Bali Baby

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The next chapter of my tropical retreat included Indonesia, namely Bali. People ask me whether I preferred Bali or  Thailand and I honestly don’t have an answer for them. Thailand was so amazing with its breathtaking views and colours while Indonesia was just as beautiful, cheap and so friendly. Because I only spent just under two weeks in Bali I’m going to reserve my judgement for another day. I would love to return to Indonesia and explore it in much more depth. But let me first tell you a bit more about this magical country, then you could maybe help me with this little debate.

We arrived in Bali very early one morning after spending the night at the Phuket airport. The first thing I noticed was the weather. Our beautiful sun had not followed us from Thailand. It was overcast but still pretty warm. The runway at Depensar Airport starts out at sea and ends next to the beach. It was quite exciting to not see land at all until we hit the ground. We took a very cheap taxi to our first hostel. It was a very strange building that kind of looked like a viking ship with a thatched roof. We had booked a room for free but on arrival were told there was already a fourth member in our room. He turned out to be a very nice guy from Australia. His parents are from Indonesia. He could speak a bit of Indonesian which came in handy when we went for dinner that night. We were pointed in the general beach direction and started walking randomly. After passing at least two beautiful temples we reached what was clearly the main part of town. There were so many people walking around in the wonderful evening heat. Many foreigners with surf boards and sea hair. and for every surfer there was a surf shop. From Billabong to Rip Curl. Indonesia, and especially Bali, is a surfer’s paradise and thousands of surfers pass through here every year to experience spots like Uluwatu, Impossibles, Bingin and Dreamland. We had our first taste of Indonesian Mie Goreng and Nasi Goreng at a very nice restaurant that looked out onto the busy main stretch. It was the best fried noodle and veg I’d ever tasted. Little did I know what was to come. After dinner we walked through the busy streets of Kuta, Bali. We eventually stumbled upon the beach. From there we could see a long stretch of lights that ran along the water’s edge in both directions. The sea was flat, the sand soft and the air pleasantly warm.

The next day we decided to move to another hotel/resort that was closer to the beach and in a much more central area of Kuta. We said farewell to our Aussie friend and made our way (via one scooter, Shaun making 2 trips) to Suka Beach Inn. It was such a contrast to the place we had stayed the night before. When I stepped into the quart yard it felt like I was walking into …. well Bali. There were so many green plants all over, a giant koi pond that we had to cross with a little stone bridge. The breakfast area was a beautiful stone pillared structure, next to this was the pool with 5 half-naked surfers lazily floating around and the rooms surrounded it all. After dropping our stuff in the room we dove for the pool. For the next week we spent most of our time either lazing by the pool, shopping, going to the beach or eating. Not necessarily in that order. When I say we, I mean Debbi and I. Shaun went off every day or so to meet his cousin at one of the surf spots in the area. We joined him one day. I had to be lifted there by a taxi scooter as I was still not comfortable to ride in that traffic. I think the traffic in Indonesia, or Kuta at least, was much worse than Thailand. Shaun’s cousin and friend were staying at the top of a cliff looking out over 3 surf spots below. After a tough day of lying in the sun while the boys surfed we went for a scooter ride around the area. We stopped off at an amazing surf spot called Uluwatu. There was only a tiny beach or inlet surrounded by high cliffs. we stood at the top for a while and watched the little seal like forms move around in the waves below. Here I saw my old friend “turquoise” again. Next stop was at a blow-hole formed by the sea in some extremely sharp rock. I imagined this was what the surface of Mars might look like. But after looking at the 360 images from the Curiosity rover today I know it’s quite different (see here: http://www.360cities.net/image/curiosity-rover-martian-solar-day-2#75.03,8.81,110.0 ). we had to wait for about 5 or 10 minutes between each water explosion but there were one or two that were quite amazing. Especially when a bunch of people got really drenched.

