Hello culture shock!
As you are by now all aware, we started off our RTW trip in the english-speaking ‘first-world’ New Zealand, followed by the similarly cultured Australia, and coming originally from Canada, getting off the plane in Bali, Indonesia was our first real brush with a world apart from our sterile and ‘western’ existence thus far.
Stepping onto the tarmac, we were immediately assaulted by the sultry blast furnace that is Indonesia (quite different from the dry dessert heat of OZ), and as we made our way into the terminal, the pungent stink of incense mingled with the humidity to create an almost-visible welcome hug that would stick to us for the rest of our visit to Bali.
As we stood in line to pay our 25$USD (exact change in greenbacks only) for a 30-day tourist visa on arrival,
“Death penalty for drug traffickers under Indonesian Law”
Although capital punishment was abolished in Canada before we were born (1976, though the last execution was actually in 1962…) it is still very much in effect in Indonesia (and coincidentally also for our fashion-forward friends to the south… well, for all but 17-ish of the eSses of the yoU EH, Kansas not being one of them, unfortunately ripping my WWoA reference to shreds), which would suck pretty hard for us if someone were to stick a small baggy of pot in our luggage while we were looking the other way.
It brought a whole new meaning to the old adage ‘keep an eye on your bag’ (I may have just made that up…).
After getting the fancy 25$ gilded sticker in our passport stamped, we made our way into the terminal proper where our eyes were opened yet again by the infamous onslaught of touts attempting to ‘help’ us with our baggage, get us into a taxi, find us accommodation, feed us food, or sell us pretty much anything we could think of, all this before we even got past the local Starbucks and Burger King.
We’d been to Cuba, Mexico, and Costa Rica before, and as tourists arriving in those countries had been exposed to not-necessarily-sanctioned locals trying to make a buck bringing your luggage from the terminal to the bus, but that was nothing quite like this.
I was quite adamant about immersing ourselves immediately in ‘real’ travelling now that we’d moved on from the relative comfort of OZ and NZ, and as such we chose not to arrange for transportation from the airport to our budget hotel.
We’d looked at a map before we left, and it was only supposed to be 2 or 3km from the airport to our destination, so we thought it would be no real trouble to walk the entire way, and hop into a cab if it turned out to be a bad idea.
As we left the parking area of the airport, we were still being offered transportation from every person we walked by, and taksi’s (both marked and ‘unofficial’) would stop in the middle of the road and holler out the window “transport!?”.
Once we (somehow) made it out onto what looked like a highway (there were no signs, and definitely no instructions for those very few of us silly enough to try something like walking from the airport), Julie was already getting pretty apprehensive about the whole walking-to-the-hotel idea, but I made sure I appeared confident enough that everything would be fine to ensure she wouldn’t give up too soon, because we’d probably only made it 300-400m away from the terminal at this point.
We’d been warned that the rules of the road were a ‘tiny bit different’ than what we’re used to, but that really didn’t help us as pedestrians, especially ones ‘brave’ (read: idiotic) enough to be dragging a suitcase behind us (we didn’t think we’d need to bust out our harness so close to the airport), and when it came time for us to cross the road (due to the already shoddy sidewalk literally ceasing to exist in the middle of nowhere, terminating in a chain link fence with multiple lanes of vehicles speeding by on the other side), it was an extremely hair-raising ordeal made even more challenging by the number of taxis honking at us.
We somehow made it across in one piece, but when we made it to the other side, we had to walk along the crumby shoulder of the highway, and even this shoulder ended just 100m further along!
We really didn’t know where to go from there, or how to re-cross the highway, but there really was nowhere to turn, so; channeling my inner boyscout, I decided that we should follow closely behind some local construction workers who’d just (luckily) began confidently strutting out into traffic and successfully starting across ahead of us.
I’d already exhausted the last bit of data I had left on my OZ sim having a quick look at the map in the airport, but now that we’d miraculously got ourselves off the highway, we’d completely lost our bearings and were walking into what looked like a super sketchy residential area and here our real troubles started: which way do we go!?
Left or right?
We stopped at what looked like a convenience store (couldn’t really tell, but I needed to ask for directions and I figured that if I was buying something maybe they’d be more helpful) and after struggling to purchase what I thought was cold water (but turned out to be Pocari Sweat [effectively Japanese gatorade, which I’d never seen before]) from the elderly proprietor for 7,000IDR, she thankfully called out her grandson or something to help us determine how to get to Kuta.
Now that we knew which direction we needed to go and had a rough idea of where we were, it became a little easier to carry on seeing as how we didn’t have to contend with multi-lane highways full of cars as much, just lots of motorbikes and a few cars and bicycles on some very poorly maintained but narrower roads off the tourist beaten path.
