Tales from the American
In October I had the pleasure of visiting Bali for the first time. Armed with a "fistful of dollars", a copy of Lonely Planet and a ton of info gleaned from this forum I set off on my intrepid adventure. I had originally planned to stay for 28 days, more or less. However, I ran across a great deal from Cathay Pacific that allowed me to expand my horizons a bit further.
Cathay Pacific was offering an "All Asia Pass" that was too good to pass up. Up to 16 cities in 30 days from the U.S. West Coast at $999 return. I flew Southwest Air from New Orleans to Los Angeles for about $300 return.
After a really long flight (about 22 hrs in the air plus another 8 on the ground), I arrived in Bali on a Friday in the afternoon. I cleared customs and immigration with no problems, changed a few bucks, and proceeded to the taxi stand and secured a ride into Kuta Beach for 15,000 Rp. It was here that I ran into my first experience with the "small road" problem.
The taxi driver left me on the main beach road where it intersects Poppies 1, explaining that it was a small road and that he didn't want to drive it (this was not to be my only problem with "small road"). I was a little put out, but trekked on up the road in search of suitable accomodations. I came upon Sugi Bungalows where I was approached by the manager and encouraged to stay. It seemed nice enough, but I wanted to check out another property. After visiting that property, I returned to Suji where I stayed my whole 16 days for $21 US/night. Suji Bungalows is a nice garden setting with a pool, A/C and hot water. Most of the ppl there seemed to treat is a sort of all inclusive kind of place and lounged around the pool all day. I was destined to be the bad boy of the neighborhood.
After checking in and changing, I set off to find some appropriate watering holes. I attempted to find Sammy & Suzie's but it was getting dark and I couldn't find it. I did find the Bali Aussie, Peanuts, Bali Rock (where I became a regular), The Bounty and Double 6.
In the vacinity of Peanuts, up an alley, I spied about 20 young men singing, playing instuments and passing a bottle around. In new Orleans (or elsewhere ins the States) such a sight would have sent me speedily in the opposite direction. Here I am intigued and sally forth to investigate. It seems it's somebody's "birthday", and it is apparently always someone's birthday. The boys are happy to have me join them which I do for a while. I listen to the music, share a drink with them and simply enjoy the peaceful ambience. I say my goodbyes, and part company to sample the nightlife.
In Peanuts I spy the much tatooed Bob from Melbourne, but I do not know it is he until the following day. Peanuts is filled with "Night Butterflies" including one particularly tenacious young lady I dub the "Octapus". I am able to resist her charms and set sail for the Bounty. There I meet "Ivana (not her real name) My Russian Princess". She wants to go to the Double 6 and so, we go. I should mention at this time that I am 41. The Double 6 is way too much Boom boom Boom for me. They do however have a nice wood oven baked pizza for about 25,000 Rp. Theb following day Ivana is demoted from princess status when I decide that she is really not a very nice person.
My first full day in Bali starts late. After a late lunch at a place near Mataharis in Kuta Square (Raja's maybe?), I make a couple of phone calls to find a scuba diving excursion. It seems all of these places have a 2 pax minimum, I am by my lonesome, and they have no trips booked that I can join :-( This is somewhat discouraging for me. "Oh well", I say to myself it is nearly cocktail hour so I head for Sammy and Suzie's.
This time I find it, and it seems that I hit the jack-pot. I meet Roo-Ted, Bob and Anne from Melbourne, Si Badak/Rhino/Peter and later his charming wife Marie. Later I meet the famous Barbara, the lovely Trish from New Zealand, and a few others whose names elude me at this time I (I humbly apologize to those readers). I think this great! I travel 12,500 miles, alone, and find a "living room" full of friends waiting for me when I arrive. I am quite impressed with the Australian people and fall in love with them almost immediately (the previous night a young girl and her mother I met invited me to stay with them if and when I visited Australia). Ted takes me under his wing and we become regular drinking buddies. Ted also has a rather bizzare affinity for a particular cuisine that reminds me of day old fishing bait. I didn't get sick, but I didn't much enjoy it either. A little help on this one Ted? Anyways, Sammy and Suzzie's becomes a regular 5:00 pm stop for me, and the rest of my adventure becomes somewhat of a blur.
The next day I get serious about diving and I call Bali Dive. I'm in business! A trip is booked for the following day to Nusa Penida. They are to pick me up at 7:00 am. (I would like to take a moment to point out the fact that, despite Australian myth to the contrary, Americans, particulary this American, are most definitely not lightwights. I was partying every night, "night diving" nearly every night and still managing 7:00 am reveilles. So, Ted et. al., :-P)
At the appointed hour my driver, a Javanese named Anto, who looked like a Javanese Pirate, came all the way up the "small road", in a van no less, to the hotel to get me. I liked him immediately.
Nusa Penida is a fast drift dive in the current (about 4-5 knots) along a wall. There was a lot of marine life to see and I made some new friends. Rene and Minka, a charming couple from Holland went with me on most of my dives. I ran out of air first and made a solo accent from about 25 meters, zipping along in the current. The boat retrieved me and later I had a Bintang Beer. Now, whenever I have a Bintang Beer I remember the time I dived the wicked currents of Nusa
Another 7:00 am reveille after a long night and it's off to Tulamben to dive the Liberty Ship wreck. I have pretty much gone native at this point and Ted has informed me that I've developed a condition known as "Night Color Blindness". I am happy however, and can discern no ill effects from this strange affliction. I am convinced that the curative powers of Bintang are holding me together nicely.
