For previous blog entries of our ride through NZ, Australia, South East Asia, China and Central Asia, click on the little arrows beside the dates in the Blog Archive below and use the scroll down menu.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Bali, Indonesia

Leaving Oz

Route: Kuta - Seminyak - Tahah lot - Negara- Gillimanuk - Lovina- Git git - Kintamani - Ubud- Gianyar - Amalpura - Sanur - Kuta

Distance cycled:10,150 kms

It was almost 10 o'clock on the 6th of June and there we were standing outside Denpasar airport with our 4 huge cardboard boxes. The place was mobbed and straight away every man and his dog wanted to offer us a taxi to wherever we were going. However, we didn't know where we were going and if we could find a quiet place to sit and build up the bikes, we would have our own taxi. We parked ourselves outside a cafe and Ben got to work doing what he does best. I emerged from the cafe with 2 large bottles of Bintang, the local beer which I paid 20,000 Rupiahs for(about 1.50). After changing $500 Australian, we found ourselves millionaires with the princely sum of over 3 million in our back pockets. Many came to chat and observe as we assembled the bikes, the most interested party being the airport security. Before long, a group of them were around us, ringing bells, squeezing tyres, testing brakes, lifting bikes to test the weight an even taking them for a test ride. They were a funny bunch.

By the time we were ready to go it was nearly 2am and we cycled a short distance from the airport to Kuta. We decided it wasn't good value for money to check into a hotel so late so opted for an all-nighter, drinking coffee and duty-free baileys on the stairs of the 24 hr McDonalds. Kuta was complete madness when we arrived. Pounding techno drifted out of bars and nightclubs, mopeds sped past in all directions, weaving round drunk British and Aussie tourists and the roads, even at this late hour, were still heaving. Several baileys coffees later and we started to see the first signs of dawn and sleep-deprived but in great spirits we jumped on our bikes to go and watch the sun come up. Now we saw a different Kuta. The drunkards were all in bed and the Balinese were waking up to a new day. People waved and smiled as they opened their shops and women were out on the streets laying out their offerings of incense, flowers and food wrapped up in a banana leaf.
Kuta beach

Soon, the traffic started to build up and we rode around the maze of narrow, twisting roads and lanes trying to get to grips with the traffic. At first I thought, this is insane, we'll surely die. It became clear that it's every man for himself on these roads and the rules are, there are none. Mopeds, which make up about 90% of the traffic weave wildly around other mopeds, pedestrians and the hundreds of Bali dogs ambling across the road or just lying in the middle of it. They seemed to know how to deal with the traffic better than us mind you. Mopeds frequently mount the pavement and junctions are just a free for all. If you see a space, go for it. However, it is the over and undertaking here that really beggars belief. People pull out into the path of oncoming vehicles forcing the other car into the verge. Mind you, driving on the wrong side of the road for prolonged periods of time is also quite normal. Mopeds with families of 4 aboard undertake buses and trucks turning corners as do the famous heavily laden biked carrying all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff.

Unfortunately there is enough litter here to put Ibrox on a match day to shame

We persevered with it though, accepting that we'd signed up for this and after a while began to see that there was a method to the madness, organised chaos. Infact, once you get into it, you realise the drivers are as forgiving as they can be under the circumstances. The key is to concentrate on what's in front of you, not behind and to be prepared to brake suddenly in response to unpredictable behaviour. You have to be assertive too. The streets here are filled with the deafening noise of horns which people use to make their presence known and as a warning. Unlike back home, people never seem to use their horns in anger. Infact, the whole time we,ve been here we've yet to see anyone lose their temper.