The roads were bumpy and uneven, with potholes of varying sizes every 5 to 10 paces, and there were so many obstacles on the sidewalk (parked motorbikes, street vendor stands, people, garbage, rubble piles, etc.), that we had to hop on and off the road so frequently that we soon realized that dragging our suitcase along wasn’t going to get us anywhere quickly.
We eventually decided to give in and turn our ‘suitcases’ into ‘backpacks’ for the first time, and even though carrying ~18kg each on our backs (with the daypack hanging off our front so we didn’t topple over backwards) was a hot and sweaty business, it definitely made moving around much easier and immediately satisfied us that we’d made the right decision spending the money and time finding a good quality hybrid wheelie-backpack.
Following our very rough idea of where we needed to go, but having no real sense of where we were, we continued to walk in the general direction of North and as we ventured on, our surroundings began to look cleaner; the sidewalks were slightly less bumpy and the shops more touristy.
We knew we were going in the right direction when the roads started improving and we started seeing KFC, (another) Burger King, Pizza Hut, a bunch of fancy looking hotels, and of course the swarms of tourists, and we stopped for a break on the steps of the Discovery Mall where I managed to poach some free wifi to load up a map to our hotel.
We made it to the S8 hotel just as it was getting dark, and had to use our last ounce of strength to carry our luggage up 3 flights of (supremely steep and uneven) stairs to our room.
For ~$17 CAD/night, we were quite pleased with our room, and considered extending our booking longer than the 2 nights we had started with (until we thought we were going to get robbed and murdered at 4:30 am on the second night, but more on that later).
We dropped off our sweat soaked backpacks, rested briefly in our thankfully air-conditioned room, and then ventured out again for dinner.
There were plenty of restaurants catering to tourists, but we opted for a small little “warung” restaurant and ordered a dish each where for 18,000 IDR (approximately $1.80 CAD), we got rice, vegetables, curry sauce and a piece of chicken or beef.
Even though it was dark, we decided to walk around a little bit because there was a fair bit of traffic and activity on the streets, and ended up at a big flashy supermarket where we spend a good half hour comparing prices to back home and browsing all the local products that we’d never seen before.
I settled on a 6-pack of Bintang pilsner (which lived up to all the hype) to put in our fridge
and a bag of happy-tos (South-East-Asian doritos) for a late night snack, and we headed back to our hotel for some chilling out and watching Indonesian TV (newscasts in foreign languages are fun, especially when they have 5 minute long ‘technical problems’ while I’m watching, and I especially love it how they call it ‘technical difficulties’ when it is really some champ in the control room forgetting to cue some B-roll and then in the panic they crash the server [yes, they blame it on the engineers in Asia too…]).
After being woken by the sound of construction I went to our 3rd floor window (which afforded us a nice morning view of the rooftops of Kuta)
to see what the racket was all about, and sure enough I had a birds-eye-side view of said construction where if you look closely you will see about 1,456,385,213,577 safety standards being thrown to the wind along with all caution and common sense (especially note the flip flops).
Since we were up, we decided to try out our nice heavy pacsafe locks (I suppose in case someone came into our room to steal our stuff, which was a strong possibility now that we were in Bali? Not really, but we figured we’d been carrying them around long enough without using them that we might as well give them a shot by attaching them to some cheap [breakable and movable] furniture)
“Hey brother where you from?!”
“Yes please! Come look”
“G’day mate!” – Mostly directed at me
“Yes Japanese? Come here” – Mostly directed at Julie
“Moshi moshi” – Mostly directed at Julie
“Ni hau” – Mostly directed at guess who
“Hey Canada!” – Me
“Yes massaaaggeee?” – Me
“Where are you going?”
“Sarong?” – Julie
Are just some of the things we heard incessantly while exploring Kuta over the next 7 days.
At first it was amusing, but when the novelty wears off it becomes somewhat tiring, and after a while once you realize that it’s not going to stop (ever) you just settle into a kindof half-ignoring-half-polite attitude towards the people trying to get your attention.
Despite hearing that Kuta was a tourist trap to be avoided at all costs, we’d also heard that it was renowned as a beginner surf spot, and that fit the bill for us just fine since we wanted to learn to surf in a forgiving environment as opposed to being cut to shreds on the razor-sharp reefs lurking mere centimetres beneath the rolling breaks dominating the majority of ‘good’ surf spots.
