A little trip around Bali

22 Oct

Well it’s been a long time since I wrote a blog, but then again, it’s been a long time since I have felt I done something new and exciting. That’s not to say life has been dull. I’ve had fun exploring Korat, had a crazy weekend in Bangkok and flew home for my sisters beautiful wedding. Not to mention the normal ups and downs of school life. But overall the last few months have been mainly consumed by work, with weekends being used to hit the gym, relax and indulge in western food (in precisely that order). I have also been consciously trying to save some money up, knowing that October would be an expensive month with two and a half weeks off work and plans to travel.

The last 6 weeks or so of school were pretty tough. I think that everybody, including the Thai teachers were in need of a time out and to get away. It was a mammoth term, stretching 20 weeks, broken up only by a long weekend. I’m not going to pretend the workload is high, but we do spend a lot of time at school and after a while your inspiration and motivation starts to run a bit low. Finally the exam period arrives and you look forward to a week without planning or stress, only to remember that adjudicating and marking exams would be an effective form of torture. Just to top it off we had to submit a mountain of paperwork; lesson plans, results, graphs etc. Still, I got through it and it was time to enjoy living in Asia to the fullest.

Natalie, Enda and I had decided to get out of Thailand during the break a while back. I’ve seen most of the tourist spots here now and it was definitely time for a change of scenery. We toyed with the idea of seeing the Philippines, but flights seemed a bit expensive. I wanted to see Angkor Wat, but felt this is easily doable on a long weekend. In the end we decided to go to Bali, where the prospect of surfing and swimming with turtles was too good to turn down.

We arrived in Bangkok a day before our flight and headed to an Irish Bar to watch Ireland stuff the French while enjoying a Guinness. It felt like we had left Thailand already and was a good start to the holidays. The next day we set off and arrived in Bali in the early evening. We had booked a room at a hostel close to the airport, at least that’s what Enda told us he’d done. It turns out that although the address had ‘Kuta’ in the name, we were in the arse end of nowhere and a two hour taxi journey through rush hour away. Possibly an easy mistake, but only one Enda would of made (sorry dude) ((not sorry really))!

We arrived at our hostel which was basic but comfortable enough. We had unintentionally arrived in a part of Bali which was dedicated to surfing, with not a lot else to do. As luck would have it, it was ideal. We caught up on some sleep and hit the beach. The waves were great fun, and after 20 minutes of being bashed about we hired a couple of boards. I had only surfed once before, in tiny waves with an instructor, so was slightly apprehensive. Not about getting hurt, just about making a complete tit of myself in front of hundreds of experienced surfers. I think it was a bit of beginners luck but I paddled out, caught a wave and rode it to the beach on my first attempt! I went to try again and got continually hit back by waves for the next 10 minutes. I hadn’t realised how tiring it was to paddle out each time in these conditions!

In total I spent about 2 hours, with mixed results. It was not standing up that was the problem it was paddling out and timing the waves that I found hard. Still it was a good laugh and by the end of it I felt I was getting the hang of things. The other two didn’t enjoy it so much; Natalie was forced to retire hurt and Enda gave up before he even got his hair wet (melts). I came out unscathed except for some severe sunburn behind my knees (is there a name for this?! Let’s go with legpits). My legpits were seriously sore!

Our other day in this area we spent exploring the west side of the island. We hired motorbikes and set off with no real plan of where we were heading. The roads are really thin in Bali and the traffic is completely bananas; luckily we were all well used to this from riding around Korat. Then it went a bit wrong. About 10 minutes into our ride we get called over by the police. None of us had been too keen to wear our heavily used, and quite frankly pointless helmets (sorry mum) and so I knew a fine was coming as we pulled over. I wasn’t expecting the police to be quite so corrupt though. We got called into a hut where the policeman, dressed in full police uniform, sitting in a police hut decided it was necessary to inform us he was the police. He then asked where we were from, shook our hands with a big smile before fining us 250,000 rupiah for not wearing a helmet. He then asked for our license which we handed over. He told us it’s not international and fined us another 250,000. I kicked up a bit of an argument, feeling he was extorting us, and he quickly dropped my fine down (what kind of police were they?!) Anyway, I wanted to get out of there so we paid and off we went. We learnt later from a local that we shouldn’t of had to pay any more than 50,000 rupiah. We learnt later still that this is extremely common in Bali, so be warned.

The rest of our bike journey went without a hitch. In fact it was so good, thanks mainly to Maderasta, a local guy who we bumped into. I was actually riding along, minding my own business when this eccentric looking local guy rides up beside me and asks me where I’m going. He then tells me he will show us the best rice fields in Bali. It was quite an odd meeting, riding along a main road at 60kmph, but I had a good feeling about the guy and instantly agreed to follow him.

It turned out to be a great decision. ‘Rasta’ took us to rice fields in the hills, a beautiful temple on the beach where you can watch a spectacular sunset and a coffee plantation where you can sample unique teas and coffees, including the infamous ‘Luwak’ coffee. If you haven’t heard about it already, this coffee is highly regarded and can cost a small fortune in some countries. What makes it so special is that the beans which make it have passed through a mongoose (yuuuuuuuummy). I’m not quite sure why that makes it so appealing, and to be honest having tried it I am still none the wiser. Still, it was another new experience, and the rest of the teas and coffees we sampled were delicious.

