It's a tough life being a small but idyllic tropical island. The weight of expectation is upon you and you can rarely deliver because most times that expectation needs fulfilling internally, not externally. To expectation is added the weight of need and the weight of greed - everyone wants a piece of you. Like the old nag from Raskolnikov's childhood, people watch whilst you are flogged to death by your master, and it is the people riding in the back of the cart that shout the most encouragement.
I dunno. It's usually harder to beat Mother Nature than we think. Maybe it'll take an empire. Like the old boxer from Hemingway fighting his last fight, even though the wise-guys think they've got all angles covered, inside the ring she's in control. Wiry strength beats beefy strength. A lifetime of experience beats years of certification.
Bali and Lombok was a holiday for us; that is distinct from travelling. We didn't have to see anything, do anything, take any photos. This was a break from all those self-imposed goals that matter to no-one but oneself. We had really wanted to go to Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo, but we reasoned it was
Sunset, Gili Air towards Gili Meno
Full moon, dragging the tide a long way out. Lombok.
more expensive and a good target for a shorter holiday when working. Above all we wanted to go diving, which in Indonesia is generally very good and very cheap.
Silk Air, the most excellent short haul subsidiary of Singapore Airlines took us in extreme comfort to Lombok. My first experience of Asia was fifteen years ago, disembarking at Denpasar, Bali. For several seconds I had been completely stunned by the intensity of the light, colours, sounds and smells. Sadly the sounds were not the crowing of cockerels but the shouts of mouths waiting to be fed; in this case touts and hawkers. My first real experience of them was later that day in Kuta, when I just sat down in despair and let them overwhelm me. The strange thing was that faced with passivity they quickly quietened and we just sat, unlikely homeboys, no bond other than not being quite sure of ourselves. Since then I have never been scared of hawkers, but I haven't always been able to stop myself reacting.
Arriving in Bali and Lombok is no longer like that for me. The place has been tamed, although 'plus ca change plus c'est le meme chose'
as they say in Barnsley. Still, arrival in Lombok's main beach resort of Senggigi heralded the requisite palm trees, the comfortably balmy temperature of the high season and most importantly the evocative aroma of the clove-filled kretek cigarettes.
But these came at a price and our first and only night in Senggigi was punctuated by the incessant barking of our hotel's dog, the smalltalk and big love of a cynical Irishman and his prostitute in the room next door, and finally the 5.00am wake up call from the nearby mosque. Normally I love the sound of the call to prayer invading a restful sleep but these amplifiers would put AC/DC to shame. Clearly Rob Reiner acolytes, they had turned the volume all the way up to eleven.
Next morning we fled direct by boat to the Gili Islands with Perama. We hated giving money to the big company with the monopoly but the local boat owners didn't seem to be able to organise themselves. When we thought a bit further we realised there probably wasn't enough footfall for them to do anything but cherry-pick whilst the greater resources available to Perama allow them to trawl far and wide
Sunset Reef, Gili Air. This is my favourite.
Canon Powershot S1 IS with WP-DC20 Housing. Built-in Flash. No editing.
to bring custom in. Poor people of the world work together, take market share from the big guys instead of each other. Oh, I'm sorry, I forgot, you're trying to stay alive until tommorrow, you can barely read and you can't write and you certainly don't have the self-confidence needed to be able to cooperate meaningfully with your own competitors. But I'll still give you a hard time if you push me too far.
Bali, not Lombok, is where everybody goes. Most who go to Lombok go to the Gili Islands, three beautiful but tiny liveaboards off the North West coast. From what we can tell most Australians go to southern Bali which has become Australia's ninth major conurbation. A bit further north lies the cultural centre of Ubud, which attracts a greater percentage of Europeans and Americans. On the North coast is quiet, lovely Lovina, which seems to be dominated by the Dutch. The Gili Islands were empty. The locals say they rarely get Australians except in August. Americans are rarer still, so it is predominantly European. For some reason this year the Europeans seem to be staying away.
