|Back to Chapter Twenty Four- The Melbourne Cup||
Chapter Twenty Five
North & East Bali - A Road Trip
|On to Chapter Twenty Six - Egypt|
The guy was wearing a car tyre around his waist; on a motor scooter!
We were traveling along the NE coast of the Indonesian island of Bali. There was Eileen and I, our son Kristian, his wife Iin, and our grandkids Seth and Mariana in the seven seater Toyota Avanza. Kristian, who has an international licence, was driving. I was sitting in the front passenger seat staring amazed.
We drove up behind him, then overtook him, then started laughing. We slowed to let him pass us while I shot some video footage of him. Then we overtook him again (He must have thought WE were strange.) and continued on our way. We have seen many unusual sights on motor scooters before, including multiple live chickens, live pigs, up to three children and two adults, and a proliferation of household goods or goods for sale so that the rider is all but obscured from view, or more concerning, where the view by the rider is all but obscured.
Eileen and I had landed at Denpasar airport three days earlier. We had flown Pacific Blue, and something to note is that in April 2010 they would only allow purchases of food, drinks, and in-flight services to be paid with a credit card, not cash. This appeared to be only on Denpasar - Brisbane flights.
One time we had flown JetStar and on departure from Bali, at the duty free shop in Denpasar airport, we were advised that duty free alcohol was not permitted aboard JetStar flights. JetStar later confirmed this so we were grateful for the honesty of the shopkeeper. I asked again this time and we were told it was fine on Pacific Blue, but still not on JetStar.
For Australian travelers you can collect a visa on arrival in Indonesia. In April 2010 it was $US25 per person. Make sure you get your visa before you go to the long immigration queues or you will be sent back to the cashiers and have to start all over again at the back of the immigration queue. They can accept Australian currency at the desk in Denpasar. I don't know about any other international airports. To check more details of this and requirements for other nationalities go to http://www.balidynasty.com/hotel/visaonarrival/
It is good to be aware that on departure you will be required to pay a tax of 100,000Rp (about $US11) per person. It is good to have this ready in Indonesian currency.
Iin had collected us (She has an Indonesian licence.) and taken us to their new home. The following day Kristian had flown in for his work break. We had arranged a road trip with them because despite having been to or through Bali several times before, we had never been to the less touristy areas of the north and east.
Normally the most popular tourist areas are the south and the middle. The south has Kuta, Nusa Dua, Seminyak, and Sanur to stay at and enjoy the daylife and nightlife, as well as new areas that seem to appear every few years. It also has Uluwatu for those who want to surf its notorious breaks. The lower middle has Ubud, and the upper middle has Kintamani and Mount and Lake Batur.
Our favourite guide and travel information usually comes from Lonely Planet books, including phrasebooks. Anyone contemplating visiting anywhere really should read either the Lonely Planet book or Fodor book of the area. Click on Needful Things Travel Book Store. It is so much easier than trying to figure things out yourself, even with the help of a travel agent, who even if they have actually been to where you are going, they cannot give you the depth of current information these books can provide. For this road trip I had studied the Lonely Planet Country Guide, which is the most comprehensive of their guide books, and I would advise anyone reading this and planning their own travel around Bali trip to get one too.
It also helps us to have our son and daughter-in-law available for local knowledge, especially Iin who lives there permanently with our grand kids, and who is Indonesian, and therefore can translate the language. It's all very well to have the locals who provide goods and services to tourists speaking English, but they usually only know just enough. I have learned enough Indonesian to get me into trouble. I can converse with a mixture of Bahasa Indonesia and some English for most traveler's requirements. Yet I have listened to locals talking amongst themselves and can only understand about one word in ten. I'm better at reading the Indonesian subtitles on their DVDs.
It can often be very handy to speak the local language to be sure (as long as you know the correct words AND even more so, how to pronounce them) that they understand what you are asking, especially in an emergency. Click on Learn a Language. The biggest problem with using a language that you only know a little of is that the locals will think you know more than you do, and reply in their language at one hundred miles an hour. You will notice in this story I don't mention a lot of place names. I know I hate having to slow my reading to pronounce non English words, especially names, so I have kept them to a minimum.
To plan the trip I also wanted a good map. The Lonely Planet book said that there weren't any, and that the maps in their book were about as good as it gets. They did recommend the Periplus Street Atlas Bali with reservation. Kristian had a copy of this, and as self appointed navigator because neither he nor Iin had actually been to the north or east, I set about going between it and the Lonely Planet guide to plan our route and stops.
