Thursday 21 November – In the light of day, Balian is just as remote and secluded as it seemed in the darkness, exactly what we wanted. There were only a handful of options for accommodation so we stayed where we were for one more day.
The first impressions of Bali are that it’s bliss. The roads are amazing – everywhere smells of incense, flowers at the edge of the road, pretty hindu temples everywhere, no ugly roadside advertisements from tobacco companies and it is really clean! It’s definitely more expensive than Sumatra and Java but then its way more popular.
Balian is renowned for it’s surfing, though a morning stroll down the beach and we knew we had no chance. The waves were huge so we didn’t even bother attempting we spent the day by the pool of the hotel that was full next door, although we had the pool to ourselves pretty much. It seems like this hotel had been booked out completely by a team of surfer girls complete with camera crew and photographer. Whilst we were sat around the pool we noticed them heading to the beach for their afternoon session. They all had perfectly formed physiques; though when Paul suggested we go down to watch them he assured me it was nothing to do with this as he didn’t even notice anyway, however suggested he go fetch his glasses before we went down as “the waves were breaking far out”.
Friday 22 November – Whilst we’d been staying in Balian a whole brigade of ants setup camp in Paul’s riding trousers – he literally has ants in his pants, there were thousands and I’m not exaggerating. A pummelling from us and the guesthouse owner couldn’t even get rid, too many hidden pockets and seams. They were in for the journey strapped on top of the panniers. Paul put on his jeans – he’s wanted to stop wearing the riding pants for a while, but he’s put up with them to protect his supermodel legs. It’s like when you know someone had nits, it makes you itchy even though they’re not on you. I’m even itching now.
We moved on, thinking if it’s this good in a barely known or mentioned place, it’s going to be even more amazing in the south. Well we weren’t totally wrong but it’s a different kind of good. We set off heading south-east passing red brick temples and vivid green rice paddies neighbouring the coast and semi-clear roads. The Bali bliss came to a slight halt when we approached Denpasar and even more so when we got to Seminyak. It’s busy! It was hot too and more scary than any truck, murderous bus or 7 year old kids are the white tourists on mopeds. It’s a generalisation but my God, they’re so dangerous, mainly because their carefree, having a good time but a high percentage can barely drive them, and there’s lots in the Kuta/Seminyak area. I definitely see why they get them but they’re should be some test on who gets one and who doesn’t. Those who can’t ride in a straight line and have wide frightened eyes whilst on the bike, should be turned around at the door. I think I’d fit into that category. I tried my luck with having a go at our bike back in Java on the sea of sand to which I got a reply of ‘no chance.’ Probably a good idea, Paul kindly offered to teach me to drive a car when I was 15, only he put me behind the wheel and didn’t tell me anything. So when I hit the brake, it was very hard and I stalled. No explanation that you have to push the clutch in too.
Anyway, we made a plan to check out Seminyak and if it was no good we’d keep going south. It’s got a bad reputation of being the place Australian package holidaymakers go and get very drunk. A little like Spain is to the British.
In Seminyak, there were lots of beautiful shops with dresses, jewellery, bikinis, house stuff, lots of restaurants and fancy looking bars. I thought Paul would love a choice of food and I’d really like to browse all the nice things even though I couldn’t buy, a bit of torture. But the busyness was a bit off putting so we continued on.
We hit a dual carriage way lined with massive retail warehouses selling everything from Havianna flip-flops to Garden Furniture, it really is a consumer’s dream on this little island but surprisingly it’s not any cheaper than you would pay in the UK. Anyway, on the dual carriageway. We were going along a clear two lane stretch when inexplicably a slow moving scooter pulled straight into our lane without any indication or reason to do so. Paul had no chance to brake or swerve, only enough time to shout “shit”. He managed to turn the front of the bike enough so we didn’t ram them but clipped them with the pannier as we passed and it bashed their wing mirror and handle bars. The sound made it sound worse than it was, we thought they had come off but a glance over the shoulder and they were fine and upright. They pulled up alongside as at the traffic lights to apologise to us, so it was all smiles and waves. The traffic increased and we basically sat in slow moving congestion all the way to South Kuta but it eventually cleared when we turned off for the loop that goes to the beaches.