Popular wisdom, cemented by guidebooks and recieved market
Sunset, Gili Air towards Gili Meno
Full moon, dragging the tide a long way out. Lombok.
forces casts Gili Trewangan, the most westerly and largest of the Gilis, as the party island, which is also the most popular. In the middle lies Gili Meno, with the fewest people and the best white sand beaches, but accomodation is just a tad more expensive. Easternmost Gili Air is supposed to find a balance between the two. Being closest to Lombok it has the most local people and feels the least like a tropical Island, although we still weren't complaining. The views over the 3726m caldera of Gunung Rinjanji are spectacular, but make sure you are there at sunrise, getting up early or staying out late (try Wednesday nights at Legends) otherwise you'll be staring at clouds.
Gili Air is about 1km long and 500m wide and is completely flat. The port and main local village is on the South side, most tourist places and tourists are spread along the East with the easiest sunset view and Legends Bar along the North. There are no cars, the only transport being shank's pony and Dostoyevsky's incredibly resiliant but unfortunate workhorses, that run up and down the east coast carrying large tourists with large backpacks and occasionally cartfuls of scuba
Sunset, Gili Air towards Gili Meno
A weak sunset on our first night at Lombok so used a blue filter and dragged a bit of coral into the foreground just to get something.
cylinders. Accomodation varies from good to excellent, for a price affordable to backpackers and almost insultingly cheap for holidaymakers. The only problem is that beer is expensive, at about 1gbp per 600ml bottle of Bintang. At night as you wander the island the catch of the day is displayed at every restaurant you meet. Local fish - snapper and barracuda, are cheap. Catching tuna and king prawn is rarer, and these must be brought to the Islands from either Lombok or Bali I guess so are more expensive. After our first sunset we succumbed to a stunning 300g of fresh Tuna each, cut from a metre long specimen. It was beautifully delicate and certainly the nicest cooked Tuna I've had for a long time.
However I can understand why people are disappointed with the Gili Islands. You have the theme tune to Black Beauty running through your head only to meet Steptoe offering you a ride on his knackered old pony. Much of the coral has died, reasons given varying from dynamite fishing to the warm waters caused by El Nino to too much detergent washing off the island from the tourist's shampoo. Whilst we were there at full
Sunrise, Gunung Rinjani from Gili Air
Gunung Rinjani (3726m) is the second highest peak in Indonesia and part of the volcanic "Ring of Fire" that encompasses the region.
moon another few metres of the edge of the island fell into the sea, leaving another bar right on the edge ready to collapse on the next full moon. The dive centres are aware whats happening and trying their best with limited budget to help, but the trouble is what do you do? These are complex problems of ecology and physics.
Having said all this, our week in Gili Air was a week in paradise. But, just as Bill Hicks on occasion expressed a preference for a hell that rocks over a generic sanitised corporate heaven, we needed a foil to maintain our interest and our sanity. That foil was diving.
Our first goal was to complete our Advanced Open Water training, we required two more specialist dives. We chose Peak Performance Buoyancy, which should be a compulsory module along with Deep and Navigation. Buoyancy is the key skill underpinning all of diving, like map-reading in orienteering, and, along with breathing conservatively, it is one of the hardest to master. Just one session of buoyancy control excercises helped us immensely, but we've still got a long way to go. We'd intended to do Underwater Photography as the final
module, but having bought a camera casing and knowing a fair bit about apertures and shutter speeds we decided it was a waste of time. The instructor suggested the Enriched Air module (Nitrox) and this sounded good. The basic principle of Enriched Air is to use a mix of air in your tank that has more oxygen in it than normal air. This means your body absorbs less nitrogen whilst you are under, and you can do longer dives with less risk of decompression illness. It is not mean't for deep diving, particularly as at pressure oxygen becomes more toxic. The feeling seems to be that in ten years or so all recreational diving will be done on enriched air rather than normal air. The PADI enriched air certification involves two dives and an exam, and since we were doing the first we thought we'd do the second also and get the qualification.
I'll give the opening words for the next story to my father, who spent a good forty years taking other people's kids up mountains on foot and by rope and down them on skis; and across lakes and seas by paddle and by sail. He knows
Sunset, Gili Air
Kim enjoying a G&T at Legend's bar.
more about this than most but less than many. Commenting on a seemingly inexplicable tragedy in the UK many years ago I remember him saying "The sea's a funny place. Fishing boats, that go out every day for years and years suddenly disappear without warning or trace."