As we set off I realized the biggest problem was that neither book showed all the roads and streets or all the names of the roads and streets they did show, and that often the roads and streets didn't have road or street signs anyway.
Oh what the heck. Let's just keep the sun on our right and we should be going north.
It only takes a good day to drive completely around Bali. I had decided to miss the west coast. We had used a bemo and driver to take us half way up the west coast in 1993 so the boys, who were only teenagers then, could surf at Medewi. Other than that the west coast road is not the most interesting on the island. Its main purpose is as the route between the south of Bali and Gilimanuk, where the ferry crosses to Java. Near Gilimanuk are West Bali National Park, or Taman Nasional Bali Barat on the maps, and Pulau Penjangan. Here is the best trekking and the best snorkeling and diving on the island, but as Eileen and I are baby boomers, this article is about things baby boomers are more likely to want to see and do. I like to see everything, but the doing is becoming less active and more taking photos and videos, and then sipping cocktails by the pool.
Kristian and the family live in the village/suburb of Kerobokan, which is infamous for the jail where Shapelle Corby and the Bali Nine are incarcerated. Kerobokan is already north of the main southern tourist bits, so we were off to a good start on a fine Monday morning. From further south you could start from Kuta and travel along Jalan Legian which becomes Jalan Raya Seminyak ("Jalan Raya" just means road or street going to …), or Jalan Sunset Road. They both merge and become Jalan Raya Kerobokan, which becomes Jalan Raya Padang Luwih, which becomes Jalan Dalung-Sading, which as you pass through the village of Sempidi becomes Jalan Sempidi. By now you are probably better of forgetting road/street signs and start looking for destination signs. Before you get to this area there are signs saying "Sempidi", and then after it, "Mengwi". Sorry. I said I wouldn't use lots of non English place names, but I thought that was important to understand, and unfortunately Bali has non English street and place names.
Our first night stop was planned for Lovina on the north coast. The best way to get there seemed to be to follow the road to Singaraja, also on the north coast, then go west a bit and find a hotel or losman. I had picked three from the Lonely Planet book, and I figured that if none of those appealed there were plenty of others to try.
Like any main road on Bali, the one we chose had lots of shops, stalls, and homes on either side, so there is always something interesting to look at as people go about their daily lives. The traffic was the usual. Because the white line in the middle of the roads is often indistinct or non existent, (Well that's probably the excuse anyway.) cars and trucks and busses drive wherever they please. Nominally Balinese drive on the left, but that depends on how many vehicles they think they can overtake at once, or where the biggest pothole to avoid is. The main right of way rule is Might is Right.
|A busy road on Bali|
Motor scooters have a different set of road rules. They go anywhere. A single lane road can have a couple of cars side by side, but beside them can be as many motor scooters as can fit on the bitumen, and if the traffic flow is slow enough, and the edge of the bitumen is not too ragged, you can get a couple out there too. The only thing that gets everyone back on the correct side of the road is something coming the other way, which is often. Well if you're in a car or a truck or a bus, scooters don't count. Oh, and traffic lights are only advisory.
Actually it all seems to work, although anyone who has been at an uncontrolled intersection (Some would argue that's all of them.) during peak hour would probably disagree. There it's survival of the bravest. If I ever went to live there my vehicle of choice would be a short wheel based Toyota Landcruiser to get into the tight spaces, with steel bars front, back, and sides. Mad Max all over again.
The Balinese system of horn blowing is typical of SE Asia and totally different to Australia. In Bali sounding the horn means I am here and I can see you and I won't hit you so please get out of my way. In Australia sounding the horn is usually accompanied by foul language, shaking of fists, extensions of the middle finger, and kamikaze type retaliation.
Once again motor scooterists on Bali have a completely different philosophy. Their theory is that if they don't look at you, you won't hit them??
|Fishing at Lake Bratan|
Now where were we? Oh yes. Traveling past the cattle markets at Mengwi on our way to stop for a look at Lake Bratan. The shops on the side of the road around here were selling mainly artifacts. Wooden things, stone things, bamboo things, lots of things. And I do mean lots. The 'strip' seemed to go for miles.
The best way to stay on the road to Singaraja was to take any road that said, "Singaraja". Amazingly this worked. The volcanic crater lakes of Bratan and Buyan are on the way, and looked like the most interesting places to stop and stretch and have a look around. The road was getting a bit twisty now as we gradually climbed up into the mountains.
