Bali (Part 2 of 2)

One of peculiar things about Bali that there is no functional public transportation or at least this is what all the guide books and everyone we have talked to say. Locals rely mostly on motorbikes and a more wealthy kind on private cars. Taxis, although cheap for short distances become prohibitively expensive for intercity travel. As an alternative there are bemos, shared ride taxis, which in the worst case combine the negative sides of taxis and public transportation. If you are unlucky, for a price of a taxi, you get a slow ride that you get to share with other people. However there is another mode of transportation, which not many people know about. Namely public buses that cruise between cities and pick people on the way. There are no timetables and you have to figure routes out yourself, but apparently this is the cheapest (and certainly not the fastest) way to travel on Bali. We learned about the buses on our last day in Indonesia, so did not get a chance to use them. Maybe next time then.

Munduk

Munduk was an unexpected choice. We were supposed to fly to Komodo, but Merpati (the airline) cancelled all the flights without any prior notice. Just like that. So at 7AM in the Denpasar airport a new plan was hatched to explore the north of Bali. Munduk is a small mountain village in North Bali. The altitude is high enough to warrant for chill temperatures (read +26C) during the day and heavy showers in the nighttime. The scenery is stunning: a couple of impressive waterfalls, endless rice terraces spread over the mountains and allegedly Bali’s oldest tree (aka The Big Tree). It is enough to fill two days with hikes, but it gets old quickly. The village itself is too hectic with passing traffic and lacks any chill out facilities. Still worth a visit for the different Bali, especially if hiking and stunning views are your cup of tea.

Lovina

Lovina is a small beach resort situated in the north of Bali, known for black sand beaches and dolphins, which can be spotted by booking one of the numerous tours. Other than that Lovina is popular among seniors, who clearly dominate the local scene. Essentially, a retirement home set in a tropical paradise. One of the elder Dutch couples we met on our way out of Lovina even told us boldly that they did not like young people. Maybe give it a few decades and I will grow fond of the place, but for now it is not exactly the most exciting part of Bali.

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Eloquence at its best near Munduk.

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And the view itself.

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And a different take on the beautiful view.

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Rice fields near Munduk

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The road to Bali's biggest tree was long and arduous.

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Us vs the biggest tree in Bali.

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Lush nature near the Munduk waterfall

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The mighty waterfall of Munduk.

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Huge bamboo trees growing near the waterfall.

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Balinese traffic signs are rather weird. Half man, half gorilla as a pedestrian sign.

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An abandoned resort in Lovina.

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With Buddha guarding the entrance to the resort

Bali (Part 1 of 2)

Before coming to Bali, we were skeptical about the island and almost skipped it altogether in favour of Lombok and Gilis. However upon setting my foot on the island I immediately noticed a strike difference to Java. Apart from the Hindu influence, there was a sense of aesthetics and polish in everything. As if the locals were preoccupied with trying to make the environment they live to look more pleasing instead of just having a roof over one’s head and getting by. Once in search of a temple we wondered into a private house (a protip: never trust Google Maps while in Indonesia) and actually mistook it for the temple, until the owner came out and told us politely to get out. Indeed there is little point to see attractions around Ubud for example, as the surroundings provide enough eye-candy. Apart from the distinct architecture the Balinese culture is marked by its own dance and music styles. Unfortunately we have not had a chance to experience any of the dance shows, but gamelan music was served as a soundtrack everywhere in Bali. Repetitive and samey, but never got boring nonetheless. I wonder when Western electronic music scene will discover rhythm and patterns of gamelan.
Of course tourist development has left an ugly mark on the island and especially areas like Ubud. Nonetheless it is still magical and well worth a trip. We spent 11 days on Bali altogether, longer than in any other part of Indonesia, but there is something about Bali that makes me want to visit it again.

Kuta

Having heard so many negative things about Kuta made me actually want to see it for myself. As it turned out it was not all that bad, at least for a quick in and out visit. It is all about eating, shopping and surfing. At times Kuta felt like a downtown of a metropolis with big brand stores, fancy restaurants and luxurious hotels. What makes Kuta stand out from the places of this kind is a spectacular, but way too popular (equally with surfers and hawkers) beach. It marked my first time swimming in Indian Ocean. No surfing this time, though. The horror stories of bulldozers cleaning the beach turned out to be true, but I could not see what all the fuss was. The beach of this caliber gets inevitably dirty and the fact the they clean it on a regular basis is nothing but a positive thing. This was my first impression of Kuta. On our second visit it partially lost its initial appeal, but not to the point of “never again”. It makes an excellent point of entry to and exit from Bali. Good food, even better shopping possibilities and cheap motorbikes.