Our first Nitrox dive, and our final dive for our Advanced diver qualification, was going to be fairly deep - 34m. We were using a relatively low percentage of Oxygen, so we were well within the maximum depth limits. We had an elite little team, with three instructors, a divemaster, two advanced divers one who was undergoing his advanced Nitrox training, and ourselves, by far the least experienced in the group. Things seemed a little chaotic at the start with two more fun dives going from the same boat as ourselves. Our group went into the water last. It was nearly full moon, so the tides were high and the currents were very strong. Initially everything was fine - we descended to 34m and swam along the side of the reef, pulled along quickly by the current. After maybe five minutes I saw the lead instructor swimming hard into a current which
was pushing him from left to right, away from the reef and out to sea. After a bit he gave up. A bit later I saw him above me, swimming up, hard. I couldn't work out what he was doing as it was too early to go up. I looked at my depth gauge and saw 40m and couldn't understand it. I also started to swim up, but it was a little hard going. Back at a sensible depth we carried on drifting with the current but this took us out into the deep blue sea - there was no longer anything to see but each other. As we rose to about 16m and the instructors unfurled their 'kites' I could only count 5 people and wondered if something had gone wrong. I kept calm and close to Kim but couldn't see the others. Eventually they appeared, some way above us - one person had used up too much air and was now sharing with the divemaster nearer the surface (air consumption is faster the deeper you go). Being the least experienced Kim and I were next to go low on air, and we signalled to the instructor. He instructed
us to go to the five metre safety stop as we do every dive, but slowly. We linked arms and ascended in with good buddy technique but sometime after twelve metres it must have gone wrong. Kim had air in her buoyancy control device (BCD), which she forgot to release (as you ascend the water pressure is less, so the air expands more, increasing your bouyancy and accelerating your ascent). At the same time I had no air in my BCD so I started paddling to make myself go upwards. The combined effect was we went up very quickly until suddenly, at 3m, Kim realised, dumped air, signalled to me and we descended to 5m for our safety stop, much to the relief of our instructor. It was our first ascent from depth without any form of visual reference and it seemed to me that the linking arms method had actually become a hindrance rather than a help - better for both buddies to ascend separately but in close contact. All well again the others ascended and after our safety stop we surfaced.
The instructor's first words were - "You've all seen "Open Water" haven't you? We were about
Moonrise, Telumban, Bali
Just after full moon. This was a grab shot - we were sat having dinner and we suddenly saw the moon rise up from the low layer of cloud on the horizon (just visible). It was burning red. I ran to get my camera but too late.
a kilometre out from the island, and hence the dive boat, with the current pushing us towards Bali, more than 20km away. Three of the group had the inflatable kites used for signalling and all were inflated, but the dive boat was too far away. For twenty minutes or so it all seemed ok, but then, as we watched the dive boat move away from us looking in the opposite direction. Jellyfish started stinging us and people started to complain. The lead instructor had told us to swim gently against the current, to preserve our position, whilst conserving our energy and hence our warmth. Truth be told there was little risk - we had ample flotation, were in wetsuits and the water was very warm - they would have found us eventually. However I wasn't entirely happy with the situation and gently swam against the current. This quickly separated me from the group, although rejoining them by swimming with the current would have been very easy. I realised I was making progress against the current by my position against the island. After a while I also realised I was making progress towards a fishing boat - there were several around.
I shouted back to the group as to whether I should signal the boat, but they didn't hear me. At that point two things happened - the divemaster started shouting very loudly and one of the instructors abandoned her BCD and started swimming for shore. She was a good swimmer and halved the distance to me very quickly. At this point I thought sod it, and called the fishing boat, making my requirements very clear. They quickly hauled in their nets and came and picked myself and the instructor up. She was clearly very very annoyed with the Dive centre boat crew, who apparently should have known the prevailing flow of currents in this location. We went to the others, and I expected them to climb aboard, but one of the instructors said, no, go and get the dive boat. I was a bit confused by this, but not knowing what the relations between the dive centres and the locals were like I aquiesced. At this point it had been 45 minutes since we surfaced. It took another half an hour to chase down the dive boat that was still heading in the other direction and then go back to
Demon in the swimming pool.