It didn't take long to get there. I suppose I hadn't really expected to have the lake to ourselves, with a nice grassy slope to lay on while we watched water birds going about their fishing, but the first thing we noticed was a souvenir shop and market stalls. From the carpark we could see the lake past some covered seating and over a flimsy looking dock. To our pleasant surprise when we got out of the car, we were not swamped with hawkers like we would expect at Kintamani. They were about, but here they were much more casual and restrained, which made it a pleasant experience. There were boats to charter for fishing or skiing or just touring the lake, and the biggest shop had good quality clothing at the best prices Eileen had seen.
|Fishing at Lake Bratan|
The fun here was the fishing. For 50,000Rp (about Au$6.50) the grandkids got to fish for an hour. Not only did they get rods and bait, the man helped them replace the bait when necessary. And they caught fish. Well what they caught I considered bait, and the bait to catch it was about a 1cm thing that looked like a short length of worm. But catch fish they did; and at the end of the hour they had nearly a dozen fish about the size of an Au50c piece. The kids were happy to tip them back in the lake to fight another day. Sometimes, and maybe this time too if the kids hadn't tipped the bucket full back into the lake, the locals will sell the fish to aquariums.
For some spectacular look out the window but don't look down mountainous scenery, it would be pretty hard to top the road from Lake Bratan to Lake Buyan. The edge of the road is the edge of the earth and safety rails aren't a priority here. The two lakes are only a few kilometers apart but the road we were following didn't actually take us to Lake Buyan, although we could see it - straight down about a kilometre.
By now we were looking for somewhere to have lunch. Mind you it was a bit hard to focus on lunch with our stomachs lurching left and right as we descended the by now switch back road down the north face of the mountains. I generally have a cast iron stomach. The last time I vomited was eleven years ago in 1999 after a meal in a restaurant in central Java. The last time I had diarrhea was about the same time but that was because of those little sachets of powder you mix with water before you have a colonoscopy. Eileen uses me to test food that may be past its use by date.
"John, can you please taste this ham? It's gone a bit slimy."
Once again I was fine, but I was sitting in the front seat. Eileen and Iin were in the middle seats and were not so fine. The kids in the back didn't seem to care.
There are some pretty cool waterfalls near the town of Git Git where we stopped to have lunch at the only sizeable restaurant in town. This is only about 10km from Singaraja so it was a good opportunity to stretch our legs and have a bite to eat before we started looking for a hotel for the night. The restaurant was excellent. The waterfalls are pretty good too despite the souvenir stalls and the totally unnecessary guides. But I suppose the locals have to make a living somehow.
Singaraja is right on the north coast. It is the second largest city on Bali after Denpasar. It was the centre of Dutch colonial rule on the island. Lovina is about another 10km to the west and was the holiday resort of choice for the Dutch. It was a very keen Dutch family who went way down south to the desolate beaches of Kuta for a holiday.
Now the reverse is true. Lovina is by no means desolate today. It is instead a calm and relaxed place far removed from the frenetic hustle and bustle of southern Bali.
I had selected three hotels from the list in the Lonely Planet Guide. This latest book was published in April 2009 and it was now April 2010, yet when we eventually found the narrow street leading down to the beach to where my first choice was, we were stopped by a gate and a security guard who informed us the Lovina Beach Hotel was closed for reconstruction.
The best way to find the street you want when the streets have no name, (sounds like a great title for a song) is to find one that has a name, count on the map how many streets to the one you want, then count the streets. This works well unless there are streets that are not on the map. Sometimes you can even find you are in the street you want but there is a different name on the street sign to that on the map. Therefore the best way to find the place you are looking for is to pay someone on a motor scooter 50,000Rp to lead you.
|Suma Hotel, Lovina|
My second choice had been Sea Breeze Cabins but all three of their bungalows were occupied. Third choice was Nirwana Seaside Cottages but the rooms were fairly musty and Seth can still get asthma.
On our way into Lovina a guy on a scooter had ridden up beside Kristian's window and passed him a business card and brochure to the Suma Hotel, and then offered to take us to 'his' hotel. When we had stopped to ask directions once, the person we asked also gave us a business card to the Suma Hotel. Now we asked another guy on a scooter to lead us to the Suma Hotel. This hotel didn't get a mention in the Lonely Planet guide, but it looked good, the pool and gardens were beautiful, it was only fifty metres from the beach, and the rooms were clean. The bloke at the front desk even had a sense of humour. As he showed me to a room for Eileen and I, we walked beside a construction site where a new two story building was happening.