Padang Bai

Essentially Padang Bai is a transit village, where ferries and boats to Lombok leave from. We did not plan to devote any additional time to it, but ended up spending three nights there. Apart from the laid-back atmosphere of the place and regular horns of the ferries coming from Lombok, there is an excellent beach and decent nightlife (read live reggae music) for a place of this size. The beach, Bias Tegul (the hidden beach), got its name for a reason. You cannot see it from any place on the land, until you reach it. The waves are high and reach out almost to the highest point of the beach. It was fun to watch unsuspecting people camping on the beach only to get wet with a particularly strong wave. The beach is served by several warungs with surprisingly low prices given the remoteness and adorable staff. The award of the best fruit salad in Indonesia goes to one of the warungs there. Even hawkers are nice there. Polite and not a sign of pushiness. We felt actually bad about not buying exquisite wooden boxes from an older hawker with puppy eyes. Another guy spent a lot effort selling a single coconut and once sold switched to selling decent massage. The best beach in Bali, hands down.

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The typical Bali.

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The typical Bali part 2.

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The typical Bali part 3.

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Women are forbidden to enter temples during menstruation. Religion is taken seriously on Bali.

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Offerings to Balinese Gods that are found everywhere on the streets of Bali.

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And a cheeky (or maybe just hungry) playing God.

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We were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a temple ceremony in Goa Lawah. It was a rather captivating affair.

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Praying to Gods and carrying stuff on their heads. Business as usual.

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Abandoned / never finished resort near Bias Temple in Padang Bai. All the guides call I ugly, but there is certain charm of urban decay in it.


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The same kids wanted me to take a picture of them, after which they started chanting "Money, money"

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Kids playing in the river near Klungkung

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Surfing boards on the Kuta beach

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People watching sunset on the Kuta beach

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Construction is a complex business on Bali.

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Muffins with pasta. This atrocity was found in one of the bakeries in Kuta. We were not brave enough to give a try.

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Sunrise over Bali.

Indonesian cuisine

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I did not have any prior notions about Indonesian food before coming to Indonesia, so I was genuinely surprised to find it bland, tasteless and outright bad on several occasions. Too much carbs and not that many vegetables. Overly sweet and not enough spices to balance out sugar and salt. Indonesian salads are non-existent and the closest thing to a salad, gado-gado is ruined with peanut sauce. Local curries lack in flavour and taste like a poor version of more traditional curries. Another example is coffee. In the country, which is known for its good (export?) coffee, I have not had a single cup of good Joe. On top of all I got my first ever food allergy reaction in Bali. Swollen lips and all that jazz.

I have always tended to diss people sticking to the Western food in Asia, but I found myself eating French fries more than anytime in my life. Interestingly enough in Indonesia they have no problems preparing good fries or a decent meal from a foreign cuisine. The best meal we had in Jakarta was Japanese, Mexican (!) on Air, Indian on Trawangan, Vietnamese in Kuta and so on. Well, you get the picture.

It is not all doom and gloom, though. Sate (grilled meat sticks in peanut sauce) served on the streets was excellent. However in restaurants they tend to overdo with sugar in the peanut sauce (once to the point of being inedible). Seafood barbecue was usually good, if you ignore the tendency to overcook the fish and the overall dryness of the meal. However, the best experiences with the local cuisine was with low-profile street warungs, where all the dishes are on display and you assemble your meal by yourself. Versatile and tasty, plus easy on your wallet too. The hygiene in some of these places could be a lot better, but on the other hand we succeeded to dodge any stomach problems. The advice here is the usual one, avoid tourist traps and stick to the places, where locals eat.

Gilis

Gili Air, Gili Meno, Gili Trawangan – three small islands lying North of Lombok. Known for its laid back atmosphere, small population and an absence of any motor vehicles. The islands have been popular among backpackers for years, but in the recent years they got attention from more upscale travellers, which resulted in the rapid development and price spikes making Bali look like a budget destination. Geography wise Trawangan has a small hill in the centre of the island, Meno boasts a salt lake with mangrove trees and Air has nothing. All the three islands are surrounded by coral reefs, which make swimming challenging especially during the low tide.