During this week of complete relaxation we found some amazing places to eat down the many little alleyways and streets that make up Kuta. One that will stick with me was only about 100m from our green pool haven. They made the best Mie Goreng I have ever tasted. I can’t tell you why it was so amazing. It just was. Maybe it was the portion, maybe it was the price (about R13 or $1.6) or maybe it was the watermelon smoothie I always got with it. Whatever it was, I miss it. That was another thing I totally adored about Indonesia: the price. Everything was just so amazingly affordable. I bought so much stuff in that week I had to buy another bag to put it all in. I was so liberating. One night after a very yummy dinner with Shaun’s cousin and friend we came across a man and woman carrying 2 snakes around with them for people to touch and take photos with. The man said they were from a reptile rescue organisation out to collect donations. They had a medium-sized yellow constrictor and a small colourful banded snake. I can’t remember its name right now. Now anyone who knows me well will know that snakes and I aren’t exactly friend so I didn’t volunteer to have them creep and crawl all over me but I did touch one, briefly. And that was all. The next night we saw different people with 2 more snakes. this time they were both constrictors. But the one was so big that even if it were slung over your shoulders two-thirds of it was still on the ground. It was massive. And so thick. Thicker than my thick thigh. luckily we didn’t go and interact with these bad boys. I think that snake’s head would creep me out the most. Can you imagine how huge it was? Haikona.

After our amazing week or so in the hyper, load and drunken Kuta we were ready for some more peace and quiet. We started to make our way to the Gili Islands. These are three tiny islands that lie in a row off the coast of Lombok which is the next big island next to Bali. It took us a 2 hour bus ride starting at 7 in the morning and an hour and a half’s boat ride to get to the first Gili Island. This boat ride, however, is worth mentioning. This is known as the fast boat as it bounces through that water at what feels like 100km/h. It also didn’t help that this day the sea was rather choppy. It was fun and scary at the same time. It felt like the boat went completely airborne at least 3 times. but we reached the beach semi intact. This being because Shaun’s brand new board had sustained a very serious injury during the bumpy trip. Debbi’s and Shaun’s clothes were also all soaked because they had packed them into the board bags of the two surf boards which were stored on the boat’s roof. So while they tried to sort out their several crisis at our little BnB I got out of the way and went for lunch and a walk on my new island. Gili Trawangan was the biggest of the three islands. You can see the next Gili from its shores at about 300m away. There are no cars or scooters allowed in the Gilis so the locals use horse-drawn carts to haul tourists and cargo around the island. This really got to me after a while as these poor ponies had to run around in the sweltering heat for God knows how long. This was the only reason I was happy to leave the island when I did, so as not to see those poor ponies sweating and panting anymore. But back onto more pleasant things. Gili Trawangan was such a change from the hustle and bustle of Kuta, Bali. It consisted of one main road that went all the way around the island and a few little alleyways that made up the houses and BnBs on the east side of the island. There were also many diving schools here and I’d read that the diving in this area was really great so I was excited to find out about taking my new licence for a spin. Unfortunately I could only stay on this tropical paradise for two nights as my flight to Java and then Korea was to leave that Friday. So I went all out. Debbi and Shaun didn’t want to go diving but I sure did. I booked a deep dive (so as to be another dive closer to being an advanced diver) for the following morning. Every night there is a magical food market on the island where stands of street food appear in one of the squares and people gather to each cheap amazing food. The first night I had prawns and fried rice with a chocolate pancake/cake for dessert. Words can not explain how good those prawns tasted. It was such a great atmosphere. There were strings of light from cart to cart and many tables of seafood to order from, as well as the standard Indonesian stir fries and veggies. This obviously attracted the foreigners and tourists on the island so we made some more friends as we all sat at long tables in between the food carts. It felt like the Island version of October Fest. With seafood instead of beer.

