BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP 3.30a.m. Oh my God it’s early. Got to get up so I can get 4 of us showered and in the car by 4.30 a.m. 1 hour drive to Mum in laws, drop off the dog and then taxi to the airport by 6.00 am for a 9.00a.m. departure. Arrive at Mum in laws, much hugging of dog and tearful farewells. Ordered a wagon or a van from the taxi company but of course a sedan arrives. 5 minutes of playing Tetris with suitcases and carry on and we are sardined into the taxi. Get to airport at quarter to six. Oh well better early than late. Glares from sleep deprived teenage son. Get to check in and find very small queue, I brag to family about what a great planner I am. Yawns and glares from both teenage Son and Daughter. Who’s got the laptop? Guilty look from Daughter, “umm I think I left it on the footpath outside Nannas”. Arrrggghhh, Dad into taxi, explain to Driver we are on a mission from God, he rolls up his sleeves, tightens his seat belt and we are off. Arrive back at mum in laws and find laptop on footpath luckily still hidden under cover of darkness. After a small prayer of thanks we take off back to the airport and arrive with a full 2 hours to go before take off. Relieved, but $45 poorer I head back to find the family imagining the scenes of triumph and appreciation but unfortunately I am only met with indifference and disbelief that it took me so long. Glare at Daughter, she and Son glare back, Mum rolls eyes and heads off to duty free. Booty in hand we head to departure lounge. Garuda flight GA719 finally departs 60 minutes late, no announcements just sit around for an hour extra. Son lets me know how happy he is that we got to the airport 4 and a quarter hours ago. Flight uneventfull, food nice, in flight entertainment great and then the Captain advises us that we are beginning our descent into Denpasar and to buckle up. Flight attendants sit down and we get ready for landing. We notice another large plane to our right and not far off that also seems to be descending. “Strange” me thinks. After a few minutes we do a bit of a left turn, then another left, than a bit of a shimmy and another left and then I realise we are going around in circles. Silence from the cockpit, blank stares from the flight attendants. Whilst the views are great for some reason it’s like I’m seeing the same things over and over again. Anyway, after a while we see a plane come from our right and go underneath us then our plane straightens up and begins a slow ascent that feels kind of weird. After 5 minutes of this I look out the window and notice the island of Bali is disappearing behind us. Still silence from the cockpit. Finally an incomprehensible announcement. Confused looks from passengers around us. Flight attendant then explains that Denpasar is closed and we have to fly to Surabaya where we will sit on the tarmac and wait until Denpasar is open again. When we land at Surabaya and end up number 8 in a line of 9 diverted flights. What could be the reason for the airport closing, flood, fire, plane crash, terrorists, we wonder? Nope, the Indonesian President is flying in to plant a tree with the Soccer player Renaldo. Mum always told me that if you can’t say anything nice you shouldn’t say anything at all so I will definitely not say anything. DEFINITELY. Finally get to Denpasar about 3 hours late. The VOA process was pretty quick but then we got to immigration. Approached at least 3 times by immigration officials to get fast tracked, “at a price”. I just love the casual, good natured low level corruption in Asia. Yes I’m tired not to mention hot, yes teenage boy is whining like a jet engine but no you’re not going to gouge me a for another 100 bucks today thanks very much. As punishment for failing to hand over the cash the sullen guys at the counter decided they would be as slow as possible. Must say they’ve got pretty snazzy uniforms, never seen so many badges and braiding and epaulets. Pity it doesn’t translate into efficiency. Finally clear immigration, find our bags and fly through customs. Outside reminds me of Phuket, exhaust fumes, cigarette smoke, heat, humidity and what seems like thousand guys trying to get me into their taxi, van, bus, push bike whatever. After a minute or two we find Made our driver or rather he finds us.
The trip to the Villa in Legian was uneventful apart from the fact that I am shocked at how much busier and congested Bali has become. I shouldn’t have been surprised I guess, last time I was here Bob Hawke was Prime minister and mobile phones were the size of telephone books. What’s a telephone book? It’s just this thing we used to use to fine someone’s phone number but that’s not important right now. Finally arrive at the Villa to be greeted by Angie (owner) and she shows us around and gives us the low down on how everything works. The villa is excellent. A nice deep pool, three double bedrooms each with its own ensuite. There’s a water cooler, fridge, kitchen, big flat screen TV, DVD, cable, safe etc etc. And most importantly cold, cold, cold air conditioning in every room….Yesssss.
