Indonesia

Under the Worldwide Sea

 

How Did We Get Here?

We learned our lesson from the first boat ride and beelined to the top deck of the boat from Gili Air to Bali. We had a long way to go to get to Jimbaran Bay, our final location before the next day’s flight to Singapore.

Before we left Gili Air the internet had been pretty miserable so we booked something pretty quickly that was in the right price range. We assumed it was in Jimbaran Bay. We were wrong. The shuttle from the boat told us it would be an extra 50,000 rupiah a piece to get all the way to the hotel. Where the hell were we going?

When the shuttle pulled up to the hotel the driver was as stunned as we were. “Nice hotel.” He was more complimentary; we were just in shock. We had ended up in some slightly dated massive golf resort on a hill overlooking the ocean. Where was the beach? Where was a town? There was none of that. How did we end up here?

The initial feeling was anger, on my part. This was how we were going to spend our last day in Bali? I tried to go out on the balcony and saw some white birds start flying. Toward me. They were flying right at me. WHAT THE HELL ARE THEY DOING? It was like the birds in real life! I ran inside and slammed the sliding door shut. They gathered on the porch and tried to stare in. We shut the curtain. Creepy ass birds.

I showered, trying to calm down, make the most of this situation. We found a Disney movie on our TV. We had an early dinner by the pool. Were we the only people staying in this place? It sure seemed like it. We split a pizza, a chicken with french fries, and a bucket of Bintang Radlers. At least the Bintang Radlers were there to keep us company.

image (4)

We ended up laughing at the situation. Here we were, final night in Bali, and we were at some empty washed-up golf resort. Then it started to get dark out and people flocked to the pool. It was so weird. We went back to our room and watched E! News for the Golden Globes fashion report. It was an odd evening to say the least.

Our flight wasn’t until the next evening so we hung out by the pool, I blogged, Kara went for a quick swim. It was our final do nothing time before getting to Singapore, the last stop, and our return to a big city. We were happy when it was time to go. It was an odd way to end our time in Bali for sure, but at least it wasn’t stressful. On to Singapore.

 

Scuba Diving in Gili

Scuba diving in Gili Air was incredible. I had heard that it would be incomparable in Indonesia and I was not let down. I saw more sea life than I could process, from tiny coral-bound organisms to huge sea turtles to families of Nemos, it was everything I wanted and more, and one of the highlights of my trip. I am hooked. I want to go back and get certified. I want to see the wonder of that world every single day.

I was the only person signed up to do the Discover Scuba Diving so I had a private lesson with my instructor Gareth. DSD starts out in the pool learning how to breathe. I had already done this in Colombia, which Gareth was thrilled to hear. We flew through the pool stuff. He even taught me some more advanced things like how to control my buoyancy with my breathing. I still finished 45 minutes ahead of schedule and had a break before it was time to go out in the boat.

We did a quick “here’s what we might see today” lesson before getting into the boat with everyone else. Gareth and I were first in the water – sit on the edge, hold on your mask and breathing apparatus, fall backwards in to the water – and I promptly smacked my head on a metal bar. Fucking A. It hurt but no matter. We swam a little away from the boat and descended.

Just like last time, I had some initial issues equalizing, but he just lifted me up a little and my ears figured it out, and I didn’t have any more problems the rest of the dive. In fact, Gareth was such a good teacher at telling me to slow down my breathing, that I didn’t even come close to running out of air. The dive ends one of two ways: your air tank gets to 50, or you hit 60 minutes underwater. Gareth has never had a DSD stay under for 60 minutes. Until me. When 60 minutes had passed Gareth made me go to the surface. I would’ve kept going, my tank was still at 80. He was stunned. When we got back he told other people at the dive center. He said I really should get certified, I would be so easy to teach.

I was just enjoying it way too much to want to come up. I did figure out how to control my breathing, but I’m also just not nervous underwater. I’m too busy looking at everything around me. It’s an alternate universe in the ocean and I’m fascinated by it.

