Category Archives: Indonesia

Gili Air and Senggigi, Lombok

After 3 nights of being lulled to sleep by a chorus of “geckkkkkkkk-ooohhhhhh”, “geckkkkkkkk-oooohhhhh” we traded in our geckos (and kindly ceiling bat) in Amed for a rousing and intense chorus of “COCK-A-DOODLE DOOOOO” at 4:30am. We left Amed via Amed Sea Express which I “recommend”  if you want to have a 45 minute heart attack and then later feel sheepish about being that scared. Sure, we arrived safely. They had life jackets, used GPS, and had safety radios. However, a 19-year-old was driving our  20 passenger speedboat making an open ocean crossing, so it’s bound to be bumpy and a little panic-inducing. During our journey, you could tell who had read about this company and who were sitting in their seats enjoying the ocean spray.

With Bali behind us (much to Dave’s delight) we arrived on Gili Air and immediately had large beers with lunch which was a) NOT nasi goreng (HOORAY!!!!) and b) at Freedom Beach Bar, which became our happy hour spot of choice on the island. Every day (a few times a day, even) we greeted the owner with his guitar with a smile as we walked past.

Dave spent a lot of time in the hammock

Dave spent a lot of time in the hammock

We stayed at Coconut Cottages in one of their Jasmine cottages. It was a bit dark, and the salt water showers got old after a few days, but Kamil the owner was an affable, kind guy who was fun to chat with. A long-time resident of Gili Air (he said he arrived when he was 9 and spent his childhood and adolescence hanging out with Australian surfers) he was also a healer. He treated me for “stress” by having me sit down in the lobby with my eyes closed. He put his thumb on my forehead and then began to wiggle it in a tiny circle for about 2 minutes. It got VERY hot and after he was done he told me that the heat was stress releasing. He also said I needed more treatments. It had helped him overcome his shyness, he said. It’s hard to imagine him as a shy guy. He also made me a shell necklace which I wore the entire time we were there.

Dave liked this guy's strut.

Dave liked this guy’s strut.

Coconuts was right on a village in the island and a coconut plantation. Chickens ran around everywhere (the roosters were CRAZY loud) and there was a rumored Komodo dragon on the premises but I was actively avoiding him.

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Gili Air was like nowhere we’d ever been before. There are no vehicles on the island — only bicycles and cidomo (horse carts which had a vaguely Guatemalan flair).  You can walk around the Island in just over an hour and the place is just chill beyond belief.

OEvery day we’d wake up, have breakfast in the cafe, and then Kat would go to yoga at H2O Meditation Centre (REALLY loved this place — very friendly, great easygoing vinyasa classes suited to a variety of levels, and excellent instructors) and Dave would hang out in the hammock. Then we’d get ready for the beach, pick up some snorkeling gear, and eat lunch with our toes in the sand. We’d beach until about 5 and then head home to shower and then head back out for happy hour/dinner. We’d be asleep by 10:30 and ready to it all over again the next day.

Poor Dave couldn’t snorkel, really– glasses got in the way of a mask. I hadn’t really snorkeled before and was blown away by what I saw. The water in the Gilis is so clear, so warm, and so blue you can see EVERYTHING. I saw the whole cast of characters from Finding Nemo (mostly Dories!) and even saw a HUGE sea turtle. I would swim around and then find my way back to Dave and tell him about all the things I saw. He is really over me talking about that sea turtle but it was CRAZY to see it like, 5 feet from people swimming and munching around on the coral reefs.

We were ready to head out after 6 days on Gili Air, though. It was super fun but we were ready for some more comfort — and a hot, freshwater shower. We took the “shuttle bus/ferry” you see advertised all over the island which was arranged by our guesthouse. It was a decidedly “Asian” experience.

We arranged for a cidomo to the port. Then we boarded a wooden boat with an attachable motor which took us to Bangsal, Lombok. What was never explained to us is where to get the bus. There is a bus station, but it was about half a kilometer from the port. We were directed by a police officer (after shaking free from a variety of scammers) to a cafe which we did not like the looks of. We refused to buy food/drink which irritated the whole cafe who spent 30 minutes staring at us and smoking cigarettes. One dude came to chat with us but I didn’t really trust his intentions. Finally, a shady dude in a beat up van picked us up drove us about an hour to the Sheraton, Senggigi. That’s right, after our adventures in beaches and relaxation, we retreated into luxury for one night at Lombok’s only five star resort. We spent a whole day online catching up on 8 days worth of internets, taking hot freshwater showers every hour on the hour, and slept like rocks instead of beaching it or hitting their nice pool.

