Aug 20

Bali, Bintangs, Birthdays, Buddies, Bargains and Bum Bassages

One afternoon in Kuala Lumpur, whilst talking over our next destination – due to be Koh Samui – we suddenly had a change of heart. Not only did we work out that it would in fact be cheaper, but the weather looked more promising (no monsoons). Bali was to be the surprise twist of our travelling adventure so far.

I’d always wanted to head to Bali and I had a little reserve money that I’d for seen using at the end of the 6 months to potentially take us there. Considering we were already half way through the reserve, there seemed no better opportunity than the present, to fly directly from Kuala Lumpur to Denpasar. It only cost £90 too, flights to Bali don’t get much cheaper!

What was I expecting? A mish mash of beach, surf and rice paddies I guess. I didn’t know an awful lot about Bali, so when we landed at the Airport, I was immediately taken back by just how bloody hectic it was. Suddenly the words ‘Taxi’ were holla’d at us from all angles whilst we tried to search out a Balinese looking man with our name on his board, amongst a crowd of other Balinese men with other western names on their boards. Eventually, we made eye contact with our ‘Taksi’ driver who kindly tried to carry one of our bags, not really anticipating the weight of it. Poor bloke I thought, but in some sense he understood the pain we go through each time we pack up and have to lug two of the buggers around.

We arrived at our guest house in Canggu, a little taken back by the ‘Taksi’ ride. The chaos had continued and the roads were swarmed with scooter riders, weaving in and out of the moving cars with an air of invisibility. Every where you turned, there was a scooter, then a beep, then a hundred more fly past. It had suddenly all got very real. Anyway, we loved our room, a very contemporary, minimal affair with delicately hand crafted wooden furniture. This nation really are the master craftsman! We wondered to reception to ask for directions to the beach so we could suss our our location. Communication had become difficult as the amount of English had decreased futher, to lots of simplified words, hand gestures and generally sounding like we’re deaf when trying to communicate. The reception lady pointed in the direction of beach and off we trotted.

25 minutes or so later, we returned confused. We’d walked right and had seen no beach for what seemed like miles and then even gone left and still had no luck. We spoke to the same lady who then laughed and seemed surprised we’d tried to walk, It then clicked, she didn’t really understand us, but was merely agreeing when she understood certain words. In fairness, it was our fault, we shouldn’t expect everyone to be fluent in English – we look ignorant enough when having to speak our language in everyone else’s country.

We decided to get push bikes over the scooter, which resulted in an epic fail when we cycled to the restaurant at the beach to then discover they don’t take plastic. It seems in Canggu there was only one cashpoint near the beach and at that point, it was a mystery where it was. So we cycled up to the main, extremely hectic street and joined the hundreds of scooters, which scared the crap out of us. There’s literally no translating the rules of the road, cars and scooters filter from all angles, they beep to let each other know they are there and you give way to what pulls out in front of you, no matter how close. It all ended with us eventually renting a scooter in order to be on a level playing field with the rest of the road. I’ll talk more about scooters later, but we enjoyed lovely Pad Thai noodles on the beach, ending the day relaxing after a exuberant start. They even insisted we pay the next day! So very laid back.

After a night of sleeping on what felt like clouds, we were ready to take on Canggu. After enjoying our free breakfast of fresh fruit smoothies, eggs, bacon, toast, coffee and more fresh fruit, we approached the scooter. I need to let you guys know just how much Fi loved this thing – shit loads! I’d never been so much as near a scooter, so after buzzing it around the quiet side road, Fi took over, being the more experienced. (although she did wear her helmet backwards for a while) I didn’t fancy chancing it with an expired driving licence. With hindsight, this was a smart move after reading an Indonesian book about a man framed and imprisoned in a living hell in Bali for 11 years, mainly because of a corrupt police force and penitentiary system.

So we spent the day buzzing around on our little scooter. That evening, we went next door to the amazing Chillhouse Bali Surf Retreat. This place offers all inclusive accomodation with one to one surf tuition. It’s run by an Austrian couple who employ the local Bali surfers and cooks to provide a phenomenal service. We would’ve loved to have stayed there and done a full week, but finances ment we could only join for dinner and have one surf lesson. The food was exquisite, four courses of unfamiliar local Balinese cuisine that tasted out of this world. We were really lucky to be part of this and it was a great opportunity to meet like minded people. We got to know a sweet couple also from Austria, called Thomas and Barbara – they were learning to surf for the first time.

