19.03.2012 – 27.03.2012 Rain 22°C – 32°C
We walked out of Bali International Airport to torrential rain. Just what you need when negotiating taxis and looking for a place to stay. The flight over was the roughest yet with several bouts of turbulence hitting the plane. I used to hate flying, now I quite enjoy it but still hate the turbulence. We’d decided to book Mertha Jati homestay because of our arrival time being so late. If the place was awful we could check out in the morning and hunt for somewhere else. We got a cab, eventually, my stubbornness kicked in and I refused to pay the 50,000RP (£3.50) asking price for a taxi at the counter but ended up having to pay 50,000 anyway because the taxi drivers outside wouldn’t budge. Sometimes it’s just not worth haggling. A five-minute drive from the airport we were dropped off at Mertha Jati and checked in for 150,000RP (£10) a night. It wasn’t great. Wooden cabins terraced along each other, every one with its own veranda made it look promising but once inside the reason it’s £10 a night was clear to see. Dirty looking floors throughout including a grubby cold shower, a wardrobe 30 years old and a damp mattress lay on our bed. A desk fan with no guard sat on a bedside table made from firewood.
In the morning we woke late because of our silly journey the night and day before, leaving Penang at midnight, arriving in KL at 6am, sitting in McDonald’s drinking free coffee refills for four hours, taking the lite railway to KL Sentral because we didn’t have enough Ringgit left for a cab, catching the Aerobus to the LCCT Airport and flying to Bali, it was already past midday and so we had to stay another night. I asked to be moved to a room closer to the wireless router so we had the Wi-Fi at our leisure, which the decrepid Indonesian bird granted. This turned out to be a smart move for them because room four was just nice enough to keep us there for 9 nights in total, although we didn’t know that at the time.
Kuta, the town we were staying in wasn’t famed for anything much apart from it’s beach and nightlife. Again though the beach was nice but not amazing, I don’t know where all these photos of people getting married to the backdrop of pristine clear waters and golden sand come from, certainly not Kuta. The nightlife was loud, but not busy, I was offered every drug I know the name of walking past clubs, and some I don’t, one guy even flashing wraps of white powder at me. The entire place was filled with pissed up partying Aussies (not that that’s a bad thing) and had no real soul. Bali is to the Aussies what Benidorm is, or was, to the Brits.
We’d planned a trip to Amed on the east coast but every local we spoke to said it was boring and there was nothing there apart from a small fishing village and as we didn’t dive it would be a waste of time. Ubud in the centre of Bali island didn’t do anything to impress us either with a safari and some trekking available, the north was supposedly dead and I didn’t hear anyone mention the west the entire time I was there. Four-days passed with us not achieving much apart from eating, again. The Nasi Goreng (noodles) and the Bakso (an MSG laden soup) were amazing and cheap. I had fresh Tuna steaks twice too and that was Michelin star stuff (£3 a pop).
A couple of days in to our time in Bali we were informed about Friday 23rd March being ‘silent day’. ‘OK, no worries, obviously some Hindu holiday, it’ll probably be good’, were our first thoughts. Silent Day or Nyepi, as it is officially called, happens once a year and means just that. Silence. No human activity was the phrase used by our hotelier. This meant you are not allowed out and would be arrested if you did go out, no lights after dark, everything’s closed, even the airport, some people fast for the day and some even do not speak for 24 hours. From what I understood it’s to trick evil spirits and ghosts into believing there is no one in Bali and they will leave them alone for another year, this is preceded by a festival the night before in which Indonesians carry huge scary monsters called ‘Ogo Ogos’ through the streets which basically tells the evils ‘fuck off, we’re mean’. So, great. Another day stuck in our lovely £10 room with no food and we can’t even go out for air. After a chat with the guy who owned the place he said he’d give us some noodles for breakfast and some spaghetti for dinner if we wanted. I didn’t really but we had no choice, either that or biscuits and fruit all day.
Nyepi Eve was a bit of a let down. The festival had been built up and up for two days into being something it was not. The lack of organisation too was a pain in the arse. We were told everything from 5pm until 8pm for the start time and so got there at 6pm as a guess. We were waiting for nearly three-hours before the first Ogo Ogo appeared. The Ogo Ogo’s were pretty smart, a lot of work had been put into them. They weren’t some old paper mache shit a group of scouts had knocked up the night before, they were solid. This was clear when the 8 Indonesian lads carrying them started shaking them violently which realistically made them look like they were moving. The wait had killed us though and we hung around to see two and left, with most of the other tourists. We stocked up on the way home on juice, fruit and crackers and went back to our grimy digs looking forward to Nyepi.
As you could imagine a day stuck indoors with nothing to do in the sweltering heat and a candle for a lightbulb that we were allowed to have come nightfall, wasn’t great. We did manage to get our flights to Labuan Bajo to see the Komodo Dragons sorted though. Merpati Air and Lion Air are the two main airlines flying to Labuan Bajo on the island of Flora, here you grab a two-hour boat to Rinca or a four hour boat to Komodo. Merpati’s website wasn’t great but was navigational, I selected the flights we wanted and went to pay, three times. It just kept rejecting my card, maybe because the only options for the country you live in were Indonesia, Australia and a few others. The UK was definitely not there. After tracking down a Merpati ticket office the following day we caught a cab for Denpasar, only to be told it was half an hour away after the meter had already hit 50,000. Abandon ship. I then had the idea of going to the airport which was gold. In the domestic terminal there are counters for every airline that fly’s in and out and we got two return tickets for just over 3,000,000RP (£200). Pricey but this is what I really came here for and the alternative was a 45 – 60 hour bus and boat journey across two islands. Booking this trip was like banging your head against a wall, what with the tour agencies adding on millions and quoting ridiculous amounts for direct flights. There is no information around, not much on the internet and not many people are willing to help as they want you to book tours but if you are going to go to Komodo, go to Bali airport and book your flights yourself, you’ll save millions. Incidentally, the website only accepts Indonesian cards which is why my card was rejected.