"Look they are making up your room now."
I will digress to describe some aspects of Balinese construction. This was to be a typical brick building with cement rendering. The bricks were thinner than those we see in Australia; we would probably call them pavers. The mortar was nearly as thick as the bricks. I was once told by a bricklayer that mortar is not there to strengthen a wall; it is there to keep the bricks apart.
To pour the first floor they first lay the form ply and boxing supported by bamboo scaffolding. Then the concrete mix is prepared in a cement mixer on the ground, poured into buckets, and then hoisted with ropes to the floor level. Yes it is more labour intensive than what we are used to, but here labour is cheap, bricks are expensive, and mortar is cheap. Admittedly we don't often hear stories of collapsing buildings, but we hear lots of stories of buildings being demolished and rebuilt. An interesting guessing game is to work out if they are building it, or pulling it down.
The stairs were done the same way, however I have no idea how they make the steps, as all I saw was the boxing filled to capacity with concrete for its entire length sloping from the ground to the first level.
|Eileen on the balcony of the Suma Hotel|
As I am the one who loves exploring I took a stroll to the beach. There were hardly any hawkers, and once I had politely told them I didn't wish to buy anything they left me alone. You couldn't describe the beach as pretty, but there were lots of interesting boats lining the shore and more out to sea where the locals were doing their evening fishing. One young man was sitting cross legged at the water's edge making his offering and prayers.
There were several restaurants along the quiet street, including one called The Bali Nine, presumably named after the infamous group held in prison for smuggling drugs. The menu of the restaurant at the hotel looked as good as any and we were extremely satisfied with our dinner, and just as satisfied with our breakfast next morning. The prices for rooms and meals along the north coast were significantly cheaper than those in the south.
There was a vacant paddock at the back of the hotel, and that evening, with no TV in our room, we drifted off to sleep listening to the sounds of sheep or goats or both, and woke to the sound of chickens. The A.C. kept the room at a pleasant temperature, and didn't make much noise doing it. Watching the sun set and rise was a new experience for us as this was the first time either of us could remember being on a beach that faced north, therefore the sun didn't set or rise over the water.
We didn't have a room key. We had a bunch of keys. Everything had a lock on it. The bedside tables had locks. The refrigerator had a lock. The drawers in the writing table had locks. On the key ring there was a door key and six other keys. We didn't lock anything. Actually we hadn't unlocked anything. Well the fridge wasn't locked even though it was well stocked, and cold. We didn't have anything to put in the bedside tables because we were traveling light. To save carrying too much and having to do too much washing, I usually wear the clean shirt I wear out to dinner as my day shirt next day. Oh and this was also the first time I can remember having to hold a door key sideways to get it in and out of the lock.
The Suma Hotel looked and felt very Balinese. Inside the room, outside the room, the gardens, everything. It felt local. Speaking of local and typical Balinese, for our evening and morning showers we noticed that the hot water was quite hot with good pressure. As we turned the single tap towards cold we lost pressure. The tap over the wash basin, which was cold only, always had good pressure. But that's Bali!
As we were leaving in the morning we heard crashing noises that we didn't know if they were thunder, an earthquake, or explosions. We decided it was thunder as the sky looked ominous to the south west. We headed east back to and through Singaraja. Then we followed what was supposed to be the beach road to the south eastern town of Amed but we couldn't see any beach. We could see the mountains on our right, and the sun was in front of us, so we figured we must have been going in the right direction. I was noticing road signs that read Amlapura. I had a look at the map and saw it a long way down the south east coast past our intended destination of Amed. It seemed like a good idea to follow any Amlapura sign just like yesterday we had followed any Singaraja sign.
Eventually the road got closer to the beach and the view to our left was pretty good. Lots of little villages were on both sides of the road. Just offshore we often saw fish traps. We had a road sweeper in front of as which allowed us to maintain a comfortable speed. Well it was a truck really. A fairly new one; and using the road rule Might is Right, everything got out of its way and we just followed it.