Rabies - hilarious stuff

We checked into a hotel in Poppies Lane 1 in the centre of Kuta. Poppies Lane is a maze of narrow, twisting lanes with shops and eateries opening out onto the street. The shopowners are zealous to say the least and attract your attention by shouting "Hello Boss!". One guy even whispered in Ben's ear in a husky voice, "Yes, it is super bloody cheap".You'll see more smiles on any street corner here than back home and the Balinese are so, so friendly. Up and down the lanes, people have been asking Ben how he is in French and Italian. It was a mystery to us at first until we realised that his semi-mullett hairdo makes him look like an Italian footballer. Ciao bello. Our wee hotel room was great, with plenty of room for our bikes. We walked on the beach, swam in the sea(which we've since stopped doing now we know what goes in it), shopped, ate out in restaurants and went to bars. No-one noticed us or spoke to us anymore. We were just another couple of tourists without the bikes. Most days we bought 'Mie Goreng"(fried noodles) or "Nasi Goreng(fried rice) from a food cart on the beach where both of us ate for a pound. The food is delicious and very cheap. Even eating in a restaurant costs only a few quid for both of us. Sit down on the beach for more than a second and you'll be inundated with offers of ice-cream, cigarettes, crossbows, massage, jewellery and duck puppets. "You like duck, you want cigarette?". Best to pretend you're asleep. We treated ourselves to a Balinese massage where two young giggly Indonesian women gave us a good pummeling as we lay side by side. Cost, around 4 pounds each for 1 hour. We later realised looking at their flyer that we could have had a "vagina steaming' or "massage yer jenel". Maybe next time.

During our time in Kuta, Ben managed to delete the whole of my Townsville to Darwin blog. Weeks of work gone in a flash. I left him for 2 minutes, deleting gaps between paragraphs before publishing and when I came back it was gone, all of it. At first I thought I might need some counselling to get over it and felt quite ill at the thought of having to try to rewrite it from scratch. However, being in Bali, I got over it pretty quickly and set to rewriting it as best I could. We left Kuta 2 days later with the blog published after 2 6 hour stints in the internet cafe.

It didn't take to long to get out of the madness of Kuta. We cycled for a few hours and reached Tanah Lot, having opted to go round the West Coast first. After 30 kms it was a relief to see the land opening out and the appearance of paddy fields and rice terraces in the distance. We ended our first night in Kediri where we were invited to spend the night in the local Banjar(meeting place). This is an open-air building like a big concrete gazebo in the middle of the village. We rolled out our thermarests as people stared in, smiling but extremely curious. The next morning some locals came to chat and as they spoke no English, I spoke in Indonesian. Bahasa Indonesian is an extremely easy language to learn and luckily for us is a regional variation of Malay so we will be understood using it in Malaysia too.

The banjar at Kediri

We cycled about 40 kms to a "Warung", a roadside eatery. There are thousands of these all over Bali where you're never too far away from your next meal. We ate then asked the owners if we could put our tent up. No problem. We spent a night with these guys with a sea view from our tent, paying our way by eating in the Warung. These guys spoke no English so again it was up to me to speak Indonesian as best I could if we didn't want to sit there playing charades all night. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention and being forced to speak Indonesian has helped me learn loads in a short space of time.

Ben Casson - ladies man

We set off on a quiet bit of road which hugged the coast the next day as everyone waved and smiled, shouting "Hallo Mee - stah" and "Go, go, go!". These folk are amazingly cheerful. 15kms later we arrived in Medewi beach, the first slightly touristy area we'd been in since leaving Kuta. It was good to speak English again. Hasim took us up to a great little room in a farm homestay where we stayed 2 nights for 60,000 Rps a night(about 5 pounds all in). We spent a great couple of days relaxing on the veranda, watching the chickens, chatting to the kids and learning Indonesian.It's nice to stop for a few days getting to know people and being part of somewhere.

Indonesians have a love of togetherness and will sit with you for hours on end without experiencing the awkwardness a lot of Westerners would feel in this situation. Privacy seems to be a western notion and life here is very much communal. Medewi Beach is a nice little place to visit on the West Coast, ask for "Gede, Warung and Homestay". Hasim and his family will give you a nice room for the night with tea and biscuits magically appearing on your veranda in the morning.
Hasim(in Indonesia it means peace not f*** off)

Bargaining is par for the course and you can pretty much bargain for anything here. However, we try and recognise if someone is offering us a good price in the first place and not drive them into the ground.