Tirtagganga Water Palace, Bali
get the others.
That night we all recovered in our own different ways. Whilst the risk was small, I think everyone had been a little shaken, in different ways. We took the next day off. So what do we make of all this. Who do we blame ? Who do we point the finger at ? Well, as far as I can see, pretty much everybody, from ourselves, through the dive centre, the boat crew, the instructors to PADI themselves. But what really happened.
Firstly the downward current. Having read dive guides to Bali these are actually quite common in the area. In fact we were on the edge of the shelf containing the reef and the current was pushing us down into the deep blue beyond. It wasn't an issue as long as you knew what was happening. It was easy to paddle out of and if not a blast of air into the BCD would remedy the situation. I have since read about far worse currents in some dive areas around Bali. The problem was we were totally unprepared for it. Nowhere in PADI Open Water (as far as I can remember) or in PADI Advanced
I was born to love you baby ...
Balinese artists have been heavily influenced by Gene Simmons from Kiss. Tirtagganga Water Palace, Bali
(we checked) does it mention currents that push you down or pull you up (which could be equally dangerous). Next time we'll know. Since then we have both checked our own depth regularly rather than just relying on following the instructor.
And what about losing the dive boat ? Well, like all potentially serious accidents it was a combination of factors. Firstly, you shouldn't be diving with three teams from the same dive boat when there are strong currents about i.e. around full moon. The problem here was that the first two groups stayed relatively shallow. At this depth the current was pushing them in the opposite direction. We went out last and deepest, the combination leading to us missing the reef and hitting a current that pushed us far out to sea. The dive boat crew, unable to follow the bubbles of three groups, had lost us but were of course looking for us where they had picked the other two groups up.
Then there are the signalling devices. What the instructor's carried was recommended by PADI but, having now been in the situation where I've had to direct a boat towards stranded divers I realise they
Tirtagganga Water Palace, Bali
are totally and utterly inadequate for this purpose. Again, reading the PADI literature there appears to be no better alternative, which I find very hard to believe. I had thought the instructors would have carried a flare or something, although I don't know how such a thing would react under pressure. Alternatively maybe a can of helium, to inflate a balloon, but again I don't know how it might act under several atmospheres of pressure.
Then there is the issue of my swimming off to get the fishing boat. In doing so I went against the instructions of three qualified PADI instructors. They were following the rules, keeping people together and preserving warmth, which in the case of one of the divers was becoming worryingly necessary. I hadn't intended to swim for the boat. I had taken the action I had in a step by step way, slowly assessing the strength of the current against my own strength. As it was, having a good base of fitness from running in the mountains and a bit of excess lard from not running in the mountains, I could have swum at that pace all day without a problem. But of course
they didn't know that, and by the time I had worked this out they were too far away for me to tell them. Fell runners and orienteers break the written rules of going into the mountains almost every time they go into them, which is more often than most. Thankfully there is not a high accident rate, as, carrying minimal kit, a small accident can quickly turn into a crisis. People who do these sports understand this and accept it. If I had a group of people stuck out in the mountains and I found one was an experienced and competent fell-runner or orienteer (the two don't necessarily go hand in hand) I would have no hesitation in breaking the rules and sending them off alone to get help. I know that, but a different mountain leader might not.
The instructor who swam after me seemingly commited even greater folly in abandoning her BCD. However she assessed the risk and made a reasoned decision, based on knowledge of her own strength and the progress my gentle paddling had made against the current. I wouldn't have done it but I wouldn't criticise her for doing it. In fact I'm glad
she did. I guess the one thing we didn't assess, or at least I didn't, was the possibility of getting caught in yet another current pushing a different way.
Finally there was the decision to stay in the water once we had the fishing boat there. I didn't understand this given there were jellyfish in the sea, albeit harmless ones, and one of the divers was starting to shiver, and just in general it seems better to be in the boat than out of it - what if the motor of one of the boats had failed?
