It was early morning when we disembarked the plane, and there it was. Bali. The iconic island every person dreams of visiting. The island that embodies crystal clear water, beautiful beaches and unforgettable sunsets. But don’t get envious about that too soon and keep on reading.
While travelling around Thailand, we almost forgot how it feels like when everyone is trying to offer you transportation from A to B in every corner, but there it was again. As soon as we left the terminal, there were hundreds of drivers offering taxis to Ubud, and it took us more than an hour to finally locate a kind of bus stop in the middle of the airport where local buses were supposed to pass by. However, soon we found out that there were no direct connections from the airport to closer cities, but we took the first public bus that left us in the middle of the way to Ubud, and then switched for a bemo (a typical Balinese bus/van) that probably charged us ten times the original price, but there we were at last: Ubud.
If Rishikesh in India boasts about being the world’s capital of yoga, Ubud is not far from becoming one. It is a cute town with narrow streets, palms, rice fields, temples and thousands of yoga centers and shops. It is a beautiful mix of the authentic Balinese culture where you can still see locals in their traditional dresses, and while walking down the streets you are much likely to come across any kind of hindu celebration, a festival or a ceremony. But at the same time you’ll be surrounded by modern shops, travel agencies, restaurants and bars, and if on one side of the street locals are performing a ceremony, there will probably be a bar full of white people partying all night long on the other side. This contradictory mixture makes Ubud a comfortable spot for tourists to spend their time (and money) doing different kinds of activities, but still feeling the authentic beat of the culture.
Another thing to realize when visiting Ubud was that Bali was a mix of Indian-like attitude of local people, trying to sell you everything you don’t need, but for very anti-Indian prices. Here’s the fact: Bali is expensive, and it is very difficult, if not impossible, to be a low budget traveller here. While discovering the streets of Ubud, we were surprised of how every single house or resort looks like an old temple with very similar architecture. The houses look old and each of them has a private patio with palm trees and tropical plants and staying in one of those resorts truly makes it a special experience.
We spent four days in Ubud, desperately trying to find the cheapest way to travel around the island, and after making a thorough research we surprisingly realized that the most economical option was hiring a car. We were really happy to meet our friends Janin and Jorge on our second day there and the decision was made without much meditation: we will hire a car and make a road trip around Bali.
Photos by Jorge Stamatio
Day one: we packed our backpacks, boarded our small, ridiculously funny looking car and headed towards Lovina. The first two hours of our drive were probably the most stressful moments on our whole trip. Nejc was the driver, and it was the first time he was actually part of the chaotic Asian traffic, and on top of that driving on the left side. It took him some time and a few shocking moments to get used to it, but after that it all went smoothly till the end of the trip.
On our way to Lovina we made a quick stop in Jatiluwih to visit the famous Balinese rice fields. It was just about to start raining, but we still managed to take a short walk through the magical landscape, which very much reminded us the Indian Munnar. We were surrounded by the never-ending green colour of the rice terraces that were spreading from the view point all the way down to the valley. But soon it started raining very heavily and we quickly made our way to Lovina.
The small fisihing village on the north was our first, but not the most spectacular stop. The village itself has a very local vibe, but “the beautiful Lovina beach” was very disappointing. On one hand very interesting because of its geological construction (all the beaches on the north of Bali arose from the volcanic black sand), while on the other hand it is completely spoiled by the endless amounts of trash, plastic bags and other rubbish. It is probably the less touristy destination, and it was really sad to see how the locals fight for their business. The women where we had lunch literally begged us to come back for dinner; people along the shore were offering us massages, small wooden dolphins and other unuseful stuff. There were few tourists that came to Lovina to go dolphin watching, but other than that this small village had nothing to offer. We wanted to give it a try and decided to spend two nights there, but sadly discovered that our visit was way too long. On our day three we headed towards the very north-west part of the island, and this turned out to be a much better decision.