Very cheap

Leaving Medewi, we cycled on up the West Coast and arrived at the biggish town of Negara. We stocked up on water, packets of Mie Goreng and rice for our wild camp nights and cycled off to find somewhere to pitch the tent. Leaving Negara, everyone shouted "Hello!" as we zoomed past. Children screamed and cheered. It's so nice and always makes us smile. About 10 kms past Negara, we pulled off down a dirt track and asked a lady if we could pitch our tent by her house. After a few communication problems, we established that we were indeed most welcome. Instead of tenting though, we used our mozzie net for the first time(thanks Emily). Before long, Sumilah's husband and sons arrived. We spent 2 days with these guys who again spoke no English. It was, socially, very challenging at first but soon we got to know each other and started to relax and enjoy ourselves. We got by with some Indonesian, an English/Indonesian dictionary and quite often, charades. I had forgotten just how much hard work it is when you only know a little of a language. It was a learning experience for everyone. These guys were extremely poor yet the little that they did have, they shared with us. Their house was a basic brick building with 2 small rooms to sleep in and an outhouse with a well which was used as a kitchen/bathroom. The only electrical appliance they had was a portable TV which we watched the world cup on. I told them that Scotland's football team were rubbish and they thought this was hilarious.


Angga and Daroo

Angga, 20 had always wanted to go to University but his family could never have afforded that in a million years. So instead he worked 12 hour days for a few pounds a week clearing gardens. Like a lot of Indonesians he saw learning English as a way out of poverty and was dying to say a few words to us. Before leaving, we nipped back to Negara to get him an English grammar and conversation book and some treats for the family. He was delighted and we realised then how damn lucky we were.

We walked through their village one day, which was way off the beaten track. Talk about sticking out like a sore thumb! People just couldn't believe we were there and whole families came out to have a good look at us. It was pretty uncomfortable for both of us but we dealt with it better than most would and saw it as preparation for what was ahead.

We said goodbye to our kind hosts the next day, telling them as best we could that we would never forget them. It was a touching moment for everyone concerned. We had realised by this point just how poor a lot of Balinese people were. Most tourists here will spend their time in Kuta and Ubud, never seeing the way people really live on the island. In most of the places we've stayed, we've been the only white folk. Tourists go from resort to resort and not the places inbetween.

We left and did a 100 km day the next day, the first since arriving here. We cycled through West Bali National Park and looked across the rough seas to Java. Some teachers with a school group invited us to share some Bali coffee and donuts. We sat together laughing at the antics of the cheeky Bali monkeys all around us.

Actual monkeys(not real size)

Across the sea to Java

And then this happened............................

That's right, 10,000kms. Unfortunately, after all that hard work our clocks go back to zero as they only go up to 4 digits. Where will be next time round the clock? Iran? Pakistan? up the Himalayas? We'll see. We were happy and did a little dance, much to the passing drivers amusement, at the side of the road. We started heading East along the North coast which was a beautiful ride through the jungle. Monkeys ran across the road in front of us, prompting us to make sure all valuables were firmly attached or out of sight. These guys can unfasten zips, undo buttons and buckles and untie knots and will have your digital camera and passport away in a flash if you're not careful.

Not quite Hollywood but liked the sense of humour

We stayed the night in Seririt in our cheapest hotel so far(50,000 Rps inc breakfast, tea and coffee). It was cheap for a reason though but good enough for the likes of us. I spent most of the night washing our clothes in a bucket which between boiling water, washing , rinsing and wringing took about 3 hours. The water here stinks so there's not much point taking it to a laundry.
Mylo Morrison's sister. PS - We love Bali dogs

Next day we cycled a short distance to Lovina, a touristy place by the sea. It was nice to be here in a way as we just blended in with all the other tourists. By this point, we were craving anonimity. Riding into town, we were inundated with offers of accomodation and followed a guy on a moped to a nice little quiet homestay near the beach. It cost 70,000 Rps and we stayed 3 days. It was a nice room, especially after having spent the night in squalor the previous evening. We put the bikes away in the room and went out for a nice meal, cheap beers and sampled the local spirit Arak. It's potent stuff to say the least. The volleyball finals were on, Lovina v Denpasar so we watched that from the comfort of the pub.

