Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Transport, turtles and a Palace

The first thing I noticed about Gili Trawangan was that no one was harassing us about transport. This could be because the only forms of transport on the island are horses, bikes and good old-fashioned walking. Despite the reggae music and boat motors Trawangan was a wonderful place! It is easy to see why the guidebook states that many people end up staying longer than planned, we did 4 nights and I think we'd only really planned on 2 or 3. I would have happily stayed longer!

Our snorkeling trip turned out to be too good to be true. We had paid $30 each for island hopping and 5 snorkel stops. In the end we stopped at Gili Meno for a mediocre lunch and snorkeled twice. Naturally, places on the island were offering trips for about $7! We did get a great snorkel guide though. He knew all the best places to see large schools of fish and sea turtles! Still we were very disappointed by the short trip and agreed to stop back in Senggigi for a chat with the guy that we purchased the trip from.

After 4 great days we were ready to say goodbye and purchased return tickets to Senggigi from the corner shop guy. He obviously had a company and had a friend that would drive us. The whole trip back to Senggigi our driver was trying to sell us another day of sightseeing. He just wouldn't take no for an answer so Katie pretended to get his number and we said we'd call the next day when we knew what was happening!

We arrived back at the tourist centre and the guy (let's call him Frankie) we purchased the trip from just about shit his pants! We told him that while we had a nice time and the guides were great we didn't get nearly what we had been promised and either wanted some money back OR transport back to the ferry. Frankie said we couldn't get money back but they would drive us to the ferry. We had gone into the office ready for a battle and ended up in a car with Frankie on our way to his house for fresh coconuts. Yep before we got to the harbor he took us to his home where we sat on plush sofa's scooping coconut into our mouths. It was strange to say the least!

Before long we were back on Bali and had settled into a homestay in Padangbai. While our first time through Padangbai had led to a near meltdown on my part because of the constant sales pitches, the second time was very laid-back and enjoyable! We stayed at Made Homestay right along the beach for $5 each.

After we headed to Tirtagangga, a small town surrounded by beautiful rice terraces. It's a very peaceful place bursting with green and a wicked water palace! Although before we were even out of our bemo a guy was trying to sell us sunglasses, it doesn't even matter if you're already wearing a pair! I swear these people would try and sell you bottled air if they could.
"You want air in a bottle?"
"Um... no thanks I'm good with the free stuff you know... everywhere!"
"But this air better *shakes bottle*... it's in bottle!"
"Yes but thiiis air *waves hands around* is free!"

So far on this trip I have learned many things that I would like to share with fellow travellers who may one day find themselves with a "Do you need transport?" hangover.

1. If a deal sounds to good to be true it probably is, this is a warning you read everywhere for a reason!
2.  If you're foreign you're clearly rich so be ready for everyone to try and sell you stuff and then seem confused when you don't.
3. You will be offered transport even when you're sitting in a car.
4. Everyone will try to sell you something. The conversation starts off like this
"Where are you from?"
"We're from Canada, Denmark, Scotland and Ireland"
"Oh you United Nations! How long you in insert location here"
"Just a day."
"You need transport?"
"No thank-you!"
"You need transport, I know a guy. He's my brother/cousin/father/barber."
"Nope it's ok we have transport!"
"How much you want to pay for transport? My guy do it for 200,000."
"Really no thanks!"
"My guy have nice car! How much you pay?"
"Really it's ok! Can we just see the menu please?"

*This conversation can be altered slightly to accommodate the sale of necklaces, fruit, water or a room and it gets old incredibly fast.
I realize that everyone has to make a living but that doesn't make it any less annoying!
5. Indonesia hasn't been nearly as cheap as we thought it would be and we are all running to the nearest ATM far more than we'd planned
6. Finding the real Indonesia is proving to be difficult. We are all on edge when it comes to trusting anyone and that makes things difficult.  It's hard to find the culture we want to find when they've masked so much to suit a certain kind of tourist.
7. Bali is either a dog lovers fantasy or hell. Everywhere you look there are dogs, they just aren't the healthiest creatures on earth. It's like "OOOOH dogs!! Oh no... it's starving :(" (Padangbai's Topi Homestay has set up a Street dog fund, though which was very nice to see!)

Soon we'll be off to Toyahbungkah so Mia can trek up a volcano!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Magic Mushrooms Anyone?

“You want magic mushrooms?”
“If they’re free sure!”
“Oh yes! I’m on them right now! Flying!” the guy says as he turns up the techno music while he drives down an impossibly narrow lane made of mud and rocks.

That was the conversation we had with one of our many drives of the day. To say the past 48 hours have been weird would be an understatement. They were weird and frustrating and a bit stressful.

It all started when we left our lovely room at Sama Sama Bungalows in Amed on the west coast of Bali. We had to get to Padangbai to catch the ferry to Lombok and then travel up Lombok to get to the Gili Islands. Our room in Amed was so beautiful that it was a bit nice to think we were there in the off-season and scored it for the low price of $6 a night per person with breakfast!  The serenity of Amed was broken quickly when we arrived in Pandangbai to a chorus of “You want transport? Ferry to Lombok? We give you good price!” What was the good price you ask. Well 300,000 rupiah per person which is just over $30 and way too much when you’re on a rather strict budget! So we insisted they leave us to discuss it and by the time we got across the street to a variety store they’d dropped the price to 100,000 each. We still weren’t onboard though so Ally and I headed for the ferry office. Along the way several others tried to get us to purchase tickets from them but we held our ground, they even followed us on their scooters. The ferry office was a weird place. It was a newer building but dark and empty except for one man sitting in a waiting room like area not looking like he was actually waiting for anything. We found a security guard and he wrote down the price of 1 ferry ticket, 36,000 so about $4.  So we figured by the time we paid for the ferry and transport up to the Gili’s we’d spend around 90,000 or more so we got the guy to lower his price to 90 each and off we went.