When I look at it now I don't feel that the instructors did much wrong, other than taking us off from a boat with several different sets of divers on it. For this I would blame the dive centre. But this happens all the time - after all they have to make money somehow. In the end the people that concern me most is PADI. Their training for recreational diving is good as far as it goes. They go out of their way to ensure you understand how to dive conservatively and safely, and hence give you a false sense of
security. Because in fact the training they give you may be adequate to avoid decompression illness but it is not really adequate when it comes to dealing with the vaguries of the ocean.
Kim and I learned more on that dive than we have done on all the other dives put together. We still feel recreational diving is a very safe sport but we have both realised it is time we take on much more responsibility for what we are doing, rather than just following the divemaster or instructor as if on a package tour.
I'll leave the final words to a Norwegian sitting at our bar that night, whose brother, working as a divemaster, had fallen foul of the commercial pressures driving a dive centre in Thailiand - "It's the ocean, it's not a f****** aquarium."
In fact our next Nitrox dive two days later had a similar profile - whilst we hit the reef we were after the current immediately pushed us off it and we were again floating through the deep blue at 30m depth with nothing to see. This time however we were monitoring depth regularly, we were aware of how easy it
is to come up to fast (and we had a friendly dive master with us), and we were the only team on the boat so they were able to follow our bubbles.
Our last dive on the Gilis was much more of a standard 'fun dive'. These are the ones the dive centres make all their money out of, toddling around a reef at around 20m, never out of sight of a strong visual reference, either the bottom or a wall, and watching the sharks, turtles and all the other fun creatures that live down there. On this dive there was a strong surge (a back and forth 'current' caused by the breakers hitting the shallower reef slightly inland from us) and we watched in great amusement as an upended turtle, clinging on to the coral floor with its beak, was flipped back and forth by the current with its little paddled feet flailing. No way was it letting go of that coral.
After a big night out of initiation for the two newly qualified divemasters ten of us boarded a charter boat to take us direct to Bali. Our instructor was heading on holiday and had gathered
together enough people to avoid Perama and get a fast boat direct to where we wanted to go. A days travel was condensed into two hours.
But what a two hours. It was a windy day, with choppy waters and a 3m swell. Most boats in this vicinity are very long and narrow but have two outriggers for stability. This boat was long and narrow but with no outriggers. During the course of the trip two of the passengers were mortally afraid - no exaggeration at all here. I've been on a few trips like this before and wasn't, but I was a little hungover and we were all getting very very wet. All except the instructor who had chartered the boat, who sat on the bow hunched up and smoking, doing a more than passable impression of Forrest Gump's Vietnam vet partner in the shrimping business.
We arrived safely and went our separate ways, four of us to the Paradise Hotel on the beach at Tulamben, ready for more diving. The east coast of Bali is very rarely visited by tourists except for one small thing - the wreck of the USS Liberty. No, this isn't the
USS Liberty that was attacked by the Israelis in the 7 day war of 1967, killing 34 American servicemen. This USS Liberty was torpedoed by the Japanese in the second world war and beached on the east coast of Bali. In 1963 the nearby Gunung Agung erupted and the lava flow pushed the boat out into the bay, where it now lies, happily for divers, between 5m and 30m depth, making it possibly the most accessible major wreck in the world.
We dived the wreck the next morning and it was an eerie experience. It was very difficult to discern the shape of the boat from close up and the whole thing was encrusted with coral. The place was swarming with divers, which again was quite eerie as you would round a corner suddenly to see a group swimming towards you. "Thunderball" came to mind. It was a good dive but in some ways I was a little disappointed - apart from the circular wheel used to open a valve somewhere it was hard to find any definite evidence of it being a ship and not just some amorphous hulk of metal. I guess this comes with experience. Wreck
Typical Balinese landscape, Ubud
A rare glimpse of sun away from the coast on that day.
diving is an odd sport, but I still want to make it to Scapa Flow one day.
