Where we went

After 3 months of roughing it around Oz in an un-airconditioned sweat-pit we were clearly gagging for the kind of pseudo luxury Bali is renowned for – relatively cheap but charming spa hotels on cliff tops with infinity pools and foot massages. Yay! So for the first week we stopped up in Uluwatu – the perfect compromise of the Bukit Peninsula's ‘pumping surf’, a chilled resort away from the bintang wearing tattoo festering metropolis of Kuta and a buffet featuring more members of the goreng family than you can poke a stick at.

We hired ‘Bob 2’ a Toyota ‘Avanza’ to brave the roads in search of more killer waves, cultural fulfilment and fried seafood things. This proved to be excellent training for future months of map deciphering and driving hell. Anyone who’s been sadistic enough to ride a scooter or motorbike in SE Asia will be familiar with the mystery inside, outside, left, right, centre lanes which make up every real lane, crammed with contestants of the unspoken challenge to fit every member of your extended family on your scooter at once, along with a new front door, 3 chickens and a 60 pack of toilet rolls. It was truly exhilarating, and truly highlighted that I’m going to be completely screwed if I don’t learn how to drive Bob properly soon.

We headed over to check out Nusa Dua – a gated luxury resort ghetto swarming with euros (you can just tell by their swimwear) and restaurants that serve chips with everything. Not a Balinese local in sight (other than employees). But I’m told the surf was awesome. Bob 2 broke down twice in Nusa Dua (within about 2 hours). Not that amusing at all. Despite this we did manage to have one of the best meals here – delicious steamed mahi mahi with chilli and Balinese herbs. Mmm. 

We were also obliged to head up to Ubud, hailed loudly as the cultural centre of Bali. It was nice to cruise past the rolling greenest of green rice paddies and the villages – it just seemed a bit more typical than downtown Denpasar. Our cultural obligations included a trip to ARMA art gallery and gardens, the sacred monkey forest and an attempted yoga session which involved getting lost and having an argument – so not zen.

Only in Indo for 2 wks, we decided to go a little further afield rather than to another island altogether, although in retrospect I wish we hadn’t. We hired the dodgiest, oldest Suzuki 4x4 we could find and headed west for Balian Beach (another surfers paradise – I’m such a pushover). Once there we stayed in the cutest bungalow overlooking the beach, really cosy. The beach at Balian was pretty foul – the sand was black and the water all churned up from the rain making it look a bit wild and grubby, but there were plenty of surfers and chilled out bohos there, making the pace even slower – much nicer than the main tourist beaches.

We took the Suzuki deathbox for a tour of the hills nearly up as far as the north west coast in search of volcanos, but the weather was pretty average and we had to picture picturesque views rather than actually see them. All the driving we did gave me more and more confidence in our ability as overlanders – albeit you get lost and crazy things happen on the road, I think we’re both pretty good at keeping our wits and avoiding the dangers of the road. Well, Joe is and he’s the main driver. As far as I can tell I’m just there to organise food.

The next day, as Joe was up surfing from about 7am and I went for a run around the Balian village. The next thing I knew some girl was running towards me telling me he’d been attacked by a shark. There endeth relaxed Bali. There’s more on the shark story in the next blog.

Although it ended in trauma and its become the bane of our trip (as we wait for Joe to recouperate in the UK), our time in Bali was the perfect way to get into SE Asia holiday mode after the dry boganity of Australia. 

Fun times

-        Intense, loud dance performance at Pura Luhur Temple, Ulu Watu. Super theatrical and a little bit dangerous with the men kicking balls of firey bark at the end. Ooooh. When we turned up there were truck loads of police and scary looking officials – it turned out the Indonesian Presidents wife was there for the performance too. The temple has amazing views over Uluwatu’s jagged cliffs and loads of thieving grey monkies wreak havoc and amusement.

-        In search of Volcanos, we drove the very slow Suzuki puffing and panting up the hills to try and see Gunung Batur (I think the 2nd largest volcano, don’t quote me). It was, as the guide book suggested, ‘shrowded in mist’, to the point of invisibility, and slashing it down too, much like the Bali Botanical Gardens & Munduk coffee plantations – which we admired from the comfort of the vehicle.

Character building times

-        Car battery dying in Nusa Dua. Twice. In two hours. Driver left the lights on. (It was Joe).

-        A slow, hot, painful 3 hrs driving to Balian with my head wedged under a surfboard bag in the hole-ridden suzuki death-trap.

-        4 hours in a taxi keeping Joe conscious en route to BIMC hospital in Denpasar after he tried to arm wrestle a shark.

Weird, Wonderful & Worrying

-        I loved the offerings lovingly put together everyday in the same way – flowers, food, incense in every single doorway - even on the back of scooters. It did make me a bit sad everytime i saw a pigeon or a rabied dog stopping for a little nibble though.

-        Grey monkeys shamelessly thieving and fornicating everywhere. The Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud and Pura Luhur were particular hot spots. I saw one of the little thieving bastards nearly strangle a woman trying to steal her necklace.