Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Bali trip 2010

I visited Bali for the first time in September 2010 to go to the Ben Wilson Bali Accelerator Kitesurf Camp. You can read about my experiences on the camp on my kitesurfing blog.

This post provides some information and links to photos of my other experiences in Bali.

It has taken me 50 years to get to Bali, and I am glad I have finally visited.  Bali seems to a place you think you know all about even if you have never been there as so many Australians visit here and talk about it.

Some say they love it.  Others say they hate Kuta but the rest of the island is very good.  I was very interested to see for myself.

Arriving and early experiences

Landing at the airport, I approached customs and immigration wondering what I was in store for.   I was confronted with very long queues that took about an hour to be processed, and I was right up the end.

Once through, I looked for my transport to the hotel I have booked, but couldn't find anyone.  There was a fellow in an office who rang my hotel (the Puri Cendana), but they said I didn't have a booking.  They said to contact ABL Tours who I had booked through, but they did not answer their 24 hour number.

Not a good start.  Hot and bothered, with several guys offerning lifts.  The guy in the office helped me get a car (not a taxi as it turned out) who took me to Pur Cendana for 140,000 rp.  I figured this would be the best place to go and I might be able to talk them into giving me a room.

The car drove through the bar district of Seminyak which had people (mostly tourists) spilling out into the street with music thumping, and Balinese "lady boys" perched on motorbikes parked nearby.  What an introduction; I was getting frazzled.

The driver left me at Puri Cendana where I spoke to the attendant and settled by nerves.  He and the security  guys were friendly and helpful, as I found most Balinese to be.  The concierge found me another hotel and a taxi to take me there, and showed the taxi where it was on his scooter.  The Ari Meriki turned out to very friendly, quite convenient and not too expensive.  I booked it for my other nights in Seminyak.

The first day around Seminyak and Kuta

I woke early and went for a walk along the JL Drupadi road the Ari Meriki is on.  Some hustle and bustle starting up along the road, but most of the shops were closed.  I encountered the Bali paradox - some very neat and expensive western shops, and a small very poor street market.

I had a nice breakfast back at the hotel, then wandered in to Seminyak and walked along JL Dyhana Pura.  Again there was a mix of western bars, hotels and shops and other more local places.  I stayed out of most of the shops but settled in the Bestest Cafe for some good free wifi and some eggs for lunch.  I checked out the Sofitel on the beach after a security check to get in, and then the beach and the Hotel Pelangi where we meet tomorrow for the wave camp departure.

The beach is nice and wide, with lots of deck chairs to rent and drinks, massages and rental equipment available.  There are some good waves too.  This beach is the draw card, along with cheap prices, for the Type A Australian tourists who flock here.

I then rented a bicycle which was only just big enough for me and not in a good state of repair and cycled along the JL Raja Seminyak to Kuta.  Endless shops and people milling about.  Lots of scooters and cars too.  It was very busy, and not my idea of a relaxing holiday.  I cycled down through and around Kuta, passing ground zero for the 2002 bombings (without realising it) then back along the beach.  It is much busier both on the beach and the streets in Kuta.  Too busy for me.

I bought a mosquito net and a T shirt at the Bintang supermarket, which is full of local goods.

After a rest at the hotel I headed off to try and cycle to Sanur to check out the kitebeach there.  Lots of cycling along roads that all start to look the same, jostling with scooters on the left.  I could hear them talking about me on their scooters as they approached from behind and passed by.

I got close, but did not have a good map, so I turned before I got there as it was getting late and I wanted to avoid the dark.  I followed my nose home along a busy road.  The right crank on the bike became loose so I had to hand tighten the screw several times, as well as constantly adjust the seat.  It was great to get some exercise.  I dropped the bike back after a shower and had dinner at the Bestest Cafe - a nice safe souvlaki.

Kitesurfing at athe Ben Wilson Wave Camp

I then spent 7 days at the Ben Wilson Bali Accelerator Kitesurf Camp. You can read about my experiences on the camp on my kitesurfing blog.

A day tour to Kintimani and Sanur

Back in Seminyak after the wave camp, I decided to hire a driver and go inland to the volcano region and check out some sights along the way.  I was considering doing one of the bicycle tours that leave from the top and meander down, but I also wanted to visit Sanur.

My driver for the day was Gusti Nyoman Suamba in a Suzuki people carrier.  We stopped at one the streets where they sell and create stone carvings, which are very impressive.  We then visited the silver region, where I bought some pendants for Lena. They were not very cheap, but they were nice.

