Jul 242013

Posted from Kuta, Bali, Indonesia.

One can find variety of testimonies on Tripadvisor that comment on the quality of transportation between Bali and Gili Islands. More often than not the travellers recommend avoiding the fast boat services for the very basic reason – safety. We didn’t listen enough and put ourselves through by far the worst experience of our travel in Bali. Half way through our journey to Bali the strong sea waves spurred by the heavy currents punched out the front deck window of our boat’s deck and the sea water started pouring in! This lead to a considerable amount of panic aboard, some passengers commenced”feeding the cats” and our luggage got totally soaked as a result. We survived, no one got hurt and that’s what matters. Next time we’ll take a flight and avoid the fast boat adventure, let alone the company Semaya One! It turns out a similar accident happened to them already in the past by the way ….

Sanur is one of Bali’s holiday centres slightly north of the airport. We found accommodation in less than memorable 4* hotel Plaza Paradise and went on to discover the Balinese craftsmanship the day after our arrival. We got to see the silver factory, batik warehouse, wood carving and art galleries. These were all tourist hotspots with price adjustments clearly in place. Some negotiation though and we bought ourselves a set of beautiful teak wood bowls for our London home and at least we think the price was good.

Komodo National Park has been recently voted by public as one of the world’s natural wonders as declared by New 7 Wonders Foundation. The park stretches itself over three big islands – Komodo, Rinca and Padar – and many other small islands surrounding it.

On Saturday Jul 20 early in the morning Flavia and I embarked on a flight with Merpati Airways (local low cost airline) and flew over to the island of Flores, particularly to the township of Laguan Bajo, in which an airport has been recently constructed to enhance what is otherwise a poor fishing village and turn it into a touristl hub for the infamous Komodo islands.

There have been a few surprises we encountered in Indonesia, but this one rises to the top. As we embarked our boat, we realised there were going to be no other travellers other than the two of us, our personal guide, the captain and his deck hand. Wow – now we were talking luxury.

The islands of Komodo and Rinca blew us away. Rinca is clearly drier than Komdo, its grass is more yellow and vegetation slightly less dense. Komodo is greener and its hills can be compared to those of New Zealand’s north island or possibly to Highlands in Scotland. Both islands are of volcanic origins. Their fauna is exactly identical apart from the presence of macaque monkeys that can be found only on Rinca.

The variety as well as numbers of animals seem to be unlimited. We have seen deer, boars, eagles, monkeys, fowls and there are 3 species of snakes, water buffaloes and of course the dragons themselves.

Komodo Dragon is effectively a large monitor lizard that can grow up to 3m and 70kg in size. The males are larger than females. July is the mating season, so the males are chasing the ladies who tend to run away into the mountains, but hey, this is an island, there is no way they can escape. The eggs will be hidden in holes in September, the mothers will protect them for three months and leave. The baby dragons will hatch in April at which point the adults will return and try to eat them. The babies have developed the instinct to run onto trees and only leave those once they are able to defend themselves.

Our last night at Flores was spent at Laguan Bajo. The town is much poorer than what we saw anywhere on Bali, but one strange feature dominated our visit. It was the presence of Italian entrepreneurs everywhere. Why would the Italians buy the whole town and opened all these restaurants? Who knows!

We landed back in Denpassar, Bali, on Monday morning, booked a driver and went on to see one of the Bali’s most spectacular temples – Tannah Lot, one that is famous as it stands on a rock that can be accessed on foot during low tide and is surrounded by water during high tide.

Our Monday finished nicely in a family run Sanur restaurant just slightly off the main Street called Lilla. On Tuesday morning we left Sanur for Jimbaran where we’ll spend the last leg of our trip.

Jul 162013

Posted from West Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia.

Bali is a beautiful island geographically spread in-between the Indonesian islands of Java (big neighbour) and Lombok (small neighbour). According to the last census, the island has 4.5 million inhabitants and its population has been on a rapid increase over the past few years. The distance from its northern to southern tip is approximately 112km and it takes 153km to travel east to west. The population of the island associates itself mostly with Balinese Hindu religion (over 80%) whilst the rest believes in Islam.

The capital and the largest city in Bali is Denpassar, which is also where we landed after a long flight from Abu Dhabi. Some first learnings settled on us pretty quickly. The Indonesian currency must have undergone fairly significant inflation – 1GBP fetches nearly 15.000 Indonesian Rupee. Hence we have withdrawn our 3 million rupees right at the airport and suddenly felt rich!

This is a cash economy – forget credit cards. Although in some places it is surely possible to pay by a credit card, I haven’t really seen anyone doing it. Cash is the dominant payment vehicle. Barter is the way to go. The prices are already fairly low for Europeans, but negotiating the price can get one pay a quarter of the already fairly low price pitched by the locals.

Our first destination was the Balinese cultural centre – Ubud, where we settled for four days. Ubud is home to Balinese art and handicrafts and a vast number of international and Indonesian restaurants giving out an unforgettable culinary experience, and not least also to museums and dance performances.

After we partially overcame our jet leg, the Royal palace, the local information centre and the famous Monkey Forest were the first targets on our Ubud walk. The Ubud macaques are small apes 6-10kg in size and effectively waiting for tourists to deliver lots of food and entertainment to them. Some visitors get slightly scared by the monkeys’ insistence and persistence (including Flavia!).

Our evening programme was then the Lagong dance, in which young teenage girls performed a few traditional dance sets. The coordination of body movement with facial expression was stunning.

Our day two was about further cultural discovery via a long downhill biking tour. This is where we visited a local coffee plantation (and tried the world’s famous coffee that is processed after it has travelled through the Mongoose’s digestion tract and extracted from its poop!), rice fields, typical Balinese household, met locals and finally got to understand a bit about the traditions, such as why families keep living together, the importance of offerings to gods, the stories behind reincarnation, etc.

On the last day in Ubud we have hired a driver – Edi – who brought us up north to see the Ulun Danu Lake Temple and Jatiluwih Unesco protected rice fields. We have brought with us also two friends Joost and Liselotte. We met Liselotte over 1.5yrs ago in Australia whilst doing a three day trip to Kangaroo Island and here we were in Bali again! Amazing!

The next day in the morning we left Ubud and headed east to settle on Lombok’s Gili Island of Trawangan with the sole objective of relaxing on the beach and enjoying the sun.