The next morning I went on my deep dive. It was also a bit of a drift dive at the same time as the island is not really protected from currents. We dove to 30m. It felt like 10. It only really felt deep when we got to a giant wall of coral that gradually steeped up to the shallows. Here I could visually gauge how far it was to the surface. We stopped for a bit to play around on the sand. The guide whipped out from nowhere a can of coke and a straw. She then proceeded to open the coke, insert the straw and motion for us to take a sip. It was crazy. The coke stayed in the can. Because of the pressure and some other science I am unaware of the coke never floated out of the open can like it would in shallow water. We each took a sip of coke at 30 meters below sea level surrounded by coral, colourful fish and who knows what else. She then produced an egg, cracked it on her tank and broke it open. Can you guess what happened? The egg would probably behave the same if it were in space. It simply floated along like a round blob of egg. the yolk and egg white didn’t separate. I could hold it all in my hand. It was very cool. After swimming/drifting along a bit further and seeing some amazing sea life we got to a herd of Bump-head Parrot-fish. I like to compare these giant fish to a heard of cow. They slowly munched their way along the bottom, eating what must have been old coral, kicking up sand as they went. And in turn making new sand too. They looked like big blue rectangles eating sand.

That afternoon I took Debbi and Shaun to a great snorkeling spot my guide had pointed out to me from the boat. We spent the rest of the day snorkeling, tanning and swimming in that turquoise water I loved so much. That evening the three of us rented bicycles and cycled around the circumference of the island at sunset. Apart from the incredibly sandy parts it was a very relaxing ride. Just before we reached our starting point we sat on the white sand and watched the red sun disappear behind the Volcano on Bali in the far off distance. I rounded off my amazing Gili Island experience with an amazing Full Moon party on the beach that night. Shaun had a cold so Debbi and I danced the night away on the beach, drinking local drinks, watching fire spinners spin and just enjoying the island life under a big, fat, white moon.

The next day I bounced my way back to Bali and unrolled myself beside our pool for one last time before jetting off to South Korea once more.

 

If you want to see more pics check out the link to my Facebook on the right.

The Bluest Blue

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Koh Phi Phi

I’ve just recently returned from yet another stunning bit of traveling. Thailand and Indonesia. I felt that seeing as I live in South Korea and Thailand is sort of the go-to vacation for the expats here it was time to go. It was everything I’d hoped for and much much more. I met up with two friends from South Africa there. Debbi, who I hadn’t seen is a very long time, and Shaun. I only packed one tiny backpack, knowing that I’d just be buying things there left, right and centre. I started the long trip up to Seoul to catch my flight to Kuala Lampur and then Phuket. Meeting up with Debs and Shaun was easier than I expected. They were already in Phuket and my taxi dropped me off right at their feet. Patong on Phuket is a crazy, tourist infested city but the beach was still wonderful and it was a good first introduction to Thailand for me. The touts, the food, the heat and the mosquitos. Unfortunately Debbi didn’t have much luck with the mosquitos and after a 4 hour session of waiting around a hospital we found out she had dengue fever. Needless to say, the next week was not a highlight of her (or our) trip.

After some shopping, eating and beaching we decided to head to Koh Phi Phi. The iconicly beautiful but terribly overcrowded island to the south of Phuket. This island was made famous after the movie The Beach was shot on the shores of Maya Bay. So tourists flock here in the hundreds. The worst part is that it’s completely worth it. Koh Phi Phi is what you visualise when you think of Thailand, islands, blue water and white beaches. We hopped on a ferry and were there in about 2 hours. The ferry included a quick drive by of the most popular spots like Maya Bay and the Viking cave as well as other gorgeous little inlets. This was my first exposure to that unbelievable blue. It doesn’t look real. It’s like someone has messed white paint in the water and it’s colouring the blue water this piercing turquoise. After this fast sight-seeing trip I was so excited to just get to a beach and see this water up close. Koh Phi Phi mostly consists of a sand bank between two islands. So the town part is rather small. There are no cars or motorbikes in the streets, only some bicycles. I loved the way the streets were only really narrow enough for walking. After finding a place to stay we headed straight to the beach on the other side of the sand-bank-town. It was magical. The sea was crazy warm. If not hot. The sand the softest I’ve ever felt and the water, though not that intense turquoise I’d seen earlier, was such a light blue that it was hard to see where the sea ends and the sand actually starts. That evening we found the place that made the best Pad Thai of the entire trip. It was so good and all I could think about was trying to make this when i got back to Korea.