I also bought some drink coasters from a shop selling ceramics.  We bypassed Ubud, a popular town to visit in the hills, then stopped at the Ubud Rice terraces, where I was beseiged by persistant local sellers.  Gusti told by later to avoid talking to them and handling the goods they thrust at you.  I bought a couple of sarongs from an extremely persistent lady.  Every time I walked away she dropped the price, until I reallly thought I had a bargain, and they would be good to have at home.  As it turned out, I need one as a wrap at the temple later too.

The rice terraces are beautiful and there are cafes there for meals.  I bought some bananas thrust through our window as we drove off.  We then finally left the endless roadside stalls and shops and entered a more rural region where they go fruit.  Then we crested the rim of a giant crater to get a breathtaking view of two volcanoes and a giant crater lake.  This was well worth the trip.

The smaller volcano has a fairfly fresh lava flow (circa 2008) down its flank.  More sellers of postcards and paintings.  Some are mobile on scooters and pop up when you stop in the middle of nowhere.

We then visited the superb Ulun Danu Batur temple.  Gusti explained that Ganesh the elephant welcome you just inside; Hindus pay him homage during there visit.  There were various regions and shrines within, including a small shrine for Buddha.

I had my sarong to wear but had to hire a sash to tie around it, after a bit more hassling.

2010-08-09 Ulun Danu Batur Temple

The three main dieties of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva were represented by statues.  The flower offerings are colour coded for them.  Red for Brahma (the creator) on the right, Green for Vishnu (the maintainer and preserver) in the middle, and all the colours for Shiva (the destroyer) on the left.

We then drove along the crater rim and stopped for lunch a restaurant perched on the edge with seats looking out to the superb view.  I took the buffet after they dropped the prices to 80,000 rp + tax.  It was a nice lunch, with fruit and stick rice pudding along with good tea.  I started before 12 and was glad to leave when hordes of tourists arrived.  I found Gusti with some locals and stopped for a chat and had a snake fruit - a curiously tart fruit with a skin like a snake.

We headed down into the crater for a look.  There are market gardens growing cabbages and tomatoes down by the lake and a small village too.  We stopped at a small Warung (local bar / cafe).  I walked up onto the lava flow for a lovely panorama looking up the the Mt Batur volcano, then had a good Bali coffee at the Warong.

We continued on to the hot springs, but I balked at 150,000 rp to enter the resort.  I walked down the lake and saw some locals in canoes fishing along with fish farms.  I walked around the resort complex and found a neat local hot spring bath where they said I could bathe for a donation, but I was happy to just keep walking.  The lake is lovely, but there is garbage in it, and one guy was washing some clothes in it with detergent.

We then drove back to the top and returned along a different road, passing some large processions of locals heading to the local temple for a ceremony.  They were dressed in marvellous finery and the women were carrying ornate food offerings on their heads.

A couple of times we passed local school children in uniform marching in unison along the road, with a guide and vehicle behind them slowing traffic.

There is much more culture, ceremony and social interaction here than we have in Australia.


We stopped at Sanur on the way back.  The beach scene here is more relaxed then Kuta.  It was low tide to the reef was well exposed.  There are seveal very expensive hotels here.  I found the kitesurfing location to the west of Sanur beach.  There were four experienced kiters out in the harbour area enjoying the good sea breeze.   High tide would be much better for beginners here.  Its flat water only.  There are three kite schools along the foreshore.

We left just before the sunset and got back to the hotel without too much traffic.  All in all, and excellent day out.

Last day in Bali - Ulu Watu, Nusa Dua and Jimbaran Beach

I woke early and updated my blog and put some Facebook photos of Ben and Tony up.  I was packed at 10 and contemplating how to spend the day.  I decided to call Gusti again and do a tour down to Ulu Watu and Nusa Dua, then get dropped at the airport at 8:00pm.

We headed off, and stopped at the big Rip Curl shop on Sunset Way.  The prices were similar or more expensive than Australia, and they didn't like me taking a photo.

We drove on to Ulu Watu where I walked around the temple.  Gusti warned me to be very careful about the monkeys and not wear my hat or sunglasses.  There were a lot of them about, and some were quite playlful.  The views from the cliffs along the coast are superb.  A large surf was roaring in, and this area is not developed much.  Gusti said water is a problem up in the hills and it has to be trucked in.

