wow. I am not sure that words can describe how graceful these creatures are. How can something so huge, move through the water so quietly, and so unaware that we were all directly above him watching him do so. In thirty minutes, we saw 7 different turtles as our guide swam to the bottom of the ocean to point them out and ask them politely to swim for us.
The next stop was like being in an aquarium. The guide had a handful of food for the fish, and all of a sudden we were swimming with them as they all made their way to the hand that fed them.
The only issue, we were to later find, out about snorkeling all day, is the sun burn you get on your back and back of the legs which we both suffered with later that day.
That evening we met again with our new found friends, and it was then that we had our first upset of the trip. Steve was quite poorly, not through drink for a change. He had picked up a sickness bug of some sort and spent the next 20 hours or so being sick and feeling sorry for himself. Not wanting to leave Jackie out, he then passed on the bug and Jackie spent the following day being sick, share and share alike!
Once recovered, we both resumed our position on the beach soaking up the last of the rays and relaxing. Unfortunately for Jackie, her chilled out and mellow disposition was some what disturbed when a naughty money lurking on the beach swiped her Ray Ban sunglasses off her head and proceeded to run up a tree and eat them (yes EAT them!) in front of her very eyes. Despite much screaming, stamping and eventually tears, nothing could be done to save the sunglasses and they remained in Gili T, inside the monkey's tummy - well probably not anymore…
Before long it was time to make the long journey back to Singapore via Kuala Lumpur. On Thursday just gone, we traveled back to Bali, waving goodbye to the glorious Gili Islands. A coach and then a boat would take us back to Bali. Neither of us suffer with sea sickness, however, Jackie went as green as grotbags as we made the crossing.Still, she couldn't help but smile as a family of dolphins followed the boat, leaping out of the water and playing in the swell - it was an amazing sight! Fortunately this passed when we finally got back to our accommodation in Bali where we would spend a final night before flying back to KL (worth mentioning here that our friend still hadn't sold those sunglasses).
We set of yesterday (Friday) at 3.15am local time, and by a combination of car, plane and train made our way back to Singapore where we currently sit writing this update. It took a whopping 18.5 hours, and we were both shattered by the time we got to our hostel. Today is going to be a day of rest and recovery as we both want to be on top form to say G'Day to Perth (we fly tomorrow) and a sad farewell to SE Asia.
Big love to you all and we will update blog again shortly.