Debbi was feeling pretty bad so she stayed in the room most of the time. I went for a walk one night after Deb and Shaun decided to call it a day. I met a really nice mexican girl who was also out looking for entertainment after her friend had been in a scooter accident and was also bed ridden. Together we grooved the night away at several of the beach bars. We watched fire dancers and spinners and danced some more on the beach dance floor. I also met a group of Argentinians who graciously invited me to join their boat the next day. The best way to see the island and all its splendour is to hire a long tail boat and chug from beach to beach, snorkeling, swimming and tanning. I was very glad that I’d found a group willing to take me on their boat as it can be very expensive if you’re a small crowd, let alone one. Shaun was invited too but he decided to stay on shore that day. We were 9 on the boat and our captain. A tiny old guy with a cowboy hat and white rimmed sunglasses. Instead of it being a pre-planned tour we charted the boat so we could go where we wanted when we wanted. Our first stop was to snorkel and see some coral. Our captain threw some food into the water and the fish would swim right around you, bumping into you and going crazy for the bread. It was so great, you could touch the fish as they frantically ate the food. Next we stopped at a deserted beach. Here we swam in the turquoise water and ate pineapple beautifully cut up by our captain. It was truly paradise. We then headed over to the famous bays close to Maya bay. Here we snorkeled some more and rode between high cliffs disappearing into the piercingly blue waters. We then had to swim out to a bunch of rope ladders set up against some rocks on the shore, climb over and walk a short distance through the jungle. You then turn a corner and step out onto Maya bay. This beautiful white stretch of sand looks out onto a bay encircled by high cliffs with only a small opening to the sea. I did kinda feel like Leonardo Di Caprio swimming in the water there. We also stopped off and took some photos of the monkeys on Monkey beach before heading back to the main island.

The next morning I went for a hike up the one mountain to the Koh Phi Phi viewpoint which looks out over the entire bay. I couldn’t help but think of the destruction this island must have experienced during the tsunami. I read that Koh Phi Phi was one of the worst hit places seeing as the entire town area is at sea level and is basically a temporary sand bank. You’d think the people would learn but the Phi Phi of today is said to look almost exactly like the old one. Throughout our trip in Thailand we never saw anything that looked like damage from the tsunami. Though there were open plots in some places that might have been buildings before. Nothing that stood out as tsunami damage. I guess because tourism is so important to the country that that was their first priority. I watched many videos on YouTube of the tsunami when I got home. And I can honestly say that they affect me much more now that I’ve been there. It’s so easy to forget tragedies like that, especially when they happen to underdeveloped countries where you’re not constantly remind about it like 9/11.

We then  headed south to Koh Lanta. This was a very pleasant change from the tourist covered Koh Phi Phi. We stayed there for a night or two at a very nice little resort right on the beach. Though Koh Lanta didn’t have quite the glitz and glamour of Koh Phi Phi and it was a bit cloudy, I still enjoyed relaxing at the pool. I should add that I wasn’t renting any scooters like the rest of the world due to my little accident I had in India. Let’s just say I didn’t feel that the busy streets of Thailand were the best place to learn how to drive a scooter, especially in my case. So I opted to walk around the island. I wish I had explored a little further. Next time I’ll hopefully either have someone with me who would drive or I’ll have learnt myself. I think we quickly realised that there were better places to be spending out time than at a pool so we made our way to Koh Tao.