The islands are very close to each other. The shortest distance between the islands is some 600 meters, but swimming is not possible due strong unpredictable and potentially fatal currents. In fact when we were there, three people died (two of which were Finnish) when attempted to swim across. Interestingly enough one of the locals advised us to swim from Meno to Trawangan instead of taking a boat and was genuinely surprised, when heard about the deaths. That confirmed once again that locals can be clueless beyond belief.

Air

Air was the most pleasant of the three. We spent six days there and could easily spend more. There is not much to do apart from diving and snorkelling, but that is totally ok. Time flies differently there and having nothing to do feels as an advantage. Why do anything indeed, when you can get by without resorting to any activities just fine? Breakfast in the morning, lunch in the afternoon and dinner in the evening. Swimming, walking and chilling out in between. Why bother with anything else? Slow life at its best, even if the time flies fast.

Trawangan

Trawangan was the whole different matter. We arrived there on a Saturday morning and it immediately turned us off. Full of local day trippers from Lombok, galloping horse carts and douchebag party vibe all around was enough to not spend more than one night there. Walking away from all this madness into the more secluded parts of the island redeemed things a bit. Stopping for an ice coffee in a posh, but eerily deserted beach bar with no customers other than us was in particular pleasant. Not a waste of time after all, but I see no reason to go there again.

Meno

Meno is the most deserted of the trio. We arrived to the island with a boat full of people, who disappeared mysteriously after the landing and were not seen again. A lot of mosquitoes though. “Finish” and “no have” were heard here more than the usual with some local restaurants had basic ingredients missing like fruits. There is a fair share of abandoned resorts, which contribute to the desert island atmosphere. There is something majestic in seeing the remnants of the former glory. Despite all this Meno made a good impression. The beaches there are the nicest and the most accessible of the bunch. This deserted atmosphere and the beaches call for staying on the island for a couple of days before moving to Air. Trawangan can be left out of the equation, unless one feels adventurous.

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A young rastaman and his mother on their way to Gili Air

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Kids playing in the rain on Gili Air

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Rural idyll on Gili Air

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Each island has got its own solar panel farm. It seems it is the only electricity source, as diesel generators were nowhere to be seen

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Kids bathing on Gili Air

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Boating, canoeing and wake boarding.

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Boats waiting on the beach of Trawangan

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It can get rather windy on Trawangan

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Goats hiding from the pouring rain on Gili Trawangan.

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Shapes of unknown origin and purpose were spotted on the beach of Trawangan. Anybody have any idea what these are?

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An eery, but stylish deserted bar on Trawangan.

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An abandoned resort on Gili Meno

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A "big snake" was caught on Meno. It was big indeed.

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Yaya Warung, the best restaurant on Meno. Cheap prices, tasty food and occasional live music.

Indonesian business skills

A taxi driver with a sign “Do you need a taxi for today?” in Ubud. “No”. The guy promptly shows the reverse side, which says: “How about tomorrow?”

Walking back home after having a dinner on Gili Air. Another restaurant’s door-man: “A dinner?”. Me patting on the stomach: “Already had one”. “How about a second dinner?”

Kuta Beach. Drinks hawker pointing at a basic plastic chair in the shade (one of hundreds on the beach): “Hey have a seat in the romantic chair.”

Padang Bai. First trip outside after my sunglasses got broken. It took less than five minutes for a hawker to appear out of nowhere with sunglasses for sale. Sold.

“YES! Shopping?”

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Almost everybody tries to sell you something. Transport, a massage, show tickets, a room, food, drinks, batik, sarongs, jewellery, mushrooms, a motorbike for rent, stuff you don’t really need and what not. Even if they don’t sell, they almost certainly know somebody who is selling. Buying does not get easier than this.

Sometimes it feels like Indonesians are able to read thoughts. They almost certainly know where we head to and offer transportation accordingly. After Ijen we were going to Lombok, but every local assured us we were going to Bali instead. Turned out they were right, we ended up in Ubud. When looking for accommodation, it does not take long for someone to offer you one. Backpacks are clearly a giveaway, but it is still impressive. Many locals correctly guess that I am Russian without hearing me speak my mother tongue. I hear locals shouting my name “Roman” on a constant basis. It probably means something else in Bahasa (can someone solve this mystery?), but it feels like my name is public knowledge. Amazing.