Near the town of Tulamben is the sunken wreck of a WW11 US cargo ship Liberty. As part of my road trip planning I had tried to find something of interest for the kids to do each day. Yesterday's fishing had been successful. Today I thought we might have a look at the wreck. Unfortunately even though it was only about 30 metres offshore, it was between 15 and 30 metres down. As usual near anything of interest on Bali, there were plenty of locals about to hire us all the dive and snorkeling equipment we needed. I was the only one really interested in having a closer look so after stretching our legs we continued on our way.
The wreck is on the northern side of Tulamben. On the southern side of town the street atlas showed a Marine Reserve. We didn't see it or any signs relating to it, so to placate the kids for not having much fun at our stop Oma started up with the 'I Spy' game again. She had been doing this regularly since we left Kerobokan to keep the kids amused and of course the rest of the adults had to join in. Seth and Mariana fortunately travel well and are generally well behaved.
"Oma" is Dutch. Most grand children have different names for their respective grand parents. Two of the English words Iin's Javanese parents knew were Grandma and Grandpa, so they became "Grandma" and "Grandpa" and Eileen and I became "Oma" and "Opa". This has carried on for Nalani, our granddaughter in Australia, and any young children of friends and family.
From Tulamben the road went inland, but when we reached the town of Culik we turned left and headed back to the coastline and the Amed area. Amed is actually the name of the most northern village that clings to the beaches and cliffs. The most southern is Aas. Yes that is how it is spelt and pronounced, and it is at the bottom.
My first choice accommodation was a collection of bungalows called Meditasi, which translates as Meditation. We had a look inside one of the villas. It was very low key, but beautiful. I would have stayed there in a flash, and will if I ever get the chance again. Kristian and Iin were a little concerned that the outdoor balcony where one of the two double beds was located had a rail height of a bit less than a metre, overlooking a thirty or forty metre rocky cliff through the bougainvilleas to the beach. OK, scratch the first choice again. Seth and Mariana may be well behaved, but they can still be a little too adventurous for their own good.
My second and third choices also got the nod of disapproval, so after having driven the very narrow, picturesque, cliff and beach hugging road from Amed to Aas, and half way back, we eventually settled on a new or recently renovated, single story, beachfront hotel called Apa Kabar. In Bahasa Indonesian, Apa Kabar translates as "How are you?" This is as good an example as any to show how different languages can trick you up when there are sometimes no exact equivalents for the English words. "Apa Kabar" literally means "What News?"
The Apa Kabar was just as nice as the Suma Hotel if not nicer. Our bungalow was in the back blocks of the grounds a bit, but it wasn't far to the pool and restaurant, or the beach, which despite being volcanic black and pebbly, had good snorkeling coral just offshore. In fact I swam out only a bit past my depth and could see the coral without a facemask or goggles.
In our room there was no TV or fridge, but we had a great indoor/outdoor bathroom complete with a tree. The shower head was protruding from a large pottery urn. We both thought that was cute. Once again the A.C. was excellent. One item not supplied was bottled water. In most accommodation there are usually a couple of small bottles; enough to use for cleaning teeth. I decided to risk rinsing my mouth with the tap water and didn't suffer any ill effects. Part of my risk theory was that we were underneath reasonably nearby mountains, and hopefully the water supply from the streams hadn't had enough human 'exposure' to pick up too many nasties. It's all an immunity thing. Kristian has been rinsing with the tap water supplied to Kerobokan for years. If you think about it we are told the best way to prevent illness is to regularly wash your hands, especially before handling food. How effective is that really if the water you are washing your hands in is laced with cholera and diphtheria?
Once again we ate at the restaurant in the hotel. The food and drinks here were also excellent and reasonably priced compared to southern Bali. We had friendly chats with the staff and several other visitors from various parts of the world.
After paying the hotel bill I gave myself a terrible fright when I realized I had next to no cash in my wallet. I had changed Au$500 into rupiah only three days ago and I didn't think I could have possibly spent that much just on food, drinks, and accommodation. Then I remembered I had given more than half to Eileen who had hardly spent anything. Whew!
We returned to Culik as this would have us back on a better road sooner. Even so we were soon on twisty mountain roads again. In the distance on our left I could see either haze or the sea. I knew somewhere in that direction, and just south of Amlapura, was the very pretty Water Palace we had seen on a day trip with the family the previous year. The Lonely Planet book doesn't rate it very highly, but we enjoyed it.
I tried to find a short cut that would allow us to bypass the city of Amlapura, but I didn't have enough faith in either the map or myself to commit Kristian to any. When you consider we were used to the distances we often have to travel in Australia, nothing on Bali is very far from anything else, so it didn't really matter.