We started at a sunken pier that has turned into a reef. Coral stick to tires and fish have made this their home. We swam away from the wreck and a reef extended out further than I could tell, and visibility was perfect. Gareth would point things out from the book and I would try to get pictures on my GoPro. Twice we saw sea turtles, big ones, right next to me, and both times it took him pointing it out three times for me to finally see it. Once he even grabbed me and turned me around so I was looking right at it. I didn’t think it’d be possible to not see such a large animal but apparently it was. When I finally realized what I was looking at I would excitedly give him the ok symbol, eyes wide. He laughed. I reacted the same way with the Nemos. We saw an octopus but it was hiding inside some coral so I couldn’t really tell what it was. Too bad. The colors, the creatures, the life down there, everything about it was incredible.

I will get certified one day. I didn’t have the time in the Gilis, nor do I think it’s something I’ll spend my money on right now, but one day I’ll do it. Then I’ll go back to dive in Indonesia, and Malaysia, Belize and the Caribbean, Costa Rica, Borneo; you name a good diving spot, I want to go there.

Gili Air

Gili Air is a peaceful little paradise in the middle of the ocean. There are no cars on the island; the only way to get around is walking, bicycling, or horse-drawn buggy. Seriously.

We walked up the east side of the island hoping to get out of town a little and find a bungalow on the beach. We quickly learned that on the beach was not going to be possible. The way most places worked was bungalows to the left of the street, and across the street a seating area facing the ocean.

We shopped around for a little while, looking at bungalow options and comparing prices, and then saw the Mercedes of Gili Air bungalows. The bungalow itself was so pretty, high ceiling, big nice new outdoor bathroom attached to it, huge bed with mosquito net and air conditioning, our own little porch out front. There was a nice pool just outside the bungalows. Across the street was ample seating facing the water in the form of lounge chairs and these awesome little platform seating table things, and a second level bamboo tree house above the bar. Kara was in love. I was almost there, but it was totally out of my price range. Then Kara had the epiphany: our family had given her some money for us for Christmas that we hadn’t used yet. This place was PERFECT for it! Thank you Eppichs! You have no idea how much we enjoyed staying at Bambu Cottages, and it’s all because of you. You made our trip.

We settled into our new home by immediately going in the pool, then evening cocktails by the water. Buy 2 get one free, how could we say no? While we enjoyed our cocktails I decided to sign up for a Discover Scuba Diving morning at the diving school literally next door. Again, thanks to you Eppichs.

The first night was just an indication of the relaxing time we would have on Gili Air. We had said two nights when we checked in but that quickly changed to three nights. It was just too gorgeous, too chill, too perfect to leave after such a short stay.

The first night we stayed out by our bungalows for dinner. The next day we went into town for lunch after I got back from scuba. We had some delicious Indonesian food – they love their double words, Olah Olah, Gado Gado, Urap Urap – and wandered the only two streets looking for shops. There weren’t really any. We had some gelato before going home and enjoying our new favorite drink, the Bintang Radler. Dinner by us again. The third day we spent the morning in the treehouse, hiding from the rain with breakfast (pancakes and hot chocolate yum!), before it cleared up in the afternoon and we explored the even calmer North beach. Lunch up there followed by an afternoon in the pool. We decided to go out our last night; dinner and a double feature movie on the beach at a restaurant in town.

First up was Frozen. I finally saw this damn movie. What is the big deal? I thought it was mediocre at best. They just don’t make Disney movies like they used to. Next up was 12 Years a Slave. Talk about a change of mood. It was a good movie, although very odd to watch in a beach setting, but I’m happy to have seen it.

We had the morning before our boat left to take us back to Bali. I woke up for sunrise. We were staying on the East coast so I was right to assume that the light would be beautiful with the sun rising over the Lombok mountains. I wrote some blog posts over my muesli and hot chocolate breakfast before Kara was up. It was a lovely morning, but it turned hot fast. For some reason Indonesia really liked to make it extremely hot in the days we were moving locations.

We made it to our boat and had to say goodbye to the island I had come to know and love. I want to go back one day, finish my scuba certification, relax and disconnect for a few more days. It was gorgeous and so laid back. I adored Gili Air.