Then we took a car to the brand new Lombok airport which was about an hours’ drive from Senggigi beach. There isn’t much about this new airport online – flights are mostly domestic and only serve Kuala Lumpur and Singapore internationally. When our car pulled up we were overwhelmed — hundreds of people were outside camped out selling things. We had to say no to about 20 “porters”. We couldn’t find the check-in counters! It was more like a train station than an airport. There were tons of sales counters outside and a guard asking for “tickets” where we could see bag drop off. After a little walking around and a coffee inside a shop with a door to keep the fray at bay we figured out you just show the guard your itinerary and then you can proceed to check in. Add plenty of time when you fly through here — no one is in a hurry. Check in lines were 20 minutes, customs lines were 20 minutes. The only short line was for the departure taxes (which are 100,000 IDR per person for international flights). The airport has four gates and once you are through check in there is a food court, indiomart, and a few other stalls so don’t think outside is your only food option. Also get used to Indonesians not being sure about how to properly wait in a line or to listen to any flight attendant instructions. Once we hit the ground in KL, half our plane was up and getting their bags. The crew had to get up and get them all to sit down again.

We write this from Melaka, Malaysia. Happy Holidays! We’re back to KL for New Years and then off to the Cameron Highlands and Penang!

 

Off the Grid in Amed — 3 nights on Aas beach

After 4 nights in Seminyak and 4 nights in Ubud, we were off the grid entirely while on the sleepy northeastern shore of Bali on Aas beach near Amed. Staying at Meditasi bungalows where Elizabeth Gilbert of “Eat, Pray, Love” fame pronounced this low-key and low-maintenance hotel the most romantic place ever. I rolled my eyes at this testimonial but amid the frangipani and hibiscus bushes its hard not to agree. The legendary Smiling Buddha runs a hilarious yet completely chilled out spot where signs proudly announce, “No TV, no Internet, no stress”.

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We read books, took naps, made a new friend from DC (hi Gabby!) and took (Kat, at least) Hatha yoga classes (but sat out headstands). There is nothing like shavasana listening to the waves knowing that you are going to walk 10 feet back to your room, take a cold shower (no hot water here!) and march right back to the main pavilion for happy hour.

Eat, pray, love missed key priorities like “Eat, beer, mango lassi” or even “eat, wonder what your friends are doing today, laundry”. Kat was into it and was ready to sing kum bai yah and dreadlock her hair. Dave was going to murder someone if there wasn’t some internet in his life soon. Smiling Buddha was just smoking cloves and asking us to come back when we had a baby. We laughed nervously and jumped into a car which took us to the scariest 40 minutes on the water that either of us has ever experienced but that’s a story for tomorrow.

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Since we didn’t do anything really of note except relax, read, swim and eat, here are Facebook status updates / tweets I would have sent if we were within 3G network coverage:

Note to self, outdoor bathrooms in Bali– while beautiful– are unlike the novelty of an outdoor shower down the shore #shavedmylegsbyflashlight ”

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Oh– is this why we call geckos, ‘geckos’?” during a chorus of weird Stephen Hawkings-sounding “gekkkkkkk-oh, gekkkkkkkkk-oh, gekkkkk-oh” cries

Yes, that was a lizard that ran out of the closet and out onto the porch #baliproblems

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Just read the worst book ever, “Bergdorf Blondes”, by Plum Sykes. It was awesome. #guesthhouselendinglibrary

Watching a lightening storm miles away at sea #iendrighthere

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New least favorite insect– those stupid flies that come out after the rains — #gross

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGetting there:

we were lazy and hired a car for the day. It was about $45USD for the drive and part of that was the “eh, whatever” factor.

We ate all of our meals at the Smiling Buddha restaurant and averaged about $30/day there.

We paid $30/night for our bungalow with cold water only.

Hatha yoga classes were 100,000 IDR and included some laughing yoga which was new and suuuuuper crunchy of me.

Indonesia Part I — Bali (Seminyak & Ubud)

Hello from Senggigi, Indonesia on Lombok Island. We spent the past 16 days trekking through Bali and Gili Air Indonesia. During a large part of that time we had no internet connection whatsoever, so the next few posts were written several days ago but will be posted now. Tomorrow we fly to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where I assume the internets will be fast and plentiful. So, please to enjoy the first of our Indonesia posts below:

We didn’t really know much about Bali before we came. To be honest, after two weeks on the island, I’m not sure I know much about it even now. I know even less about Indonesia as a whole. Going to Bali and saying you’ve been to Indonesia is basically like saying you’ve gone to Hawaii so you’ve seen America. The people and the religion on Bali are different (Balinese are almost entirely Hindu, whereas Indonesia is Muslim). This difference manifests itself in untold numbers of ways and permeates daily life. Making matters more difficult is that fact that Balinese Hinduism shares some of the larger elements of Indian Hinduism, but a great deal of the major elements of it differ greatly from that of India’s, having been infused with centuries of local customs and traditions. So, in conclusion, Bali is a land of contrasts. Thank you.

Little offerings to the gods like this are literally outside of every store, restaurant, gas station and house. People make new ones every morning.