Visiting Pemuteran was our initial plan, and we are happy that Jorge and Janin decided to join us. The way there was nice and picturesque, but the best part of it was discovering a typical Balinese “ikan bakar”, a restaurant with sea food where you pick up the fish you want to have for lunch and they grill it for you and serve it with typical Balinese side dishes. Those restaurants are very local and therefore the cheapest ones you can find in Bali. Feeling happy after a delicious meal, we continued our way.
Pemuteran is one of the most popular diving and snorkelling destinations in Indonesia, but this was not the only reason for going there. Months ago my father told me that his good friend Dušan owns a diving school in this town, and ever since then we kept in contact. We made a really good connection through e-mails, and Nejc and I were looking forward to meeting him.
We parked our car right in front of the door of his diving school and entered as tourists. We made a small joke and from then on smiling and laughing were a great part of our conversations. Dušan is a wonderful, funny and generous person and we all spent three amazing days with him.
As soon as we arrived, he offered us a cup of coffee and entertained us with many funny stories about tourists taking a diving course with him. We talked and laughed for hours, and suddenly there it was, one of the biggest surprises and absolutely the best gift we could have ever imagined receiving: Dušan offered me and Nejc an introductory course which included one hour of individual dive with each one of us. At the same time he offered our friends to borrow masks and fins for free, and we agreed to meet the next morning at 9 am.
We were extremely excited about the new experience we were about to have, and the next day finally arrived. Dušan gave an interesting one hour theorical introduction to all of us, and then we split: Janin and Jorge with their masks and fins, and us two fully equipped for diving.
At first the main Pemuteran beach looked much better than the one in Lovina, but soon we sadly realized that it was just as dirty. Dušan later explained to us that this usually happen after the rainy season when the last monsoon rain and current bring all the trash from Java and deposit it all around Bali. Anyhow, what we saw under the water was a totally different story.
Nejc was the first one to go for the one-hour dive with Dušan, and while I was waiting for them to come back, I joined Janin and Jorge with the mask and snorkel to get the glimpse of what I was going to see later on. After a lot of damage that has been done to the corals, the government is fortunately trying to keep the underwater world alive and they made an artificial reef to protect the corals. It truly looks beautiful, but what you see with the snorkel is not even half of what you see when you go deeper down.
My moment finally arrived and Dušan and I immersed under the water. First we did some short exercises about how to clean the mask, take the regulator out of your mouth and put it back in, and then we started the journey. And I panicked. It felt so strange to breathe through the regulator and feel the air coming out of the air tank that it took me a couple of minutes to get used to it. I wanted to get out of the water, but Dušan wouldn’t listen to me. So I had no choice but to follow him and calm myself down. But once the moment when I started to feel comfortable came, I truly started to enjoy the journey. It was one of the most beautiful experiences I have had in my life. The feeling of floating and being part of this colourful and extraordinary beautiful world drove me into the state of meditation. I was so amazed about everything I was seeing, feeling so calm and peaceful in the silence and everything that was surrounding me. After 60min my time was over, but from that moment on I knew that one day I wanted to go back down there and keep on discovering.
Nejc was just as excited about the experience we shared with Dušan and we don’t have the words to explain how grateful we are. Dušan, you are the best, the funniest and the most professional diving instructor in the world! Thank you and thanks to the Easy Divers team for making our dreams come true!
Although diving was probably the best experience we had in Bali, our trip still wasn’t over, and many amazing things were still to come.
For the next day we planned to do a snorkelling trip to a national park, and again it turned out to be cheaper to hire a private boat with other four people than booking the trip with an agency. There were eight of us in total, and another amazing day was before us.
On our fifth or sixth day (I’m not counting anymore 🙂 ) we took a boat and equipped with masks, fins and snorkels went straight to the Menjangan island. We asked our guide to take us to the three most popular and most beautiful snorkelling points. The first stop was the most interesting one. The first five or ten meters from the shore the water was about 1,5m deep and full of many different kinds of corals. But right after that came a 30 m deep wall, and you could swim all along the coral reef, watching the corals and fishes on one side, and a deep blue darkness on the other. The wall itself was also covered with corals and the deeper you went, the bigger fishes you could see. It was simply spectacular.