Gili T

The Gili Islands were at the top of the list after being recommended by so many people. My main goal was to get to Gili Air (another Josi recommendation) but the Haas group was going from Bali to Gili Trawangan (Gili T) so we joined them for one night in Gili T.

We all took an early boat over together. The boat was miserably hot so I enjoyed some fresh air up top with Bernie, and we had a lovely ride. After we dropped our stuff at the house and had a fairly satisfying Mexican lunch we lounged on the pretty white beach for the afternoon. Some people ordered drinks and we bobbed in the salty warm water. It was the calm before the night.

Gili T has a party reputation and it was Friday night. Plus there was another Haas group on the island who we were going to unite with. So when 6:30 came around the tank tops were on and we were on our way to town ready for the night to start. With a casual 14 person happy hour.

From drinks to dinner the group ebbed and flowed in numbers. All that mattered to me was that this was my last night with Amanda, so we got in some final catching up conversation over dinner. We all made it to Sama Sama for a great reggae dancealong party and wandered down the street bar hopping as the music preferences changed. The other group, while nice, did not stick together like the group we had come to know and love. Eventually it was back to just us finishing out the night. One bar actually turned off the music, signaling time to go, so Bernie found another bar that was still going for a final hurrah. As we went to leave the rain started so we quickly made our way home before the downpour started. It was a full night of Gili T action, and just like Kuta I felt happy to have seen it and that one night was enough.

The next day we had to say bye to our new Haas friends; they were staying on Gili T and we were going to Gili Air. We decided to transfer islands in the most fun way we heard how: do a day snorkeling trip and when the boat stops at Gili Air for lunch Kara and I just stay on that island instead of getting back on the boat.

The day started out fun enough; we piled into a glass bottom boat, with the ample coral visible from our seats. The first stop was fantastic snorkeling. There was tons of coral stretching for ages and fish all around us. The second spot though was pretty miserable. It was supposedly where the turtles hung out, but when we got in the water we couldn’t see anything. I could barely see more than a foot in front of my face. We had a guide with us who basically took us on a fast swim through the ocean searching for turtles; it was more exercise than relaxing. We all got pretty fed up at the same time and stopped swimming. The boat picked us up.

The weather started to echo the mood on the boat: hungover. It was time to make our way to Gili Air for lunch and the waves started to pick up. Our guide made a joke about a tsunami. No one laughed. When we reached shore we were relieved. Everyone got off and it was just up to me and Kara to grab all our stuff. I threw my big bag on my back and looked up in time to see a huge wave come crashing over the front of the boat and hit me straight on. Everything. Wet. Good thing I’d thought to put my rain shield on my backpack before we left or it really would’ve been soaked. I turned to Kara and told her to run off the boat, another was coming. I followed as soon as I could. How did it all go so bad so fast?

We ate a final lunch with the Haas group and said our goodbyes. It was great to be with a group of friends for a few days. I was happily impressed with Amanda and her friends; not like I should have been, of course they were going to be smart, fun, friendly, genuine people, but I had such a good time getting to know them all over those few days in addition to the joy of hanging out with one of my closest friends.

Hugs all around and hopefully see you at Berkeley’s and that was it. They went back to Gili T to nurse their hangovers and Kara and I set off walking down the one road of Gili Air hoping to find somewhere to sleep that night.

Zen Ubud

Ubud is so green. Saturated, vibrant, plush green.

Kara had gotten the advice to stay just outside of town, up in the rice paddies, and it was brilliant advice. Our homestay, Narwa Homestay, was a short walk from town that made a world of difference. It was quiet, removed, peaceful. Our first day I found a yoga studio, Ubud Yoga House, just a short walk away in the middle of the rice paddies; I went there the following day for 7:30 am morning yoga and it was a perfect setting. I went back that night at 6 for meditation. The place was peaceful and the view was perfect. The yoga and the meditation, however, were good, but nothing as earth shattering as I’d experienced in Vietnam. That’s unfair pressure though; I still enjoyed both.