2010-08-10 Ulu Watu, Nusa Dua and Jimbaran Beach

The temple is not a big one and is in a state of some disrepair.  Tourists are not allowed into the worship areas which is fair enough.

The monkeys managed to pinch a few tourist's hats and other gear, but only the ones who chose to play with them for a good photo.  I kept my distance.  Their sharp teeth and the potential for rabies is a big deterrent.

We then went to Ulu Watu, which is a surfing mecca.  Descending the foot path from the road head brings you into a world of Warungs and small shops tucked in contours of the steep drop to the water.  Surfers hang out to rest and eat, and some store there gear in racks in the roofs.  I had a great Nasi Goreng at the Surfer Warung.  Photographers are perched at good vantage points with massive lenses shooting surfers in the waves.

The break follows a reef and a largish swell was coming in.  Wave selection seems to be crucial. Many go unridden, and many attempted takes offs are not successful.  Good riders where getting in the pocket and even tubes, and getting a long ride.

A path leads down step steps through a chasm to a grotto which opens onto the flat reef which is not too sharp.  It is a very scenic spot with the combination of limestone cliffs, water and waves.

Gusti then took me to Padang Padang, where a Rip Curl surfing tournament is "on hold waiting for the waves".  A big swell is needed to get good waves at this location.  There is more of a beach than the tiny cove at Ulluwatu.  There were a lot of Europeans here; French, Italians and some Americans here, but very few Australians.

Gusti then drove toward Nusa Dua.  There was a steep climb to a plateau which we traversed in very light traffic to Nusa Dua.  At Nusa Dua, vehicles enter a secure zone though police inspection points.  Once through the road follows a neat and very tidy and well planted green zone which traverses the entrances to numerous 5 star hotels.  There were no Warungs or pedestrians about.  This was where the United Nations Convention on Climate Change was held in 2007.  It is a world apart from the Balinese.  Tourists here probably stay at their hotels and do tours out from them; many wouldn't mix with the locals.  It seems the U.N. buys into this paradigm too.

We drove through to a beach further north.  The area resembles Sanur, with a similar reef system out from the shore.  Low water sees all the boats resting on the sand and the water activities cease.  A good strong wind was blowing most of the day, but no kitesurfing was happening.  The locals were flying their ubiquitious cheap kites made from bamboo and garbarge bags.

I got a text from Jestar advising the flight would be delayed four hours which was not good news.

We then drove back towards the airport and stopped at Jimbaran beach where several local seafood restaurants spill out along the beach.  There is a public section of the beach that was being enjoyed by many Balinese, and not very many tourists.  I went for a swim in the small surf and caught a few waves.  While in the water a turtle surface a short distance out, it had massive head so it looked like a seal to me, I didn;t see its shell. It looked around then dived.

After the swim we had Chicken Nasi Goreng for dinner at a nice Warung, and I had a banana pancake for desert. Some locals held a ceremony with bells on the road.  Gusti said they were looking after the soul of a relative who had probably died there recently.

We then drove to the airport where I said goodbye to Gusti and headed through customs.  No problems with the kitesurfing bag (22.3kg), then through paying the 150,000 irp departure tax.  Jetstar gave us a free feed that was a bit average.  There are lots of shops in the airport full of souvenirs, but none of them were cheap.  I got some time to write up my trip and also some content for the kitesurfing handbook I am writing.

We got on the plane at 4:00am and had a good flight home, back to a cold wet winter in Melbourne.

Some general observations about Bali

There are of big global brands adverstised on TV

Low income Balinese can earn as little as 1,000,000 irp per month.  A beer in the Rooftop bar of the Anananta Hotel costs 50,000 irp, while a beer in a Warong costs 15,000

Kuta has been transformed by tourists into a not so pleasant place.

The surfing breaks are good, but getting to them in not easy.  A lot of survers use scooters with a board cradle, but one prang could ruin your holiday or even your life.  The best bet would be to hire a car and driver.

The official taxis are quite cheap compared to the cars that offer lifts then haggle over the price.  For example, the same trip cost me 7,000 irp in a taxi and 30,000 irp in a car.

Health is definately a concern.  Caution is required to avoid Bali Belly and even Dengue Fever.

Arriving late at night is a hassle if you don't have confirmed bookings with a hotel.

Getting out of Kuta (and staying in Seminyak or Sanur) is good to do.

Map of some locations visited

View Bali trip 2010 in a larger map

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