A first touch of Indonesia

1 May

It’s very rare to be on a flight where you can almost guarantee the majority of the people on it are also going on vacation. But when you are, oh what a buzz it is. You can hear the excitement in voice tones, witness the change in character by the clothes people wear, the Bermuda shorts are on and the suit and tie are left at home. You can feel the energy in the air and at that point it hits you, vacation is here! This is at least what I felt on my Garuda Indonesia flight bound for Denpasar on Bali just a few weeks back.  Well, at least for the first hour or so. The novelty wore off over the near 6 hour flight.

I hadn’t really set myself any expectations before I left. Of course I read my Lonely Planet guidebook from front to back cover, but that was months ago while I was planning. I settled on a rough itinerary…one night visiting my friend and ex-colleague, now international volunteer, Louise at her host accommodation in Sanur on Bali, four nights mixing relaxation with a bit of party on Gili Trawangan off of Lombak, three nights getting a cultural buzz in Ubud, and finishing it off with boutique shopping and sipping cocktails in  Seminyak. Yup, as usual I had a plan but once I was on the plane itself is when it finally hit me that I hadn’t yet identified my must do/buy/eat list. Most importantly I didn’t even know what the most delicious local food was that I would just have to try.

Once I landed I discovered Bangi Kopitiam, the only café in the Denpasar airport. It was crowded but still a relief from all the hawkers who approach you for a taxi fare. I killed about 3 hours waiting for my friend Eileen to land from New York, passing the time familiarizing myself with the local beer Bintang, trying Mie Goreng aka Indonesian fried noodles and observing the locals. I was surprised to see the female servers wearing fuzzy bunny ears with hot pink sequins in the middle, embracing western Easter holiday traditions despite Bali being one of the largest Hindu regions of the world.

That evening we experienced expat life in Sanur, a coastal area in southeast Bali, as part of a going away party for a volunteer who needed to return back to Australia because she caught typhoid. It hit home that 3rd world diseases do exist and can be obtained by just about anyone. So, we said both hello and goodbye at Man Shed, a funky hangout with car and motorcycle memorabilia where both locals and expats frequent. It had a really cool vibe to it and I was so excited to be out and about with a cold Bintang in my hand, for less than $3 mind you! Afterwards, The Fire Station served up one of the best fried soft-shell crab and pork belly meals that I’ve had outside of Australia, for Australian prices though. That night I learned from the friend an important part of Bali culture. She told me, “sweeping is the biggest pastime on this island. That, and doing nothing.” I realized it was true when I woke up very early the next morning before catching our boat to Gili T to the sound of sweeping outside of Louise’s bedroom window, and roosters clucking in the early morning.

I sat in the front seat of the Gili Cat minibus after our 7:30 am pickup. My seatbelt didn’t work properly, apparently they normally don’t, but traffic is horrendous and so is the driving so I made the driver make it work. There is always a motorbike to be aware of, or multiple. I was dead tired so sat in silence and tuned in to the conversations happening in the back of the bus, but my mind was focused on what was happening on the outside of my dirty window. It took us over an hour to reach Padang Bai, the small port where budget boats set off for Lombak and its surrounding islands. The scenery rapidly changed from inter-city traffic, to lush green rice patties and finally the sea.

Gili Cat at least made things easy. They are Australian owned, so trusted over some of the cheaper, yet less reliable outfits. For an extra cost, it cost us 800,000 R or close to $80 AUD, they pick you up nearly anywhere on Bali, express boat to Lombak or the Gili Islands, and provide return transfer to most central areas on Bali. The check-in process was painless, and they have a neighbouring café that serves pretty good breakfast, I recommend the poached eggs, while you wait and a toilet to use before getting on the boat. The negative is that the boat had no upper deck, which meant we were all underneath, sweltering in the heat with barely a breeze guzzling down the free water they gave us, trying not think of the unthinkable while out in the open sea. The boat ride was about an hour and half, but as we approached Lombak to let some passengers off, then arrived on Gili Trawangan, I had never been so happy to see land.

Eileen and I kept a diary of our adventure in our notebook called “Wanderlust” – stay tuned for some excerpts from the trip and more about Gili T, Ubud and Seminyak coming your way!

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