The first day in Ubud we were so happy to be out of Kuta it was like a huge sigh of relief even just making it to the guesthouse. We went in to town for lunch at a recommended place, Kafe. It was awesome. A huge healthy menu with everything from salads to burritos and fresh juices, I had steamed vegetables with red rice and a fresh lime juice. I was so happy, I hadn’t had food like this since I left San Francisco. Kara even said that San Francisco needed a place like Kafe. We sat there for hours enjoying the vibe. We wandered through town, getting acquainted with where things were, before having a chill evening at our homestay.

For the most part. There was the incident with the spider. Now I’ve gotten pretty used to spiders in the wild; I see them in the jungle and don’t think twice anymore, just take some pictures and move on. I’ve even eaten them. But something about seeing a gigantic spider next to all my stuff in my bedroom brought back the fear. It took Kara and I an embarrassingly long time to coax out and kill the spider (Kara really, seriously my fear was back full force). Sorry nature.

The next day was exciting: I met up with Amanda and all her Haas friends! Somehow timing worked out perfectly to meet up with another friend from home, who happened to be traveling around this part of the world with her business school friends. So not only did I get to see Amanda, who I missed dearly, but I got to meet her new world of people who she’d met while I was gone. And of course, they’re fantastic. We hung out all day wandering through the rice paddies and gushing over the amazing healthy food and juices at Sari Organik. This restaurant is an Ubud institution and rightfully so. The setting is gorgeous and the food is delicious, we could have stayed there all day.

We all wandered back into town and through the market, going our separate ways before meeting up again at meditation and then to a traditional Balinese dance at the Ubud Palace. The costumes were colorful and the dancers’ eyes were captivating. Bernie was so into it he became our personal narrator, filling us in on the stories we were watching from the handout they provided. We had a late dinner sitting cross-legged at Jazz Cafe.

The next day was our last in Ubud. We got a slow start, which was more than okay with me. Kara and I had two things left we wanted to do. We started with lunch at Warung Ibu Oka, a delicious suckling pig that again came highly recommended and rightfully so; it was some of the best meat I’ve had on my whole trip, well-seasoned, lean, tender, yum. Then we rented a motorbike and went north. I started driving and learned that I don’t like driving with someone else on the bike through heavy traffic in the middle of a busy town. It was stop and go and I wasn’t good at either yet, stopping or going. Once we got out of town it was better. We made it up to Tegallalang and saw the terraced rice paddies, then to Tirta Empul, a sacred water temple complex in the middle of the forest. It was a pretty place and we were happy to have made it. Kara took over some of the driving and we wound back on more residential roads; it was a beautiful drive.

When we got back into town we took a few wrong turns and it got busy again so I got back in the driver seat and had to weave through Ubud to get us home. I ended up on what I swear is actually a one way road that motorbikes just ignore and was relieved I had gotten used to driving; this was a tight road with big cars coming at me. When we made it back we felt we’d earned our happy hour drink.

We met up with the Haas crew for 2 for 1 mojitos and caiparinhas; we ordered so many that they extended happy hour an hour for us. Dinner and more drinks with them before calling it a night. We were all going to Gili T together tomorrow.

Ubud is beautiful. It is peaceful and you can see why Eat Pray Love was partially written there, but also how that’s changed the town into a more touristy one. I definitely recommend Ubud for everyone’s visit to Bali. And if you do go and stay at Narwa Homestay, have the pancakes. They’re green! And sweet and delicious, especially with bananas.

One Night in Kuta

Kuta is where Australians go for spring break. We’d heard this, and to generally avoid Kuta, but I was curious to see what it was all about. There’s got to be some reason that people flock there, right? It’s supposed to have an amazing beach and a fun nightlife, it can’t be all bad.

We landed in Bali at around 7:00 pm and Kuta is only 15 minutes from the airport, so we decided to do one night there before going to Ubud the next day. This was plenty of time.

We had our first Indonesian dinner and I tried the local “wine” Arrack. This firewater should not be called wine. I tried to soften it a little with some lemon and soda water but after finishing one of these straight up drinks I was already a little drunk. We wandered to the main strip of town and were stopped at the mention of two free drinks. Sky Garden, a very well-known club in the middle of Kuta, has a two free drink deal just for going in. How could we say no?