After another dive on Tulamben wall that afternoon we spent the next day heading to Lovina on the North coast. After a bit of bargaining we chartered a car and driver for the day for just under 15gbp, to take us around a few sights of inland Bali on the way. We started in the early morning visiting Tirtagangga water palace, and this was one of the highlights. As we arrived at about 9.00am it was a serene place and we were the only visitors. We wandered round the gardens and ponds admiring the many statues, and took an early morning fresh water dip to finally get rid of all the salt from our hair and bodies - the showers in the Gili's are only partially fresh water.
Besakih, the mother temple, high up on the slopes of Gunung Agung, is a tick box item. I've been there twice before so knew what to expect. The problem, as ever, is that the touts and hawkers get close to making the place unbearable. You don't need to take a guide but we
were officially told we had to. You don't need to where a serong as you are not allowed inside the temples, but you will be told you must buy or rent a serong anyway, at exorbitant prices. We did neither, just walking past all the shouting guides and touts with our mouths shut until we were up inside the temple complex, where many of the hawkers are not wearing serongs either. The situation is now so bad that the Lonely Planet has dropped it from being one of the highlights of Bali and basically says don't bother going. I would concur with this - there are many more beautiful temples around Ubud.
On up to the windswept town of Kintamani high on the caldera of Gunung Batur, where the hawkers and dogs are known to be the most vicious in Bali. Fifteen years ago we had stayed here at Losmen Miranda where we were guided up Gunung Batur by the admirable Made Sentir and fed by his estimable wife. I wanted to drop in but we were pushing our time, but I noted on driving past that the place looked in good shape and was clearly doing well. I
Preparing for the ceremony, Ubud
This bamboo pole was about 40ft long, ready to be erected to line the approach to the temple.
wonder if they are there.
To our driver's disappointment we avoided the pricey rip-off tourist buffets on the caldera rim and stopped to eat at the cheapest looking roadside warung we could find - actually a canvas tent. This was the cheapest and also the best Indonesian food we ate in Bali.
Then we went for a quick look at the Gunung Batur temple, the second most important in Bali after Besakih. Here we did need to where a serong, and our guidebook said 1000rp for a serong rental. No problem. At the entrance a fat lady stopped us and said 20,000 rp to rent one (this is actually the price you should pay to buy one). We laughed and said 1000. She didn't drop her price so we started walking in. At this point she hit Kim, who was wearing her own serong, hard on the arm. I then hit her hard on the arm, but being hardy peasant stock rather than a soft city dweller she didn't notice. We again started to climb the steps of the temple when an older woman said you can't go in. I said we're going in anyway. She said how
The beautiful gardens of Gusti's Garden Bungalows in Ubud, where we pushed the boat out and stayed for 8.7gbp per room per night.
much do you want to pay to rent a serong. I relented and said 5000. She said no way. 20000. I said we're going in. At this point a Frenchman started shouting at me about respecting people's religous beliefs. I told him I had been here twice before and had not had to wear a serong - it was a con for the tourists. I found his attitude particularly offensive as it is the French government that has banned religous garb in secular schools, something I don't agree with and it certainly isn't respecting other people's religions. I know the ban affects all religions but it effects the non-Christian religons the worst. Muslims pay their taxes just as much as Catholics. His wife dragged him off and, now thoroughly riled, we went into the temple anyway. As we calmed down in the serenity inside the complex, listening to the Gamelan orchestra in full flow, a small girl ran up to us from outside and gave me a serong and sash and Kim a sash. It turned out that right behind the agressive hawkers was a table where tourists without serongs could borrow them for free. Now, I'm sorry about this,
but I really don't see why I should find it in my heart to respect a religion whose accolytes use the rules of the religion to extort money from innocent people. But that's just me.
Which leads me to another slightly diversionary point. Kim has just read a book written by an experienced French journalist about the real state of play within modern China. It makes many good points and the overall message seems to be 'trickledown' isn't working in China. However the author rather shoots himself in the foot by comparing the current administration to that of Mao, citing quotations from Mao about healthcare and education for all. Unfortunately this seems trite, to say the least. Whilst the communists had healthcare for all under Mao, the vast majority of doctors and nurses had recieved absolutely minimal training. Additionally, it's not much good having free healthcare when the government has sold the grain crops and destroyed the harvest and the population is starving, or the government has destroyed the entire infrastructure by encouraging the students to rise up against and maim and murder the population at large. But anyway, that's China.
