After a completely unanticipated, and absolutely phenomenal, two months in the Middle East, I headed back east to spend a month in Indonesia before the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. The trip back was without doubt the longest I’ve ever had – 3 days, 2 nights in airports and roughly 24 hours of flying. And that was to Bali’s capital, Denpasar – from there I jumped in a bemos, the Indonesia equivalent of say a tuk-tuk, for a further 4 hours to Ubud where I met up with Dyl. Fun and games really and an incredibly long journey but it was all so worth it.
Indonesia surprised with me its size and 30 days (all one gets visa wise on arrival) was enough to just scratch the surface. Regarded as the cultural capital of the country, Ubud is awash with beautiful galleries, lots of restaurants and a host of local shows on each night. Our budget, however, didn’t allow for any of this but we did visit the awesome Monkey Forest and enjoy a few delicious local Bintang beer and less delicious local Arak or rice wine, nasty!
From Ubud, you can take a quick four hour speed boat to the Gili Islands but given our tight budget, Dyl and I decided to skip the ferry and head over with the locals.
So some 26 hours, 5 bemos and 2 ferry rides later we arrived at the islands! We did have, though, 270,000 rupiah in our pockets, roughly US$35 – the difference between said speed boat & public transport, which covered our accommodation for a few days on the largest of the three Gili Islands, Gili T.
Though it’s the largest of the islands, Gili T is still small enough to comfortably walk around. The beach is beautiful and you can find some quiet spots if you head around the island. The water is also incredibly clear, which makes it a great place to dive, and it’s an awesome place to meet fellow backpackers.
After a few wonderful days of enjoying the beach, we decided to do some exercise and so booked a 4 day, 3 night trek up Mount Rinjani, Indonesia’s 2nd highest. It was a spectacular few days and a trek I’d definitely recommend. It is possible to do the trek in 3 days though if you have the time, take the extra day as it allows you not only to explore the hot springs but to enjoy a more leisurely walk up.
It is a tough and cold summit ascent but that only makes is more rewarding when you finally summit in time for sunrise. Once the sun rises and you thaw out a bit, you can really admire the stunning view along the crater rim.
While the trip up was done in decent enough ‘hiking’ slip-slops, the ones with a back and strap, the two hour descent from the summit and then the five hour hike down was done in Chris’s Haviana slip-slops as my said $3 shoes from a market in Amman finally gave up the ghost once we hit the top. I can confirm that volcanoes are not to be descended in slip-slops!
Next up, we boarded a boat and made our way to the island of Flores over four days. Days involved snorkelling and dragon spotting; we visited the Komodo National Park to see these rather scary animals, while nights were reserved for card playing and whiskey drinking.
I must also mention the phenomenal multi-national game of beach cricket we had, where Andy made his international beach cricket debut, followed by an awesome fielding session in the ocean. And a special shout-out to Chris for carrying round a beach cricket bat!
Back on land, we rented scooters to explore Flores and enjoyed a spectacular week’s diving near Lubuan Bajo before making our way back to Bali.
Whilst on the boat, we decided to form our own band and Jaz and the Coconuts hope to release some material soon! If you can’t wait that long but fancy some Indonesian music in the meanwhile, here we go: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gh20qv8IWAo
On the two day adventure back to Bali from Flores, we sat on the roof for one of the bus rides … great views & fully AC! About 90 minutes in, the bus stops suddenly and a panicked driver instructs us to get off the roof as there are police up ahead. As the bus is more crowded than Indian buses, though, we had to stand just about fully about out the bus but that’s no problem with the cops!
Back in Bali, I rented a car with Chris and Nikki and we enjoyed a wonderful week exploring this beautiful island, including dolphin watching and more great diving, this time wreck diving. I also enjoyed my first goat dish for breakfast and we had a super fun day at the water park. Less fun was the brake failure but thankfully we all survived and as luck would have it we came to a stop outside a mechanic so were soon back on the road. And for all the bad things people say about Kuta, it is incredibly touristy, you can’t knock the nightlife and I highly recommend the Reggae Bar for some great nights out.
As I’ve said before, travelling is all about the people you meet. It was so awesome travelling about with Dyl and Amy again after our antics in India and Bangladesh while we also picked up a fantastic crew as we went along … Chris and Nikki (+ their 80 kg’s of luggage), V with a P, watermelon, watermelon and pumpkin, pumpkin (aka Maritha & Miranda) and the newest diver of the group Andy – it’s been phenomenal meeting you guys and I look forward to catching up again.
Lastly a word on the food, which continues to be a perennial favourite of my travels. Local dishes are Mi Goreng (fried noodles), Nasi Goreng (fried rice) and Bakso soup (some sort of meatballs with noodles and often an egg). and they’re incredibly delicious and so cheap – US$1 at most local places. Man it’s so good to be back in Asia!