The next leg of the journey turned out to encompass both the best and worst times of my travels so far. Indeed, I was SO happy in one place, that looking back, I wish I hadn't left and had stayed there longer instead of wasting my time (and lots of money) trying to get somewhere else. But I'll get to that.
I flew from KL to Bali on the remnants of a hangover and when I arrived, I was collected by the people from my hotel who kindly (but expensively) took me to the hotel despite me arriving at 10pm. I was glad I had booked it but when I later found out the price for the local bus to do the same journey, it kind of started the annoyance with the Indonesian psyche of utterly ripping white people off. I had experienced things like this in Asia before and could cope with the scams, but these people took it to a whole new level. More on this later.
I had decided to avoid Kuta, the tourist Mecca of Bali, and headed straight away to the sleepy east coast town of Candi Dasa. So sleepy was it that most of the resorts were empty and every bar/restaurant was filled with more staff than customers who would all stand outside and try to cajole you in. They didn't do this by tempting me with cheap drinks or offers They would simply shout or walk with a menu in your face. Even if you said, 'No thank you' they would persist. In fact, on one occasion, a man came into the restaurant I was eating in and asked me if I wanted dinner. Hmmm. And again this annoyed me. I can cope with the fact that they were trying to ply a living from a quiet season but that took the biscuit.
I quickly tired of Candi Dasa and being hassled 24/7 (as and when i left my accommodation). I also tired of the accommodation. On one occasion, the guys in the hotel asked me if i wanted to spend the evening drinking with them. All I had to do was buy the rice wine (Arak in Indonesia) for $25 per bottle and they would sort the rest out. Brilliant I hear you say. Well not when you walk to the shop on the corner and the bottles of Arak twice as large were being sold for $3 a bottle. A $22 markup on behalf of the hotel boys annoyed me hugely and needless to say they went thirsty. It was the same everywhere though. They would try and make out they were doing you this huge favour and would be ripping you off blind! I didn't trust one of them.
I left Candi Dasa having toured around one day on a moped and decided to continue to the next island - Lombok which had a much better reputation. All the Balinese people were very scathing about the 'Lombokese' and I was a little worried but I figured the adage of my enemy's enemy......! I caught the ferry from Padang-Bai port over to Lombok and before I left, I arranged to stay in one of the dive hostels in Padang-Bai so I could dive the USS Liberty (one of the top wreck dives in Indonesia) upon my return. I met a German guy on the boat over and his local girlfriend who actually turned out to be the only honest people I met in Indonesia apart from on the Gilis. They offered me advice on where to get laundry done and bars to go to and everything they said was true! So refreshing.
I was met off the boat by the transport I had arranged in Padang Bai and spent the next 3 hours in the back of a 4x4 being hassled to buy all sorts of trips and treks etc. I had enquired how long it should take to get from the port to Sengiggi (the town where I spent the night) and have been told approx 45mins - 1hr and I was sure that we were actually driving around in circles because when i finally agreed to buy my boat ticket through the guide after much theatrics and negotiation in price (I paid £40 less than the opening price), we 'suddenly' found ourselves right outside the ticketing office belonging to his company and I was relieved of my cash before I could change my mind. Once again, I was disgusted and very angry. The ticket I had was from Lombok - Gili - Lombok - Sumbawa - Flores - Sumbawa - Lombok so pretty comprehensive. I would have preferred to have organised the latter legs myself and now I know what I do, I would have knocked the guy out on the spot but again, I will come back that later. Suffice to say, after 3 hours in the back of a 4x4, most men would have broken. Oh, and once I had paid, the a/c (that apparently didn't work) was turned on and I was ignored. You're starting to get the picture I'm sure!
I stayed one night in Sengiggi before I started planning how to leave. It was a lovely town and extremely picturesque but sadly the place I was staying (in which I had booked a sea view room) only had road side rooms available unless I wanted to upgrade to a sea view for an extra $20 per night. As I had spent most of my time in Asia paying $6-10 per night, that was too much to pay for me and despite my proclamations of booking reference numbers, I found myself in a roadside sweatbox, sorry room, listening to mopeds roar up and down the street ALL night. I came out to breakfast the next morning a broken man! I begged the owner to let me spend my money on a sea view room but amazingly, the price for the only available room was now $50! I stayed with what I had and broke out the ear plugs!