It led me to thinking about the
Lotus Garden Cafe, Ubud
In Bali every single house has at least one temple. Most have several of varying sizes. This one belongs to the Lotus Garden Cafe. The tables where you eat are just over my left shoulder.
changes in Bali and trickledown in general. Bali, with it's relative isolation and it's high tourist input, is perhaps an example of when trickledown works. So much money has been pumped into the island that even though a lot of it is taken straight back out, the general lot of the islanders in actual terms has improved. Traffic now plagues the island, whereas fifteen years ago the roads were quiet. Electronic conveniences are now common whereas fifteen years ago they were non-existant. The average Balinese may feel just as poor relative to their peers, but in absolute terms I think very few people on Bali are now that poor - not relative to say, China, and certainly not relative to Africa.
I guess the thing with trickledown is that it does work. Eventually. The problem is that the timeframe may be n times longer than a comprehensive strategic program of investment aimed at improving the lot of the poor, where n could be anything from ten to a thousand to many millions. In the microcosm that is Bali the results are easy to see. In the vastness that is China, one sixth of the world's population, it is going
Blurred, coz I just grabbed it.I know it is too blurred to be considered a decent photo but I quite like it anyway.
to take a bit longer.
Lovina is a beautifully quiet seaside town on the north coast of Bali, set in a picturesque bay. The beach isn't that great but there are good restaurants and plenty of bars. It is more like the Bali of fifteen years ago. Without diving to amuse us we would probably have gotten bored fairly quickly, but we only stayed two nights anyway.
In the intervening day we went with the dive centre to the Northwest edge of Bali, only a stones throw from Java, to dive Pulau Menjangen. This island is in a beautiful setting. To the west are the huge volcanos adorning the East coast of Java, to the south are the unspoilt hills of Bali's largest National Park. To the North is the small island of Menjangen itself.
We did two dives amidst the most beautiful coral we have yet seen in Indonesia. The first was eventful as our Italian companion, who was buddying with the divemaster, ran low on air quite quickly. He still had plenty in reserve but the divemaster gave him his alternate regulator, and we were treated to the spectacle of the divemaster clinging onto the
Kecak Dance, Ubud
Ketchup, ketchup, ketchup, ketchup, ketchup, ketchup ...
coral to show us something whilst his buddy flapped around above him in the current desperately trying to keep the regulator in his mouth. To be fair he show exceptional composure (although there was no real risk.)
Our adrenalin was pumping at the end of the second dive also. I was pointing my camera at an anenome trying to get a decent picture of the shy clownfish swimming inside it when there was a loud underwater bang. I looked up, and the other three were staring at me, seemingly thinking I had caused it somehow. After a few minutes there was another, even louder noise, clearly an underwater explosion. This time I looked at the divemaster, expecting we would go up as the only thing I could think off was dynamite fishing. Then I reasoned our diveboat was above us, so if anyone was chucking dynamite into the water they would quickly stop them. It turned out to be the Indonesian navy in training. The explosion's were coming from a military area a long way away, and in fact the people on the surface hadn't heard them.
We spent our last few days in Ubud, the cultural centre
of Bali. This place has developed massively in the last few years but still retains some vestige of traditional Balinese culture, whatever that is as the Western influence has been strong for many many decades now. We stayed in a delightful set of cottages (Gustis, just north of the centre) with beautiful landscaped garden and swimming pool, and the higher cottages having views over the rice terraces. We walked amongst the rice paddies, ate in the cheaper of the good restaurants, watched the traditional kecak dance and generally chilled. A great way to spend the last few days.
On our last day we took the local car ferry back to Lombok, the whole trip taking the best part of a day. I got my final revenge on the hawkers, when, finding that a small beer in International departures was the same price as a large beer in domestic, I handed my stamped passport to the immigration desk, walked to the domestic terminal, bought a large beer and brought it back to sip happily in the departure lounge.
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