Bali Hi, Bali Bye

Trip Start Aug 11, 2011
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88
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Trip End Sep 08, 2012


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Where I stayed
Anusa Hotel

Flag of Indonesia  , Bali,
Friday, May 25, 2012

Bali is one of Asia's most popular tourist destinations for those looking for exotic island life, culture, sand and surf, so it may come as a surprise to learn that even before we arrive on the island we have no intention of staying for longer than necessary. Our reasons are many, but mainly because we have less than a month left of our Indonesian visa and we still need to travel a long way across a country composed entirely of islands. We have decided that we will use Bali to enquire into extending our visas by another month, leaving time to make an alternative plan if we can't. Until we arrive in the tourist hub and ask, we just don't know what will be possible.

We leave Mt Bromo on Java around midday for a nine hour minibus journey, the continuation of the previous day's 14 hour trip. Having arisen at 3.30am, after four hours sleep, and trudged around the volcano for several hours, we are totally knackered once the minibus gets going along the north Java coast. The scenery flickers by, we stop for lunch, then doze our way to the ferry port on the eastern end of Java. We drive onto the small car ferry and our group of eight passengers and driver colonise a table on the leeside of the deck for the half hour crossing to Bali. It is so close, yet the channel between the two islands is very turbulent, the Indian Ocean passes through this geographically narrow gap and the swells are pretty awesome.

We make it without sinking and are soon driving through the western part of the fabled isle. Darkness falls and there is nothing to see other than traffic and tatty roadside villages. At about 8.30pm we enter Bali's capital, Denpasar. Sheila and I have decided to stay at Kuta Beach south of the city - a better location to base ourselves than the hectic dirty capital. For an extra few dollars, our driver agrees to take us and two other couples down to Kuta, a journey that looks easy on the map but involves much negotiation of traffic and takes almost another hour. Once at Kuta we are totally bamboozled by the layout of the place, the apparent lack of accommodation and the general craziness of it all.

We are totally worn out and frazzled by now, not in any state to make decisions, but we have to find a place to stay. We can't figure out, in the dark, how the place works. The main drag is self explanatory - bars, restaurants, traffic and groups of obviously Aussie tourists wandering about in Bintang tank tops - but the accommodation is hidden down dark lanes and side streets, some of which appear ominous and deserted. Using the Lonely Planet we get the driver to find a particular recommended guesthouse down one of these streets, only to find it is full. We are so tired we begin to panic. In a snap decision we agree to be dropped at an innocuous looking hotel somewhere, we don't know where, in the back of Kuta Beach area.

It's a cheap digs - a two story Chinese style building built around a stark swimming pool in the courtyard. Our room is Spartan and the view is of a brick wall across the courtyard below. Sheila isn't happy, I'm short-tempered, and travel fatigue has bashed us both about badly. The hotel guy rescues the situation by making a decision for us - stay here tonight and rest and in the morning find your "Bali dream hotel", if that's what you want. It's a good idea. We take the room, unload our gear then wander up the dark lane, dodging motorbikes, until we find a street that has restaurants where we can feed ourselves before sleep.

For Sheila, it is the best night's sleep she's had in months, despite the shabby room. Total oblivion until 8am. I get up a bit earlier and head off in search of a coffee and to scout around. A couple of hundred metres down the lane I find a really nice hotel with a tropical garden and quite nice rooms for $15 a night, I take it, and after breakfast we checkout of Hotel Shabby and walk ourselves and our gear down to "Hotel Not Too Bad."

Later in the morning, while checking the internet, we receive all kinds of advice from friends who have been to Bali - in a nutshell - "why the hell are your staying in Kuta? It's rubbish! You should stay in such and such a place etc". I agree. The only reason we are here is to plan our way out. So later still, we walk toward the main road to search out a  place that can advise us about visa extensions. When we find one we discover that it is pointless to apply for a month's extension when we still have over three weeks left - they don't tack it onto the end, they add it to the date you apply which would mean we would only get a week's extension. What the guy advises us to do, when he learns our long range travel plan, is to renew it at an immigration office in one of several cities further east.

With that bit of info in our brains our next move is to plan our get-out from Bali. Meanwhile we gradually get a handle on Kuta. It's like Bangkok's Ko Sahn road but with a beach nearby. Lots of shops selling Bali souvenirs and Bintang T-shirts, loads of bars, massage parlours and restaurants. Hundreds of individual street vendors constantly hassling and every man we walk past asks "You want Transport?" 

Bali is to Australia what The Costa Brava is to England - a cheap place for a foreign beachside holiday. There are many Aussies here, family groups, couples and gangs of lads; some are straight from the bush, others are working class families from the suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney. It's strange for me to be once again surrounded by my countrymen. However, there is one thing that really draws Australians to Bali, and Indonesia in general, and that is the surf. Kuta Beach has decent waves and is easily accessible but the truly great tubes are found further south on the Bukit Peninsula at a place called Ulawatu. That's where the hard core package trip surfers head for and we would probably go that way too if we didn't have other plans.

On our second day in Kuta we make our first move to leave. We had decided months ago, after reading the effusive and hyperbole-ridden Lonely Planet, to head to a little group of islands further east, the famous Gilis. There are many travel shops advertising Gili fast ferry tickets and the first one we visit quotes $60 each for two one-way tickets. We try a street stall travel agent further on and he offers the same trip for $40. A couple of blocks later and we buy them for $30. I don't think we got a deal - thirty bucks appears to be the proper price, you just have to look for it. So with tickets bought for the following morning we can now relax and enjoy what's left of our time in beautiful Bali. Honestly, we would have really liked to explore further afield, to Ulawatu, to Ubud, to the volcano in the north, but we must move on, we still have plenty more islands to cross before we reach the big one, Australia, our final destination.  
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