Anto, the Javanese Pirate, arrives on time to collect me at my hotel. "Small road" means nothing to this guy and I am convinced that Anto must be the best driver on the island. You just gotta love a driver with skills. Made, one of the divemasters is also along.
We have a few others to pick up including some japanese guys. I am reminded that I am getting a substantial discount and should not talk about the price of the excursion. It would seem that the japanese are subsidising my discount. I am OK with this, chug a bottle of water and go to sleep.
It's a fairly long drive to Tulamben -- 2 1/2 hours or so as I recall -- and we stop along the way at a roadside warung. We buy some tuna sate -- at 1000 Rp. a fistful -- some other stuff that is like the sate but wrapped in banana leaf and grilled, some peanut brittle looking stuff and some water. The japanese buy some small bananas. It is here also that I have my first encounter with "country girls".
The country girls are really cute. They ask me if I am married to which I appropriately reply with a big smile, "No, not *yet*". This sets off a round of giggles and sly finger pointing as if to suggest that I should consider *that* one or perhaps *that* one. I nod knowingly and tell them that they've certainly given me a lot to talk about and that I will certainly take their "advice" under advisement. I smile to myself and think "life is good" as I return to the van.
Back in the vehicle, the japanese want noooo part of the sate. I am puzzled by this until I realize that they are even more paranoid about bali belly than we are. One of them offers me a banana which I gladly take. Now, all of a sudden, I am troubled as to whether I have somehow "lost face" with the japanese.
I work through this face issue in my mind. The japanese were wimpy about the sate, but they spurned my gift while I accepted theirs. How should this be interpreted. I worry about this for about 3 nanaseconds before I remember that I am an American. What do I care about face? I decide that I can interpret this anyway that I want to! I decide that I will consider it an affront and vow to myself to get even. Knowing that I am likely to run out of air first, I decide that I will pilfer theirs while underwater via their emergency octapus regulators. Life is indeed good. ;-^)
We arrive at the dive sight and there are an abundance of women to hump our gear down the hill to the beach. This they do by carrying our heavy gear baskets and tanks balanced on the tops of their heads! This is truly an amazing sight.
This is a popular dive site and there are a lot of divers here. I soon learn why. The dive was spectacular! Lots and lots of varried marine life. On the ocean floor there are some strange plants that look like cobras. Korin, the other divemaster, doesn't know what they are called so we call them, oddly enough, cobra plants. (FYI, as this is intended as a general posting I'm not going into a lot of detail about the dives themselves. If there is interest I will post a dive specific note at a later time).
We break for lunch and do a little shopping. I pick up a T-Shirt commemorating the event, and some art of all things. I don't know much about art but I liked these things. They were sort of collages made from banana leaf, bamboo strips, and cloth. There are 2 Balinese characters, sort of Balinese "Romeo and Juliet". I think the male is called Satur or something like that. Can you help me Peter?
After a second dive we return happily home. It's time for happy hour at Sammy and Suzzie's where I take Made and Anto to knock back a few. Then it's a shower and off into the night.
Another beautiful day in Bali, and another early reveille. Today, we are off to Shark Point. Anto and Made are a little early today and my breakfast is cut short. This is OK as I am slightly hungover and in desparate need of water more than anything else.
After a relatively short drive we arrive at the embarkation point. Our little group consists of Rene and Minka (the Dutch couple), Made (the divemaster) and myself. I have previously seen a few sharks in the water, but this is my first time to intentionally place myself in close proximity to a large number of the toothy critters. We are all excited and looking forward to the adventure.
We take off in a pair of indonesian "3-seater" double outrigger boats. These are very narrow craft, in fact barely wide enough for the average backside. I enjoy the boat rides though, and they seem to really add to the experience. Our Nusa Penida trip utilized a similar style vessel capable of carrying perhaps 20 persons. Along the way we see a number of boats filled with people visiting an island temple.
We arrive on location and suit up. Because of the smallness of the boat, it is necessary to throw our tanks into the water and don them there. Everyone is ready and we all go down together.
The first thing I notice is that the water is quite murky (we are having some evening rain at this time) and visibility is limited to about 15 meters or 50 feet. Not more than 5 minutes elapse before Made signals with his hand on top of his head like a shark's fin --- the signal for shark. I look around and see nothing at first. Then, there they are, 4 or 5 white-tip reef sharks *very* close by. We continue on a little further and we are able to count 10 simultaneously within our limited field of vision. Occasionally I will spot one behind me, and know that the things are all around us. If we can *see* 10, there must be easily 30 or so in the area. Rene is filming constantly with his "million dollar" digital video camera. As usual, I run out of air first. Made still has plenty and so I buddy breathe off his octapus regulator and extend the dive for another 10 minutes or so. We surface, smiles all around, and break for lunch.