My destination this time was Pura Besakih, the most important temple on Bali, and when it can be seen through the mist or rain, Mount Agung which towers over it. To get there I had decided to take the back roads to Redang, and then on to the temple. This proved to be also very picturesque, but required a lot of patience. The road was now very windy. The Lonely Planet book highly recommended driving along the Sidemen Road from south to north for some spectacular views of Mount Agung. As we would only meet up with this road at the northern T intersection, when we did, we headed south along it until we reached the village of Sidemen, and then turned around and followed it back. While the drive both ways was very scenic we couldn't see the mountain as by now it was raining or misty or both.
Between the Sidemen Road and Redang was the worst bit of road we encountered on the trip. On the slopes of Mount Agung the locals collect the black volcanic stone and use it crushed to make walls or ornate bricks and blocks. To get it from here to the south they use the same road we were on. Therefore we were on a narrow, windy, mountain road with frequent wash-outs that had annihilated the crappy bitumen to gravel and mud for hundreds of metres at times, following old worn out trucks fully laden with gravel or bricks. You've probably got the picture.
To add to our consternation Kristian was now concerned we would run out of fuel before we got to a petrol station. You can buy fuel in one litre bottles from roadside houses and stalls, but you never know what is really in them. They can be watered down, or contain kerosene, or anything that is cheaper than petrol.
We made it to Rendang and Kristian thought we should have enough fuel to get to a decent petrol station on this road because it had larger towns along it. When we reached the turn off to the temple we hadn't seen any, and we still had about fifteen kilometers to go. Then we had to make it back. Deciding discretion was the better part of valor we turned around and headed back down towards Klungkung. Thankfully we didn't have to go that far before we found a petrol station and filled up.
By now it was raining heavily. At the temple we knew we would want to walk around so we decided to find a place for lunch and see if the rain would ease. The heavier the tropical downpour, the shorter the period of time it usually lasts, and this was heavy.
To bide our time, we had lunch at great little restaurant only a kilometre or two from Menanga back along the road to Besakih. I don't remember the name of it. We were more concerned with staying dry. The restaurant was on the left side of the road, and set back up a slight rise. Two ladies came out to greet us when we stopped beside the road in the car park. They held umbrellas over us as we made our way inside. The food and drinks were excellent, and the prices were reasonable.
The delay for lunch worked to a certain extent because by the time we arrived at the temple the rain was only heavy mist. Still Kristian and I were the only ones who wanted to have a look around.
Once again referring to the Lonely Planet book there is a trick to avoiding the hawkers, and they are here en masse. Bear with me while I plagiarise a bit here. The main entrance is 2km south of the complex on the road from Menanga. About 200 metres past the ticket office there is a fork in the road with a sign indicating Besakih to the right and Kintamani to the left. Go left, because going right puts you in a large parking lot at the bottom of a hill 300metres from the temples. By going left you will come to the northern parking lot only 20 metres from them.
Also beware of the 'guides'. No matter what they say, you do not need a guide. We eventually accepted a guide for 50,000Rp after he promised the money was put to the costs of maintaining the temple. I didn't entirely believe him, but we at least got a running commentary about each of the buildings, which turned out to be quite informative. One interesting fact is that despite being predominately Hindu, the complex is open to all religions, and that some of the buildings are religion specific.
Even from this close we could not see the volcano. There was just too much cloud and mist, so we told the girls and kids how wonderful it all was and headed back to Denpasar. This time we didn't follow the signs to our destination. By heading due south to Klungkung and through Samarapura we met up with the Jalan Profeser Doktor Ida Bagus Mantra. Sorry. I know I said I wasn't going to use a lot of local words, but this is important too. This is the best 'freeway' on the island, and takes you directly to Denpasar, and we arrived home before sunset.
If you don't have a son with an international driving licence living on Bali, and you want to try a road trip, there are several ways to go about it. To drive yourself, you will need an international licence. They are available on Bali, but you are probably better off getting one in your own country before you leave. I've even been asked on the street if I wanted another passport.
If you want to hire a motor scooter there are a couple of things you should consider. The four wheeled vehicles do not give way to two wheeled vehicles. You will probably get lost and it is very hard to read a road map and ride. If you look in the fine print of your travel insurance you will probably find it excludes traveling by motor scooter at all. And if you ride without a licence you have a much better chance of being pulled over in a road side police blitz on a scooter. Then you better have a few spare rupiah for the nice officer.