The second stop was a big underwater cave, and the last one a coral reef, both of them just as beautiful as the wall and we really enjoyed our trip. If the one in Koh Tao in Thailand was amazing, this one was spectacular, astonishing, outrageous.
After the trip, we spent one more day in Pemuteran and then headed towards the other side of Bali, towards the east. Our next stop was a hike to Mount Batur, the second highest volcano in Bali.
If until that moment Bali already seemed to be one of the most expensive places in Asia, the area of Mount Batur had ridiculously high prices. First of all, you HAVE TO hire a guide to climb the volcanic mountain. It is not such a bad idea having a guide anyway, since you start your hike in the middle of the night to reach the summit by the sunrise, but even if you wanted to give it a try on your own, they simply won’t let you do it. And that is the reason why the prices for the guides are so stupidly expensive. We managed to bargain and paid (only!) 25 $/person, but the original price was 40 $ for a 90 min hike. And a guide who spoke about five words in English (hello and good-bye included). But we had no other option, and we hired him.
Another extreme thing around Mount Batur was accommodation. Everywhere else in Bali we paid about 15 $ for a very nice room in a beautiful resort, including breakfast, but here they charged us the same amount for a smelly room including cockroaches instead of breakfast. Seriously. The “resort” where we stayed (if you could call it a “resort”) was completely empty, having about four different types of rooms available, from budget to higher standard. The “nice” ones of course weren’t not even half as nice as the rooms we had in Lovina or Pemuteran, and cost triple. So, they gave us the budget rooms and when we stepped into the bathroom we saw four cockroaches lying on the floor. Without asking, we immediately changed for a “nicer” room (all the rooms had keys inside the door) and decided to spend the night there. Well, yes, it was a bit better, instead of four, there was only one cockroach greeting us when we got inside.
Luckily we only spent a couple of hours in the room because the next day our guide came to wake us up early in the morning to start our hike at 4 am. It took us about one hour and a half to get to the top, where we waited for the sunrise. Well, being up there us all forgot about the smelly rooms we had to sleep in. Seeing the sunrise is always a special moment, and this one was no exception. It was cold and windy, but the cameras didn’t stop clicking. Soon we realized that there was a spot where the steam from the lava was coming out, and we all gathered together to warm ourselves up, despite that the steam left us completely wet. Our guides cooked eggs for us with the heat of the lava, which was definitely a memorable experience. We spent about an hour on the view point and then walked along the crater to descend down on the other side of the volcano. The nature surrounding the area wasn’t as spectacular, but it was still interesting to see the remains of the black lava from the previous eruptions of the volcano.
When we came back down, we had to face our beautiful room one last time, packed our bags and headed towards our last destination, Amed.
The way led us through the jungle and it was really amazing. The street was narrow and the ride was long, but the scenery along the road was really worth seeing. After hours in the car, we finally reached Amed, a small town on the east coast of Bali. I must say that it definitely exceeded our expectations. We got wonderful rooms with balconies overlooking the sea and we spent our last two days as real fancy tourists. We were hanging out on the beach, in the evening we played card games over some really good Balinese dinner, but the last day of our trip eventually came and it was time to go back to Ubud. We made one last stop in one of the “ikan bakars” we found on the way and finally made it back.
The road trip around Bali was one of the most memorable experiences we had during our seven-month travel. Travelling by car and depending on your own transport offers you a totally different perspective, but the most important thing of all was that we made this trip with two beautiful persons with whom we had a really, really great time. I must admit it was very hard when the good-bye moment came, and I truly hope we’ll meet again soon. It was just another one of those bittersweet moments when you know you have made a new wonderful friendship that filled your hart with more happiness and made your life reacher for one amazing experience.
P.S. Thank you Janin for your wonderful gift, a super funky Nemo Swatch – it is doing its job perfectly now that we are working in New Zealand. 🙂