A birthday in Bali

2017-09-28T00:29:29+00:00 September 28th, 2017|Indonesia, Travel Diary|0 Comments

In hindsight, wearing all black errrything for the journey from Perth to Bali wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had.

As I strode buoyantly off the plane, full of excitement and optimism for a new country and an imminent reunion with my mum, my spirit was dampened somewhat by the delicate sheen of sweat that almost immediately formed across my face.

But apart from the major Sweaty Upper Lip Alert, my arrival into Bali went pretty smoothly. I was one of the first off the plane, swanned through immigration and baggage claim, and almost before I realised it I had been spat out into the busy Denpasar arrivals terminal.

I hadn’t really meant to enter the chaos so soon. There were still a couple of hours before mum’s flight was due, and now I was accidentally the wrong side of the barrier to hope for some peace and quiet to write my blog.

But, never one to be deterred much by chaos, I decided to camp in the corridor, away from all the taxi drivers. I soon discovered, however, that this was a less-than-ideal location, as I was directly in front of a full-size ‘Welcome to Bali’ mural, and quickly became a bit-part in about a hundred tourist selfies.

Nobody actually asked me to move, but when I almost got trodden on by an overly enthusiastic Asian family intent on getting a picture of them in an airport with the word ‘Bali’ in the background, I decided to take the initiative and relocate.

So I decamped to the lone café, slap bang in the centre of arrivals, and treated myself to the first Bintang of the trip. Though I hadn’t left the airport yet, it wasn’t too early to use “I’m on holiday” as an excuse for day drinking.

I was pleasantly surprised that I wasn’t too much disturbed by the crowd around me. There was the occasional hopeful ‘Taxi?’, but otherwise I was left alone.

Mum’s flight duly arrived, and she messaged me to ask me to keep a look out for a driver with a sign with our name on it. I responded with this picture:

 

Denpasar arrivals terminal

 

There were quite a few drivers with name signs.

As it turned out, the hotel in Amed had forgotten to send anyone to pick us up anyway, so my diligent ‘keeping a look out’ went unrewarded. We ended up doing what all the common sense and guide books tell you not to do, and went with a taxi tout from the airport.

Luckily the price of a private driver from the hotel was probably roughly equivalent to what a budget backpacker might consider ‘getting ripped off’, so it worked out just fine. And I don’t think $30AUD each is too much to pay for a three and a half hour taxi ride.

(Oh how things have changed).

Two hours into the journey, we felt like we must be nearly there. We’d emerged from the dust and commotion of Denpasar, left behind the streets stacked high with tourist stalls and cobbled together housing, passed through innumerable roadside villages and snaked our way round mountain road after mountain road.

 

Windy mountain roads in Bali

 

After half an hour more, Mum asked our navigator brightly, ‘Are we nearly there yet?’

The girl laughed and showed us the phone clutched in her hand. The familiar layout of Google maps filled the screen, though the directions were in Balinese.

‘Maybe one hour more,’ she replied.

By now it was dark, we had no real idea if the driver actually knew where he was going, and mum had been travelling for roughly twenty hours. It was my turn to take charge of pushing the relentless optimism which characterises our family trips.

We made it, of course, so my confident declaration that ‘It’ll probably be fine,’ turned out to be true. Even if we did take some slightly alarming routes along the way – down a slope steeper than 45 degrees, and briefly into what appeared to be someone’s back garden.

We collapsed gratefully into our hotel beds that night; mum from exhaustion, me from the general thrill of being in a hotel and not a dorm room.

Fresh white sheets! Towels provided for you! Air conditioning! A water cooler! What absolute luxury!

Mum had possibly the longest lie in I’ve ever seen her have the next day, and didn’t get out of bed until 8.30am.

I encourage this sort of behaviour unashamedly, but it sadly hasn’t lasted.

Amed has been a very relaxing place to kick off my time in Indonesia. It lies in the north east of Bali, comprising a considerable stretch of coastline, with plenty of hotels and restaurants but currently without the requisite tourist numbers to fill them. It’s off the beaten track – so much so that I hadn’t even heard of it before Mum suggested it as our first destination for our trip together.