We spent the first night just getting a meal and chilling out. We walked through the Kumala Pantai Hotel next door to the villa which took us straight down to the beach. We did this because we were advised that there had been some “unfortunate” incidents in the lane way that runs parallel to the Kamala Pantai. It’s about a 5 minute walk through the hotel, or alternatively down the laneway. The laneway was very quickly christened the “LANE OF DEATH!!” Pretty dramatic huh?.......not really but I’ve got to say there are high walls on either side so if someone wants to assault /rob you it’s gonna be pretty easy if you are not careful and apparently it does happen from time to time. We only used it during daylight hours.
We went to Bali on our honeymoon in 1988 so it’s been a long time between Bintangs. In between times we have been to Phuket 5 times so there is going to be a few comparisons here. Like I said, the villa was excellent and right outside the door were a few small shops. We had a kitchen, and I say kitchen because it certainly wasn’t a restaurant, a laundry, a general store type shop with drinks etc, a massage shop and a place selling clothing. We used all of the shops and the food shop did deliveries to our villa which was excellent. The food was great and cheap and all we had to do was return the dishes. Yummmm. It was seriously good.
I was not prepared for the way Bali has become so busy, congested, polluted and just generally crazy. When I was last in Bali there were water buffalo grazing in the paddock next to the Legian Beach Hotel. I was obviously prepared for everything to be different but boy was it different. The roadways are so small in most areas that you get a vehicle in the middle, a line of scooters on one side a few pedestrians on the other and after 3:30 in the afternoon there is a peak hour with a traffic jam on the side road off 66 road that lasts for 2 hours.
Middle bit continued , more Traffic
There is an intersection where Legian road meets Jalan 66. It’s like a weird space/time black hole where parallel universes of Bali traffic are layered over each other at the same time and unstoppable forces meet immoveable objects. Tourists actually get out of taxis at this intersection to take photos because the ratio of vehicles and scooters and motor bikes and pedestrian’s means there is a very high likelihood that some sort of a collision is going to occur and they want to be there to capture the treasured moment on the iPhone.
Short guide to traffic rules and use of car horn
2 toots – I’m overtaking n your right
2 toots – I’m overtaking on your left
2 toots – I’m stopping to let you in
2 toots – I’m pushing in
2 toots – I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing but I’m fitting in with the other guys
2 toots – I’m checking out the chick on the foot path
2 toots – You want transport?
One other curious habit I noticed is that when approaching an unmarked crossroad the left indicator means turning left, right indicator means turning right and if you are going straight ahead you put your hazard lights on.
More Middle bit
We found out that we could get all of our required supplies from the Bintang supermarket so a taxi ride later we were there. Vegemite 135,9000 rupiah. WT? If I’d found this at the start of our holiday I probably would have paid it but I only found it towards the end damm it. Because were in a villa with no breakfasts I was pretty keen on the Vegemite but now I know I’ll be prepared next time.
Note on Taxi’s:
There has been much talk on TA about using Bluebird taxis because they use meters, For the first few days we hung out patiently for a BB ignoring the 3,500 other taxi’s passing by us empty because we were terrified we were going to be ripped off. After a while we realised that if we engaged a different taxi we had the option of negotiating with them. How much to Kumala Pantai? 60,000! Give me a break how about 5,000, Ohhhh noooo 50,000, come on I don’t want to buy your taxi how about 10,000, Ohhh my how am I going to feed my children? Ok how about 20,000, ok ok allright (with a sullen defeated expression on face). Seriously folks we sometimes paid a bit more but it was no big deal. In Phuket it costs you 7 AUD every time you get in a tuk tuk absolute minimum. 20,000 is 2 bucks AUD. Sometimes I think we need to take some of our Aussie dollars and go and buy some perspective. The drivers not working for Bluebird told me that Bluebird is owned by a Muslim guy from Jakarta so we should only use other taxi’s and support local Balinese Hindus. Don’t know if there was any truth in this but it was an interesting sales pitch.
We found a really nice taxi driver and arranged for him to take us to Tanah Lot the following day. He doesn’t show up so we wait patiently and as the minutes pass the other drivers hanging around the area start to move in, circling us like a pack of lions closing in on a wounded gazelle. “You want transport? No thanks we’re waiting for our driver. What time is he coming? 10:00 a.m. Ohhh, already 10: 05 he’s not coming, I’ll take you. Finally our guy shows up and we jump in. We get to Tanah Lot we go for a walk and he waits for us in the car park. He then rings us up a couple of times and we have a strange conversation that didn’t make any sense at all but I’ve got to say his English was a lot better than my Bahasa. It isn’t until we are well on the way back we realise this was not our guy at all and he had just scammed the other guy out of a fare to Tanah Lot. Serves the other guy right for not showing up on time I guess (the early lion catches the Gazelle). Tanah Lot was interesting but a pity it’s been turned into a shopping centre with a temple attached to the end of it.