Saskia and Andreas - more new friends to visit when we hit Holland

However during the time we spent in Lovina, we couldn't help but feel that the place was a bit of a sham. The occasional tourist hotspot with bars, fancy restaurants and pristine toilets surrounded by real poverty. The place seemed so false and lacked soul because of it. Locals tried to make a living as best they could selling stuff on the beach but seemed far more desperate than they did in Kuta. Tourists going from resort to resort are kidding themselves if they think they are seeing the real Bali. And to the tourists we see getting annoyed with the beach vendors, touts or people begging on the street: what do you expect when you come to a poor country?

Good uses for a bicycle - ice cream cart

Yes, there is a moped underneath

Having said that, loads of Balinese make a great living from tourism so it's not such a bad thing in that respect. I just think many people don't appreciate the poverty many people live in. Bali does a great job in hiding it in the "nice" areas.

Whilst in Lovina we were horrified to find a box of 5 abandoned kittens, less than a day old. At first we left them, realising that no-one would really care as most cats and dogs are in such a state here that it's a wonder they're still alive. We couldn't take them with us and felt powerless to help them so, difficult as it was, we walked away. Later, we walked past again and they were still there. But this time we didn't leave them. Ben picked them up and started marching back to the hotel with them. My first response when we got back was, "Okay then, so we've got a box of cats". We put some water on their bottoms to stimulate their urge to pee, one of the first things their mammy would do, then set about trying to give them water with a little powdered milk. We managed to get them to take a little each and then bundled them up together in the corner of the box which seemed to help them relax. We were up all night feeding them and putting water and milk on their backs which they licked off each other. The next day the vet was open and we left the cats outside just before she was due to open. We realised that they stood little chance of survival without their mother and the vet may well put them down straight away. We also considered the sort of life of hunger and neglect they would have in Bali if they ever did get the chance to grow up. We didn't know if our interference with nature had been the right thing to do anymore. After opening time at the vet Ben went round to make sure the vet had got them. We felt gutted and expected the worst. But to Ben's delight, he found the vet there with all 5 kittens handfeeding them with a bottle! What a happy day. Who knows what their future will bring but life is surely worth preserving.

As Ben had discovered his rear hub was crushed, we hobbled 10 kms to the big town of Singaraja. We presumed finding a replacement would be a nightmare but unbelievably we managed to find a back street shop that stocked deore hubs. We booked into the cheapest hotel we could find(40,000 Rps) and Ben spent a few hours wheel building.


Next morning we stocked up on noodles and meths and headed off into the mountains, hoping to get away from everyone. We started climbing and were still dragging ourselves uphill 6 hours later. This was by far the longest steepest climb either of us had ever done. Good training for the Himalayas. Most of the way up we managed to maintain an average speed of about 5 km/h. The Balinese loved it and cheered us on as they passed us on mopeds.

We had been looking forward to getting into the mountains but were disappointed to realise it was pretty much impossible to be on your own anywhere in Bali. There are people everywhere, even 2,500 metres up a volcano. We cycled up and up to the town of Git Git where we met Made. He bought us a bag of Bali coffee and invited us to come and spend the night with him and his family. It was a lovely offer which we`d normally never turn down. However, by this time we really needed some time on our own, just a few nights wild camping in quiet surroundings. Easier said than done.


Git git waterfall

We cycled on and found a lovely wild camp spot just off the road with a great view. we had just finished getting the tent up when an elderly man with a scythe and a dog appeared from behind a bush. He had a house round the corner which we hadn't spotted. He rabbited on in Indonesian we couldn't understand even after we asked him to speak more slowly. We assertained that he wanted us to go which was the last thing we needed with less than half an hour of light and heavy rain coming in. We'll never know if he really did want us to go. He looked a bit sad when we cycled off. It was now dark and raining at the top of the volcano. We stopped at a warung and asked a guy where we could camp. 10 minutes later, in usual Balinese style, we were up at his house drinking tea and eating dinner. Thanks to Putu and his family. We spent the night chatting in Indonesian before being shown into the only bedroom of the house, which was a nice surprise as it looked as if the 7 of us would all be kipping on the living room floor!

Putu and family

Next morning we awoke refreshed. A banquet was prepared for us for breakfast: rice, veg, sardines, noodles, eggs and chillii sauce. They obviously wanted to feed us up after our mammoth effort climbing the mountain.

