BootsnAll Travel Network

Archive for January, 2006

« Home

Tulamben: Shark Bait!

Tuesday, January 31st, 2006

Because of John’s infection, the diving part of our holiday had been cut short; there wasn’t enough time to do a 3-days course to get–at long last–PADI certified. Even though we’ve been diving on-and-off since the mid-nineties, lazyness and forgetfulness (such as leaving the qualification booklets at home during diving weekends) meant that we were not officially sports divers, or even open-water divers. This was especially embarrasing because our mates, some of whom had started after us, all reached advanced instructor level by the time they finished university.

In the Togeans over dinner one night, one of the dive masters proclaimed me “probably the most experienced non-open water diver in the world” (The flu kept me from diving there, but that’s another story).
[read on]

Tulamben: Diving the Liberty

Monday, January 30th, 2006

We stayed in Kuta for five days while John was on antibiotics—which cleared up his infection—and I tried (and failed) to become a surfer-girl. Then, with just three days of his holiday left, it was time to go diving.
[read on]

Ubud: Monkey Splash

Thursday, January 26th, 2006

It was the rainy season. Every now and then the sky burst and it rained so heavily that we would get soaked to the skin even during the 30-second dash from the guesthouse to Café Kita. On our last day in Ubud, the rain kept us inside all morning, but in the afternoon the clouds finally cleared. It was time to visit Ubud’s main attraction.
Ubud, Monkey Forest
[read on]

Ubud: Bali up Close

Wednesday, January 25th, 2006

Ubud is the cultural centre of Bali. Early every evening and during much of the day, the sound of the traditional gambelan orchestras filters down the street and across the rice paddies from the many places where the musicians meet to play or rehearse. Of course we had to see at least one traditional dance. We had a taste of these spectacles on our way to Ubud, when we had stopped for a Barong and Rangda dance, performed in a big hall with five thousand high school students in attendance. It turned out that all the schools in Jakarta had sent their juniors to an educational tour of Bali that week and all the dance venues were packed to the rafters. We sat high up, squeezed in tightly between people who packed the benches and the stairs, looking down at the near-riot around the stage (the dancers enjoy interacting with the audience—especially during the scary scenes) and I made up my mind there and then to look at Balinese dance more closely once we got to Ubud.
Temple statue
[read on]

Ubud: The Healing Spices

Tuesday, January 24th, 2006

It is true what they say: the food in Ubud is the best in Bali. This is not a town to visit when you are a diet. The restaurant where I had booked my cookery course—on an impulse after looking at the menu— was next to a place where John and I ate lunch on the day I managed to drag him out for a walk: Warung Ibu Oka which serves the best suckling pig (Babi guling) I have ever eaten, for about a quid a pop. A bargain, even by local standards. Normally, if you want to try this Balinese speciality, you’d have to be invited to a ceremony or, failing that, order a day ahead at an expensive restaurant for a minimum of two persons and expect to pay five times the price.
[read on]

Bali: the Island where the Gods dwell

Monday, January 23rd, 2006

Pura Tirta Empul
At my feet there was a small square box of woven palm leaves, containing coloured rice, flowers and a small cookie. A stick of incense had been placed on top. The sweet smoke rose up to my nostrils in delicate curls.

I stumbled briefly, but just managed to step over it.
[read on]

Bali Surf

Sunday, January 22nd, 2006

The waves keep rolling up onto Kuta’s wide golden beach and for the past three days or so, feeling much better, I have been looking out to sea with longing. Now that John has safely arrived, it was time to go surfing.

It was a calm day—barely a breeze to cool the sweat off our skin—and the surf looked shallow and inviting. Not a problem, I thought; we had after all been to a few surfing weekends in Newquay, Cornwall, about five or six years ago. It should be like riding a bicycle: get into the water and—after a slightly wobbly start—off we’d go.

However this is Bali, not Cornwall. The waves here are like rolling walls stretched across wide swathes of water. And they can suddenly come in very close together, each packing a punch that can throw you. Once past the foam, I was faced with a yawning blue jaw with white breakers on the top gnashing down on me. It looked even more threatening because without my glasses everything appears bigger, as well as fuzzy. And it was too late to turn and run: first the board went overhead, then I quickly followed.

Washed back up on the beach I remarked to a passing Australian: “Not really conditions for beginners, eh?”

“No mate, I wouldn’t get in there if I was you.”