We stopped in a place called Padang Padang. It’s a little odd in that it doesn’t know who it’s trying to attract. Australian backpackers/surfers or Chinese tourists – two categories of people that don’t really seem to blend or want the same things. Once settled in a place about 5 minutes walk from the beach we went for a look around. The beach is actually a little cove and it’s a walk down a very narrow passage of steps built into a cave. On the steps were Asian tourists, they were living up to their stereotyping and taking pictures, for which a different pose had to be struck, on every other step. A bit irritating, especially the next day when they caused a traffic jam and Paul was carrying a surfboard.
The beaches round here are really famous for surfing, some of the biggest waves in world but it’s out of season now so we were thinking we’d be ok but try the next day.
We thought 70,000 rupiah back in Balian was a bit steep to hire a surfboard as we paid 50,000 rupiah in Batu Karas but here in Padang Padang they wanted 100,000 rupiah. There’s no negotiating either, seems like there’s some price fixing going on between the competition. The guy we got them from was in the process of renting out a moped when we got there. He was holding on to the bike whilst the girl did loops of the car park. She looked so unsteady and really would have been a danger to anyone else but he let her take it anyway. We saw her twice that later that day, amazingly she was still alive both times. We got just one board, I didn’t even go out in the end as Paul struggled. It was crowded and they break really far out at the reef so to get out was a mission paddle. My new target of a surfer body is going to be slow to develop. We were very lucky to find a decently priced place with a pool so we escaped the crowded cove for the afternoon.
In the evening we drove out on the bike to Ulu Watu famed for huge waves attracting pro surfers from around the world. It was amazing. The beach is again small coves surrounding by steep cliffs but there are loads of bars built into the cliff face all with views to watch the surfers. We sat watching the sun go down over a huge expanse of coast watching the show. At one point there was a pretty bad collision and one surfer came out with only one half of his board while the other half floated around the sea.
Whilst we were in Padang Padang, we’d heard that a guy called Bruce who is completing a round the world journey on a super bike had just made it to Bali also. We had been made aware of Bruce as the shipping agent in Malaysia had mistaken us for him when we turned up at his office. Bruce was on the same route from Malaysia but was a week behind us. Anyway he travelled fast through Sumatra and Java and caught us up but is staying back near Seminyak, so on-route to our next destination of Ubud we made a plan to stopover and meet him. Plus, Seminyak is supposedly far more sympathetic to beginner surfers with smaller steady breaks.
Monday 25 November – The drive back north was really pleasant compared to the way down we made it in under two hours after Paul had stopped at numerous surf warehouse outlets along the way. This is really an amazing place to go shopping if you have money, unfortunately we don’t so it was just looking and depressing ourselves with the price tags.
Ned’s Hideaway Guesthouse down a ‘gang’ [an alleyway] off the main road was a real find, especially in a place with barely any budget places. Such a little sweet old lady behind reception had me chatting for 10 minutes and Paul waiting with the bike thought all hope of a room was gone but no she was just explaining what ‘Bulle’ is – “it’s what we call you, a white skinned person, bulle. My children are bulles” and it was the wifi password. It’s not derogatory, I don’t think, well surely she wouldn’t call her own kids it if it was, plus it’s the first time I’ve heard it.
In the afternoon we went to the beach and we both went surfing. Paul obviously more successful than me, but I got up even at least three times even if it was rolling in on the white.
It’s been a while since we’ve had company, and we need company other than each other once in a while, so we were very much looking forward to meeting with Bruce aka ‘Teapot One’( this is his website www.teapotone.com ). On the way over to meet Bruce, a group of young Australian lads were being cooed over by the massage ladies “we like you, you handsome” they called out. The boys cheekily replied “you do Happy ending?” The girls shrieked with laughter “no,no, no happy ending” It made us laugh too.
We met in a bar/restaurant called ‘Monsoon’ it’s owned by an ex-pat called Pete and there was a gathering of quite a few other ex-pats. Pete has been following Bruce’s trip on the web and so was keen to raise some more awareness for him as he aims to help a number of charities through his trip. We had a really good time having some Bintangs, I don’t normally drink beer, if I do it’s a shandy, plus we haven’t really drank properly since Thailand so the two I managed went straight to my head. We also met a guy from New Zealand and he was really gushing about Omaha and how it’s the place kiwis aspire to live, another confirmation we made the right choice.
As I said, Bruce is doing his trip for charity and worked effortlessly for 4 years trying to gain corporate sponsorship to fund his trip. Turns out he set out on this leg of the journey only 9 days later than us but took a different route through Russia then Japan. The first leg didn’t go too well, he attempted Africa but corruption and extortion put a quick end to the trip when he was robbed, more than once, every single day.