Our first day in Bali consisted of a tout-dodging walk to the beach (only a 5 minute walk from our hotel!) to scope the scene and price out surf lessons/board rentals, and a delish-but-spicy 10,000 Indonesian Rupiah (~1$CAD = ~10,000IDR) breakfast from a street vendor catering to locals (which would henceforth be our benchmark for the super-cheap food of Indonesia… ),
after which we decided to get to know the break first by taking a swim in the most garbage-laden water I’ve seen in my entire life (Kuta beach is dirty dirty dirty! We’d read that the seasonally prevailing easterly winds were notorious for washing crap onto the west-facing beaches, but I was not prepared for the amount of rubbish in the water… you couldn’t swim one stroke without touching a plastic bag or stepping on a piece of garbage, and the water was anything but crystal clear… more of a mudpuddle hue… gross!), even though you can’t tell from the pictures.
The garbage was everywhere, but the breaks were nice, and we did manage to get a bit of body surfing in before doing a bit of tourist shopping (non-authentic sarong [50K IDR after minor haggling from 80K] and crochet shoulder bag [40K from 120K] for Julie who couldn’t resist the temptation),
lunch eating (goat and chicken ‘sate’ skewers with rice [25K each plus 4K for a tea]),
and a pedicure for Julie (35K).
That constituted a full day, and being relatively beat from the heat, we retired to the AC of our humble abode to try out our fancy water zapper (we weren’t sure if the tap water was drinkable, so we decided to try our CamelBak All Clear)
Only to be awakened at 4:30am by the previously alluded to blood-curdling scream in the hallway outside our door…
I’ll let Julie fill you in on the details of our ordeal shortly (spoiler alert: we lived). Update: Here’s the post!
After moving to a new hotel a bit closer to the beach the following morning (where we got a better-than-advertised rate after asking for a discount – friendly bargaining ftw!), we settled in
took a picture of one of the millions of offerings that are put out each day by the Hindu locals (the streets become literally full of them)
then proceeded to walk the length of the beach southwards (almost all the way back to the airport!) and back before doing some more ‘surf groundwork’ in the form of renting a full size boogie board (20K for an hour, down from 50K after haggling… probably could have got it for cheaper and/or longer, but it was already late afternoon) and sharing it for an hour to learn the waves a bit better.
Now that we knew the area a bit, we decided to venture out for dinner along one of the local streets (as opposed to the ‘tourist’ streets which were chock full of crappy trinket stores intermingled with McDonalds, Hard Rock Cafes, and expensive resorts) where we discovered the mainstay of our evening diet for the next week in the form of Balinese pig roast!
We patronized a semi-permanent food cart (nights only!) that served a giant meal consisting of rice and all sorts of delish goodies mostly differently prepared parts of a huge spit roasted pig for 25K.
Oh, and it was pretty darn spicy, but sooooo good that it forced Julie to challenge her previous avoidance of spicy foods and to eat it like a champ even though it was making us both sweat like beasts.
The next day was another day boogie boarding (this time we got a board each [35K for 2 boards for 2 hours]), which after 2 hours really really chafes your chest and stomach (ouch!), more exploring the town,
shopping for rash vests (capital expenditures ftw!), and finally eating more roast pig for dinner (I wasn’t kidding… it was really good… we got takeout).
On Feb 7th, we finally felt comfortable enough with the waves to get ourselves onto a proper longboard (our poser surfer look made complete after donning our brand new rash vests… holy eff did it ever make a difference! no more sunburnt back and no more chafing!) and to pay a local instructor (who is really just a tout… you can’t walk 3 paces on the beach without being offered surf ‘lessons’ from an ‘expert instructor’, who is really just a local dude out to make a few bucks…) to teach us the basics and take us out until we figured out how to surf.
Hiring a beach-tout is mostly a good idea, because we spent 250K (~25$USD) total for 2 half day board rentals and lessons, but you can easily spend 30/40/50$USD for a lesson from an actual surf ‘school’ (of which there are many… and most of the big resorts advertise their own surf school), and Julie and I both got up surfing (albeit very weakly) within the first 30 minutes.
I’d say the only real benefit to paying for any actual surf lessons at all (as opposed to teaching yourself from youtube videos/online instruction manuals, which I’d done already) is having an experienced body in the water alongside you choosing the waves for you and telling you when to paddle and when to stand up.
Other than that, beginner surfing really isn’t that hard, but it takes a ton of practice before you can pretend to have any semblance of comfort on the board (and even then, that’s just my opinion as someone who’s grown up fairly active and who’s participated in all sorts of balance-related sports), and I can see that lessons would be a necessity for some people.
We were completely beat from our first introduction to surfing, but not enough to stop us from going out to do a bit more exploring and to get more roast pork for dinner, where we discovered that the locals were only paying 20K for the same thing we were paying 25K for, our first introduction to the blatant system of taxing foreigners just for good measure (we look at it as charity, but that still couldn’t keep us from getting a bit miffed about it due to the principle of the matter…).