Little offerings to the gods are literally outside of every store, restaurant, gas station and house. People make new ones every morning. Gods, apparently, enjoy rice, flowers, incense and cigarettes.

We went straight from the airport to Seminyak, an upscale beach town and we checked into our lovely guesthouse where we quickly made friends with other guests and the owners. Bali was the first time either Kat or I have been below the equator and literally the first thing we did at our guesthouse was flush the toilet. I can confirm that, indeed, the water does go down the drain the other way here.

Seminyak is pretty much like any other beach town. Laid back vibe, strains of Bob Marley drifting in from beachside bars. Of course, this has its downside. Just a kilometer or two down the beach from Seminyak is Kuta, which can only be described as Australia’s Cancun. They come by the tens of thousands laying waste to the land. I like drinking and beaching as much as the next guy, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. I can say that being a pasty Australian teenager in a Bintang tanktop walking down the street with a beer in hand and a conical hat on your head, yelling at locals is definitely the wrong way. It was interesting to be American here as the “ugly tourist” stereotype is an Australian, not an American. When told we were from America, Balinese typically had one of two reactions: 1) “Oh, America. Big country! Very far!” 2) “Oh, you know Obama? He my uncle!” Cue UPROARIOUS LAUGHTER. I will say that the Balinese people are a delight. Always quick with a smile and a laugh, there is an undeniable joy about them

We wiled away our days in Seminyak just lying on the beach, eating standard beachside tourist fare (typically Nasi Goreng or Mie goring – fried rice and fried noodles, about $3 per plate). For $2.50 per person you could rent beach chairs and umbrellas for the whole day. Seminyak beach is without a doubt the most beautiful I have ever seen. Wide, super fine sand, stretches on for miles. It was great and I was sad to leave.

Yeah, I guess this is an OK beach if warm water, clean sand and beautiful sunsets are your thing.

Yeah, I guess this is an OK beach if warm water, clean sand and beautiful sunsets are your thing.

 

Our next stop was Ubud, in the center of the Island. Since Eat, Pray, Love, which has for better or worse caused tourism to explode in Bali, Ubud has been the epicenter for middle-aged women looking to do yoga and achieve spiritual enlightenment. We thought Ubud would be a low key city but it actually was quite bustling with lots of fashion boutiques and cafes aimed at westerners. The place felt entirely inauthentic and at the same time entirely genuine in way that’s difficult to describe. The town seems to be 100% designed for westerners, but you still see Balinese engaging in local ceremonies and customs (of which there are many. There always seemed to be a cremation or a wedding or an infant’s birthday going on somewhere).

We were told there was good food to be had in Ubud, though we didn’t really find it – with one exception. Balinese are famous for roast suckling pig (called Babi Guling), slow-cooked on a spit so that the inside is moist and fall-off-the-bone juicy while the skin is a delicious crunchy crackling on the outside. However, this is only prepared for special ceremonies and you rarely see it on a menu. If you want it, you have to go to a place that specializes in it. We went to the place in Ubud that is known for their roast pig. In fact, that’s all they do. You walk in, sit down on the floor at long communal tables. You can order meat, skin, or meat and skin. Kat and I each went for the latter. Words can’t do it justice. It was amazing. Go eat it. Now.

You can't see the pork so well, but you CAN see Kat enjoying drinking coconut water out of a coconut. Woman goes bonkers for drinking out of a coconut.

You can’t see the pork so well, but you CAN see Kat enjoying drinking coconut water out of a coconut. Woman goes bonkers for drinking out of a coconut.

 

In Ubud we did some traditional touristy stuff. Saw some old temples and shrines, elbowing our way past Chinese tour groups. It was all quite interesting but with so little knowledge of the culture here I can’t say that I feel particularly enriched by the experience. One thing that did enrich me was when I watched Kat slip and fall into the holy fountain at Goa Gajah. That moment I will have forever.

Kat is posing like a boss here, mere seconds after  shrieking and falling into the water.  Everyone stared at us. It was awesome.

Kat is posing like a boss here, mere seconds after shrieking and falling into the water. Everyone stared at us. It was awesome.

 

From Ubud we drove 3 hours to Amed on the northeast coast of Bali for a few days of nothingness. No cellphone service, no internet, no TV. It feels like the edge of the Earth.

Overall, I like Bali but I’m ready to leave. It would be a wonderful place for a vacation or a honeymoon, but it is difficult to really get a sense for what it is to be Balinese and what everyday life is like for people here. I found the food to be generally mediocre (with the exception of that roast pig!) – but is this because the food really just isn’t all that good or because I was eating tourist fare? I asked our driver one day what he liked to eat and he paused and said, “Fruit.” Still, the beaches are lovely and the people are kind. Lacking great infrastructure, the island is bending under the weight of all the tourists that arrive here and you do feel a bit guilty about adding to that, but Bali is just too close to paradise to ignore.