Unfortunately for the local people, it also happens to be just 15km from Mt. Agung, which is looking likely to erupt any day now – so it was even quieter than promised during our stay there. While it is outside of the 12km exclusion zone currently imposed around the crater, it’s still a bit too close for comfort for some. A few people – other tourists we spoke to – were worried that they would be stranded in Amed if the volcano erupted and the roads were closed. And the few tremors that we’ve felt have been enough to make you at least wonder about the possibility that it is going to erupt soon.

All I can say is, there are certainly worse places to be stranded.

Despite the mild inconvenience of the volcano threat, we had a brilliant five days in Amed. A good share of our time there was spent lounging around and not doing much (arguably the point of a holiday), but mum’s complex, in which she feels like she must ‘do something’ in order to earn her lounging around time, meant that we did get out and explore a bit too. It’s a bit too hot and sweaty to wander aimlessly for hours, but we did don our trainers and set off in both directions on different days, just to see a bit more of the place we were staying in. We also attempted to hike up a nearby hill but were thwarted by a slightly confusing path, which seemed to lead us through several people’s back gardens.

There were still some nice views from half way up, but next time we’ll take a friend to show us the way, I think.

The place we were staying was a few hundred meters down the road from the popular Jemuluk bay, which is famed for its snorkelling. Each day we would walk along to the bay, to earn our sunbathing time by trudging through the roadside dust or struggling across the stony beach.

Yes, life is hard sometimes.

The snorkelling in Amed has been so good that I’ve almost (almost) overcome my irrational but fairly overwhelming fear of fish. I’ve always been determined not to let this fear stop me swimming, and I would never have missed snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef when I was there, but I think this has been the first time when I’ve actually enjoyed the experience as a whole – not enjoyed it in spite of the fish.

I have definitely come a long way since freaking out over a looming monster that turned out to be a hunk of coral.

As I was floating around over the coral, watching fish pretend to be rocks, fish chasing each other’s tails, and fish swarming around as one body below me, I thought that this would be what God feels like. You hover at the surface of the water and see an entire kingdom unfold beneath you. You see whole communities: 9-5 office workers diligently nibbling at the coral, the local thug using his muscle to scare people off, kids playing in the playground. And the longer you stay, the more you see.

It’s so easy to get lost in what you’re watching. Time passes and you don’t even notice it escape you.

And the inevitable result of this?

A very sunburnt arse.

I took great pleasure in the first few days of poking fun at mum for her many and varying patches of sunburn.

‘Well, you should have put sun cream on then,’ I’d say, all smug as I confirmed in the mirror that I was still milky white all over. 24 years of this but in reverse: I wanted my revenge.

Needless to say, by the fourth day we had matching injuries, and I was smug no longer.

 

Amed beach

 

Our last day in Amed was spent in style as I was celebrating my birthday. Loungers by the sea all day, drinks as often as I could want, and all topped off by a Balinese massage in the evening. I’m sure the masseurs found our sunburnt bums pretty hilarious, but I was enjoying myself too much to care.

Bali is a pretty nice place in which to turn 24. Especially because you can get a full body massage for about £6.

We had dinner in a little place by the beach front, the only people in the whole restaurant, and I decided to opt for the authentic local cuisine (fish and chips). Perfect end to a perfect day.

Amed was a fantastic place to tentatively introduce ourselves to the chaotic Bali lifestyle. It has traffic and motorbikes and noise, but not on the same level as the tourist hubs. And you could always escape to the beach.

Seeing the whole of Amed pretty much empty out as more people panicked about the volcano was really sad. Tourists either left early for the relative safety of places further away from its path, or opted not to come at all. By the time we left, a few places had shut up shop entirely – shutters drawn, owners nowhere to be seen.

Businesses were devoid of customers: a few times we found ourselves the only people in the cafe; perhaps the only people they’d had all day. I only hope that the downturn in custom doesn’t last – though I don’t see how it will improve if the news continues to suggest that an eruption is imminent. I can’t even imagine how it must be to have been evacuated from your home for safety, only to be spending days waiting for something to happen that might not even happen at all.

 

Trucks carrying supplies for the Bali volcano evacuees

 

As for us, we’ve now moved on to Ubud, for what mum calls a ‘few days of culture’ and I call a ‘few days of shopping’ (before we escape back to the beach of Gili Air). We passed hundreds of trucks along the road, carrying supplies to the evacuation shelters. And again it hit home how lucky we are just to be visiting and not living the crisis.

In essence, being in Bali – for my birthday, with my mum – has made me more grateful than ever for the life I lead.

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