Waking up sore and achy from our experience getting slammed around on the rollers the day before was yet more evidence that we were getting ‘old’ and further reinforced our conviction that it was a good idea to do this trip now as opposed to later when we will undoubtedly be physically incapable of doing all this fun stuff.
Hence, we decided to take a day off from beaching it and headed to the highly touted (no pun intended;) Tanah Lot temple for some sight-seeing and picture taking (you can read my better half’s full account of the fun here shortly).
Because we didn’t have any specific and set in stone plans for our month in Bali, we’d been extending our stay in Kuta day by day, so it was bound to catch up to us that our room was not available the following night, and Julie was forced to put her interwebs-scouring-wheels in motion to book us into a decent looking budget hotel a bit further north than we were currently staying.
Feb 9th being our last day super close to the beach, we rose at the crack of dawn (well, actually 8:30am:D but that was early for us as we’d been sleeping in to 10 or 11 the entire week since our near-death-night) to do some more surfing until we had to checkout at 12.
We converted our wheelies into backpacks and walked just over 1km North East to the Everyday Smart Hotel (so much ESL in Bali… we distilled a fair bit of amusement from it), stopping along the way at one of the zillion roadside tour-operators to book ourselves shuttle bus tickets to Ubud the following day (70K each… we later saw it advertised for 60K and we could have bargained it down further from that [40K or 50K for sure], but we were still relatively new to this whole haggling business, and we’d seen it for much more than that too, so it didn’t seem like too much of a ripoff at the time).
We arrived at our hotel a little before 1pm and after waiting on their terrace marveling at the stunningly ghetto surroundings
(the hotel was in the middle of a ghost-mall-town or something… it couldn’t have been that far removed from a bustling tourist area a few years prior, but it was now a nice-ish hotel encircled in warzone) until checkin at 2pm, we relaxed for a bit then went hunting for dinner now that our roast pork was out of our reach (relatively speaking of course:p it was really only 1.5km away now, but that was opposed to it being across the street and as previously stated we were feeling old and weary).
Our evening was made up of more old-fogey stuff, namely: getting takeout and eating at the beach (surrounded by stray [? one had a collar…] dogs,
watching the sunset,
followed by an evening in, away from the hustle and bustle of the Kuta strip, where we caught up on laundry and other admin stuff since Julie was jonesing for an excel fix, and had to spend her cursory 5.89 hours searching for a place to stay;).
We awoke the next morning feeling refreshed but not in time for breakfast, so we walked around in search of the nearest grocer and were lucky to find a fully stocked supermarket not far away where we went a bit crazy buying up lots of fruit
The shuttle was supposed to pick us up from our hotel at 1pm (‘oooh fancy valet service’ you must all be thinking), and as we were sitting in the lobby around 12:45 a little old man appeared out of nowhere and guided us out to the edge of an abandoned parking lot along the main thoroughfare where he told us in semi-broken English to ‘wait here for the shuttle’ before immediately disappearing on a scooter, leaving us in the blaring sun with not a great idea of what we were looking for.
At about 1:20 I started wondering if we’d been duped, but Julie reminded me that the time was within a ‘half hour window’ (which I’d assumed meant between 12:45 and 1:15), and sure enough, at around 1:31, a beat up, $#!^box van sputtered into the parking lot and our bags were hurredly loaded into the back hatch before we took our not-properly-fastened-to-the-chassis seats in the back alongside a bunch of other chump tourists like us and settled in for a bumpy non-air conditioned ride to Ubud.
Nope, wait, first we have to pick up 1243085 more tourists all over Kuta area and cram them into the 10-ish seater van along with all their luggage.
Oh, and the rear hatch door holding all the luggage in?
The latch is broken, so the door won’t close properly and is actually open a few cm, and every time we went over a bump (did I mention the quality of the roads in Bali so far? no exceptions here) it opened a few more cm and felt as if all the luggage was going to spill out onto the road.
Oh, and you remember how I mentioned that our seats weren’t properly fastened to the chassis?
Let’s just say I’d be glad if the luggage was the only thing to fall out the back at 80km/h.
Not so fancy valet service after all huh?
Well, it turned out that all my western worrying was for naught, and we arrived safely in Ubud ready for the next leg of our adventure after just an hour on the road during which time we made friends with some fellow travellers including a nice Canadian girl who had more than a few Ubud & Bali tips to share, and who actually inspired us to try scootering even though we’d previously decided not to based on the fact that the roads were a complete and utter freeforall especially for scooters.
Stay tuned for monkies!!!