During our remaining days in Canggu, we had our surf lesson with the Bali surfers. We both paddled right out to the lineup where the waves were without doubt the biggest we’d surfed in. Fi caught a few in but later had to retire from surfers paddle arm, in other words, she grazed the crap out of them when they rubbed against her board. I had the best and worse surf session of my life. I caught consistent waves, riding them in and even learning to turn a bit, but also went head first down a wave which really shook me up. The board smashed me over the head, came back round to catch me straight in the face – all this while being tumbled underneath the wave. It kind of sums up surfing; amazing thrills when you get it right, but shit scary when you get it wrong.

We bidded a fond farewell to Canggu and set off in a Taksi towards Kuta, where the more hectic side of Bali was introduced. Rob and Charlotte, who we met what seems like a lifetime ago on the North Shore in Oahu, were also in Kuta. We’d made contact with them when in Canggu and headed to their hotel called Lima Satu, right in the heart of Poppies 1, the tiny little lanes feeding to the main beach.

The accomodation varies in Bali and like anywhere, budget is key. Lima Satu was cheap and reasonable for what we were paying. Like most places in Kuta, it was more than a little rough around the edges, but we were happy to call if home for the next week in order to celebrate both our Birthdays. It was run by a group of Bali boys, very similar to the lost boys from Hook / Peter Pan. They lived and slept on matreses by the reception and got involved with the guests who had a few drinks in the social area each night. A harmless bunch that didn’t really seem too fussed on attracting new vistiors. They appeared very selective when backpackers would stroll in and ask about availability – turning a high proportion of them away.

It was fantastic to meet with Rob and Charlotte again. We had so much to catch up on and once again compared and shared our travel experiences over cheap food, like Nasi Goreng and various satay dishes. This is where I was introduced to the Bintang culture. Bintang is a local Bali beer and the local tourists, mainly Australian, sport these vests that compliment their tanned complexions. It was a bit of a gimmick and I was more than happy to haggle myself a cheap vest which instantly became part of my lounging around gear. The beer itself is actually pretty good and more importantly it’s cheap. Hooray for cheap alcohol for only the second or third time in months!

Rob and Charlotte had been in Kuta nearly a month, so were well positioned to show us around. They took us to the beach, entering and being greeted by the local surf guys who flog the rental boards and Bintangs on the beach. We had a drink with them, while watching the sunset over Kuta beach. It’s extremely busy on the white sands, so many tourists litter the place all on a tanning mission. We’d expected this and often joined in, trying to improve our tans that had faded since Hawaii. That evening, R&C took us to their favourite restaurant, Pama’s that ticked all the necessary boxes that travellers require. We shared a fair few Bintang that night along with a local moonshine like drink called Arak. This stuff literally tastes like engine oil. Locals drink it as a cheap alternative to booze and that’s already cheap, so you only can imagine how vile this stuff is – it does the job though. I also learnt it’s a prison drink too!

The next day, with ruined insides, we headed to the beach where we bartered for a couple of surf boards and jumped straight in. The waves in Kuta were viscous in comparison to Canggu. They barrelled like I’d never seen, dumping down on anyone trying to catch the wave. On reflection, unless you can instantly surf the waves along, you’re destined for a meeting with the sand in these conditions. I spent the next hour or so getting to know the sand I spoke of and really felt the full force of these waves. It was a little disheartening as the progress I’d made was thwarted by an absolute bashing, mostly from nose diving my board as I just couldn’t get my weight to the back of the board quick enough when popping. Lesson: No two waves are the same, anywhere.

Over the course of the next few days, we mainly did the above. Chuck in some shopping at the market stalls, relentlessly bartering for a collection of fake sunglasses, jewellery, wooden statues, plugs and ear tunnels to name just a few. It’s fun and cheap. Fi and Charlotte were in their element. We also were introduced to Bali massages. We’d never had a massage from a stranger before, but Charlotte was a seasoned pro and guided us in. These became known as the Bali bum massages, as when they perform a back massage then they nudge your underwear down a bit and give those cheeks a little rub. A strange, but mighty relaxing experience. Massages became a fairly frequent occurrence in Bali.