We set off down the road to find hundreds of Bali monkeys. we watched them for a while until they started hissing at us. A couple went for us but we screamed in their faces and they backed off. We realised we were outnumbered and got on our bikes quick smart.

We arrived at Lake Beratan. Ben spotted a market sellers bike needing some work and a grateful Farux sent us off with a musical instrument made out of a coconut and a comedy t-shirt saying "white men don't come to Bali" in Indonesian. As usual, it didn't take long for a group of Balinese men to come over to watch Ben work. They were equally fascinated, like most of the people we've met here, by our stove.

And then at last we found a beautiful, quiet backroad with very little traffic which took us to Kintamani. As I approached the turnoff, I realised Ben had sped past it. I thought to myself "Buggar that, I'm not going down to get him". I'd have had to climb the hill again. So I waited at the turnoff. Poor Ben got a bit worried 2kms down the hill when I didn't appear. It was a very sketchy descent with lots of hairpins and it was raining. He got even more worried when an ambulance roared past him, sirens blazing. He sped up the hill, and found me relaxing, unperturbed, at the turnoff. He gave me a big hug and we set off.

The scenery was stunning, lush rainforest, mountains and rice terraces as far as the eye could see. We sped downhill at 60 km/h grinning from ear to ear as we overtook cars and motorbikes. Bikes corner much better than cars. We zoomed through remote mountain villages with everyone cheering and waving at us as we passed. it was so nice to be off the busy, stinking roads.

The most barmy house in Bali

That night we found a wild camp spot, just off the road but well-hidden in a forest. This time we weren't disturbed. In Bali, if people did discover us, they would want to invite you to their house not give you any hassle. It's hard to make them understand you are perfectly happy in the tent.

Moped wheelieing with passenger in tow

After descending for a while, we started climbing again. this time the climbing was even tougher. The distance was shorter but the gradient, hellish. Steep, steep climbs with even steeper hairpin corners which tested us to our limits. It was far tougher than anything we climbed in NZ. Having said that, we have still not walked up ANY hill since the start of the trip. We arrived in Kintamani to a stunning view of Lake and Mount Batur. And of course, what goes up, must come down and we cycled 30 kms downhill to Ubud, hardly having to touch the pedals. The road was amazing. No traffic.

We arrived in the tourist hotspot of Ubud. This place is much more relaxed than Kuta. Suddenly, we were back in the fabricated world of martini bars and cigar lounges. As we pushed our bikes around the narrow lantern-lit lanes looking for accomodation, a lady accosted us and offered us a room. We said our limit was 100,000 Rps(about 8.50). She wanted more but we said we had been offered 100,000 for a place down the road. As we walked away, she called us back, agreeing to the price. When we arrived, we couldn't believe our eyes. It was a luxury apartment, brand new with a terrace overlooking a waterfall, a mozzie sheet round a brand new double bed, hot water and for the first time in Bali, a bath! We felt slightly guilty for having got it so cheap but stayed for 4 days and forfeited breakfast to make up for it.

We spent 4 days relaxing, learning Indonesian, playing cards and doing yoga. Ubud is more expensive so we enjoyed the simple life without spending much money. The highlight of our time in Ubud was our visit to the monkey forest. We paid 20,000 Rps to go in. Inside is a sacred temple and a forest with around 300 Balinese macaque monkeys. They are completely used to humans and behave completely naturally around the tourists. They were utterly hilarious and we spent hours watching them. We sat in a shelter quietly as the monkeys played all around us. Before long we were being groomed and deflead! They climbed all over us, fleecing us for food and looking in our mouths. Once in a while, a boisterous monkey play-fight would break out on top of us and we'd have to shake them off till they calmed down. We looked over at each other and burst out laughing: Ben had a monkey on his head, one on each shoulder and another trying to undo his flies. My 2 were having a good rummage down my bra to see if I had a spare banana in there for them. What a great day. We watched tourists having their drink bottles swiped and food stolen out of their hands. One managed to get a bottle of juice and a packet of crisps out of someone's bag, opened the lid and downed the lot of it with his crisps.