The easiest and safest ways to hire a vehicle on Bali are to book it through your travel agent before you leave, or book it through your hotel when you get there. (Unless you know the people you are dealing with well, I would not recommend booking online in advance if it involves any substantial deposit.) It will not be the cheapest way, but you can be reasonably assured that the vehicle will be in good condition, and all the necessary insurances are included. You will pay in advance, and for fuel along the way, but unless the terms and conditions require you to pay for any extraordinary damage, that should be it. My recommendation is to take a video or several still photos of the vehicle inside and out before you drive away. You then only have to contend with the traffic and roads. If you are a little more adventurous, you can get a quote from the service desk at your hotel, and then bargain with one of the many hire companies. Make sure your arrangement is in writing and that you have read and understood all the fine print in your own language. Don't allow yourself to be liable for any unexpected extras on your return. No matter whom you eventually choose, make sure the air conditioner works before you take the vehicle.
If you decide that driving yourself is too much hassle you can hire a car and driver. Once again this is easiest and safest if done through your hotel. But again you can then bargain with any of the bemo drivers. There are many depots to ask at, or just walk outside your hotel and listen for the words, "Transport? Transport Boss?"
Any time you accept, or are bargaining for any service, be absolutely sure you repeat and confirm, preferably in writing if practical, the price. You will have to pay for accommodation and meals for your driver, but unless you insist otherwise, he will stay and eat somewhere different, and cheaper, than you. Once again, make sure the vehicle air conditioner works.
Thursday and Friday I spent visiting hardware stores with Kristian and doing some minor maintenance on their renovated house. They hadn't gotten around to installing any bathroom fittings like towel rails and hooks; the shower bracket needed relocating above navel height; and most of the doors hadn't been fitted with buffers to save damage to the handles and walls when opened. Iin had a floor to ceiling pantry in her kitchen with only three shelves in it.
When this was all sorted out the place looked great. This is despite having bars on the windows as required by law. The bars are not just vertical round bars, but are made from flat steel with a mix of straight and 'S' shapes, all nicely painted.
It is a four bedroom house with a nice kitchen/dining area and a huge lounge room with a terrarium open to the sky in one corner. The yard is not very big as land space is at a premium on Bali, but there is a small patio, and the lounge room is so large the kids can ride their push-bikes around in it. All the floors are beautifully tiled. The master bedroom has an ensuite, and three air conditioners keep the place cool when there isn't enough breeze flowing through, which isn't often. The architecture is simple, and has soul. In the afternoons the local kids can all play in the streets with safety, as the area is a private residential collection of homes and serviced from the outside only by local laneways.
This all sounds very romantic and for those like us who are bored with western architecture, it sounds like a great place to move to live. But if you are bored with where you are now, you will become bored with Bali too. And maybe even frustrated. Nothing works! Well, not well, and not for long usually.
Until they put down a bore somewhere in their tiny yard, Kristian and Iin must rely on town water, which means during peak hour morning and evenings you have to run around in the shower to get wet. And you shouldn't open your mouth when in the shower for fear of ingesting something that could make you very sick. As I said earlier, this is an immunity thing. The locals can still get sick, but they have a much stronger resistance. We in our sterile western world riddled with chemical disinfectants for everything don't stand much of a chance. Heaven help us if the pharmaceutical companies let something out of the bottle. We'll be the first to go.
The electricity service is better here than a few kilometers away where they had been renting. They can often run the three air conditioners all at once now, although they hardly ever do. There is no reliable internet service to their district, although the mobile phone service is excellent.
But it's quiet, the garbage wheelie bins are emptied several times a week, and the breadmen (yes breadMEN) call daily.
From a travelers point of view I have managed to find a way to get good value for my Aussie dollars and not get fleeced by the money changers who are trickier than you might think. In my article "Don't be cheated by the Money Changer" in the 'Blog & Travel Tips' section of So Simple Holiday Swaps, I explain exactly that, but on this trip I found one place that is near perfect for changing money.