Before we left Pete [the bar owner] serenaded us with a song in ours and Bruces’ honour a rendition of ‘What a wonderful world’ Before we left we tried getting some group photos but it was a bit dads using cameras and the two we thought were took, didn’t actually take and after three fails because of fingers over lenses we gave up, so just one with Pete. We have one very blury picture of Bruce and his bike on the Instagram page. A great night with nice people.
The next day we got up before seven and headed straight to the beach all be it with slightly sore heads in attempt to surf again, but today the waves seriously steep and crashing down instantly send us tumbling around like we were in a washing machine . After our time was up, we went in without the boards and continued to be crushed.
We made our way to Ubud later that day where Paul’s mum and stepdad have kindly organised us an early Christmas present – a stay a very nice place called Villa Sarna for a couple of days.
Tuesday 26 November – Having watched Eat, Pray, Love ( a girly film) , I had been aware of Ubud as it was where Julie Roberts’ character did her praying and it looked beautiful in the movie. Ubud did not disappoint. Along the way we rode past workshop after workshop where artists and craftsmen were working on pieces and selling their art.
Once we got to Ubud, it was a little tough at first as Villa Sarna was not exactly where google maps said it was and was down then up a massively steep road. The villas are nestled into a hill side and are styled in a traditional Balinese way with beautiful carvings everywhere and koi ponds. On arrival we were given a juice and some little elves magically whisked our luggage away, wished this happened everywhere we stopped. The room was beautiful with views over the jungle landscape. Pure luxury. They even nipped in to clean the room and turn the lights on whilst we went out to dinner. The magic hotel pixies.
The Balinese are really into their ceremonies and can definitely rival India in that department. There are ladies and men dress up in traditional costume which for ladies is made up of a beautiful printed sarong , along with a lacy jacket and a colourful, contrasting sash around the waist with full make up and hair neatly done in a bun. The men wear simple cotton shirts also with a printed sarong and sash. David Beckham clearly took his style tips from Bali. They also have a sash or headpiece on. They make their rounds with incense and placing a small piece of banana leaf with rice and flower petals in front of their houses. All day long you see ladies and men going to the temples, carrying beautiful boxes of offerings etc to the temple, cars, hotels they believe spirits are everywhere so the offerings are everywhere. A bonus for the dogs, they like the rice and sometimes fruit in the offerings.
With the hotel being so comfortable we found it hard to make the effort to do anything other than laze around. The most we did was a ridgewalk overlooking the rice paddies in central Ubud and then went back for more relaxing. As the hotel offered a free shuttle because it was a little out of town we didn’t bother taking the bike but we somehow missed the return shuttle. Working to a schedule is not great, it definitely made us appreciate the freedom the bike gives us.
We ended up asking one of the taxi drivers that had been watching us wait for the shuttle but he wanted too much. We should have known the next offer we got was a mistake as it was half the price, although it was in a banged up mini-bus, rather than the luxury van in the first offer.
He set off in the wrong direction. U-turn, a new price agreed and we were back on track. Only, when we said keep going 5 minutes into the journey, he got that kind of twitchiness about him where we just knew he was going to make some excuse about it being far and ask for more money. He began asking ‘how far’ every few minutes, his twitchiness becoming more evident as we got caught up behind some sort of procession. We sat behind it for a good 5 minutes and decided to get out and walk it still a good two miles to go. We paid him what we agreed but sure enough he kept repeating “very far”, it wasn’t unfair for the distance covered so we just got out.
We walked beside the procession which was mainly young lads covered in body paint, playing instruments and carrying blessings. It was a very happy atmosphere with the shops owners all sat by the roadside watching. Not sure what it was for but there was another one later in the evening for adults, only there was no body paint involved.
Whilst in full relaxation mode we began to think about what’s ahead, Australia. Indonesia is the last place we can enjoy walking into a shop and not having a worry about what we pick up as we know we can afford it. Australia on the other hand, and East Timor for that matter are known to be expensive. So that’s a worry as our money dwindles. Plus Christmas and New Year is just around the corner. There is a slight chance that we could make it to Sydney for New Year and spend it with friends but we’d have to really rush. So on one hand it makes sense to rush as we’d be spending less money as it’s less days but on the other hand we’d be rushing through the last part of Indonesia and all the east coast of Australia which we’re unlikely to ever do again on a motorbike. We come to the conclusion that it’s unlikely we’ll be doing this again, so why rush? Lombok next with a trip to the Gili’s – really not rushing.