I nearly forgot to mention Fi’s tattoo. She had wanted one for years and after seeing the great job the local Bali tattooist had done on Charlotte, Fi explored the possibilities. The place was clean, sterile and the guy and bags of talent. He sketched Fi an awesome, realistic looking flower and inked it onto her wrist. It’s come out fantastic and Fi is over the moon.

August 4th hit, my Birthday! 28 years old, in Bali and travelling the world. I seriously couldn’t complain. I woke up to some lovely little gifts from Fi including a great book about Indonesian prisons, a lego blind bag mini figure and my favourite, Ferrero Roche! She’d made an awesome little card too. Me and Rob headed to the beach for a Surf whilst Fi grabbed some pictures. We then had breakfast at the hotel where Rob and Charlotte surprised me with a few little gifts. Most of the day was spent on the beach, which was exactly how I wanted to spend my Birthday – chilling.

We started on the Bintang a little earlier than normal and these accompanied us at the beach, for lunch and then for dinner where we enjoyed some great food. By this point some of the Arak was kicking in, we ended up on the ‘party party’ road near Poppies 1 and in a bar, that weirdly has Shish-a’s, where you could smoke flavoured tobacco. We thought, why not, and grabbed one which was great, except conversation was difficult as there was a club ilke atmosphere so you could hear nothing. Not the best environment for shish-a so we made tracks. That pretty much topped off the night and we ambled back to the hotel, where we munched my Birthday cake. A great Birthday with great people!

The next few days are a bit of a blur. I’m pretty sure they consisted of more beach and surf. We also hired a scooter called scoopy from the tattoo shop. Fi loved it and went on a few crazy journeys with Charlotte on the back. One time for some bits and bobs from a pet shop for Jake. He was the hotels puppy, literally only 5 or 6 weeks old. Extremely cute and loved to nip your ankles – but all was forgiven when he looked up at you with those puppy eyes.

August 8th hit. Fi’s Birthday! 26 years old and another Bali Birthday – not that we minded! I’d bought Fi a few little presents for her to open including a pretty, hand made shell and stone bracelet – which she later lost surfing! As just mentioned, we surfed again and spent some more quality time on the beach. We decided to splurge a little and chose a little Italian place for dinner. The food that came out literally made our jaws drop – I want to say because it looked so tasty, but it was actually as the portions were so small. It wasn’t fine dining by any means, but a plate of pasta. Literally tiny. Fi’s lasagne was cold too. I think my carbonara was the only dish that actually came as expected. So after some awkward complaining, we paid the bloated bill and the girls decided to blow off steam. With not one, but two massages. All for £6! The first was a back massage, the second was some sort of foot, manicure, pedicure thing. Rob and I went and found Bintang – our new best friend. We all rendezvoued after their pampering session and went back to the hotel to eat more cake. Another great Birthday to remember.

The next day we had decided to leave to spend our last few days on Bali back in Canggu for a less hectic time. We’d spent so much quality time with Rob and Charlotte we were really sad to leave them behind. They’d become our proper travel buddies, so we made a loose plan that we might meet them in Bangkok. Aside from leaving my cash card in an ATM, the day went pretty smoothly. Typically the only continent that you rely on cash for and I’d gone and lost the only way to get it. Luckily Fi still had hers, so all was not so bad. Card cancelled.

We rode in our Taksi back to Canggu and literally spent the next few days catching up on internet bits, design and washing. We’d normally head to the beach each day for a few hours and then select somewhere to eat that night. Two great places we visited were the Beatle nut cafe and the Deus cafe, each serving pretty amazing food.

That brought a close to our surprise visit to Bali. It was probably one of the highlights of our travel adventure so far. It was great to be able to share our experience with now old friends, which has been one of the most enriching parts of our trip. We’ll definitely go back to Bali one day, we’ve got some unfinished business with more waves to conquer, food to eat and Bintang to buy. Terima Kaish Bali!

Onto Thailand we go, with Bangkok our next destination.

Tom & Fi xxx

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