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Beautiful place to watch the sunset, Tanah Lot temple, Tabanan.

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The unwashed beans from a Mongooses bottom. Tasting the highly regarded Luyak coffee

After two nights we headed to Ubod, a bustling town in the center of Bali. The main reason we were heading here was its proximity to the volcano we planned to climb, mount Batur, rising a nifty 5,633 feet. I wasn’t too sure what to expect from Ubod, but as we reached the outskirts I was struck by its beauty. It is famous for having a rich culture and a natural feel, which was evident as we passed by stunning rice terraces and prehistoric looking trees, many of which draped their branches and vines over the narrow roads we drove along. We got dropped at our hostel, which was another nice surprise. I don’t think I’ve ever stayed in a hostel which is so clean and such good value for money! For about £5 a night we had a swimming pool, comfortable beds and even a corner bath. The girl who worked there was so polite and even folded our clothes for us while we went for dinner (I’m hoping she will come live with us in Thailand). So, if you ever visit Bali, check out Dormmy Inn Hostel.

While we were at the hostel we hired some motorbikes and booked our trip up the volcano. The tour aims to get you to the peak before sunrise so we had an early morning pick-up at 2am! We drove an hour to ‘base camp’ (lol) where we were put into groups with a guide. It was pitch black so everyone got a torch and we set off. I was relieved to finally get walking because the temperate was much lower that high up. The walk started on a gravel path which ascending at a gentle gradient, but up ahead we could see the line of torches start to rise up the side of the invisible mountain. It was a really cool view, bettered only by the incredible stars and planets shining above our heads. I walked ahead of the group so I could stop for a while and admire them. One star was so prominent it was clearly Venus, and we were later informed Saturn and Mars were also both visible beside it. For me, the trip was already worth it.

An hour into the walk and the path suddenly got a bit more onerous. We were only half way and some of our group were starting to struggle and slow down. We were on a tight schedule, to reach the top before sunrise so Enda and I decided to plough on ahead. We passed a lot stragglers and got to the lower edge of the crater where we could wait for the sun to appear. The views were awesome and everyone huddled around expectantly. The temperature was noticeably lower now and I had to wrap up warm now I had stopped walking. Finally the sun poked up on the horizon, and a buzz went round coupled with a ‘selfie frenzy’. It was a great thing; to witness the sunrise from such a beautiful place, but I couldn’t help feel guilty that I normally take the sunrise for granted. I decided I should watch more sunrises and sunsets, they are free , happen every day and are epic!

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A shot of the sunrise from the craters edge. Looking across the crater.

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Me and Enda at the summit of the volcano. A look back at the climb we just made. 

Once we had regrouped we checked out the crater and the hot steam continuously erupting from hundreds of little holes and crannies. It was very cool but I was distracted by the very top of the volcano looming above. Some people were climbing a very steep path to the very peak, now hidden in cloud. I had asked our guide if we would go up but he told me our group wouldn’t make it. I knew I would regret not going so I grabbed Enda and we snuck off. It was a tough final climb and our legs were burning but we got up there and joined in the photos with a large number of Japanese hikers. But not for long. We were in danger of missing out on our banana sandwich so we quickly started back down again. My legs felt like jelly by now and my shoes quickly filled with volcanic ash which covered the floor. But we made it back to the group, accompanied by some monkeys. We then had the two hour trek back down to the bottom, which just about finished us off!

After Ubod we originally planned to stay in Kuta but had heard reports of ‘too many Aussies’, which naturally put us off. So, with a bit of research and some recommendations we decided to leave Bali and go to the Gilli Islands. Another great decision! It took a taxi followed by a two hour long boat trip but it was so worth it! We went to Gilli Air which is a tiny island (about 7km circumference) surrounded by sandy beaches and coral seas. There are no cars or motorbikes on the islands, which is a great idea. We hired some push bikes and headed off to explore. Within 5 minutes we had crossed the island!

The highlight of our time here was a snorkel trip which took us to several diving locations and neighboring islands. I was so happy to swim with turtles again, and was even able to stroke it as it swam along with like a total turtle dude. It was my main goal during the trip so I was happy! We saw quite a few turtles and clown fish, but I was a bit disappointed by the seemingly poor health of the coral. A lot of it looked dead, and there wasn’t the large amount of sea life I’ve seen in Oz or Thailand.

On our final evening on the island we headed to a bar on the West coast of the islands to watch the sunset with some friends we had met. Again, it was an awesome sight and I felt so content just relaxing with a beer watching this natural spectacle. We finished off the trip we some good food and a bit of a knees up. It was very strange, I was heading back to Thailand, something that would normally be an exciting prospect, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit forlorn about leaving. Still it was a great trip, some amazing experiences AND I guess I will just have to come back another time 😉

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Stunning rice terraces in Ubod. The sunset on our final night taken from Gilli Air.

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