Bali was meant to be our first destination on our one-year journey around the world. Despite volcano warning, we did not change our plans like many Australians, Britons and others and landed in Denpasar with no extra adventures on the 2nd day of October. We arranged transfer to our first place upfront so there was a guy waiting for us in the arrivals hall and the trip to our guesthouse was smooth, quite uneventful but lengthy. Famous Balinese traffic is a nightmare and travelling 20 kilometers took us over one hour.
Our Guesthouse was fine, almost as advertised, yet it started to become interesting the moment we left it to have our usual afternoon walk, searching for a place to have dinner. Given that our place was around 2 kilometers from the beach it felt obvious that we just walk there, eat, take selfies and come back. Well, we became a local attraction, specially for stray dogs, which, not used to people just walking, barked at us with a lot of determination. It turns out people do not walk here. There are no pavements and no one (drivers) expect pedestrians. So after 30 minutes of barking mixed with bikes’ and cars’ horns yelling at us, we decided to go back, grab something at local “warung” and go to sleep.
Next day, richer with the experiences of the day before, we took a taxi to take us to the beach, then stayed there for some time, had dinner and decided to go back. Easier said than done, Canggu, being an abandoned village is a tourist hot spot and Balinese taxi mafia makes it difficult for tourists to have Uber or Grab pick you up from tourist hot spots. Official taxis are also not welcome here so either you are lucky or you take a taxi from the restaurant and pay triple (or more). We were lucky. One taxi declined our request, one Uber did the same. Grab did not even pick up a call through their app. Finally one more try with Uber saved our asses but we were quite far from the beach already. You can imagine that walking after dark here with kids is not a pleasure cruise, dog barks not making it any better. Bali, you are doing it wrong.
Day three, we go with Uber. A trip to Uluwatu takes easily 2 hours (36 km) and I can say with my hand on my heart that local traffic is the most visited tourist attraction here. Or at least the one you spend most of your holiday time visiting. Finally Uluwatu. The beach is wonderful, nice cafes on the cliff with a great view and the moment you relax with your ice-cold latte, a monkey sitting next to you takes your mobile and climbs the roof to crash the next level of Angry Birds Star Wars 17 or Candy Crush 5. Yes, saw that with my own eyes, keep your shit with you, never leave anything on the table or on your head (glasses included). After enjoying the beach we went to visit the temple and (hopefully) the bats which usually leave a cave underneath in hundreds the moment sun goes down. Since it is again 2 kilometers we decide to walk. Halfway a taxi stops and offers to give us a lift. Knowing we have literally 1 km left I can only laugh at the price of 150000 rupiah proposed by the driver. Boss, white people are not cash machines. Finally we agree on 50k after I proposed 40. 3 minutes later we are at the front gate, but obviously the taxi driver (after driving customers for a whole day) does not have a change for my 100k note. Given the first impression he made on us, I am not really willing to pay more so we collect all the small notes we had and give him 40k. He does not like it so I tell him that I can pay him 50k but he needs to have change. If he does not have change, it is his problem. He gets angry but takes 40k and leaves. Fuck you taxi driver, your 40k was already way too much for such a short ride and we both know it.
The Uluwatu temple is great and the view is magnificient. Szymon is a little afraid of monkeys so we try to stay away from them. There is also a local guy who scares them into the forest and away from tourists. Photos taken, ingress portals hacked and off we go back home. Again easier said then done. There are only local taxis here which obviously want to rip you off, starting with 600k to go to Canggu. First Uber declines the ride, finally I got the 2nd one approve it but after 5 minutes I realize he is somewhere in the parking lot but not really moving towards us. I go to look for him and find him at the very end of the parking, hidden in a car. He asks me to jump into a car so that other drivers do not see us talk. We agree on an unmetered ride and a fixed fee and move to pick up the rest of our team. We have to jump in quickly before local taxi guys realize he is Uber. Two hours later we are back home and learned a couple of interesting facts from the driver, like:
- He is not local, actually almost no one from Indonesian guys here are Balinese. Our driver lives on Sumatra, 2000 km from here.
- He just works here as a driver full time, 7 days a week.
- He rents two rooms in two different parts of the island so that he can sleep closer to where he ends up, rather than drive back home for hours each day.
- Local taxi mafia caused him problems already. He had his passenger door glued, he was stopped and passengers requested to leave the car, his car was also damaged at least once.
Bali you are really doing it wrong. Transportation is one of the most essential issues when you are a tourist and unless you are brave enough to ride a scooter here (over 300 people treated in Denpasar hospital every day after scooter accidents) you are left with overpriced taxis or stuck somewhere with finding transportation being an issue in itself.
Next day we rent a car. Driving here is an interesting experience but after one year of driving on the wrong side on Mauritius I mastered the skill. The only difference is a manual drive but I am getting used to it fairly quickly. Being not dependent on local transport makes life so much easier. Over the next two days we go for longer trips to see temples, rice terraces, more temples and end up in Ubud for the next 4 days. Again people do not walk here although the invention of pavement reached this town already. Still walking is not the best of our experiences especially with endless lines of motorbikes and cars stuck in evening traffic. Getting to the restaurant on a calm side street on the first night is another experience. Finally we reach the place and have a great dinner. Ubud, you would be so much better if you banned all cars and motorbikes. There are places in the world which are well off with bicycles and small electric golf carts. You could be a gem on Asia’s tourist map with this single, simple change. The narrow streets are beautiful, houses, gardens and temples are great but you prefer cars over citizens. I am sure “Eat, Pray, Love” was not funded by Exxon Mobil? Or was it?
4 days in Ubud are enough, next stop – Nusa Lembongan. Morning ride to Sanur with our car, 15 km, 50 minutes. Hand over the car to the owner, then off towards the port (although the word “port” is a little exaggerated). Along the way there are countless guys offering a boat to the island and with prices starting from 400k (top official carrier takes 650k for a return trip). I keep telling all of them that my price is 250k per person for a return trip and there is 4 of us so they are free to take it or leave it. They do not like my price but do not leave either, which is a sign this is still a deal for them. Finally one of them after consulting “the boss” over phone says he will ship four of us to Lembongan and back for 1M rupiah. Great! He takes us through the back of a resort, directly to the ferry, puts us at the beginning of the line right after we pay at the ticket office. One hour later we jump on the sand of Nusa Lembongan beach. It is still early in the morning so we drop our bags in nearby beach bar, order a coffee and watch the clouds pass by for the next 3 hours. Finally we move to our place which is ready to welcome us a little ahead of time. After entering in, we immediately decide to extend our stay from 3 to 6 days, despite the internet being practically non-existient here. Great stuff!
After these few days in Bali I can only say I barely scratched the surface of what the island can offer but I am still sure my heart was left of the northern slope of Tourelle du Tamarin and is not moving anywhere for now. If not for Ubud, few temples with no tourists and rice terraces, I would say I do not like it at all. Now at least I can say there is something in here but the traffic and transportation issues kill it. I really do not understand what leads people to leave their homes in US, Europe etc and move here. Dear party-goers, I am sure you do not need to fly that far to have such parties. Dear beach goers, Mauritius is so much closer. Dear surfers, if you decided to fly all the way here, I am sure you have not heard of Tarifa or Praia da Galo. Think twice before you come, you may not like it.