The ferry was 4 hours and quite boring. When we first got on we were bombarded by women trying to sell us snacks and they would NOT leave us alone. I even raised my voice at them and that’s not really not me! FRUSTRATION! Meanwhile we spent a good amount of time on the ferry watching for tsunami like waves on the horizon.

Of course when we arrived in Lombok we were taken to a place selling trips and they told us we wouldn’t get to the boat on time so we’d have to stay the night in Senggigi. We overpaid for a snorkeling trip and got a free night at a local inn. This was the place were things got weird. The strange little inn was inhabited by a few older couples, all enjoying the plentiful magic mushroom supply and reliving their youth. At dinner our waiter took Mia to the ATM on his scooter then came back and tried to rent us some bikes because people here don’t seem to just have one job! If they can make money on the side they will.

In the morning we jumped in our van and headed for the harbor. When we arrived we were ushered into a café full of other foreigners. Some guy tried to tell us that we needed a return ticket from the Gili’s and said that everyone around us had them. We insisted that we didn’t need them and had read several things that informed us NOT to purchase return tickets from these people. There was a Canadian guy sitting next to us and he told the guy to stop lying to us as no one had booked return tickets. I got angry and said some thing’s and we all stood our ground and then the guy trying to sell us stuff threw our ticket down and told us we couldn’t get on the boat to GO to the Gili’s and then called us bitches in Indonesian he was also very angry at Canadians saying Canadian’s were bad people! By this time we took the grand stand of grabbing our stuff and heading for the harbor without anyone else. I’m not going to lie we were all hoping to start a revolution but no one else followed!

In the end we arrived at the ticket office and got our tickets no problem! So the issues on Lombok turned out to be just another money grabbing ploy.  On the island we have experienced a far nicer and quieter existence than we have for the past week. We snorkeled, checked out the sea turtle conservation tanks and got to know our perhaps overly friendly inn owner! I’m not sure if he doesn't have any friends or he was just happy to have girls around to talk to about all the "tall fit European guys!" I’d love to repeat the things he was saying but I just can’t bring myself to do it! I will say we were in a state of shock with a side of OMG laughter!

Tomorrow we’re heading out on a snorkeling trip and I think we’ll call the Gili’s home for a few more days!

On another note no Komodo’s for me. I just can’t deal with the suspect deals and money obsessed tour operators! One should not be so stressed out in an environment like this!  

Thursday, March 10, 2011

In the beginning...

Bali in Korean means hurry so it’s kind of funny that Bali, Indonesia is a slow paced kind of place! It has been a nice change and I’m slowly but surely adjusting to this pace. There is still part of me that thinks I’ve only got a few days left and will have to return to work but I don’t… I’m totally free. I have no schedule, no duties, no 9-5 business going on at all in my present situation, a girl could definitely get used to this!

I left Korea on a late flight bound for Kuala Lumpur where I had a 5-hour layover. 5 hours of staring at my computer screen begging the time to go faster! At 9:30am I boarded a flight to Denpasar, Bali. I had to get a visa on arrival and had prepared myself for a long wait but securing the visa was a matter of putting my money on the counter and taking the slicker to the customs agent who stuck it in my passport and waved me through! Waiting in the No Goods to Declare line was a whole other story. It was muggy and busy and a bit pointless. After that it was off to Kuta and Poppies Lane II to meet up with the girls.

Kuta is insane. It’s a total party town. Most of the people there were surfers up from Australia and very pushy locals attempting to sell us their wares. The 5 of us couldn’t wait to head somewhere less inhabited and in your face. The beach is less than pleasant with large amounts of garbage washing up on shore when the tide goes out. Not to mention a local coming up every 4 minutes to try and sell everything from sarongs, messages and surf lessons. It wasn’t a relaxing or an inspiring place so up to Ubud we went. Ubud is where the love in Eat, Pray, Love took place and there were plenty of people looking for the answers on how to love themselves. I have a feeling it was easier to do this before the book came out! 

The 5 of us however did not travel to Ubud to find ourselves; in fact I think we are trying to lose ourselves a bit while on this trip! We went for the monkeys! Ubud is home to The Monkey Forest Sanctuary, a lush forest, home to temples, ancient trees and hundreds of pretty cheeky long-tailed Balinese macaques.  It was a breathtaking place like a scene out of Indiana Jones.  We all escaped the forest without having a run-in with any of the locals but witnessed others who weren’t quite as lucky. All of us did have some close calls but it’s hard to blame the little guys I mean I’d get grumpy too if people were sticking camera’s in my face all day!

While Ubud was nice it was a bit above our budget so we arranged for a car to drive us to the east coast area known as Amed. The drive was stunning. Rice terraces made up most of the landscape with impossibly green mountains rising into the clouds behind them. The roads were narrow and winding but drivers here seem to have a good head on their shoulders!

We are now at the Sama Sama Bungalows across the road from a black sand beach lounging in a bit of luxury! Despite being above our budget at $6 a person this place is pretty worth it! I have a feeling that it would cost much much more elsewhere! 

We snorkelled the US warship Liberty which was sunk in WWII today and it was brilliant! Very eerie but amazing nonetheless! My favourite part was definitely getting caught up in a large school of circling Jack Fish! Magic!

Tomorrow we're off to Lombok!

We are not in a location that will be affected by the Japanese earthquake. 

(Pictures to come when internet is faster)