It was John, the sensible, who finally made me see the way: “Are you crazy to try and go out behind the surf? You can’t even get onto the board! Why not stay where you can stand up and where the waves aren’t so strong?” And off he went, looking like a complete surfer dude. A passing tourist stopped and lifted his digital camera, hoping to catch a picture of him surfing against the dramatic backdrop of the waves; but to his disappointment John turned around before the water reached his waist, threw himself onto the board and was promptly washed off again. To his credit, after a bit of practice he nearly managed to stand up.

Not to be outdone, I grabbed the board as soon as he staggered back and waded into the water, assessing the surge. When I deemed it strong enough to catch a wave I turned around—and found that I was all of five metres away from the beach. I nonchalantly waded a bit further out and did manage to catch a few waves—I even got into a kneeling position several times before they fizzled out.

I suppose we can’t really say that we have surfed Bali. —Not yet.

Entries backdated

Saturday, January 21st, 2006

More backdated entries have been added from 24/12/2005 onward. Rant warning: the entries up to now are a largely uncensored account of my experiences in Indonesia. Solo travel in Sulawesi drove me to the verge of a nervous breakdown (yes, really) and isn’t recommended for the feint-hearted. There have been many downs, but also some spectacular ups.

“Is Bali Dead Now?”

Friday, January 20th, 2006

Dani the bar keeper at the Kubuki Bar on Poppy 1, Kuta, made this remark to an English tourist who was sitting two chairs away from me. They had been talking quitely, but I could not help listening to the rest of their conversation. The woman shrugged and said there had been six Westerners on her AirAsia flight from Kuala Lumpur. Six. There used to be dozens—perhaps hundreds on any given day.

The bar was nearly empty. Across the street, clothes fluttered from railings in shops without customers. The wide open surf off Kuta beach was almost deserted. Looking around the bar, I saw that staff outnumbered the guests about 3:1.

Bali doesn’t deserve this. After the scare of the October attacks, the bomb that went off in Palu on Dec 30th seems to have been the last nail in the coffin for many tourists. But that attack was the result of long-simmering local sectarian violence. I shook my head: “This is crazy. The attack has nothing to do with Bali—it’s like comparing London with Northern Ireland!” Then I realised that this was perhaps the wrong comparision to make.

Today I went to Ground Zero, the monument that marks the site of the 12/10/2002 bombing. The names of the dead are displayed on a solemn plaque of polished black granite. All around, life goes on: the shops are bustling and the never-ending traffic snakes its way down Jl Raya Legian. There’s a Dunkin’ Donut almost next to the monument.

But impressions are misleading: this is one of the world’s top surf destinations, yet the majority of people on the side walks are locals. In the busiest part of Kuta, there are fewer travellers than at a slow autum weekend in Newquay, Cornwall. Tour groups are staying away because there is a travel warning against the whole of Indonesia and insurance companies no longer cover many tours. But as I have said before on the forums: where is the sense in this for people who come from London or New York? It is more likely that you’ll get run over by a car than become the victim of a terrorist attack, whether in Bali or at home. This is not to belittle the events—like almost everyone else living in the London area I know somebody who knows somebody who was killed in the 7th July bombings. But I cannot shake off the feeling that the real victims here in Bali are the locals. They are the last to complain, but it is evident in people’s faces, and from remarks like the one I overheard in the bar.

If it is bad in Kuta, in areas outside Kuta the sense of desperation is palpable. In Lovina, the weather was too bad for me to stay, but before I returned to Kuta, I bought a dress (which doesn’t fit) from a woman in a stall in a prime location on the grey, windswept beach. She was pleading for my custom, telling me that she had had no business for three days. I bought a T-shirt as well. It felt like an act of charity even though I realise I may have paid too little.

Pictures uploaded

Thursday, January 19th, 2006

It took a while to find an internet café with CD drive, but I’m now uploading the final pictures from he Togean Islands and Toraja, Sulawesi.

Greetings from Kuta Bali and apologies for not updating this blog. It will have to happen in retrospective. For those of you on the road: it’s the peak of the rainy season in Bali right now and the wind is whipping up the surf somewhat mean.

“I’m not going in there!” a guy said to me as I stood on the beach contemplating the waves—and he’s an instructor!

But by God, what a beach!

John will get here on the 21st and we just hope to have a nice, relaxing holiday.

PS. Strike that: between Microsoft’s crappy software and Flickr’s even crappier servers, I can’t upload any high resolution pictures. I can’t reduce the resolution either, so that they could be uploaded onto this blog. And knowing my luck, I’ll lose the CD and the backup CD.