Sengiggi is on the map for 2 things: it is the gateway to the Gili Islands so is filled with booking agents trying to sell tours and tickets, motorbikes and mopeds and any other thing your minds can conjure up - girls, drugs, sex shows, animals, dvds, cds - you name it!!!! Every 5 steps, you would be asked if you wanted something for a 'cheap price' even if they had heard you answer the previous person. It was INCESSANT. They would wake you up on the beach to ask you if you wanted a massage/bracelet/girlfriend/a.n.other.
The other thing Sengiggi is famous for is stupid, rich American tourists who buy anything if they think they are getting a deal. Enough said!
I left the next morning with my temper up and really, really disappointed with Indonesia thusfar. I was heading to the GIlis - a supposed paradisiacal, hedonistic haven for backpackers and fun lovers. Hmmm!
Gili Trewangan was AMAZING! I loved it. It was one of the 3 Gili Islands off the west coast of Lombok and was apparently the most lively of the 3. I took the advice of the German guy who said it was the only place to go and Im glad I did.
Nobody hassled you and if they did, a 'no thank you' got rid of them and they even wished you a nice day. There were no mopeds; horse and cart only. The restaurants smiled and wished you good morning/evening and asked you if you fancied sampling their menu. The bars weren't a rip off and a good hostel was $6! I was in heaven. I also had the time of my life there. It was an island for sun bathing, partying and scuba diving. It didn't get any more perfect. The whole place had a vibe that I can only liken to Alex Garland's 'The Beach' during the good times and were all so friendly. The diving was top notch too. I did my Deep Diver and Nitrox diving specialties there with 2 awesome Dutch guys who I hung around with. Each night I would buy my one beer and sit in a bar and watch 2 movies on a big screen. For those of you who know me - I was in heaven!
The other amusing thing about the Gili Islands is the exciting climate. The weather is blazing sunshine and clear skies most of the time and then suddenly, 20 minutes later, the heavens open and the high street turns into a river and all the side roads become fast flowing tributaries. The most amusing part is that the climate seems to have an adverse affect on the electricity distribution on the island and every day, there is a power cut which lasts an unspecified amount of time and comes at a random time of the day. However, if the rain also comes, that seems to throw an even bigger spanner in the works for the little hamsters on the dynamos and the power becomes even more intermittent. Amazingly, it didn't once bother me - you just accepted it as part of island life!
I spent nearly a week on Gili Trewangan before I thought I should head onto Flores. I was going there because it was the 'jump off' point for trips to Komodo to see the Komodo Dragons. I have always wanted to see them so with a heavy heart, I boarded the long boat to Lombok and waved goodbye to my little paradise home - certain in the knowledge that I would be going back. When, Im not sure but one day.
I caught the transport from the local port to the capital, Mataram, having been told I would be picked up by the same guy who sold me my all encompassing ticket. Needless to say, he wasn't there so I caught the public bus! I was met at the ticketing office by my little man who said he would take me for food (then asked me to buy him Mcds) and then on to the bus station. I was meant to be getting the next bus out (at 12:30) and so started the longest, most miserable bus journey of my life.
The bus finally left at 1530 after a few rip off tactics (upgrade your ticket to the fast ferry for a mere $60- only to find out that there is only 1 ferry. I fell for this one). Then there was the 'baggage insurance scam' (you have to pay for baggage insurance for your bag) and the 'excess luggage fee' scam (if you have anything in the hold). It was incessant and all the people that came to me trying to get money out of me wore tshirts saying they worked for the company and they had stickers and clipboards. It was so infuriating because you just didn't know if they were legitimate or not. You just had to try and be polite when they started saying you had to get off the bus because you weren't paying, and get creative with excuses!
I was utterly pissed off (and yes that is the correct term by this point) and getting increasingly tired of the constant scamming. I was also becoming painfully aware of 'Indonesian time' which is a bit like Asian time but filled with more lies and is even slower!! '5 minutes' means 'today - maybe, if you're lucky'. 'Now' means 'in the next hour' and 'later' means probably never. Now if you are aware of this, it is fairly easy to aim off but I was tired and upset and also aware that the journey to Flores was already long.