Pt. Bali Maspintjinra Amc. is at No.50/87 Jalan Raya Kerobokan. It has a big blue sign out the front. Inside is clean and open with pens, paper, and calculators on the large counter. You hand over your money to the person behind the counter after signing the clearly legible Foreign Exchange Voucher which shows the value of your cash, the exchange rate, and the rupiah you are going to get. You see your voucher handed to another person behind a glass screen who gives the rupiah to the counter person. The counter person then places your money into a slot on a machine which counts your cash in seconds while you watch. The display number should match your voucher. Kristian said it has never been wrong yet. I counted mine BEFORE (At any moneychanger, once you leave the premises, you can't come back and complain.) I walked out the door and it was spot on. The exchange rate was as good as any I saw in the street and better than any bank or hotel. There was no commission charge.
One thing I did notice while in the hardware stores was the proliferation of cheap, poor quality tools and products. Australia is heading the same way. If the public keeps buying poor quality, that is all that will be on our shelves. At least in Australia we have attempted to maintain good building standards. Unfortunately on Bali there is insufficient funding for training centres and most people are too poor to afford them anyway, so many 'tradespeople' just muddle along. Consequently buildings are often poorly constructed. They may not be square, or walls are not straight, or rooves, walls, and windows leak. Floor drains and shower drains are not necessarily at the lowest point. Guttering isn't properly installed. Doorways aren't square. Electrical wiring and fittings are doubtful.
After saying all that we are moving into another building. The Pelangi Bali Hotel. We do this on our visits so we all have a pool to swim in, mainly for the grandkids. They have a pool at school, but not at home. We have stayed at the Pelangi before and the location suits us perfectly. It's not too far and not too close at Seminyak, fairly close by taxi to our son's place, and right on the beach. The street leading from Jalan Seminyak has lots of shops and cafes etc, and it's not too far to Jalan Seminyak which becomes Jalan Legian. I'm not going into that again, but Legian Street is where all the up market shops are.
The meals and drinks are reasonably priced and there is a downstairs restaurant and a rooftop restaurant with excellent views of the beach, fishing boats at sea, the sunset, and the lights starting to show over at Uluwatu. Have a look at Pelangi Bali Hotel
I've often wondered where everybody goes for lunch and dinner at these hotels. Everyone is there for breakfast because it is usually included in the rate. But where do they go for dinner in particular, when all the local restaurants are not much cheaper, and the food is about the same. Yes you can eat at some really cheap warungs, but while we do sometimes, the food and service is usually better at the hotel. Well it is at Pelangi anyway. One night we did discover a restaurant hidden away in the back garden of the Dhyana Pura Hotel next door. The food was once again similar range, quantity, and quality, but the meal prices were a little cheaper. The biggest difference was the drinks prices. They were half the price of the reasonably priced Pelangi. I guess if you look, you will find these little gems.
Previously at Pelangi we stayed in a Superior Room. That's the cheap ones. This time we updated to a Super Deluxe room with more room and a spa and a toilet with a bidet. When you turn the little knob on the side of the toilet a small pipe rotates from under the seat and squirts water, and it is extremely accurate.
|The Bungee tower at Seminyak|
For additional entertainment there is a bungee tower just along the beach. Some adventurous souls get up there with motor bikes (not just scooters, but real motocross bikes), start them up, and bungee off. No lawyers or insurance problems here. Australian formula 1 driver Mark Webber recently commented that Australia was a 'nanny state' with all the legal and insurance restrictions on having fun. While I don't agree all of this is bad, how far do we have to go to protect people from themselves? It takes a lot of passion out of life when too many restrictions are put on fun.
I recall a story I was told at Surabaya airport about ten years ago by some then school students. They said their culture brought them up to be extremely polite, but when frustration finally overcomes politeness it can be explosive.
As a place to raise and educate children let me relate the following. When Seth and Mariana left Australia where they were born, they were four and a half, and two and a half years old respectively. They had been attending a now defunct ABC Learning Centre day care centre. When they arrived firstly in Central Java, which most would consider almost third world, and attended a centre there, they were behind in their basics. When they moved to Bali two years later, they were behind again. That said a lot for the standard of ABC Learning and Australia. For several years now they have been learning Indonesian, English, Mandarin Chinese, and Arabic, as well as basic numeracy.
The children prefer water to fizzy pop. And 'hot' water at that. By that I mean they prefer water at room temperature, not from the fridge. They will drink milk, but not sugary soft drinks.
There is a new craze in T-shirt design on Bali, and it appears as though the designer has not been to school, as he couldn't tell his "H"s from his "M"s. For those non-Australians, Bunnings is a chain of huge hardware stores. The T-shirt said,"Go to Bunnings, buy a smovel, dig a big mole, because you're full of smit."
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