Level one was pick your mixer and your alcohol. I was actually able to get a whiskey coke! This floor was pretty dead though so we quickly finished our drinks and went upstairs. Level two was any choice of drinks on the board; all vodka. Kara got one and I gave away my free drink. I will not touch vodka. Plus I’d had that moonshine at dinner. This floor had much better music and a sizeable crowd so we ignored all the Aussies and danced our butts off for a few hours. Every time we tried to take a break they’d put on another classic. We made friends with the club photographer who told us a place we could watch the downstairs. We found one awesomely carefree big blonde guy who was showing everyone what fun meant and watched him tear it up on the dance floor for a while.

We went home feeling satisfied with our night out in Kuta. Yes it was Aussies dancing on bars and I could see the appeal if I was still 20, but I am not, so that was it for us. The next morning we had enough time to walk out to the beach. It was a huge beach that went for miles, but it was not nice. There were clean up crews picking up garbage and we couldn’t walk more than two feet without someone coming up to us, “Yes you want surf lesson.” No we do not. I didn’t want to go in that water. A walk down the beach and along both Poppies completed our tour of Kuta.

After accidentally getting trapped in town – would it kill them to put cross streets in? – we made it back to the hostel where our ride to Ubud was waiting. Kuta, I’m glad to have seen you, but I will not be coming back. I’ll leave that to the stereotypes who love it.

The one picture I took in Kuta

The one picture I took in Kuta

The Long Route to Bali

We took a 24 hour bus to Singapore.

Kara, thank you for bearing with me on this one. I know it’s the last thing you want to do on vacation but the budget savings are always so helpful, and at least you had a three-week vacation so a day wasn’t the end of the world.

To get from Krabi to Bali was going to cost more than we wanted to spend on flights. That’s what you get trying to fly around during the holiday season. We discovered that it was possible to take a bus from Krabi to Singapore, which was our end destination in mid-January, and then we could take a round-trip flight from Singapore to Bali for a fraction of the price of multiple one ways. So this is what we did.

We left Krabi at 6:30 am on the 4th in a van. This van was the most crowded one I’ve ever been in; they didn’t leave any seats open for bags so they were all piled up in the aisle next to me. It was not a short ride to the border either. Somehow I slept a lot and podcasts got Kara through it. We were dropped at a border town in Thailand and told that the Singapore bus didn’t pick up there. I’m sorry, what? The van driver was not helpful and just kept trying to leave, not giving us back our tickets so we had no proof that we’d paid to get to Singapore.

The new man in charge at a travel agency was an outright dick. This guy and the van driver are hands down the two most frustrating men I’ve dealt with so far. Eventually we found out that the Singapore bus knew we were there, had our tickets, and would come pick us up at 12:30. This is all we knew and we had to trust it.

They were late, but eventually a glorified pick-up truck with a back door came around to take us to our bus to Singapore. We got in and were greeted by two young smiling American faces. This had to be a step in the right direction. Our new companions were doing a semester in Singapore and had just celebrated the New Year on Koh Phangan, where all their stuff was stolen on the beach. They were just trying to get “home.”

We were taken to the bus and at 1:30 were on our way to Singapore. We could breathe again. Made it. From then on the bus was par for the course; freezing, long, with two quick border stops. We made it to Singapore around 8:00 am and went straight to the airport.

We spent the morning sipping Coffee Bean using their wifi until we could board our afternoon flight. It was a relief to check in and make it on the plane. For me, just another crazy long travel day trying to get to an exciting destination: Bali. For Kara, an unfortunate bump in hopefully otherwise a great vacation. Now we just had to fly to Bali.

So the nerves weren’t gone just yet. I wonder when flying through Indonesia will stop being so scary, if ever. I haven’t been so tense on a flight in years, since I went through my brief fear of flying in early college. When we touched down in the Denpasar airport we looked at each other relieved. We made it to Bali.