Did a day trip Ubud and Kintamani with the driver from the villa. He’s a great guy, funny, friendly, gentle and decent. We had to do the obligatory side trip to the Silver factory/show room where Mum and Daughter bought a few things while Son and I sit impatiently on couch eating the free Fruit Mentos and drinking the free bottled water. The Monkey forrest was great fun and of course lot’s of photos with monkeys sitting on heads etc. Had a buffet lunch at Kintamani which was forgettable however the views were anything but. It’s a lovely part of the world.
We ventured out and checked out the shopping and restaurants and we had a few successes and a couple of failures. Quick summary; if you go via the Kumala Pantai and hit the beach there are a number of restaurants to your right. We tried them all. Blue Ocean did mouth watering steaks and seafood and the owner, a nice Dutchman sat and talked with us for ages. At Lanai I had the best Tuna Sashimi I’ve ever eaten and at Zanizibar I ate the creamiest coconut beef curry with these cool little pyramids of wild rice. There is also an Italian place a couple of doors up that make the lightest pasta dish with tomato, kalamata olives and fetta with just enough virgin olive oil on to make it perfect. I can’t remember the name of the place but it also has a pizza delivery service called Goodies in the same business and the goodies sign is outside next to the restaurant name so it shouldn’t be hard to find. We went to Poppies for old times sake and although we thought it was a little over rated and expensive the setting is beautiful and I couldn’t fault the lobster. We used to go up to 66 corner to watch the football and have a beer and of all of the Nasi Goreng I ate in Bali there’s was the best by a mile. Funnily enough after eating at so many places the chicken and vegetable stir fry from the little shop next to the Villa was probably my favourite meal and certainly the cheapest. Maybe it was because I could smell the garlic and chilli cooking from the Villa but I’ve got to say it was very good.
Hated it……really hated it. Tidak, Tidak oh please God Tidak. From the moment you set foot out of the door they are in your face. By the time you get back home you’ve been prodded, poked, harassed, cajoled, pleaded with, abused and possibly ripped off. I thought Phuket was bad but those guys are amateurs. Competition is that bad that if you show the slightest interest in anything they bounce out of the chair and they are onto you like Oprah on a baked ham. I didn’t find it fun or humorous or a challenge I just found it a pain in the neck (or whatever other place they were grabbing). I bought a few shorts and shirts etc but it took me so long I could have bought the material and a sewing machine and run them up myself by the time I got out of the shop. There were a lot of things I wanted to buy and in the end I just couldn’t be bothered. The wife and kids seemed to go alright with it though so maybe I’m just becoming a grumpy old man.
The beaches in Phuket are much nicer I think but late afternoon at Legian Beach is great. We would cruise down there when we could see the sun starting to get a bit low and the bar boys would put together a couple of lounges and a little table and we’d just chill and chat a have a few beers and wait for the sun to drop off the horizon. It was so casual, like sitting in your own back yard with all of these other groups of people sitting around in groups doing exactly the same thing. The bar guys seemed to instinctively know when you needed a refill and as soon as you looked in their direction they would hold up 4 fingers and you’d give them a quick nod and presto 4 chilled beers would arrive. When it starts to get dark they bring out the lanterns for each table to keep you there drinking for a while longer. This was usually our cue to leave. Apart from the constant stream of sales people it was really relaxing and a great memory.
All good things must come to an end though and it was very soon time to go home. Packed and said goodbye to everyone. Ayu the cleaner. What a gem she is. Bright smile in the morning, excellent teacher of Bahasa and daily deliverer of 24 Bintangs to the Villa fridge. She made our stay special. Reg the pool man. Would sneak in the gate clean up the pool and sneak out without saying a word. Made our Driver. Already mentioned him. Great guy. Get to the airport and check in bags but unfortunately the window seats we pre-booked in Melbourne have been given to others. Politely complain but to no avail. Got to say the airport is a disgrace. The toilets in the departure lounge are what I might expect somewhere out in the countryside. About 30 seats for a couple of hundred people waiting for a plane and no where to get a drink unless you leave the security area is a joke. I know the new facilities are soon to open but this is 2013. Bali has been a major tourist destination for over 30 years and should have had a new airport a decade ago.
Would we go back. Mmmm not sure. I think I would have to get out of town to somewhere more quiet. I guess it’s inevitable that places like Bali and Phuket get overrun and overdeveloped. I did really feel claustrophobic in Legian though and a lot of the time I did feel like a walking wallet. When you actually get the opportunity to sit and talk with the locals however, they were fantastic people. I’m not surprised it’s just that you don’t often get that opportunity and of course the more time you spend out of town the more relaxed you get. I think I’ve got a few holidays left in me so we’ll probably be back some time in the future.