I spent the night on the coach to Flores, travelling all the way across Lombok, a ferry to Sumbawa and then all the way across Sumbawa to the east coast in preparation to get the ferry to Flores. At the bus station in Sumbawa, I was awoken and told that I had to get off the executive coach I had paid for to get me to Flores and was ushered onto a minibus style vehicle which was leaving 'soon'. This was at 4am in the morning and I hadn't had much sleep the previous night! At 9am, I was still sat in the bus, (with various people appearing every 20 mins or so to try and scam me) and I was apoplectic! I was also told at this point that I had missed the ferry for that day so would have to stay another day but they had a guesthouse I could stay in for $30! As you can probably imagine, my answer was fairly short! We finally pulled out of the bus station at 11am for the 2 hour journey (it took 3) to the port. I arrived, relieved to be off the bus after a 30 hour journey and I headed down to the boat with a slight spring in my step.
Imagine my surprise; nay shock when I enquired what time the ferry went the following day, only to be told that there was no ferry. The only ferry (there certainly wasn't a fast one here either!) had been cancelled days ago due to adverse weather conditions and wasn't scheduled to run for at least a week. The harbour master was also quite shocked that I had even come because the cancellation was apparently widely advertised in the the local newspaper for all to see!
It was only getting worse! I was nearly a broken man. I had sat on a bus for 30 hours, been scammed more times than I could count and worst, been sold a ticket (at great expense) for a 30 hour trip that wasn'tever going to get me to where I wanted to go. I rang back the guy who sold me the ticket (whose number I had fortunately taken against his will) and told him the news. Can you believe it? He was surprised too!!!! I suggested he get my bus ticket changed so I could get back to Lombok asap and he said that he would send transport to pick me up and take me back to the bus station. Needless to say, I didn't believe a word of it!
I waited for 3 hours before I tried to call him back, sat in a 1 street town in the middle of Indonesia, tired, angry and feeling pretty sorry for myself. His phone was turned off and so I got a moped (for 1/10th of the asking price) to the 'bus station' which actually turned out to be a minibus taxi rank. I asked how much it would be for a ticket back to the main bus terminal in the capital (the journey on the way there was about $5) and was quoted $150. After laughing, I offered $20 because he said I had to pay for all the seats on the bus if I wanted to go now. If not, I would have to wait until the bus filled up andI wasn't prepared to go through that saga again! I had to get back to catch the 8pm bus and time was running short. We eventually agreed on $50 and I jumped on. At that moment, 15 people miraculously appeared from houses, bushes and all sorts of other places and jumped on, beaming at the stupid white man who had just paid $50 and all their tickets. I was ready to start swinging fists!
I arrived back in the capital at the main bus station with time to spare and managed to grab a bite to eat and when I got there. How romantic! I genuinely hoped that the bus journey would be less traumatic on the way back. It wasn't! We ended up breaking down and it was almost a blessing because my seat on the first bus reclined to horizontal as soon as I leant on it so I had no back support. Sadly on the second bus, which turned up 6 hours later, my seat didn't recline at all so I was sat bolt upright for another 24 hours. I arrived back in Mataram, after 65 hours on a bus, completely destroyed! All I wanted to do was get a ferry back to Bali and dive the USS Liberty but once again, fate was against me - the ferry to Bali was also cancelled and I couldn't get a flight back to Bali until the next day so I had to endure another night in Sengiggi, in the only hotel with a room, by a mosque!
Finally, I arrived back in Kuta (I only had 3 days left in Indonesia and figured I just needed to sleep near the airport after that journey) and booked into a cheap hostel which actually turned out to be pretty nice. I got chatting to a nice guy who said that he had suffered at the hands of the weather and had had to fly back from Lombok too. I explained that the tour guide had taken me to a booking office to get my ticket and he said he had bought his at the airport after getting rid of his guide who kept on ripping him off. I paid $50 for my flight - he paid 30! Need I say more? I left Indonesia with a huge grin on my face. It had beaten me but I was never going to go back and I was overjoyed to be leaving. Apart from Gili, I will tell everyone I meet on my travels not to go there because I truly hated it.
I apologise that this blog has been a bit negative and a bit of a rant but I really hated the place and have nothing but negative things to say about it. It was hard work and there was so little gratification I wish I had never gone there. My money would have been better spent (and less of it spent!) in Asia and I was glad to be back there. Off into Malaysia again I went and so much better it was. Oh and I never did get to dive the Liberty!