The only way to get to Koh Tao in the off-season is to take a mini bus about two to three hours north to Krabi, changing busses, another two hours to Surathani and then an over night ferry to Koh Tao. Needless to say the bus rides were very cramped. In Krabi we had to wait an hour and a half for the next bus and in Surathani we were carted from bus stop to bus stop for about 2 hours before we were even taken to the port to get on the ferry. We figured out that this was the norm when it came to tourist transport. You buy a ticket at an agency for you entire journey but along the way each person needs to benefit. So they constantly juggle you between shops, restaurants and bus stop so that everyone gets a piece of the pie. We eventually arrived at the port and got onto the night ferry. It was an old wooden boat with about 50 little mattresses and pillows laid next to each other in two rows. The boat left at 11pm and was to arrive at 6am in Koh Tao. We still had about 2 hours to go before the boat left so we strolled through the night market outside. This is where I met the wonder that is Milo smoothies. A man at a cart makes a milo like I’ve never had it before. Over ice with some condensed milk on top. It was heaven in that humidity. At 11pm we left for the diving island. We made some Canadian friends on the ferry and made plans to meet up with them on the island.

Koh Tao was definitely a highlight for me. Debbi had convinced me to do the open water diving course with her. I wasn’t too keen on the idea. I just wasn’t sure if it was really something that I needed to do. But now I’m more than glad I did. The course consists of 3 or 4 days of diving where at the end you are certified to dive to 18m in open water. Accommodation was included in the deal. We decided to do the course in 4 days as we had the time. I regret that decision today though. I immediately fell in love with diving. I’ll admit I was a little nervous the first time we were about to jump into a 3 meter deep pool with all our gear on. I could hardly stand with it on, let alone put on my flippers and step off the end while trying to remember to breath!! Rule number one of diving is NEVER HOLD YOUR BREATH. There is a lot of theory involved in this course and we learnt a lot about air and water pressure. Rule number one has to do with not damaging or injuring your lungs when you ascend again. The breath you hold in at 10m is not the same at 5m, and so forth.

after our first day of skills in the pool we were off to the sea. That first dive into my favourite water was so magical. I felt like those tourists you see in the Kruger part going crazy over the wart hog they just saw run past their car. You ain’t seen nothing yet. We were only at about 5 or 6 meters but it was just so beautiful. Just like on tv. The coral was amazing and the colours on the fish – breathtaking. So on the 4th day we were to go on our last dive as a group and emerge out of the water, certified divers. We did a total of 6 dives. I saw too many fish to mention here. But among them were eels, turtles, clown fish, angelfish, batfish, barracuda, cuttlefish, triggerfish and many more. I really took to it like a fish to water! my instructor complimented me on how comfortable I was diving. He said he’d never had someone get into it so easily and quickly. And it really felt that way. I had no problems with the equalization or the depth. Often myself and one of the instructors would wait at the bottom for the rest of the group to descend. After our course I woke up in the morning with no diving planned. That wouldn’t do so I went and booked a night dive. This is why I wish I’d done the course in 3 days. After your open water you can get your advanced diver certification. It’s only an extra 2 days and 5 dives you have to do. These are called adventure dives and include things like a night dive, deep dive, photography dive, navigation dive, naturalist dive, drift dive etc. We were only on the island for 5 days. I could have done my advanced if I thought ahead. So instead I’ve started to rack up my five adventure dives slowly. I did a night dive in Koh Tao and a deep dive in Indonesia. So now I’m also certified to go to 30m. I enjoyed Koh Tao and the diving so much that I now plan on returning in June or July next year and completing my instructors course so that I can teach diving, live on Koh Tao and live the dream! I’ve been spoilt with some of the best diving in the world as my starting point. I’m very excited to go back and continue diving.

I’ve included a few photos here but please visit my Facebook page for more. http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151894958800571.881665.870275570&type=3 Next up: Indonesia!!!