Our second dive is in a more tranquil area not far away. This area has much better visibility and we see a lot of reef fish, a few small rays, moray eels, and a lion fish. We also see some bizzare looking creatures that I have neither seen before nor even heard of.
Beach hawkers are awaiting our return. I buy a few t-shirts from one woman. Then I am "attacked" by a half dozen 10 year old girls all selling toy boats. One girl, who I learn is 11, seems to be the leader of this "gang". She has a snappy comeback for all of my "objections". I can tell that with the right opportunity and the right product, this girl could be a millionaire. I notice that the time is 1:45 pm.
"Hey!", I say. "How come you girls aren't in school?", I ask in my sternest voice. "School finish.", she says. "Oh yeah? What *time* school finish?", I retort. "School finish 1:00pm.", she says. "Hmmmm......what about homework?" "No homework.....homework finished." "What about a test?" "Oh....yeah...I have a test." Others echo this revelation. "Shouldn't you be studying?", I query. "Selling first, then study." She says. I know when I've been beaten.
The serious "business" commences. I agree to buy 2 boats for 25,000 Rp. the pair. Meanwhile, another woman has been pestering me to buy her a beer. I think she wants me to party with her, but she's not my type, and she's interfering with my enjoyment of the young entrepreuresses. I hand over a 50,000 Rp. note for the boats as we are about to leave. All hell breaks loose as the little piranhas smell blood in the water. I get 20,000 Rp. in change. "Hey! We said 25,000 for both. "5,000 for school.", she replies with a wry smile. I smile and say, "OK." I bid fond farewell to the young ladies and we depart.
Later, I had a Bintang beer. Now, whenever I have a Bintang beer I remember the time I dove with the sharks at Shark Point, and haggled with the young island princesses of Bali.
After 3 straight days of diving, I'm ready for something different.
A young Aussie fellow named Shawn, whom I met at my hotel, agreed to take me surfing with him. After eating a late breakfast our driver arrived and we are off.
I had not been surfing in nearly 10 years, so we are going to a place that it is not particulary treacherous. I don't recall the precise spelling but if memeory serves, it was called Canngu and sounds like "Chungoo". Our round trip ride costs us 30,000 Rp which we split, and a stop at Kuta Beach finds me a boogey board for 30,000 Rp. the half day. Shawn supplied me with a spare set of fins. (Interesting side note: the beach vendor had no problem with me taking the board off site. He trusted me.)
After a nice ride through the country side we arrive at the beach. This place is pretty much a "surfies" only beach, and other than a small warung, there is little or no commerce.
The first thing I noticed was that the surf was in the 3-4 foot range. Perfect for me. The second thing I noticed was the fact that the night rains had really taken their toll. There was a storm drain nearby and the water was really dirty. Undaunted, we set out after surveying the situation.
The current was a little strong in places and the backwash from the beach was brutal. There were a few locals out but mostly Japanese surfers, including one very cute Japanese surfer girl. I spent a lot of time talking to her while "covertly" resting.
It took a little while, but after about an hour and a half I was getting the hang of it again, and was getting some good rides. I tended to recuperate on the beach after my rides so as to avoid becoming a statistic. Survivor good, statistic bad.
After a cold drink at the warung, we packed up and went home. Shawn liked the look of Kuta Beach so he went out for some more. I escorted his extra gear home, and proceeded to get ready for my date that night.
Later, I had a Bintang beer. Now, whenever I have a Bintang beer, I remember the time I surfed the break at Canngu and met the pretty Japanese surfer girl.
That night I had something special laid on: the fabled Bounty Dinner Cruise. After a few cocktails and an appetizer, we took a taxi to the embarkation point. There we found welcoming drinks awaiting us. The dress was casual and there were a goodly number of passengers anticipating a good time. They (and we) were not to be disappointed.
The boat is an aluminum craft, about 45 meters long and smartly appointed. The captain expertly pulled away from the dock and we were underway. The ride was very smooth as we stayed in the protected bay. Drinks were served and dinner soon thereafter.
The buffet was tremendous, with a ride variety of tasty foods to choose from, and plenty of it. One critisism however. I spied a large plate of what I believed to be boiled shrimp. One taste and I knew that they had been steamed. Hailing from the New Orleans, Louisiana area, where spicey boiled seafood is an art form, I was sadly disappointed. Fortunately, there were many other dishes to choose from.
The entertainment was likewise enjoyable. Balinese dancers performed as did other dancers. Elvis Parsely performed his tongue-in-cheek Presley impersonation and there was dancing for the passengers later. On the open air deck (where we spent most of our time), a trio performed. It seemed as though we had a large number of Tawainese on board, and so we heard quite a number of what I believe to have been Tawainese drinking songs. The Tawainese participated enthusistically and seemed to have a great time, as did we.
The boat returned to the dock, we took a taxi to the Bali Rock where I sang Eric Clapton's "Cocaine" with the band. Later we returned home where I managed to break my little toe which slightly hobbled me for the remainder of my trip.
At $40US/prsn, the Bounty Dinner Cruise might seem a bit pricey by Balinese standards, but I believe it to have been a good value and would recommend it to anyone looking for a nice night out.