On the way back we adopted a Bali dog for the day who followed us around. We like to think he enjoyed our company but it might have been the roast chicken we fed him. We were also glad to find a charity in Ubud that tries to help the Bali dogs. It's a start.

Our last few days in Bali were pretty uneventful and we were by this stage killing time till we got on the plane. One month was too long here. It's only small and we got out of the rhythm of cycling having so much time off. We headed over to the East Coast for a look and wild camped for a few nights much to the amusement of the Balinese onlookers. We were also lucky to meet Ketut who introduced us to his bosses Mike and Brigitte. These guys, from Melbourne let us set the tent up in their garden and offered us breakfast the next morning. It was the easiest camp we've had here by far!

For our last 2 days on the island we headed back to the madness of Kuta, knowing a lot more about Bali than we did when we left there over 3 weeks ago. We booked into the cheapest hotel we could find, feeling slightly depressed about the amount of money we'd had to spend on accomodation. It's simple, we need to camp. Our money won't last if we keep using hotels. Hopefully, finding camp spots will be easier in Malaysia than it has been here. We got the bikes boxed up for the last time. From Singapore, we cycle all the way to Holland without having to get on another plane or boat. It's a nice feeling.

And then the s**t hit the fan for us big time!....................

We arrived at the airport to find that the ATM's wouldn't give us any money. I ran around 2 hours before the flight was due to leave trying different machines but couldn't withdraw a cent. I had money in the account, that was certain and we had been using ATM's no problem up until the previous day. We had to pay for our excess baggage or they wouldn't let us on the plane. To make matters worse, our visa ran out at midnight that night so we would have been in the country illegally thereafter with no access to cash to extend it. In the end, I managed to pay for the excess baggage over the phone, giving my credit card number and the bikes got checked through about 20 mins before take-off. Our hearts sank as we arrived at a desk which said "Departure Tax, 300,000 Rps per person". We didn't have 2 ha'penny's to rub together nevermind the equivalent of 25 quid! They could only take cash and assured us that unless we paid it we wouldn't be getting on the plane. So the situation was this: we would be in Bali illegally with no money and all our luggage would be sent on a flight to Singapore. Perfect. Buggar that. I ordered Ben to start asking everyone for the money we needed. We were desperate. The first Aussie guy I asked started us off with 100,000 Rps, before long Ben came back with 150,000 and one last guy gave us the 50,000 we needed to pay the tax. We ran to the checking in desk, announcing to all the people who we jumped in front of in the queue that we were going to miss our plane. We ran like crazy people through duty free and arrived at the gate only to find it had been delayed by 4 hours! Unlike the other disgruntled passengers, we were delighted it was late. We couldn't believe we'd got through. A huge thankyou to all the kind people who helped us at the airport. You saved us a huge amount of trouble and we are eternally grateful!!!!!! The whole thing was so stressful, I'm sure it must have taken a few years off me but we got there. It turned out that Barclays bank had frozen my account due to suspected fraud as they saw it was being used abroad. Cheers you guys!

We had a great time in Bali and as an introduction to travelling in Asia, it was perfect. The main thing we will remember about Bali is the beautiful, friendly, smiling Balinese. Being around people like this teaches you a lot about being open and understanding.They really are amazing. Unfortunately, Bali is a real mess with rubbish and a lot gets thrown in the sea. It's not the tourists but the Balinese who do this to their own island. People here are extremely devout Hindus who dedicate their life to their religious practice. In Hinduism you are required to care for plants, animals and the environment but that's not happening. There is no badness involved on the part of the Balinese, it's just normal to drop litter but it can't go on. Education and suitable waste disposal and recycling are needed for the future of Bali. We always felt safe in Bali and never once considered anyone would hurt us or even steal from us, despite the poverty some people face. We also realised that the tourist life is not for us! It's great for a few days but thereafter too costly and not half as rewarding as travelling by bike. We look forward to getting back on the road properly. We will also remember the Bali dogs, who despite their extreme suffering are the loveliest animals you could meet. We hope life gets better for you all soon.

PS We lost a lot of our Bali photos as they didn't save properly which is why they are pretty sparse this time. Boo!!

We are in Singapore blog to follow soon. Thanks for your support.